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Krishna movement brings ancient Indian religion to Brooklyn

This article, "Krishna movement brings ancient Indian religion to Brooklyn," was published in Star Tribune, March 19, 1969, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

New York Times Service

New York, N.Y. 

The visitor, looking for the Radha Krishna Temple in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, encounters a friendly housewife who says, "Oh, you're going to the Harry Krishners. The neighborhood sure has changed. Now it's got all kinds. But I guess they're harmless, even with their funny clothes and all.

In the reception room of the brownstone at 439 Henry St. (formerly a Catholic convent), a pretty girl in a daffodil-colored sari and with a small gold ring in one nostril says, "Hare Krishna," and with a welcoming smile adds, "you're expected.

Leaving shoes behind - they are not permitted - the visitor pads up a staircase, following a devotee who explains that prasadam (the word means mercy of the Lord, which food is called) is ready. 

Walls are decorated with paintings of the Lord Krishna, the supreme godhead of Krishna consciousness, whom the scriptures say appeared 5,000 years ago and remained on earth for 125 years, taking 16,108 gopis (consorts) and fathering 10 children with each. 

Other paintings show Lord Caitanya, who is said to be an incarnation of God, and who "clarified" the Bhagavad-Gita scriptures 500 years ago and whose teachings the present movement follows. Photographs show the spiritual master, his divine grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who founded the international movement from a Lower East Side storefront six years ago. 

The room is almost over-poweringly perfumed with incense. The movement owns the largest incense company in this country, called Spiritual Sky. Sales from the incense and recently added perfumes and toilet articles are $2 million a year, a devotee said. 

The hosts are two pairs of grihastas - married devotees. 

Rukmendi Dasi, whose karmie or outsider name is Wendy Buchwald, is a vivacious young woman center-parted hair over which she has draped one end of her sari. Her husband, Baradraj Dasdas, was known as Mark Buchwald in karmie life. 

Baradraj is an artist and Works at the society's printing press on nearby Tiffany St. Rukmeni's work is caring for the needs of the deity, sewing his costumes and making daily offerings of incense, food, water and flowers. 

The other couple are Bhadra (Connie Vologna Ball), a forthright 23-year-old, and Pariksit (Douglas Ball), who, like Baradraj, wears his head shaved except for the sikha, or flag of hair, at the back - "so krishna can pull out your soul.

The most irresistible member of the group is a gurgling baby whose birth certificate reads Tulasynanda Ball. Born four months ago, he now weighs 17 pounds. Tulasyananda smiles, blows bubbles and rubs at the freshly painted telok on his nose. He is being breast-fed until he is 6 months old. 

The devotees sit cross-legged on the floor and chant a prayer, then prasadam is presented. The first course is a sort of thick soup of mixed vegetables. There is a plate of herbed rice and flat buckwheat cakes that resemble Mexican tortillas. 

The main course includes various chopped and spiced vegetables, strips of fried eggplant, various mixtures of fruits and nuts, and round white sweetballs made of milk curd. Milk is the protein staple of the Krishna followers. 

The tray contains  no meat, fish or eggs. The destruction of living creatures (eggs are considered embryonic life) is one of the society's "no-nos." The others are intoxicants - meaning anything from drugs to Coke to weak tea; illicit sex - that is, outside of marriage and for reasons other than procreation: and gambling, even in the mind. 

In addition to restricting sex to once a month, the couple is required to chant 50 rounds of the mantra on their beads before engaging in sexual acts. Devotees are required to chant 16 rounds of the mantra daily: going at a fast clip, this can mean two hours. 

Bhadra is frank about her karmie life. She comes from an Italian family in Queens. She attended Catholic schools and at 18 left home for an apartment in Manhattan. 

"I got into the drug scene, the big rock scene, the political scene. I was a revolutionary one week, a groupie the next. I popped a lot of acid, speed and marijuana.

She worked as a commercial coordinator for CBS-TV. 

"I used to see those crazy Hare Krishna kids in the Village, dancing and chanting. One day a boy sold me a book for 50 cents. I read it. It was so nice. You can have God as a lover, a friend, or whatever you want.

She telephoned the temple and was invited to come to a class in the Bhagavad-Gita scriptures. After the class she went out and danced with the group and that weekend moved into the temple. 

That was three years ago. She met Pariksit in the movement. The former Douglas Ball was born on a farm in Ault, Colo., 22 years ago. He attended Colorado State for two years, noticed the Krishna chanters at student protests, and decided to quit college and join them. 

The marriage was arranged in that Bhadra asked the temple president if she might marry Pariksit. A year and a half ago they went through a civil ceremony and then a more elaborate one at the temple. Bhadra's father and some of her aunts attended. Her stepmother did not. She sees her father from time to time.

"My father wants me to be happy," she explains, "but the family wants me to make them happy in their way, to satisfy the senses, have money.

Even more difficult for an outsider to understand is how she will be able to part with her son when he reaches the age of 5. At that time he will be expected to attend Krishna consciousness school in Dallas, and his parents will see him only twice a year. "She'll cry," Pariksit says of his wife. "No, I won't, I'll be happy that he is advancing.

Bhadra spends several hours each morning working as a bookkeeper for the Spiritual Sky Co., for which she is paid $40 a week. That takes care of the rent and utilities. The couple eat at the temple, which also provides clothes bought at wholesale. 

"How can they live like that?" asks a Cobble Hill neighbor. How, indeed, can the young people live a day that begins at 3 am. and ends about 9 p.m.? And a marriage where sex is supposed to stop entirely for the woman when she reaches 30 and is no longer encouraged to bear children? (marriage is monogamous in the Western movement, and it is forever. Couples may not separate unless they "bloop" - that is, drop out of the movement.) 

"There's carrying on in there," said the neighbor, shaking his head at the temple. "You can smell that stuff all over the streets. They say it's incense, but I'll bet it's drugs. And, you know, they can have all the wives they want. Not like us Catholics.

"We have an image problem," admitted one devotee. But with centers in 62 cities around the world (27 in the United States) the movement is a far cry from the original store front in the East Village only six years ago. 

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