Temple Profile: Turkey

By Madhava Smullen on 7 May 2010
A new facility in the gateway between Asia and Europe.

Krishna temple IstanbulA new facility in the gateway between Asia and Europe.
Name: Indian Cultural Center
Address: Taksim, Istanbul, Turkey
Phone: +90 535 251 3021  
Website: www.indianculturalcenter.org
Presiding Deities: Radha Istanbul Isvara, Gaura-Nitai, Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, Lord Nrsimhadeva.
General Co-ordinator: Balarama Dasa
Current temple opening date: Janmastami 2007
Temple Style: Flat in 200-year-old building with 13 foot high ceilings, re-decorated Indian-style.
Location: Taksim, considered the heart of modern Istanbul. A major shopping, tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops and hotels, it’s the busiest street in the city.
Distinctive food offerings: Local Turkish dishes offered include Borek, a pastry made of thin flaky dough and filled with spinach and cheese; and Ayran, a smooth, cooling and lightly salted drink made from yoghurt.
Number of residents: Four.
Number of visitors: 90 people per week, with an average of 15 to 30 visitors on Sundays.
Best time of year to visit: All the time! Please come and visit!
It was while in Istanbul during a two-year road trip to India that London-born and bred seeker Balarama Dasa first read Science of Self Realization by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The book had been passed on to him just before he left home in 1994 by his brother, and it changed his life.
Inspired by the book, Balarama moved to Mayapur, India, where he studied Krishna consciousness and Vedic culture for four months. Over the next several years, he returned to visit Turkey, the site of his spiritual awakening, many times, spending longer each time until finally he made a permanent move.
While working as a teacher in Istanbul, Balarama began to develop friendships with Turkish people—whom he describes as very warm, friendly and vibrant—including his colleagues and students. Gradually many became interested in their new friend’s vegetarianism, practice of yoga, and other unique lifestyle choices.
“I began inviting them to my flat, where we would chant discuss Indian culture and philosophy, and I would cook Indian vegetarian food for them,” Balarama recalls. “Out of respect for the Muslim religion and culture, I would only share what information they asked for and no more.
Some weren’t so interested, but increasing numbers began to ask more and more questions, and our gatherings became regular.”
After holding programs at his home for several years, Balarama finally acquired two side-by-side flats in a building on Taksim, Istanbul’s busiest throughfare. Working evenings after his full-time teaching job, he converted the space within a year and a half. And on Janmastami Day 2007, Istanbul’s first Indian Cultural Center was opened to a warm reception, with 200 visitors attending and several newspapers covering the event.
The Center’s facilities for Turkish people interested in Indian culture continue to grow quickly, with yoga classes offered three times a week, Indian classical Bharat-Natyam Dancing classes offered twice, and Bhagavad-gita philosophy classes to start by late May.
Meanwhile, Istanbul’s first Govinda’s Indian vegetarian restaurant is set to open in July, with the aptly-named Govinda Dasi—Balarama’s wife and a traditionally-trained cook—donning the chef’s hat. The restaurant will also offer a catering service, delivering professionally-packaged food to customers’ offices during work hours and to their homes in the evenings.
“Also this summer, we’re heading out on our third annual Turkish tour, introducing Indian culture to cities beyond Istanbul,” Balarama says. “Our show will include yoga, dance, music, philosophy and delicious food, and we’ll also be appearing on Radio and TV stations around the country.”
Balarama’s next hope is that more devotees from around the world will visit the Indian Cultural Center to share Krishna consciousness through talks and seminars. “Istanbul is often a stop-off when flying to India from Europe or America,” he says. “So why not drop by and visit us? We look forward to your association!”

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