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Hare Krishnas not what they seem from other side of the street

Mar 6th, 2012 | By | Category: Diversity, Featured Article

IN TUNE: Music is a big part of Hare Krishna life. Photos: Sara Greig

AKARSINI sits down, looking calm and confident. She is a mix of Indian and Western fashions – dressed in a pale green cotton sari, yet she wears a black polar fleece jumper and carries a full backpack.

Her pale skin is a contrast to her dark hair that is tied up in a tight pony tail.

“I used to walk on the other side of the street to avoid them too,” she laughs. Akarsini, whose original name was Katie Ploughman, has been a Hare Krishna for nearly seven years and admits she used to think about them in a stereotypical way.

She changed her mind when she met some unique people who happened to be Hare Krishnas.

“I felt like there was no real love in the world and everything was materialistic – I was looking for something more.”

Hare Krishna’s are not widely understood in Western society and people will often do their best to avoid talking to one on the street.

She says the biggest misconception is that people think it is a religion – it is actually a process that combines meditation, yoga and study to achieve spiritual awareness.

Yoga is a major part of a Hare Krishna lifestyle and they practise Bhakti yoga that helps people connect with a higher power.

Akarsini has been seriously practising it for six years, however she believes yoga has become very commercialised.

Chanting and hearing are part of the first process to find inner happiness and this is why Hare Krishnas can be seen chanting and dancing on the streets, she says.

The Hare Krishna mantra consists of three words repeated to different rhythms.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

She says the more you sing and hear it the more it cleans the heart.

“It allows the mind to have clarity, away from complication and stress.”

She says some Hare Krishnas do “distribution” – this is where they stand on the street and try to talk to people about yoga and their way of life.

She says the constant rejection is horrible and if she did not practice yoga she would not do it.

“People shouldn’t be afraid that we are going to convert them,” she laughs.

Her name Akarsini was given to her in a spiritual initiation, where people have the chance to let go of negative events in their lives and start again with a fresh slate.

She says her name is inspired by Krishna’s golden flute, pictured in the artwork at right, and Akarsini describes the golden colour.

When you are born your parents give you a label before they know you – this is a chance for a name to be given that is more appropriate to who you are, she says.

There are some Hare Krishnas who have more spiritual awareness and knowledge and they are held in higher regard.

These people are called either a Sannyasi or a Swami – Swami means master of the senses and controller of the mind.

She says these people have greater knowledge and can travel to preaching centres around the world to teach. Felix, who is originally from China, has been a Hare Krishna for just over a year and says he can find real happiness inside.

He talked to a Hare Krishna on the street and decided to attend one of their Sunday sessions that has a $5 koha.

Soul Feasts on Sundays are held at the Bhakti lounge on Vivian Street in Wellington.

Upon entering, a strong scent of incense wafts down the stairs, calming, but the second flight of stairs creates suspense as to what will greet you at the top.

At first sight a lone man sits at a single desk, which is placed in an open space.

He is dressed in white cotton wrapped several times around his body.

Yellow clay has been smudged at the centre of his brow.

“It’s just $5 each please,” he smiles.

He looks down to a basket of money sitting on top of the desk.

Tables and chairs line a room that also has cushions laid out on the ground – an informal dining room.

Through a hallway and into a large space that is dimly lit, more than 30 people sit on cushions listening to a man give a lecture.

A little girl sits on her mother’s knee; she noisily eats an apple and looks to the back of the room – uninterested in what the speaker is saying.

The speaker’s hair is shaved, revealing a white head, the same colour as his loose cotton pants. He sits on a stool holding an Ipad and every so often he looks back to it for guidance on what to say next.

His speech is modern, he makes references to films and cartoon characters and his audience laughs at his clever remarks.

Karma, reincarnation and the circle of life are the main topics. He describes a metaphor about humans being stuck on a merry-go-round and it is up to us to stop this cycle and move on to a greater existence.

Audience members nod in agreement.

Following his talk is a chance to stretch out and dance to some live music.

The Hare Krishna mantra is projected onto a screen and a man sings it into a microphone while playing a harmonium. He is accompanied by three others, who play drums and percussions instruments.

People get up and start dancing to the beats of the drums – at the very least they clap along.

The mantra is repeated over and over until it reaches a crescendo about half an hour later.

Members of the audience are jumping for joy, raising their hands and shaking their heads.

Those who were acting more reserved by sitting at the back are now standing and clapping along.

A mother lifts her daughter and starts swinging her from side to side, the ends of her miniature sari sway to the music.

I cannot help but clap along – the music is infectious. I feel like I should at least repeat the mantra a few times – who does not need a clean heart?

The music stops and everybody applauds – a few men at the front are smiling while drops of sweat run down their faces.

Dinner is ready and everyone is herded back into the dining room where they line up for tonight’s meal. A tall, tanned man lets people go before him – he says he is hungry, but politely waits.

He mentions to another in line that he is from Palmerston North and travels down every Sunday to attend.

Everyone receives a generous plate of food consisting of a colourful mix of vegetable salad, a chickpea and bean salad, pakoras with home-made tomato sauce, potato salad and a vegetable curry.

It is an assortment that looks very impressive, and the taste does not disappoint.

Helpers come around to tables with pans full with leftover food – most people take seconds.

This is followed by a sugar-free dessert, a date pie with lemon custard.

Gaura-arati has been involved in the centre for almost 10 years. She teaches Bhakti yoga at the centre every Monday.

She opened and managed a similar centre in Auckland after noticing they did not have anything like it.

Hare Krishnas do not eat meat, fish, or eggs. Among other foods they also do not eat onions and garlic as they represent passion and are aphrodisiacs, she says.

They prepare food with a mantra because they believe in Karma and that everything has a life.

“Even a carrot that is pulled out of the ground has a life – it has roots and can grow.”

Krishna is the name for a supreme being and the name means “the all attractive”, she says

Hare Krishnas source the origins of their beliefs from the ancient Sanskrit texts called the Vedas. Out of these the Bhakti text is their most important.

The night ends with an old woman playing the harmonium, but this time people just stand and watch.

The smoke from incense floats and disappears as people exit the door of the Bhakti lounge.




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is a Whitireia journalism student. Holds Bachelor of Communications, major in Journalism Studies, composite minor in Media Studies and Expressive Arts.
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