India: Joyous Moments in Krishna Country

Entry courtyard to the temple

Entry courtyard to the temple

Coming home from India, it seems perfect for me to write first about the high point for me of our stay there.. We saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted lots of unfamiliar things, experiences to remember for a lifetime. But for me, our visit to the Krishna Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan, the home temple of Krishna Consciousness, was the happiest experience of our trip. The Krishna Consciousness movement (ISKcon) is a 20th century movement founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. His inspiration was to renew joy and life in the worship of Krishna, the god-hero in the Baghavad- Gita, one of the holy books of India. He brought the movement to the USA in 1966. He died in 1977, and his body is interred at this temple.

We arrived at the mandir during noontime worship. This was the most joyful worship I’ve ever seen; people sang and danced in ecstatic happiness.  The “Hare Krishnas” may be viewed in the USA as airport and sidewalk nuisances, but here, where people revere and love Krishna, their worship is deep, ecstatic and true. The lead musician here was so obviously American that I gave him a big smile and a wave, which he returned doubly.

Then  a genuine Little Old Lady in a gorgeous yellow sari, grabbed me and pushed me toward the altar, where one of the monks was distributing flowers after worship concluded. She came up to about my armpit and looked very frail, but she was wiry and surprisingly strong. She gave me several good pushes. She spoke only Hindi, so I asked our

One of the many images of Krishna

guide what she was saying. He said she really, really wanted me to have some flowers from Krishna’s altar. But because I don’t worship Krisha as God, I felt that I shouldn’t take flowers when so many believers wanted them. Nevertheless, our guide waded into the crowd and got some flowers for himself and gave me some of his. The Little Old Lady smiled and patted me on the arm.

One of the three altars draped with flowers

One of the three altars draped with flowers

The sun is hot and blinding by March in India, but, even though the temple had a courtyard open to the sky, it was cooler and kinder to the eyes inside.   We paused a moment by the founder’s tomb, and by a beautiful sculpture of him. And Ian bought a copy of the Baghavad-gita at the book stall just outside the temple.

Later in the day we visited Krishna’s birthplace — a parallel to Christianity’s Bethlehem. Ironically, the actual reputed birthplace is in a building that abuts a mosque, and there have been constant legal wrangles about the spot since the 1930s. The wheels of justice –especially in civil suits– in India grind incredibly slow.

The birthplace mandir is huge and built of red sandstone, very different from all of the other temples we visited, which were of marble and/or granite. Photographs are not allowed in the major temples. No cameras, cell phones, or other electronic devices are allowed, and you are searched even more thoroughly than at the airport. There have been several bombings of major temples, and threats of more. The Indian government takes these seriously and the Indian military (not civil police) now guards these temples, machine guns slung over their shoulders.  They are polite and more-or-less laid back, but absolutely vigilant and aware of all the activity around them. It was chilling and disappointing to be surrounded by armed men at such an important  sacred site. The Indians visiting there seemed to either ignore the military or to take it in their stride. I couldn’t help feeling a deep sadness over the need for their presence.

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