This article, "Krishna followers plan temple," was published in Edmonton Journal, February 5, 1972, in Edmonton, Canada.
Journal Staff Writer
Mahadma Das said the questions people most often ask him are. "Why do you shave your head?" and "What is that white stuff on your nose?"
Mahadma, which means "great soul," is a follower of the Hare Krishna movement from Vancouver. He's in Edmonton to set up a Krishna temple.
"The shaven head is a sign of submission to our spiritual teacher," said Mahadma, "and the white paint on the forehead and nose is symbolic of the footprints left by Krishna when he visited the earth 5,000 years ago."
Mahadma, leader of the 10-member group in Vancouver, is here with seven other members. Three of them will be staying indefinitely.
"A shaven head is clean and it's simple. The main purpose is to spend as little time on our bodies as possible," Mahadma said. "The same with our clothes. They're simple and practical and when people see us we're easily recognizable."
After six months in the movement, the devotee receives a new name from his spiritual leader, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, from India. Das, which is a common last name, means servant.
Paramesvari (meaning supreme controller) Das will lead the group to be established in Edmonton.
"The young people here seem to be more receptive to us than those in any other city I've been to," Paramesvari said. "Most of the time we chant in the streets for eight hours a day and we're always talking to somebody and handing out magazines."
The Krishna people, officially called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), said they have already found five devotees for their movement and they've only been in town a week.
They are living with eight people in a commune at 10406 127th St. The three members who will be staying in Edmonton will live in the commune until they find a permanent place to stay.
"We'll find one depending on Krishna's mercy."
The Edmonton movement had its beginning when the Krishna people from Vancouver visited the city about three months ago. They were chanting at the University of Alberta and "these people from the commune invited us to come back some time and said we were welcome to stay at their place," Mahadma said.
The religion of ISKCON, first spirited by the visit of Krishna (devotees refer to Krishna also as God) to the earth 5,000 years ago, was revived in 1966 by Bhaktivedanta Swami in India. From this one-man revival, more than 1,000 followers and 70 centres have been organized throughout the world.
Bhaktivedanta's method of attracting members was to chant in the streets, as is the method today.
"We believe that God is a person who lives in the spiritual sky," Mahadma said. "He's not an old man with a gray beard who nobody really knows."
The Krishna people believe in reincarnation. Animals, trees and every living thing have souls as well as people.
"We don't know what will happen or where we'll be next but we know Krishna is taking us somewhere," Paramesvari said. "So we'll just keep endeavoring to serve our spiritual master."
Paramesvari said devotees are not allowed to eat meat, use drugs of any kind, participate in sportive activities and engage in sex only for the purpose of having children.
"If we're not even having a sex life, it must mean we've found something better and that is Krishna."
"We're trying to regain control of our senses," Mahadma said. "We don't let material things dictate to us. We want to be self-sufficient."
Paramesvari said that some people think devotees are restrictive but "actually, we're becoming more free because we're gaining a state of peace - we're controlling our own bodies."
The chant is like a baby crying for his mother. Mahadma said. Krishna's followers are saying "let me serve you, Krishna. Let me do something for you."
The actual words chanted are Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
"The chanting keeps us spiritually strong," Paramesvari said. "It revives our dormant affection for God."
Krishna beliefs are so new to people it's strange to them, Mahadma said. Most of them have been indoctrinated with Christianity all their lives and simply refuse to open their minds to anything else.
"We're not teaching a sectarian religion. It's universal everybody is a part of God."
"And it's not a religion just for young people. The younger people of course, are more receptive but this doesn't mean that anyone over 30 isn't interested."
In their communal-type living, the devotees earn "living money" by selling incense and posters. These are made by devotees in the United States.
Paramesvari said he and his group will "stay indefinitely" until the whole city is "Krishna-conscious and then I don't think we'll want to leave."
He said that in some way, either chanting on the street, speaking to different groups or handing out magazines, his Krishna followers plan to talk about Krishna every day.
"Everybody is chanting about something these days - we're chanting about God."
Photo: DEVOTEES CHANT TO KRISHNA ...'like a child crying to his mother'