Plans are under way to build a new Hare Krishna temple in Wellington.
Set against the rural backdrop of Newlands, about 30 minutes’ drive from the city centre, the proposed temple will be the third to be set up by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in New Zealand.
There are two existing temples in Auckland and Christchurch, respectively.
The love feast is an important event in the ISKCON calendar, when followers congregate every Sunday to share a vegetarian meal, or prasadam, following prayers marked by loud chants of Hare Krishna as devotees sway, hands aloft. There is also a discourse on the Bhagavad Gita.
The Wellington congregation, which meets regularly at the Hare Krishna centre on Newlands Road, comprises mostly members of the local Kiwi Indian community living in and around the suburb.
The giving away of food, similar to the custom of the ‘langar’ or free kitchen followed by the Sikh gurudwara, underpins the Hare Krishna movement.
Jagjeevan Das, president of ISKCON Wellington, explains the origin and significance of the love feast.
“The Hare Krishna movement is centred around the distribution of prasadam,” Das says. “When Swami Prabhupada (ISKCON founder) was sitting in his ashram in India, he noticed little boys searching for food in rubbish bins.”
The free distribution of food became institutionalised in Hare Krishna centres everywhere from that day on.
Das believes the food is sanctified by offering it to Lord Krishna first, before it is distributed.
“Food eaten thus cleanses you of your sins,” he says.
Food is the gateway to Krishna consciousness. Prospective followers are drawn to the movement via their palate.
“People at first may not have the inclination to join our movement,” Das explains. “But they are drawn in after eating our food. The effect is instantaneous. It’s an awakening.”
The Sunday love feast, integral to the Hare Krishna movement, is a way of attracting more followers. Prior to moving to the dining area, first timers in the Wellington congregation are asked to introduce themselves to the gathering.
The singing and dancing that precedes the love feast are steeped in hoary legend.
Members of the Hare Krishna movement believe that Lord Krishna incarnated in the 16th Century as Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who constantly chanted the Lord’s name as set out in Vedic literature.
Followers believe they are ordained by Prabhu Chaitanya to spread the Krishna chant to every nook and corner of the globe.
Das likens the cleansing impact of the Krishna chant to the act of wiping a dusty mirror.
“The heart is like a dusty mirror. You have to first clear the dust before you can see yourself,” he points out.
Das says his first encounter with the Bhagavad Gita marked the start of his spiritual journey.
He and his wife set up a Hare Krishna centre in Wellington before facing many ups and downs and finally settling in Newlands.
Currently, Das spearheads a funding drive to kickstart the temple construction project.
The Hare Krishna restaurant, a popular eatery on Willis St in downtown Wellington, provides income to support the Newlands centre’s activities, including the construction of the new temple.
Das, a former statistician with the NZ government, reposes his faith in Lord Krishna to bring the project to fruition.
“When a child cries, the parents hear and attend to it,” Das says.
Likewise, chanting Lord Krishna’s name will not go in vain, Das believes.