Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Crow 31 Days: Krishna, The Cowherd at Home in a Former Catholic Church in East Dallas

You've seen the bell towers from I-30 driving into Downtown Dallas just north of East Grand--from an architectural sense you think it's just not quite right. But it is so right. These bell towers, now adorned with architectural facades more akin to India than East Dallas are right where they need to be.

I live in East Dallas, gratefully. I am fulfilled by morning sojourns to White Rock Lake and the canopy of trees that guard our comings and goings along Williamson Road. I'm comforted to know that just two miles away the Iskon Temple perhaps better known as Kalachandji's offers refuge to anyone who walks in the door--don't forget to say hello to the cat on the way.

This temple is the spiritual home of the Hare Krishna movement: a clan of devotees sadly misunderstood by many with the wave of "hippy Hare Krisnhnas" in the 1970's. Perhaps the "Advocacy in Airports" was not their best play, but if you're curious enough you will discover people who are among the the kindest, gentlest souls in our community. This is not a cult. This is culture.

I imagine many of you know the restaurant: a delightful enclave in the middle of the campus offering some of the best vegetarian cuisine in Dallas. The buffet-style service offers a menu that changes daily: dahl, pappadam, cauliflower, okra, vegetable lasagna, salads and eggplant are among my favorites. and of course the tamarind tea. If you haven't been there, I encourage you lean in to the awkwardness of not quite knowing the flow: ask questions; sit where you want to (the patio is lovely) and soak up the goodness of really healthy food in a mindful environment surrounded by a scared space.

Here's what you may not know about the restaurant. The food that is served was prepared for the central deity of the temple: Kalachandji, ("the beautiful moon-faced one"). This object of devotion/ cultural icon/ work of art (as you wish to experience it) was once one of the most revered statues in India and during the Mogul invasion, devotees took great risk to hide and protect the sculpture from the plunderers. From there, Kalachandji's journey is a dramatic one: this deity, this sculpture is not supposed to be in Dallas, Texas, but it is, thankfully.  Everyone associated with the temple wants you to know seeing the figure in the temple (which is dressed, cared for and given offerings daily by loving compassionate devotees) is a sacred experience--culturally, spiritually,  or just as a human who is curious about the world.

If you take this opportunity with some familiarity to the Crow Collection of Asian Art, you can begin to understand how communities participated and engaged with objects of devotion like our sculptures of Vishnu, Garuda, Ganesha and Buddha. The Sri Sri Radha Kalachandji Mandir Hare Krishna Temple is a living museum bringing works of life to art and works of art to life.  On your first visit, explore the temple. Before entering, take your shoes off, enter room just across from the restaurant, ring the bell, hope that the curtain is drawn open on the deities at the altar, tour the very special murals of Krishna's life in the paintings by B.G. Sharma and just sit. Sit and breathe for a few moments under the trompe l'oeil sky. This is the real gift of the Hare Krisna Community: more than food, more than communion, this is a place to be quiet. If you sit long enough, you just may hear the melodious sounds of Krishna playing the flute and calling the cows. 

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