for ISKCON News on Nov. 20, 2010
Two and half months after a huge explosion—caused by a gas leak in the kitchen—ripped through their temple on September 3rd, the devotees of ISKCON Leicester, UK are still pushing on through their most difficult time with faith in Krishna.
Today, they are worshipping their Deities and holding festivals from temporary rented locations, while continuing the search for a bigger, better temple.
But, as spokesperson Nimai Dasi told ISKCON News, it hasn’t been easy—and times are still tough.
“After the fire during our Srila Prabhupada’s appearance day celebrations, nobody was hurt but the temple’s burned out shell was deemed structurally unsound and completely unusuable, so we had no place to worship,” she explains.
The bass relief Deities of Pancha Tattva and the murti form of Srila Prabhupada—also undamaged—were moved into a local devotee's house, along with Bengali priest Vamsidari Govinda Dasa, whose dedicated service ensured that their high standard of worship never stopped from the day of the blast.
“The situation wasn’t very suitable, since it was somebody’s house,” Nimai Dasi says. “Out of respect to the owners, we tried to avoid having people come over for arati services and congregational activities, so things quietened down a lot.”
To be able to hold Sunday Feasts and festivals again, the devotees began to rent space at the Sanatan Centre, a local Hindu temple, which they still do. The price is steep, and events have to be held without the Deities, Whom the devotees are afraid will get damaged in transportation.
Since November 6th—the sacred day of Govardhana Puja—the community have been renting a four-bedroom residential house for the Deities and Their priest.
With a raised platform in the main lounge that doubles well as an altar, it isn’t an ideal situation, but it has brought some normality back to the community’s life. Devotees can once again drop by for breakfast or lunch, or for morning services; and all the spiritual readings, group meetings, and classes that were offered at the old temple are back in motion, with only the larger festivals and Sunday programs still being held at the Sanatan Centre. Nimai Dasi expects these conditions to continue for at least the next nine months.
“It has really, really been a struggle,” she says. “Especially the first month. For a few days after the blast, we were just meeting up in people’s backyards. We had absolutely nothing—all the items used for worship, for cooking, even spoons for eating—had been lost in the fire.”
With no central place to congregate, the devotees missed normal things like worshipping the deities and being together. “We couldn’t even have a proper Radhastami,” Nimai says. “We’ve never been a very affluent community, and had a very small temple in the first place. So to suddenly find ourselves with nothing at all was quite disheartening.”
Still, the Leicester devotees have found shelter during these difficult times in having regular Krishna conscious meetings with each other, and taking to the streets to chant the Lord’s names.
They’ve also found strength in visits from senior devotees such as Kripamoya Dasa, GBC Pragosh Dasa, and ISKCON guru Jayadvaita Swami, who drove to Leicester from London the week after the fire especially to see them.
“Bhakti Charu Swami also visited over the Diwali weekend, stayed overnight, and spent some real quality time with everybody,” says Nimai. “He gave every single person a gift and a picture of Pancha Tattva, thanked us for our dedicated efforts, and gave his blessings for building a new temple. That kind of care and affection has been really nice, and has made all of us in the community feel that we’re not alone.”
Professional psychiatrist Dina Bandhu Dasa from Manchester has also offered his services, providing the community with a free group counseling session, as well as opening himself up to anyone who needed one-to-one trauma counseling.
“Some people had this perception that it was only a small fire, and the media reported that there were ‘over thirty devotees’ at the temple at the time,” Nimai says. “In reality, the fire was absolutely huge, and there were actually fifty-two devotees there—and because it was Prabhupada’s appearance day, each one of them was a core community member. We were that close to losing everybody. Devotees realized that they could have died, or lost all of their loved ones.”
So although there was a powerful realization that Krishna had given them all the gift of life, there was also a very natural level of trauma and fear.
“Some devotees were afraid of loud noises, some were afraid of cookers, some were afraid of fire, some were afraid of being alone, and others were afraid of the
dark,” Nimai says. “So this kind of warmth, and offering of help, from devotees like Dina Bandhu has been very helpful.”
Such a shared traumatic experience has, despite the struggles it’s brought, also brought the ISKCON Leicester community closer together. Even members who were rather peripheral prior to the fire are now visiting far more regularly, drawn by sympathy and affection for their fellow devotees.
In the meantime, temple president Pradyumna Dasa reports that the insurance has recently signed off on the rebuild and restoration of the Thoresby Street building, which the devotees still own.
It is unlikely to become a temple again, however, as devotees are currently searching for a bigger and better facility, which they hope will be a more suitable home for Sri Sri Pancha Tattva and Their community.
“As for the future, I cannot see it—Krishna's will is what matters,” Pradyumna Dasa says. “All I can do is to petition and work hard to create a community spirit and support that will inspire Krishna to offer us the right place.”