There are thousands of trees in New York, most of which have by now shed their leaves — but only one is sacred to an international religious group.
Back in the 1960s, the followers of Hare Krishna picked an old elm tree near the center of Tompkins Square Park to hold their first outdoor chanting ceremony outside of India.
In October of 1966, the same year that Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead played in the park bandshell, Krishna Consciousness guru Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada (“Buck” for short) performed a two-hour ceremony in which participants chanted, danced and played cymbals, tambourines, and other percussive instruments bringing the now well known 16-word Hare Krishna mantra into the western hemisphere.
The words themselves (from the Vedas, sacred Sanskrit texts) evoke the energy of God (Hare), “The All-Attractive,” (Krishna) and “The Greatest Pleasure” (Rama). Allen Ginsberg, who also attended the ceremony, compared the chanting or mantra to the use of LSD, claiming that “hare, hare, hare, Krishna” replaced drugs for many of the swami’s followers.
The sacred tree has become a focal point for the chanting, dancing adherents of the Krishna movement, which claims 800,000 followers in the United States. Swami also founded the International Society of Krishna Consciousness [I.S.K.C.O.N.] at 26 Second Avenue, near Second Street. www.iskcon.org