Monday, October 15, 2007

ISKCON: Welcome to Krishnaland!

So. ISKCON. I'm going to stay out of the politics and describe only the temple itself.

What struck me about the ISKCON structure, in both its appearance and its operation, was how much it resembled a theme-park ride. It wasn't the kind of place one went to for a quiet devotion or puja. It was, in every aspect, intended to be an experience.

After all, where else would one find a sign proclaiming that ISKCON followers were "saintly people" next to a sign warning "beware of pickpocketers?"

As I progressed through the experience, I noticed that it felt vaguely familiar. All too soon, I placed it. Disneyland.

Here's why:

1. The accordion queue. I know there's a real name for this, but someone nerdier than I will have to provide it. But you know what I'm talking about -- the deal where you walk through the front gate and into the hutch and then you see that the line is about ten times longer than you thought it would be because the queue is folded back and forth.

Luckily, when we went, there were very few people there. Unluckily, it meant we still had to walk through all of the queue turns.

2. The first pre-show, and then the second pre-show. Like Disney, ISKCON has plenty of entertainment to keep you occupied while you're queuing. First, you get Krishna's life story, on placards, spread over the twists and turns "Burma Shave"-style. As the queue gets closer to the main temple, it passes by three mini-temples (all with their own donation boxes, of course). All, of course, intended to keep you entertained and psych you up for the Main Event.

3. The ever-repeating soundtrack. Loudspeakers along the route piped us full of "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare," etc. It's a small world after all. Remember, we're not even inside the temple yet.

4. Gilt-edged murals in every corner. Okay, now we're inside the temple. And like, say, the Haunted Mansion (yes, I know, I just compared a temple to Disney's Haunted Mansion -- to be fair, Disney also uses this portrait scheme on its carousel and in Cinderella's Palace), there are gilt-edged paintings shoved into every available wall space. The portraits are even in the same style; contemporary romantic/pastoral arrangements of iconic scenes and characters.

5. An immediate exit into a shopping arena. Like Disney, you exit the event and find yourself immediately in a store which sells smaller versions of the event. In ISKCON's case, there were several floors of shopping available, all which we had to pass through before we got back to the parking lot. As well as an "all-prasadam" food court.

Did I enjoy the ISKCON experience? Absolutely. But the sense of building anticipation + brief, exciting encounter + instant urge to memorialize the experience felt a little too... manipulative (not to mention canned, or -- as one of my friends described an earlier temple -- "synthetic"). Krishna, after all, is not Mickey Mouse; and visiting a temple should not be like riding on Splash Mountain.

But, then again, I am the outsider, putting my own value judgments on things I know I don't really understand. So... well, these are my thoughts only.

What are yours?


Anonymous said...


I think your impressions are on the dot, and shared by many traditional Hindus. That temple is treated as a tourist attraction in B'lore, not as a place of worship.

To people from the area, the temple is good as an impromptu restaurant (some of their food is decent :-)), their incense sticks are really good (I buy the sandal ones all the time to bring back here to the US), and they have a very useful charity box where they accept donations of old clothes - this is of great use to people like my parents who don't have the more usual servants-with-children route to disposing old clothes.


Thambi said...

I think this statement pretty much sums up your whole blog:

But, then again, I am the outsider, putting my own value judgments on things I know I don't really understand. So... well, these are my thoughts only.

Which is why you should keep them that way and stop trying to act authoritative.