Hare Krishna is the saga of one man who started a spiritual movement in a land and culture completely new to him. Swami Prabhupada was the initiator of the Hare Krishna movement, and the documentary of his life leaves viewers in awe of the man’s audacity. They will also be provoked into thinking about his philosophy, one that touched so many lives globally.
Prabhupada reached New York at the peak of the hippie movement in 1965, when he was already 70. He was alone, without any money or contacts. His only strength was his faith in Lord Krishna and a deep spiritual philosophy that inspired his living.
Director, Writer and Producer John Griesser begins by showing the subtle destruction of cultural barriers as Prabhupada’s philosophies inject young American minds. Intermingling with teenagers who sought happiness beyond the drug-induced high of the hippie generation, Prabhupada gradually begins to inspire them to find true happiness through self-realisation. Hare Krishna is a chant he inserts in their minds, and it becomes the collective mantra of his disciples.
Griesser travelled with Prabhupada, filming the movement along with his wife, and in Hare Krishna, he brings back black and white footage he shot throughout those years. Through it, you can feel the presence and verve of the man himself as he laughs and preaches. You will hear Prabhupada’s philosophy in his own voice — as he talks about the liberating power of chanting, the need of self realisation above any political ideology, and the transcending of all barriers of language, caste, nationality to attain the depth of the soul.
The documentary depends greatly on narration of disciples to unfold the timeline of the movement. They have intimate stories to share about how he influenced their lives. In every speaker’s voice, you can feel a sincere love for their guru as they fervently express how amicable, welcoming, energetic and loving he was.
Beyond visuals of Prabhupada and his disciples are scenes from the hippie movement of the 1960s, to the extensive green lands of Vrindavan and the churches in the Soviet Union being guarded by police. The depiction of the political and cultural climate of different places during the movement works to zoom out to the bigger picture of the Cold War years, and further illustrates just how extraordinary Prabhupada’s achievement was.
In a scene showing the extent of his influence, George Harrison, the lead guitarist of the Beatles, begins with Hare Krishna as he sings My Sweet Lord, a song inspired by Prabhupada’s philosophy. His disciples struggle in England, shaving their heads and wearing yellow bed sheets to draw attention, but ultimately triumph. Prabhupada dares to go to the Soviet Union, where the police examine his copy of the Bhagvad Gita because religious books were banned. At one point, the Hare Krishna groups are accused of being part of an organised crime syndicate.
The documentary is not going to immediately transform viewers into followers of Lord Krishna, but it will definitely inspire them to think about the phenomenon of how cults spread before satellite TV, the internet and climate change.
Western soft power holds great sway over the world, including Nepal. The documentary prods us to look for answers to the age-old questions of happiness and spiritual enlightenment in our own eastern culture, and the Bhagvad Gita and Shreemad Bhagvad Mahapuran scriptures. Profound and transformative ideas lie hidden in our own culture.
This is a documentary that transports even secularists and skeptics to at least consider how the Hare Krishna movement helped fill a spiritual vacuum. A must-see on the week of Lord Krishna’s birthday.