This November, ISKCON devotees celebrated their 40th anniversary in London with a week of festivities from the 16th through the 22nd of the month.
That’s right—it’s been forty years since ISKCON first made its mark on the streets of London. The sound of cymbals and the unmistakable sights of saffron and shaven heads first appeared on Oxford Street in London’s West End in 1969, causing the Evening Standard to declare “Krishna Chant Startles London.”
Later that same year the late George Harrison of the Beatles produced the chart-topping “Hare Krishna Mantra” single. And the Hare Krishnas made their first appearance on British television, singing live on Top of the Pops.
Shyamasundar Das, a friend of George Harrison’s and one of the first Krishna devotees in London, said: “To many, the Hare Krishnas represented the psychedelic spirit of the sixties—even though our philosophy is one of abstinence, non-violence and pure vegetarianism.”
Govinda’s became one of the first vegetarian restaurants in central London, and is still going strong. Even more notably, London was home to ISKCON’s first ever Radha Krishna deities, whom Srila Prabhupada installed in Bury Place, ISKCON UK’s first temple. The Temple moved to Soho Street in 1979, and it still stands there today—just off Oxford Street, Europe's busiest shopping thoroughfare.
Nowadays, ISKCON is woven into the fabric of London life. Yet that first image from 1969—of devotee chanting parades sharing the Holy Names with shoppers, revelers, business people and international tourists—is still very common. And the Radha Krishna Temple draws 1,600 visitors a week, with 400 dropping into the temple throughout the day on weekends.
Of course, the Temple expects an extra good turnout from November 16th through 22nd, when ISKCON will be celebrating its 40th anniversary in London. As well as the devote congregation and members of the public, the week of festivities will be attended by over 1,300 prominent members of the faith community, as well as various politicians and many VIPs from the worlds of business, industry, and entertainment.
Proceedings will kick off with special presentations from senior ISKCON devotees including Yamuna Dasi, Shyamasundar Dasa, Gurudas and Malati Devi Dasi. Friends of George Harrison will share rare stories from the early days about the Beatles and other notable figures associated with ISKCON.
Other presentations will elaborate on the rewarding relationship which the Radha”Krishna Temple has had with the broader London community and the fascinating growth of ISKCON in the capital, from its early relationship with the Beatles to the development of the first state funded Hindu School and the “Food for Life” scheme.
The 40th anniversary’s main event—which has already sold out—is a cultural evening to be held at the historic Troxy Theatre in London on November 21st. The event will celebrate ISKCON’s arrival in London and its achievements in the fields of art, culture, spiritual education, Vedic philosophy, food and ecology. The week of festivities with culminate with the final official celebration on Sunday November 22nd.
“As the Member of Parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster, I look forward to taking part in the celebrations marking the 40th Anniversary of ISKCON in London,” said Mark Field MP. “The chanting processions of the orange-garbed devotees in Oxford Street have become a welcome and indeed exotic part of the city’s multi-cultural landscape. The help that members of the Hare Krishna movement have given to the homeless has also been much appreciated, and I hope that they will continue their good work for many years to come.”