(iskconnews.org) – Building Bridges of Friendship: Devotees’ Remarkable Efforts in Istanbul
Some members of the Istanbul community with HH Sivarama Swami.
In the vibrant metropolis of Istanbul, Turkey, a growing community of Hare Krishna devotees led by Nrsimha Krsna Das and his wife Krsnamala Devi Dasi have made remarkable strides in spreading the message of Krishna consciousness. In a predominantly Muslim country with its unique religious and political sensitivities, their efforts to establish authentic friendships and preach the timeless teachings of Lord Krishna have been nothing short of inspiring.
Nrsimha Krsna, a dynamic individual with a managerial position in an international logistics company, discovered Krishna Consciousness in 2000 when he received the book “The Science of Self Realization.” The powerful words of Srila Prabhupada touched his heart and led him on a transformative journey. Despite the cultural and religious challenges he faced, Nrsimha Krsna committed himself wholeheartedly to practicing Krishna consciousness, incorporating the principles of vegetarianism and daily chanting into his life.
In the early 2000s, there were no established Hare Krishna communities in Istanbul due to the political and religious landscape. However, Nrsimha Krsna’s determination led him to connect with devotees from Hungary, who supported him in initiating Krishna Consciousness activities in the city. Overcoming hurdles, the devotees began organizing house programs and home gatherings, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for those seeking spiritual solace in a bustling city.
One of the significant milestones in their journey was the establishment of a Govinda’s Restaurant, followed by the Goranga Yoga Center in 2013. Combining yoga and vegetarianism, the center became a hub for preaching and spiritual gatherings. In a city that craves peace amidst the fast-paced life, the center offered an oasis where people could explore the depths of yoga and spirituality.
However, practicing Krishna Consciousness in Turkey comes with its challenges. Strict laws restrict open preaching, book distribution, and temple establishments. Despite these limitations, the devotees persevered by translating Srila Prabhupada’s books into Turkish, creating online channels for book distribution, and holding regular yoga and kirtan programs. They found innovative ways to share Bhakti yoga while respecting the country’s cultural norms.
What sets the Hare Krishna community in Istanbul apart is its focus on building genuine friendships with people. Understanding the importance of friendship in Turkish culture, they create a warm and welcoming environment for anyone who walks through their doors. By practicing hospitality and kindness, they attract people from diverse backgrounds, many of whom become favorable to the teachings of Krishna Consciousness.
Their initiatives extend beyond the confines of Istanbul. Every year, the devotees organize the Namahata Bhakti Camp, where devotees from Hungary and Turkey come together to experience Krishna-Conscious teachings and culture while immersing themselves in spiritual practices. This enriching experience has helped grow the community while strengthening bonds of friendship and camaraderie among devotees.
Support from prominent figures in ISKCON, such as Niranjana Swami, Sivarama Swami, and the regional GBC, has played a crucial role in their progress. The guidance and encouragement from these senior devotees have empowered the community to take bold steps in spreading the message of Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Despite not having a traditional temple setup, the Hare Krishna devotees in Istanbul have managed to cultivate a thriving community. With over 100 devotees practicing Krishna consciousness, their activities span from daily Bhagavad-gita classes to weekly Sunday programs. Their Food for Life project has been a resounding success, providing food to thousands of people in need and garnering appreciation from the local community.
Recently, Saranagati Dasi of Alachua was traveling through Turkey with her mother, Yauvanananda Dasi, and spent some time with the Istanbul devotees. She said, “They had the best Sunday feast prasadam that I’ve had in a long time! I was also surprised that there were about 25-30 people in attendance,” she continued, “Everyone was very kind. I’ve noticed that about Turkish people in general and, with devotees, it especially shines through. The whole program was very inspiring and the crowd was really into the kirtan. It is clear that prasadam and the Holy Name can bring anyone to Krsna and His devotees.”
In a world of challenges and adversities, the efforts of Nrsimha Krsna, Krsnamala, and the Hare Krishna community in Istanbul serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration. Their dedication to building authentic friendships and preaching the message of Krishna consciousness against all odds showcases the true essence of spirituality – transcending barriers and embracing the universal spirit of love and compassion.
You can follow their service on their websites, Facebook pages, and Instagram accounts below.