George Harrison’s Hare Krishna Manor celebrates 50 years

George Harrison at Bhaktivedanta Manor, Hertfordshire
Image caption,George Harrison, seen here at the Bhaktivedanta Manor, in Hertfordshire, gifted the manor house

By Louise Parry & Deepak Patel

BBC News, Hertfordshire

In 1973 Beatle George Harrison gifted a manor house to the Hare Krishna movement so they could have a base in the UK. Bhaktivedanta Manor in Hertfordshire is now one of the UK’s foremost Hindu temples. Leading members share the story of its inception, its fight against closure and the legacy it holds today.

It was no coincidence that Shyamasundar Das met George Harrison at an Apple Records party in December 1968 – although he had not expected them to become lifelong friends.

He had come to England on a mission: To launch the Hare Krishna movement at the bidding of leader Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Shyamasundar Das decided to aim high and got himself an invite to a party at the Beatles’ record label.

He recalls: “We arrived in September of ’68, and by Christmas time I had met George Harrison and we were chanting Hare Krishna with the Beatles.”

George Harrison at Bhaktivedanta Manor, Hertfordshire
Image caption,George Harrison became lifelong friends with Shyamasundar Das

Now 81 and living in the USA, Shyamasundar Das remembers those heady days of sharing the Krishna philosophy with “the most famous men in the world”.

“Early in ’69 we went to live with John Lennon at his estate in Tittenhurst, while we developed our temple in London,” he said. “And as a result of this, we became recording artists.

“So one thing led to another, and because of the Beatles’ involvement we became very popular and the Hare Krishna movement took off like a rocket in this country.”

Following the release of hit records such as My Sweet Lord in 1970, he says young people started to flock to their first International Society for Krishna Consciousness centre in central London.

“It was a five-storey building and we thought it would be sufficient, but with our hit records and all the action on the streets in those days, British girls and boys started coming in huge numbers and becoming devotees.

“So that little building filled up. People were sleeping in the hallways and on the stairs.”

George Harrison at Bhaktivedanta Manor, Hertfordshire
Image caption,George Harrison, seen here at the Manor with ISKCON founder Bhaktivedanta Swami and Patti Boyd, had wanted to help the movement

Shyamasundar Das says in 1972, he and Bhaktivedanta Swami visited Harrison at his Oxfordshire estate. On hearing that the London temple was overflowing with guests, he said, Harrison responded: “I want to buy you guys an Ashram like this, a country place like I have”.

A year later, he gifted them Piggott’s Manor, a mock-Tudor building in the Hertfordshire greenbelt.

It was renamed Bhaktivedanta Manor, which is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning “the conclusion or summary of all spiritual knowledge”.

George Harrison Garden
Image caption,The George Harrison Garden was created at the Manor after he died in 2001

Shyamasundar Das describes it as “a huge endeavour”, with “50 boys and girls managing this huge estate”.

Returning for the manor’s 50th anniversary, he can hardly believe how important it has become.

“I see it like we maybe brought a tiny acorn seed and planted it here 50 years ago. Bhaktivedanta Manor now has become this giant oak tree, giant.”

George Harrison with fellow Hare Krishnas
Image caption,George Harrison at Bhaktivedanta Manor in 1996 with Krishna Das Swami and Mukunda Swami

A booming Hare Krishna movement in the Hertfordshire countryside was not welcomed by all, however.

“Almost from the day it was purchased and occupied by the Krishna devotees in 1973, there were certain complaints raised about attendees,” says Akhandadhi Das, who joined the temple in 1975 and later became its president.

“You could imagine it may not have seemed ideal to the local village that the main property within Letchmore Heath had become a Krishna temple.”

Bhaktivedanta Manor’s popularity grew due to the influx of ethnic Indians expelled from east Africa who made their home in north London during the early 1970s.

Hindu monk Kripamoya Das was one of the first to move in and says many found solace in visiting the manor.

“All those people now discovered they could have a place to worship, just a few miles into the country,” he said.

Things came to a head in the 1990s.

Noise complaints led to the closure http://cekikikan.com/ of the temple for public worship in 1994.

Akhandadhi Das says the closure caused “huge consternation” both in the UK and abroad and led to a a 30,000 person protest march through central London in support of the temple.

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