When I mentioned yesterday that local people would not like Kumar Swami to build another temple, I really talked about the feeling that many people of the town have at the moment and which you can hear and read about on newspapers and online.
In the last years and decades, Vrindavan has grown a lot. I have expressed this many times when writing about Vrindavan and telling how different the town was when I was a child.
Today there are many new and very big temples, around the temples there are guest houses, hotels, some restaurants and of course many shops. Whole buses of pilgrims come and among them are also a lot of foreigners. This development actually started with the growth of ‘ISKCON’ in Vrindavan, the ‘International Society of Krishna Consciousness’.
The organization was founded by Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada, who came from West Bengal and lived in Vrindavan. He was a preacher, travelling in India and in the west and in the late 60s he founded the organization ISKCON. I remember his death when I was six or seven years old. They carried his body past our house through the streets towards the Yamuna river.
In our childhood, this organization’s temple was a small, simple temple in the outskirts of Vrindavan. Although it was far out of the town, quite a way from where we were living, that temple was a center of attraction because there were some foreigners worshipping there. We sometimes took a walk to there and since that time the temple is popularly called ‘Angrejon ka mandir’, the temple of foreigners.
Later on, the organization started getting more and more famous and more people came to Vrindavan from other countries to live here, chant, worship, pray and sometimes live for longer time. Foreigners brought money and the temple grew to this big marble building that it is today. For local people and pilgrims it is now a tourist attraction rather than a place of worship. They go there to do sightseeing, to see a nice temple and also to see foreigners, people with fair skin, doing pooja and chanting there. It is something you don’t see every day and definitely worth a visit. If they want to worship however and say their own prayers, Indian people go to the old temples in the center of the town.
Of course the people of the town were also happy that the foreigners who came brought some of their money with them and this is how many local businesses were able to grow their shops in that area and in the original market. Lots of money entered Vrindavan in the last decades and local businessmen were happy to get their share.
After some time however some doubts started to grow in peoples’ minds, too. The organization grew and grew and they started buying more and more land in the surrounding of the temple, building their own guesthouse, restaurant, living areas and a school. Soon a lot of property was in their hands and in the hands of people connected with them and many local people started changing their mind towards doubts and fear. Will they keep on buying land in Vrindavan until they own the whole town?
Shortly ago, they saw themselves justified in their worry because of this organization. The city of Vrindavan has lately made a lot of changes on the roads of Vrindavan, to install a sewage system and to make the streets broader. In order to do this, they tore a lot of buildings which were standing too much into the road. A lot of houses had to tear down their front wall and rebuild it further back because they had illegally extended their buildings onto government land. Many walls were broken and even some whole shops just destroyed. They had to move. ISKCON however, whose gates and outer walls were also quite a way into the new, broad street, remained unmolested and as they were.
This is why locals had been protesting in the last weeks, writing letters of protest to the city government and even going on hunger-strike in Mahatma Gandhi style, demanding that their outer wall has to be shifted, too. They accused officials of having taken bribes for not destroying their building while they were removing so many poor peoples’ houses and shops. And really, one man did not eat until he got the official confirmation last week that the fences of the ISKCON property would have to move to the back, too.
This is not the only reason for locals to complain about the big organization and I will dedicate tomorrow’s diary entry to explaining more of them.
Today the food of the children of our school was sponsored by the friends and family of our dear friend Sonja Kling. She celebrated her birthday on the last weekend and asked her guests to donate instead of giving presents. Thank you for this initiative to help our children selflessly!