No ISKCON devotees or congregation members were hurt during the terrorist attacks on Paris on Friday November 13th, in which 129 people were killed at six locations throughout the French capital.
Yet some congregation members living close to the Bataclan concert hall, where 80 people died, were shaken when they overheard the violence.
“In the middle of the night, they heard machine guns and everything,” says ISKCON Paris temple president Nitai Gaurasundara Das. “It was very traumatic.”
Devotees on Harinama in Paris before the attacks
Fortunately, the ISKCON temple in the Paris suburb, Sarcelles - 15 minutes by metro from heart of the city – was a safe distance from the city center attacks.
However, the temple is only 4 or 5 kilometers away from Saint-Denis, where two suicide bombers botched another attack and blew themselves up outside Stade de France during a France vs Germany football match.
Police also raided a flat in Saint-Denis on Wednesday November 18th in a search for alleged terrorist mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud, during which they shot one suspect and another blew herself up. Meanwhile, police are everywhere, and alarms are regularly going off in stores due to suspect packages.
“So the mood is quite tense,” Nitai Gaurasundara says. “Especially as the government has put military personnel in place to guard other religious centers like churches, synagogues, and mosques – but not our temple. Perhaps because we are smaller and not so well-known.”
Still, he says that devotees are finding security and solace in their spirituality and philosophical understanding.
Devotees hold a Harinama in London in memory of Paris victims
Besides the tense atmosphere, devotees’ normal lives have been disturbed. Congregation members who own stores have lost income due to their shops being closed down for several days. The weekly Saturday Harinama in Paris was canceled because no public shows or events are allowed for safety reasons. And with the risk involved in traveling, only half the usual number of attendees came to the Sunday Feast and Prabhupada’s Disappearance day festival.
“But about fifty people did come,” says Nitai Gaurasundara. “And with several metro lines discontinued, it wasn’t easy to get to the temple. That shows how determined they were to come at any cost.”
Janananda Goswami, who had been visiting to attend the canceled Harinama, gave an extensive class on Srila Prabhupada at the gathering.