ISKCON Vladivostok: Where Krishna Reigns in Russia’s Far East
By B.V.V. Narasimha Swami
Despite many challenges, the intrepid devotees in this remote city 5,700 land miles from Moscow built a suitable temple to worship the Lord.
The city of Vladivostok (“Ruler of the East”) is situated in the far east of Russia, a few hundred kilometers north of China. The region was long under Chinese rule, but Russia acquired it through the Treaty of Beijing in 1860. In time Russians migrated from the western part of the country, and it is now an important port serving the eastern region of Russia.
In the late 1980s, when the USSR gave up its communist regime and opened its doors to other ideals, the Krishna consciousness movement established centers across Russia, Vladivostok being one city where the people were immediately interested. The first devotee to arrive was Abhimanyu Dasa. He was soon joined by Vrajendra Kumara Dasa, who went on to become ISKCON’s regional secretary for Russia’s far eastern region. Under his leadership many people took up Krishna consciousness, and today there are more than eighty-five initiated devotees in the area.
The first center was in a rented building. Later, as the community grew, the devotees had to relocate. They found a disused building owned by the city. With the city’s permission, they moved in, renovated the building, and gradually made into a suitable center. But the local government decided they needed the property back, so the devotees relocated again. They started to look for a new building, but rising property prices made the search a great challenge. Finally, they decided to build a temple, and with help from the congregation, they formed a committee and began raising money.
A major source was the devotee-run restaurant Ganga, which has been in operation or many years and has gained the respect of the local people. Baked samosas filled with cheese or fruit jams are a favorite with customers. As many as fourteen thousand samosas have been sold in one day. In 2007, the Vladivostok temple was honored by ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission for outstanding service in the field of prasadam distribution, specifically through the Ganga restaurant.
Another major contributor to the temple was Krishna Keshava Dasa, a devotee since the year 2000. He operates a window-framing business and donated a major portion of his profits. He also daily supplies his staff with lunch boxes of prasadam from Ganga.
With the support of the congregation, gradually enough money was raised to buy land, and construction of the temple began in the summer of 2011. In line with Vedic principles, a deity of Ananta-shesha, the serpent-bed of Lord Vishnu, was placed eight meters below the ground to support the temple.
The head of the construction team was Dvarakadhisha Dasa. A young, energetic, courageous Russian, he soon found his task difficult. Money was in short supply, and the Russian climate complicated the work. In addition, the land is on a steep slope overlooking the bay. While laying the foundation for the temple, the contractors gave up, saying it was impossible. But Dvarakadhisha stuck it out and kept trying. Finally he was able to get the basic structure up. But then it was winter, so he had to stop and wait for summer to return.
To minimize building expenses, the devotees showed their own technical skills by building a goods elevator running from the warehouse in the basement to the kitchen on the second floor and on to the pujari and deity rooms on the third floor. They bought standard mechanical parts and assembled them, drastically reducing the cost.
The year 2012 was special for the people of Vladivostok because the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) summit was held there, bringing political leaders from twenty-one Pacific Rim countries. To prepare, the Russian government made massive improvements to the city, which became a construction site. A new airport, new roads and bridges, new hotels, and a new university were all under construction. This only made building the temple even more difficult, as the prices of building materials increased and the traffic became even more intolerable.
Finally the construction neared completion, and the devotees prepared for the grand opening. They had been holding daily programs at Ganga, with morning and evening classes. They had rented an apartment to continue the deity worship, and they had had to find their own accommodations. Still, they kept in high spirits and continued their daily harinama-sankirtana, which has become well known to the residents of Vladivostok.
The devotees chant outside in public places throughout the year, even when temperatures drop to –30 degrees F. The leader of the chanting party is Candrabhanu Dasa, who served as the temple’s head cook for eight years before becoming the current head cook for the Ganga restaurant.
For Srila Prabhupada’s Pleasure
In November 2014 the temple construction was completed and the opening took place. Many senior devotees gathered and spoke, praising the efforts of those who worked together to build ISKCON’s largest center in Russia. GBC representative Bhakti Vaibhava Swami spoke of the pleasure Srila Prabhupada would certainly have in knowing that the devotees had built a temple in far-eastern Russia, and he mentioned scriptural statements about how devotees involved in such efforts will be raised to the eternal abode of the Lord. Prabhavishnu Dasa, who has been teaching Krishna consciousness in Russia for many years, described how ISKCON Vladivostok has always been successful in recruiting new devotees but over the years many have left the region for milder climates. He appreciated that despite their departure, the number of devotees in Vladivostok is still growing and it is to their credit that they could build such a wonderful center, at a cost of over a million dollars.