This Hunter Valley (Australia) Hare Krishna community says they're "just like everybody else"


Sarvabhauma, Aryani and their son Jagannath inside the New Gokula temple in front of the deities. Picture: Daniel Honan
Brahma-muhurta is defined as a special time, an auspicious time, approximately one-and-a-half hours before sunrise. It is a quiet time, a still time. A time before the birds stir in their trees, before the air moves and the morning mists are burnt away by the warm sun.

According to devotees of Hare Krishna, this time is known as “The Creator’s Hour”. It is a time to create yourself; to set your intentions for the day ahead. For an interloper like me, however, 4.30am is still very much night time.
We have jobs, like everyone else. Just like in any religion, Hare Krishnas work in many professions all around the world. Some of us just happen to live and work here, on the farm.
Abhay Charan Dasa
Nonetheless, Hare Krishna devotee Sri Kari leads me down the path to the glass sliding doors of the New Gokula temple. We arrive just in time to hear the cry of a conch shell calledOm”, which alerts any straggling or still sleeping devotees that Mangala Arati, or early morning service, is about to begin.
New Gokula Hare Krishna Community Farm general manager Abhay Charan Dasa. Picture: Daniel Honan
New Gokula Hare Krishna Community Farm general manager Abhay Charan Dasa. Picture: Daniel Honan
Stepping inside the temple, with its smooth red tiles and orange painted walls, Sri Kari bows to the floor with the other devotees in obeisance to the brightly colored, adorned deities of Radha Krishna. Then, they ready themselves for prayer. Bells tinkle and chime in time with the slow and steady syncopated rhythm of the khol drum – “ba, ba da, daa, ba ba” – as devotees sing and chant with their arms raised high above their heads or clapped together in Añjali Mudrā.

New Gokula Hare Krishna Community Farm is situated near Millfield, 20-minute drive south-west of Cessnock. Every morning, 365 days a year, the devotees of New Gokula Farm begin their day like this; setting their intentions early by dancing and singing in reverence to their Lord Krishna.

“Many people used to think that the Hare Krishnas were high on drugs because they’d see us dancing and chanting and would see that we are just so happy,” says New Gokula general manager Abhay Charan Dasa, sitting cross-legged on the floor.

“But that’s not the case. We don’t take drugs. It’s in the rules, we’re not allowed to – not even tea or coffee. So, we only ever dance because we feel so happy to be serving Lord Krishna.”

The Hare Krishnas have been active in the Hunter Valley for quite some time.

Perhaps you have encountered them in the past: smiling, singing and chanting in processions down the street, or selling books at various locations and events. 

These days, you are likely to run into the Hare Krishnas on the University of Newcastle campus – especially at lunchtime – or if you go to their outreach center and restaurant in Mayfield, called The Bhakti Tree.

“We’re just like everybody else,” says Abhay. 

“We have jobs, like everyone else. Just like in any religion, Hare Krishnas work in many professions all around the world. 

“Some of us just happen to live and work here, on the farm.”

The farm was founded in the late ’80s by a group of Hare Krishna devotees and members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). 

ISKCON is a modern religious organization established in the United States in 1966 with the purpose of disseminating the Hare Krishna faith in western countries and beyond.

The focus of the Hare Krishna movement is the devotional worship of Krishna, who believers call the supreme God, the father, and creator of all.

“Everything we do is in service to Lord Krishna,” Abhay explains.

“We train ourselves to have an attitude of service with love, which we call Bhakti.”

When the 220-hectare Hunter Valley property was first established, the plan was to build a self-sufficient organic farm featuring a series of sustainable vegetable and flower gardens, an orchard, as well as sufficient accommodation for devotees and a school that would service the intentions of a growing community.
Abhay Charan Dasa and the farm's Brahman bull.
Abhay Charan Dasa and the farm's Brahman bull.
“The idea behind the farm was to establish a place where devotees could come and live a simple, natural life so that they had more time to cultivate their spiritual life,” Abhay explains. 

“The plan was to grow adequate crops, which would be utilized here on the farm and also for our various outreach centers in Newcastle, like The Bhakti Tree.”

Unfortunately, even the best-laid plans for adherents of a supreme being like Lord Krishna can go awry. The world outside the New Gokula community was never far away as state and council restrictions on dwelling and domicile constructions made it difficult for New Gokula’s founders to flourish on their large Hunter Valley farm.

“They couldn’t live here for long periods of time because there weren’t enough places to stay. It is because of the laws and council regulations that only allow one house per hundred acres,” says Abhay. 

“This made it difficult for the early devotees, so what they did is rent homes in Millfield to be close to the farm. Of course, then you have to pay rent, so you need a job to do so. But then, where are you going to work? Because there’s not a lot of work around Millfield. 

“So, most of them ended up going back to Sydney.”

In more recent times, the ongoing drought has severely affected the farm’s ability to grow a sufficient amount of food to feed itself and supply ingredients to the Bhakti Tree’s kitchen.

“The drought has affected us badly, and at the moment we’re buying in a lot of food,” says Abhay.

“Sometimes we are blessed with donations of food from people outside our community. Just last week we received 20 kilograms of potatoes, some cabbages, and a few watermelons. 

“Our plan, though, is to revitalize our gardens because we have the land, but we don’t have the manpower required to do so, just yet.”

Despite this, the devotees carry on. Today, New Gokula hosts between 15 and 20 full-time people living, working, and worshipping on the farm every day. Duties include making garlands, washing and clothing the deities inside the temple, cooking and cleaning, as well as taking care of the 85 cows that live on the farm, 10 of which are milked every morning and every afternoon.

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