Radha Govinda Swami Katha in Agra Jail

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By Deena Bandhu dasa

Out of his kindness and mercy, Sri Radha Govinda Maharaja agreed to do 3 days of Bhagwat Katha in Agra Central Jail last week. All the prisoners and jail authorities thouroughly appreciated Maharaja’s lectures and the ecstatic kirtana of the ISKCON devotees. Since we have been regularly preaching there, they now have their own kirtan group that every day does Prabhupada’s Guru Puja, kirtan for one hour, and then reads from Bhagavad Gita As It Is. There are a few prisoners that do 64 rounds, at least a dozen that do 16 rounds, and many others who are chanting rounds.

You can see in the one picture that their chanting party has come to greet us holding Srila Prabhupada’s picture high over their heads and tossing flower petals on the devotees. Very enthusiatically they escorted us with kirtan to the hall where the program was to take place. It hardly appears to be a jail as they have planted so many trees in the entrance avenue as you can see in the next picture. Arriving at the hall they hardly wanted to stop kirtan and ended loudly with, “Jaya Prabhupada! Jaya Prabhupada! Jaya Prabhupada!”

After garlanding all the devotees and a brief introduction, Maharaja began his lecture starting from how Krishna Himself was born in jail. He very sweetly described the pastime and then lectured very extensively on the four maha sins that keep us in this material jail. All the prisoners sat very attentively listening and you can see them happily responding to Maharaja getting them to chant the mahamantra. This was followed by an ecstatic kirtan led by myself. All the prisoners were jumping up and down and dancing as you see in the photo. All the prisoners applauded very loudly at the end of Maharaja’s lecture.

This program continued on for two more days and the crowd and enthusiasm increased each day. I don’t think anyone has ever done Bhagwat Katha in jail before. The prisoners reciprocated that on the next day at the entrance of the hall, they made a colorful mandala to greet Maharaja and all the devotees. On the last day, burn-your-finger-hot pure ghee halevah prasada was distributed to almost three thousand prisoners. This was sponsored by our Vrinda Kunda Temple and cooked in the jail by our own devotees. The whole atmosphere of the jail was changed into Goloka Vrindavan!

In service of Srimati Vrinda Devi, Deena Bandhu dasa


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1 Unregistered

Very enlivening. Srila Prabhupada ki jaya! I like the photos. The enthusiasm of the participants is really nice.

Your servant,
Anadi Krsna dasa

Comment posted by Anadi108 on March 28th, 2008
2 Akruranatha

To see the enthusiasm of these prisoners makes me think there must be a real silver lining to being arrested, convicted and incarcerated. It is beneficial for the criminal.

When we get the results of good karma, such as wealth, beauty, high birth and good education, it is easy to become intoxicated by the enjoying mentality and think, “Why should I worship Krishna now? I have more important things to do.” But when you are in jail there is not much else to do.

I do not have much experience being in jail, but one time I was pulled over for a traffic violation and the cops discovered my license had been suspended. I had gotten a “fix it” ticket (for a broken tail light), shortly before I moved from the Miami Beach temple to go to University of Maryland. I never bothered to change to a Maryland license, and my mail had not been forwarded so I did not know my Florida license was suspended. They put me in handcuffs and stuck me in a holding cell with all the drunks and disorderlies.

Before being arrested I was in anxiety, thinking about getting my school work done and preparing for exams, but once I was locked up, presumably for the whole night, a feeling of peace came over me. I realized there was nothing I could do about my school assignments, and started chanting to myself and meditating. I can’t explain it. It is not as if my “responsibilities” had disappeared, but I guess I at least had a good excuse for not worrying about them: there was definitely nothing I could do to take care of them.

It turned out I did not spend the night in the cell. H.H. Trivikrama Swami or one of the brahmacaris (maybe Apauraseya Prabhu) came down and got me before long.

Maybe I am just in the mode of ignorance, looking for excuses not to do my service. Another time Urukrama Prabhu and I were arrested in Gulfport or Biloxi down at the Mississippi/Alabama border for soliciting on book distribution, and Urukrama chastised me because upon being arrested I had become peaceful and happy. He was in transcendental anxiety about not being able to distribute books, but he could notice how cheerful I was even in the back of the police cruiser, so he pointed out my error and “gave me the sauce.”

But anyway, it does seem like being in prison, cut off from the cares and activities of the outside world, can be a good opportunity and motivation to focus on the hearing and chanting that will actually help us progress towards life’s true goal.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on March 30th, 2008
3 Unregistered

Nice to see that even convicted felons are getting the mercy of Lord Caitanya!
Here in the USA, we have a similar program (Prison Ministry).

One thing is preaching to criminals in jails; quite another thing is to assimilated them into ISKCON. Many, in ISKCON, feel uneasy about doing that with convicted criminals, specially people who have committed murder.

One important policy that should be established in ISKCON — and so far I haven’t seen anywhere — is that Temple authorities should do what we call, here in the USA, “background checks.”

Temple management should be ver aware that convicted felons do commit crimes again. In other words the likelihood of getting into trouble with law is much higher for an ex-convict that it is for a someone who has never been jailed.

In this day and age of lawsuits (at least in the West), integrating ex-convicts into ISKCON should be approached very carefully and control it very diligently.

Yugala kishor dasa

Comment posted by Yugal Kishor Dasa on March 31st, 2008
4 Akruranatha

Good point, Yugala Kishor Prabhu.

On the one hand, Lord Caitanya’s mood is to distribute love of Krishna indiscriminately to everyone. We are his servants and we have to carry out that mood by going into jails and slums as well as elite universities and corporate board rooms.

On the other hand, we also have a duty to protect the devotees from dangerous people, even from other devotees who may somehow or another, due to material conditioning, present a danger to others.

I remember one incident where one devotee (who had previously set fire to Charles Manson in jail for blaspheming Prabhupada) asked me if he could move into Berkeley temple. I said yes, even though I knew about his felony background, but somehow or another he did not stay.

[He was acting very humble and grateful, chanting sincerely, but if I had it to do over I would have handled it differently.]

He moved to San Francisco and developed an attachment to a devotee girl there. He stopped taking his medication started causing trouble, and the San Francisco temple president tried to defuse the situation (warning him to stay away from the girl and, I think, barring him from the temple).

Later, he came with a knife to kill the temple president. The temple president wasn’t there, so he stabbed another young man who he perhaps mistook for the temple president. Fortunately, the man survived, and the disturbed devotee is back in jail.

I guess the moral is that in spite of being devotees, we still have our conditioned natures which we can easily revert to if we are not careful. Devotees with a history of violent or antisocial behavior have to be treated carefully and should not be allowed to pose a threat to other devotees.

Temple authorities should have good relationships with law enforcement and mental health resources. Krishna consciousness can actually rehabilitate criminals and comfort the hungry and homeless. Government authorities should respect how Krishna temples make a positive contribution in helping these troubled citizens.

However, unless and until they are fit to mingle with polite society, aspiring devotees should not be permitted to disturb the devotees and guests at the temple, so we need to learn about people’s backgrounds and histories of crime or mental illness and deal with them carefully and responsibly.

Maybe we can meet them away from the temple unless and until they are clearly fit to mix with our temple devotees and guests.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on April 1st, 2008
5 muniraja dasa

Thank you for this dear Deena Bandhu prabhu, most enlivening news, glorious seva what you are all doing.

But like Vaisnavas commented, better to be a little careful when accepting previous criminals as members of the movement.

Ys Mrd

Comment posted by muniraja dasa on April 21st, 2008

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