The way towards the temple reminds me of a theme park during off-season.
You don’t have to queue for the attraction. However, the way to the roller-coaster is long and leads through an interlaced labyrinth of fences guiding the masses in drops to the ride during main season.
That’s how we wiggle past the shoe deposit through the security check where I leave my camera. Father Thomas has kept his socks on and tries to climb on the fence to avoid the water which was sunk in the floor, probably for clearing purposes. He doesn’t manage quite as well as Father Santosh who is significantly younger and more agile. So Father Thomas continues with one wet sock.
Awestruck I follow the priests who appear almost as touristic as I. Sporadically, families and groups of young people move past us. They seem to know better how to behave in this place and which way to follow.
A voice chants the holy names of Krishna through speakers:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
And again. And again. Believers walk one step ahead after each verse. Praying in that way, they slowly come closer to their destination inside the temple. There’s a way for visitors, too, and we simply skip the act by walking up marble stairs.
We reach the first two shrines.
In each one sits one God. They wear sparkling adornment on their heads and their faces are black and serious. Father Thomas tells me their names. One of them is Hanuman, the monkey.
Few steps ahead there’s another God in a shrine, this time with the black head of a lion. Visitors like us are guided along in a big distance to the shrines. The Gods look serious at us, or through us.
Following yet more steps that make Father Thomas breath heavily, past even more bannisters, we finally reach the terrace in front of the main gate. It gives a good view over part of the city. Close by I see clothes, neatly hung on long lines for drying. Behind, half-finished skyscrapers shoot towards the sky. In between linger smaller buildings with light colours, and green spots here and there. The big birds throwing themselves into the breeze in between the tall buildings must have an even better overview.
There’s a draught in the entrance. In front of us, facing away from us, four monks sit in the cold breeze on a little stage, play music on a harmonium, cymbals and a drum and sing. They look and sounds exactly like the monks in Germany’s pedestrian zones.
In front of the stage believers are sitting down on mats. We follow the bannister guiding us round the high temple hall anti-clockwise, past the golden altar-like space in front. Radha and Krishna stand there like porcelain dolls, but their faces are shining gold. First I think they may have put on masks. But the impression results from the contrast to the black faces of the other Gods being a little livelier.
In front of the couple, hidden from us by a screen, three monks look as if they were sitting in shop windows. They fulfill their rituals which are not visible to us. We can only see their side- faces and the curl on the back of their heads.
The bannister guides us to a canopy.
A statue of the movement’s founder, who already passed away, sits there.
His face is frozen in golden seriousness, too, but his little height makes him somehow human, despite all the enlightenment.
We meet him two more times. Once in his office behind his desk. Through the open door he suddenly looks quite real, maybe because his face is off skin colour this time. The second time he sits cross-legged in light orange clothes and looks into deep emptiness. On his bold forehead he wears two thin white lines ending on the root of his nose. The corners of his mouth characteristically move towards his chin.
He smiles in a very serious way and I don’t dare imagining what goes on inside his head. I’d probably surprised by the simple clarity of his thoughts.
The way out is almost as long as the way in. Now we pass stands with books, souvenirs, pictures, clothes, toys, jewelry, art. Two paintings are catching my attention: The artist painting little Krishna on his mother Yasoda’s lap has managed to portrait well how mothers hold their children. And on the picture of Ras Lila (which can glow in the dark and the shopkeeper is happy to show us) I adore the traces of naked feet on the nightly beach and the faces of the women. It must be a controlled dance being performed there, quickly filling the dancers with deep joy.
Meanwhile Father Thomas is amazed by how cheap the statues are. At the same time he warns me: Catholic priests are never recommended to buy something from a temple. “Because they have a certain influence,” he simply says, and I don’t understand whether he means the spiritual influence of the statues or the political influence of the confession that he doesn’t want to support.
Father Santosh buys me a piece of pastry that is as big as my palm and drips off fat and sugar, from the next stands that stretch for metres and bend under neatly piled little colourful snacks. I take a bite and am surprised how refreshing such a sweet thing can be.
In one corner a family has sat down and has lunchbreak with about ten different little bowls full of a colourful variety of dishes. They are not the only ones enjoying the food here.
Gratefully I decline the free splodge from a massive pot served by a monk with a big spoon into a pressed banana leave. I just don’t want to strain my stomach too much on my third day in Bengaluru.
I don’t dare either to accept the free mantra, printed on pink letters on a small card as Father Thomas’ eyes are meeting mine.
In the evening, lying in bed, I am waiting for sleep which refuses to come.
Suddenly, through the nightly street noises, I hear a flute playing.
Maybe that’s Krishna, who can’t sleep either, considering all his calm joy and enlightenment. But I may be just imagining that.