Thousands protest over ban on Hare Krishna worship: Former Beatle's donation of a temple sparks a legal battle over right to practise religion in village

THOUSANDS of Hare Krishna devotees marched through the streets of London yesterday to protest against a ban on them worshipping at a Hare Krishna temple donated by former Beatle George Harrison.

Two women from Serbia and Croatia, dressed as the Hindu gods Rama and Sita, led the procession, followed by an ox-drawn cart, through the City of London.

A party atmosphere flowed through the crowd, estimated at more than 5,000, as it marched on Parliament to protest against a council's enforcement notice banning public worship at Bhaktivedanta Manor, Watford.

Women and children chanted the Hare Krishna mantra as they handed out sweets and painted the distinctive red marks on the foreheads of protesters.

But beneath their smiles was a sense of anger and betrayal that their right to worship had been taken away from them.

Bhaktivedanta Manor - a mock-Tudor mansion set in 17 acres in the village of Letchmore Heath - was bought by George Harrison, the former Beatle, as a theological college for the promotion of the Krishna movement in 1973.

As its popularity grew, thousands of devotees from across Britain and Europe flocked to pay homage to the temple which was once home of the late Bhaktivedanta Swami, the leader of the Vaishnava tradition.

Villagers' complaints about the noise and traffic levels coming from the temple led Hertsmere Borough Council to introduce an enforcement notice in 1981 banning religious festivals at the rural site.

After years of legal wrangling, the enforcement notice banning festivals and public worship finally came into effect yesterday.

'It is now criminal for any of these people to come to the shrine they have been worshipping in for 21 years,' Temple President Akhanadadhi das said.

But Philip Copland, leader of Conservative-controlled Hertsmere council, said no action would be taken against anyone breaking the ban until after a planning application relating to an access road bypassing the village, put forward by the Krishna movement, was considered.

'Although we are legally entitled to prosecute anyone publicly worshipping at the temple from Wednesday, we shall for the moment simply be monitoring the situation,' he said.

Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, lent his support to the demonstration yesterday by declaring he was joining hunger strikers by going on a 24-hour fast.

'I don't think I can do it for any longer because I'm not very experienced at that sort of thing,' he said.

For the 600,000 Hindus in this country there are just 90 temples for them to worship in.

The issue has now been referred to the European Commission for Human Rights, which is expected to make a response later this month.

(Photograph omitted)

Leading article, page 21

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