Hare Krishnas mark 50 years with 4,000-strong festival at Perth temple

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By Emma Wayne, Australian Broadcasting Corporation


PHOTO: People line up to make their offerings at the temple on Krishna’s birthday. (720 ABC Perth: Emma Wynne)

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They are known for their vegetarian restaurants and appearances in the city, dancing and singing in their robes, but there is far more to the Hare Krishnas.

Officially they are the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Founded in New York City in 1966, the movement has now spread around the world.

The ISKCON temple in the Perth hills lit up last week to celebrate not just the annual festival for their God Krishna’s birthday, but also the 50th anniversary of the creation of the modern movement.

From little things

The Hare Krishna movement reached Perth 33 years ago, starting in a rented terrace house.

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PHOTO: Janesvari Gopi, Jagattarini Dasi, Bhurijana Dasa and Shree Radha Raman. (720 ABC Perth: Emma Wynne)

“At that point some Hare Krishnas from Adelaide had been sent to Perth, pioneering things over here,” Shree Radha Raman said.

“I was a young surfer travelling and I met them at the first centre in West Perth in 1983.”

There are now 500 families who are members of the Perth ISKCON temple.

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PHOTO: Inside the temple. Over 4,000 people may pass through on festival days. (720 ABC Perth: Emma Wynne)

Many, but by no means all, are of Indian background.

Plans are underway for much a larger temple in Kalamunda, to accommodate the crowds that can swell to over 4,000 on Krishna’s birthday — the Hare Krishna equivalent of Christmas, when celebrations continue until well after midnight.

Surviving the hippy years

Taking part in last week’s celebrations were Jagattarini Dasi and Bhurijana Dasa.

The pair joined the movement at the height of the counter culture of the late-1960s.

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PHOTO: A model of the Perth Hare Krishnas’ planned new temple for Kalamunda. (720 ABC Perth: Emma Wynne)

“We were young and those were hippy days,” Ms Dasi said.

Prior to becoming a Hare Krishna, Ms Dasi was a young Australian actress that went by the name Janne Wesley and starred opposite Mick Jagger in the 1970 film Ned Kelly.

She said a visit to a temple in Los Angeles changed the course of her life.

“Something was deeply moving for me at that point and I decided that I wanted to explore what the teachings were and what the lifestyle was,” she said.

“I stepped into another realm.”

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PHOTO: Every year a child is dressed as baby Krishna at the Hare Krishna temple, symbolising that the Lord is exists in a personal form. (720 ABC Perth: Emma Wynne)

Ms Dasi turned her back on acting and agreed to marry fellow devotee Mr Dasa — a man she only met only two hours before the ceremony.

Ms Dasi’s mother, living in Australia, found out by reading a TV Week billboard stating: “Weird cult forces famous actress to marry Japanese monk”.

“My uncle and aunt quickly came to visit,” she recalled, laughing.

She said it was not something she regretted but admitted it was a radical move.

“It was a different time, the early ’70s,” Mr Dasa said.

“Nowadays people are more inclined to continue their regular lifestyle and adopt Krishna consciousness practises systematically, rather than massive jumps.”

Friday night happiness

Indeed, young people continue to be attracted to the modern movement’s messages, including Kirtanananda Caitanya Das.

He said being a Hare Krishna simply made him happy.

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PHOTO: Padma Radha Devi Dasi, son Arjun and Kirtanananda Caitanya Das at the Krishna birthday celebration.(720 ABC Perth: Emma Wynne)

“I joined in 2012. Since then I have never stopped coming,” he said.

“Every Sunday feast, I am here.

“I like to do devotions service for the lord, that attracts me the most — and the evening singing in the temple.

“Everybody is happy, that gives me happiness too.”

He is often among the group that goes into the city centre to sing and dance.

“We especially go on Friday nights because well, people are happy on Fridays. That’s the reason,” he said.

The kitchen religion

Practising Hare Krishnas are typically vegetarian.

The movement has affectionately been dubbed “the kitchen religion” thanks to their fondness for feeding people and spreading their sanctified meals.

“Mostly all Hare Krishnas are vegetarian, because of the violence involved in killing,” Ms Dasi explained.

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PHOTO: Hare Krishnas love feeding people vegetarian food. (720 ABC Perth: Emma Wynne)

Shree Radha Raman was only the fifth person to join Perth’s Hare Krishnas in 1983.

She said they opened their first restaurant in 1985 on Barrack Street.

“Back then we were the only ones doing vegetarian food,” she said.

“It’s quite different today.

“We are quite famous for our food.”

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PHOTO: Before making their offering, each person is daubed with the Tilak, made of a clay paste. (720 ABC Perth: Emma Wynne)

“We just like to feed people. It makes us so happy,” Bhurijana Dasa added.