What It’s Like to Hang Out With Hari Krishna’s

My last experience with Hari Krishna’s was in the early 80′s when I was a college student at Georgia State University. Some of my adventurous, pot-smoking friends and I used to get toasted in the park in downtown Atlanta. We would frequently get approached by Krishna members and they’d invite us to eat and chant with them. We did. That was a long time ago.

Do they still party like it's 1979?

Do they still party like it's 1979?

Yesterday, I was on my way to Summerfest–an arts festival in Atlanta, when I got stuck in some very nasty traffic. I sat in my car for about 10 minutes without moving an inch. I heard some faint music…rhythmic, minimal instruments, lots of drums and tambourines. I looked to my left and there they were. Right out in the street for everyone to see. Krishna’s. And they were having a party. I chose to opt out of traffic and crash the Krishna-fest.

I found a back-street and parked my car. I was greeted by my first Krishna of the day. Just what I expected. A man wearing a dress, with one of those funny pony-tails and some clay on his face.

Mayapura Dhama Das--my first Krishna of the day, and my tour guide

Mayapura Dhama Das--my first Krishna of the day, and my tour guide

His name was Mayapura Dhama Das. He joined the Krishna’s at the height of their party days back in ’76. He’s some kind of priest.  He offered his service as my tour guide. Here’s what I didn’t expect. He was a down to earth, kind of normal, really happy guy. Just look at him!

Turns out this wasn’t just a regular party I was crashing. This was a three day Festival of India. He invited me to check it out and allowed me unfettered access to take photos of anything. Cool. At first glance, it looked like any other festival, only this one had a decidedly India theme.

A Festival with booths....go figure!

A Festival with booths....go figure!

There was face painting.  The Krishna’s call this “tilaka” and they mark all the sacred parts of the body.

Spiritual Face Painting

Spiritual Face Painting

There were children.

Krishna kiddies

Krishna kiddies

There was even a princess or two.  Krishna’s called her a “Mataji.”

Mataji

Mataji

This was beginning to look awfully normal to me.  Where’s all the weird stuff?  How come nobody’s trying to recruit me and get me to sell my stuff and shun my family?  That’s when Mayapura Dhama Das took me inside the Krishna Temple.  Okay, here it comes.  I remove my shoes, bow to who knows what when I went in the door, and I was allowed to witness a very special ceremony.

Alter inside the Krishna Temple

Alter inside the Krishna

His Grace Jayapataka Maha Raj, was leading a ceremony where a couple was formally receiving their Krishna names.  His Grace is considered a “Great King” or “Swami.”

Couple receiving the Krishna names

Couple receiving the Krishna names

Okay, not too weird.  I’ve been to Baptisms and I’ve been to a briss or two.  So far, this just seems religious.  No group sex, no hooka smoking and people were definitely not being forced to do anything.  I’m baffled.  This is not what I expected from the Krishna’s.

The parade was a big part of the day, as it is at most festivals worth their salt.  This one had a float, sort of.

Krisha Parade Float

Krisha Parade Float

Okay, it’s really more of a chariot than a float and they only had one.  But theirs has diety’s of God, and his wife and a eerily realistic, life-size figure of Swami Prabhupada…the founder of Krishna, or Krsna.

His Divine Grace...Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

His Divine Grace...Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

This is no motorized float.  The Krishna pull this float with ropes.  In fact, pulling the rope is a very big deal.  I’ll try to get this right.  They believe that if you pull the rope, then you will not have to experience birth again, except a spiritual birth.  I guess this is the Christian equivalent of salvation.  You better believe I pulled that rope!

Pull that rope!

Pull that rope!

They chanted, sang, played percussion instruments and danced while the chariot made its’ way through the already traffic plagued streets of Atlanta.

Dancing in the Streets!

Dancing in the Streets!

All of this made Mayapura Dhama Das very happy.  He seemed to know everyone there, and there were several hundred people there.  “This is a big family reunion,” he said, “These are all my family, my friends.”

Openly happy all day long!

Openly happy all day long!

Hmmmm.  I don’t have 500 friends.

Throughout my couple of hour visit Mayapura Dhama Das did his best to enlighten me about his purpose and the purpose of Krishna.  He told me that all are servant and only by blessing can one attain spiritual advancement.  He said that Krishna is about the “entire science of self-realization.”  I’ve got pages of notes that I took, but I’m not here to evangalize for the Krishnas.  If you want to know more about them you can go to www.krsna.com.dsc_0569

This was an unexpected experience.  I spent a few hours with people that were happy, friendly and openly welcoming.  They didn’t try to recruit me and they no longer hang out in airports.  In fact, most of what they practice is preached and happening in Christian Church’s all over the world.  No sex outside of marriage, they’re vegetarians, and they practice yoga.

With the exception of the clothes, these people were alot like me.

Cheers,

Jim

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