Source: Times of India
From the Speaking Tree, Editorial by Reena Singh
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness — the bhakti movement led by Swami Prabhupada — that introduced the spiritual science of devotional service to Krishna in the west turns fifty this year. REENA SINGH reports
Turning fifty this year, the International Society for Krishna C o n s c i o u s n e s s (Iskcon) started by the then 70-year-old Swami Prabhupada has lost none of its youthful vim and vigour. Swamiji made his way to the US from West Bengal to spread the message of Sri Krishna in the western world. He reached there in 1965 and a year later, established the first temple of Iskcon at New York. Soon after, he sent off three couples to the UK who, like wandering minstrels, would sing the Hare Krishna mantra, in their famous kirtana style.They were walking down Soho when they bumped into Beatles George Harrison and John Lennon. Harrison accosted them: “Hare Krishna, where have you been? I have been waiting to meet you.”
The two Beatles had been to Rishikesh and were no strangers to eastern philosophy.
So taken in was Harrison by the movement that he helped devotees launch their first Radha Krishna temple album that quickly made Iskcon a household name in the west. Reportedly, Harrison wanted to join the movement, but Swami Prabhupada advised him to continue singing — ‘Do what you do best and remember Krishna,’ he told the Beatle. Soon, George Harrison released his big single chart-topper, My Sweet Lord, dedicated to Krishna.The simple, lilting melody was set to hauntingly melodious music: My sweet lord Hm, my lord Hm, my lord I really want to see you Really want to be with you Really want to see you lord But it takes so long, my lord Swami Prabhupada took Krishna’s message of bhakti and love across the globe and in a short span of a decade, established 108 temples, 32 farming communities, schools and institutions spread across the globe in the Americas, Africa, India, Europe and Australia. Iskcon’s presence is marked by huge temples, goshalas, eco villages, and vegetarianism. Swami Prabhupada’s contextual and logical translation and commentary of the philosophy of the Gita in his book, Bhagwad Gita As It Is, made the scripture accessible to millions across the globe. Prabhupada’s commentary on the Gita published by Iskcon is sold most widely in India. And it isn’t only because devotees can be seen at airports and traffic intersections selling copies.The version describes Krishna’s philosophy in simple, everyday language and is widely used in courses that teach Hinduism in institutes worldwide.
“The year-long celebration programme marking 50 years has been underway since early this year, when a Ratha Yatra was flagged off from the Mumbai Iskcon temple at Juhu. Just last month, on June 10,David Cameron attended the 50- year celebrations at the Bhaktivedanta Manor, the house that George Harrison donated to Iskcon several decades ago.The ex-PM garlanded the deity of Srila Prabhupada and remarked: “If only he had lived to see what the Manor has become; a mock Tudor country house donated by a Beatle, serving as a hub of worship, celebration and selflessness!” In the US, Iskcon’s famous ‘Walking Monk’, Bhaktimarga Swami is trekking from New York to San Francisco, following the path the movement took when it spread out from the East Coast to the West Coast of the US, 50 years ago. Along the way, the monk is visiting Iskcon centres and yoga institutes spreading the Hare Krishna message as he walks along. An academic conference was held at Harvard on Iskcon’s 50 years and coming up next month is a spectacular show at the Sydney Opera House, a theatrical, musical and multimedia extravaganza showcasing the extraordinary journey of Swami Prabhupada that has transformed the lives of millions. The Australian PM is expected to attend the event that will show how the cultural roots of the Hare Krishna movement have spread in 50 years. There will be renditions of how disciples bumped into the Beatles, had skirmishes with the Russian KGB back in the communist era when people of the Soviet Union were warned to stay away from western culture, pop music and the Hare Krishnas, besides other landmarks in Prabhupada’s life. “Every temple and institute has their own events lined up as well and this year, they will celebrate Janmashtami on a grand scale.
“Delhi will host the global finale to the celebrations in November where 15,000 devotees from 65 countries will take part at a function at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium,” adds Yudhistir Govinda Das, deputy director and national coordinator, India Communications for Iskcon. There will also be a ‘Clean Vrindaban Campaign’ in which 10,000 devotees are expected to take part,” he says. “We have over 10 million devotees worldwide,” he says, beaming with pride at what the movement that spreads compassion and love among society has achieved. And it is this abiding message of love that has taken Iskcon members to where they are today, notwithstanding the controversies that they have had to wade through — of paedophilia incidents,of accusations that funds are being taken to the west,of the erstwhile Russian regime banning sales of the Gita. Eventually,the worldwide message of warmth and love that the Hare Krishna movement has been striving to disseminate has overcome any setbacks of earlier years, paving the way for a new era of universal love and peace.