I'm a freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia, who enjoys writing about the things I love: travel, nature-based activities, the arts, spirituality and creative, fun activities for children.
Published December 23rd 2012
Go vegetarian this Sunday at your local Ashram
Best known in Australia for their colourful traditional attire and devotional chanting in public places, the Hare Krishna people are also famous for the awesome vegetarian feasts which have been held at their ashrams every Sunday for four decades.
A typically sumptuous Hare Krishna Sunday Feast. Image is from the Hare Krishna Movement webpage.
The Sunday Feast programs, as they are popularly known, are an important part of the Hare Krishna lifestyle, and were personally started by the movement's founder, His Divine Grace Swami Prabhupada in the 1960s. As in most religious traditions, the giving of charity is important on the Vaishnava path (the scholarly name for the Hare Krishnas) and Swami Prabhupada envisioned the feasts as a way to share sanctified foods with all and sundry. The vast majority are free of charge, although a few may ask for a small donation to cover expenses.
Over the years, like the devotees themselves, the Hare Krishna Sunday Feast program has also become an integral part of Australian urban life. Particularly popular with the local Hindu community, yoga practitioners, vegetarians, members of the arts fraternity, penny-pinching students, backpackers and miscellaneous spiritual seekers, they attract a wide assortment of individuals for an equally diverse variety of reasons.
Wherever you attend a Sunday Feast, the program follows a similar format and usually begins with bhajans, the singing of devotional songs glorifying Shri Krishna, or kirtan, which is a more energetic standing version, accompanied by dancing (optional) and traditional Indian musical instruments. If you want to join in, the singing is easy to follow, as it mostly consists of a single mantra, the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra, which is repeated as a form of meditation. Although it may seem a little unusual at first, it's very relaxing and fun to join in with the other visitors. In addition, many Hare Krishna musicians are very gifted in the art of traditional devotional music, and some have made quite an impact on the World Music scene.
Following this part of the program, there is almost always a short class on one of the sanskrit shastras (spiritual books) of ancient India, such as Bhagavad Gita or Srimad Bhagavatam, which is also very interesting. Sometimes there will be a visiting swami or guest speaker, and at other times the presentation may be accompanied by a powerpoint presentation or other more interactive approach. Popular topics include reincarnation, vegetarianism, Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotion) and mantra meditation.
Janananda Goswami lecturing at a feast on New Govardhana farm (image by Janna Hamby on the ISKCON New Govardhana Facebook page).
Depending on which centre you visit, and when you visit, the program often varies at this point. While sometimes the class is followed by more kirtan, if there is a special occasion such as a festival, there may be a short drama or a traditional Indian dance performance. Others may show a slide presentation or a DVD about the philosophy or the holy places in India. Of course, you're not obliged to sit through the whole program. Just attend the parts which you find interesting and relevant.
A traditional dance performance at the Sunday Feast in Pert. Image is from the ISKCON Perth Facebook page (by Dipen Gohel).
Many people, especially those from the Indian community, like to attend the program so that their children get the opportunity to learn about their religious traditions. Therefore, a lot of the larger ashrams hold special Sunday School classes for kids of all ages.
The final part of a Hare Krishna Sunday Feast program is the feast itself - which for some people is the major drawcard. For anyone who's ever wanted to take up a vegetarian diet but is concerned that it might be too bland, a visit to the feast will certainly inspire a change of heart. Usually featuring a rice dish, dahl (a soup made of lentils or other legumes), a couple of subjis (yummy vegetable curries), Indian savouries (such as pakoras or samosas), a chutney and traditional sweets such as the heavenly Indian halava, made of butter and semolina, even the toughest sceptic will be convinced that vegetarianism can be variegated, tasty and nutritious.
A Sunday Feast program at New Nandagram farm. Image is from the Hare Krishna Valley website.
A Hare Krishna diet is lacto vegetarian, meaning that it contains dairy products. However, for those following a vegan diet, many of the food items adhere to their requirements. Be sure to ask which ones contain dairy ingredients before you're served. In addition, all preparations are only spiced lightly, so they won't be too hot for very young children and those with a sensitive palate.
In Australia and overseas most Hare Krishna centres hold a regular Sunday Feast program. The following list provides the addresses, times and some information about all of the Sunday Feasts which are held in Australia.
Address: 180 Falcon Street, North Sydney, NSW, 2060.
Phone: 02 9959 4558
Times: Every Sunday, from 4.30pm until 8.00pm.
New Gokula Farm
This beautiful farm is situated just ten minutes from Cessnock in the Hunter Valley, less than an hour from Newcastle and around two hours from Sydney. There is also simple guest accommodation if you want to stay for a longer visit.
Address: 83 Lewis Lane, Millfield, NSW, 2325.
Phone: 02 4998 1800
Times: Every Sunday, from 12.30 until the middle of the afternoon.
Situated in a historic school complex just a few blocks from the beach, the Hare Krishna Sunday Feasts are a local institution in Melbourne.
Address: 197 Danks Street, Albert Park, Victoria, 3206.
Phone: 03 9699 5122
Times: From 4.30pm until 8.30pm.
New Nandagram farm
Address: 1265 Winchelsea - Deans Marsh Road, Bambra, Victoria, 3241
Phone: 02 5288 7383
Times: Every second Sunday of the month, from 12.00 noon until the mid-afternoon.
Although the Brisbane Sunday Feast program is free of charge, it's $5.00 for a meal.
Address: Govinda's Restaurant, 1st Floor, 99 Elizabeth Street, Brisbane, Queensland, 4000
Phone: 07 3210 0255
Times: 5.00pm until 6.30pm, followed by the meal.
New Govardhana Farm
Address: 525 Tyalgum Road, Eungella, NSW, 2484.
Phone: 02 6672 3047
Times: 4.00pm until around 8.00pm. It begins at 3.00pm during winter.
Address: Bhaktivedanta Ashram, 25 Le Hunte St; Kilburn, SA, 5084
Phone: 08 8359 5120
Times: 5.00pm until around 7.30pm
Address: 155 - 159 Canning Road, Kalamunda, WA, 6076
Phone: 08 6293 1519
Times: Every fortnight from 5.00pm. For upcoming dates, call the number above.
The Gold Coast Bhakti Centre holds weekly WEDNESDAY and SATURDAY programs, rather than a Sunday gathering.
Address: Gold Coast Bhakti Yoga Centre, Suite 1c, Trust House Building (above Jasmine Restaurant), 3070 Gold Coast Highway, Surfers Paradise, Qld, 4217
Phone: 0488 288 038
Times: Every Wednesday and Saturday (NOT Sunday) from 6.30pm until 8.30pm
In conclusion, the Hare Krishna Sunday Feast programs are a great way to spend an interesting and informative Sunday afternoon. Those with some free time on their hands or with a special interest in vegetarian cooking may also like to volunteer to cut up vegetables for the massive task of cooking the feast. These feasts cater for as many as four hundred people (although most are 'just' for one or two hundred), so help is always greatly appreciated. For more information about volunteering, phone your local ashram on the number provided above.
Why? Hare Krishna Sunday Feasts are an interesting cultural experience, providing the opportunity to practice mantra meditation, learn about the wisdom of Ancient Vedic India and savour delicious vegetarian cuisine.
When:Most Hare Krishna ashrams hold a Sunday Feast every Sunday.
Where:At your local Hare Krishna Centre
Cost:Most are free, but some ashrams do ask for a small donation to cover the cost of the meal.