By Madhava Smullen
ISKCON New Vrindaban has published a booklet, entitled “New Vrindaban’s Guide to Who’s Who & What’s What” that takes visitors on a self-led tour of the temple and explains devotee life and beliefs. Initial feedback from pilgrims and tourists has been very positive, with some suggesting other ISKCON centers should develop a similar guide.
“We have mostly Indian preachers, and noticed that there was a disconnect, due to cultural differences, between them and our Western guests,” says Anuradha Dasi, director of the communications team behind the booklet. “Guests would come into the temple, stay for just a minute, and then turn around and walk out.”
The answer, created by Anuradha and inhouse graphics designer Nikunja Vilasini Dasi, was “Who’s Who & What’s What.” As visitors enter the Sri-Sri Radha Vrindabanchandra temple, they’re handed the booklet by the receptionist in the lobby; it’s also available on a bookshelf in the temple room, and at Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold.
Unlike other brochures available at New Vrindaban, its cover eschews ornate, esoteric designs for a plain, informational orange that stands out. The title perfectly encapsulates the confusion newcomers feel as they look around an ISKCON temple, so they relate to it.
Inside, no inhouse language is used. “We created a style to use in the booklet, and it went through many revisions,” Anuradha explains.
With attractive photos and a clean, bold design that’s very easy for the eye to follow, “Who’s Who…” explains the origins of ISKCON, who Srila Prabhupada is, some basic guiding principles from the Bhagavad-gita, and the difference between idol worship and deity worship.
A museum-guide-like photo of the altar with numbered circles around each deity explains who They are, what Their relationship is with each other, the significance of Their pose, the historical background of Their worship in India, and more.
A timeline takes guests through the entire daily morning and evening program at the temple, explaining what mangala-arati, Tulsi-puja, the practice of japa, guru-puja, Srimad-Bhagavatam class and more are. A matching songbook, also available, allows them to follow along with all the songs and prayers.
Finally, there’s a section that answers “Frequently Asked Questions,” such as “Why is this place named New Vrindaban?” “What is the strange clothing you wear?” “What is that drawing on your forehead?” “What is that plant you worship?” and “What is that sweet liquid served in the palm of the hand?” Each question and answer is accompanied with a simple line drawing illustrating what it’s describing.
The six to nine months it took to conceptualize and create the booklet has been worth it – guests have noticeably been spending much more time in and around the New Vrindaban temple.
“The whole summer, I’ve seen people walking around with the booklet,” Anuradha says. “When I asked them what they thought of it, they said they learned so much from it, it helped them understand us better, and they felt a sense of wanting to explore more.”
Devotees also benefit from “Who’s Who & What’s What.” Recently, a senior New Vrindaban devotee shared that she had been talking with some guests in the temple, and found that the best way to address a question in relatable terms had been to find the answer in the booklet.
What’s more, residents of other temples are interested in using the idea to create their own booklets – a group of visiting brahmacharis from England took several copies to share with department heads at Bhaktivedanta Manor. Others have opined that every ISKCON temple should have their own “Who’s Who & What’s What” booklet.
“If all temples around the world had something like this, using similar language and giving the same message in a dynamic and relevant way, I think it would bring consistency and make visitors feel comfortable immediately whichever ISKCON temple they were in,” Anuradha says.
ISKCON New Vrindaban has also created a cow magazine with the pun-tastic title “Holy Cow: The Tails of New Vrindaban,” which includes a picture, biography, likes and dislikes of every cow protected in the community. This has also been a big hit, with parents reading it to their children as a bedtime story, and requesting more copies to share with their child’s classmates. An expanded version, including the seven new calves born in the last year and a half, is expected in October and will be mailed to the temple’s entire donor database.
Another planned project is to create a second Who’s Who & What’s What booklet for the whole of New Vrindaban, beyond the temple. This will be paired with an existing illustrated map of the property, and will explain attractions such as the giant 40-foot tall Gaura Nitai, and pilgrimage spots like Radha Kunda and Shyama Kunda.
Communications Director Anuradha Dasi is happy to share resources with other temples interested in developing their own booklets. To get in touch, please contact her at Ai@NewVrindaban.com