Hindus and Krishna devotees may be fighting a court battle in the Siberian city of Tomsk against a move to ban the Bhagavad Gita, but their 40-year quest to find a foothold in Russia is taking shape in the construction of a massive temple on Moscow's outskirts.
The Moscow Vedic Centre, as the temple devoted to Krishna will be called, is coming up on a five-acre land at Verskino village in Molzhaninovsky, close to the Sheremetyevo international airport, Bhakti Vijnana Goswami, a Russian Iskcon monk who is visiting India, told IANS in New Delhi.
The Moscow Vedic Centre is a replacement for the original Krishna temple that acted as the centre of Iskcon or International Society for Krishna Consciousness that has today spread to 80 cities in Russia and has over 50,000 active devotees.
The original temple, Goswami said, was demolished in 2004 by the Moscow city government as it came in the way of a new apartment building.
To compensate for the demolished temple, the Moscow administration provided Iskcon an alternative plot of land on Leningradsky Avenue, where the temple functions temporarily till it moves into the Moscow Vedic Centre in late 2012.
"It is ironic that the Russian capital is recognising our humanitarian service, while in another city in the country, state prosecutors have filed a case to get Bhagavad Gita banned in Russia," Sadhu Priya Das, an Iskcon devotee in Moscow, told IANS over phone.
The history of Iskcon in Russia is a story of extraordinary events, all demonstrating the unique destiny Russia holds in the spiritual future of the world, according to Goswami, who is spearheading the temple construction.
The story began in 1971. As Leonid Brezhnev was consolidating his totalitarian rule in the erstwhile Soviet Union, Iskcon founder Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada visited Moscow for five days to meet Professor Kotovsky, a Soviet scholar of Hinduism.
"Though Prabhupada's conversation with the Russian scholar was meaningful, the actual miracle was his meeting with a single Russian youth, who was led to the spiritual leader's hotel door to hear the message of Bhagavad Gita.
"Today, 40 years after Prabhupada met with the young Russian, a mighty tree has taken root with close to 50,000 practising Vaishnavas in Russia," Goswami said. In former Soviet states that are part of the Commonwealth of Independent States, there are 55,000 more Iskcon members.
Today the Iskcon temple in Moscow attracts 1,000 devotees a day on an average and 10,000 devotees, a majority of them Russians, on Janmashtami, Lord Krishna's birthday.
Iskcon itself became a recognised official religious organisation in the Soviet Union in 1988 after then President Mikhail Gorbachov introduced Perestroika, a movement within the Communist Party there for political restructuring. "The days of persecution under the atheist Soviet government was over in 1988," Goswami said.
Soon, in 1990, Moscow authorities provided Iskcon a semi-dilapidated building at Begovaya for a temple, which was later demolished in 2004 leading to the allotment of an alternative land for the Moscow Vedic Centre.
"The alternative land in lieu of the demolished temple came about in 2006, when Moscow's mayor and the Delhi chief minister had signed a joint declaration in this regard," said Goswami. A year later, the Moscow administration issued the necessary orders for the construction of the Moscow Vedic Centre.
In November this year, Indian President Pratibha Patil sent a message to the Iskcon when it observed 40 years of its work in Russia.
"Over the past few decades, Iskcon has played an important role in popularising the noble and eternal message of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita and promoting spiritual harmony in many foreign lands. It is a tribute to the resolute spirit of the followers of Iskcon that they have sustained their presence in Russia for so many decades," she said in her message.
The Tomsk city court is scheduled to deliver Dec 28 its verdict in the case filed by the state prosecutors for banning Bhagavad Gita and branding it as "extremist" literature, after a deposition from the Russian human rights ombudsman.