Over 200 devotees and congregation packed excitedly into their new temple in Glastonbury, Connecticut on Sunday August 6th to celebrate its soft opening with the Balarama Jayanti festival.
Krishna consciousness first came to Connecticut, the third smallest U.S. state, in 1977 when Srila Prabhupada was still present. Halfway between Boston and New York, it was the perfect location for then president Niranjana Swami to train new devotees from both cities in a rented building.
In 1980, the late Kurma Rupa Das, known for his work with Vrindavan’s Care for Cows, purchased a suburban house in East Hartford.
The center, overseen by dedicated president Pyari Mohan Das since 1981, was big enough for its needs back then. But now, with at least eighty people attending Sunday Feasts every week, its little fifty-person temple room and eight-spot parking lot just don’t cut it.
Connecticut devotees have, in fact, been searching for a new temple for the past fifteen years, and they finally found it at 40 Naubuc Avenue in Glastonbury, an affluent town twelve minutes’ drive away from the old spot.
“There’s a beautiful park two blocks away, we’re just one block from Whole Foods, and the people here are really nice,” says Pyari Mohan.
The temple itself is an historic Catholic Church, built in 1900 – an attractive pure white building with a vaulted roof that evokes the mode of goodness and an older, simpler time.
At 6,000 square feet, and with a 70-car parking lot, it can accommodate the ISKCON congregation’s needs a lot better – although during Sunday’s soft opening, the 250-person temple room was already almost maxed out.
The temple also has a space perfect for a prasadam room downstairs, and a stage for performing dramas.
“It seems made for us – there’s already an altar at the end of the temple room,” says Pyari Mohan. “And to the right of the altar are two big rooms perfect for pujari rooms.”
The new temple is already bringing the community together and giving them new life. “In the weeks leading up to Balarama Jayanti, everybody was working hard to get it ready,” Pyari Mohan says.
“It was in the mood of cleaning the Gundica temple from Lord Chaitanya’s time. Everyone was in bliss! People worked for eight to ten hours at a time. There were four or five PhDs pulling up weeds in the parking lot.”
“One devotee brought another PhD colleague who had never been to the temple before. But he came back to help again the next day, because he said he felt so good doing this for Krishna!”
“Watching us, the neighbors seemed to appreciate that we didn’t just hire someone to do the work, but were doing it ourselves together as a congregation.”
After the high of serving together, the soft opening was a joyous occasion too, with fire yajnas to create auspiciousness, prasadam and ecstatic kirtans.
Interestingly, the old temple in East Hartford will remain open for regular morning programs for now, with the presiding Deities of Gaura Nitai and Jagannath Baladeva Subhadra still residing there.
The new temple will be used for Sunday Feasts and major Vaishnava festivals, with a congregation devotee’s beautiful marble Gaura Nitai also being worshipped daily there.
Programs will continue as improvements are made, including a new marble altar, installation of a wooden sringhasana, bathroom renovations, new air conditioning unit and a commercial kitchen.
The Deities will then be moved to the new temple and a full Grand Opening festival will take place at a yet-to-be-decided date.
While the community has a large Indian congregation, Pyari Mohan also hopes to reach Western people with the new temple, appealing to the health-conscious Wholefoods crowd with vegetarian cooking classes, and holding Saturday programs specially-tailored to locals.
The new temple shows that ISKCON continues to expand even in smaller towns across the United States and that there are always exciting opportunities for outreach.
But it also highlights another growing concern: Now in advanced years, and having served as temple president for 36 years, Pyari Mohan is still not only managing everything but also doing all the physically demanding manual tasks – such as mowing the lawn and weeding the garden – himself.
It’s not just him. Many of the temple presidents in ISKCON are still the dedicated old guard from a time when being an ISKCON servant was a full-time job. And they’re wondering what the future holds.
“I’ve been here for a long time, I’m older, and I’m ready to give somebody else the reigns,” Pyari Mohan says. “But I can’t find anyone else to do it.”
With more and more second generation devotees taking on responsibility and getting involved in their communities, there is hope.
“The devotees are very, very pleased with the new temple,” says Pyari Mohan. “And I am sure Lord Jagannath has a plan.”[ connecticut ] [ hartford ] [ new-temple ] [ pyari mohan ]