We are always on the lookout for interesting things to do, so when Cori mentioned we should check out the Palace of Gold in the unincorporated town of New Vrindaban it immediately went on my list. Unfortunately it is in a remote area of West Virginia, so we never “drove by” but it did become one of my main motivators for wanting to explore West Virginia. Because Krishna is a religion, I will be handling this post the same way I wrote about the ARK encounter. I ask that your comments are respectful.
According to their website, “New Vrindaban was founded in 1968 in pursuance of Srila Prabhupada’s mission to give Westerners an alternative to the materialistic way of life and to teach a lifestyle based on the principle of “simple living and high thinking.” The project is named after the holy land of Vrindavan, India, the place of Krishna’s birth, where life is centered around the service and glorification of Lord Krishna.”
ISKON is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or is otherwise known as the Hari Krishna movement. If you are old enough, this term probably evokes lots of images of singers in American airports, but the religion was based in India and has over a million followers worldwide. New Vrindaban has had a complicated history with ISKON and for a time was expelled from the parent organization. There was a change in leadership and practices and they were reinstated. These panels show the history if you are interested. I appreciated that they were located right in front of the temple.
Inside the temple was really amazing. It was a bit crowded with large family groups, but we waited our turn to see the different displays. The religion appeared to be very interactive with offerings made, prayers said, and pictures taken all at the same time. I enjoyed the festive atmosphere, but tried to be careful not to accidentally offend anyone.
Each display was really elaborate and they also had panels showing stories of Krishna’s life. These reminded me of stories from the bible and I appreciated the elaborate artwork. The most beautiful part though was the ceiling.
They also had two displays with models of people that were extremely well done. First was the Six Goswamis who were a group of spiritual teachers in the fifteenth and sixteenth century.
The leader of the movement in the United states was A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This facility was built by a group of followers as part of his vision of spreading the message of Krishna in the west. The Golden Palace, which I will show later, was built by his followers in the hope he would eventually retire there but when he passed away prior to its completion they turned it into a memorial. The statue of the swami was incredibly lifelike.
The grounds and temple were free to visit, although they do have a large gift shop and a donation area. The city has America’s oldest cow sanctuary. According to their website, “This traditional Indian practice is based on a sense of gratitude. Since we are nourished by the cow’s milk, she is like our mother and should be cared for with love until the end of her days. The same goes for the bulls who are like our father because they are engaged in working the land. We show due respect for these sacred animals and never send them to slaughter.”
After seeing the temple, we put our shoes back on a walked the grounds. They are really beautiful with swans and peacocks and children were encouraged to laugh and play.
There was a small section in the back that looks like it might have been a graveyard but it was difficult to tell. There were only a few monuments.
After we toured the grounds, we drove up to the palace of gold. and walked the gardens. They were absolutely beautiful and the best part of the day for me.
The rose garden was also amazing. The roses were well tended and they were in full bloom. We took so many flower pictures between the two of us. Here are some of our favorites.
Starting here the rest of the flower pictures are all Lee’s.
Finally we went up to the palace entrance and discovered the tours are on the half hour. Luckily we were able to snag the last couple of tickets for a tour in 10 minutes and once again I took off my shoes. Lee opted for the booties this time though and we entered with a group of 10 people. I will say that of the entire day I found this the least pleasant. It wasn’t the cost of $9.50 per person, but rather the fact that they don’t allow pictures and I really didn’t care for our tour guide. According to him he had been in New Vrindaban since 1985 and he was pretty grumpy. He did allow us to take pictures of the lobby which gives you a feel for the inside.
The tour guide explained that the palace was created by the group as a potential retirement home for the swami. He was able to tour it before he died and then they turned it into a memorial. The inside is pretty small but incredibly gilded. The group taught themselves (mostly by reading books) to build it themselves, which I thought was nice. The materials though were the most expensive they could find; marble from Italy (which they hand cut), home made chandeliers (with Viennese crystals), and even a chandelier from a castle in France. The only thing they didn’t craft themselves was the intricately cut teak doors which they ordered.
I was OK with it until the tour guide talked about how man cannot spiritually ascend to another plane until they give up material possessions. I asked, respectfully, if this was the case then why would they build such a gilded palace for an aesthetic. His response was the group wanted to do something nice for their teacher (which I respected) and they viewed materials used in the service of God differently (which I didn’t quite get). I spent the rest of the tour pondering the incongruousness of that statement and really didn’t enjoy it that much.
Later I did think that there was a cultural significance to what they built and it was intended as a gift. Since it was built for someone who originally came from India I shouldn’t assume my values should apply. Essentially they built what they thought he would like. They have a picture of him touring the facility and he looked pleased from the picture.
Anyway, if you don’t want to spend the money, its definitely worth going and seeing all of the other sites. I am really glad we went to such a unique place and special thanks to Cori for telling us about it.
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