The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, better known as the ISKCON, is one of the most famous religious organizations in Hinduism with temples established across India as well as abroad. Also called the Hare Krishna movement, ISKCON’s core beliefs are based on the Vedic scriptures, particularly the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana, and the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, a monotheistic tradition within the Hindu culture. The magnificent ISKCON temples spread across the county serve as great attractions for devotees and travellers who want some time away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
ISKCON was founded by Abhaya Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami in New York City, USA, in the year 1966. He is considered as the spiritual guru of the organization. ISKCON was founded with the sole aim of encouraging the practice of Bhakti Yoga or Krishna Consciousness. The temple is also known as Sri Sri Radha Krishna Mandir, world wide. The ardent devotees and members of ISKCON dedicate their deeds and words towards pleasing Lord Krishna, whom they consider to be the Supreme One. The founder of ISKCON who carried the message of Lord Chaitanya to various parts of the world, was very keen to establish strong centers in India. So when he returned to India after his success with Krishna consciousness in the Western world in 1971; he started with planning to establish ISKCON temples in major indian cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai etc.
In the last 53 years, the organization has opened hundreds of temples, centers, and rural communities across the world. ISKCON has also established over a hundred vegetarian restaurants, several local meeting groups and a number of community projects. Many of the ISKCON temples abroad and also in India showcase neo-Vedic features and traditional forms of architecture. Preaching is a major element of the ISKCON movement. Followers of this organization spread consciousness about Lord Krishna mainly through the singing of Hare Krishna songs and mantras in public places and distributing books written by the founder-guru. These activities are called Sankirtan within the organization. ISKCON is a regular destination of visit for many eminent celebrities. Many Indian and International movies have shown the Hare Krishna culture.
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought Chaitanya’s Gaudiya Vaishnavism to the West in 1965. At 70 years old, he landed in New York without any money. Instead of preaching to New York’s elite, he tapped into the 1960s counter cultural spirit by preaching and chanting in public parks and attracting hippies and the youth. His movement, then known as the “Hare Krishna Movement”, grew even larger when he relocated to San Francisco a year later. When it spread to England, it gained publicity and financial backing from the Beatles’ George Harrison. He recorded several tracks with the Hare Krishnas and included the Mahamantra in his hit track “My Sweet Lord”. The first Hare Krishna commune, New Vrindavan (West Virginia), was established by Prabhupada in 1968. Since then, ISKCON has established more than 600 centers all over the world and has millions of followers.
Some interesting lesser-known facts about ISKCON temples-
- The ISKCON temple in Bangalore is touted to be the largest ISKCON complex in the world. It features a gold-plated flag post that is 56 feet high.
- The ISKCON temple in Delhi is known for its Bhagavad Gita Animatronics, Mahabharata Light and Sound Show, and a Ramayana Art Gallery.
- The ISKCON temple in Delhi also houses the Astounding Bhagavad Gita, which is arguably the largest religious book ever printed. The book weighs over 800 kilograms.
- George Harrison, one of the members of the Beatles, was a follower of the Krishna Consciousness. He is believed to have provided financial support to the temple in the UK.
- Abhaya Caranaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami, the founder of ISKCON, was a family man running a small pharmaceutical business before he renounced all worldly pleasures and took the religious path.
- The ISKCON temples serve as a major tourist place in most cities across India. Whether you follow the religious beliefs propagated by the organization or not, you can always walk into these elaborate temples and immerse in the spiritual vibe, architectural grandeur, and serenity of the place.
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