In Class

April 24, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Students Visit Devotees of Krishna at End of 24-Hour Worship

Dr. Brian Collins and Sharon Fritz, left of Collins.

Dr. Brian Collins and Sharon Fritz, left of Collins.

“Tucked away in the unlikely hills of West Virginia stands a remarkable community brought together by a common belief,” says Sharon Fritz ’15.

“The beauty of rural West Virginia is surpassed by the splendor of the temples and grounds of New Vrindaban, and by the hospitality of the devotees,” she says. “This landmark is a beautiful example of spiritual and ritual devotion.”

New Vrindaban is a West Virginia community founded in 1968 by devotees of the Indian guru A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the Hindu god Krishna. Bhaktivedanta Swami founded Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, known as the “Hare Krishna Movement,” in 1966.

Fritz was one of 16 students from the Hinduism class (CLWR 3340), the Comparative Religion Club, and the Asian Studies graduate program visiting New Vrindaban on Oct. 20, 2103. The course (and field trip) are offered again in Fall 2014.

“When we arrived, the on-site temple was crowded with worshippers who had been chanting the names of Krishna for nearly 24 hours. We toured the grounds, including the Palace of Gold, originally built as a home for the guru but which  went unused as he died before its completion. Although it was originally built by American converts, today New Vrindaban gets pilgrims from all over the world, including a large number of Indian Hindus,” says Dr. Brian Collins, the Drs. Ram and Sushila Gawande Chair in Indian Religion and Philosophy at Ohio University.

“On this first trip to New Vrindaban, we arrived at the end of the 24-hour Kirtan, and the experience was awe inspiring,” says Fritz. “The atmosphere of the gathering was electric and educational, and the day was full excitement and poignantly memorable.”

Olivia Miltner (on left) at New Vrindaban.

Olivia Miltner (on left) at New Vrindaban.

“For me, visiting New Vrindaban was like stepping into another world that’s both serene and passionate all at once,” says Olivia Miltner, also a student in the Hinduism class. “Witnessing the end of their 24-hour program was the perfect way to start our trip, and I loved learning about the different aspects of Krishna that were depicted in the temple as well as the history of the establishment. I think it’s easy to appreciate the grandeur of the shrines and the beauty inside the temple, but when you learn about the time and effort that people put into the up-keep of the murtis and creating buildings like the Palace of Gold, there’s an added level of love and care that I think is hard to find anywhere else.

“It’s very moving to see people who are so passionate about their beliefs, and I really respect  the dedication they show to their values and lifestyle. That’s not to mention the fantastic food and the extremely informative and friendly people who helped us,” she added.

“I think the trip’s important because you can learn a lot in the classroom, and you could read a hundred books, but you’d never actually experience it unless you go and see something like this,” says Grace Eberly. “It’s not the same.”

In the Hinduism course, students explore Hindu concepts and practices through readings, films, and slide presentations. They trace the origin and development of Hinduism from its roots in Vedic ritual and the indigenous civilizations of Mohenjo Daro and Harrapa. Students are introduced to the Upanishads (perhaps the earliest philosophical texts), the great Hindu Epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana, the Sastras (manuals on Hindu life dating from the early centuries of the current era), the Puranas (medieval compositions telling the stories of the gods), Tantra (an esoteric form of Hinduism), the artistic traditions of Hinduism, and modern Hindu political movements. Special emphasis is placed on Gandhi’s interpretation of Hindu teachings of non-violence.

Collins is teaching Hinduism in Fall 2014. “I’ll be doing this field trip again, along with a field trip to the Yoga Exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art on Saturday, Sept. 6,” he adds.

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