I first saw them at airports in the early 1970s. Serene, chanting and gliding in white robes called dhoti, they were quite a contrast to the rushed business attired travelers.
It seemed odd to me then that they would spend so much time in airports and never seemed in a hurry to go anywhere.
Often you would hear the endlessly repeating mantra “Hare Krishna, Hare rama…”
They were usually Americans in their late teens or early 20s.
Until The Beatles traveled to Rishikesh India to study Transcendental Meditation the extent of my knowledge of India was limited to the children’s stories of Rudyard Kipling.
Lead guitarist George Harrison had become interested in the sitar and he attended a lecture by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Soon the band was introduced and a trip to India was arranged. The various band members and friends stayed from a few to several weeks. George Harrision and John Lennon were the last to leave after a falling out with their former guru.
The original working title for the song, Sexy Sadie, was said to have been Maharishi.
At any rate The Beatles wrote so many songs that a double album (The Beatles, often called the White album for the minimalist cover) was the result.
The attention exposed the world to philosophy from the east. Some hippies appropriated portions of the philosophy to justify drug use but true followers abstained from intoxicants. Consciousness could be expanded with chanting and meditation.
Today yoga or meditation classes are common and children read comics featuring the “Last Airbender” but 40 years ago these concepts were still being introduced to the West.
Ripples from the cultural wave hit the central coast in this January 16, 1971 article from the then Telegram-Tribune.
Krishna chanters at Poly
By Elliot Curry
The soft beat of the mrdanga drum and the tinkle of small cymbals, a sound from the ancient temples of India, echoed gently across the Cal Poly Campus yesterday afternoon.
Five young men who make up the temple of Hare Krishna in Santa Barbara spend
several hours on the steps of the new student union building chanting their prayers, offering a taste of their whole wheat bread and talking to anybody who would listen.
Although strange attire and unusual haircuts are not exactly a novelty on college campuses, the followers of Krishna still attract some attention with their heads shaved down either side, somewhat after the manner of certain American Indian tribes.
They all wear the same peach colored robes, called a “doti.”
“I think that’s the way you spell ‘doti,’ ” said one of the group, “but I’ve only been a member for about five months.”
The Krishna creed is 5,000 years old in India, its followers say, but it was brought to the United States only in 1966. They say it is closely related to Yoga.
“We’ll be showing up more and more on campuses and shopping centers,” said one of them, and then took up the chant again: “Hare Krishna, hare Krishna, hare rama, hare rama…”
Meanwhile, 18 Hare Krishna chanters were given a 10-day suspended sentences Friday in a San Francisco court and placed on six months’ probation.
Appearing before Municipal Court Judge Charles Goff, the 13 men and five women pleaded no contest to charges Thursday of disturbing the peace of what the San Francisco police report called “the Silent Majority.”
Arrests of the Krishna devotees followed numerous complaints from businessmen that they were obstructing downtown streets and chanting and beating their gongs too loudly.