Fifty years ago, a 70-year-old monk travelled from India to the United States in the hope of starting a spiritual revolution.
His name was Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and on July 13, 1966 he incorporated the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), formalising what is widely known as the Hare Krishna movement.
ISKCON now runs 602 temples, 54 schools and 65 farming communities across the globe.
This month, the New Govardhana Hare Krishna community at Eungella, near Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales, hosted about 1,000 visitors to mark the 50th anniversary of ISKCON.
New Govardhana president Ajita Dasa said the milestone proved the Hare Krishnas belonged to a serious religious institution.
“It means the establishment has gone through what most religious organisations have gone through,” he said.
ISKCON belongs to the Vedic or Hindu culture with its philosophies based on the Sanskrit texts the Bhagavad-gita, Bhagavat Purana and Srimad Bhagavatam.
Devotees practice bhakti yoga and worship Lord Krishna.
New Govardhana devotees
Ajita said there were about 2,000 Hare Krishna devotees in northern New South Wales, with about 100 living permanently at New Govardhana.
Jivjago moved to the community five months ago after being invited by a devotee he met at a Queensland music festival.
“I wanted to see a community or some people living this lifestyle, so they said ‘come visit the farm, but you might never leave’ and I’m still here,” he said.
“I was searching for a spiritual community that supports this calling we have to understand ourselves and our relationship with the universe or the source.
“I’ve found peace. I used to have a bit of anxiety and depression but it was just because I was lacking spiritual balance.”
The village also plays host to many international visitors like South Korean woman Jhulan who has lived on-site for two years.
“I was travelling and looking for something, for some truth, and I’ve found it here,” she said.
“I didn’t have money and they had a free feast every Sunday and I came here and fell in love.
“I believed in a higher consciousness but I didn’t call it God, now I call it Krishna.”
Everyday Hare Krishnas
Devotee Krishnarupa Devi Dasi lives near New Govardhana and said most Hare Krishnas were “everyday people” with ordinary lives.
“We have a core group who are celibate monks and women who live in an ashram environment and their entire focus is temple service, and then we have a very broad congregational group who have mortgages, children, work,” she said.
“From a practical level, they might not have so much time to do specific service in the temples but their inner life is very rich and devotional.”
Krishnarupa is ISKCON’s women’s representative on the Australian national council.
She said the movement had been perceived by some as sexist in the past.
“There was a little period in our history when it was harder for women to take leadership roles — a few short years,” Krishnarupa said.
“It varies in degrees depending on the temple, but here in Murwillumbah we have an equal role and lead some of the temple classes and prayers.
“Women can be perceived as second class citizens in Vedic society, but it’s actually not correct.”
Krishnarupa became a Hare Krishna in the 1970s when the movement was new to Australia.
“I thought I would either be a Carmelite nun or a Buddhist nun and when I finished high school, I started to train as a teacher and during that time I had a lot of the usual angst-ridden years of growing into myself,” she said.
“The Hare Krishna movement had just started in Melbourne and I was interested, but not quite ready.
“Some months later, a friend of mine became a Hare Krishna and I went to see him at the temple thinking ‘oh my goodness, he’s been brainwashed, I’ve got to go and save him’.
“He gave me the Bhagavad-gita and said ‘have a read of this book’ and then I became a devotee.
“What attracted it to me was that it answered my questions in a philosophical and rational way, and it made me feel very satisfied and content.”