Meet Maha Mantra

Another assignment from my photojournalism class was called "Bridging The Gap," where I did a story on someone that I would probably not every approach. Not only did I learn a lot about Maha Mantra, I learned a lot about the Hare Krishna. It was an enlightening experience to get out of my bubble I live in.

So visible to the public, but an unknown to many, the Hare Krishna are peaceful devotees of Krishna Conciousness, a philosophy of living a pure life with no intoxication, meat eating, gambling, or illicit sex. It is a Hindu Vaishnava organization based on traditional Hindu scriptures to spread the word of Krishna, or God.

Maha Mantra, a student monk from Bolivia, plays the drums as other Hare Krishnas chant and sing September 9 at UNC-Chapel Hill. Every Thursday evening, Krishnas gather their pots and their faith to feed students at UNC. They believe in giving away free food so people do not go hungry. The food is always vegetarian because they do not believe in violence against humans or animals as part of living a pure life.

Maha Mantra meditates before the weekly Sunday program. During his meditation in the temple, a few visitors came to admire the dieties. "It's so serene, isn't it?"

Meditation is a daily practice for Maha Mantra as he works his way to being a temple priest.

Maha Mantra serves up apple juice and jokes with Hare Krishnas who attended the worship. "Food is a way of connecting and concentrating to be connected with krishna all of the time," said Maha Mantra.

After Sunday's worship program, there is a free vegetarian dinner to members and guests who attended. Usually, about 100 to 150 members attend the Sunday program.

Everyday at 4:30 a.m., devoted Hare Krishnas meet at the temple to worship the deities and meditate. During the worship session, members chant, sing, make flower garlands for the deities and listen to scripture teachings.

For an hour period from 5:00-6:00 a.m., Maha Mantra chants the Hare Krishna on his beads. The beads, which are similar to a rosary, represent a single prayer. There are 108 beads and they are kept in a bag from getting dirty.

Always dressed in his orange robes, tube socks, and some color of Croc-like shoe, Maha Mantra cooks the nightly offering for the deities Wednesday evening.

Giving food to the deites is a form of devotion to Krishna. Members who live at the New Goloka temple splits up daily tasks among each other.

Maha Mantra meditates in front of the deities and the founder of the Hare Krishna religion.

Members dress the dieties and the founder in traditional clothing as if to bring them into real life. For example, during the meditation, the Puja has a bag of beads around his hand just as worshipers have their bags on their hands. The clay on Maha Mantra's and other worshipers forehead is a symbol of what religion they are in and "to be conscious that the body is an instrument of God's service."