When I first came to Radhadesh, I had planned to stay for only three days, just to attend the celebration of Lord Krishna’s birth, which took place in India some five thousand years ago. But when a doctor advised me to stop travelling for a couple of weeks, I welcomed the opportunity to take a closer look into the heart of this spiritual community. What follows is what I have discovered.
The first wonder – you can’t miss it even if you wanted to – is the Chateau de Petite Somme, located near Durbuy in French-speaking Belgium. After the Chateau had undergone many years of disuse and vandalism, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness acquired the derelict property in 1979. Faithful members started renovating, having to learn just about every skill to do with the restoration of ancient monuments. It took many years of hard work, not to mention that until completion of the project, the devotees also had to collect the required funds. Meanwhile, they continued their monastic lifestyle and practices in and around the castle. Today, even the massive stone facades have been scraped clean, but let’s now venture inside the castle.
As I’ m about to walk up to the main entrance, I’m greeted by a little girl who says her name is Krishna Dasi. Hello Krishna Dasi, what lovely woollies you’ve got! I then see more bright young faces – these are some of the community’s college students. This young woman though, has completed her eight-year study in bharat natyam dance; I find her performing for visitors just as I enter the main hall.
Most casual visitors, like these, book a guided tour of the castle. So I’m quick to join them in admiring the stately interiors. I learn that the first chateau de Petite Somme was built in the thirteenth century, although it has been Rebuilt 4 times since. Today’s elegant structure took years to conceive and constructed around 1890. The interior was decorated in a mixure of French styles: Louis XIV, the Regency, and Louis XVI. Finally, it was carefully restored in its present condition in the 1980s by the Krishna devotees.
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Vasudeva speaks to the camera: "In keeping with the classical interiors of the castle, the devotees have put up an impressive collection of devotional classics from India."
Guru-padma to the camera ": This painting was done by Ram Das, a famour Hare Krishna artist. His service was to illustrate ISKCON publications. This painting is from Udaipur, Rajastan, North India."
After the painting gallery, we are now in a room dedicated to the Hare Krishna movement’s founder, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This room shows how, at the advanced age of 70, Prabhupada began his world-wide spiritual mission. Leaving India with only a box of holy books, he landed in New York, alone and penniless. It was not until after a full year of endeavor, and despite his failing health, that Prabhupada began to rally members and initiate disciples. Within a decade these followers numbered in the hundreds and thousands, and with their assistance, Prabhupada opened over a hundred centers around the world. His other remarkable feat was this
Guru-padma to the camera: Srila Prabhupada’s books have been translated over fifty languages."
He translated and published eighty volumes of the ancient Sanskrit literature. Within 45 years, the unthinkable amount of 45O million books were sold by the BBT, Prabhupada's own book trust. That’s an average or 10 million books a year, going directly into people’s homes.
Inspired by Prabhupada’s leadership, his followers at Radhadesh hardly have time to sit on their chateaux’s stylish couches. Nor do we. Spiraling our way up the tower top, this is the guided tour’s next feature.
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Back downstairs, it’s time to indulge our senses of smell and taste at Nadia Bihari’s bakery. This is many a pilgrim’s favorite stop on the tour. The antique artwork pieces featured at the Sacred Arts Museum were brought from India with great endeavor.
More art is available at Radhadesh’s boutique. A welcoming bronze statue of the goddess of the Arts, Saraswati, stands four feet high at the entrance, and unlike similar artwork in the museum, this is the kind you can take home with you. The boutique offers countless trinkets and handicrafts, most of them again from India.
This is the community’s guesthouse, where I stayed during my first week at Radhadesh. Bhagavati, the host, also has the brightest of smiles on her motherly face. I quickly got acquainted with other visitors, of all walks of life: three students from Brussels; Hink, a hospital therapist from Deiffenter in Holland, a family from Switzerland who drove all the way for a week’s holiday.
The residents’ refectory is a great social place where you keep meeting the same people. Hare Krishna cuisine is strictly vegetarian. The kitchen specializes in what can only be called sumptuous spiritual food. I call it seriously scrumptious, actually. Dishes are cooked for the Lord’s pleasure and offered on the temple’s altar. It is then called mahaprasad, which means spiritual nourishment. Once mixed with larger amounts in communal containers, it is served out to the resident devotees and their many guests.