Row over Krishna temple in Moscow

Rediff News/March 24, 2004
By Delphine Thouvenot

Plans to construct a Hare Krishna temple in Moscow have sparked off a controversy in Russia where the Orthodox Church dominates and many regard Krishna followers as dangerous sectarians.

For Vadim Tuneyev, chief of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in Russia (referred to as AICK in Russia), the temple is a point of pride. "It will be able to welcome 2,000 believers on festivals," said the former biochemist who prefers to be called B S Goswami, the spiritual name that he took after joining AICK.

But for many Russians, a Krishna temple in the Russian capital would be an affront to the country's main faiths.

In January, Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish religious authorities in Moscow spoke out against construction, saying it is against Russian tradition.

Construction is set to begin by the end of the year but Tuneyev is yet to receive authorization to build the temple.

The AICK was recognized as a religion in Russia in 1988 when the Soviet Union and decades of official atheism began to crumble. Today, it claims to have up to 100,000 followers spread across the country.

Tuneyev greets visitors at his office in a small rose-brick building in northwest Moscow, with a portrait of Krishna as a backdrop, dressed in an orange robe.

Tanned from a recent trip to India, where he sought to raise money for the temple, whose construction cost is projected at $10million, he laughed off a demonstration this week by 2,000 people.

The protestors had rallied in Pushkin Square in the centre of the capital, brandishing icons, flags and banners reading Friends, Defend Your Faith, We Oppose the Expansion of Sects and Beware! Krishna followers go in for brainwashing.

Tuneyev described them as 'extremists' and on Wednesday said the group would file a lawsuit against the demonstration's organisers.

"This is an attack on our right to practice our religion," he told a press conference in Moscow. "We are worried about the increasing hatred."

Earlier in the week, he proudly showed off the architectural plans for the huge building, which is due to feature three cupolas and be nestled on the two acres that the Krishna movement received free from the Moscow authorities due to its religious status.

The gleaming white temple, flanked by a cultural centre, will be called Sri Sri Radha Krishna Mandir and be 'open to all Hindus' though administered by AICK members.

Tuneyev dismissed rumors that the structure would surpass the imposing Orthodox Christ the Savior cathedral saying the temple's height would not reach 40metres (130 feet).

Tuneyev said that Russia's Indian community supports the project since numerous Hindu believers are now forced to pray in a little room with a 200-person capacity, housed in a building that is due to be demolished in a month.

"When we heard that some Russians are against the construction of a Hindu temple in Moscow, we (students) were very surprised," Rajesh Rajan, president of the Indian Student Association in Moscow, told a press conference on Wednesday.

"Without our temple in Russia, we will forget our culture. The construction of this temple will be a good sign of friendship between India and Russia."

Rajan had earlier told AFP that although he was not a Krishna follower, he would come to the new temple to pray.

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