Hare Krishna logo sticker. Image courtesy of iskcondesiretree.net

What is the Hare Krishna movement?

Devotees of the Hare Krishna movement dance in the street dressed in saffron robes. Image courtesy of Hare Krishna Movement

Devotees of the Hare Krishna movement dance in the street dressed in saffron robes. Image courtesy of Hare Krishna Movement

In 1966 the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, also known as the Hare Krishna Movement, was established In New York by a Swami (a religious teacher) named Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada. In sixties America this movement provided a new and refreshing spiritual concept which gained popularity amongst the hippie culture of the time and from there spread globally. However, the principles and main themes of this modern movement date back hundreds of years to India long before it arrived to the Western shores. The question really needs to be asked is how Krishna – a “classic” Hindu god, arrived and accepted in the West? Why we can find in major cities young westerners selling books about Krishna?

The Origins of the Hare Krishna Movement

The answer to that start hundreds of years back, when a religious movement began to spread out and gain lots of followers all around India. This movement called “Vaishnavism” focused on the Hindu god Krishna.  This movement support a theistic concept of Krishna – they saw Krishna as the supreme god, and the only god in India.  They praised Krishna’s images, tales and appearance and developed devotional practices, like mantras, songs, dances and such in order to worship him and gain the special bond between his love and divinity. Their main practice was to chant the names of Krishna mainly through the famous mantra (sounds or words that create spiritual transformation) “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Hare Rama”.

The Hare Krishna Movement

The Hare Krishna movment interpret classic Hindu texts whilst putting Krishna at the centre of importance, mainly two of the most important texts in the movement’s doctrine – the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana – texts where Krishna is a main figure. This movement accept Krishna as the one and only god in India and their practices show their devotion and love to Krishna as the Supreme Being.

Spreading the Hare Krishna Movement in the sixties

The need of spreading the love for Krishna all around the world was one of the basic principles of the movement. And therefore, In the 19th and 20th century after the British ruled India, a group of devotees started to plan how how to bring the message of Krishna to the west. This actually happened for the first time in the 60s, when the swami arrived to America and established the first Krishna movement in the west. As said, the ideals of the orange dressed and bold head swami met an enthusiastic crowd of youngsters who wanted to rebel against their parent’s old ways, against the old religious structures and to turn to a fresh spiritual concept. The message of Krishna’s love and devotion made perfect sense to them. The movement expanded far and beyond America and reached main European cities and even Russia, China and the Middle East. Today the numbers of members in the world wide organisation is in decline.

The movement today

After the Hippie movement of the 60s and 70s slowly mellowed, and a number of scandals related to the movement’s leaders published in the 80s, only sporadic representations of “Krishna embassies” are now active, alongside with vegetarian restaurants, book publishers, charity organisations and internet sites.

The centre of the Hari Krishna movement in India

When travelling in India, the best place to admire the activity of the Hare Krishna movement is with a visit to the Krishna centre in Mathura and Vrindavan. These two towns are identified with the mythological background of Krishna and today are the beating heart of this movement. This is the best place to track down the interesting religious practices, visit the temples, the pilgrim sites and to have an insight in the daily life of the Krishna members that are coming to this center from all over the world. Mathura and Vrindavan are easy to reach by a short train journey from Delhi or Agra.

How to arrive there

Mathura the center of the Krishna movement. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Mathura the center of the Krishna movement. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Mathura is 56km north west of Agra and 141km south of Delhi. Buses go on a daily basis from Delhi an Agra. Trains run daily from Delhi to Mathura and the The Taj Express runs from Agra to Mathura. Vrindavan is a short ride from Mathura only 10km.

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