Hardselling Krishna among pravasis

Rediff.com (India)/January 9, 2004
By Priya Ganapati

New Delhi -- Among the sea of black and grey suits at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations, four men sporting big tilaks on their foreheads stand out in their beige robes, drawing the attention of the delegates at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Delhi.

Maha Mantra Das (M.A., L.L.B.) leads this group, which distributes brochures about the International Society for Krishna Consciousness among the delegates. Das is the president of the ISKCON temple in Delhi.

He greets delegates whom he has never met before with a namaste and a warm smile. Those who respond are greeted with an effusive Hare Krishna and given a quick speech on how important it is to develop 'Krishna consciousness'. The other team members take the cue and kick into action.

One hands out a brochure inviting everyone to the 'Vedic Expo' at the Glory of India Vedic Cultural Centre of the ISKCON temple in Delhi. The Expo screens films on the Bhagvad Gita, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. A robot show has nine robots to explain Lord Krishna's universal appeal.

Another ISKCON member hands out a copy of the Bhagvadarshan, the temple magazine.

Through all this, Das continues with his pitch, asking the delegates to pay at least one visit to the ISKCON temple in Delhi.

They were here last year too, and the heavy canvassing did pay off as nearly 500 people visited the ISKCON temple in Delhi after the PBD celebrations. Of them, about 50 started corresponding with ISKCON while several developed a relationship with the community.

The ISKCON temple had hosted a 37-member delegation from Holland, which had left the three-day PBD event mid-way to visit the temple.

"At the temple, they finally 'felt at home'. We ensured that they were exposed to their country's spiritual side," says Das. This year he expects more than 1,000 delegates to pay a visit to the ISKCON temple.

"We tell visitors the Hare Krishna movement is nothing new. It is part of India's cultural heritage. Spirituality is a very essential part of life and everyone must practice it," he says.

At the India Gandhi Indoor Stadium, Das and his colleagues are constantly moving through the various sections, networking with people and handing out brochures. "The PBD event helps Bharatvarshis and Bharatvanshis meet. We want both these groups to understand the philosophy of India and get in touch with their spiritual side," says Das.

Their presence seems to have hit a chord with at least a few delegates.

"Religion is an important part of Indian society but it has not been represented in any way at the PBD. It is an emotive issue and I am happy that though there is no official representation, the ISKCON members are here," says Nitin Lakhani, a doctor from London.

Lakhani who is involved with ISKCON in London did not expect a team to be present at the PBD celebrations. "It's a pleasant surprise to see them here. Any presence of religion in this event is a positive development and I am glad Indians are not losing their religious identity," he says.

Das personally takes care of all delegates who drop by the temple (after the PBD event). They are taken to the Vedic Expo and engaged in a discussion on the philosophy of Lord Krishna and the aim of life. The trip is rounded off with a visit to Govinda, the vegetarian restaurant on the premises. The food, or prasad as it is called, is considered to be blessed by Lord Krishna.

"We take personal care of everyone. That is what helps build relationships," says Das.

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