Early devotees in Russia sacrificed their health, freedom and sometimes even life for the preaching and for the service to Srila Prabhupada.
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© 2004 - Hansadutta das
[Posted March 5, 2006]

A History of Hare Krishna in Russia

(This story seen at the web page The Home of Moscow Temple, at http://www.moscowtemple.org)

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During the eleven years of his preaching in the West, Srila Prabhupada [Founder Acarya for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, ISKCON] traveled around the world fourteen times. Among other countries he also visited Soviet Russia which at that time was behind the Iron Curtain. The four days visit of Srila Prabhupada to Moscow in 1971 miraculously brought many changes to that country of atheism. During his visit he discussed philosophy with Professor Kotovsky, a Soviet scholar of Hinduism, but most significantly met with one young, educated Russian boy who later became his first and only initiated disciple from the Soviet Union, Ananda Shanti. This Russian boy single-handedly started preaching the eternal message of Bhagavad-Gita, and in this way the teachings of Srila Prabhupada became known to the hundreds and thousands of Soviet people, so much so that in the beginning of the 1980's the KGB declared ISKCON one of the greatest threats to the Soviet nation. In this way, the war was declared—the war of the totalitarian state against the handful of first devotees of Krishna in Soviet Russia.

The KGB started massive persecution campaigns against the first followers of ISKCON. For their belief, around hundred of the first Russian devotees were thrown into prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals. They underwent tremendous sufferings and tortures, but kept their strong, unflinching faith in Lord Krishna and His words in Bhagavad-Gita.

One of them, Sarkis Ohanjanyan was only 21 when he was put in prison. His only "guilt" was that he believed in God, chanted the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and refused to eat meat. One and a half years later he died in the winter of 1986 in a labor camp out of malnutrition and tuberculosis. Before departure he was chanting on the beads made from the prison bread, and had applied tilaka on his body with the toothpaste.

Olga Kiselyova was put in prison in 1983 when she was pregnant. Her "crime" was that she helped in translating the Bhagavad-Gita into the Russian language. After undergoing tortures and long, arduous interrogations she delivered a baby girl Marika in prison who died only two months later.

Amala Bhakta Das, father of 5, was sentenced for 5 years of labor camps, and was only released on the personal plea from Nancy Reagan.

These are only a few stories among many. Early devotees in Russia sacrificed their health, freedom and sometimes even life for the preaching and for the service to Srila Prabhupada.

Hare Krishna devotees around the world started a campaign of protest against religious persecution in the USSR. As a result, in 1988 all Soviet Hare Krishna devotees were released by Mr. M. Gorbachev and the new era of religious freedom in Russia had begun.

The beginning of the 90's was the start of the new Russia, and also the start of a new chapter. The Moscow government gave devotees a ruined building unsuitable for inhabitation and commercial usage on rent. In a short time, laboring with love for Lord Krishna, devotees turned that building into the first Hindu temple in Russia. The Moscow Temple became the centre of the spiritual life for the Krishna community of Indian and Russian devotees. Festivals, services, and educational programs were held daily at that temple. Thus the seed of Krishna bhakti planted by Srila Prabhupada sprouted in Russian soil. For fourteen years this building served as a temple, the place where thousands of Russian people received and nurtured faith in God.

However, in 2004 the Moscow government took the building back and destroyed it according to the plan of reconstruction of the city district. Surrounded by growling bulldozers of the "Donstroi" construction giant, it may soon become the very first Hindu temple in the West ever destroyed by authorities. Now again the thousands of the followers of Hinduism in Russia were deprived of a place of worship. Hundreds of churches, cathedrals, mosques, synagogues are there, but not a single temple in the city of ten million people. Seeking the help and support devotees requested different prominent Indian politicians for help. Mr. Atal Bihar Vajpayee, former prime minister of India met with devotees on numerous occasions both in India and Moscow and assured devotees that he will try to convince his Russian colleagues to help ISKCON in Russia.

GROZNY, Chechnya, 1995 - Since the beginning of the Russian counterinsurgency campaign into this breakaway republic, that began on Dec. 11, 1995, Food for Life volunteers served 850,000 bowls of hot porridge, freshly baked bread and tea to the local residents. Risking their lives, devotees in Russia went on humanitarian missions to the war zones, like Chechnya and Abkhazia. Again and again they proved that the faith in God and His saving grace was more important to them than bodily comforts, and selfish pursuits. Devotees helped literally hundreds of thousands of Russians, Chechens, Georgians, Armenians, children and adults, victims of war giving them free food. But even more important, devotees of Krishna gave these deprived people a hope for better future, spiritual solace, and moral support. Often arrested by the conflicting parties, robbed and threatened, devotees still continued to distribute the sacred food to the needy people. One devotee was also killed while trying to help others. "Hare Krishna Food For Life" was the only Russia-based non-governmental charity organization, working in the war zone.

SAKHALIN, Russia 1995 - An earthquake measuring 7.2 flattened this small city in the far eastern peninsula of Russia. The following day, Food for Life volunteers were flown in by helicopter by the Russian Emergency Ministry, to provide hot food to survivors and rescue teams who worked around the clock to find bodies.

TSUNAMI RELIEF, SRI LANKA, India 2004 - The strongest earthquake in 40 years set off a string of killer Tsunami waves that utterly devastated the coastal areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia and other nearby islands, killing nearly 200,000 people.

Devotees from Russia were quick to respond again, providing relief support and hot vegetarian meals to needy people who suffered in the disaster. In Sri Lanka alone more than 10,000 meals were provided daily, along with medical care, clothing, and shelter for orphaned children at the ISKCON orphanage.

After many years of struggle, the Mayor of Moscow on 21st January 2004 finally signed the order to give the land for the construction of a new temple in a very prominent location in Moscow. The land is located on the boulevard which goes straight from Kremlin to the International Airport in about 10 minute drive from the heart of Moscow. Measuring 1,05 hectare, it would cost at least 10 to 15 million US dollars and the government gave this land free. The devotees moved into a temporary temple building on the land. As till date, they still have no water, no sewage etc.

Plans to construct a Hare Krishna temple here however, sparked off a controversy in Russia where the Orthodox Church dominates and many regard Krishna followers as dangerous sectarians.

In January 2004, Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish religious authorities in Moscow spoke out against construction, saying it is against Russian tradition. The protestors had rallied in Pushkin Square in the centre of the capital, brandishing icons, flags and banners reading "Friends, Defend Your Faith", "We Oppose the Expansion of Sects" and "Beware! Krishna followers go in for brainwashing".

There are at least 100,000 followers of Lord Krishna spread across the country. Russia's Indian community led by Sanjit Kumar Jha, President of the Association of Indians in Russia supports the project since numerous Hindu believers were forced since so many years to pray in a little room with a 200-person capacity, housed in a building that was eventually demolished by the Russian government.

On 7 October 2005, the Mayor of Moscow Yuriy Luzhkov suddenly cancelled the order issued by the Moscow Government one and a half years ago according to which ISKCON Moscow was given a plot of land for construction of a new temple in replacement for the old temple building that was demolished. The office of the City Executive Attorney found some legal discrepancies in the wording of the original order by Moscow Government and suggested to revise it and issue a new, correct one. Instead, now on that basis the Mayor cancelled the order altogether. This was done without any explanation or consultation with ISKCON. His recent document has two parts in it. The first one cancelled the previous order. And according to the second one we have no right to stay on this territory any more. This means, that we are now thrown out on the streets.

On Wednesday 19th October 2005, the Iskcon centre in Moscow was visited by the journalists from the main Russian TV-news program "Vremyachko". They took interviews from HH Bhaktivijnana Goswami Maharaja, President of ISKCON, Russia and some other Indians. They broadcasted it the same evening. The interviews were not distorted and left a good impression on people in general. On their own part the TV commented that from their sources of information the land is already sold to some big investor. There are also some rumors that the mayor's wife is involved or probably the Mayor is under pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church.

As a result ISKCON is now preparing to file a legal case. We are also preparing to launch an international campaign of protest. The VHP have agreed that they will become part of a "Defend Russian Hindus" campaign. In the UK, members of VHP will be on the committee of the campaign and in India, Ashok Singhal has agreed to lead a mass campaign. Yesteryear leading actress Hema Malini has also voiced her concern and willingness to approach the Indian Prime Minister for his help. The Hindujas have also come forward to voice their concern.

Contact: Yashomatinandana das
Development Director, ISKCON Moscow

yasomati@mail.ru Tel: +7-926-527-1486

A History of Hare Krishna in Russia/ WORLD SANKIRTAN PARTY
©2004-Hansadutta das
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