Today (19 October) we visited a huge Krishna temple and center that was constructed and opened just a few years ago. It is part of the ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, centres that promote the Hare Krishna movement all over the world, especially in Europe and North America. It has restaurants and its aim is to sell books about the religion to as many people as possible. They serve free food and they have a wide range of community projects, such as eco villages for example.
I'm pretty sure you have met them before on the streets, hearing them chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Rama and placing books into your hands, holding on to them tightly on the other side, in case you wanted to take it with you. If you look them in the eyes and smile at them, they start trying to convert you immediately.
The whole movement was founded by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in New York City, 1966. He consecrated his life to the promotion of Krishna Consciousness, travelling around the globe even in his old age.
The new center in Pune is huge, with restaurants, a very bad cafeteria, a bookstore, souvenir shops and three reception halls that can house up to 600 people, a garden, a Krishna fountain and an enormous temple for the religious ceremonies.
We were really lucky because a ceremony was just going on when we arrived at the temple. Men, dressed in white, with the two lines painted on their foreheads were singing, making music and dancing, believers in trance were watching the ceremony, standing, kneeling or lying down on the floor to show a sign of respect. The beautiful altar was elevated and placed behind three nicely carved wooden doors (which they closed once the ceremony was over) and three priests were leading the same rituals at the three altars. They were using fire, water and different types of fans (made of fur and peacock feathers) to please the statue of Krishna and his wife. Then the believers were also blessed with some holy water before the ceremony ended.
And it's undeniable the whole atmosphere of the place, with the music, the nice building, the piety of the people around us really touched me and made me feel happy and I could feel how this support of a community can become very important for some people who are lost in a world without such rituals and feelings of community.