INSIDE THE HOUSE OF KRISHNA
Sunday 05 February 1995
Soon, though, it may all be over. Since 17 January, a public inquiry in Borehamwood has been considering Iskcon's proposal for an access road to the Temple (as it is now known), and the question of whether or not the Temple should be allowed to continue in either of its two current roles: as a centre of public worship and as a residential Hindu theological college. As the inquiry reaches its end, all that remains is for John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, to study the report and announce, in a few months' time, his verdict. After that, one way or another, the dispute will be settled.
Looking at life inside the Temple, it is hard to see what all the fuss is about. There are around a dozen permanent monks and 50 trainees living there, while on most days 15 to 20 visitors come to worship or to take part in purification rites such as theMundan ceremony - in which boys under the age of three have their heads shaved. This, explains 29-year-old Bimal Krishna Das, a trainee priest, "is a sign of renunciation - a voluntary offering that purifies your whole existence." The daily routine is mostly quiet, beginning at 4.30am with a service (followed by two hours of meditation and scripture classes) and ending with bedtime at 8.30pm. In between, Bimal and his fellow students (who have all taken vows of celibacy) adhere to a rigorous routine, in which prayer, housework, cooking and gardening are the principal activities. For some villagers, even this is too frenetic, but most objectors reserve their complaints for the two-day celebration of Krishna's birthday in August. Then, some 20,000 followers and their cars descend upon Letchmore Heath, making village life intolerable for anyone who does not wish to be involved. Last year the event went ahead despite an enforcement order from Hertsmere Borough Council forbidding public worship. Predictably, the ill-feeling generated on such occasions lingers through the rest of the year.
According to Bimal, the root cause of the disagreement is ignorance on the part of certain villagers - a minority, he says. "We have a lot of supporters. But the problem is this xenophobic `not on my back doorstep' attitude. If they were denied access toSt Paul's Cathedral, how would it make them feel?" Like other religious centres, the Manor exists, Bimal believes, to serve and educate an outside community. "If Hindus couldn't come here, we would lose our aim in life."
Philip Marsh, 50-year-old chairman of the Village Trust and a resident of Letchmore Heath for 24 years, is not impressed by such arguments, and nor does he respond kindly to suggestions that his objection to public worship is racist. "That is not what the dispute is about. Absolutely not," he insists. "We've always said it's the wrong place for mass gatherings of any description."
Marsh's worst fear is Iskcon receiving permission to build an access road to the Temple. "If that happens, we will see festival-size crowds there on normal weekends," he warns. "It's obvious that numbers would escalate, and the whole area will totally change."
But other villagers are in favour of retaining the Manor as a public shrine and believe, like Bimal, that opposition is based on snobbery and fear. "It's appalling," says Maureen Hewlett, 56, a resident for nearly 14 years. "If it was a Conservative village party or a gymkhana nobody would say a word. All I can say is I hope it turns into a borstal for teenage boys - then they'll know what's hit them." !
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Britain First 'acting like Ukip henchmen' by invading meeting of activists in revenge for pub protest against Nigel Farage
- 2 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 3 Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
- 4 Brixton squat flats now costing up to £3k per month show how out of control rent is in London
- 5 A new (old) cure for MRSA? Revolting recipe from the Dark Ages may be key to defeat infection
Zayn Malik releases first solo song 'I Won't Mind' in 'Zaughty' collaboration with Naughty Boy
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Poldark review: Demelza’s insouciance is almost as impressive as Ross’ pecs
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans