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Traverse City Gets Religion

This article "Traverse City Gets Religion," was published in Traverse City Record-Eagle, October 26, 1971, in Traverse City, Michigan. 

Record-Eagle stall writer 

TRAVERSE CITY - The annual migration of tourists from all points of the compass to the National Cherry Festival has also brought the open hand of religion to the streets of Traverse City this year. 

Friday night, three religious groups, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, were working the 100 and 200 blocks of East Front St. 

The Jehovah Witness workers quietly held copies of Watchtower magazine, stationing themselves against buildings, out of the main sidewalk traffic routes. They left early, before the Record-Eagle reporter and photographer arrived. 

The two ISKCON people with incense and literature - more popularly known as Hare Krishnas - and three Unification Church members with Rocky's Circus peanuts to sell - popularly known as Moonies - worked the crowd more actively. 

Wearing street clothes and wigs over their shaved heads. Premarnava and Caturbahu Dasa, offered packets of incense sticks. copies of "Back to Godhead" magazine and hardcover books on the ancient Vedic scriptures of India to passersby. They also sought donations. 

Most passersby were indifferent to the offers: some stopped for a moment; others bought the books. 

A Traverse City police officer who had come to see what Premarnava and Caturbaha Dasa were up to went away with a copy of "Back to Godhead.

"We came for the Cherry Festival," Premarnava, a slender 27-year-old black Detroiter, explained. "We thought that there'd be a lot of people.

The Hare Krishna had just arrived in town Friday from Detroit. 

They were "just trying to make out society a better place to live," the six-year veteran of the movement said. 

Premarnava used to be a professional guitar player. He said he worked with groups "all over" and did a "lot of studio work." He once played with blues musician John Lee Hooker. 

Premarnava took up the ISKCON movement in Colorado during an engagement there six years ago, and had been following the divine teachings of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada ever since. 

People were being "very receptive" Friday night, he said. 

Two police officers walked up to the ISKCON pair while they were being interviewed. They were "curious as to what you're selling," one officer said. 

"We're doing it for the love of God." Caturbaha Dasa, a muscular white, 26-year-old answered, showing them the publications and the can he was taking donations in. 

The officers soon left - one was convinced to take a copy of the ISKCON magazine. 

"We don't mind (the police)," Premarnava said. "because a lot of them take our books and use it.

Caturbaha, with the movement for two-and-one-half years, was a surveying engineer in Palm Beach County, Fla., studying for a higher step in the surveying profession when he converted. 

He said, with some pride, the community college there had "the best surveying classes in America.

He studied "different philosophies" before settling on the Krishna movement with its strong ties to the Indian Vedic tradition. He said he had lived a somewhat decadent life in the past and had left Detroit some years ago to escape the drug scene. 

Caturbaha Dasa said they had put wigs on and street dress instead of the characteristic saffron robe "to eliminate the barriers" with local people who might react negatively to dress that would be pretty exotic for Traverse City streets. 

The two Krishna workers said they would stay out as long as the crowds did last night - perhaps until 11 p.m. Then they'd steep until 4 a.m., rise, shower and meditate, then hit the streets once more. 

"Some people ask me why I don't get a job," Premarnava said, chuckling. "If they only knew." "I'm such a softy when it comes to this sort of thing," said one local resident who bought a book. 

"Wrong, I cannot do that." said the girl from the Unification Church camp near Kalkaska when she was asked for an interview in exchange for the $1 purchase of a bag of the peanuts she was selling. 

No interviews was the word from the members of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's church who in bright, enthusiastic efforts, tried to sell peanuts to the Friday night crowds. 

In contrast to the rather quiet, almost serene manner of the ISKCON people, the youth of Rev. Moon had more the atmosphere of college students on a good-natured lark. 

"The press prints anything they want," a tall slender, friendly "Moonie" explained. The church has had bad press, she said. 

She called a Record-Eagle photographer "fresh face.

One girl, who wore a "God Bless America Festival" button, said she had been with the church for a month. 

They said the police never bother them, because they know them. 

Photo 1: A collection can used by the Hare Krishna movement members who sought the ears and donations of the crowd. (Record-Eagle photos by Dana Perszyk) 
Photo 2: Traverse City Police Officer Brian Peters asks Caturbahu Dana what he's up to. Members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Hare Krishna movement, were one of the religious groups working the Friday night, pre-Cherry Festival crowds. Premarnava, right, looks on.

Reference: N/A