Hare Krisna Palace of Gold, West Virginia

 

 

 

 

Interesting view of Hare Krishna movement from the perspective of  an immigrant ethnic indian child to his parents visits to family visits to the Golden Palace. (Swami Bhaktipada, Ex-Hare Krishna Leader, Dies at 74: October 25, 2011)


West Virginia’s Palace of Gold

By RAHUL MEHTA
Published: October 28, 2011

IT was the Taj Mahal of Appalachia, “Heaven on Earth” in “Almost Heaven West Virginia,” a sprawling, opulent affair with lush gardens, a beautiful temple, a Palace of Gold, accommodations for hundreds of devotees, statues of Radha and Krishna, and even, at one point, an elephant.
New Vrindaban — named after a holy town in India — was the largest Hare Krishna commune in America, and was opened to the public in 1979. It was led by Swami Bhaktipada, one of the movement’s earliest and most controversial American disciples, who died Monday. And it was less than two hours from the West Virginia town where I grew up.
My family went there often in those first years, ferrying carloads of Indian friends and relatives who came to see us (and the palace) from all around the United States. My parents and their friends were part of the first wave of Indians to arrive in America after the 1965 Immigration Act loosened restrictions on South Asians. This new immigrant community, just putting down roots, had very few places to worship; there were hardly any Hindu temples in America. For them, New Vrindaban provided an opportunity to pray in a proper mandir instead of at a makeshift altar in someone’s basement.
And it was also breathtakingly beautiful. Situated at the very top of a hill (which some said resembled the foothills of the Himalayas), the palace was replete with stained-glass windows, crystal chandeliers, marble floors and gold-leaf decorations. Even our family members from India, who had all heard of the Palace of Gold, wanted to see it. For many, a trip there was more than a sightseeing excursion: it was a kind of pilgrimage.
But not for me and my brother. We hated those trips. If New Vrindaban was a source of comfort for our parents, it was a source of shame for us. We thought the Hare Krishnas were freaks, fake Indians aping Indian ways. Not that we wanted anything to do with real Indians, either. We wanted to be home watching TV. We would only grudgingly pile into the car for the drive, then sulk as we snaked our way up the Ohio River, through the small towns of rural Appalachia, and into the panhandle.
At the commune, we saw white women wearing the very saris I begged my mother not to wear to my school functions. We saw Americans chanting ecstatically in the same Sanskrit I deliberately garbled and mumbled under my breath during my family’s weekly pujas at home. When my parents tried to send my brother and me to summer camp there, we refused. When they considered renting a cabin by the commune’s lake, we protested. Our classmates spent summers inner tubing on the river. Why couldn’t we do that? Why couldn’t we be more like them?
My parents must have been both proud and confused to see these white Americans modeling themselves after Indians — dressing in traditional Indian clothing, adopting Indian customs and religious practices — even as their own children were flatly rejecting Indian culture and desperately trying to assimilate.
This was long before we knew anything about Swami Bhaktipada’s legal troubles. By 1990, when he was indicted on federal racketeering charges stemming from the murders of two devotees, my family had stopped going to New Vrindaban. The South Asian population in our small town had grown, so perhaps my parents felt less of a need to find community elsewhere. New Vrindaban was no longer new and exciting. The sheen had worn off. The place was falling into disrepair.
But a few months ago, my parents went to New Vrindaban again for the first time in many years. They went because my cousin was visiting from India and she wanted to see it. She is a Hare Krishna devotee. That my cousin, who has lived her whole life in India, belongs to a Hindu movement that started in America is amazing to me. That the Hare Krishna temple in West Virginia was on her list of sacred sites is even more so.
My mom said that the commune was now approaching its former glory. The gardens are once again tended, verdant. There were no elephants, but she said she saw a peacock.
As for me, I no longer feel a distinction between being Indian and being American. I travel to India frequently with my partner, Robert. We like to visit yoga ashrams in the Himalayas and, while there, follow a rigid schedule of meditation and spiritual instruction perhaps not so different from what the Hare Krishnas in New Vrindaban might follow. Of all the activities, I find myself particularly drawn to chanting. In fact, “Hare Krishna, Hare Ram” has become one of my favorites.  http://tinyurl.com/5rjvqsn

Advertisements

About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
This entry was posted in Anthropology, Mind and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hare Krisna Palace of Gold, West Virginia

  1. I understand, perfectely, how children feel unease among people of another culture when they are obliged to maintain the cultural uses of the country they come from. It’s not confortable to them looking different from local people and to be often pointed out as foreings. This behavior difficults too much the adaptation to a new reality which must be absorbed even as a question of survival to a new community where they want to feel integrated, accepted. Creatures in evolution, children are ever psycologically prepared to adapt to a new situation. and environement

    These difficulties happen, although in a lower degree, even when people move from a city to another within a same country.

    But, most interesting of all, in this article, is to discover a genuine Indian gold temple in West Virginia – curiosities of the United States.

    Clara

Comments are closed.