A new book from the Russian branch of the BBT tells the amazing history of ISKCON in the USSR during the Soviet era, detailing the struggles and successes of some of our movement’s most dedicated and often unsung heroes.
“The Krishna Consciousness Movement in the USSR: A Historical Outline From 1971-89” is out on May 15th in the Russian language. Not yet available in English, it is the first comprehensive account of these 18 years of history.
Over 1,008 pages, author Vijitatma Das draws from interviews with dozens of devotees as well as archival and court documents to tell the gripping story. His narration begins in 1971, when Srila Prabhupada visited Moscow and introduced professor Kotovsky and Ananta-Santi Das to Krishna consciousness.
Vijitatma describes how first Ananta-Santi and then other early Russian devotees like Vrindavana Das, Valmiki-Muni Das and Maheswara Das spread Krishna consciousness, and how from 1979 to 1981, the movement was expanding with unprecedented speed.
But then came the persecution and repression. Nearly ten court cases were brought against devotees. In many, they were accused of harming people’s health under the pretense of religion. In some, they were charged with parasitism, or not having regular work, which was a crime in the U.S.S.R.
Nearly sixty devotees were imprisoned or put in labor camps, penal colonies or psychiatric wards.Several died or were murdered while incarcerated, like Premavati Dasi’s 18-year-old daughter Marika Kiseleva; or Martik Zhamkochan, who died in mental hospital because of compulsory “treatment.”
Still, the Russian devotees would not be beaten down. They sold ‘Samizdat’ or underground versions of Prabhupada’s books, translating and printing them themselves. They carried out underground outreach, too, by conducting namahatta groups, forest meetings, and programs in prisons. And they fought for their freedom using hunger strikes, activism and peaceful demonstrations.
Describing all of this in his book in detail, Vijitatma also tells incredible stories of how Lord Krishna protected His devoted servants.
“The Lord as the Supersoul would prompt devotees from within as to what to do or say in dangerous situations,” he explains. “When psychiatrists interrogated Ataparupa Mataji in an attempt to put her in the psycho ward, the right answers suddenly appeared in her mind. Other devotees somehow knew to hide books and beads just before a surprise search.”
One devotee, Parjanya Maharaja, was forced to take antipsychotic drugs, but his consciousness remained clear; and when he was tortured in prison, he miraculously felt almost no pain. Other devotees were attacked in prison, but when they chanted the name of Lord Nrsimha, their agressors became somehow intimidated.
Vijitatma’s history takes us all the way up to ISKCON’s 1988 registration in the Council of Religious Affairs, when the movement became legal in Russia; and the first pilgrimage by fifty Soviet devotees to holy places in India in 1989.
Along the way, readers will see nearly forty photos depicting the everyday life of Soviet devotees such as their underground book printing and namahattas; and important events like their meeting with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and their Food for Life distribution in Armenia after the 1988 earthquake.
Today, of course, while not free from challenges, ISKCON Russia is thriving and bigger than ever. And that is down to the heroic devotees of the Soviet era.
“They gave us an example of endurance and tolerance, as well as firm faith,” says Vijitatma. “They laid the foundation of everything we have – harinamas, book printing and distribution. And they proved that for successful spiritual life we don’t need much – only the Holy Name, books, faith in the spiritual master and a readiness to fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s desire.
“Now it’s much easier to do outreach and practice spiritual life – we have all the facilities – but sometimes we become lazy or weak-hearted. Early devotees practiced as if every day was their last – and sometimes it was. Theirs is a very good example for all of us: To get inspiration. To become more serious in spiritual practice. And to learn to be grateful to senior devotees, to Srila Prabhupada and Krishna for their matchless gift.”
For more info on how to purchase the book you can visit or message the Russian BBT’s Facebook page:books ] [ russia ] [ soviet-union ] [ ussr ]