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Hare Krishna? With A British Accent Please

Hare Krishna? With A British Accent Please

March 05, 2012

Looking for answers in unusual places.

The room is gradually filling up as I walk in. Amid all the harem pants and dhotis, I spot a couple of Indian faces. Everyone else is white. The friend who persuaded me to come is late, leaving me feeling entirely uncertain and a little incredulous. There’s no time for misgivings, however; a man draped in white takes his place in front of the microphone and with a lilting accent, starts singing “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna…”

This is (as you undoubtedly have guessed by now) my first introduction to the Hare Krishna movement. As a self-proclaimed atheist and someone who inwardly cringes at elaborate family poojas, I generally steer clear of these kinds of things. Religious preaching? No thanks. But to my immense surprise, as the evening unfolds, I feel my scepticism melting away and my curiosity piqued. Maybe it’s the rather innocuous set-up (a come-as-you-please vibe, very un-cult like), or the humility with which the guest speaker addresses us. Maybe it’s the sheer fact that he’s British. Whatever it is, I am intrigued and want to know more.

The speaker, Bhadrasena, begins by assuring us everything he is about to propose is entirely up to us to accept or reject (instant brownie points in my book for not force feeding us any theories). He questions the concept of happiness (What is it? Why do we strive for it? What if it’s all just an illusion?). It’s all very Morpheus à la Matrix style, but enlightening nonetheless, especially as this is also my first encounter with the Bhagavad Gita*.

Getting to know other devotees’ personal stories over dinner later is fascinating. The diversity of the crowd - I find myself sitting next to a Russian engineer and a German yacht designer! - is simultaneously bizarre and humbling. A question that has been nagging me the whole night comes back to me: why do you know more about this than I do?

My mother once told me that she was taught meditation by a French lady. Thinking back on this, I marvel at the great irony of it - Indians racing towards western values while the latter in turn reach back to discover ours. What is it that compels these foreigners to seek the knowledge that originated in our culture? And not only seek, but to study it and spread the word of the Hare Krishna movement with such conviction and devotion? I’ve seen them battling wind and rain to talk about Hare Krishna on street corners. Are we staying willfully ignorant of our own culture, letting the west take up the mantle? Why does Elizabeth Gilbert have to tell us how great our country’s spiritual essence is?

By the end of the evening my head is buzzing. There’s still much to learn, digest and ponder. As I’m leaving, I pause to thank Bhadrasena for his illuminating talk. He is sitting cross-legged on the ground deep in discussion with other devotees. Up close, with my jeans and jumper and obvious awkwardness, I feel every bit the foreigner. I shake my head.

How bizarre.

*The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Hindu sacred text that details a conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna, a warrior prince. Their discussion covers theological topics like the nature of God, the universe, and the path to true enlightenment. 

8 Comments

  • Mallika
    By
    Mallika
    31.10.15 01:26 AM
    @ Harry – what I learned was to be more open and less dismissive of everything. To try new experiences, to get exposure, to meet people from different backgrounds and learn from that, to stop being so skeptical of everything, be more accepting, to ask more questions and be genuinely more curious. To find out more about my own culture and history. So many things!
  • Mallika
    By
    Mallika
    10.03.12 03:40 PM
    Satish- thanks! Veby, I agree, it definitely is motivational…and gets you thinking! Shirish, I'm not saying I wouldn't want to learn from them- I'm simply amazed by it and marvelling at it.
    Harry- I think the first and most important thing I learned was not to be judgemental- the first time I saw the Hare Krishna members singing and chanting in town I thought it was some phony thing they were doing, jumping on a bandwagon or something- but once I actually went to their meeting I realized they were sincere, and genuine! Goes to show, doesn't it!
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    09.03.12 06:40 AM
    “I marvel at the great irony of it - Indians racing towards western values while the latter in turn reach back to discover ours”?

    I am dead certain you are not aware of the few westerners who come to India and lament we are not racing fast enough towards western values. They find everything is so stupid with our culture.

    May be we are willfully embarrassed to openly practice our own culture growing up in the west. If India races towards western values as fast as some westerners want, you might feel you are back home in the west when you visit India next.
  • Dee Kay
    By
    Dee Kay
    09.03.12 05:01 AM
    The Hare Krishna movent in Russia - now that is an experience!
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    05.03.12 11:44 PM
    @ Mallika

    The question is what did you learn from the whole experience?

    I don't want to know the things that you have allready included in the article.
  • shirish patwa
    By
    shirish patwa
    05.03.12 03:47 PM
    I never doubted what you proposed to dish out in your article.What is "our"culture if you are oblivious of the basic tenets of it.It is foreign culture!The western culture you think you have adopted is not even skin deep.It is superfluous.This is the problem of most of NRI kids.They are not "desi" or "videsi"But that should not pose any problem nor should your ego get hurt if you learn your culture from person from other culture.What is important is "learning"and not from "whom"For me it is different ways of manifestation of the same thing.The foreign people have got the guts to adopt foreign culture whereas we lack the guts to adopt our own culture.
  • Veby
    By
    Veby
    05.03.12 03:32 PM
    Simply superb!!!! and you know Mallika what this is pretty often these days in Mathura !! You can easily acquire groups of people from across the globe chanting and jumping down in Krishna's temples !! and it really feels awesome to witness all this!!!!!!!!
  • satish
    By
    satish
    05.03.12 06:42 AM
    Very nice, thought provoking post....

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