In the hub of one of Asia’s most scandalous cities Bangkok; where corruption headlines the newspapers daily, where women from the countryside, from China, from Russia flock to its dimly lit streets to work in the open prostitution scene, where malls jam packed with merchandise are crowded with Americans and Brits abusing its low currency rates, overburdened from the city’s 13 million population, are ISKCON’s centers floating untouched of its murky waters like lotus flowers.
There are two ISKCON temples in the city of Bangkok; the student center located near the international Assumption University (a.k.a ABAC), and the Siyak Bangkhaek temple (literally meaning “Indian house” in Thai) in Thonburi, the heart of the old city. There is also a program in Sukumvit weekly and the longest on-going program in Thailand at Lumpini Park; is a local favorite for 15 years every Sunday morning, where devotees meet in an open pavilion in the center-city garden and enjoy kirtan, katha, and first-class prasdam by senior Thai devotees, Ram Laxsman; who joined in Chicago and now translates Srila Prabhupada’s books into Thai, and Purnamasi.
ABAC Preaching Center / Siyak Bangkhaek Temple
Ramkamheng 24, Moobarn Sikarin house number 126/92, Huamak, Bangkapi, Bangkok / Itsaaraphap Soi 3, Thonburi, Bangkok
Sumaduri Dasi (66) 0866017491 / (66) 0818296204
Gaura Nitai / Sri Radha Govinda
Antaranga Gopal Das and Sumaduri Lila Dasi / Tapanmisra Das and Bhuvan Mohan
2004 a student house opened and the new center was bought in 2008 / Opened in 2006, with renovations in a new building this year, including the Govinda’s Resturant by Radha Jivan Das (from Alachua Florida)
Modern Thai styled houses with temple room on the bottom floor and ashrams above / Two modern buildings with Govindas Restaurant on the bottom floor and temple room on the second floor with ashram on the floor above
Located adjacent, in a residential community, to Assumption University a large student area / Located in the Nepalese community area of Thonburi
Weekly Saturday night program and harinam parties on Sunday afternoon after Lumpini Park program / Sunday feast program and regular harinam parties
Number of residents:
Around 3 – 6 residing university students / one resident pujari and four other devotees who work outside of the temple
Number of visitors:
30 – 40 students and families / 80+ Nepalese Hare Krsna devotees and community members
Best time of the year to visit:
Anytime in Bangkok is good weather and guests are welcome, but Bangkok Rathayatra is a definite highlight of the year
Children participate at the harinam in Bangkok
Bangkok is arguably one of the most “misunderstood” areas on the ISKCON map, having somewhat of a reputation of being a place where devotees “fall down”.
Although Bangkok has been in recent news such a place, the might have to convey this to the thriving devotee community here in, as they do not seem to be severely affected.
ISKCON was started in Thailand by Srila Prabhupada, although he did never visit himself, he sent some of his disciples to Bangkok to start centers, and openly encouraged devotees, as noted in a letter, to travel to Bangkok for their visa needs when in India. Although Srila Prabhupada did implicitly state then that “our policy as you know is not to import devotees, but to make devotees out of the local men there.”
A group photo in front of the ABAC center
Although it had some years of difficulties in the 1980’s with several controversial leading authorities, in the last 15 years B.V.V. Narasimha Swami, Jayaprataka Swami, Kavi Chandra Swami, and Vedavyas Priya Swami have made Thailand one of their long stops on their Asian yatra visits. In the 2000’s many Nepalese Burmese people moved to Bangkok and many became Hare Krsna devotees, which “gave the kirtan party size and life” says Kavichandra Swami, one of Thailand’s GBC members. The results of this senior association and guidance are seen in the growing number of initiated devotees (every Rathayatra festival there are subsequently initiation ceremonies), temples and centers opening, book distribution scores and harinams, and Rathayatras sprouting up all over the country.
As Kavichandra Swami noted, “B.V.V. Narasimha Swami’s monk like nature is very pleasing to the Thais,” as Thai Buddhist culture is very accustomed to monks who are very visible even today all over Thailand.
The ABAC Nityananda kutir
The ABAC center was started by a ABAC student couple, Rupeshwor Das and Sucaru Gopi Dasi, who passed on the center to the present couple when they returned to Nepal to preach. The Lumpini Park program inspired the opening of the Siyak Bangkhaek temple, as there was a growing need for a center in that area.
There are four Rathayatras in Thailand: Bangkok in mid-June, Pattaya on the 5th December (as it joins the King of Thailand’s birthday parade), Phuket in April, and Koi Samui or alternatively Hua Hin on New Years Eve.
Book distribution is a daily habit for Hare Krsna devotees here, doing regular as well as sporadic harinam parties throughout the week sometimes following a namahatta program or after a festival at the temple. To illustrate Bangkok’s growing book distribution enthusiasm its scores from 2009 were 14,000 books, and last year is 40,000. Bangkok is listed in the top ten “maha-small” temples; a category for temples with 1-5 devotees distributing books, in the world.
The Govinda's Restaurant at the Siyak Bangkhaek temple
Thai people are culturally very charitable and eagerly give donations for Srila Prabhupada’s books. As Antaranga Gopal Das and Sumaduri Lila Dasi, both originally from Nepal but joined ISKCON during their university years at ABAC, put it “book distribution is ‘sense gratification’ in Thailand,” she said, “I don’t know why more people don’t do it!” And its no wonder its book distribution scores are on the high level for its relatively small devotee community.
A few projects Thai devotees are on-going or in progress are the Bhagavad Gita website in Thai (in progress), altar expansions in the Bang Khaek temple (including a life size Srila Prabhupada murti), and a children’s summer camp hosted in Cha-Am.
[ thailand ]