Earlier this month, my friend Tulasi married Gauranga at the Hare Krishna Temple in Los Angeles. The ceremony was lovely with beautiful music, singing, and chanting, but as I’ve never been to a Hari Krishna Temple before, I don’t know the proper names or the “meaning” behind the wedding rituals.
Before entering the Temple, we took off our shoes and left them outside on the steps. Even though the Temple is just off Venice Boulevard, which is a busy thoroughfare, three hours later when the service was over, all our footwear were still there.
The temple was filled with flowers, all the close relatives had a flower garland around their necks (smaller ones were made specially for the children), and we showered the bride and groom with petals several times.
Brightly colored pictures of Krishna were in the alcoves and on the walls…
The Sanscrit word kṛṣṇa means “black”, and is used to describe someone with a dark skin. Krishna is often depicted in images as black, shown wearing a yellow silk dhoit and peacock feather crown, sometimes even as a young man playing the flute with one leg bent.
To announce the arrival of the bride, a series of loud toots were blown on a white conch shell. It was surprisingly loud.
“The conch shell (shankha in Sanskrit) has survived as the original horn trumpet since time immemorial. It is an emblem of power, authority and sovereignty whose blast is believed to banish evil spirits, avert natural disasters, and scare away poisonous creatures.
Today, in its greatly tamed avatar, the conch is used to call together religious assemblies.”
The bride, dressed in a traditional red and gold sari, with flowers in her hair and intricate traditional Mehendi (henna) patterns on her hands and feet, walked several times around the flower festooned temple, hidden behind a beautiful gold cloth.
During the ceremony the officiating priest who sat on the floor opposite the bride and groom, lit a tiny fire with balsa wood, and while songs and mantras were chanted, he added ghee, more wood, and a couple of bananas to the fire. The bride and groom added handfuls of what looked like wheat kernels.
Tulasi and Gauranga marriage vows were sincere and personal. Once they exchanged rings and flower garlands, their scarves were tied together, and their families were called up to help wrap the knotted scarves around their hands, thus sealing the marriage. Traditionally they’d stay tied to one another for a week.
After the wedding I noticed that some people had ashes on their foreheads. I was told that the ashes signify that those people were “bringing the blessings of the marriage with them”.
And finally there was a delicious Indian feast. Hare Krishnas are vegetarian. They do not eat meat, fish, eggs, onions, or garlic. I was so hungry, and the food was so tasty, I forgot to photograph my plate of food.
The wedding cake (made without eggs) looked, and tasted, like a traditional layer cake, with whipped cream and strawberries.
The Hare Krishna mantra is a sixteen-word Vaishnava mantra. It was first popularized by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu roughly around 1500 CE when he began his mission to spread this mantra publicly to “every town and village” in the world.
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
The Hari Krishna movement was brought to the United States in 1965 by his Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada – born in 1896 in Calcutta, India, and passed away November 1977. He established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in 1966.
In the final eleven years of his life he encircled the globe 14 times making ‘Hare Krishna’ a well known phrase in many parts of the world, and establishing more than one hundred asramas, schools, temples, and institutes.
His many books have been translated into over fifty languages.