Each year on the weekend before Halloween, about 100,000 people attend the Halloween Block Party in Oak Lawn, the gay and lesbian district of Dallas, Texas—which just happens to be the number two gay capital of the US, after San Francisco.
And this year was no different. On Saturday October 24th, thousands upon thousands dressed as Martians, animals, zombies, presidents, popes, cartoon characters, seasons, babies, and various other unmentionable things converged for the street party down Cedar Springs Road.
But another set, wearing unique costumes of their own, arrived for the second year in a row. Over one hundred Hare Krishna devotees from Dallas’ ISKCON temple, including guru and leader Giriraj Swami, turned up to add a touch of spirituality to the proceedings.
Brandishing traditional instruments such as mridanga and kartalas, the devotees arrived at 10pm and began chanting God’s names in a public musical style called Harinama. It seemed a strange mix: a crowd wearing costumes the Dallas Observer described as “dirty, tasteless and truly inspired” and Hare Krishna devotees. But Dallas temple priest Nityananda Chandra Dasa says the event wasn’t quite as debauched as the media made it out to be.
“As a precaution, none of our kids under sixteen were allowed on the Harinama,” he says. “But personally I just saw regular costumes. It’s such a huge crowd that there’s not only outrageous people. It’s just a great opportunity to give out Krishna’s name to as many souls as possible.”
And sure enough, the crowd took to Krishna’s names like wild fire to a forest. Throughout the night, at least one thousand people danced in the Harinama. Many even chanted along, singing, “Govinda! Govinda!” into the microphone that was passed around.
By 1am, second-generation kirtan singer Haridas had taken things to another level. As well as singing the Hare Krishna mantra along with the devotees, several hundred members of the crowd had become dedicated Harinama dancers. “Throw your hands in the air!” “Squat on the ground!” “Now jump up high!” Haridas directed, and the crowd obediently followed.
At 2:30am, police finally approached the devotees and asked them to stop. “The festival is supposed to end at 2am,” they said. “But if you don’t stop your chanting, nobody will leave.” At a temple lecture the next day, Giriraj Swami remarked on how everyone had gotten Krishna’s mercy through His holy names.
Mishra Bhagavan Dasa agreed, citing a talk ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada had given in New York in 1976. “He said that once someone dances in a Harinama, Krishna takes note of it and makes sure that person soon goes back home, back to Godhead.”