By: Madhava Smullen ISKCON News on Jan. 3, 2013
Over this holiday season, ISKCON temples participating in the Motel Gita project placed 16,000 copies of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is in motel and hotel rooms across the US.
The effort was part of this December’s “Prabhupada Marathon,” in which ISKCON devotees try to pass out as many copies of the ISKCON founder’s books as possible, hoping to give the gift of spiritual fulfillment.
It raised the total tally of motel rooms carrying the Bhagavad-gita alongside the Gideon’s Holy Bible to 135,000. This brings the Motel Gita project, which began in 2006, another step closer to its ambitious goal of 1 million Gitas.
Twelve and a half thousand of the 16,000 Gitas placed in motel rooms were either distributed or sponsored by the ISKCON Silicon Valley community in San Jose, California, a book distribution powerhouse and current base of the Motel Gita project.
There, Mayapur Vihari Das trains devotees and coordinates with other temples, with support from ISV leaders Vaisesika Das and Akruranath Das.
He’s also assisted by motelier Dilip Patel, one of the pioneers of the Motel Gita project, who began placing Bhagavad-gitas in his own Sea Breeze Motel in Pacifica, California, back in 2008.
Dilip continues to be enthusiastic about the project, distributing 700 books this December on a motel-to-motel road trip around the San Francisco Bay Area along with Damodar Vamsidhari Das.
From left to right - Adya Das, Jayadvaita Swami (sitting) and Rupanuga Das at the AAHOA convention in Anaheim, California
Meanwhile in Florida, Nandini Kishori Dasi embarked on a similar road trip around the North Floridian cities of Alachua, Gainesville, Orlando and Tampa, placing 2,500 books in hotels or motels.
In Laguna Beach, California, temple president Tukaram Das, along with Vedavit and Rupanuga, placed 405 books. In Atlanta, Shyam Bihari Das and his team distributed 500 books. And in Oregon, Manu Patel, a motelier himself, placed 500 books.
Manu Patel, along with Dilip Patel, has also helped the Motel Gita project establish an excellent relationship with the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA).
This has provided another avenue with which to distribute Bhagavad-gitas to motels, beyond the road trips: AAHOA conventions.
Rohininandana Das, a Boston-based pioneer of the Motel Gita project, says that devotees attended around a dozen regional AAHOA conventions this year, and received the best treatment at every one.
Vedavit Krishna Das (far right) signs up a motel owner for an order of Bhagavad-gitas
“At all these conventions, a booth for a non-profit organization costs $1,500 to $2,000,” he says. “But we get everything for free. And even though we don’t pay anything, they always make sure we have the best spot and take good care of us. When I went to the D.C. convention this year, the director came by four times just to make sure we were happy and everything was running smoothly.”
Many of AAHOA’s directors, Rohininandana explains, are Vaishnavas, and have a high regard for the Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada, and ISKCON’s mission. “They all recognize our volunteer effort, and want to help us distribute Bhagavad-gita,” he says.
Along with local devotees Lokadakshya and Sampat, Rohininandana distributed 1,300 books at the D.C. AAHOA convention, and 2,450 at the New Jersey one.
At each convention, devotees set up a booth with Bhagavad-gitas and flyers explaining the program, and collected bulk orders from moteliers.
Back at the base, Bharani Dasi interfaced with the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust to supply the orders, while Tulsi-Lata and Nandani Dasi called moteliers to confirm their orders. They then sent them the Bhagavad-gitas throughout the month of December.
Like the Gideon’s Bibles, all the Gitas are supplied to motel and hotel rooms for free. ISKCON temples all over the US support the effort by making announcements during their Sunday Feast programs and having boxes of books sponsored.
Left to right - Shyam Bihari Das of ISKCON Atlanta, AAHOA chairman Alkesh Patel, and Ramada Inn motelier Ramanbhai Patel
Donations are also collected from other communities. This holiday season, for instance, Ramananda Sakha, Mukharavinda Das and Sraddha Devi, a director at a California computer company, collected around $20,000 from their corporate contacts to subsidize Bhagavad-Gitas for motels and hotels.
And the donations and hard work are worth it. Regularly, moteliers have to replace the Bhagavad-gitas in their rooms because guests take them along with them.
This December, a businesswoman who was attending a local conference in Boston read a Bhagavad-gita in her hotel room. Seeing the stamped address of the local temple on the front page, she visited that Sunday and inquired about Krishna consciousness.
And there are others.
The Bhagavad-gita is a profound literature,” wrote Jon Rodriguez, a guest who sent in a complimentary Thank You letter to a Washington D.C. motel. “I thank the motel authorities who allowed me this opportunity. It has helped me to understand who I am and what this life is about. Life is much happier and less stressful. I still can’t believe my luck. Thank you!”
Super 8 Motel owner Mr. Patel holds up one of 77 Gitas he accepted on the spot from Vedavit Krishna Das (left) and Manish Prabhu (right
Another guest at a California motel, Terrence, wrote, “I got my first Gita in a hotel room and ever since I read the first verse my life has been ever increasingly in Krishna consciousness. Life is a journey back to Krishna. Peace…”
Yet another guest, Leon, who read the Bhagavad-gita in his hotel room became a devotee at ISKCON Silicon Valley. Today he is initiated as Nitya Kripa Das and serves the program that changed his life by making flyers to advertise it.
Meanwhile motel owners are also delighted with the opportunity to keep Bhagavad-gitas in their rooms.
“I often see guests coming in for breakfast with Bhagavad-gita in hand and reading it while they are in the lobby or in the reception room,” said Nilesh P., manager of a Sacramento Super 8. “ It is satisfying to know that I have contributed in spreading this knowledge.”
Everyone wants to help, with even fellow exhibitors at various AAHOA conventions offering creative ideas to boost the project.
The Motel Gita project is such a hit that as well as the ISKCON communities already participating—Silicon Valley, Alachua, Atlanta, Boston, Washington D.C., Laguna Beach, and Oregon—others are becoming inspired to join, such as Philadelphia, and Winnipeg in Canada.
The program may spread overseas too, with devotees in Singapore and London showing interest.
Back in the US, devotees plan to expand the amount of AAHOA conventions they attend, and to develop relationships with other hoteliers’ associations.
“We hope that someday, just like the Gideon’s Bible, the Bhagavad-gita will become a standard in motel rooms,” Rohinanandana says.