“Wherever there is Krishna and Arjuna there is opulence, victory, power and morality. Whoever reads one verse, one line, or even touches one of these books will have an opportunity to achieve perfection in life and meet Lord Krishna face to face,” says Vaisesika Prabhu the leader of ISKCON ( Silicon Valley), based in San Jose, California.
Prabhu is the visionary behind the Panchajanya Project, a program to place at least 1 million copies of the softbound English language edition of the Bhagavad Gita in hotels and motel rooms in the Bay Area, similar to the placing of Gideon Bibles in hotel room nightstands.
The Bhagavad Gita (Song of God) is widely considered the most important of Hindu scriptures. It is less a religious tome than a philosophical discourse on ethics and the nature of God. The organizers of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness(ISKCON) believe that making these sacred books available to millions of travelers (who might not otherwise buy or examine them) is likely to have a positive ripple effect beyond the immediate readers.
On the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) convention in April 2009, volunteers distributed copies of the holy book and requested the hotel and motel owners to allow them to place copies of the scripture in their property rooms.
“Many motel owners, especially the Patels, have whole-heartedly welcomed and supported this program. ISKCON volunteers have placed copies of the scripture in rooms of chains such as Howard Johnson, Holiday Inn, Quality Inn, Best Western, Days Inn, Comfort Inn, Super 8 and America’s Best Value Inn,” says Milan Doshi, one of the founding directors of the project and a software engineer at Wells Fargo Bank.
“Around 60% of the economy lodgings in the United States are owned by Indian Americans, primarily Gujarati Patels. This gives the owners an opportunity to spread the wisdom and glorious message of Krishna throughout the United States. We are finding that many of the owners we contact have been waiting for an organized effort such as this one and are showering their blessings on this project,” says Rohini Nandana of ISKCON’s Boston temple.
“I often see guests coming in for breakfast with the Bhagavad Gita in hand and reading it while they are in the lobby or in the reception room. It is satisfying to know that I have contributed in spreading this knowledge,” says Nilesh Patel, Manager of a Super 8 in Sacramento, California.
Taking a booth at the national AAHOA convention in April marked a concentrated effort by the organizers of the Pancajanya Project to expand operations throughout the U.S. and Canada. They received over 12,000 confirmed orders. To date, the ISKCON volunteers have placed 30,000 books in hotel and motel rooms.
“We request owners to place the Gitas and to contact and encourage their friends and relatives to do the same. Many, but not all motel owners are contributing the cost of the Gitas for their own rooms. Many more are waiting to receive books when funds become available to pay the cost of publication and shipping.
Currently, books can be supplied for approximately $3 apiece, plus shipping” says Doshi. To make the project financially viable, the goal is to cover the cost of the books through donations from the motel owners themselves. For now the books are being supplied free of charge to owners who are willing to place them in their premises.
“We started stocking the Geeta in our motel rooms last year. Some of my patrons have asked me if the books are for sale. Though initially I was skeptical and concerned about people’s reaction, I have not received any negative feedback yet,” says Kirit Patel of Capri Motel in Santa Cruz.
“This is very interesting. I curiously picked up this new book lying besides the bible and I found it very nice. It has so much depth. I have taken a copy with me and I will certainly read everything. It has opened a new horizon for me,” says Andrew Spencer, a guest at the Howard Johnson at Houston.
“The Bhagavad Gita is profound literature. I thank the motel authorities who allowed me this opportunity. It has helped me to understand who I am and about life. Life is much happier and less stressful. I still cannot believe my luck,” wrote Jon Rodriguez, a guest who dropped a complimentary letter at Best Western in Memphis.
“I have developed respect for the Hindu culture now that I have read and understood a little about it,” says Vivian Browne, a guest at Rodeway Inn at Monrovia.
The project began in April 2008, and after the pilot in California, the initiative has expanded to other states in the United States such as Oregon, Texas and to Toronto in Canada.
Shalini K Narang is a freelance writer based in the Bay Area. She reports and writes on business, technology, health and food when she’s not working as a content/technical writer in high tech companies.