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Journal: Krishna Temple

Krishna Temple by Liz (September 2002): In our ongoing Toronto "Houses of the Holy" tour, Ninj, She Ra and I hit the local Hare Krishna temple Wednesday night for some exploration and vegetarian dining.
        I've heard raves about the Krishnas' cooking from people who'd eaten at their temples in Detroit and Los Angeles, so I had high hopes for dinner as well as a bit of sneaking around. We weren't able to attend the weekly free Sunday feast (featuring "enlightening discourse, chanting and dancing, and much more!!"), so we went to the restaurant, Govinda's, as regular paying customers.
        Entering the temple, which is really just an old stone church that's been converted into a Krishna temple, we found ourselves faced with an immediate impediment to happy exploring: they wanted us to take our shoes off. She Ra and I lamented being stupid girls with expensive shoes and grudgingly left our sandals in a cubby. Ninj was at least lucky enough to be wearing socks.

The Krishna deities — as holy as they are cute.

       From the shoe-removing-area we proceeded through a hall into the beautiful main room of the temple, a big room with few furnishings but adorned with various shrines and statues, most notably a seated representation of Krishna leader-founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and some folk-art like characters that completely captivated me. We left this room to find some stairs up to its balcony, and poked around up there for awhile (She Ra almost walking in on a man who was sequestered in a room sitting in the dark on the floor) until we heard footsteps coming from another staircase. We beat a hasty retreat back to the main room, where we were spotted from a balcony by a very polite young Krishna man who smiled at me from above and gave me a praying-hands gesture.
        Back downstairs, Ninj and I fumbled for his camera to take a picture of a big poster with the lyrics to the Hare Krishna song ("hare krsna / hare krsna / krsna krsna / hare hare / hare rama / hare rama / rama rama / hare hare" if you're curious, or haven't heard that George Harrison song anytime recently). As we were doing this, the quiet Krishna from the balcony joined us downstairs and gestured at the big room and said to me, "shanti". Then he walked us over to a pedestal which had a pitcher, a bowl with a spoon, and a goblet of water. He tried to tell me something in feeble, quiet, broken, spacey English about the use of these items, which seemed to have some holy purpose I could not divine. I thought it might be holy water to put on our hands, so I asked him, "Do we put it on our hands?". He didn't seem to understand that and I said, "Do we drink it?" and he nodded yes, and used the spoon to fetch some semi-opaque, creepy-looking liquid from the pitcher and dole some into his palm. He conveyed to me that the water comes from the deities, and that it is good to drink it. He then drank the liquid from his palm, and rinsed his hand off with water from the goblet. He then urged me to do the same. Much to the relief of She Ra and Ninj, I declined as politely as possible, saying "Maybe we're going to go eat first?" and we withdrew towards the temple restaurant.
        In the restaurant, we were greeted by a slightly less warm Krishna than the man we'd encountered before. This woman piled tasty-looking vegetarian spoonfuls onto our plates from behind a buffet counter, and after handing Ninj the last of our dishes, said, "That'll be $21." Ninj, plates in hand, nodded some sort of "Okay, great." acknowledgement and started to move off to eat, at which point the lady said, "Can I have it now?"
        We settled down with our soups and plates of food in eager anticipation. We are all big fans of Indian food, vegetarian Indian food even more so. I had been looking forward to this meal for years! I started with the soup. It was very, very strange. Bad strange. I didn't want to think about the taste too much to be able to describe it. When Ninj asked how the soup was, the only answer I could think of was "weird", so I just didn't say anything. There were two different kinds of cactus-looking vegetable on the plate, one in a sauce that tasted awful, and one sort of burned a bit that tasted worse. There was a fried thing I was saving for last because it at least looked familiar. It was disgusting. There was rice, which I figured I could eat to fill me up, but it had a strange taste as well, and for the first time since early adolescence I sat at my place feeling like a complete pickypants, unable to force myself to eat anything other than a few more beans, and fantasizing about getting a McDonald's cheeseburger later.
        Ninj managed to eat the most of any of us, and She Ra and I pushed around our food a lot to make it seem as if we'd eaten more than we had. The terse Krishna lady came to take our plates and said, unsympathetically, "You didn't like the food." She Ra gushed apologetically that it was just way more than she'd expected, that she hadn't been as hungry as she'd thought, and the woman simply responded, "You didn't like it."
        At this point I was feeling incredibly, incredibly uncomfortable about being in the temple, having just rejected their holy deity water, their food, and because I wasn't wearing any shoes or socks. But Ninj and She Ra wanted to press on, and headed downstairs to check out the washrooms and whatever else lay beneath.
That's karma for ya.
       Downstairs in the temple were two ashrams, residences for men and women, and the odd Krishna carrying a pile of laundry would come and go from these as we wandered the hallways. We eagerly followed a sign to the "reincarnation exhibit", where we read many informational signs and viewed some absolutely incredible and weird artwork explaining reincarnation, karma, and affirming the spiritual beliefs of many respected scientists. The main kitchen was right down here as well, filled with industrial trash cans labelled "rice", "salt", etc. There were also many, many flies.
        Back upstairs we tried to reach a higher elevation than we had before, but were thwarted by more locked doors (and the steely eyes of the restaurant lady), so we pretended we were just looking at more paintings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
        Returning to the main level outside the shanti, we were looking at a display of books when an old Krishna man emerged from downstairs, bells ringing as he walked. He looked at us and said, "arati" and proceeded into the shanti and towards the back where there was a stage that held three shrines with wooden doors drawn across them. Ninj and She Ra and I watched transfixed as Krishnas trickled into the room and prostrated themselves fully on the floor (or simply stood by silently) as the old man slowly withdrew the doors from each shrine, revealing beautiful illuminated statues of various Krishna deities. The third shrine held the folk-art-like characters I mentioned before, and were absolutely amazing to behold from the back of a dark room. The old man walked up and down along the deities performing a ceremony to "wake them up" and jingling bells as wind blew against them from a nearby fan. The arati is performed at the temple numerous times during the day, and what we saw of it was essentially silent, and totally transfixing.
        All the same, it was about time for us to go, so we retrieved our footwear and peeked around the exterior perimiter of the church for a little while. She Ra found a staircase leading down to an open door and went in — quickly retreating once she decided she'd entered the men's ashram. We peeped in a couple of ashram windows and saw some fairly slovenly living, and a sleeping bag on the floor for a bed. And then we left and went to McDonald's for dinner.

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