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Religion Library: ISKCON (Hare Krishna)

Rites and Ceremonies

Written by: Benjamin E. Zeller

In addition to arti, devotees engage in service to Krishna through use of the images installed in the temple, or smaller images installed at home. ISKCON intends such service to bring a devotee to a higher level of rasa, or relational status with the divine, through treating Krishna as a beloved child or friend. Service involves waking the deity, feeding it, and putting it to sleep. Each step requires specific actions performed in the spirit of devotion. Awakening a deity, for example, includes washing the image and clothing it.

Finally, ISKCON devotees engage in the group devotional practice known as kirtan. Though sometimes equated with communal chanting, kirtan functions as more than merely social worship of the divine. It is a public marking of devotees as servants of Krishna as well as a means of spreading the glory of Krishna and knowledge of his nature. That is, it functions as a means of proselytizing as well as worship. While devotees perform kirtan in ISKCON temples, they also do so in public places such as parks, streets, and festivals, and this is known as sankirtan or harinam. In addition to singing songs of praise, sankirtan can involve public preaching and the distribution of religious literature.  During the late 1960s and 1970s, sankirtan bestowed a lasting image on ISKCON, as devotees became known for performing sankirtan in airports and other conspicuous public places, sometimes without regard for the inconvenience they caused. Since that time ISKCON has shied away from the most confrontational forms of sankirtan, though devotees still engage in the practice throughout the world.

Study Questions:
     1.    Describe the ritual events of harinamadiksa.
     2.    How does the second initiation ceremony transform the Hindu conception of caste? Why is it controversial?
     3.    What is arti? How is it performed?
     4.    Why has kirtan been considered a form of proselytizing?