Iskcon and the Himalayas
by A Symphony Of Flavour
Yesterday, a friend and I decided to visit the Iskcon temple in Siliguri, West Bengal. We had both wanted to visit for a while so we decided to just get on with it and go there. Its not the kind of place you would just meander past, being set far back from the main road, although there is a sign on Sevoke Road to let you know the correct turning. The turning is onto a road called Iskcon Mandir Road, so that also helps…
As we got out of the auto and walked along the road to the temple, we chatted about such and such, until I found myself stopping mid-sentence as I turned to my right and saw an absolutely palatial temple before me! It is literally jaw dropping to behold, the architecture is intricately sublime which sets the atmosphere before even entering the grounds.
We removed our footwear and left it at a secure kiosk and then walked through the temple grounds towards the steps that lead into the temple itself. As you begin the ascent, you will see a bell which resonates deeply across the courtyard when struck. I obviously rang it!
Once inside, we were met with a visually astonishing and spiritually rejuvenating sanctuary. Photography is prohibited, and while some ignore this rule I abided by it as a matter of respect. The marble pillars and wooden decor are carved into meticulous beauty; the ceiling is painted in its entirety with various portraits and scenes of Krishna and those associated with Krishna. The far end of the hall features what is essentially a stage, upon which idols of Krishna, his wife and followers are set out in incredible display. While all of this is extremely impressive to witness, the real captivation does not come from the building and its furnishings alone. The enchantment in which I find myself immediately, which gradually intensifies with each moment, is courtesy of the people sat down on the mats in the centre of the room, chanting and playing drums and percussion instruments in a powerful yet welcoming rhythmic manner. Its instantly infectious. We walk around the outer part of the temple, observing the magnificent carvings mounted on the wall that depict scenes of religious relevance and historical occasion. Soon enough we are sat amongst the other devotees, caught up in the pulse of the moment. Its genuinely like being at a festival.
I’m completely in to it, tapping out rhythms with my hands and nodding with the beat, and generally articulating my approval to my friend, when she explains to me that something different is about to happen. Have you ever been to see a band you love and been so into the support act that you think that its already been a great show in its own right? That was kinda like this. So a guy separates the temple down the middle with a cord and cones, so that women stay on one side and men on the other. The room starts to fill up, a man in robes takes to the stage with an intricate candelabra lit several times. People are ushered up to the front of the stage by a benevolent and sagely looking man that is hard to put an age to. The music is playing, people are clapping, chanting, being at one with it. Im getting fully into it, drifting right through the rhythm and melody and praising the most high, occasionally looking across to see my friend on the other side of the room and exchanging smiles. Next thing I know, two guys are blowing on some shell horns that erupt a frequency that sends shockwaves through the temple and my body that I can only describe as being like a heavy bassline dropping on a 50k system! I have to stop myself from giving them gun fingers and shouting ‘braaaaaap’, although in hindsight I don’t think it would have mattered; we all gesture approval and respect in our own way, the intention of the heart is what matters.
Its starting to get more intense now, a group of women clear a little space and start dancing in sync with each other, displaying intricate footwork and elegant arm movements that are a pleasure to witness. People are throwing their hands up and cheering, chanting, clapping, moving, shaking and spiritually waking. A group of young men start to dance with each other, moving from one side of the floor to the other, moving in a constantly expanding and contracting circle and other dances that I forget now. I have no idea how long this lasts for. The two men are back on stage now and they are throwing out flowers, marigolds of yellow and orange. I secure a yellow flower and go to find my friend, who has an orange flower in her hand. We are about to leave when we discover that a special service is about to place. Apparently it doesn’t happen very often but we are the invited to take wicks soaked in ghee and held in a small clay bowl. We were lucky, as shortly after we take our place amongst the first few people in line, the queue extends the full length of the temple, which has been full of around 150 people. We bring our wicks to a man with a candle to light them, meditate upon a prayer and then leave them in front of the idols with the wick pointing toward them. Love, peace and harmony is everywhere as people acknowledge and celebrate life and creation in their own individual way. Before leaving, I lay myself fully face down in complete submission to God. Apparently, this goes on every day! I love it so much!!
So the next morning (just now), I draw back my curtains and for the first time since arriving in India 4 months ago, I can see the peak of the third largest mountain on Earth, Kanchenjunga. So I go up the one of flight of stairs required to take me to the rooftop, I start taking pictures with my phone that are woefully inadequate to capture the majesty, and proceed to do some light yoga and some early morning reading of my newly bought Bhagavad Gita while occasionally peeking over to the Himalayan bronze medallist. Its been really enjoyable, and I extend my gratitude to the followers of Krishna for welcoming us into the Mandir and the love they emit to all!