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Hare Krishna Monk Serves Up Indian Food, Religious Beliefs

by Charlotte Hsu, Daily Bruin

Posted January 26, 2006

At $4, the food is affordable, healthy and all-you-can-eat.

And according to Nama Kirtan das, who brings the tubs of rice, soup, vegetables and dessert to campus Mondays and Tuesdays, it also brings you closer to God.

Nama Kirtan das, 32, is a monk of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, often referred to as the Hare Krishna movement.

He serves lunch to students and others at UCLA twice a week, as he has for the past three years. When believers prepare a meal, they offer plates to Krishna, another name for God, before serving others.

"The intention is to please God," Nama Kirtan das said. "We're making it for Krishna first. ... Anyone that partakes in the food makes spiritual advancement."

Filling paper plates with Indian cuisine ladled from large plastic containers one afternoon, Nama Kirtan das stood in the shade of trees tucked between the Young Research Library and Dickson Art Center.

Mohit Lad, a computer science graduate student, and three friends were among about a dozen people eating on nearby benches.

Lad says he first made the trek to "extreme North Campus" to dine outdoors about a year ago, and tries to come each week depending on his class schedule.

One time he brought Amy Lee, a graduate student in epidemiology, who also frequents the site now.

"It's an economical option and the food is delicious," Lee said, taking a break from mouthfuls of daal - a thick, dark yellow soup made from lentils. "And I'm a vegetarian. They don't have much vegetarian options in Ackerman and other places on campus."

Krishna believers consume dairy but do not eat meat or eggs.

Neither Nama Kirtan das nor other followers who accompany him to UCLA talk about Hare Krishna to those who show no interest, Lad said. Instead of aggressively seeking converts, they simply display informational pamphlets along with the food.

"They tell you all about the stuff that's going on, but they've never really pushed anyone," Lad says.

Lad and Lee have also visited the Hare Krishna restaurant on Watseka Avenue, north of Venice Boulevard, where patrons of all ages piled salad, pasta and other selections onto plates one recent evening. The eatery, a buffet of international dishes, is adjacent to the Hare Krishna temple where Nama Kirtan das lives.

Other than for their cooking, believers are known for the way they chant "Hare Krishna," which means, roughly, "Oh Lord God."

"When chanting the names of God, you get closer to God," Nama Kirtan das said. "We say it purifies the mind."

According to some translations, Krishna, the name of a Hindu deity, means "all-attractive." Though the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was founded in 1966 and is often considered a new religion, many of its beliefs originated in India centuries ago.

The movement, with an estimated 100,000 followers in North America, made headlines in 2005 after leaders admitted there had been widespread sexual and physical abuse of children in Hare Krishna boarding schools.

The society began paying $9.5 million last June to alleged victims, attorneys and others connected with the case.

At the same time, believers work on humanitarian aid projects around the world, feeding thousands of hungry people in Africa and Latin America, Nama Kirtan das said.

While Los Angeles is home to one of the movement's North American headquarters, Krishna believers across the country sponsor food programs similar to the one at UCLA. At the University of Florida in Gainesville, where Nama Kirtan das first learned of the movement a decade ago, followers serve three hundred to four hundred students a day, he said. At UCLA the usual crowd only numbers two dozen or so.

"Students go to universities to learn things about life," Nama Kirtan das said.

That's why he said he likes coming to UCLA twice a week. He said he hopes that, besides leaving with a full stomach, students will walk away with some knowledge about the faith to which he devotes his life.

Krishna Lunch, sponsored by UCLA's Bhakti Yoga Club, takes place Mondays and Tuesdays from noon to 1:30 p.m. on the road between Young Research Library and Dickson Art Center.

Click Here for the article in dailybruin.ucla.edu