"Let's play Simon says," a man announces to an audience of curious onlookers, most of them BYU students. He leads the discussion wearing traditional Indian garb and holds a strange looking drum in his hands.
"Touch your nose," he asks. "Touch your ears, now your shoulders."
"Now I want you to touch who you really are." Everyone looks confused; a few people put their hands on their hearts.
I am visiting the Sri Sri Radha Hare Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, and we are right in the middle of the evening's lecture before we partake of a ceremonial "Love Feast." Though my stomach is rumbling, the speakers are quite captivating. There are two brief discussions that explain the core tenants of the Hare Krishna movement. Caru Das, the director of the temple, explains that people are, "shaped to serve," and that the reason they chant is to, "clear the dust off our hearts." The BYU students are apparently here on assignment from their World Religions class, and they seem to be buying it. Say what you will about BYU students, but they are nothing if not obedient. In no time, Caru Das has them chanting the sacred words in unison:
The Spanish Fork Temple hosts the Love Feast every Sunday evening at 5:00. The event includes a brief lecture, singing, dancing, chanting, and a fantastic vegetarian feast. Best of all, everything, including the food, is free and open to the public (though donations are appreciated).
Though it's hard to convey it in an article like this, the temple has already had an enormous impact on Utah culture. Their largest annual event is the Festival of Colors, which drew over 10,000 visitors last year. That's no typo, it is now a major Utah attraction. This year, the Festival will be held March 28th. The event is a "symbol of the warmth of spring banishing winter," and involves the crowd throwing packets of multi-colored powder on each other. It was an amazing spectacle when I saw it few years ago when only a few thousand people showed up.
This year, however, with increased publicity and the current fascination many people have with Indian culture thanks to Slumdog Millionaire, Caru Das expects the event will draw about 15,000 locals. If the thought of seeing 15,000 people simultaneously throwing colored powder on each other does not make you want to drive out to Spanish Fork, I don't know what will.
The temple grounds are gorgeous, and it's well a worth a trip out to just to enjoy the scenery. There is massive koi pond, free-roaming peacocks, and a pack of curious llamas that patrol the fence borders hoping for handouts.
This type of facility does not come cheap. Fortunately, the non-sectarian Krishna movement has a superlative relationship with just about everyone. In addition to connections at BYU, Caru Das regularly visits schools across the state and even has his own radio station. The group is very open about accepting corporate and personal sponsors, and they even received a considerable sum from the LDS church to help build the temple in 1996. I asked one of the devotees, Jai Krishna Das, why it was that his faith is so popular during these otherwise turbulent times of frequent religious intolerance. "We're not proselytizing," he told me. "We want all people to worship God, so we help Hindus become better Hindus, Jews become better Jews, and Mormons become better Mormons. So there's no competition."
After the Love Feast, I return the following evening to try my hand at the free yoga class the temple offers to the public. The instructor today is Sri Hanuman Das, and he a sight to behold. His cut away T-shirt reveals massive biceps and the bulging veins you usually only see on a professional wrestler. He has black belts in five different martial arts, and he has been doing yoga since he was nine. I am a little bit intimidated, but I sit down and try to relax. My fears are unwarranted, of course, and the instructor leads the class with all the ferocity of a kitten. What followed was an extraordinarily pleasant experience:
I sit on a luxurious oriental rug as one of about 20 people in the upper chamber of the temple. A soft, hypnotic melody plays in background. The smell of the sandalwood incense still lingers in the air from last night's festivities, and I can hear the exotic calls of a macaw from below. The instructor calls each position in slow succession and demonstrates how to do them. He offers first an easy way for beginners and then explains how to make it harder for the more advanced students. The ambiance of the room is so soothing that my eyes momentarily glaze over; however, they snap back into focus as I try one position the "hard way" and fall over. It's no big deal, though. Everyone else is too relaxed to notice.
April is one of the regulars in the yoga class. She tells me that she originally started attending the sessions as part of a therapy for stress reduction. Now, five months later, she reports that she enjoys it so much she has continued to come every week. I can see why.
With the national stress level at an all time high due to the current financial crisis, you cannot possibly go wrong with a visit to Spanish Fork's beautiful Hare Krishna Temple. With amazing food, yoga classes, and relaxing, exotic ambiance for the always low price of zero dollars (though donations are appreciated), you would be hard pressed to find a better use of your budget.
And for those with a spiritual side, the chance to, "clear the dust off your heart," is an additional boon that makes the deal irresistible.