for The Vaishnava Voice on Feb. 28, 2009
We made the national news recently as our new calf - whom we’ve named Gangotri - was born. We are all very happy to see her into the world and pray that she will never have to struggle like her namesake. The Guardian supplement did a nice piece with a colour picture.
The devotees here at the Manor were also featured on a new television programme going out every Sunday on Sky TV channel 793. Every week there’s new pieces, some old film, and a fresh Bhagavad-gita class for the public to watch. Apparently its going down very well, and increasing numbers of viewers are tuning in.
I also caught up with the last episode of Around the World in 80 Faiths, a well intentioned, yet very personal look at eighty beliefs on all continents. I say ‘very personal’ because the presenter, and presumably the director/producer deliberately chose many faiths for their good television value. People tend not to watch television if you present religions they already know something about, so you have to show the unusual, the exotic, the colourful, the desperately moving, or the downright quirky.
Thus Reverend Peter Owen-Jones does not give us a top-of-the-pops of religion by statistical popularity. We don’t get to learn of the most famous and orthodox but more of the lesser known sub-sects. We also get to learn about the shamans, animists, and spirit-worshippers who might not otherwise get into the average clergyman’s list of faiths.
But the reverend is also fascinated by religious syncretism, the mixing of one faith with another, as some countries look back into their history and combine modern religious expressions with those of their ancestors. Or we see religions that have become mixed with darker forces, or sub-branches that have developed some imaginative new teaching based on a modern revelation.
His style seems to have developed the more he travelled the world. The more he saw of faith, the more he felt humbled. So I can’t help thinking that this last episode, which featured Europe, was actually shot first, when he was still developing his style.
Faith number 77, the ‘Hare Krishna’ of Moscow, are presented as part of the new influx of spirituality coming into a nation that tried to ban religion entirely. But his treatment of the Vaishnavas, although friendly, is quite superficial. Had he wanted to, he could have pursued the story of Hare Krishna in Russia and uncovered a moving tale of struggle against government forces amid great personal sacrifice and considerable loss of life. Perhaps it was the singing and dancing in the snow that made him present otherwise. People do misunderstand the joy of the Vaishnavas to be either vulgar exhibitionism or a severe lack of sobriety. Actually, its the opposite of both.
At one point he explains to viewers that ‘Hare Krishna was brought west by hippies’ which, if he wasn’t such a nice chap, would be a quite unforgiveable factual error. Still, the film of the harinam sankirtan was attractive and there will always be another time - and another film-maker.
In closing on my film and television theme, I suppose I should mention that both Dev Patel and Anil Kapoor, stars of the 8 Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, have both visited the temple here at Bhaktivedanta Manor and joined in the kirtans. Thank you and Goodnight. Hare Krishna.