Thursday, April 16, 2015

Times of Life: ISKCON

I first got introduced to ISKCON when I was in primary school [probably in 5th or 6th standard, 1988/89]. ISKCON had started to build a temple at Mahalakshmipuram and had organized quiz, essay writing and drawing competition. Students from SSVM [my primary school] were taken to the under construction temple site for the competition and we had the bus arrangement made from Jayanagar 4th block bus stand. If I remember correctly, my good friend Suhas had won in the quiz competition. I believe we were presented with books on Ramayana and Mahabharatha

My next encounter happened during my high school days when ISKCON people had visited National High School and had books for sale. They also spoke about the competition and invited students to participate in them

The next opportunity to see the temple, courtesy Prasanna, was when he took me there for a pooja he had given in the temple [probably between 1999 and 2001]. I was really awestruck by the brilliance of the temple architecture, ambience and the way pooja was performed at the temple. Probably I had never seen anything like that before. It was a very elaborate pooja ritual and which included aarti, procession inside the temple and circumambulating the sanctum sanctorum, song and dance. The pooja was followed by a meal. This was the first time I got to taste food at ISKCON. The food at ISKCON resembles typical Bengali cuisines. But the best part according to me was the dry jamoon. Ever since, I have developed a liking for that sweet [and only from ISKCON]

I believe I have visited the ISKCON near Kodachadri about 3 times. Myself and Prasanna had been to Kodachadri [I believe in 2000] and this was my first time there. We took the Sampekatte route. This turned out to be a longer route and was the vehicle path. It was a mud road and we were soaked in mud till the time we reached the peak. While coming down, we took the other path and that led to Karekatte. To my pleasant surprise, I came to know that there is an ISKCON temple situated right in the middle of the forest

Myself and Prasanna wanted to do a monsoon trek and we decided to go to Kodachadri [probably July 2002]. Rain was very gentle and mild till we reached Karekatte. We started the trek around 10:00 AM. As we started the trek, the rain started to pour heavily and intermittently. We had thought that the rain might stop and proceeded ahead. Along the way we saw a big tree that had fallen down and a swami from ISKCON was stuck on the other side. He was chopping the branches to make way for his vehicle and he was headed towards Kundapur. It started to rain more heavily and leaches started to bite us. We had gone prepared by taking salt and lime stone, but could not manage well. We decided not to proceed ahead and instead go to ISKCON. It was around 1:00 PM by the time we reached there

Mataji who was staying there understood our plight and prepared lunch, even though it was well past lunch time for them. Also she gave us plenty of dry jamoon and wrapped it in a cover for us to take. We stayed in ISKCON till about 3:00 PM and decided not to pursue further trek towards the Kodachadri. Instead we headed back towards Bangalore

Along with my trekking group friends, we had been to Kodachadri again [2001 or 2002] for a 2 day trek. From Karekatte cross [Kollur road], the trek starts and passes through dense and pristine Mookambika forests. We stopped at ISKCON and then proceeded towards the hill

ISKCON near Kodachadri is spread across 60 acres and there is a very nice temple of Radha Krishna. They run a school for the children staying nearby. They do have a very good gou – shala and do organic farming. It is very hard to believe that they conduct such wonderful activities and by being in the middle of the forests. It will be totally cut off in monsoon from the rest of the world. Even if the mata/swami would want to get ration, they need to be go to Kollur to get them, and it is more than an hour’s journey from the temple. The temple runs purely on donations, and it is one of the activities of the swami to raise funds in order to run/maintain the temple

Mohan, Prasanna, Myself and other friends have been visiting Tirupati every Shivaratri, and we climb the hill on the Shivaratri night. Probably in 1999 or 2000, when we visited Tirupati, we got to know that there is an ISKCON temple getting constructed. We visited the site. The temple architecture was very unique in the sense that the foundation was resembling Lotus flower. The idea was to create the ambience of Vaikunta where Lord Vishnu is seated on Lotus flower. Subsequently, over the years, we visited and stayed in the temple as well, and the temple complex [after construction] turned out to be very beautiful

Prasanna informed me about a program being conducted in ISKCON Bangalore, and known as FOLK. This is an acronym for Friends Of Lord Krishna. It was in the year 2002, we had attended this program. It was a 2 day residential program and we got to know about the various activities conducted in the temple. We had to assemble in the temple by 4:30 AM. This is the time the temple opens and the rituals start. Upon opening the door of Sanctum, elaborate rituals take place. One of the ritual in the Tulasi pooja. By far, my favourite is the Shayana Aarti held during the temple closing time in the evening. The ritual is conducted for over an hour’s time. It involves elaborate aarti, bhajans, dance and circumambulating the Sanctum along with Utsava murthi

We again stayed in ISKCON on new year eve in 2002 and got to witness the various rituals

I had an opportunity to visit Kansas city for 6 months in 2008. My wife had accompanied me on the trip and it was the first time that both of us were visiting a foreign land. We did have a very good accommodation at Marriott service apartments. We used to visit temples regularly while in India and had to find some places of worship in KC as well. To our surprise we discovered that there was an ISKCON nearby to where we stayed. It was a Church converted to a temple and housed Radha and Krishna deities. The customs followed were the same as what I had witnessed in India. Temple head was an American and one of the swami was of Bengal origin. We used to visit the temple every Sunday evening for the aarti. There used to be a discourse on Bhagavadgeetha or on other thoughts prescribed by Srila Prabhupada on Krishna consciousness. This was followed by aarti around 5:00 PM and usually lasted for about an hour. Devotees who used to come also participated in bhajans and dance. There were musical instruments in the temple, like mridanga [a variant of it] and etc. and devotees were free to pick them up and provide background score. After aarti, food was served. Food used to be prepared in the temple by the devotees and had Bengali flavor to it

On the day of Janmasthami, we started the preparation for the festival by participating in the temple activities early in the morning. We started off by cleaning the kitchen and helped in preparing dishes. We took a break in the afternoon and went back to the temple in the evening. We along with other devotees had prepared about 140 varieties of dishes. Janmashtami celebrations started around 10:00 PM and aarti was held at 12:00 midnight. We served and also had food and went back to our apartment. It was a very memorable event and which we won’t forget for life. Devotees from nearby states of Iowa and Wichita had also come to participate in the festivities

Some of the very interesting aspects that I can narrate would be the discourses conducted in the temple. These events were conducted by Americans and who had embraced Krishna consciousness. They were ardent devotees of ISKCON movement and had become sanyasis. Their main task was to spread Krishna consciousness. It was such an irony for us to hear about Krishna, Hindu culture and Bhagavadgeeta from them. But for sure, we were impressed by the knowledge they possessed and respected them for that

Another interesting incident was that of a cab driver [American origin] who used to visit the temple. He had become a good friend of mine. On one occasion, I had to travel to Washington DC and had engaged him for a pick to the airport. Before we started from our apartment, the driver told me that it would cost $30 to reach the airport. He asked me to pay only that and mentioned he is not going to switch on the meter. Also he told if I wish to give him more money, he would donate it to ISKCON. It was very early in the morning [around 4:30 AM] and while we were headed to the airport, there was a poor man seated beside the road. The cab driver stopped the car and handed over a book published by ISKCON on Krishna and told the man to read and follow the principles as written in the book, and that itself is enough to feed him for the rest of the life. It was really amazing to see as to how teachings of Srila Prabhupada had inspired people to accept Krishna consciousness

It has been a wonderful experience to have been associated with ISKCON and the movement. There are a lot of good articles that gets written in the monthly magazine published by ISKCON. It is truly a blissful experience reading them and to get enlightened

Hare Krishna