It was a welcome invitation to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). I had often walked past the modest building on the corner of 7th Avenue and Retallack Street, while working among the North Central Community Gardens. From researching the North Central History Project, I knew the building had been home to the Salvation Army then used as the Wikyup Centre.
It was insightful stepping into the Krishna Temple. The trance-like, peaceful music put me into a relaxed frame of mind. I was asked to remove my shoes, the sign of respect while in the temple. My gracious host was Temple President, Jai Ram, who sat me down to tell me a story. It is an ancient story going back over 5000 years - tragic stories of persecution and of the slaughter of a people for their beliefs. If the aim of the conquering nations was to destroy their faith, it failed.
Thanks to the worldwide efforts of the devotees, their spirit and culture survived. Their story continues. For North Central’s part in the story, we have to go back to 1973, when followers of Krishna moved here from Vancouver to set up a temple in the 13-block Retallack. Within 6 months the group left the city and moved to Winnipeg. When they returned to Regina in 1976, they opened a temple on Victoria Avenue. As the congregation grew, the present building at 1279 Retallack Street was purchased. The group spent $20,000 renovating their place of worship. They’ve maintained the temple for 28 years.
Accustomed to stares of curiosity, the devotees began to work in North Central, feed our neighbours, and collect used clothing for giveaways. They weren’t prepared for a succession of break-ins - five in just a few years. “Mostly electronics were stolen”, Jai remarks, “televisions, the sound system. They never desecrated the altar, not a thing was disturbed.”
What disturbed the leaders and congregation however, was the sense that the neighbourhood did not want them here. After their fourth break in, the insurance company was leery. They upped the requirements to meet strict conditions, such as bars on the windows and steel doors. Again, they were robbed. After a discussion with Regina Police Service, they reached the sad realization that security systems, bars on the windows, any method employed - would not dissuade the criminal element from any property. The devotees questioned whether they should move away from North Central Regina altogether. After receiving a $6,000 donation from Dr. Adhikari, a physician in Regina, the repairs and security measures were improved. The congregation decided to stay.
Since then, Jai noted, relationships have improved. Religious studies from the University of Regina come to the temple and First Nations University of Canada have held special programs here.
Daily prayers are held in the morning and the Food for Life Program is ongoing. The Krishnas are a cruelty- free charity only consuming and serving vegetarian food. Devotees cook under strict regulation. The food is offered to God and sanctified. Their devotees do not drink, smoke or take drugs. They believe that God’s spirit is in you, so what purpose is there in harming others? Their faith believes that the soul transmigrates until its journey is complete.
Every Sunday the Krishna temple offers a free vegetarian feast. There is a service at 4 pm, prayers to Lord Krishna, hymns and chanting, with a final prayer offered before the meal is served. “Everyone is welcome, with no obligation. They may eat and leave or if they want to stay and help in some way, we are happy to engage them. Anyone and everyone will be welcomed with open arms.” Each Wednesday at 7 pm a Bhagavad-Gita class is offered for devotees and anyone who wants to join in.
The devotees have felt 95% appreciation from the neighbourhood. Jai Ram asks “How can we survive if we don’t try to understand one another?”