Gurukul Child Abuse Life April 1980 cover - children of Krishna

Published on February 21st, 2017 | by Madhudvisa dasa | Full size image


Children of Krishna — Life Magazine 1980

In April of 1980 the cover story of the United States magazine “Life” featured the life of the Hare Krishna children at New Vrindavan, a farming community in West Virginia headed by Kirtananda Swami. It gives a glimpse into life there. Kirtananda Swami was not properly situated in Krishna consciousness and the New Vrindavan community failed miserably because of his lack of Krishna consciousness and his poor leadership. The text below is extracted from the article but please click on the link below to view the whole article with the photos as a PDF file:

View Life 1980 Children of Krishna Article

The children with the outstretched hands have already begun their training as lifelong members of the sect of Hare Krishna, whose robed and tonsured followers have become familiar sights in U.S. cities.

Their schooling is taking place in New Vrindavan, an austere commune in the West Virginia Hills, and their principal teacher is Swami Bhaktipada (right), the community’s adored leader. It is his fond hope to build seven more temples just like the $500,000 palace (above) his people completed last year and to turn their 2.000-acre spread into a “spiritual Disneyland” where tourists can come and be amazed–and possibly converted.

The sect of a quarter million Americans has 52 temples and six other rural communes like this one. At New Vrindavan 99 children live among the 150 adults and are the first generation to be raised in the U.S. according to the ascetic practices of this ancient Hindu denomination. The elders hope to prevent their children’s “contamination” by the culture outside. “Their contemporaries have no idea what life is about,” the Swami says. “To them. it’s all TV and apple pie.”

As one of New Vrindavan’s holy men makes his way over the rutted landscape, lesser devotees pay homage. Almost everyone carries a cloth bag filled with a string of 108 beads. For each bead. they must say a mantra. The process can consume three or four hours a day. All men wear Hindu loincloths called dhotis that are imported from India. Celibates in this rigid social order are considered spiritually advanced and wear orange dhotis.

Boys study Sanskrit so they may read the Hindu scriptures in their original form. One teacher is learning the language along with the students. Before class children must chant and pray. Meals are eaten quietly while a tape of the swami’s latest lecture plays.

Krishnas believe that children raised in an ascetic environment are happier adults. To prevent the children’s “corruption” by the “material world” adults restrict the books, photos and television programs the children see. Here a child draws in a Krishna coloring book. What if the children question the process? “That’s okay. We think we have better answers than anybody else.”

Most of those at New Vrindavan, including the children, sleep in sleeping bags on the floor. “Beds? They are very expensive and impractical,” a devotee explains. Children are sent to sleep as early as 5 p.m, since they must rise at 3 a.m. to prepare for services.

Above. Boys listen to a classmate who reads from a sacred text. The teacher, one of four in the boys school, says that several boys here are better readers than their peers in public school. Some parents, who reside elsewhere, simply have left their children to live among the devotees.


When children are five they leave their parents’ care and move into the boys’ or girls’ boarding schools, ramshackle houses that the swami bought from the farmers who left when the Krishnas moved in 10 years ago. Toddlers and infants spend their days in a nursery above the cattle barn.

Sam Black, 13, has lived here one year. “In public school they just teach you how to drink, eat meat, lie and cheat. And they don’t teach you anything about God. I like this school better,” he says. According to Sam’s teacher. the children are taught “some history and geography–not that we feel this is so important–but so that they won’t be considered fools.”

West Virginia school officials seem unconcerned. “If the Hare Krishnas are in the business of education,” one says, “they must know what they’re doing:· And the swami asserts, “These children will be able to handle themselves anywhere.”


“In the beginning usually all women resent their status because they don’t understand it.” explains a woman, 28, who has adopted the Sanskrit name Katila. At New Vrindavan the virtue of chastity is repeatedly impressed upon the women and the sexes are segregated whenever possible. During worship services women and girls stand behind a balustrade (above).

In school girls receive less instruction than boys. “The girls are not as far along as the boys,” one teacher says, “but girls don’t have an inclination toward philosophic exploration.” At left a girl is taught sewing.

Although celibacy is considered the ideal state, marriages are allowed. But couples are expected to ask the swami’s permission to bear children. If they do not they may be “punished” by giving birth to a female baby. “Bhaktipada says that feminism is a trap,” one woman explains, “Women need men to protect them.”

The 14-year-old at right, caught in a reflective moment, was married recently. “She was developing a lot of crushes,” a devotee explained. Her sister, 16, is married and pregnant. “Some children produced here are very special,” the swami says. “The parents’ souls are pure and they attract a pure soul into the womb.” So far there are 34 toddlers and newborns at New Vrindavan.

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2 Responses to Children of Krishna — Life Magazine 1980

  1. Karen Eva Silberstein PhD says:

    Prabhu, Please explain your point in posting this old article that is so full of misinformation. Some of the most hideous abuses of the children and adults occurred at his place, and some of the most awful philosophical deviations. I’d like to know why you are presenting this, as I refer many people who are new to Krsna Consciousness to your site and don’t want them to be bewildered by the contents of the article. Thank you.

    • Hare Krishna Karen

      Yes. You are correct. This article actually documents the time when the most hideous abuses of the children at New Vrindavan were going on. You can see it in the photos in this article if you look. Really this article is not an advertisement for New Vrindavan, it is an expose of what is going on there for the thoughtful person.

      This is history. This was the cover story for Life Magazine which was one of the biggest magazines in US at the time. And thoughtful persons will be able to look at the photos and read between the lines and will be able to understand actually what Kirtananda and the gurukul teachers were doing to the students. It is horrible, I appreciate your point. But I did not publish this article to advertise New Vrindavan, but to expose the deviations…

      Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!

      Madhudvisa dasa

About the Author

My first contact with a Hare Krishna was a most merciful Mataji in Oxford Street, London who sold me a "Higher Taste" cook book in 1984 while I was on holidays there. I started seriously reading Srila Prabhupada's books in Australia 1985 and by 1986 Srila Prabhupada had convinced me "Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead" and "we should surrender to Krishna."I joined the Hare Krishnas in Perth, Western Australia in 1986. Since then I have been chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, reading and distributing Srila Prabhupada's books and preaching as much as I can.That's my life and full-time occupation now really. I like it more than anything I've ever experienced before. Srila Prabhupada's books are so amazing... Even after reading them all many times they're still fresh and new. They are truly transcendental!That's it really. Now I'm just hankering to once again see the world chant Hare Krishna, dance and feast and float away in the ecstasy of Lord Caitanya's Sankirtana movement as it did in Srila Prabhupada's physical presence. Let the whole world drown in the ecstatic flood of love of Krishna!

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