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World's First Hare Krishna Temple Goes Back in Time to Honor Founder

By Serena Solomon | September 3, 2013 8:51am
 The temple in the East Village is raising money to return the space to how it looked in the 1960s.
Hare Krishna Temple
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EAST VILLAGE — The world's first Hare Krishna temple is going back in time.

The storefront worship space at 26 Second Ave., where the Hare Krishna movement's founder first began spreading his teachings in the '60s, is getting an overhaul to look just like it did back then, monks at the temple said.

The temple, which is part of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, is working to raise $20,000 to buy oriental rugs, wall hangings and more to bring the space back to how it looked when Hare Krishna founder Abhay Charan, whose spiritual name was Srila Prabhupada, began converting followers in New York in 1966.

The center's operators, Hare Krishna followers who are based at the movement's Bhakti Center on First Avenue, are using old film footage and photos as references to replicate the space's design and decor, hoping that the ground-floor room will become even more of a pilgrimage destination for Hare Krishna followers.

"That is where [Prabhupada] really started the movement, where he incorporated the society and where he started outreach and really got his first committed followers," said Vasudeva das, 32, a Hare Krishna monk who lives in the East Village. His legal name is Bram de Vreede, but Vasudeva das has been his spiritual name since he joined the movement in 1998.

The Hare Krishna belief system can be traced back to ancient India and is based on four regulations including not eating meat, not gambling and not using things like alcohol or caffeine, as well as restrictions on sex.

Vasudeva das and Hare Krishna follower Yadunath das, whose legal name is Joe DeGise II, have raised about $5,000 in the past six months for the renovation project and are hoping to find a major donor so the work can begin as soon as possible.

"We need to get some props from those times. There is a reel-to-reel recording machine [Prabhupada] used for his classes, which was always there. Benches for the side need to be built," Vasudeva das said.

Vasudeva das, Yadunath das and others working on the project are using the short documentary "Happiness on 2nd Avenue," produced in the 1960s, as one reference for how the room looked when it opened.

The Hare Krishna movement started when Prabhupada moved from India to New York in 1965 with the goal of bringing his beliefs to the Western world, Vasudeva das said. Prabhupada leased the Second Avenue storefront in 1966.

The movement quickly outgrew the space and it moved to another location in 1968, but directors of the Brooklyn-based Hare Krishna temple re-leased the space and opened it again in 1991, according to Second Avenue temple's website.

"It is a very important place for our movement. It is like a place of pilgrimage," said Vasudeva das. "We have Hare Krishnas come from all over the world who want to see the place, where he did his first classes."

The temple is currently only used for Hare Krishna classes on Mondays and Saturdays.

When the planned renovations are complete, Vasudeva das said the space would operate like a "living museum" with public access.

"It is a space that will evoke [a] meditation of the person [Prabhupada] — his spirit, his compassion, his boldness in reaching out to people," he said.