Monday, October 24, 2011

A Trip to ISKCON

I happened to go to the ISKCON temple at Bangalore on Sunday. For the uninitiated, ISKCON stands for International Society for Krishna Consciousness; They are the proponents of Gaudya Vaishnavites form of worship.

This is the 5th time I have been to this place and I have been itching to write this article ever since. Located in Rajajinagar close to the Mysore Sandal Factory, the temple complex is huge and well planned. South Indian temples by design are large and occupy huge tracts of land, sometimes forcing me to ask the question if the land could have been better used. I am sure Lord Krishna wouldn’t mind a small temple. Anyways once you enter the temple complex, you pass through small temples before reaching the Sanctum of Lord Krishna. I love the steps at the beginning of the temple where a devotee has to chant “Hare Rama Hare Rama, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna” 108 times before visiting any of the shrines. This creates a very vibrant atmosphere and fills you with a sense of sanctitude.

The main Gopuram containing the deities of Krishna, Balram and Radha is as large as an auditorium. The roof of the sanctum sanctorum resembles a collage of paintings which depict various situations in the life of Krishna. I wonder at times how people actually paint the roof of a building; reminds me of a certain sardar joke. A story better left for another occasion. The idols are seated majestically on a golden platform. It’s interesting how all the idols whether male or female are always adorned with a sari type of cloth. It’s beautiful nevertheless.

Once you have had your darshan and leave the main temple , you then come to know for what ISKCON is famous. I consider it the Amway of Spirituality. You encounter a book stall first where you would find posters depicting the offers on Bhagavad Gita. I doubt if any pious Hindu would look at an offer for a Bhagavad Gita before buying one. You would be fooled into thinking that the people who sell these might have originally worked for an FMCG company. They seem to know what they are doing. Maybe Yum-Bee-Eh is compulsory in ISKCON !! To be honest selling religious books in India is not that tough as the scriptures are very close to our hearts.

I believe that after having the darshan of Lord we should all be treated to Prasadam. It’s a birthright of every devotee. Strangely in ISKCON, the prasadam is served right at the end, close to the exit, much after the shops which sell Samosas, Kachoris, Rasnas, etc… Never seen a temple where people roam around with Kulfis and Sodas. Any devotee would be fooled into thinking this is the Prasad. They even serve Gobi Manchuria !! Talk about catering to all segments. They must have Yum-Bee-Eh’s in ISKCON. Much before the food mela you see stalls selling shirts, coffee powders, stuffed toys etc… all bearing Hindu Gods. Being an MBA myself, I would suggest ISKCON diversify into the following products,

(1) Toothpaste. What better way than to start a day with a Lord Krishna Toothpaste.
(2) Toothbrush. Unbreakable bristles. I would recommend Hanuman as the brand ambassador.
(3) Mouse Pads. The large IT crowd of Bangalore would definitely love this.
(4) Tissue Papers. This would be for the foreigners.

We can start with the above and based on customer feedback we can launch other products or more variants of the above. Did someone say Commercialization?

You guys would be glad to know that ISKCON is constructing a Krishna Lila park on Kanakpura Road in Bangalore. Sort of Wonderla. Who are we kidding, It’s a wonderla basically with a temple inside. There are roof side and pool side temples complete with water slides for kids. I never thought I would associate those words with a temple. Who says spirituality ain’t fun. No kid would ever say no to a trip to ISKCON from now. Temples for the oldies and Slides for the kids and for the parents; well the parents can choose between the two. Kudos to ISKCON, they are changing with the customer needs and demands. I think this novel concept of theirs would be a crowd puller.

At the end of our journey, and as we come near the car parking, we see two people handing out Prasad. After all the shopping, you do find the Prasad refreshing and very tasty if your stomach is not already filled with puffs and mirchi bhajji’s.

Whatever means ISKCON might be using to make money, I personally feel they make some of the most beautiful temples in the world. After the age of Cholas and Pandyas, rarely have Indian temples lived upto our heritage. I salute ISKCON in that aspect. I hope and wish that they continue to make more such grandiose temples and start selling stuff outside the temple premises.

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