ISKCON’s contributions to India 2 – Internationalization of India’s spiritual culture

by Chaitanya CharanApril 21, 2014

Transcription by: Santosh Prabhu

ISKCON’s contribution to the world, Part 2 is the topic that we will discuss today.

As per the acronym: Internationalization, Non-discrimination, Development, Infrastructure build up and Appreciation.

We will discuss in this session, we will talk about Internationalization.

India’s spiritual culture has had appreciations right from its earliest contacts.

In fact there are references in 17th, 18th century when Europeans first came to India they felt that they have discovered a new universe. Sanskrit is the language which they discovered as the virtues of both Greek and Latin, its vocabulary and grammatical elegance which supersedes both, so from that time onwards, open minded people were appreciating India’s spiritual culture, then when the Bhagavad Gita was translated and Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau, they were American thinkers, called transcendentalists, American transcendentalists, they appreciated the Bhagavad Gita very deeply and after that several spiritual teachers went from India and they shared India’s spiritual message with the world. When Srila Prabhupad in 1965 went to America and he started sharing India’s timeless spiritual message of bhakti with the world, the result was transformational, dramatically revolutionarily transformational. Srila Prabhupad inspired people not just with some intellectual appreciation of the philosophy of the India’s spiritual literature but he also gave them cultural appreciation and people all over the world, as Prabhupad started from America but after America, Europe then Russia and Africa, Australia, South America, every inhabited continent in the world. Srila Prabhupad travelled and he established 108 temples and these temples are like miniature replicas of India, so there is a temple deity worship, there is puja, there is aarati, there is kirtans, there is pravachan, there is prasad and people dress also in traditional Indian dresses like dhoti kurta, saris and it is not just Indians over there, there are Americans who dress like this.

Europeans, Africans, Russians who dress like this.

And even after Srila Prabhupad departed from this world in 1977, the global spread of Krishna bhakti that ISKCON pioneered has gone on rapidly, in fact now kirtan has become immensely popular in especially America, kirtan yoga has become immensely popular and ISKCON was one of the pioneers, Srila Prabhupad was one among the first spiritual teachers from India who publicly did kirtans. Prabhupad did kirtan in Tompkins Square Park in New York and even today at the Tompkins Square Park there is the New York Government Authority has put a plaque under the tree Prabhupad simply, Prabhupad was having no financial resources, institutional support or even many followers at that time, he simply sat under a tree and started doing kirtan and over a period of time hundreds of young people came there and they started dancing, and they put the plaque in the Tompkins Square Park, and this is the place from which the Hare Krishna movement began.

Kirtan, Prabhupad was the person who popularized it and now kirtan has become a huge {} in the spiritual mainstream America and that has given a huge lift to the kirtan in India also. So this spreading of temple worship, the spreading of kirtan, the spreading of the message of the Bhagavad Gita all over the world, this is what ISKCON has done and is ISKCON is continuing to do this. Initially when the Soviet Russia was communist, at that time still there were Russians who wanted to practice spirituality based on the Bhagavad Gita but they were persecuted and yet they continued on practicing despite the persecution they went through and then after communist Russia fell then a whole group of hundreds of pilgrims came from Russia to India to go to Vrindavan and Mayapur and at that time this was such a remarkable event because Russia is considered by legislation to be an atheistic country, so hundreds of pilgrims practicing Krishna bhakti coming to India, so it created media sensation and the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi met them and appreciated their devotion and now Newsweek magazine stated that after the fall of communism in Russia, religion has received a huge boost and spreading rapidly and Hare Krishnas are one of the fastest spreading groups over there. So Krishna bhakti is being spread especially in the Ukraine, there are literally, when there are festivals, there are thousands and thousands of people who crowd the temples or the pandals or the venues wherever the festivals are held. So the picture you see over here below, is of a festival in Ukraine and not only in Ukraine or in America or in Europe, but all over the world, people are appreciating India’s spiritual culture very deeply and this internationalization of the spiritual culture of India is a very important contribution that ISKCON has done, in this way it is not only a contribution to the world but it is also a contribution to India because every country has its strengths, what it can offer to the world, and India can offer many things but there are eminent thinkers, even Nobel laureates who are saying that India’s moral and India’s spiritual wisdom can offer unique contribution to India, to the world and Srila Prabhupad is helping through the establishment of ISKCON and subsequent activities of ISKCON have helped in making the spiritual culture available all over the world and increasing India’s respectability and worth in the eyes of millions all over the world.

So more and more people are recognizing India as a spiritual super power and if India attacks its spiritual potential and shares it with the world, India can become the world’s unrivalled spiritual power.

This internationalization of Krishna bhakti has been appreciated by eminent leaders and scholars. In America many scholars have appreciated how Krishna bhakti has transformed people in such a substantial way and in India also when the glory of India Vedic culture center and temple was opened in New Delhi, the then Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to the inauguration of the temple and he said that, “in this age of globalization, ISKCON is the first organization that has globalized Krishna bhakti, spreading the message of Bhagavad Gita”, and this is a message that this contribution is something which Indians can be proud of. Similarly when the ISKCON’s Pune temple was inaugurated at that time the President of India Pranab Mukherjee came and he said that, “the astonishing way in which Srila Prabhupad and ISKCON has spread Krishna bhakti all over the world, is one of the remarkable events in all history”. And the same has been said by the very well respected scholar, Llewellyn Basham, who is well known as the author of the book, “The Wonder that was India”, he said that, “just within a few decades, where there was practically no existence of Krishna bhakti in America, a movement has come and has altered in a significant way the culture landscape of America, this is one of the most significant events in modern history”. So today there are temples of Krishna and there are Krishna bhaktas practically in every country in the world, definitely in every continent and there are festivals celebrating Krishna’s birth, Krishna’s appearance Janmashtami and there is especially Rath Yatra which is celebrated in metropolis, in all the metropolis of the world. And it is a much loud festival where people from not just Indian expatriates, but people from various denomination come and enjoy this festival of dancing and singing and pulling the Rath Yatra cart and it is become in many parts of the world much loud part of the cultural landscape, cultural calendar of the local area. So especially for example in Poland, the devotees do festival of India where they build big pandals, moveable pandals and there they have yoga, they have bharata natyam, they have Indian decorations, sari, bhindi, and then they have demonstrations of spiritual truths through dioramas, exhibitions and they have kirtans and some of the festivals, devotees have also invited to the Woodstock festival and at one time, twenty thousand, forty thousand, hundred thousand young people are given prasad, they participate in the dancing and singing of kirtans and creates a spiritual wave among people. So the Times of India in one of its editorial about ISKCON they wrote an article titled “Rebirth of Krishna” that what is India’s greatest export commodity, so is it Indian software engineers who have gone to many countries in the world, is it English speaking Indians who have become expatriates in various countries, there are many countries in Africa, in Europe where we go we may find no or very few Indians there, but even there we find Krishna bhaktas. So Krishna has become the number one export commodity of India and this has been done by ISKCON’s efforts of sharing India’s spiritual culture, so Times of India said that Krishna has become India’s number one export commodity and through this India’s spiritual glory has spread far and wide and millions and millions of people are appreciating India considering them as there spiritual sanctuary and they come to India for getting spiritual shelter and to get solace and rejuvenation, go to piligrimages and their presence also rejuvenates Indians faith and appreciation in their own culture and it leads to a revitalization of bhakti even in India, so there is symbiotic effect Indians spiritual culture going all over the world inspiring people all over the world and then foreigners coming to India and inspiring Indians. In this way ISKCON’s foremost contributions is the internationalization, the globalization of India’s spiritual culture.

Thank you.

Hare Krishna!



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Chaitanya Charan

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