“Joy of Devotion” Inspires a Half-Century of Growth
Washington, D.C.—1966 was a significant year. Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s “Little Red Book” was published for the first time. Despite mass protests, the United States began to bomb Hanoi, North Vietnam’s capital. The Soviet Union’s Luna 9 made the first soft landing on the Moon. Actor Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California. Indira Gandhi visited Washington. Walt Disney died. The Beatles performed their very last concert in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
And, on New York City’s lower east side, surrounded by a handful of young followers in a small storefront temple on 2nd Avenue, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada incorporated a fledgling religious society. He named it the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON. On that hot summer day, the 13th of July, the Hare Krishna movement was born.
Few noticed the event. Fewer still would have expected this 70-year old swami and his band of reformed hippies to be more than a blip in the avant-garde history of New York City. But, fifty years later the society Prabhupada created is arguably the largest and most influential of global Vedic (Hindu) organizations, and the 600 plus Hare Krishna temples around the world attract an estimated nine million worshippers per year.
“Besides scholars, few people know the depth of the Krishna movement’s roots in India’s historic Vaishnava tradition, nor ISKCON’s impact as a leading proponent of devotional bhakti yoga around the world,” says Dr. Ravi Gupta, head of Utah State University’s Religious Study Department.
Srila Prabhupada passed away in November 1977. But, the movement he began has proven to be a resilient one. ISKCON today claims not just 600 temples, but 65 eco-farms and 110 vegetarian restaurants. Its affiliated Bhaktivedanta Book Trust is the world’s largest publisher of Vaishnava literature and has distributed 516 million books and magazines.
In addition, ISKCON’s affiliated Annamrita Food Relief program feeds 1.2 million school children every day in India, and ISKCON is the official faith partner with the British government for the Krishna Advanti schools, which oversees multiple schools. ISKCON’s world headquarters in Mayapura, West Bengal India, draws one million pilgrims each year and a new Temple of Vedic Planetarium is under construction that will hold 10,000 people in the main worship hall.
As early as 1975, scholars took note of ISKCON’s growth. Dr. A. L Basham, author of the famed book, “The Glory That Was India,” wrote that “The Hare Krishna movement… is historically very significant, for now, for the first time since the days of the Roman Empire, an Asian religion is being openly practiced by people of western origin in the streets of western cities.”
“ISKCON teaches that every living being is an eternal soul, and that happiness comes from awakening our relationship with God, Sri Krishna, the all-attractive person,” said Anuttama Dasa, ISKCON’s Communication Minister. “People know that a consumer driven life is a dead end; when they experience the joy of bhakti, or devotion, they realize this is what they are looking for.”
ISKCON inaugurates a year of celebrations marking the 50th Anniversary on New Year’s Eve. Throughout the year events will include major Rathayatra (“Giant Chariot”) parades down New York’s 5th Avenue, Washington’s Independence Avenue, Toronto’s Yonge Street, and London’s Trafalgar Square; as well as celebratory festivals and events to coincide with the July 13 anniversary date.
In addition, gala VIP dinners are planned for Sydney, London, New Delhi, Mumbai, and Washington. And, a 64-year old Krishna monk will walk for six months across the entire United States, commemorating Prabhupada’s teachings and ISKCON’s growth across America and the world.
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For local temple listings, see www.krishna.com