One of the things that I learned in college was that Krishnas are fascinatingly strange people. I went to the University of Florida, located in Gainesville, where there are shitloads of Krishnas. That’s OK though.
When I moved to G’ville, I’d heard that the Krishnas gave out cheap lunches to students every day at the University. What I didn’t know was that they had their own precinct house really close to campus, and that in the nearby city of Alachua there was a massive commune of the bald headed badasses. The commune was apparently one of the largest communities and teaching facilities for Krishnas in the country. Tons of families live in that area and send their kids to “devotional school,” which is the schooling serious Krishna kids get (from age 5 to 20 they basically study how to become a priest, as I understand it, and then take a pilgrimage to India and devote their life to “Krishna Conscience”). All the Krishnas in the area try to head out there on Sundays for big Krishna shindigs. On one famous occasion the straight edge, hardcore, Krishna band Shelter played a gig out there, and lots of punkers from the city got a good look at the Krishna commune. I’ve never been out there, but I have had a great deal of contact with the great Hare Krishnas of Gainesville.
The first encounter I had with the devotees in Gainesville was during the summer (when they slack off and only serve lunch a couple times a week on campus) of ’93. My bike broke down in front of their house and they lured me with lemonade and invited me over for a “devotional dinner.” They serve these dinners on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The “program” starts around 6 pm, and the dinner is usually served sometime between 7 and 8. I highly recommend that everyone who is interested in the Krishnas give this a go. Not only do you get to eat a five-course Indian meal for three bucks, but you get to rap philosophies and ideologies, and have a great time. You also get to shake it. The Krishnas start these masses by playing instruments, singing, chanting, and dancing. You might be a little shy at first, but the rhythm is intoxicating, and before you realize it you’ll be getting down on the marble floor with the rest of ’em. Too afraid to sing? Don’t worry, Krishnas only know one song and it goes like this: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare! [repeat!]” After a good bit of singing and dancing, everyone sits on the floor and some cat will read from the good book, the Bhagavad-Gita. Everyone will then analyze the cryptic words that could basically be twisted to mean anything you want, and chit-chat about the wonders of Krishna. Chow time follows and everyone digs in, with crazily friendly conversations. After that people hang around and usually help clean up. Don’t be alarmed if someone hands you a broom and asks you to do your part.
So there I was, a culturally suave freshman in college who was looking for cheap Indian food. I started swinging by the house about once every other week or so. I got to know several of the devotees and met bunches of passersbys. I never felt like they were trying to convert me or pressure me into anything (although I got the occasional lecture against eating meat), until one day I was invited to spend the night. In fact I was invited to crash or hang out anytime I felt like it, or got sick of school or my roommate. I took this as my exit, and pretty much stopped going to the old house, although I did stay in touch, and frequently ate with the Krishnas at school, and even wrote an article for a campus newsletter on Krishna Kuisine. Over the years, I’ve really gotten to know these swell, but strange, individuals and now it is time to share the bizarre highlights of my relationship with the Hare Krishnas.
It is a well known fact the Hare Krishnas are vegetarians, but they also eliminate certain veggies from their diets. One thing they don’t dine on is fungus, you know, mushrooms. I’ve been told that this is because they grow at night (or in the dark usually) and basically feed on dead, decomposing material. Mushrooms are therefore impure. Krishnas also abstain from digesting onions and garlic. I have tried to get a straight answer as to why for years, and several different Krishnas have given me the run around on this one. The only thing they will agree on is that onions and garlic “inflame the passions” and they shouldn’t be eaten. OK.
I once asked another Krishna why they ate and cooked with so much milk and dairy products. He told me that Lord Krishna herded cows and loved to play with them. He went on to say that if we followed his advice, we too could join him and play with the cows! Man, if that is not a swell idea of heaven. To go chill with a small blue boy and frolic with cows and drink their milk all the time. I’m there!
I once met a visiting Krishna from Tallahassee (there is a Krishna house near FSU as well, I hear) who had tattoos of space ships and stuff on his arm. He told me that he really got involved in the Krishna movement after getting out of prison and “feeling really weird and high” one day while painting their house for them. Excellent.
I once met a Krishna from California, who looked acted and talked just like a burned out skater. He told me while stroking the drum he’d bought in India that “the trials of this material body of mine are just ridiculous” (he had a cold). I should have asked for the drum if he was so unmaterialistic as to discuss his exoshell that way (the Krishnas try to give up all material possessions and greed, and even think of their bodies as just being a shell or vessel to hold them till the next stage).
Perhaps the oddest thing about Krishnas in all, though, is their adoption of Indian accents. I can’t really explain it, but it seems as if every Krishna you talk with will have a strange, high pitched, Indian accent, which they are faking. Why are they faking it? I don’t know, but I do know that most of them are white-bred middle or lower class Caucasian residents of the USA. Odd, but (read the next line in fast, high pitched speech) “I find it to be very fascinating indeed, yes!”
The Krishna House in Gainesville is located at: 214 NW 14th St, Gainesville, FL, 32603 • (352) 336-4183