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The Queen at Avanti School
During a visit to the Krishna Avanti School on March 29th, Queen Elizabeth II appreciated the school’s unique values and principles, based upon the teachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Out of four London locations the Queen visited on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee—commemorating sixty years of her reign—Harrow, the North London Borough where the Krishna Avanti School is located, was the very first.
This decision was based largely upon the local Harrow Council’s bid, which centered around diversity and inclusion. It was also based on the location it suggested: the Krishna Avanti School.
“As the first state-funded Hindu primary school, Krishna Avanti perfectly represents Harrow Council’s message of diversity and inclusion,” says the school’s governor Nitesh Gor, who is also chairman of the I-Foundation, the independent charity affiliated with ISKCON that is behind Krishna Avanti. “Also, the school building itself, with its unique eco-friendly construction, has received lots of awards for design and architecture, and is just right for an event like this.”
In anticipation of the Queen’s visit, there was plenty of bustle and preparation at the school itself, in the local community, and in the ISKCON community. Marquees, lighting and staging was set up for the £150,000 event. ISKCON’s Bhaktivedanta Manor, fifteen minutes’ drive from the school, provided elegant British-style catering, with soups, breads, canapés, sandwiches and drinks.
“And of course, the children were very excited about meeting the Queen, rehearsing their performance for her for a long time,” Nitesh says.
On the day of the royal visit, the weather was beautiful as crowds of thousands lined Camrose Avenue on either side of the school entrance, waving British flags as they waited to catch a glimpse of the Queen. Inside the school, six hundred people gathered to attend the event.
Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by her husband Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, arrived at 2:45pm. They were welcomed by Harrow Mayor Mrinal Choudhury, Harrow Council Leader Bill Stephenson, and other local leaders and chief executives. Also presented to the Queen were prominent Krishna Avanti School sponsor Anil Agarwal, and Nitesh Gor, who was assigned to be the Queen’s host during her visit to the school.
Nitesh presented to the royal couple representatives of different local community groups, organizations and schools. He also escorted them through spectacular song and dance displays by local adults and children representing every school in the borough.
The Queen and Prince Philip viewed the ’60 Faces’ exhibition, describing the lives of sixty people from the borough to reflect the historic changes since the Queen’s coronation in 1952. They also enjoyed performances by the Srishti School of Dance, and the Grimsdyke Brass Band and Harrow Afro-Caribbean Society.
Then there was the Harrow Diamond Jubilee Chorale, which performed a piece called “Shifting Sands” with 160 massed choir performers from Harrow Community choirs as well as pupils from local primary schools.
The centerpiece of the visit, however, was a performance by thirty Year One Krishna Avanti School students, held in the school’s custom-made Indian-style temple of Krishna-Balarama. The Queen and Prince Philip sat before the Deities as the students sang Sri Krishna Chaitanya Prabhu, a Vaishnava song written by Narottam Das Thakur, and then the Hare Krishna mantra.
“The royal couple had been very keen to meet the children, and they were very appreciative and impressed by their devotional singing talent, which was accompanied by mridanga, kartalas and harmonium,” says Nitesh.
Next, two five-year-old students—one girl and one boy—approached the Queen and Prince Philip and led them to a specially commissioned tapestry, a gift from the School to Buckingham Palace. Bhaktivedanta Manor temple president Srutidharma Dasa then invited Her Majesty to unveil the tapestry, which depicted Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu dancing and chanting with the animals of Jharikanda forest.
Srutidharma explained to the Queen that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught a philosophy that is “beyond all material designations and differences, and that through singing and dancing we should surrender our hearts to God.”
Along with the tapestry was a plaque that read:
“Be more humble than a blade of grass; more tolerant than a tree. Offer respect to all and expect none in return. In so doing, chant the Holy Names of God always.” - Sri Krishna Chaitanya.
This commemorative Diamond Jubilee plaque was unveiled by
Her Majesty The Queen
His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh
during their visit to Krishna Avanti Primary School, 29th March, 2012.
The plaque will be kept in the School, while the tapestry will hang at Buckingham Palace.
The Year One students also recited the verse, from Sri Siksastakam, that is inscribed on the plaque. When Srutidharma explained that Krishna Avanti is based on these values of humility, tolerance and respect for all, and upon the principle that in order to have peace and prosperity in society we need to imbibe them, the Queen responded “Isn’t that wonderful!”
“She was very appreciative of how welcoming and inclusive our philosophy is of other faiths and traditions,” says Nitesh Gor.
Krishna Avanti already has two schools espousing this philosophy—the original in Harrow and another primary school in Leicester—and it continues to expand.
“We’re six times over-subscribed, meaning we have six times more applications than we have places,” Nitesh says. “So in September this year, we’re opening another primary school in Redbridge, North-East London, and our first all-through (primary and secondary) school called Avanti House, not far from us here in Harrow. That will open with about 240 students, and grow to 1,600 when it’s full.”
Bhaktivedanta Manor’s Primary School, which has been functioning as a private school for close to thirty years, will also join Krishna Avanti’s family of government-funded schools, with a new building set to open in 2013.
“All of our schools are based upon educational excellence, character formation, and spiritual insight,” says Nitesh. “And we’re putting lots of ideas that utilize all three of those in place. We’ll continue to teach Sanskrit, and have special times for meditation, yoga and kirtan throughout our school day. And for our all-through school, we’re looking to commission an academically accredited course on Ethics and Philosophy for years 4 to 18. It will combine Eastern and Western classics and focus on the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. And it will culminate in what’s called an A-level in the UK, which pupils take at 18, just before university.”
Of course, Queen Elizabeth’s visit, which was covered throughout the national press and televised on all national TV channels, will draw attention to these important efforts by the Krishna Avanti School.
“I feel that the Queen’s visit was an acknowledgement by the wider community,” says Nitesh. “And it will raise awareness of us within community groups that may feel attracted to our school now that they have a sense of what we do.”
By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News on 6 Apr 2012