In Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela, ISKCON devotees have recently finished remodeling their temple and restaurant, with beautiful results.
It’s a fresh new beginning for a community that has worked hard at spreading Krishna consciousness since 1972.
It all started when Ilan Chester — later initiated by Srila Prabhupada as Havi Das and now a famous professional musician — received one of Srila Prabhupada’s books from a devotee he had met in Israel. He shared what he had learned with Virabahu Das, and together the two started ISKCON in Venezuela.
As they connected with local youth, the movement grew quickly, leading to a visit by ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada in 1975. It was a life changing event for the Caracas devotees.
Srila Prabhupada at ISKCON Caracas Quinta Las Ranas temple, 1975
“Upon his arrival, when he was about to chant the song Parama Karuna to the Deities, he broke into tears and could not follow the lines,” says Caracas Communications Secretary Gouranganath Das. “Ever since, we have called our Deities Parama Karuna Gaura Nitai- ‘very merciful.’”
Jumping forward to early 2013, Caracas devotees remembered that visit and prayed for the mercy of Gaura Nitai as they began remodeling work on their current temple, established in 2002 by GBC Guru Prasad Swami.
The temple, located on one of the most beautiful avenues in Caracas — Avenida Marqués Del Toro in San Bernardino — looked poor and dilapidated. So devotees got to work painting the exterior of the building as well as the entire interior. They also fixed and reshaped cornices and other deteriorated features.
Parama Karuna of ISKCON Caracas
Now that it has been remodeled, the two storey temple, with its Govinda’s Gift Shop, looks elegant and inviting, matching the rest of the neighborhood.
The complex also includes a restaurant named the Hare Krishna Congregational Dining Room, which was reviewed by prestigious newspaper El Nacional upon its opening in 2011.
The restaurant had also fallen into disrepair, so devotees remodeled it this year too, installing new white marble floors and new toilets, and creating a new entrance from outside so that customers didn’t have to take their shoes off and enter through the temple.
“The temple and restaurant now look like they represent an important cultural institution like ISKCON that has over one hundred temples around the world,” says Gouranganath. “Remodeling has made us more distinctive and accountable to ourselves, our neighbors and the people.”
The overhaul has created an attractive environment for guests — from hipsters to young professionals to older people — who eat at the restaurant and attend regular programs at the temple.
These include Sunday feasts, morning Bhagavatam classes and evening Bhagavad-gita classes, Saturday afternoon lectures, films and forums presented by academic Visuddha-sattva Das, and Saturday Harinamas.
A feast at the old Congregational Eating Room in 2012
“Also, devotees who live in Caraballeda, one hour from Caracas by the seaside, created the ISKCON Caracas Nama-hatta,” Gouranganath says. “This draws university students and young professionals who have no time to attend the temple on Sundays.”
Seminars are also offered for the education of devotees at ISKCON Caracas. ISKCON Communications Director Anuttama Das, for example, recently gave his communications seminar there to help devotees have better relationships with each other, their neighbors, the media and the government.
The new Congregational Eating Room in 2013 with its marble walls and terracotta floor
The new level of communication he hoped to introduce was off to a good start, as officials from the city government attended the last day of the seminar and praised his efforts to improve individual and communal relationships.
Next, devotees expect ISKCON guru Jayapataka Swami to visit Caracas, and are trying to arrange for him to get an invitation from the National Assembly to address the nation by radio and television on the subject of spiritual intelligence.
The new outside entrance to the Congregational Eating Room
ISKCON Caracas is hoping for big things in the future, too. Caracas devotees, along with pioneer Havi Das, have a vision for a temple in Valencia, a fast-growing city and economic hub right in the center of Venezuela, which would draw people from all over the country.
“The complex would have a monumental temple at its center, and be surrounded by facilities such as supermarkets, libraries, book shops, a cinema, gurukula, nursery, and so on,” Gouranganath says. “From there, roads would lead to homes, arable farmland and dairies — a place for a Vedic way of life; a place to honor Srila Prabhupada, and the spiritual heroes that have paved the road to Sri Krishna for us.”
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Anuttama Dasa, GBC and Minister of Communications