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Mansion in Brooklyn Is Home To Group of 55 Krishna Devotees

This article, "Mansion in Brooklyn Is Home To Group of 55 Krishna Devotees," was published in The New York Times, February 21, 1971, in New York City, New York.


They live almost like recluses in a 54-room mansion in Brooklyn except for the curious journeys they make through the streets of New York every afternoon. Then people stop and look at them, wondering who they are. 

A little after 1 o'clock on most days they troop single file out of their six-story red brick building at 439 Henry Street and walk 12 blocks to the nearest subway. Chanting all the while the 16-word prayer that is their trademark, these devotees of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness head for Fifth Avenue, Herald Square, the Columbia campus or the shopping mall in downtown Brooklyn. 

For five years they have visited these crowded places. They walk slowly, rarely communicate with anyone and chant "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna" as they extend their begging bowls to startled passers-by. Their saffron robes drag on the sidewalk. The women often hold babies and the men's heads are shaved bare except for a few long strands that dangle from the top of their skulls. 

Chant All the While 

Then as the afternoon sun goes down, they disappear into the nearest subway and, chanting all the while, return to their home in Cobble Hill. 

Single file they climb the nine cement stairs at 439 and as a few children on the sidewalk call out "Harry Kirschner Harry Kirschner," they pull the heavy oak door closed behind them. 

Inside is a world without chairs or tables, telephones or radios, a place where the 55 Krishna devotees live together with the five painted carvings of Indian gods that they clothe and put food in front of from 3:30 in the morning to 10:30 at night. 

"A lot of people see us on the street and think we're crazy," said 23-year-old Garry Dean of Southern California, who now uses the name, Shenanda. "But at least we make them think of Krishna and the moment they think of him, their spiritual life begins. We don't care what they think of us. We have our devotion and our happiness. We're not fanatics.

In 1965 the 74-year-old Swami arrived here with $7 in change and a pair of cymbals. He sat on the sidewalk in the East Village and began to chant. Soon he was holding religious classes in an empty storefront on Second Avenue and young people began to leave their beaches and their drugs to live in his small commune where all use of drugs, meat, coffee, tea and sex - except by married couples for reasons of procreation - was forbidden. 

Even talk was not advised.

Now the tax-exempt organization says it has 600 fulkime members, spacious quarters in Brooklyn, 45 chapters around the country and temples in Coconut Grove, Fla., Houston, Dallas, Salt Lake City and Cleveland. 

Each of these places is supported entirely by contributions. 

A Former Filmmaker 

The local president is a 31-year-old former Manhattan film maker now known as Bhavananda. 

"All anyone has to do is start chanting 'Hare Krishna' and immediately he'll feel all his anxieties disappear," he explains. 

"Krishna is the absolute god and therefore there is no difference between him and his name. Just by chanting his name, you are existing with him. It's really very easy," he adds smiling, "anyone can be saved.

Reference: The New York Times, New York, USA, 1971-02-21