Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Visit to the Holy Beacon - ISKCON, Bangalore

The introduction of intra-city air-conditioned Volvo buses across various routes in Bangalore covering all vantage points is one the first effort of its kind in the country. This has been running for close to one year or so in the city but I never got an opportunity to use this facility. The coverage of a long distance to reach ISKCON temple, which is located in Rajajinagar, a locality pretty far off from my residential complex offered me this chance, few days back.

I was impressed by the bus facility and these are exactly similar to the ones that I have used in Europe. Even the conductor uses an electronic ticketing gadget, a welcome change from the regular hand signed, tickets placed in the pockets of a tattered leather bag. The only disappointing and unsatisfying feature to my notice was the cost of the ticket, which is pretty high for the regular commuters [i.e. vendors, construction site workers, maids, even humble students as the monthly/daily passes are not valid in these buses.]. The bus was effectively vacant for most part of the journey and by the time we reached the destination it was just my friend and myself. Does this really serve the purpose, as the public transport, be it simple regular buses or the A/C buses should logically cater to regular commuters. But on the contrary these A/C buses just cater to a certain segment of the society, those who can afford. This can serve as an example of the tunnel effect, which was discussed elaborately by Amartya Sen, in the recently concluded NASSCOM meet at Mumbai.
Picture 389

Digression again, back to the topic then, so let me get back to my ISKCON impressions. It was a unique experience for me. A noteworthy place to visit in Bangalore. The ISKCON [International Society for Krishna Consciousness] temple dedicated to Lord Krishna is situated on the top of a small hillock.

We had to climb several steps to reach the sanctorum but that was not very difficult. First of all, we went up few steps to reach a place where we deposited our footwear and camera [no photography is allowed inside the temple] in the safe custody of the temple authorities. As per Hindu traditions and customs, any form of footwear has to be strictly removed before one enters the temple premises. The temple is like an small amusement park in terms of the maintenance and the peripheral physical infrastruture, and I sincerely apologize if that sounds sacrilegious. Before climbing the marble stairs to the entrance, the visitors and devotees are called for to wash their feet at a washing station. After that starts a human chain meandering through metal railings, similar to those that one would find at an amusement park or while entering through the gates of any open-air concert with a metal detector gate for security check and inspection.

Even if it was a normal day sans any fesitivities, still there was a pretty big crowd. Another interesting thing to notice, are the numerous placards warning of pickpockets. The massive crowd of visitors had no problem pushing up close against us, whether it was intentional or un-intentional, I am not aware of that. But it was not the body-to-body kind of close that you find in a typical crowded bus in India. All the while, a bell tolled somewhere ahead in the line and a recording droned on:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare....

There were people of all shades, all age groups and in different moods and there are few foreigners in the crowd too as we climbed through 108 marble steps. So the queue wasn't really for anything in particular and it wound its way through a series of shrines. If I remember it correctly, first there was Lord Narasimha's temple and then Lord Venkateswara's temple which finally ended in an open courtyard from where the entire city's skyline looked splendiferous. The main temple, is large and impressive and few pillars/structures are bedecked with gold. This is the Krishna temple and has a huge hall where devotees and visitors, sit in peace after offering their prayers.
Picture 393

While Ju was sitting here, I walked to an information counter and started gathering information on Akshaya Patra Project about which I had heard and read lots in newspaper and magazine. Akshaya Patra Project is the mid-day meal scheme, where school children in government-run schools are given free lunches in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa. The reason and rational behind this program is that food could lure children to attend school. Only when a child’s stomach is satisfied, s/he would show some postive inclination for studies in schools in rural or semi-urban areas.

"Akshaya Patra" means the container that never gets empty. It is the container Lord Krishna gave to Draupadi, before the Pandavas started their journey into the forest. The Lord wanted his cousins to eat well and never struggle for food, which finds a parallel in ISKCON's scheme. The entire program is managed by some really smart, experienced and educated people who hail from some of the top engineering schools in India like IIT Chennai, REC Warangal, REC Nagpur, IISc Bangalore, etc. Few among them have even worked in business houses both in India and the US, before dedicating themselves to this altruistic activity. I did a simple calculation to realise that an amount close to 30-32 Lakhs Rupees is spent each day for this Akshaya Patra Project across the various centers in India. Assume that each meal costs around Rs. 6 and there are close to 5,00,000+ children fed daily by this selfless initiative and so this amounts to figure stated above. On enquiry, I learnt that the funding for this comes from software/tech companies, philanthropists, business houses, voluntary donations, and also from the various centers of ISKCON spread across the globe.

This main temple winds its way through a bookstore before culminating in a food stall. There are a number of counters where you can buy books, trinkets, religious icons, posters, postcards, sweets, fruits, savory food, jewelry, incense sticks, dresses, saris, t-shirts, etc. There is also an amphitheatre, equipped with the latest state of the art by BOSE and DOLBY Digital, but unfortunately there were no shows the day, we were there because of some repair and maintainence work. The food stall is a center of attraction and offers a wide variety of mouth watery eatables such as jalebis, samosas, dhokla, chaat, dahi vaada, etc. At few vantage points there are donation counters where one can donate money (credit and debit cards are accepted, although this sign was posted above a drop-box).
Picture 391

The food court goes over a pedestrain footbridge back to the parking lot where a man with a stack of dried banyan leaves shaped like bowls hands each one a leaf, and another man serves spoonful of hot yellow sticky rice pudding called prasadam into it. It's an offering, and one should eat it with good spirit and appreciation sitting on the limestone benches that borders a pool of placid water there. Birds chirping chee chee and a cacophony of sounds provide the natural music at this sunset hour.

Was it fear of God, spirituality, or just an invitation to see a new place that drew me to this place, ISKCON. Whatever may be the reason, it gave me an inexplicable confidence that one can pass thorough the vicissitudesof human life in this world without any fear and falterings. I recked little of time during this gratifying experience. I don’t know how I can satifactorily explain the mystery of serenity and divine within-ness of this place, with its independence of any temporal sense. By this time it was twilight, and somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I was aware that in the world below, nights come with suprising quickness of traffic jams, yet I felt no concern about that matter.

I stood there and took some pictures from outside the temple premises. Then within a few minutes Ju and I returned to the humdrum of daily life.

We got stuck in a traffic imbroglio and it was life back on normal turf again.

Keep reading and remain conneted.

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At 1:38 PM, Anonymous bachodi said...

what about thirupathi style paid darshan ?
If you are a "paid member" or have bought "privileged ticket" you can visit god sooner than unprivileged standing in the queue !!

At 11:00 PM, Blogger Kutti said...

Sounds like you had a good experience. Can you really say this was because of the "Krishna Awareness" per say? Your description paints a picture of your rendezvous with tranquility. You may find it in any place where you don't have too much of human interference. Unfortunately in India a place like that will cost you mooocho money. Do note that I am not being a plain skeptic/cynic. Guess my point here is you don't need a religious face to do what isskon is actually doing.Lots of other religious bodies in the country do the same with an exception that they are more easily accessible, even to the common man.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger remainconnected said...

@bachodi : Yes, there was some special pass facility available, but we didn't go for it and went for the normal regular course.

@kutti : Agree to what you say about the amount of investment, that is involved in all this. Some in the name of God and spirituality. I don't really have indepth records of ISKCON's way of dealing but then from what I have seen and read in newspaper, guess they are doing a good job. But I like this place more because it is such a welcome relief from the normal city life and get to see life from close corners.

At 3:55 PM, Blogger srinivas said...

I guess the comments put by bachodi and kutti are not at all acceptable. First of tell what's wrong with paid darshan. What's wrong?.Ok, if we want that no ticket, who'll take the job of maintaining temple. Before passing comments on tirupati style paid darshan, Have you people just guessed how much cost is required for the maintenance of the temple. The way TTD has managed the temple, thousands of pilgrims every hour, so many dormitories, free food for pilgrims, numerous charitable activities, the gigantic tirumala hill etc...,. No corporate can do that. After all these things, TTD lends money to the AP government. First of all, What's wrong in paying money if we are shelling out so much money for useless pesticide colas.

Second, Do you think that the life dedicated temple devotees at ISKCON didn't have any other work to join the hare krishna mission. Most of them have come from respectable middle class backgrounds, studied at very good colleges( IIT,REC, MBBS and many B.E's). Do they sacrifice many materially valuable things just for the 100-200Rs given by people like us. For the kind information of all, they have dedicated their life for the mission of the Lord. To spread the teachings of Sri Krishna by themselves following them first and then preaching,helping people discover their lost relationship with God by giving spirituality. And what Iskcon follows is the No 1 Vedic philosophy/Culture set by Lord Krishna himself. May be superficially for a normal visitor that does not become visible. Here every Sunday nearly 1500-2000 people come for attending various presentations and lectures on Bhagavad gita and more. Many of them are college students. This temple alone feeds 5,67,662 poor children every single day. The Founder-Acharya of Iskcon, Srila Prabhupad wanted to extensively distribute Krishna prasadam to all the children atleast within the 10km radius of Iskcon temple and no child should go hungry. Do you know that this Akshaya Patra has changed and continues to change the lives of thousands of children each and every day. Many dropouts resumes attending the schools, health has drastically improved, performance in studies has shown very very nice progess etc..,. This feat is not even imaginable by any corporate, Government(it's failure in providing even clean food forget about nutrituous food in government shools). And this project has been invited by 5 another State Governemnts. Even a similar kind of charity was started by a very famous pharmaceutical company. But it couldn't manage despite having all resources. Later it was blacklisted by their state Government. Can't we see God helping people those who are helping others honestly.

Moreover, Iskcon is much much beyond a charitable trust. Now it has taken up the initiative of building more temples since temples should be like the spiritual hospitals which cure the material diseases of the mind the and impure heart as per the teachings of Srila Prabhupada. In this degrading age, Iskcon is trying to preserve and expand true Indian Vedic Heritage to the whole world. In fact the whole world till now always admires Indian for its culture not for any thing. Why don't we think holistically rather than passing loose comments? A rupee giving back to Krishna is always return in tens!
Please mail for any more doubts and clarifications

At 3:39 PM, Blogger vins said...

i think wat srinivas has spoken and written really sets the perspective more clearly. Today most people make lots of comments about money being collected in temples and such things but then it is the same people who constantly want clean litter free temples and ask questions about their charity initiatives. So in this context i think iskcon bangalore is doing unmatched service. I think all of us have to support by contributing something financially and not simply find fault with someone who is doing work.I agree its right to comment on someone who doesnt do any work and just swindles and makes his own private property, but in case of Iskcon and especially iskcon bangalore, this is far from true. Their work and their activities speak for themselves.

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At 12:03 PM, Blogger Hai Baji said...

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