SPICE PEOPLE: Jahnavi Harrison is a world-renowned famed singer that grew up in a Hare Krishna community in Hertfordshire. As a leading musician also dubbed a Knight of Kirtan this is her story of growing up as a Hare Krsna devotee.
I grew up in a Hare Krishna community called Bhaktivedanta Manor, an 80-acre estate that is the biggest Hare Krishna community in Europe. My parents and younger brother and sister all live in a house nearby, and growing up we spent all day, every day at the temple. I had an incredibly special childhood. We’d start every morning with worship and would dance and pray several times a day. Most meals were eaten communally with the 300 residents of the community. A lot of the produce for our meals came from our own farm. The estate is a very beautiful place and includes extensive woods and a lake, and there was a primary school on-site.
We were raised communally with the philosophy of simple living and high thinking. Growing up, we didn’t watch TV or listen to pop music and were aware that popular culture was something that didn’t sit well with our value system. The Hare Krishna movement, based on a strand of Hinduism, was founded in 1965 by AC Bhaktivedanta. The ultimate goal of Hare Krishna devotion is to attain Krishna Consciousness through ethical living and spiritual devotion. Devotees do not gamble, ingest alcohol or drugs, including caffeine, and restrain from sex except within marriage for the purposes of procreation.
I was a really happy child cocooned in this perfect world until my parents decided to send me to the local school when I was nine to prepare me for senior school. I found the experience intimidating and a huge culture shock. I was extremely worried that people would find out I was a Hare Krishna. This obsession continued throughout my teenage years. Even though most of the local people were kind to us, we did experience a lot of prejudice from some people, and I can only think this contributed to my sense of fear of people finding out I was a Hare Krishna.
My dad used to ask me to come in for morning service at the temple in my school uniform and go straight on to school, and I had to explain to him that once I put the uniform on I had to become a completely different person and I couldn’t mix the two lives up. It really felt like I was living a double life.
It got so bad that I had to be hospitalised a few times with extreme stomach pains brought on by anxiety. In the end my parents decided to home-school me with other children back at the temple. I tried mainstream education again about a year later but for the same reasons it didn’t work out. I did my A-levels in a year at evening college and got three A’s in a year and won a place at Middlesex University to study English.
When I was 19 I went on a Hare Krishna youth tour of America with 50 young people who had grown up in the religion from around the world. Being with all these people my age who were so comfortable with their identity was a huge turning-point for me. I went on to spend four years touring America with a kirtan group, which is a type of devotional music inspired by religious chanting, and I now help run a project called Kirtan London, which helps to bring mantra music to different communities and make it accessible.
My brother and sister and I still live at home and are involved in the Temple. It took me a long time to reconcile my life as a Hare Krishna with my identity in the outside world, and, although it was a difficult journey, I am now completely comfortable with who I am.