The ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temple also known as the Hare Krishna temple is a religious place of worship located in Albert Park. The ISKCON society was founded in 1966 in New York by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and today ISKCON temples are spread across the globe.
ISKCON finds its roots in the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition based on ancient Hindu scriptures like Bhagavad Gita and other Vedic texts. Its ideals include monotheism and non-sectarianism. People from all around the world - from different religious and ethnic backgrounds - are free to become members of the congregation.
However, they do not aim to convert people to Hinduism, instead, among other things, their aim is to spread the teachings of Lord Krishna, spiritual knowledge based on the Vedas and other sacred scriptures, and the message of love, unity and peace in the world. To read more about the society, its founder and spiritual pedagogies, click here.
Despite having Indian roots, the society is quintessentially international. The temple is managed by Hare Krishna followers - predominantly Caucasians and other non-Indian converts. In Melbourne, the priests, temple staff and members are mostly local Australians. As a non-member of the society, it is quite enchanting to see people from various ethnical backgrounds fluently utter shlokas in Sanskrit – an ancient Vedic language that is almost alien to most Indians today.
The evening prayers are an unmissable part of the daily routine. The devotees seem to be transcended to another level of spirituality and devotion; they sing, clap and dance in harmony while the priests carry out religious rites. The weekend prayer ceremonies are particularly vibrant. You can check the temple service and darsana timings online.
The followers and devotees, dressed in traditional Indian garbs, can often be spotted threading along the city streets, dancing in merriment and chanting 'Hare Krishna Hare Rama' mantra. Worldwide, Krishna followers conduct public singing sessions and peaceful processions - spreading the word of love and spirituality.
ISKCON's Food for Life program is the largest vegetarian food relief program in the world today. Taking inspiration from the founding father's philosophy of feeding the hungry, the program funds and organises over 500,000 meals daily. This globally lauded initiative has been serving food for over 30 years with its wings spread across 60 countries.
Following the Food for Life program, ISKCON Melbourne offers free vegetarian food to all and even runs two humble restaurants in the city – Gopal's and Crossways. Daily, at the end of the evening aarti (service), devotees line up for a generous serving of a light, vegetarian meal or Mahaprashad (an assortment of sweet offerings representing God's blessings).
Vrindavan, a small Indian town near the birthplace of Lord Krishna and the spiritual abode of the society, witnessed the foundation of ISKCON temple in 1975. Owing to its international connection the locals started referring to the temple as 'Angrez Mandir' literally translated to 'English Temple'. It was their way of citing the ISKCON society's English-speaking link.
During my trip to Vrindavan a few months back, I was lost in the congested, chaotic, cacophonic yet extremely fascinating streets of the town (my directionally challenged companion was no help either) so we did it the Indian way – I pulled the car to ask for directions. It came as a surprise to me that the people of the town still refer to it as 'Angrez Temple'.
There were hundreds of people inside the temple; the evening prayer ceremony was a festive event. However, save for the fragrance of marigolds there wasn't much difference in the display of human faith and the rituals carried out at Vrindavan and Melbourne.
Today ISKCON is a global confederation of over 500 centres and numerous schools, restaurants and farming communities. But irrespective of the location, ISKCON's ideals stand true cosmically. Their idea of preaching and raising awareness through public singing sessions and peaceful chanting is both inspiring and refreshing.