No ISKCON devotees or congregation members were hurt during the terrorist attacks on Paris on Friday November 13th, in which 129 people were killed at six locations throughout the French capital.
Yet some congregation members living close to the Bataclan concert hall, where 80 people died, were shaken when they overheard the violence.
“In the middle of the night, they heard machine guns and everything,” says ISKCON Paris temple president Nitai Gaurasundara Das. “It was very traumatic.”
Fortunately, the ISKCON temple in the village of Sarcelles – twenty minutes by train from Paris – was a safe distance from the city center attacks.
However, the temple is only 4 or 5 kilometers away from Saint-Denis, where two suicide bombers botched another attack and blew themselves up outside Stade de France during a France vs Germany football match.
Police also raided a flat in Saint-Denis on Wednesday November 18th in a search for alleged terrorist mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud, during which they shot one suspect and another blew herself up. Meanwhile, police are everywhere, and alarms are regularly going off in stores due to suspect packages.
“So the mood is quite tense,” Nitai Gaurasundara says. “Especially as the government has put military personnel in place to guard other religious centers like churches, synagogues, and mosques – but not our temple. Perhaps because we are smaller and not so well-known.”
Still, he says that devotees are finding security and solace in their spirituality and philosophical understanding.
Besides the tense atmosphere, devotees’ normal lives have been disturbed. Congregation members who own stores have lost income due to their shops being closed down for several days. The weekly Saturday Harinama in Paris was canceled because no public shows or events are allowed for safety reasons. And with the risk involved in traveling, only half the usual number of attendees came to the Sunday Feast and Prabhupada’s Disappearance day festival.
“But about fifty people did come,” says Nitai Gaurasundara. “And with several metro lines discontinued, it wasn’t easy to get to the temple. That shows how determined they were to come at any cost.”
Janananda Goswami, who had been visiting to attend the canceled Harinama, gave an extensive class on Srila Prabhupada at the gathering.
Devotees hold a Harinama in London in memory of Paris victims
“I then spoke about the attacks, and related the situation to Prabhupada, talking about how he was fearless beause he had taken full shelter at Krishna’s lotus feet, and urging our congregation to do the same,” Nitai Gaurasundara says.
While Paris devotees couldn’t go on Harinama, they were glad to hear that in London, 150 devotees held a Harinama in memory of the Paris victims the day after the attack.
“There was a subdued atmosphere in London on Saturday night, with fewer people on the streets and a visible police presence after the events in Paris the previous evening,” wrote ISKCON photographer Bhakta David Crick in a Facebook post.
“The devotees were out as usual though, in fact with an even larger sankirtan party than normal as we celebrated ahead of Srila Prabhupada's Disappearance Day.
“One lady stopped me, mentioned the diversity of our group, and commented about the positivity and happiness we were generating. She contrasted it to the mood of the previous two days and said they should put a clip of us on TV. There were tears in her eyes; clearly she had been touched by the devotees and (unbeknown to her) the power of the maha mantra.”
Meanwhile in Paris, devotees will dedicate a six-hour kirtan next Sunday to the victims.
They also plan to participate in an interfaith prayer at Arc De Triomphe on December 16th, where members of all religions will pray for the deceased.
Nitai Gaurasundara feels that it’s important for devotees to show the people of Paris their solidarity.
“Back in January, after the shootings at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, we participated in a silent march with 2.5 million people, wearing our dhotis, saris and tilak,” recalls Nitai Gaurasundara. “Many people responded very positively to our participation, saying, ‘It’s very nice that you’re also with us.’ So when we participate like this, although we might be wearing different attire, they relate to us.”
Meanwhile, Nitai Gaurasundara is glad to likewise feel the solidarity for ISKCON Paris from around the ISKCON world.
“I received many letters from devotees outside of France, asking after the welfare of the devotees here,” he says. “So it is nice to feel that we are all together as a movement.”[ france ] [ paris ] [ terror ] [ terrorism ] [ violence ]