Interest in Bhakti-Yoga is rising in Turkey, an Islamic country with few devotees and no official ISKCON presence.
With the increasing popularity of yoga in general in Istanbul, and yoga studios popping up everywhere, Nrismha Krishna Das and his wife Krishna-Mala Dasi established their own studio, Gouranga Yoga, in the capital city in 2013.
The studio teaches Hatha Yoga and Astanga Yoga, but has a focus on Bhakti-Yoga. Every Thursday evening, its “Kirtan Yoga” program features a short talk and one-and-a-half hours of chanting. And every Sunday, 30 to 40 people attend a “Bhakti Feast,” complete with Bhagavad-gita class, kirtan, and vegetarian food called prasadam.
Devotees also organize kirtan yoga programs in other yoga studios, with a talk, kirtan and prasadam, and invite attendees to participate in their Sunday and Thursday programs at Gouranga Yoga.
As a result, from 20 devotees in 2014, there are now 35 Krishna devotees in Turkey, with six initiated members, and many more people participating by attending programs.
Regular visits by senior ISKCON gurus such as Sivarama Swami and Niranjana Swami continue to both inspire Turkish devotees, and bringing guests to a deeper understanding of Bhakti-Yoga.
From June 26th to 29th this year, Sivarama Swami, who has visited Turkey every year since 2010, held a seminar on the Nine Processes of Bhakti Yoga at the Gouranga Yoga studio.
“He emphasized that for practioners of Bhakti Yoga the first two, hearing (sravanam) and chanting (kirtanam) were especially important,” says Nrsimha Krishna.
Reading from the seventh canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sivarama Swami also discussed remembering (visnu smaranam), serving the Lord’s lotus feet (pada sevanam), deity worship (arcanam), praying (vandanam), executing orders (dasyam), serving as a friend (sakhyam) and complete surrender (atma nivedanam).
Sivarama Swami also answered questions about Bhakti-Yoga and devotional service, and led the group in singing bhajans in praise of the Lord.
“The bhajans were wonderful,” says Nrsimha Krishna. “Turkish people really chant with full hearts.”
Over 100 yoga practioners and yoga teachers, including many first-timers, attended the seminar over the three days, excited to see the visitor who had been advertised as “a bona fide teacher of Bhakti-Yoga.”
“The response was very good,” Nrsimha Krishna says. “People very much appreciated the programs, and many asked questions.”
As well as the public programs, Sivarama Swami also held a program for devotees only at Nrsimha Krishna and Krishna-Mala’s house, to answer questions about how to improve their spiritual practice and conduct outreach.
Sivarama Swami will return to Turkey for a “Bhakti Yoga Camp” from September 11th to 16th at a boutique hotel in Çatalca, a vacation spot in picturesque East Thrace.
Around forty-five devotees and yoga practioners are expected to attend the event, which will feature a seminar by Sivarama Swami on “The Qualities of A Human Being,” and by Radha Krishna Das from Hungary’s Krishna Valley community on a yet-to-be-determined topic.
Other devotees from Krishna Valley will offer classes on cooking, music, and Astanga Yoga, while there will be bhajans for three hours every evening.
“Sivarama Swami is very satisfied to see that many devotees in Turkey are now engaged in devotional service and in reaching out to others to the best of their abilities,” Nrsimha Krishna says.[ istanbul ] [ turkey ]