Devotees attend one of the first services at the new Hindu center in Haebangchon, Seoul. The food is 100 percent vegetarian in keeping with Hindu philosophy.
By David Watermeyer
If you follow the road up from the kimchi pots in Haebangchon, just past Phillies bar, you will discover a Krishna temple right in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the business area. Yet as soon as you enter and close the door behind you, you will be struck by the tranquility and spiritual atmosphere.
Kamala Roy, an Indian national who has lived here with her investor husband for 12 years, has always felt the lack of a place where she and others could celebrate Indian holy days and various special days such as births or funerals.
For a long time, she used to arrange such meetings at her home, but with the increasing number of Indians coming to live here in Korea, others begged her to open a venue where people could gather and celebrate together.
``A parent in India may pass away, yet there is nowhere to hold a service, so I decided it was high time to start a temple with the support of my husband, who has always been a pillar of strength,'' said Kamala.
The center in Haebanghchon is a branch of the worldwide International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), which was started by Srila Pabhupada in 1966, after he traveled alone to America from India. The society now has 500 temples, schools and farm communities with a membership of 50 million worldwide.
For Kamala, the reason to attend the center is to find out the answers to such questions as ``Who you are? What is your purpose in life. Why are you here? Where are you going? Do you wish to keep returning to this material world or do you want to get rid of this body?''
The central book of the organization, which has now been translated into Korean, is the Bhagavad Gita, which according to Arun, a senior devotee, is a summary of the philosophy contained in the ancient Vedas written in Sanskrit.
The book covers a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna taking place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra just prior to the start of the Kurukshetra War and the questions and answers are intended as a concise guide to Hindu philosophy and also as a practical, self-contained guide to life.
Two very important tenets of ISKON are vegatarianism and the Hare Krishna mantra which is what attracts many followers. Arun explained why vegetarianism is so important to the movement.
``The Vedas hold that God is the father of all creatures, not just humans. As such we are not obliged to eat meat which involves suffering when animals are killed. Members of the Hare Krishna movement prepare delicious vegetarian meals which they devote to God. Only after the food is offered to God in a devotional ritual is it then eaten by devotees.''
Arun explained that very soon a vegetarian restaurant will be opened up at the temple which will be open throughout the day.
Most have at sometime heard the Hare Krishna mantra. According to Arun, this is chanted to ``help us understand our true nature as eternal spiritual beings, beyond the physical body.'' Included in the mantra are the words Krishna, meaning ``all attractive one,'' and Rama which means ``reservoir of all pleasure.''
Apart from its spiritual function, the aim of the center is to provide a cultural center for members of the foreign Indian community.
Children will be able to attend lessons in Hindi, the Hindu religion, drawing, singing and Korean lessons will also be offered. Additionally there will be lessons offered on some Indian musical instruments. An Indian professor will also offer classes in Indian physical yoga and a womens' group where women can discuss specific problems they have will also be offered.
The current daily schedule at the temple is 9-10 a.m. mornings and 7-8 p.m. in the evenings except for Sundays when a longer service is held from 5-8 p.m. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, call (82) 010-2448-6441 or visit the Web site at www.krishnakorea.com