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A Taste of the Subcontinent

by Svetlana Graudt, The Moscow Times

Posted August 15, 2006

It is Krishna's 5,234th birthday next week, and the party is on, right here in Moscow. A festival called The Days of Indian Spiritual Culture is set to run from Sunday to Wednesday, encompassing religious ceremonies, a sari fashion show, lectures, musical and theater performances, a photo exhibition and film screenings, not to mention food tastings, yoga sessions and an Oriental bazaar.

The festival is jointly organized by the Moscow branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness -- commonly known as the Hare Krishnas -- and the Association of Indians in Russia, with the support of the Indian Embassy.

It will be the largest festival to date organized by Hare Krishnas in Moscow. Similar celebrations have been discreetly marked in the city since the late 1980s, when Krishna believers were first allowed to register their organization, said Yury Pleshakov, a spokesperson for the group's Russian branch, speaking by telephone Monday.

Pleshakov said the first Krishna followers appeared in Moscow in 1971 after the visit of the Hindu religious leader Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the movement's founder. "At the time, relations between the Soviet Union and India were intensifying. The Soviet Union had strategic interests in India, and ordinary people were actively interested in Indian culture, including spiritual culture, as the friendship ties went a long way back. However, in Soviet times, the atmosphere was saturated with extreme suspicion and fear, especially when it came to contacting foreigners, so Prabhupada's visit was very brief."

In the ensuing years, believers were persecuted, so their numbers stayed low during the next two decades. The fall of the Soviet Union allowed for greater religious freedom, and Pleshakov estimates there are now 100,000 to 150,000 Krishna followers across Russia.

The festival will kick off Sunday at noon at the Krishna Temple near the Dynamo metro station with astrologers, Ayurvedic doctors and psychologists giving free advice. It will take in India's Independence Day on Tuesday and culminate Wednesday with a celebration of Janmastami, Krishna's appearance day and probably the most popular festival in India. Organizers promise a variety of religious ceremonies, such as the traditional bathing of Krishna in water, milk, honey and fruit juice, as well as music, fireworks and a fire-dancing show after it gets dark.

Many of Moscow's Indians are expected to attend the festival's events. Sanjeet Jha, president of the Association of Indians in Russia, said his organization held several celebrations throughout the year in cities such as Vladimir, Vladivostok and Tyumen, to name just a few. "Wherever Indians live, they try to observe their traditions, religion and culture -- in the same way as they would in India," he said by telephone Tuesday. "Our aim is to help them to feel at home away from home."

Although many events at the festival are religious in nature, the organizers emphasize that everyone is welcome.

"We are very pleased to have organized the festival not just for ourselves but for our Russian friends also," Jha said. "We hope they will enjoy themselves."

The Days of Indian Spiritual Culture run fron Sun. to Wed. at the Krishna temple, located at 39 Leningradsky Prospekt. Metro Dynamo. For a schedule of events and a map to the temple, visit 2006.veda.ru.

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