Friday 11 August 2023


In 1973 George Harrison gifted a manor house to the Hare Krishna movement so they could have a base in the UK. Bhaktivedanta Manor in Hertfordshire is now one of the UK's foremost Hindu temples. Leading members share the story of its inception, its fight against closure and the legacy it holds today.

It was no coincidence that Shyamasundar Das met George Harrison at an Apple Records party in December 1968 - although he had not expected them to become lifelong friends.

He had come to England on a mission: To launch the Hare Krishna movement at the bidding of leader Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Shyamasundar Das decided to aim high and got himself an invite to a party at the Beatles' record label.

He recalls: "We arrived in September of '68, and by Christmas time I had met George Harrison and we were chanting Hare Krishna with the Beatles."
Now 81 and living in the USA, Shyamasundar Das remembers those heady days of sharing the Krishna philosophy with "the most famous men in the world".

"Early in '69 we went to live with John Lennon at his estate in Tittenhurst, while we developed our temple in London," he said. "And as a result of this, we became recording artists.

"So one thing led to another, and because of the Beatles' involvement we became very popular and the Hare Krishna movement took off like a rocket in this country."
Following the release of hit records such as My Sweet Lord in 1970, he says young people started to flock to their first International Society for Krishna Consciousness centre in central London.

"It was a five-storey building and we thought it would be sufficient, but with our hit records and all the action on the streets in those days, British girls and boys started coming in huge numbers and becoming devotees.

"So that little building filled up. People were sleeping in the hallways and on the stairs."
Shyamasundar Das says in 1972, he and Bhaktivedanta Swami visited Harrison at his Oxfordshire estate. On hearing that the London temple was overflowing with guests, he said, Harrison responded: "I want to buy you guys an Ashram like this, a country place like I have".

A year later, he gifted them Piggott's Manor, a mock-Tudor building in the Hertfordshire greenbelt.

It was renamed Bhaktivedanta Manor, which is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning "the conclusion or summary of all spiritual knowledge".
Shyamasundar Das describes it as "a huge endeavour", with "50 boys and girls managing this huge estate".

Returning for the manor's 50th anniversary, he can hardly believe how important it has become.

"I see it like we maybe brought a tiny acorn seed and planted it here 50 years ago. Bhaktivedanta Manor now has become this giant oak tree, giant."

A booming Hare Krishna movement in the Hertfordshire countryside was not welcomed by all, however.

"Almost from the day it was purchased and occupied by the Krishna devotees in 1973, there were certain complaints raised about attendees," says Akhandadhi Das, who joined the temple in 1975 and later became its president.

"You could imagine it may not have seemed ideal to the local village that the main property within Letchmore Heath had become a Krishna temple."

Hindu monk Kripamoya Das was one of the first to move in and says many found solace in visiting the manor.

"All those people now discovered they could have a place to worship, just a few miles into the country," he said.
Things came to a head in the 1990s. Noise complaints led to the closure of the temple for public worship in 1994.

Akhandadhi Das says the closure caused "huge consternation" both in the UK and abroad and led to a a 30,000 person protest march through central London in support of the temple.

Following a lengthy legal battle against Hertsmere Borough Council, Bhaktivedanta Manor was finally told in 1996 that worship could resume.

Akhandadhi Das told the BBC he was "very proud" of the campaign.

"Our community not only demonstrated the absolute frustration that they felt, but they did so in a non-violent way," he said.

He says the manor "continues to go from the strength to strength". Last year about 45,000 people attended the Janmashtami festival, according to the manor's managing director Nila Madhava Das, adding 22,000 school children visit annually.

As well as hosting Hindu festivals throughout the year, Bhaktivedanta Manor is home to a resource centre and an organic farm that cares for cows.

Nila Madhava Das says during the pandemic, the council advised them not to convert their space into a Covid testing centre, but instead to keep the estate open for the public.

"At one point, we were the only place that was open. Churches were shut, synagogues were shut, the Hindu temples and mosques - all were shut."

"So, we were catering for all the public at large, which was very important because people were so very frustrated and depressed."
Temple President Visakha Devi Dasi says they want to show the public "a very traditional and very healthy life".

"This type of living is quite contradictory to what we find in the world today, which is very much oriented around consumption," she said.

"But here we find that if we base our lives on the cows and the milk production and the fruits and vegetables of the Earth, we can have a healthy life and also have time to pursue higher studies."


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