French Devotees Emerge From Years of Struggle with New Paris Temple

By Madhava Smullen on 5 Dec 2009
“France is considered to have the most cultured people in Europe,” said Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON’s founder, in a December 1968 talk. “And if we can have some footing in France in the matter of Krishna Consciousness certainly this will be a great success…”

Krishna Temple in Paris“France is considered to have the most cultured people in Europe,” said Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON’s founder, in a December 1968 talk. “And if we can have some footing in France in the matter of Krishna Consciousness certainly this will be a great success…”
Early ISKCON devotees took his desire to heart and in 1969, with the installation of Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, ISKCON was established in Paris.
Encouraging them in their efforts, Srila Prabhupada visited the French capital in 1973 to install the beautiful deities of Sri Sri Radha-Parisishvara, in a rented temple building at Rue Lesueur.
It wasn’t long before ISKCON’s following grew too large for the small building to house, and devotees soon decided to buy a permanent place elsewhere for Radha-Parisishvara. They chose a grand building of the “hôtel particulier” style traditionally owned in colonial times by noblemen. It sat in the very heart of Paris, on the appropriately-monikered Rue Vieille du Temple.
Regretably, however, the neighborhood did not live up to its name.
“It was very un-devotional—in fact, the less we say about it the better,” says current Paris temple president Nitai-Gaurasundara Dasa. “And the situation became worse and worse. So Radha Paris-Isvara were moved again. Unfortunately, it would be far from the last time.”
The deities were moved to Ermenonville’s castle on the northside of Paris, then to the rural community of New Mayapur in the center of France, then back to Paris in 1987, where they stayed in Noisy le Grand. Finally, in 1998, they were moved to another location in the same area, this time a tiny house on Rue du Docteur Jean Vaquier.
French devotees spent the next decade faithfully serving their Lords in very austere conditions—the temple room at Rue du Docteur could only accomodate twenty guests at one time, while there was barely any room for overnight stay.
Yet throughout the difficult years, they never gave up their dream of a beautiful, permanent temple for Radha-Parisishvara. Attempts at fundraising were made, and although they were not successful, the devotees kept trying.
Finally, at a 2005 European GBC meeting in Spain, the tide began to turn. Concerned by the situation, ISKCON leaders headed by Sivarama Swami and Praghosa Dasa created Renouveau du Yatra Francais (RYF), a committee focused on reviving ISKCON in France.
Encouraged by their newfound international support, French devotees and congregation increased their fundraising, and intensified their search for a new temple. “At last, in 2007, I found a house in Sarcelles, on the Northside of Paris,” says Nitai Gaurasundara. “It seemed perfect for both a temple and an ashram. It was located close to the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, and was also next to the A1 highway which connects Paris to the north of Europe.”
The RYF committee visited the building, deemed it suitable, and after some negotiation, the owner settled upon a reasonable price. Funds were raised quickly with the help of kind donations from the international ISKCON community, and ISKCON France purchased the property.
But the devotees’ task was far from over. Much renovation had to be completed before the house could be used as a temple. And the township of Sarcelles required ISKCON to purchase land with enough space for at least twelve parking spots nearby, before it would give authorization to use the house for public functions.
It was no coincidence that just at that time Pitavas Dasa, a French disciple of Srila Prabhupada who had served ISKCON Paris as temple president in the 1980s, returned to his homeland after more than twenty years in the USA. He accepted the RYF’s request to dedicate himself fully to acquiring the land for parking, and, to fulfill his mission, began to live in the new, as yet un-heated house throughout a cruel, icy winter.
“Pitavas is well known among the devotees for his limitless enthusiasm to serve Srila Prabhupada’s mission, and for his natural ability to create social contacts with anyone in just a few minutes,” Nitai-Gaurasundara says. “Still, getting the land was no easy task.”
After several long weeks of searching with no results, Pitavas developed a friendship with a neighbor who owned the most beautiful house in the area. He asked him if he would agree to sell his estate—both the house and the 1,400 square meters it sat on—to the devotees.
Unsurprisingly, the neighbor refused at first. But after some time, charmed by Pitavas, he changed his mind and named his price.
It was double that of the first house.
“We had no money left, and so the RYF didn’t give the proposal much consideration,” Nitai-Gaurasundara says. “But the house was so beautiful that we began to wonder if this could be our temple instead of the other one I had found. We considered several possibilities—first, to sell the property we already had in order to be able to buy the new one.”
But with the financial crisis hitting hard, no one wanted to buy. They RYF considered selling the building to devotees as separate studio apartments. Surely someone would snap up the chance to live next to the brand new Paris temple. But although three families showed  interest, none followed through.
Suddenly, however, Krishna seemed to smile upon ISKCON Paris. One of the three families who had showed interest received an inheritance from a family member, and decided to generously donate half the sum needed to buy the new building. “The twist?” Nitai-Gaurasundara says. “The relative they had inherited from had been violently against their children’s spiritual life choice, and had even declared themselves an enemy of Krishna! It’s amazing how Krishna mercifully engages even those who are antagonistic towards him in his service.”
With half the money for the new building acquired, local donors were inspired, and the remaining funds were quickly raised. ISKCON signed the contract, and for the first time in many, many years, Sri Sri Radha-Parisishvara entered a temple of their own.
They were joined by Sri Sri Gaura Nitai and Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, and on Janmastami day August 14th, the official inauguration took place. Seven hundred people, mostly Gujarati families, visited the temple for the occasion. With a large community in the area, Gujaratis are traditionally devotees of Krishna and enthusiastically helped put the festival together by giving donations, cooking, making garlands and more.
“They were all impressed by the central house and the big garden surrounded with fig trees and flowers,” Nitai-Gaurasundara says. “Memorably, one guest commented that as Krishna is the most valuable treasure, the new temple is a perfect case in which to keep the Supreme Jewel.”
The future of ISKCON Paris is an exciting one. There is more work to be done, but the facilities are available and the potential is massive.
Temple outbuildings 600 square meters in size will be transformed into an office and professional kitchen. The first house that was purchased has been transformed into a guesthouse that can accommodate twenty devotees and often attracts international guests. Renovations including showers, a restaurant, and a meeting room are being planned.
French devotees have also established Centre Culturel Bhaktivedanta at St. Michel in the center of Paris, where they hold regular conferences on Bhakti Yoga, Ayurveda, Vegetarianism and Bhajans. Additionally, the “I Love India” Concert is held every two months at yoga ashramas, featuring chanting, Vedic philosophy, sacred vegetarian food and books by Srila Prabhupada.
Most importantly, construction of a brand new temple building, with a capacity of hundreds, is expected to begin in early 2010 on the Sarcelles estate.
“Now that Sri Sri Radha-Parisishvara have finally been installed in a worthy temple, it is up to us, their servants, to invite all the souls of Paris and the world to come and see Him and offer their obeisances,” says Nitai-Gaurasundara.
And so after years of struggling, the devotees of ISKCON Paris are finally back on track to make Srila Prabhupada’s dream a reality. “So Paris is a most important city of the world,” ISKCON’s founder said in August 1973. “Work with great enthusiasm and make Krishna more prominent than Napoleon and the Eiffel tower …”

Posted in In the News.