Apr 2, 2012
Bowing to Krishna
Thirty or more years ago on a Toronto sidewalk I ran into a group of young men in saffron robes with shaven heads, a small tail of hair, and clay markings between the eyes, dancing with bells and drums, inviting strangers to their cause. I had never seen them before and was curious about them. Years later, back in South Africa, I ran into another friendly group of Hare Krishnas on a Claremont main road. I watched them for a while, paid for a little book and visited their temple in Rondebosch for the Sunday afternoon program. The temple, a double storied house with two floors, the ground level of which was used on a Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon for sermons and initiations, housed the devotees, young men and women from different countries and religious and cultural backgrounds.
I was surprised to see so many young people, from different faiths and walks of life, in either white or saffron dhotis, eager to belong to a group they were clearly respectful of and curious to know more about. The drums and tambourines sounded and the hypnotic strains of the Hare Krishna Hare Rama chant started up. People took up their places on the floor, some of them sitting on cushions. After a few brief words by one of the leaders, the initiation of a young man, Daniel started. There was a little sermon. Daniel took his vows, threw a handful of rice into a fire which was burning right in the room on a board wrapped with foil wrap, and fully prostrated himself face down on the floor. He was bowing to Krishna.
I found myself caught up with the drums and the tambourines and the dancing and chanting. The meals were vegetarian, free and good. I got to know all of the devotees. I was fascinated by them. They offered something different; they were happy to spend their time serving God. I was busy making documentaries then and filmed an initiation of a young devotee, for a television program. I interviewed the Hare Krishnas on radio. I wrote about them for the One City, Many Cultures campaign that was running in Cape Town at the time. As a Muslim, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and felt good.
I started to believe that day that it does not matter what faith you embrace, you can always appreciate the beauty of someone elses. I found the Hare Krishnas to be caring, hardworking human beings devoted to God, and I went back many times. I felt I knew why so many young people from other faiths enjoyed the Hare Krishna experience. It was the attractiveness of the chant, the instruments, the eager faces willing to learn, the dancing together as families, the colorful saris and colorful ceremonies and the mesmerizing beat of the drums. I did not feel spoken to or preached to; I just had a really wonderful time. And my heart opened up to God. Unusual, I thought that it should be in a temple. The experience was a wonderful one and I realized that if we put ritual aside, we all want the same thing; to know God and please Him and to be close to Him. I was enriched by the experience. I did not change my faith and no one asked me to. The experience made me want to know more about other faiths.