Friday, May 9, 2014

ISKCON Temple in Melbourne (Melbourne Mahaprabhu Hindu Temple.)

Our tram drives past tall skyscrapers and high rise buildings through the city of Melbourne in Australia. As we start moving away from the city, the landscape begins to change – from a mob of chaos and cacophonous rush – to a silent retreat. It’s meditative, almost. I inquire about my destination with my co-passengers in the bus, ‘Where should I get down for Dank’s street?’

A young lady, also an Indian, standing at the door and ready to alight, pips in, ‘This is the stop, get down right here,’ saying thus she continues in a rhetorical tone, ‘You must be going to the ISKCON temple, right?’

She is right. Situated in Danks street, Albert Park, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or better known as ISKCON temple is a religious place of worship, a spiritual getaway for many Indians staying in Melbourne, like the young lady, like me and like all the others who just alighted along with us from the tram, all believers of Krishna. 

Together, we head through the silent deserted streets lined with quaint houses, tall trees and narrow pathways – the entire setting exuding an old English charm. No one talks as if in harmony to the frame of tranquility; occasionally the winds produce a whistling sound charming the delicate flowers of the gardens to dance.


Quaint houses in Dank Street, on the way to ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
On the way to the ISKCON temple, Danks street, Melbourne.

Flowers on Dank Street, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Pretty flowers giving company.
I could have easily walked past the iron gates plated ‘197’ if not for my fellow tram passengers; the ISKCON temple looks like any other house. On closer inspection, I spot the name: Sri Sri Radha Ballabha Temple.

The ISKCON Temple building in Melbourne, Australia
The ISKCON Temple at a glance.

Inside, I am greeted by Keerthi, a devotee who handles the reception area. ISKCON temple is home to the bhaktas, the followers of the ISKCON movement and despite being primarily of Indian origin, the temple is essentially international. The residing bhaktas, priests and the managing staff are mostly Melburnians, responsible for operating the place - they run a guest house, carry out all the temple proceedings, prepare the prasadam (offerings to the Lord later consumed by the temple bhaktas), host guests like me – and if this is not enough – they also chant Sanskrit Shlokas with utmost dedication and precision, an ancient Vedic language that is slowly losing its hold for most Indians today.

Clad in a green sari, bespectacled and petite, Keerthi pushes aside the papers she is holding and warmly welcomes me by folding her hands in a Namaste. Her beatific smile is striking. She instantly recognizes me as Arti, the lady with whom she had been conversing via e-mail for the past few days, someone whom she had been eagerly looking forward to host.

‘Mataji, aapne darshan liye, aarti ka samay ho gaya hai. Let’s go.’

She guides me to the main temple hall where the deities are still resting. The temple hall is a humble room, neat and calm devoid of any superfluous ornamentation. Pictures of Radha Krishna adorn the walls on all sides along with a print of Krishna Mahamantra – Hare Rama, Hare Krishna. At one end of the room is the seat of Srila Swami Prabhupada, the founder teacher of the ISKCON movement. Next to the Swami's seat is a blackboard chalked in lessons learnt from the Bhagavad Gita class conducted in the temple every morning. Exactly opposite is the altar with the presiding deities, Sri Sri Radha Ballabha and Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, along with Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladeva and Lady Subhadra ready to give a glimpse from behind the closed curtains any moment now.

Srila Swami Prabhupada, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Founder Acharya: His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

I take a seat near Keerthi, who is busy immersed in chanting like many others in the hall. I follow suit.

Soon, with a loud echo of the conch and a thumping encore of the chant Hare Krishna, the curtains are pulled giving way to the beautiful deities of Radha Damodar decked up in colorful dresses and glimmering in bright gold and other ornaments. This first sighting of the Lord is acknowledged by the devotees who instinctively throw their hands up in the air as if in question: where were you till now, O my dear Lord?

Radha Ballabha ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Presiding deity of Sri Radha- Ballabha in the temple.
Krishna Balaram deity at the ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Deity of Lord Krishna and his brother Baladeva.

The priest ignites the lamp, the hymn is played on and the entire place is suffused in divinity. Devotees stand transfixed with hands folded, heads bowed and eyes closed; everyone seems to be in a trance.

The aarti ends with Keerthi, my guide for today inviting me to show the place around.

'How long have you been staying here,' I ask her, a native resident of southern India. '4 years,' she says with a smile. 'Don’t you miss home?,' I nudge.

‘Yes, sometimes I do but this place has given me a lot of love; the devotees have been my family. This temple has nurtured my soul. I have found happiness here. No matter where I go, this place shall be my home.’ she says sagaciously.

 I cannot help but marvel at the contentment in her life – good people, engrossed in service, to the Lord and to mankind alike, good food, happiness within, a serene pace of livelihood – A place that helps you grow, inwardly and actually teaches you the art of living – who wouldn't want call it home? This is the quality of living we all strive for yet seldom do we find it even after running around frantically all our lives.

She takes me to the house of Srila Swami Prabhupada, the same room where he apparently stayed during his two year visit to Melbourne in 1975-76. Artifacts in display range from items like sandalwood paste with which he was annointed after he passed away, the transistor he used and strands of his hair.

Srila Swami Prabhupada's transistor, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Srila Swami Prabhupada's samadhi dust, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Srila Swami Prabhupada's bed, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Things which carry the essence of Swami Prabhupada today.

All these things transport you back to the 1970s, a period when Srila Prabhupada regularly visited Melbourne to hold lectures and spread the message of spirituality. Keerthi takes me through the years: 'In 1973, He installed the presiding Deities, Sri Sri Radha Ballabha in the temple which, at that time, was located at Burnett Street, St Kilda.  2 years later, the temple found a new residence, and Srila Prabhupada attended the opening at 197, Danks Street, Albert Park, also installing the rest of the Deities of Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda, Sri-Sri Gaura Nitai and Lady Subhadra.’

‘Srila Prabhupada loved Melbourne.’ She goes on, ‘He once said, this place is like Vrindavan to me,’ she chips in with a subtle hint of pride.

Next, we head to the kitchen area and the wardrobe room of the Lord. In the kitchen, containers of spices line the rows of shelves used by devotees for preparing the Prasadam. The Prasadam is served 3 times in a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and is offered to all the devotees coming to the temple, in accordance to the wishes of Swami Prabhupada. I try imagining the hullabaloo resonating in the place during festivals like Janmashtami which are celebrated with great pomp and fervor across all the ISKCONS round the world. For now, however, it bores an empty look.

Kitchen of ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
A row of containers, from the kitchen.

In the clothing room, Keerthi opens up the cupboard for me and I am awed by the sheer number of dresses I see. Laughing softly at seeing the look of amazement on my face, she tries to explain, ‘the Lord is very fond of dressing up and so we take full care to satisfy His wishes. You might be surprised to know but we have a designer on board too. She comes in from time to time to discuss, take the measurements and raw materials from us and stitches His garments accordingly. Every day, the Lord sports a new garment and special ones during the festival days. The Lord also has a large collection of matching earrings and other ornaments;' she points out drawing my attention to a side-section of the cupboard.

Lord's wardrobe ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
The Master's wardrobe!

‘And what about these garlands, what do you do with these?’ I ask of the dried festoons kept on a table. She picks one of them and hands it to me, ‘Ah these – we distribute these among the devotees. This one is an offering of yesterday, perhaps it was kept here because the Lord wished for you to have it,’ she says with one of her marked beatific smiles again. I accept it with both hands; this is a blessing from the Lord.

The following day, I return again as insisted by my gentle guide, to attend the evening aarti and take the Mahaprasadam (an assortment of sweets, offerings for the Lord). ‘The auspicious celestial month of Kartik (a month in the Hindu calendar) is going on and here, in ISKCON we celebrate it by lighting candles for the Lord. It goes on for the entire duration of the month. You should attend it Mataji, it is an experience not to be missed and also take the Mahaprasadam, it’s distributed immediately after the aarti.’ Her words play in my mind as I mingle with the devotees - young, old and tiny tots – gradually filling the temple hall.

Karthik month arti, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Just moments before the Kartik month candle lighting ceremony

Amid ringing of bells, loud passionate Hare Krishna chants and the beating of the dhol, priests appear with huge lit lamps and the aarti begins. In one corner, a queue forms for the candle lighting ceremony. I join in. As I near the altar, I am handed a lighted candle.

As I circle my candle and close my eyes, I lose focus of my complete attention on the deity of Radhe-Krishna, The light seeps within…

Deity of Radhe Krishna at the ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Personal moments with the Lord...

The light clouds my vision or perhaps it is the other way round. The light is opening a connection, between me and my Father. This is a light of peace, a light of humanity and a light of bonding.

After the aarti, I try scouting for Keerthi but alas! The reception is locked and she is nowhere to be seen. Apparently she had left early today.

While I walk to catch a tram back to my hotel in the city, relishing every bite of my Mahaprasadam, I realize I am not alone: the stillness in the dark of the night, the golden shadows of the halogen lights, the pure innocence of the moon in sight and vivid memories of my cheerful guide are all here, to keep me company. 

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Planning to visit the temple? Here's some information that might help you.

1. Prasadam: The full meal main course is called the Prasadam while the ones containing a small assortment of sweets is called the Mahaprasadam. If you are on the lookout for pure vegetarian food in Melbourne, this is the place to go! Though this is a little off from the center of the city, but once you purchase the Myki card, the distance should not be problem. The food is hygienic, very tasty and served in abundance. In addition, it's cooked and dished out with so much love, that it's an experience in itself. When I was there, we weren't asked any member id's and food was given wholeheartedly to all, for free. I'd absolutely recommend having it to anyone visiting Melbourne.

Prasadam Timings: Breakfast - 8:45 am, Lunch -1:00 pm, Dinner - 5:30 pm. Mahaprasadam Timings (distributed after the aarti): 4:15 am, 7:15 am, 4:15 pm, 7:15 pm, 9:15 pm.

2. Guest House: Facility is available for the  members. It is advised to book in advance via e-mail to avoid last minute hassles.

3. Temple darshan timings: Morning: 4.30 to 5.00 AM; Afternoon: 12.30 to 1.00, 4 to 6.30, 7 to 7.30, 9.00 to 9.15 PM.

4. Getting there, address and contact Info:

International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON Temple)
Founder Acharya: His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Melbourne Mahaprabhu Mandir.
197 Danks Street, Albert Park, Victoria 3206.
+61 (03) 9699-5122

For any other queries and information, please visit their official website.

Melbourne things to do #8: Walking the Yarra River Trail.


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37 comments:

  1. A very comprehensive post, with lots of useful information about visiting the temple. I had no idea there is an ISKCON temple in Melbourne...nor do some of my friends who live there. Will pass on the same to them. You sure are fortunate to get the garlands of the lord during your visit... stay blessed...

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  2. ISKCON has its beauty wherever it is. Beautiful shots Arti and I loved the way you started the post.

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  3. This is beautiful, somehow I missed seeing this Arti:(

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  4. Wow so serene and calm.
    Like that picket fence around it.

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  5. Lovely shots! The Master has a wonderfully colourful wardrobe.

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  6. What a beautiful and vivit description of the Iskon Temple! I felt that I was also with you and Keerthi. The photographs are superb.

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  7. It's a nice place to explore. I would love to go there in summer :).

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  8. a beautiful temple :) I have been to only one of the ISKCONs, the one in Delhi and the place was really amazing... Love the service these people are doing to humanity.

    Happy to see the temple in Melbourne via your photos. Great post!

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  9. Hi Arti,

    I enjoyed reading about the Mahaprabhu Hindu Temple and learning more about this.
    Such a magnificent Temple and also really loved seeing the gorgeous houses in the first photos.
    the Masters wardrobe looks amazing with all the pretty colours garments.
    Thanks for sharing and wishing you a happy weekend
    Carolyn

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  10. Arti, Whenever I go to The Harekrishna Temple here, I wonder how they manage to change God's attire everyday - honestly, you solved the mystery today. Now I know they have a designer for our cure Kanha and Radha Rani :) Loved this post - sharing with my friends :)

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  11. It looks great place. Colorful wardrobe is interesting.

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  12. I loved your photos in this post and all of your reflections and info! I've only been to one temple before, the one in Connecticut in the States. It's a humble one but full of devotion, which I think is the most important thing. I would love to visit the one in Melbourne someday. Thank you for this beautiful post!

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  13. Good pictures. the idols in ISCKON temple and enchanters.
    Nice to see articles of Swami prabhupadananda

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  14. Wow, you got to experience such an authentic Indian atmosphere in Melbourne!

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  15. I was a bit surprised to see the colorful wardrobe as well :) Great post with lots of useful information

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  16. What a great experience, Arti. It's a beautiful temple and I'm not familiar with Hindu rituals so this was such a wonderful read. Thanks for the virtual trip!

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  17. Lovely... had a great virtual experience.. great pictures absolutely!!!

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  18. It is surprising to know this!
    And what a beautiful introductory paragraph to describe it.

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  19. That was lovely Arti dear - felt I was right there with you! Loved your description in the end- when you were not alone..:-) beautiful, and great pics. I have been to the Iskcon here in Mumbai a couple of times - so great food in the restaurant there also!! YUM!

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  20. wowowwo.. beautiful next time i visit OZ i will try visiting this for sure

    Bikram

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  21. How wonderful, though your impressive post is almost as good as being there I'd love to visit here some day and see it for myself.

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  22. That was truly a lovely description of your experience. Had the feeling of being there. and nice pictures too :) thanks for sharing. Sounds like an experience one should not miss.

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  23. Keerthi's comment sums it up for me, "but this place has given me a lot of love; the devotees have been my family. This temple has nurtured my soul. I have found happiness here. No matter where I go, this place shall be my home." I agree with you that this is what we're all searching for. Some of us find it, others never do. She's definitely one of the lucky ones, Arti. Sounds like you are too.
    I loved reading your post, it made me feel like I was right there with you.

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  24. Beautiful temple in Melbourne.

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  25. Thanks a lot, Arti, for your kind comment on my latest post!
    That's what makes blogging that interesting - every now and then you can exchange with fellows from all over the world and learn from their angle of view on this and that.

    So - thank you very much again - regards from a Baltic Sea region post around the world to a Melbourne City post! Your temple photos and the story behind are very impressive!

    Uwe.

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  26. How lovely that you found this in Melbourne. It nourished your soul when you were away from home!

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  27. I have never been to ISCKON temple although I have seen procession of many bhaktas, singing Hare Krishna Hare Ram. Makes me homesick sometimes :) You have captured and narrated your experience wonderfully,

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  28. ISCKON is always be my fav place to visit. Will write on my list now , who knows i will visit meulbourne someday. In india it's not allow to take pic inside ISCKON temple , even we cant bring anything inside.

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  29. Very informative and beautiful post.. Arti..

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  30. Lovely description as usual, Arti! Great pics too :)

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  31. Hello Arti! Hope you doing well.

    I have visited ISKCON temple in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. However you point out new ISKCON temple for me and many others like me. Thank you so much for your visual description of ISKCON temple in Melbourne. Thanks again :)

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  32. Great post and nice pictures. Regarding your comment: "The full meal main course is called the Prasadam while the ones containing a small assortment of sweets is called the Mahaprasadam." I am no expert but I think mahaprasada is the plate of food that is actually placed in front of the deities and offered to them. Prasad refers to the entirety of foodstuff that was cooked, out of which the mahaprasad plate was prepared. Mahaprasad is more 'special' than prasad, although both are offerings.. I need to confirm this!

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  33. Fascinating and wonderful pictures. Thank you for posting.
    http://estays-sa.com/

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  34. I experienced every moment you written, now, it's difficult to bring the mind from the temple and Lord Krishna...:) Shrila Swami Prabhupada has blessed this world by creating Krishna temples all over the world. And for us, Bharateeyas, meeting Lord Krishna in a foreign country is like having a true friend waiting for us, wherever we go in the world. :)

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