Time for chariots

By Ilona Marchetta

Special festival: Hare Krishna followers brought the annual Ratha Yatra event to Liverpool last Saturday. Devotees believe they receive spiritual benefit by pulling the chariot of Jagannatha, the Lord of the Universe. Pictures: Elliott Housego and Angelo Velardo
Hare Krishna spiritual leader Govardhan Das brought the movement to Liverpool 10 years ago to save south-west Sydney members the trek to the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temple in North Sydney.
Back then, Govardhan, which was the name given to him by a guru who initiated him as a leader in 1979 in Fiji, had fewer than a dozen devotees to preach to.
These days a congregation of about 100 meets once a month at the Whitlam Leisure Centre to pray and share a meal traditionally prepared by the leader's family.
Last Saturday, ISKCON held the Ratha Yatra, or Festival of the Chariots, in Liverpool for the first time.
Govardhan, 66, said the group felt that the time was right to ''enlighten'' the south-west about the Krishna movement.
Last year their Ratha Yatra float took first prize in Campbelltown's Fisher's Ghost festival.
''If everybody became a Hare Krishna I don't think there would be any problem in the world,'' Govardhan said, listing gambling, intoxication, extra-marital sex and meat as things followers are expected to give up.
''Although we may look different, the soul within is part and parcel of the same.
''This country doesn't belong to us: we have no material identification; we have a spiritual identity. This body is just a vehicle to do your daily chores in life.''
His daughter, Radha Shalini, 30, said the belief that Hare Krishna followers did nothing but wear bright orange clothes and dance in the streets was wrong.
''Hare Krishna is about singing, dancing and having good food,'' she said. ''It's not a cult; these are very qualified people. There are accountants, lawyers, doctors, people with PhDs who are devotees.''
ISKCON members meet at the Whitlam Leisure Centre on the last Sunday of the month, 5pm-7.30pm.