Pluralism in Ghana: the Hare Krishna Movement

Nestled in a small village by a pothole riddled road is the gorgeous Hare Krishna Temple of Medie.   Every Sunday, devotees climb the temple stairs bare footed, and sit on thin mats for hours to chant, learn and pray.  Their foreheads are painted with the golden-brown mark of the tilaka, signifying the third eye.  Their shoulders are draped with traditional Indian garb.

It’s a strange site considering the devotees are Ghanaian, and the temple is situated in a sparse village roughly 40 minutes outside of Accra.

The Hare Krishna Society, also referred to as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, is global in scope with 400 centres worldwide.

It was established in Ghana in 1981 by two Americans.  For the next decade, a small group of followers resided in a rented premises in Accra.  The following grew and by 1992, they had managed to raise enough funds to buy land in Medie.  By ’96, construction on the temple had finished.

The Temple President and Regional Secretary for West Africa is Srivas Das, an elderly man from a small town in Ghana’s Upper West Region.  He was born into a family of African traditionalists and attended Catholic school, adopting the latter faith as a teenager.  After experiencing various paranormal experiences, he began researching.

“In my childhood I was a bit psychic.  I had the ability to see people who had left the world.  When people died, I’d see their spirit go.  This prompted my interest in spiritual life and the afterlife,” says Das.

After taking interest in the Hare Krishna movement and intensely studying its scriptures, Das became a resident monk in the early Accra temple.  He then trained for a decade in Nigeria, the U.S., India and Ghana before attaining his current post.

He explains how the temple sustains itself.

“Our funding is based on contributions from members, the Indian community and some well-wishers who sympathize with our mission.  They see the effects of our preaching so they step forward to assist us in financing our programs and projects,” says Das.

What was initially a temple is growing into a self-sustaining community.

In 2000, the Society built a primary and middle school adjacent the temple, and recently constructed a clinic with equipment donated by the World Medical Relief in Detroit.  Both are registered with the Ghana Education Service and Ghana Health Service, respectively.

The Society also recently acquired some land to grow its own food and assist deprived neighbors who need support.  With multiple projects at hand, Das stressed their need for assistance.

We are looking for partnership and support, for people to invest or assist in rural education, rural health,” says Das.

Stressing the Society’s global reach, Das explained that the temple recently accepted a number of devotees from Ivory Coast, who fled the country after post-election violence earlier this year.

Das explains, ”They had to send all their children, all their women to this place.  We have not gone to report to government that we have a number of refugees here.  We assist by ourselves and offer the same hospitality to our fellow brothers everywhere.”

Seeking to express his appreciation for the Society’s independence, Das recognizes the freedoms afforded to his community in his native Ghana.

“I can say that we are fortunate to be here, that we don’t have any restrictions” he says.

“Ghana is a free society that allows anybody and everybody to practice what he believes in, that is very good for the progress of the country.”

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About Atkilt Geleta

Born and raised in Ethiopia until he was seven, Atkilt Geleta spent much of his youth traveling—first to Japan, then to Canada, and then to Switzerland, where he lived for six years. He’s now landed in Ghana—for the second time—where he’s working at the Daily Guide newspaper to report on human rights issues. Geleta says he hopes to immerse himself in Ghana’s rich culture and looks forward to exploring the country in search of stories. “Divinely guided” towards journalism, as he puts it, he got his introduction to the field with internships at Eye Weekly andSway Magazine in Toronto. “This opportunity combines my passion for journalism and development work,” he says. “It’s a chance to work with local journalists to shed light on issues that are often marginalized or forgotten about.” Geleta has a degree in Political Science and International Development Studies from the University of Toronto.

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