Hare Krishna temple aims to serve entire Berkeley community

Allen Zeng /Staff

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Hare Krishna is a Hindu temple on Southside that has brought the science of self-realization to the community since 1975.

The Hare Krishna temple — also known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON — began when its Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, or Srila Prabhupada, came to Berkeley. ISKCON has over 300 temples worldwide and serves millions of meals daily, according to Hare Krishna temple president Jagannatha Swami Dasa.

Hare Krishna priest Vasanta Dasa said that Srila Prabhupada was 70 years old and living in India when he made the choice to come to California after he was inspired by his teacher and spiritual master. Hare Krishna priest Bahushira Das added that Prabhupada wanted to translate religious texts to English and even translated one of the Upanishads himself. Until the 1960s, most religious tests were “locked away” in Sanskrit, but they are now widely available in English, Spanish and German, according to Vasanta Dasa.

“This temple has given me everything. This temple is like a transcendental spiritual oasis. You come here to associate, render service and learn about self-realization,” said Radhagopal Das, a Berkeley resident who has been going to Hare Krishna for the past 46 years.

The temple consists of three main areas: the prayer area where devotees pray, the prasadam area where food is distributed and the gift store where devotional clothing and spiritual books are sold. The altar area has walls with paintings of Krishna, along with idols of Radha Gokulnanda, Radha Gavinda Ji, Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra Ji, Lord Narasimha Dev and Gaura Nitya, according to the temple congressional member Satya Devi Dasi.

The temple also has a book table that sells religious texts, vegetarian cookbooks, yoga instructional guides and religious stories for children every Sunday. It also helps the community through prasadam, or spiritual food distribution, to residents in People’s Park during weekdays, according to Bahushira Das.

“Whenever there’s a natural disaster, usually we’re the first ones there … because we hear it on the radio and we get there immediately. We have certain groups especially if it’s in India or Indonesia,” Bahushira Das said.

The temple serves UC Berkeley students by providing free food and answering questions regarding Eastern religion, according to Dasi. The temple serves at least 100 people everyday, and more people on the weekends, according to Vasanta Dasa.

“We have a chanting party that goes all the way to campus, and they hand (out) our cards and say you can come get lunch at the temple… students are so pressed for time and stressed out … so we tell them to come and eat,” Bahushira Das said.

Campus freshman Prianka Subrahmanyam, however, visited the Hare Krishna temple and said that she felt that some traditional Hindu principles were violated.

“I think that while it’s good that people want to learn more about Hindu culture and participate in Hinduism, the basic principles and basic rules that we have in our temples to keep them pure … should still be obeyed even if it isn’t considered traditional Hinduism,” Subrahmanyam said.

Dasi said that the Hare Krishna temple is for everyone because it recognizes the soul regardless of color or race.

“This temple serves the whole community. We have people of all walks of life. We have Black people, white people, Chinese people in our movement,” Jagannatha Swami Dasa said. “It’s not just to serve the Hindu community, it’s to serve the whole community.”

Hare Krishna will celebrate its 53rd Festival of the Chariots, or Ratha-Yatra, July 7 in Golden Gate Park. The festivities will include a parade, cultural exhibits, chariots, dance, music and a free vegetarian feast, according to Jagannatha Swami Dasa, who said that all are welcome.

Contact Aishwarya Kaimal at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Aishwarya_R_K‏.