Golden Palace


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Golden Palace

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

As the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON, the Hare Krishna Movement) grew, the founder, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896–1977), appointed a set of leaders that began to function in the early 1970s as the governing body. Among these leaders was an early devotee known as Kirtananda Swami Bhaktipada, or simply Swami Kirtananda. In 1968 he led in the founding of the New Vrindaban Community outside Moundsville, West Virginia, as a place to demonstrate the possibility of an ideal society based on ISKCON’s teachings. Vrindaban, India, is a sacred city, believed by many to be where the events in the life of Krishna and his consort occurred in the prehistoric past.

In 1973 Swami Kirtananda proposed the idea of building a home in the New Vrindaban Community for the aging founder of the Hare Krishna movement, where he could concentrate on completing the writing he had planned to do. As originally proposed, the house would have been a simple structure. As construction began, the plan became increasingly more elaborate. In 1977, as construction proceeded, Swami Prabhupada died. The building became even more elaborate as a monument to the deceased leader. The palatial finished product emerged in the 1980s as the state’s most popular tourist attraction.

In the meantime, however, trouble developed at New Vrindaban, as the community had become known. First, Swami Kirtananda emerged on one end of a spectrum of opinion concerning how ISKCON should proceed in the post-Prabhupada era. Kirtananda became the most conservative voice in the debates and eventually was expelled from ISKCON in 1987. New Vrindaban and the several temples under Kirtananda’s control reorganized as a separate corporation.

Kirtananda’s expulsion came in the wake of two then-unsolved murders associated with New Vrindaban, that of Charles St. Dennis in 1983 and of Kirtananda critic Steven Bryant in 1986. A decade of litigation followed the Bryant death that included the conviction of a member of the community, Thomas Dreshner, in connection with the St. Dennis murder. In 1996 Kirtananda pleaded guilty to a series of charges, including conspiracy to murder Bryant.

Through the years of litigation, an attempt was made to continue work on the vision that had developed to create at New Vrindaban an American equivalent of Vrindaban, India, and its seven main temples. The Golden Palace emerged as the first of the proposed seven structures around which the community would subsequently function. The negative results of the litigation brought the overall project to a halt.

Following Kirtananda’s conviction, accompanied by widespread accusations that he was also a pedophile, many of Kirtananda’s followers left New Vrindaban, and ISKCON moved to reintegrate the community into the larger organization, a process that took several years. Today New Vrindaban operates as an ISKCON community, and the Golden Palace has been maintained and is open to receive visitors. It remains a popular tourist attraction as an example of American Hindu devotion, although legal concerns, growing out of occurrences during Kirtananda’s years of leadership, still hang over the community.

Sources:

Muster, Nori. Betrayal of the Spirit. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
Rochford, E. Burke, Jr. Hare Krishna in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985.
Shinn, Larry D. The Dark Lord: Cult Images and the Hare Krishnas in America. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1987.
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