International Society for Krishna Consciousness
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, commonly known as ISKCON or the Hare Krishna movement, is a religious organization within the Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu tradition. Established in 1966 by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in New York City, ISKCON is deeply rooted in Hindu scriptures, notably the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana.
Regarded as a significant and influential branch of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, which has historical roots in India since the 16th century and has garnered followers in the West since the early 1900s, ISKCON serves a crucial role. The organization’s primary objective revolves around the promotion of Bhakti yoga, a practice cantered on devotion and love for God. Practitioners, referred to as bhaktas, channel their thoughts and deeds toward pleasing Krishna, whom they hold in the highest esteem as the Supreme Lord.
Notably, ISKCON’s notable expansion has occurred mainly in India and, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in nations like Russia and various Eastern European countries that were previously aligned with the Soviet bloc. Enriched by its foundation in ancient Hindu scriptures and its emphasis on devotion, ISKCON strives to foster spiritual connections, inspire profound love for God, and cultivate a sense of unity among its worldwide membership.
History and belief of ISKCON
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, commonly referred to as ISKCON or the Hare Krishna movement, is a significant religious organization within the Gaudiya Vaishnavism tradition. Its followers, known as devotees, trace their lineage back to Gaudiya Vaishnavas and constitute the most prominent faction within the Gaudiya Vaishnavism movement.
The term “Vaishnavism” signifies the worship of Lord Vishnu, while “Gauḍa” points to the geographical origin of this branch, specifically the Gauda region spanning West Bengal and Bangladesh. Gaudiya Vaishnavism has held a devout following in India for approximately five centuries, primarily in regions like West Bengal and Odisha. This movement was instigated by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, an influential figure who swiftly propagated ecstatic bhakti, a form of profound devotion, throughout Bengal. His introduction of “Sankirtan,” the practice of expressing devotion to the Supreme God Krishna through dance and song, marked a departure from the confines of caste and creed.
Chaitanya‘s legacy was carried forward by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who brought Gaudiya Vaishnavism to the Western world in 1965. Despite arriving in New York with limited funds at the age of 70, Prabhupada ingeniously tapped into the 1960s countercultural atmosphere by engaging in public preaching and chanting sessions. This approach resonated with youth and hippies, fostering a following. The movement, initially dubbed the “Hare Krishna Movement,” gained momentum as Prabhupada shifted his base to San Francisco. Its popularity soared in England with the endorsement of George Harrison, a member of the Beatles, who incorporated the Mahamantra into his acclaimed track “My Sweet Lord.” Prabhupada established the inaugural Hare Krishna commune, New Vrindavan, in 1968. Subsequently, ISKCON expanded its footprint, establishing over 800 canters worldwide and attracting millions of adherents.
Prabhupada’s writings and translations, encompassing seminal works such as the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana), and Chaitanya Charitamrita, played a pivotal role in disseminating Gaudiya Vaishnavism’s theological tenets in the Western hemisphere. These texts, now accessible in an array of languages, function as the foundational scriptures of ISKCON.
At the core of ISKCON’s philosophy lies their reverence for Lord Krishna as the ultimate source of all divine avatars. Krishna, in their belief system, assumes the role of the highest manifestation of God, often being addressed as the “Supreme Personality of Godhead.” Radha, on the other hand, represents the divine feminine counterpart of Krishna and epitomizes the embodiment of devotional love. Distinct from the monistic ideologies of some Hindu schools, ISKCON underscores the eternal spiritual identity of the individual soul, which remains separate from merging into the non-dual consciousness (Brahman). Prabhupada suggests alternative terms like Sanatana-dharma and Varnashrama dharma for their religious system, rooted in Vedic authority. ISKCON’s stance aligns with monotheism, drawing its principles from the theistic Vedanta traditions.
Rituals and Practices
One of the most renowned and instantly recognizable practices within ISKCON is the practice of kirtan, characterized by collective chanting or singing of the Hare Krishna mantra. Kirtan serves a dual purpose: expressing deep devotion to God and introducing newcomers to the principles of the movement. Devotees gather openly in public spaces, streets, and parks, harmoniously reciting the mantra while accompanied by musical instruments like the mridanga, hand cymbals, and harmonium. This practice gained notable attention for ISKCON during the 1970s, when devotees engaged in singing, distributing spiritual literature, and openly sharing their beliefs, sometimes in a proactive manner, at places like airports and other communal areas. Over time, while the tradition of Sankirtan remains vibrant worldwide, its approach has shifted towards a more subtle engagement.
Japa, another fundamental spiritual practice within ISKCON and Gaudiya Vaishnavism, involves the meditative repetition of Lord Krishna’s names using a set of prayer beads akin to a Rosary. Within the context of the current age of Kali, this practice is considered the singular path to salvation. Prabhupada established the precedent for initiated devotees to chant the Hare Krishna Mahamantra for sixteen rounds daily, with each round comprising 1728 repetitions, using a Japamala consisting of 108 beads.
Arati, alternatively known as puja, occupies a vital place within ISKCON’s practices. During arati, practitioners offer water, incense, a lit lamp, and flowers to a murti, a sacred image or statue of Lord Krishna. This ritual is accompanied by prayers and devotional songs known as bhajans. Arati can be performed individually at home or collectively at a temple, fostering a sense of unity through shared reverence. Concurrently, devotees engage in bathing, adorning, offering food, and even “putting the murti to rest.” These practices are driven by the desire to foster an intimate and profound connection with Krishna.
Devotees of ISKCON frequently gather, often during the Sunday Feast program, to engage in deity worship, partake in discourses led by senior members, participate in kirtan, and enjoy prasadam, the sanctified food offerings. These congregations underscore the significance of spiritual discourses, which are considered pivotal in advancing one’s spiritual journey.
ISKCON asserts a global congregational membership of approximately one million individuals, with the majority situated in India. The count in Great Britain stands at around 15,000 members.
In the Western context, ISKCON commands a more modest following, with an estimated few thousand individuals engaging in full-time practice. However, a broader interest in ISKCON’s activities is evident, potentially encompassing tens of thousands of people.
Following its initial success in the West, which was closely linked to the countercultural movement of the 1960s, ISKCON faced a shift in momentum from the early 1980s onwards. This marked a significant decline in both membership and financial resources, particularly notable in North America and Western Europe. Moreover, the late 1990s witnessed a deteriorating situation in Eastern Europe. By the year 2000, it was estimated that only 750-900 members resided in ISKCON canters across the United States. In response, ISKCON adopted a revitalization strategy primarily through the Indian diaspora, which emerged as a significant source of support. Notably, in most North American congregations, Indian members constitute a substantial 80% of the total count, contributing significantly to the movement’s revitalization efforts.
Centers of ISKCON worldwide
ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, has established numerous centers worldwide to promote its teachings and practices. These centers serve as hubs for spiritual activities, education, and community engagement. Here are some notable ISKCON centers around the world:
- ISKCON New Vrindaban (West Virginia, USA): One of the earliest ISKCON communities, New Vrindaban is a spiritual retreat and farm community that attracts devotees and visitors alike. It features temples, gardens, and various festivals.
- ISKCON Mayapur (West Bengal, India): Situated on the banks of the Ganges River, Mayapur is considered the headquarters of ISKCON. It hosts the annual Gaura Purnima festival, celebrating the appearance of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
- ISKCON Radha Krishna Temple (London, UK): This iconic temple in London is renowned for its vibrant cultural events, festivals, and vegetarian restaurant. It serves as a spiritual oasis in the heart of the city.
- ISKCON Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (Mayapur, India): A monumental project, this temple aims to showcase Vedic culture and philosophy through its intricate architecture and exhibitions.
- ISKCON Krishna Balaram Mandir (Vrindavan, India): This temple complex in Vrindavan, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, attracts pilgrims and spiritual seekers from around the world.
- ISKCON Chowpatty (Mumbai, India): Located on Girgaum Chowpatty beach, this temple conducts daily arati, kirtans, and discourses, drawing both locals and tourists.
- ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Manor (Watford, UK): A picturesque estate that houses a temple, gardens, and a farm, Bhaktivedanta Manor is a significant ISKCON center in the UK.
- ISKCON Krishna House (New York, USA): Situated in the heart of Manhattan, Krishna House offers a serene environment for meditation, yoga, and spiritual discussions.
- ISKCON Silicon Valley (California, USA): This center caters to the tech-savvy community, providing a fusion of spirituality and technology-focused discussions.
- ISKCON Melbourne (Victoria, Australia): The Radha Vallabha Temple in Melbourne hosts various cultural and devotional events, attracting a diverse community.
These canters, along with numerous others around the world, play a vital role in propagating ISKCON’s teachings, fostering spiritual growth, and providing a sense of community for its members and visitors.
ISKCON Temple Entry Fee
- Entry is Free
What is the right time to visit ISKCON?
Best Time to Visit:
Anytime between the Darshan hours.
Price: No entrance fee is charged.
Timings: 4:15AM to 5:00 AM, 7:15AM to 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM to 8:30 PM.
Average time required to visit the place: 1 to 2 hours.