"Rishikesh Mandir Paplpa" by Acharya Bipin / CC BY-SA 4.0

Atheist ashram on Lord Krishna’s home turf roils India’s Hindu nationalists

Jun 20, 2019

By Priyadarshini Sen

In this major pilgrimage center for the Hare Krishna movement, Purnendu Goswami survives as a rare atheist.

Goswami, 44, runs the Bindu Seva Sansthan ashram in this northern Indian town that is considered sacred in Vaishnavism, one of Hinduism’s main branches. Dressed in a white robe like any local guru, the plain-speaking Goswami holds retreats and classes in ayurveda, the traditional Indian healing practice, in what is, in this landscape, an exotic milieu: a nonbelievers’ spiritual healing center.

Hindus believe that Vrindavan is where the Hindu god Krishna spent his childhood in divine play, and the area is dotted with more than 6,000 temples to Lord Krishna and his consort Radha.

As religious beliefs in India have become militant under the influence of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Goswami’s atheism has come to be seen as a threat by local godmen and politicians.

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