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Youthful converts to international Krishna movement

IANS, India
Sep. 19, 2004 • Monday September 20, 2004

The enthusiasm exuded by the young men is infectious, but their mission in life is not exactly what others their age would pursue – devoting their life to propagating the teachings of Hinduism‘s popular god Krishna.

Scores of young men have left the comfort of home and family, turning their backs on sound educational degrees to join the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) movement.

Heads shaven, wearing yellow or saffron attire, with a long sandalwood paste mark on the forehead running down till the tip of their nose, these men are dead serious about their devotion to Krishna.

There are 45 young initiates at the Delhi Iskcon temple, a huge, red sandstone edifice in the middle of a crowded neighbourhood complete with waterfalls, fountains, small terraced gardens, a restaurant, snack bar and a bookshop.

“It is totally divine,” says 28-year-old Sakshi Shyam Das, who joined the movement two years ago. “Some people are peaceful, some happy, while some are blissful. With Iskcon one is only blissful,” he says philosophically.

Sakshi Shyam Das – the name was given to him after the initiation ceremony of the society – has left behind his identity as Sanjiv Budhiraja, a postgraduate in commerce from Meerut. He has his parents, three brothers and three sisters back home, and he keeps in touch with them regularly, he says.

‘Das’, meaning servant of god, is suffixed to the names of the initiated.

Kalpavriksha Das, 31, who joined the society two and a half years ago, is a post graduate in sociology from Lucknow University. Called Krishna Murari Tripathi before he was initiated, Kalpavriksha left his parents, two younger brothers and a sister back home in Lucknow, “inspired” by the Iskcon teachings of the Vrindavan centre, he says.

While both Sakshi Shyam and Kalpavriksha have opted for ‘brahmacharya’, or leading a celibate life, their saffron attire being a sign of their choice, there are others in white and yellow dhoti kurta.

Both men are part of the “preaching movement” to spread Iskcon’s message, they said.

The yellow dress is worn by new ‘bhaktas’, or initiates. They are given six months or more to study the Bhagvad Gita and participate in activities, after which they are initiated.

Twenty three-year-old Vivek, a new bhakta from Karnal in Haryana, is a software engineer. He has left behind his parents and is “happy”, he says.

His enthusiasm and laughter is infectious as he says: “I love the dancing and chanting and eating prasad (divine offering).” Iskcon devotees dance to the beat of cymbals chanting “Hare Krishna” (Hail Krishna) with their arms raised.

Vivek says he was following the “four principles” of a devotee even before he joined. They are: not to eat meat, onion or garlic; not to partake of intoxicants; not to gamble; and not to have illicit sex.

There is also 19-year-old Vikas from Faridabad, with shaven head and ’tilak’ who says: “This is real life.”

These young men do not get to watch the television or films. But they say they don’t miss these “material things”.

Their day begins at four in the morning, when after a bath they assemble at 4.30 a.m. to chant and dance for about an hour. After that they say the 16-word “Hare Krishna” chant for two hours. Breakfast follows, where they get to partake of the “chappan bhog” that is supposed to be Krishna’s favourite.

There are devotees who can opt for leading the life of a householder, that is, be a married man with wife and children. These initiates, called “grihastha sanyasis” wear a white dhoti and kurta.

Sahasranetra Das, who has a wife and two children, says initiates like him are “not attached to their activities, or the results of their activities as householders. Our duties are done for Krishna”.

Radha Damodar Das, the chairman of Iskcon’s Delhi branch, says there are three reasons behind young people wanting to join the movement.

“The first reason is when they are unhappy due to whatever reason and they want to find peace. Chanting the holy name and the philosophy attracts them.”

The second reason, he says, is: “Those who could not finish their service to god in their previous birth are reborn to serve Krishna again.”

Some also join for “material” gains, he says. Devotees who have been in the movement for up to 15 years or more are allowed to go to their overseas branches in Dallas, Texas, London and elsewhere.

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