Name: Templo Hare Krishna
Address: 330 Jose Miguel Carrera, Santiago, Chile.
Phone: 0562 699-0025 or 0562 696-1002
Presiding Deities: Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, Sri Nrsimha-Prahlad, Salagrama Sila.
President: Amara Gauranga Das
Opened in: 1989
Temple Style: A 4,300 square foot Chilean-style residential home, painted salmon pink and featuring arched doorways and windows and a balcony. Inside, there’s a moderately-sized temple room that lets in lots of light through large windows; a small boutique store selling devotional paraphernalia; a seminar classroom; and four residential ashram rooms.
Location: The temple is located in the university district of Santiago, where there are over 40,000 students, making it ideal for outreach. It’s also close to downtown, the subway, and to La Moneda Palace, the seat of the President of Chile.
Known For: Weekly Friday and Sunday programs that bustle with students, great prasadam, and active outreach including Rathayatra, book distribution, and weekly Friday Harinamas.
Number of residents: Only eight devotees, including one priest, reside in the temple itself, but 300 to 400 devotees live in and around Santiago.
Number of visitors: 20 to 30 newcomers every week, and 50 to 100 during festivals.
Best time of year to visit: October through December—Chile’s spring and early summer—when the weather is particularly pleasant. November also sees the grand Rathayatra parade hit the streets of Santiago.
Krishna consciousness was introduced to Chile in 1978, when several Chileans brought the new way of life back home after a visit to Argentina.
After a brief one-year run in a big farm house, devotees moved from place to place throughout the 1980s. It was a difficult time for ISKCON. With the country run under an oppressive military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990, book distribution and other types of public outreach were not allowed.
In 1989, after extensive fundraising, devotees finally found and purchased the current temple in the center of Santiago. The next year, a democratic government was introduced in Chile, and devotees were able at last to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books, which have continued to grow more and more popular to this day.
“Our society was very empty, and many young people were really searching for higher knowledge,” says Santiago temple president Amara Gauranga Das, speaking to ISKCON News through enthusiastic interpreter Isaías Correa. “People expressed how grateful they were to receive Prabhupada’s books, and many came to the temple to find out more.”
Devotees have also had a major social impact on Santiago with their distribution of sanctified prasadam food to starving citizens through Food for Life programs, with many recognizing ISKCON for its love and compassion.
Today, ISKCON Santiago thrives more than it ever has in the past. Every Friday, devotees embark on public chanting sessions called Harinamas downtown, where they distribute traditional sweets and draw a large crowd of fascinated students.
“They want to know why these crazy people are dancing around so happily,” laughs Amara Gauranga. “So many of them follow us back to the temple.”
On Fridays the temple hosts “The Feast of Srila Prabhupada,” a program wherein the central figure is ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada. Students attend the Gaura arati ceremony, and class on the Bhagavad-gita. They then lose themselves in an energetic ‘Guru-puja’ kirtan, and enjoy a prasadam feast.
The celebration is even bigger during the regular Saturday Sadhu Sanga weekends, held once a month or whenever a senior devotee or ISKCON guru comes to visit.
“We invite even more students, and they stay over on Friday night after The Feast of Srila Prabhupada,” says Amara Gauranga. “The next day, they have the full Hare Krishna devotee experience—they attend mangal arati at 4:30am, chant Hare Krishna on beads, attend guru puja and listen to Srimad-Bhagavatam class. We then serve them another, even bigger feast, filled with delicious classic ISKCON dishes. We want them to really fall in love with Krishna consciousness!”
The many students in the area around the temple have an academic interest in ISKCON, too. Often, student groups from nearby colleges visit in order to research essays or visual presentations on ISKCON from various angles: religious, sociological, and more.
“Even students from veterinarian school have come to ask us about our position on animal rights,” Amara Gauranga says.
This interaction between ISKCON Santiago and the local students has grown to a sweet, reciprocative relationship. In mid October 2012, for example, a group of Public Relations students from the nearby Santo Tomas University began teaching devotees how to use social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter to increase their outreach.
Devotees reach out to non-students too. One of their most popular events is their celebration of Chilean Independence Day on September 18th. While traditional parties include lots of drinking, passionate music and meat dishes, devotees celebrate the event in their own unique way.
Held at the temple, their recreation of the traditional Chilean ‘Fonda’ party includes bhajan music, non-alcoholic drinks, gluten barbecue dishes, and vegetarian empanadas.
Perhaps the biggest outreach event of all, however, is Rathayatra, the ancient parade festival in honor of Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe.
In 2012, Santiago Rathayatra will be held on November 9th and 10th, at two different locations in order to reach two different audiences.
The first day will be aimed at a more family crowd, with a festival in the Plaza Nuñua park. Free prasadam and cultural music and dance entertainment will be accompanied by book distribution and a questions and answers tent hosted by ISKCON guru Hanumat Presak Swami.
The second day will feature a parade in the University district near the temple, where it’s been so popular for the last thirteen years that it’s a must-not-miss date on every student’s calendar.
Meanwhile, there must of course be internal events for devotees too, and ISKCON Santiago is just as creative here as it is with outreach.
The recently launched Club de Amigos Sri Sri Gaura Nitai awards devotees who donate towards the Deities’ maintenance and contribute at least one hour of service weekly with special membership IDs and exclusive get-togethers.
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Then there’s the annual Vaishnava Poetry Contest, now in its second year. Organized by poet and journalist Rodrigo Hernandez, it encourages devotees to glorify Radha and Krishna, who have been the inspiration of great spiritual teachers and poets for centuries.
This year, devotees were invited to send in five original poems for the contest, which closed on October 15th. Devotional books will be awarded to contestants in first, second and third place by Hanumat Presak Swami on November 9th, as part of the Rathayatra celebrations.
In the future, Amara Gauranga hopes to serve devotees by turning Santiago temple into a center for Vedic knowledge where young members from all over Latin America can study.
Another long term project is the construction of a custom ISKCON temple in Santiago.
“We hope to build a beautiful new temple within the next ten to fifteen years,” Amara Gauranga says.