Hare Krishna, Hare Radha: An Indian ashram experience in the heart of Somerset

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November 10th 2008
Published: November 22nd 2008
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Krishna has never been a God I could easily relate to. Out of all the Indian Gods and Goddesses, he was the one I never paid much attention to. Partially, this had to do with over-exposure through the Krishna movement in the UK. Taking it down to the most basic (and biased) level, I always thought that the Hare Krishna movement, and in particular the 'Hare Krishna' chant you'd hear on a Sunday in towns across this country, was a bit ‘naff’. Quite irrationally, my sense of irritation towards Krishna-related places, and resistance to Krishna the God, accompanied me throughout my stay in India, although I hardly knew anything about him. It went so far that, on an ashram outing to a big Krishna temple in Rishikesh, I was close to walking out during the evening ceremony. Everything about the place annoyed me: the priests who tried to extract money from us before we even set foot in the temple; the militant security guards; the chants; and it was particularly Krishna I could not connect with. Why, I reasoned, would I want to worship a flute-playing, mischievous, womanising God? I’d stick to Shiva, my three-eyed serpent God, thank you very much.

But then something happened, shifted ever so slightly, towards the end of my stay in India. Without realising it at first, I lived out parts of the divine love story between Krishna and Radha in the Himalayas, becoming aware of it only when I was back in Europe. Consequently, Krishna began to cross my path everywhere, lurking, so it seemed, in every corner of my awareness, winking at me, teasing me. From the moment I left India, every person I met seemed to have some link with Krishna. At Delhi airport, a German Iskcon (International Society for Krishna consciousness) monk approached me (out of all the people he could have approached) and invited me to his temple in Stuttgart; the German man sitting next to me on the plane was a Krishna devotee; and everywhere I went thereafter, be it Germany, Sweden, England or Wales, I came across talks about Krishna & Radha, and people with names like 'Krishnaprem'. I began to joke that he was trying to ensnare me and that this was my karma for my less-than-pious behaviour in the Rishikesh temple. And, despite my resistance, I grew curious. Who was Krishna, this youthful blue-skinned God, and what was behind his relationship with the beautiful Radha? What was their love story really about? Was there more to him than playing around with countless milkmaids in the meadows? And, was Shiva really Krishna's greatest devotee, as the people at Iskcon tried to tell me? I began to read the Bhagavad Gita (a sacred Hindu scripture, considered to be one of the most important religious classics of the world), visited Iskcon Temples, remained skeptical (why, for example, does Iskcon prohibit 'illicit sex' - meaning all sex outside of marriage and not for procreative purposes - when the Radha-Krishna legends celebrate illicit love in its full glory?), but after a while, Krishna, and particularly Radha, began to draw me in.

So, I'm not surprised to see that, inadvertently, I've been led to one of his abodes once again. I've come to Glastonbury to celebrate the Celtic festival of Samhain and decide that it would be a nice touch to stay at an ashram. I choose Shekinashram () without knowing much about the place, and start to laugh when I set foot into their temple: on the altar, and pretty much everywhere else in the ashram, are statues, pictures and dolls of Krishna and Radha. Ok, I smirk, I get the message. When I relay my experiences to Draupadi, a new Glastonbury friend, she laughs knowingly. ‘Once he’s shot you in the heart, that’s it. It'll only get better!' Here's to hoping - I'm excited already!

Glastonbury can be an intense place, to put it mildly, but Shekinashram is like a little oasis of harmony contained within the strong energies. It is set in a quiet lane beneath Glastonbury Tor, and encompasses a beautiful garden complete with a cosy yurt and wood cabins, a temple, gorgeous rooms, and most importantly, a whole lot of integrity. All food, apart from being delicious, is completely vegan and organic (where possible), and the ashram's vision is to establish a vibrant, living community founded on a total commitment to Truth. Co-founder Elahn and his partner Radhe are involved with and support a number of Indian charities, such as schools, social development organisations and The Tulsi Trust, a registered charity that is aiding, organising and fundraising for an Indian jungle health and education project. The ashram also distributes free prasadam (pure vegan food prepared lovingly with consciousness especially for the Divine) every Wednesday afternoon in Glastonbury town as an offering to Krishna, Radha and Amma.

During my week here, I meet interesting and inspirational people all the time, mostly around the ashram's kitchen table. Many of them are in a similar situation to me, spiritual travellers drawn to living in community with like-minded people, for however long it feels right. Some of them come for a week or two as part of the ashram’s karma yoga programme, others come for personal retreats or simply to get a taste of ashram life. It is here that I meet shamanic belly dancer Draupadi; monochord sound healer Ilyana; Joe (who, interestingly, has been part of the Osho Leela-affiliated Humaniversity programme for eight years); travelling accountant and masseuse Linda; and Kundalini Yoga teacher Anjali, who guides us through a fantastic Shakti Dance session on a Wednesday night. Shakti Dance is the ‘yoga of dance’ - 'the conscious practise of dance, infused with the wisdom of yoga to develop awareness and understanding of body, mind and emotions'. It's a lovely practice, during which we dance through a blend of flowing postures and mantras - it is believed to work energetically to develop the art of intuitive, free movement.

One of the things I like most about Shekinashram is that it is aligned to the Radha-Krishna consciousness, the interplay between female:male energies; and not just to Krishna, as is often the case, especially in the rather patriarchal Iskcon movement. There is evidence of this unity everywhere in the ashram, both symbolically and actually. ‘Really, we’re devotees of Radharani’, explains Elahn one morning in the temple when I comment on it, adding, 'and we like Krishna because Radha likes him!', with a playful smile. In fact, the ashram was inspired by the love of the Divine Mother, and Elahn found his way to Radha-Krishna via female Indian gurus Amma and Mother Meera.

Shekinashram has a strong emphasis on bhakti (devotional) yoga, with a morning programme consisting of puja (daily worship of the deities through offering of flowers, incense, candles, sound and mantras); kiirtan chanting, and meditation. It is these morning pujas that are the absolute highlight of my day - mainly due to watching the Shekinashram temple pujari, or priest, perform the daily devotional ceremony for Krishna-Radha in the temple. There are ways and ways of performing puja, and I’ve experienced many, ranging from the flamboyant to the militant to the plain boring. Yet, his way is something else, a bhakti meditation extraordinaire. I've never seen puja performed with so much grace and intent in all of my life. I can’t take my eyes off this priest. Each of his movements is measured, thoughtful and flowing as part of a sacred performance. He cleans and blesses every statue on the altar with angelic reverence whilst chanting the appropriate Sanskrit mantras and bending his long fingers into elegant mudras.

My favourite part is his offering of fresh flowers to the deities. With intricately delicate movements he devoutly hand-picks each flower from the silver bowl, gazes lovingly at the statues as though conversing with them as to where they would like their flowers placed today, and consequently positions the petals gracefully on the most suitable spot. When he turns from the altar to mark our foreheads with tikka powder, he literally dances his way towards us with a glint in his eyes, always mindful not to turn his back to the altar. He does this with so much fluidity and refinement that I am convinced he must have been an Indian temple dancer in a previous incarnation. In fact, he is so authentic that Linda is adamant that he is Indian (although he doesn’t look so in the slightest) and is subsequently saddened to learn that he is an Englishman called... Derek.

My Indian experience in the UK is complete when I catch a bout of food poisoning. Monday is the ashram's fasting day, so I decide to eat a vegan salad in a nearby cafe, feeling exceptionally virtuous about sticking to raw food. I wake up at 2 am with an incredible sense of nausea, and make it just in time from my yurt to the ashram toilet before throwing up violently. Who said you have to go to India for an authentic travel experience?! It's all here, in the charming British countryside: Indian temples, puja, yoga, fire ceremonies, snake charmers, oriental dance, yurts, and gastronomic upsets. I am sold.

To read more about my journey in India, my book
'Meeting Shiva - Falling and Rising in Love in the Indian Himalayas' is available via Changemakers Books from 30 August 2013. Read the first few pages on Amazon UK and Amazon US !

Additional photos below
Photos: 7, Displayed: 7


2nd August 2009

i want to join this ashram wt shuld i do 4 that i m 26 years girls staying in mumbai i dnt want to come again in my family i want leave all relations like mt parents my collegues , brothers , sister how can i join this ashra pls kindlty help me 4 that
2nd August 2009

can u send me details
hi all god bless could u please send me contact details of your ashram please and any ashrams in uk that would be possible for me to visit and or possably stay many thanks B
5th March 2010

hare krishna
if u think that if we pray to krishna and we go tample daily we can find krishna then ur wrong.....i think if we can feel krishna...if we remember always that krishna is every where......we can find krishna...so my dear friend's believe in krishna...love everybody......everything......u can feel krishna.....i like if anybody like to talk with me about radha rani and krishna......
24th April 2010

Krishna is the fullfilment of life.
10th May 2010
The Divine Lovers

True Love never dies
Nice photogrph. I think true love never dies.
8th August 2010

True love
True love never dies and what God has joined together man will never part. thank you for explaining what is happening in my life Iam in love with life and humanity
2nd September 2010

Wat to say "BAL GOPAL" kahna, khaniya, krishna , laadu gopal, makhan chor, and much more to name him, he is the god of divine. love khana and he will love you.
20th February 2011

how do i join
dear sirs,i am interested in your teachings and way of life.i would be very grateful if you could send me some information regarding my enquiry.i look forward to hearing from you.many thanks john mann
25th March 2011

Could you please, let me have the address of this Ashram in Glastonbury please, many thanks, Gerry.
17th April 2011

free anand krishna
Your Excellency  I am writing to you to petition for the release of interfaith spiritual activist Anand Krishna who has been on hunger strike since the time of his detention in prison in Indonesia on  March 9th. Anand Krishna is on trial in Jakarta accused of sexually assaulting a former student, Tara Laksmi which is a claim that he denies and although he has been very cooperative in attending the court trials since August 2010 and suffers from permanent heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, at a hearing on March 9th,2011 in the South Jakarta District Court, the Judge Panel chaired ordered he be detained in prison. Anand Krishna's lawyer Darwin Aritonang SH has pointed out that this action clearly violates the law as a person could be arrested before final verdict due to three points of consideration,which are preventing the suspect from removing evidence,preventing the suspect's escape and preventing the suspect from repeating hi/her criminal action and he said "All of those premises are irrelevant in this case". The human rights figure and lawyer Adnand Buyong Nasution has also expressed his doubts over this procedure saying "I have been practicing my occupation in the field of law for 50 years.This is the first time I saw something like this. There is a judge who already pronounced a defendant guilty before he delivers the official verdict of court." Anand Krishna denies the charge that has been brought against him and claims it was devised by elements who oppose his multi-religious views. These unfortunate events have come about at a time when it appears that a small but very powerful section of the religious community is striving for the implementation of religious-based law in Indonesia despite the heterogeneous nature of it's population. Anand Krishna's refusal to eat is a protest at the court's decision to jail him when he had been appearing in court since the trial got under way last August and pointing to a "conspiracy behind this foul drama" he said he would not give up his strike until he is freed "My hunger strike therefore goes on until I'm released  from this unlawful arrest" he said. Through his actions, Anand Krishna has been an advocate of peace and understanding among the people's of his country Indonesia. He has spoken to millions through television shows,radio talks,in-house trainings,books,newspaper interviews and articles,as well as daily meetings and workshops held at Anand Ashram (affiliated with the United Nations),One Earth Retreat Center, Anand Krishna Center and Graha Indonesia which he established. I am therefore writing to you in order to draw your attention to the unjust treatment that Anand Krishna has received through his detention in prison and in the hope that you may be able to help in ensuring he is released from prison and faces a fair trial. Kind regards Gerard Barrie
21st April 2011
Krishna & Radha on the altar

HI where did you get radhas hair from please

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