Hare Krishnas Strike a Softer Tone When Sharing Their Message

May 9, 2008


Source: Houston Chronicle


Dr. Hansa Medley wakes up at 3:30 a.m. once a week and walks to the Hare Krishna Temple just around the corner from her small bungalow in northwest Houston.

There she joins her mother, sister and three other devotees to prepare the temple's nine deities for the day. Before the first Arati ceremony at 4:30 a.m., they carefully lay out special outfits for eight statues, choosing coordinating jewelry and face paint.

After the short service, they dress the deities, draping them with fresh garlands that they've made of carnations. The routine also involves ritually bathing four small brass deities in water or milk.

In the Krishna version of a church altar guild, the six have the deities and altar dressed for the 7 a.m. service, the second of seven held that day.

For priests like Medley and other high-level devotees, the early morning services are just the beginning of their daily worship. She will also join a morning scripture class or return home to study and pray with the beads all Krishna devotees carry in a small decorated bag.

Only then is she ready for the rest of the day as a doctor of internal medicine.

"My faith is the basis of my life, it's what gives meaning to it,'' said Medley, 49, whose spiritual name is Guru Bhakti Dasi. "And it's fun. When we try to serve God, he gives us the strength to do it. To me it's very fulfilling and it's why I want to talk about it all the time.''

Hare Krishnas burst onto the American scene after 1965, when Srila Prabhupada was sent by his Indian guru as a missionary to this country. Americans of the '60s and '70s have vivid memories of young Krishnas in saffron-colored dhotis dancing and chanting in airports and on city streets, accompanied by drums and cymbals.

"We were very immature and a bit too pushy back then with our literature," said Indradyumna Swami, an American who became a devotee in the late '60s. The swami, a well-known traveling monk and teacher, is based in Russia and Eastern Europe, where he sponsors a yearly festival in Poland.

Chanting, dancing and sharing food still are an important part of their faith. That's one reason Houston's Hare Krishnas prefer to do their outreach today at festivals and interfaith events.