Two weekends ago, when weaving my way to lunch along Oxford Circus in central London, I came across this group of Hare Krishnas. I heard their chanting and drums before I actually saw them. Surrounded by the madding crowd all heading towards the big shops on either side of the high street they were a minority – with their saffron and white robes and their chanting but no dancing at this particular time. I was angling for a good time and spot to take my shot when I was fortuitously shoved next to the drummer and I quickly took these photos. I’ve never in a million years thought I could ever get close to Hare Krishnas. Well, this seemed to be my golden opportunity. Around us, whilst 21st century fashion was paraded on the high street from the latest British designers to imported apparel and some cheap imitations amongst all of that no doubt, these chanting group held their own, comfortable in what they were doing. They exuded a sense of ‘tribal solidarity’, secure in their right to free expression there on the high street in the middle of a hot Saturday afternoon. I admired their resilience and dedication. I wondered how often they did this. As I walked away, a distant memory stirred – a blast from the past? I smiled quietly to myself. My curiosity took the better of me: behind every opportunity, visionary delight and wonder, there is a story. I felt compelled to find it and I think I did but perhaps only half of it.
Quick Facts according to popular literature:
- Hare Krishna – a popular name for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). It’s a sect within Hinduism
- Most sacred text is the Bhagavad-gita the ‘Song of the Lord’. They believe in the Hindu God Krishna as the Supreme God. They don’t eat meat, fish or eggs, are teetotallers, practice celibacy (except within marriage for purposes of procreation) and they stay away from drugs (even caffeine) and gambling. Expected to chant the Hare Krishna mantra over a 1,ooo times a day: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna,
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
From the little that I know, the Hare Krishna movement was part of the changing era in the 60s and 70s and the ‘revolution’ of fashion, ideas, music and lifestyles which took the world by storm. There was also a strong inclination towards Easter religions especially Hinduism. The interesting thing about this is that whilst one generation in the developed world sought life’s answers in these religions some of us were growing up in the developing world and going through our own ‘revolutions’ at many levels and in many respects.
Perhaps most publicity in the late 60s and early 70s of the Hare Krishna movement in the UK focused on the ‘conversion’ of the late George Harrison – the gifted lead guitarist of the famous Beatles. His philanthropic association with the Hare Krishna movement and his devotion to his new religion was much publicised. He donated the Bhaktivedanta Manor in Watford, London to the Hare Krishna movement in the early 1970’s and so was instrumental in its establishment although never wanting to claim fame or credit for it. He was already a famous musician and artist in his own right anyway. One could say that the song that made the Hare Krishna mantra sung or hummed by millions around the world inadvertantly for some, and which topped the US charts in 1971 was ‘My Sweet Lord’. Henceforth for many of us, the mantra became somewhat synonymous with George Harrison. He passed away in November, 2001 but the song lives on.
This one’s for you Regie Renagi and all the ex-Sogeri schoolmates (’70, ’71, ’72) and our memories of this era.
Here endeth my journey, albeit short, into the world of Hare Krishnas following that brief encounter on the high street at the corner of Oxford Circus on a Saturday afternoon.