Temple Profile: Prague, Czech Republic
Name: Sri Sri Nitai Navadvipa Chandra Mandir
Address: Lužce 48, 267 18, Karlštejn, Czech republic.
Phone: + 420 311 516 558
Presiding Deities: Sri Sri Nitai Navadvipa Chandra, Damodara Sila.
President: Narakriti Das
Opened in: Winter 2010, although Sri Sri Nitai Navadvipa Chandra were originally installed in Prague’s first temple in 1993.
Temple Style: A large building which formerly served as a printing company with residential quarters for the family that owened it. The property includes a spacious temple hall, ten rooms for residents comprising traditional men and women’s ashrams, and a comfy lounge area.
Location: Lužce, a picturesque village close to Prague. Locals are very favorable to ISKCON devotees, including the Mayor and the vice-mayor, who lives next door to the temple.
Although only home to around 100 residents—mostly elderly folk— Lužce is a major tourist attraction. It is close to Karlštejn Castle, built in 1348 AD by Emperor Charles IV, as well as many beautiful nature spots. It is also beginning to draw a lot of young professionals looking to avoid the high rent costs in Prague.
Known For: Regular harinamas at least three times a week through the year have made devotees a familiar staple in downtown Prague. In addition the Govinda’s restaurant, run by the temple and located in the center of Prague, is a big hit with locals and tourists alike.
A high standard of deity worship is important to the devotees of ISKCON Prague
Number of residents: Fifteen devotees live in the temple full-time, while there is a local community of 100 practicing devotees and many more friends of Krishna.
Number of visitors: Fifty newcomers per week.
Best time of year to visit: The appearance day of Vaishnava saint Advaita Acharya, in January/February, is a popular time to visit, as it commemorates the anniversary of Nitai Navadvipa Chandra’s installation and is ISKCON Prague’s biggest festival.
Gaura Purnima and Nityananda Trayodasi, in February and March, are also major festivals, while if you’d prefer a summer visit, July is your best bet, as you’ll get to see the Rathayatra parade through the city.
Visiting devotees first brought Krishna consciousness to the Czech Republic in the late 1970s and 1980s, when it was still Czechoslovakia, the communist regime still reigned, and worshiping Krishna was illegal.
A small group of brave local devotees took up the practice, and ran an incognito temple in the mountains in the North of the country for many years.
In 1989, the communist regime fell with the Velvet Revolution, democracy was introduced, and Czechoslovakia became Czech and Slovakia. Devotees could now spread Krishna consciousness and distribute books openly.
By the early 1990s, ISKCON had exploded in the Czech Republic, with devotees passing out hundreds of books daily to a people that were starved for spirituality.
New devotees began to join. Some started an organic farm on a property sixty kilometers from Prague. Others opened a temple in the Modrany area of Prague 4 in 1993, where they installed Sri Sri Nitai Navadvipa Chandra.
“Jaya Gurudeva Das, a Czech disciple of Srila Prabhupada, had had them carved many years before with the dream of having them installed in Prague, even though it was under communist rule at the time,” says Rasabihari Dasi, who has served at ISKCON Prague since she joined in 1990 at the age of 15. “After the Velvet Revolution, he finally saw his dream come true!”
As the amount of full-time temple devotees grew from only ten to around fifty, ISKCON Prague moved to a larger premises in the district of Prague 5, where it remained until 2010.
At this point, looking to buy an affordable property rather than continue renting, devotees looked beyond Prague and purchased the current temple in the village of Lužce, where life was more peaceful and conducive for spiritual introspection.
Devotees pack into the Lucze temple room for a class on Krishna consciousness
ISKCON Prague Today
Today, Prague devotees are in the process of reconfiguring their new property as a temple, and building an additional residential house on the premises to accommodate members.
“On a daily basis, we try to focus on a high standard of Deity worship and on creating a ‘Vaikuntha atmosphere’ in the temple,” says Rasabihari, who is married to temple president Narakriti Das, and has served as a deity seamstress, book distributor, Bharat Natyam dancer and guide to new devotees. “We like to take good care of devotees and guests, and make sure they feel nice and comfortable.”
ISKCON Prague also has several successful outreach programs. Its famous Harinamas are held every Wednesday and Friday, as well as on the first Saturday of every month, at 4pm. Tourists and locals are drawn to devotees’ energetic chanting outside Paladium, Prague’s largest shopping mall.
Devotees also distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books along with ‘Gopinath cookies’—a tasty gingerbread recipe which they have developed themselves, and which keep people coming back for more.
The Lužce temple runs a Govinda’s restaurant in the center of Prague, which financially supports the temple and is very popular. Serving around 300 meals a day, it has an Indian boutique shop on the ground floor, and runs a delivery program wherein devotees bring meals to locals at their homes and offices.
“It’s famous as the Czech Republic’s very first successful vegetarian restaurant,” says Rasabihari. “There had only been one veggie eatery before us, which served very bland and boring fare. But after Govinda’s opened in 1994, it was such a hit that many Czech businessmen began to open up their own vegetarian restaurants, often with similar menus to Govinda’s.”
The original, is, of course, still the best, however—especially as it’s the only one serving truly Karma-free food offered to Lord Krishna. Customers drawn in by the large billboard outside enjoy a ‘thali style’ plate of rice, dahl, subji, chutney and salad—traditional Indian food modified for the western palate. And for those who want more variety, there’s a host of different savory snacks and desserts that cater to every taste.
The beautiful, warm dining room at Govinda's Prague
For many, Govinda’s is their introduction to Krishna consciousness. Every Wednesday at 6pm, members of the public who are interested can come to participate in devotional singing, hear a philosophy lecture, see a slideshow, and savor a prasadam feast.
Those who want more attend the Sunday Feast at the Lužce temple. From this point, many, especially young people, attend three-month-long introductory programs to Krishna consciousness.
Running through the summer months of July, August and September, the programs have educated fifty women and around one hundred men in the basics of Krishna consciousness since 1998.
ISKCON Prague make sure to look internally, too. Educational programs for devotees looking to get married, and in-depth courses on the theory and practices of Vaishnavism ensure that they keep learning and developing as spiritual practioners.
The exotic boutique store at Govinda's Prague
Looking to the future, ISKCON Prague hopes to continue maintaining all its outreach and internal education programs.
Devotees also hope to increase book distribution, install Deities of Radha and Krishna next to Sri Sri Nitai Navadvipa Chandra, and add several attractive features to the temple building.
“We plan to install a chakra atop the roof, signpost the village, and install a billboard on the highway so that people can easily find their way here,” Rasabihari says.
“We would also like to transform rooms on the ground floor of the temple into a kindergarten for devotee children, and an adult education classroom to help the devotees develop internally.”