Column: Remembering Hare Krishna


Vrindavan, India, said to have been where Krishna, a revered Hindu deity, spent his childhood, contains many temples in his honor. One temple also remembers a modern spiritual leader who founded a religious movement as well-known in the United States as it is in India.

In 1965, 69-year-old Bhaktivedānta Swāmi, born Abhay Charan De, arrived in New York from India with $7 and a mission — teach people in the West to live in harmony by dedicating themselves to Krishna, who he believed was the highest form of God and the ultimate source of goodness. In 1966, he founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (“ISKCON”) in New York to promote his beliefs, which soon found their way to San Francisco, where they immediately gained a following among members of the city’s counterculture. Travelers soon encountered Krishna devotees in American airports, dressed in saffron robes and chanting “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare,” which they believed connected them with the divine. The movement gained worldwide attention when The Beatles’ George Harrison became a Krishna follower and included the Hare Krishna chant in some of his songs. Followers supported themselves and ISKSON’s mission by selling the 40 books written by Bhaktivedānta Swāmi, including a translation of the Bhagavad Gita he considered among the keys to spiritual understanding.

  Bhaktivedānta Swāmi traveled around the world a reported 14 times promoting his beliefs and opening temples. One of the earliest and most important ISKCON temples is in Vrindavan, displaying magnificent paintings of Krishna as a boy. Bhaktivedānta Swāmi, who returned to India in 1971, died in his office in the Vrindavan temple on Nov. 14, 1977, surrounded by chanting admirers. His white marble tomb, just outside the temple and featuring a larger-than-life golden effigy, is visited every day by Krishna devotees from around the world.