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Religion Library: ISKCON (Hare Krishna)

Sacred Time

Written by: Benjamin E. Zeller

ISKCON has created a sense of sacred time by developing a daily ritual cycle intended to ensure that devotees engage in acts of Krishna Consciousness throughout their everyday lives. Movement founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada designed the original schedule, modeling it on traditional practices in Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

An intensive system exists for residents of temples, renunciates, and students engaged in fulltime devotional practice. ISKCON temples follow a specific daily schedule, usually beginning at 4:30 a.m. with a morning arti. Each temple follows the same general pattern, though specific times vary by up to a half-hour between temples. Temples host eight different artis throughout the day, during which devotees offer different substances such as water, incense, and flowers; such actions are preceded by rituals of clothing, bathing, and fanning the deities. The last of these rituals ends at 9:00 p.m. Throughout the day, devotees living at temples also teach and attend classes, study ISKCON texts, and chant mantras.

While individual practices vary, Bhaktivedanta's original ritual cycle remains as the ideal for all Hare Krishna devotees. The movement has attempted to standardize ritual practice in 1995 by compiling and publishing a guide titled Devotional Practice, which explains the timing of devotion throughout the day. ISKCON intends this ritual cycle to pertain to congregational members, the majority of Hare Krishna devotees who do not live temples and who work in outside jobs.

For those worshipping at home, ISKCON days begin at 5:00 a.m., when the devotees awaken. The movement prescribes a specific morning hygienic ritual, intended to bring about a state of spiritual and material cleanliness. After brushing their teeth, using the toilet, shaving, and cutting their nails, devotees take a short shower. As they clean their bodies, they also chant the Hare Krishna mahamantra ("Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare") to spiritually purify themselves. Following the shower, devotees apply a mixture of sacred clay to their bodies in twelve predefined spots. These marks, called tilaka, identify the body as sacred and the individual as dedicated to the worship of Krishna. If at any point during the day the devotee engages in physical labor, passes stool, or takes a nap, they repeat the process of shower, chanting, and marking the tilaka.

At 5:30 a.m., devotees begin their morning chanting japa. To do so they employ a string of 108 beads called a mala. By chanting the mahamantra for each bead, a devotee completes a complete cycle or round of devotional chanting. Bhaktivedanta taught that such a single round of chanting should take between five and ten minutes, depending on the experience of the devotee. Ideally, devotees engage in such chanting until 7:00 a.m. At that time, devotees engage in arti (sometimes spelled "arati"), singing songs of praise to the images of Krishna and his consort Radha installed at the ISKCON temple. In keeping with Hindu tradition, devotees also offer the light of an oil lamp during arti as well. Hare Krishna members living far from a temple may perform arti in their homes, using small images of the deities. If attending a temple, devotees might chant another round of the mahamantra with the other worshippers, or engage in study of Vaishnava texts before eating breakfast and leaving for work.