Response To “Things Were Looking Good in 1983”

Written by Hrishikesh (Henry Doktorski)

Many thanks to MG for posting the photograph of Radhanath Swami with United States Congressman from West Virginia Alan Mollohan and other guests and dignitaries. If I am not mistaken, that is West Virginia House of Delegates member Thais Blatnik behind him.

Exact date of photo was May 31, 1985. This was taken on the day of the Shila-Ropana festival, the groundbreaking ceremony for the proposed Temple of Understanding.

I also enjoyed reading MG’s thought-provoking text. I remember those days very well. I was out on travelling sankirtan picking lakshmi to help pay for this proposed temple. I was unable to attend the festival because (if memory serves me correctly) I was out in California with my sankirtan buddy Jagannath Mishra, and we must have had a big event or something so we decided to stay out for 8 weeks instead of returning for the festival.

In the responses, Kailasa is correct in that great mistakes (to put it mildly) were made, and covered up, and eventually brought to light, and then brought to justice (except perhaps for a few that got away). However, MG is also correct in his optimism. Certainly New Vrindaban is a very special place, and was certainly very dear to Srila Prabhupada, judging from his many letters and also from his conversations during his four visits there. Although I do not visit nearly often enough, I always enjoy my visits and encourage others to visit and render service.

For the pleasure of the Brijabasis, I wish to make the following humble offering in memory of those days of serving Radha and Vrindaban Chandra at New Vrindaban 23 years ago.


Shila Ropana.

The peak of New Vrindaban’s popularity may have been May 31, 1985: the historic Shila-Ropana (groundbreaking) ceremony for the proposed Great Temple of Understanding, which was attended by many dignitaries, including a United States congressman. Land of Krishna called it “the most significant and memorable day in the history of New Vrindaban.” (111)

The presiding 93-year-old senior Shankaracharya Abbot at Kanchi Peetam monastery in South India set the auspicious hour and sent a message of good will. The rites began with a fire sacrifice at the temple, wherein the guests offered flowers to the deity of Ananta-Sesh as he was carried in procession on a small silver throne. The indoor ceremony was followed by speeches, and concluded with a talk by Kirtanananda Swami on the motto of the temple: “For the glory of God and the upliftment of mankind.”

U.S. congressman speaks at New Vrindaban.

Among the honored guests at the groundbreaking ceremony for the proposed Great Temple of Understanding was a United States congressman from West Virginia, Alan B. Mollohan, who praised the New Vrindaban community for its positive economic impact in the state: (112)

“Today we’re privileged to witness the beginning of what will come to mean many things to many people. In a real sense the facilities that will grace this hill symbolize what it means to be in America, where freedom of religion and freedom of speech are the stalwarts of a democracy.

“It hasn’t always been easy. Perhaps the major reason for America’s success in overcoming the stubbornness of attitude, can be attributed to the fact that Americans are able to strive for the common good. I encourage everyone here and throughout the Ohio Valley to focus their energies and interests upon efforts to develop economic benefits from the investment the people of New Vrindaban are making in West Virginia.

“Over the past ten years, we have seen a greater respect for each other’s sensitivities and needs. I am confident that those trends of cooperation and mutual advancement will continue as we see a modern marvel of architecture develop upon this land. The temple will be quite a marvel of international flair.

“You know, when I look at what has already been accomplished here in this community and look at the plans for the future, I am reminded of what Albert Einstein once said: “Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.” I think it is imperative for us to consider how fortunate we all are that the freedom of America will allow the development of this project, and beyond.
So it is that the victory of these friends in the hills of the Northern Panhandle can mean much to us all. They’re able to pursue the freedoms of America in practicing their faith, while at the same time taking advantage of the advice our President [Reagan] gave us just days ago: to start activity and go after the American dream.

“I am very pleased to be with you all here today to participate in the ceremony and to help in West Virginia’s contribution to the Festival of India.”

Another speaker, Southern Baptist radio pastor Donald Sills, roused the audience to cheers. Bringing “greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he told the audience that “we must find a common ground” to fight unprecedented legal attacks against religion in America. “Let us set aside our theological differences,” Sills said. “I do not mean we should make a spiritual compromise, but that we must find some common ground and work together for a recognition of spiritual values in this country. If we do not determine to stand together, we will hang separately.” (113)

Shashi Patel, one of the Indian architects working on the plans for the proposed Great Temple of Understanding, said, “New Vrindaban is the Tirupati of the West. For years to come, you will see how this transcendental community will rapidly develop. New Vrindaban is becoming a very important pilgrimage place of the Indian community. The Indian community has been looking forward to a religious place and pilgrimage place in the West, and now it has one.” (114)

Other distinguished guests included West Virginia House of Delegates member Thais Blatnik, Wheeling College president Father Acker, and other dignitaries such as the executive director of the Coalition of Religious Freedom, the executive director of the Hindu Alliance of America, several state tourism officials, six mayors, seven state congressmen, six police chiefs, city councilmen, magistrates, school and health board members, as well as New Vrindaban’s All State Insurance agent Elmer Dietz and Marshall County Deputy Sheriff Sergeant Westfall. (115)

Dignitaries who were unable to attend sent their endorsements. Hema Malini, one of India’s top film stars, said, “This is an inconceivable project, but you will succeed in the end, since Lord Krishna is on the side of His devotee—wherever there is Krishna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality.”

Anup Jalota, the classical Indian singer, wrote, “If others could possess the dedication and sacrifice it will take to build this Temple of Understanding, then how beautiful this world would be.”

Norman Fagan, the Commissioner of the West Virginia Department of Culture and History, supported “the inclusion of the groundbreaking ceremony for the Krishna Temple and Cultural Complex as part of the Festival of India.” (116)

Some other dignitaries who were quoted in a New Vrindaban press release as endorsing the temple, actually did nothing of the sort, and complained about it. One New Vrindaban press release characteristically exaggerated, “Messages of goodwill have already been received from the offices of President Reagan, Vice President Bush, Cardinals Krol and Bernardin as well as over 75 other prominent persons.”

Actually the alleged “messages of goodwill” were simply polite form letters expressing regrets at being unable to attend the groundbreaking ceremony. The assistant communications director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia set the record straight and insisted, “Cardinal Krol does not endorse in any way the Hare Krishna movement,” when informed that the cardinal’s name had been used to publicize the groundbreaking ceremony. “We have priests in the archdiocese who work with people who have been in cults like that, helping them return to their original faith and their families and communities.” (117)

Installation of Ananta-Sesh.

After the speeches, the deity of Ananta-Sesh was carried to the site of the proposed temple, and lowered twenty-five feet into the earth, while devotees chanted shlokas (verses) and the mahamantra. At 9:30 a.m., the time set by Shankarcharya of Kanchi, the deity was seated on a block of polished granite (accompanied by precious stones and metals, grains, fruits, and hundreds of cards inscribed with the mahamantra), and installed by Bhaktipada.
The Brijabasi Spirit prophesied, “Soon, blocks of granite will be trucked in, cut, carved, then set in place for the first Gopurum tower. Shila Ropana is a ceremony visible to the eyes of this world; yet it is the inconceivable advent of the Supreme Lord, soon to be manifested as a temple more dazzling than a diamond.” (118)

In an effort to raise funds to construct the proposed temple, appeals were targeted toward the Indian community: (119)

“What do Americans know about the glory of India—her wealth of knowledge, of power and beauty? What can they know? American TV and newspapers simply talk about the social and economic problems of India. They rarely mention her rich cultural heritage, charming people, and sacred temples.

“But now there’s good news. Because very soon, the largest Radha Krishna temple ever seen on this planet will be built. Right here in the USA will be a temple on the scale of the great buildings of history, like the Pyramids, Notre Dame, the Taj Mahal or Tirupati.
This temple will change the American people’s wrong ideas about India.

“Visitors to the Great Radha Krishna Temple of Understanding will learn the real truth about India. No one will leave the Temple of Understanding without realizing just how great is India and her people!

“This Temple of Understanding will surely become one of the most famous buildings ever seen on this continent. Your support, along with the support of the entire Indian community, is essential. It is the best thing you can do to change all the wrong ideas Americans have about India and her culture.”

Media bonanza.

The Huntington West Virginia Herald-Dispatch printed a four-page article titled “Building a Dream” about New Vrindaban in a Sunday edition. The Pittsburgh Press Sunday Magazine printed a twelve-page article titled “Krishna’s Little Acre.” The story related, “The growth of New Vrindaban is a transition from a back-to-the-land commune tucked away in the rural hills, to a combination of religious community and Disneyland, . . . a sprawling wonderland filled with incredible architecture.”

The Wall Street Journal reported: “The flow of traffic into this coal and manufacturing outpost [Moundsville] on the banks of the Ohio used to be as slow as the river on a dusty summer day. But now, a daily confluence of buses packed with gawking tourists is a common sight.” (120)

The Akron Beacon Journal reported about the respectability of the New Vrindaban Community: (121)

“The Hare Krishnas are verging on respectability these days. The old primitive style of commune life that they started here in the sixties has changed almost beyond recognition. No more mud trails and privies. Now the “Land of Krishna” has a bus system, a radio show, printing presses, acres of landscaped terraces and gardens, a first-rate restaurant and time-share condominiums. For this “spiritual theme park”—a cross between Lourdes and Disney World—the “almost heaven” state is turning out to be just that. At the onset of the state’s tourist season, the denizens of this fundamentalist Hindu community took the state spotlight this weekend with the unveiling of plans for a $70 million, three-phase building program. . . .

“Most West Virginians used to avoid the Krishnas, but all that is changing. “They haven’t had much trouble with the neighbors in the past couple of years, like there used to be,” said longtime Moundsville resident and newspaper columnist Jim Cochran. . . . Cochran insists community relations with New Vrindaban are “swell now.”

“The new Marshall County sheriff, Donald Bordenkircher, agrees. “The former sheriff had a thing going with them all along,” he acknowledged, “but I just consider them no different from anybody else in the county.”

“To the average shopper in nearby Moundsville, a dhoti-clad Krishna follower with shaved head and topknot still looks strange. But like the Amish and the “English” in an Ohio town such as Millersburg, long acquaintance has brought a relaxed co-existence for most.
Moundsville attorney John Madden explained, “You’re afraid of what you don’t understand. Originally the attitude toward the Krishnas was negative. There’s still some resentment because they dress differently and chant, but I think the attitude has improved over the years. Most people have finally realized that the Krishnas don’t have horns.” (122)”

New Vrindaban patronized by local businesses, ISKCON gurus.

Local Marshall County businesses such as Brown’s Lumber, Imperial Display, West Virginia-Ohio Motor Sales, Madden & Whorton Law Offices, and Myers Drug Store even purchased advertisements in the Shila Ropana Ceremony Souvenir Booklet.
ISKCON gurus visited New Vrindaban and pledged their support.

Rameshvar, the guru for Southern California, visited New Vrindaban shortly after the Shila Ropana ceremony, and declared, “When I was Prabhupada’s personal secretary in 1977, he introduced the phrase ‘cultural conquest.’ He told me dozens of times during that period that this is the way to preach in America. . . . Once, only once in my life as a devotee, I had a dream of Krishna consciousness making America a spiritual country. . . . In this dream I had a vision of a gigantic, all-pervading, and fully developed New Vrindaban. Everywhere I looked in this dream I saw temples, art galleries, huge and beautiful parks full of sculptures and art exhibits, gardens and restaurants, and millions of people. . . .

I’ve always been convinced from that moment that New Vrindaban has a very special place in history. I’ve always been convinced that the project—and especially after seeing the master plan that Bhaktipada has inspired—will make America the first Krishna conscious country.” Rameshvar promised to donate more than 100 original Bhaktivedanta Book Trust paintings to New Vrindaban to be housed in a permanent museum display. (123)



111. “Government Officials Attend Ceremony,” Land of Krishna, vol. 1, no. 5 (July 1985).
112. Alan B. Mollohan, quoted in “May 31, 1985: The Shila Ropana Groundbreaking Ceremony,” Brijabasi Spirit (c. June 1985), 14.
113. Donald Sills, quoted by Laura Haferd, “Hare Krishnas Plan Addition to W. Va. ‘Heaven,'” Akron Beacon Journal (June 2, 1985), F1.
114. Shashi Patel, quoted in “May 31, 1985: The Shila Ropana Groundbreaking Ceremony,” Brijabasi Spirit (c. June 1985), 14.
115. “The Shila Ropana Groundbreaking Ceremony,” Brijabasi Spirit, (summer 1985), 17. See also Paramahamsa Krishna Swami, “We Have Got to Build the City of God Right Now!” The City of God Examiner, no. 60 (May 22, 1991), p. 3, col. 2.
116. Three quotations from “May 31, 1985: The Shila Ropana Groundbreaking Ceremony,” Brijabasi Spirit (c. June 1985), 14.
117. Ed Weirauch, quoted by Kathy Eyre in “Krishnas attempting to shake cult label,” Marietta Ohio Times (June 22, 1985).
118. “May 31, 1985: The Shila Ropana Groundbreaking Ceremony,” Brijabasi Spirit (c. June 1985), 14.
119. “How Much Does the Glory of India Mean to You? Is It Worth $1 a Day?” Land of Krishna, vol. 1, no. 5 (July 1985).
120. Seth H. Lubove, “Hare Krishna Temple Turns a Tiny Town Into a Tourist Stop,” Wall Street Journal, September 16, 1985, 1.
121. Laura Haferd, “Hare Krishnas Plan Addition to W. Va. ‘Heaven,'” Akron Beacon Journal (June 2, 1985), F1.
122. John Madden, quoted by Ann Griffith in “Neighbors Have Mixed Feelings About New Vrindaban Residents,” Charleston Daily Mail (June 26, 1985), 1.
123. Rameshvar Maharaj, “The Spiritual World Has Descended,” Brijabasi Spirit, (summer 1985), 19.

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