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February 9, 2024
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Members of the New Vrindaban temple in Moundsville, W.Va., chant and dance during a celebration on Oct. 22. Temple members belong to the Hare Krishna faith, more formally known as ISKCON or the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. ISKCON turns 50 years old this year. (The Washington Post)

MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. — The Ramkumar family piled into their van early Saturday morning and drove five hours west from their home in the Washington suburbs into the American heartland.

They passed cows and horses, church after church, Trump-Pence yard signs. And then they arrived at the Palace of Gold.

They parked, took off their shoes and entered the temple. They lowered themselves all the way to the ground, foreheads touching the floor in obeisance. Then they took their seats and began to chant: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna.”

The Palace of Gold — ornate, lavish and completely unexpected on this remote hilltop — was built by early devotees who taught themselves to cut marble and stained glass in order to pay homage to the traditions of India.

Back then, members of the Hare Krishna faith — more formally known as ISKCON or the International Society of Krishna Consciousness — were mostly young, white hippies drawn to a new version of counterculture spirituality. They gave up their jobs and their homes and then gave up alcohol and drugs and extramarital sex. They went to live in remote communes and proselytized to strangers in airports.

Today on the 50th anniversary of this homegrown religion, something remarkable has happened. After waves of migration to the United States from India over the past two decades, the vast majority of Hare Krishna’s believers in America are no longer white Americans. They’re Indian immigrants like the Ramkumars, who hold down regular jobs and drive to temples to worship, rather than live in communes.

With its roots in centuries-old Hindu beliefs, the religion invented in 1966 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada reminded Ramkumar Manoharan and his wife, Jeyasree Jeyabalan, of the complex faith of their childhoods.

“We used to worship different forms of God, all the forms of God. … We were like a supermarket of gods, ” said Manoharan, an IT contractor for the Department of Homeland Security .

Not long after Manoharan and Jeyabalan moved to the United States in the late 1990s, they were told by a relative about a palace in West Virginia built in the style of an Indian shrine. So they decided to take a sightseeing trip.

“And right in this place, ” Manoharan says, pointing at the ground in the West Virginia temple, he picked up his first copy of one of Prabhupada’s many books. Now, standing in the same spot years later, he points out the book that changed his life to his 10-year-old daughter Hamsika.

He came to believe what the book said, he tells Hamsika — that there was only one God, Krishna, and that he should worship only the deities who are forms of Krishna.

Source: www.washingtonpost.com
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