This past Aug. 7 over five thousand people attended the 45th annual India Festival sponsored by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Golden Gate Park that Sunday was filled with devotees and visitors alike.
They were all sharing in what one devotee said was "where the soul" is and can dwell. This festival is a celebration of the soul according to devotee Gadadhara Das, who talked to this reporter by phone after the Aug. 7 festival. Gadadhara Das was the contact person for this year's festival held in Golden Gate Park.
He explained that the festivities included a parade went along John F. Kennedy Drive to Sharon Meadow. Booths with displays and vendors, presentations of teachings, singing, dancing and music were part of the celebrating which lasted until after 5PM. "We printed and distributed a lot of posters and flyers this year," said Das.
The aim of the celebration is to experience a sense of the collective soul of humanity as was taught by the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the late 1960's. Often referred to as simply Swami Prabhupada, he was among several prominent figures who were instrumental in bringing the basic teachings of Indian religious teaching and philosophy to the West.
Prabhupada was different, from the other teachers and gurus noted Das. "He was the only one to bring a complete system of principles, a complete history of the Vedic time, and he was able to take this and create a whole society that was completely against and contradictory to Western values," noted Das.
According to Das, "Prabhupada wrote over 140 books and on top of that he wrote 70 volumes of literature and sent out over 7000 personal letters to his disciples," he said. "No other Philosopher of the Vedic tradition can claim this," he said. Das expressed a lot about Krishna Consciousness to this reporter and cares very deeply about it.
"I grew up with the it," said Das, who is known outside of the society-group as Gabriel Foley. The Foley's were an ordinary nuclear family unit. "My dad worked as a mail carrier for the US Post Office and my mom was a home-maker," he said. They moved to San Francisco in the early 1990's when he was little and lived in the Haight-Ashbury area on Clayton Street.
At that time, a small ashram or temple was established on Carl and Cole Streets, with a cafe next door. "We only lived about three blocks from there and we went there frequently," he said. The teachings of the society commonly referred to by many as the "Hare Krishna" group is mostly Hindu in origin.
Yet Das (or Foley, but for this article we will use his religious name in the society) pointed out quickly, the teachings are based upon the Vedic tradition. Das noted a very important understanding which often is not clarified to most Westerners.
The word "Hindu" is actually a mistranslation by the Persians and later the British and others which actually refers to the word "Sindu." Some scholars surmise that the word Hindu is a mispronunciation of the word "Indus" which is the name of one of the major rivers of India (and its surrounding valley) from which India gets its name.
Das explained further The Vedic scriptures are very ancient and it is from these that the epic, the Mahabharata is based. From that is derived the Bhagavad Gītā on which the teachings of Swami Prabhupada is based.
Swami Prabhupada believed that God in the form of Lord Krishna was the most wonderful and significant of manifestations of God. And, that by bringing this teaching and consciousness to the West, Prabhupada was heralding a higher sense of consciousness of God manifested in the world.
Much of the Vedic scriptures is very complex with layers of history, as it is older than The Bible. Swami Prabhupada was eager to share this rich tradition with the West and considered it his mission and so spent the last portion of his life establishing the society.
While "Krishna Consciousness" as a movement is open and inclusive of all people and all faiths, the swami was clear about the reference to Krishna. "God has many names and when we speak of Krishna all the other names in reference to God such as Jehovah, Yahweh, Jesus and so forth are included," said Das.
And according to the teachings of Prabupada all the prophets and religious teachers and seers throughout all time are in some way manifestations or extensions of the supreme personality of Godhead as manifested in Krishna.
One way this reporter clarified some of this way of thinking was to compare it to Western religion, namely through the Judaic-Christian teaching of divine revelation, manifestation. And with Christianity in particular the incarnation of God's word in Christ, Jesus. Also, taking notice that the idea of the personality of Godhead sounds somewhat similar to concepts like the trinity.
Vishnu, Rama, Shiva, these are all aspects of the power and manifestation of God in various forms and roles like creator, destroyer, etc. Each region of India has its own approach to the Vedic scriptures and teachings. In the expression of Krishna, God for the society is monotheistic.
Even the stories of Krishna vary from region to region in India. Some stories refer to him as the one who lifts mountains, or as the dancer or as the flute-player who enchants Radha the maiden of the cow heard in the fields.
The love he shows to her is the symbolic of the love he has for all humanity. There is much poetry written on this theme and it is similar according to some scholars like that of the "Song of Songs" in the Bible. Or, like the love Christ has for the Church, taking her as his bride, etc.
For Swami Prabhupada and his society, the focus is on Krishna as the "all attractive" and most wonderful of all the manifestations of God in the ancient beliefs.
Since 1966-67 the International Society of Krishna Consciousness has been formally established in the West with ashrams or temples in major cities like New York and San Francisco. The India Festival is celebrated in connection with the "festival of the chariots," one of many religious festivals held in India.
Not entirely unique to San Francisco, Das noted that there are many India festivals held in many parts of the country at different times. He noted that as a movement and a society, the group is "non-sectarian" welcomes all of any background with sincere intentions to share in the experience of Krishna Consciousness.
The India Festival (or "festival of the chariots) in Golden Gate Park each summer is perhaps the most well-attended for the local chapter of the society which now has its headquarters in Berkeley. "Planning for the festival takes almost a year," said Diane Lopez.
The sheer joy and ecstatic celebration of music and dance is what attracted her to the Krishna society. She mentioned that people from everywhere attend the festival and that it draws a lot of "Westernized people from India or those who were raised in the West.
It gives them the opportunity to reconnect to their culture or for those who were born and raised in Western culture to learn about the Vedic traditions.
Lopez did say that in preparing for the festival in Golden Gate Park, much of the time spent is applying and attaining permits from the city. The society had to reassure city officials that no violence would be tolerated since many young people, musicians, dancers and such are participants. Yet, rock concerts are held in the park frequently. The India Festival has music but it is not a rock music concert. They assured city officials that they would clean up Sharon Meadow as soon as the festival ended. Full and complete clean up they do every year.
She also noted that since the onset of the economic recession, preparations and such can get "ridiculously expensive," and "definitely more complicated." For example Lopez said, "we wanted a cow and some horses in the parade this year." Lopez explained that the cow in Indian culture and in the story of Krishna is sacred. And it would have been nice to have horses or just one horse to help pull at least one of the chariots.
But the City of San Francisco through departments like Recreation & Parks and others said no. Which, as Lopez noted is kind of contradictory because there are horse riding stables in the park. A special SF Police unit rides horses in the park on regular patrol.
And as far a cow, the park also has a heard of bison or buffalo in the park. What is the difference between a cow and a buffalo? It is not that much of a stretch, pointed out Lopez. Yet still their request on the permit was denied.
"It took us more than eight months just to go through that process, said Lopez. "It seems ambivalent and unfair almost as if the various departments find just about any reason to say no," she said. Lopez noted that in years past there was concerns about potential loitering and littering. Yet the society has honored all of its responsibilities for the annual festival and will continue to do so.
Despite the challenges getting the festival together is not impossible. "New people join in to help us each year," she said. While the weeks leading up to the festival more people will volunteer, on average the actual number of organizers and coordinators for the festival is about 10 or less. Highlights of this year's festival can be seen on Face Book or by way of You Tube on the web.
Das noted that since Swami Prabhupada's death in 1977 the society has struggled with its leadership. At its peak in the early 1970's Krishna groups were vary visible often seen at airports and transportation hubs sharing their message of peace with travelers.
Das mentioned that in the years that followed the swami's death, the struggle for power within the organization caused the loss of many members. 'At least 80 percent of the followers left the movement, because of straight outlandish corruption," said Das.
Some of the what he mentioned as corruption is the same type of scandals that have been witnessed in other religious organizations such as misuse of funds, embezzlement, unfaithfulness, abuse and misconduct that goes against the saintly behavior fitting a teacher, minister.
Das also said that it was because of the lack of proper and good leadership that the ashram or temple center in San Francisco at Carl and Cole Streets was closed. Attendance at the temple in Berkeley is steady. He noted despite all the disappointments in leadership that his parents are still practicing devotees. And that in the past decade much is being done to restore and maintain the original teachings of Swami Prabhupada.
Das and Lopez have been married for about two years now and are eager to have children. And, "Yes, most definitely we would like to raise them in the faith, there is nothing to loose," Part of that faith teaching is that the soul is eternal noted Lopez. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temple center in Berkeley, CA will be having a celebration of Lord Krishna called the Janma Ashtami on August 21. For those interested in attending visit temple web site or call 510-649-8619.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com