Henry reviews the film Krishnas, Gurus, Karma, Murder

Artist depiction of Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, as seen in the Peacock TV film trailer.

October 24, 2023: Peacock TV releases a three-part three-hour documentary film, Krishnas, Gurus, Karma, Murder:

To listen to Henry speak about this movie, go to YouTube. You can read the transcript here:

Hare Krishna! My name is Henry Doktorski. I’m a former disciple of Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, and a former resident of the New Vrindaban West Virginia Hare Krishna community. Some of my godbrothers and sisters still call me by my Sanskrit name: Hrishikesh Das.

I’m also the author of 12 nonfiction books about Hare Krishna history: Killing for Krishna, Eleven Naked Emperors, and 10 volumes of Gold, Guns and God: a biography of Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada and a history of the New Vrindaban community.

Today I’d like to talk a bit about the recent documentary film titled Krishnas, Gurus, Karma, Murder, which was released, appropriately, on October 24, 2023, which is the 12th anniversary of the death of Swami Bhaktipada. It’s a three part, three-hour documentary which can be seen on the Peacock TV streaming service.

The film was produced by Marwar Junction Productions in collaboration with Entertainment One, a multinational company involved in the acquisition and production of films and television series.

Let me tell you a little of the back story of this film. Nearly six years ago, in 2018, my first book of Hare Krishna history, Killing For Krishna, was published. A year later, the Wondery podcast company in Los Angeles released a seven-episode podcast series based on my book. It was titled “The Hare Krishna Murders,” part of their American Scandal series. I served as consultant for the production. Soon after, the people at Marwar Junction Productions heard the Wondery podcast and thought, “What a great story! This would make a great documentary film.” And yes, I agree, the story of Swami Bhaktipada and New Vrindaban certainly would make a great documentary film.

So, in February 2020, Marwar Junction Productions contacted me to see if I would be interested in working with them on their proposed movie about Swami Bhaktipada and New Vrindaban. I was naturally interested, and I sent them about a hundred photos from my photo library (in the film they use about a dozen of my photos) and I also suggested people that they might interview for the film. They wanted me to sign a contract to option my books, that is to purchase the rights to my books for a time so they can develop the project into a film.

However, I never signed a contract with Marwar Junction Productions and Entertainment One, because another documentary film company contacted me soon after and offered me a better deal, and so I signed a contract with the other company.

Okay! Enough of the back story. Let’s talk a bit about the film Krishnas, Gurus, Karma, Murder. There are many good things about this film. It’s professionally produced. Camera work is excellent. There is some terrific archival film footage. The music is excellent. I suppose not many people notice the soundtrack to a film, but I do, as I’m a professional musician.

And many people appear in the film. I counted 29 people in the cast, whom I will name now:

Three ISKCON gurus appear in the film:

Other Prabhupada disciples appear in the film:

Four children of Prabhupada disciples appear in the film:

One disciple of Swami Bhaktipada appears in the film:

Other current ISKCON members who appear in the film are:

Non-devotee people who appear in the film are:

While there are many wonderful things about this three-part film, in all honesty, I cannot recommend this film to anyone because it’s terribly biased, it’s shallow, it’s one-sided, it’s prejudiced, it’s skewed, it’s slanted, it’s twisted, it’s warped. It portrays Kirtanananda Swami as a totally corrupt and evil man, and it portrays ISKCON and the ISKCON gurus as totally honest and saintly men, for the most part. And that viewpoint is incorrect.

The film producers only included in the film interviews with people who had bad things to say about Bhaktipada. One interviewee, John Turak who had served for a time as Sulochan’s attorney, expressed his personal perspective, “He’s manipulative. He’s power hungry. He was the devil incarnate.” I ask, what does Turak know about Bhaktipada besides what Sulochan told him?

I’m not disputing Turak’s claim that Bhaktipada was manipulative and power hungry, he was! But Turak’s viewpoint is a myopic or nearsighted view of a man (Bhaktipada) who was for years revered as a pure ambassador of Krishna by thousands, even by ISKCON GBC members and gurus, and don't forget, even Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada many, many times praised his first sannyasa disciple and once claimed that “Kirtanananda, he is a pure devotee.” So, in a word, the film is unbalanced. It is not a fair nor accurate documentary.

If I had been involved in this production, you would see BOTH sides of Kirtanananda Swami’s personality. The bad and the good. And you would have seen both sides of ISKCON, the good and the bad.

There’s another MAJOR fault in this film, and that is the premise that Bhaktipada ordered the assassination of Sulochan. The producers interviewed Tirtha in prison by telephone, or so it appears, and Tirtha explains, as he did at the August 1994 Grand Jury at the United States courthouse in Wheeling West Virginia, that Bhaktipada personally ordered him to murder Sulochan.

But this is a fantasy! The conspiracy to murder Sulochan was formulated in late October 1985 when Bhaktipada was in a coma at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, after suffering severe, life threatening head injuries inflicted by a mentally disturbed devotee who had tried to take Bhaktipada’s life.

And after Bhaktipada returned from the hospital, he could hardly walk or talk due to his injuries. In addition, he was afflicted with Anterograde Amnesia, a serious malady which affects the memory. Short term memories fail to get transferred to the region in the brain where long term memories are stored and accessed.

In other words, Bhaktipada couldn’t remember things that happened sometimes only a few hours earlier. When Sulochan was murdered, seven months after Bhaktipada’s near-death injury, Bhaktipada’s memory was still so bad that Kuladri, the New Vrindaban temple president, claimed, a week after the murder, that Bhaktipada knew nothing of the murder plot, his memory had deteriorated to such an extent that he was completely out of it. “He doesn’t even know what’s going on half the time. He’s out of it.”

Bhaktipada didn’t become implicated in the conspiracy to murder Sulochan until AFTER the murder, when he and Radhanath Swami drove to Dharmatma’s house to get $6,000 in cash to deliver to Tirtha so Tirtha and his family could fly to India and hide out from U.S. law enforcement.

In an October 2004 letter to me, Tirtha in prison admitted that he had NEVER personally heard Bhaktipada give him an order to murder Sulochan. Why did Tirtha claim that Bhaktipada ordered him to murder Sulochan, when in fact, Bhaktipada had not? We must understand the circumstances at the time, when Tirtha changed his tune. For eight years, he had protected Bhaktipada and took the entire rap himself. (He also protected the other dozen or so members of the murder conspiracy.)

In March 1994, Bhaktipada refused a plea bargain with the U.S. government in which he could have pleaded guilty to some crimes and serve a short prison sentence of a few years, and in return the government promised to stop their attempt to confiscate the New Vrindaban properties which were involved in the lawsuit. New Vrindaban could go scot free. No more worries.

However, Bhaktipada refused the plea bargain, and the community was put into danger of forfeiture. Tirtha, and many others, thought Bhaktipada should have admitted some guilt and accepted the plea bargain. This would have absolved the community from any attempts to forfeit property. Tirtha decided that Bhaktipada was irresponsible, and also possibly a madman, for putting the New Vrindaban community at risk. Tirtha decided that Bhaktipada should be sent to prison, just like Tirtha.

So at the August 1994 Grand Jury, Tirtha claimed that Bhaktipada had ordered the murders of Sulochan and Chakradhari, although factually, Bhaktipada had not. It is unfortunate that these points were not mentioned in the film. It is quite obvious that the film makers had their own agenda; an agenda which in effect made Bhaktipada into the villain, and the rest of ISKCON as the heroes, more or less.

One of my friends, Jyotirdhama dasa, who was a member of the conspiracy to murder Sulochan who has admitted to his guilt, and claimed that it was Radhanath, not Bhaktipada, who ordered the assassination of Sulochan, told me that he was interviewed for the film, but his testimony never appeared in the final product.

He also told me Janmastami, who hunted Sulochan in California and who claims that it was Radhanath, not Bhaktipada, who recruited him into the murder conspiracy in January 1986, was also interviewed, but his testimony also did not appear in the film. That's obviously because the producers had their own agenda; to paint Bhaktipada as an evil man, and consequently the others who planned, organized, and funded the conspiracy to murder Sulochan, such as Radhanath Swami, Kuladri, Ramesvara Swami, etc., got away scot free (again!) and ISKCON looks pure and sweet, innocent as a child.

This film almost appears to me as if it was produced and directed by ISKCON. Because ISKCON is portrayed as a totally pure, holy and responsible Society, and that is not the case. And Bhaktipada comes out looking really, really evil.

This film really needed someone who is expert on New Vrindaban history to edit the show. So many of the people interviewed were just spouting nonsense! Presenting fiction as fact. A lot of the interviewees didn’t know the real story, but they pretended that they knew the real story. Few people in the film presented as much fiction as Hridayananda dasa Goswami. It seems every time he spoke, he spread some fiction as fact. I’m not going to talk about him right now, but you can read about my criticisms in the text which appears below this video or on my website.

In my opinion, the hero of this movie is Bhima Karma. He talks about the abuse he received as a child at the New Vrindaban gurukula, and he talks about the murder of his father, Chakradhari, which happened when Bhima Karma was only six years old. His story is riveting, and his suffering may provoke tears in viewers’ eyes.

But the movie has a happy ending. Bhima Karma, some 30 years after the death of his father, travels to Vrindaban India (with his long-lost brother, as Chakradhari was extremely successful at getting many women in bed with him) and, on a boat on the Yamuna River, Bhima Karma spreads his father’s ashes in the river, and thus accomplishes a type of closure.

In addition, as seen at the very end of the film, Bhima Karma then marries a lovely young lady who seems to be a very compatible match for him, and the wedding scene brought great joy to my heart. A boy who suffered greatly for years at New Vrindaban with abusive teachers, spent decades in therapy, soul searching, processing his emotions, finally appears to conquer the demons in his heart and his past, and leads what appears to be quite a normal life, free from his past emotional trauma. I consider Bhima Karma to be a hero.

So anyway, watch the movie! You might like it, and perhaps learn something new about ISKCON history. But remember that the movie is biased; it portrays Bhaktipada as the villain and ISKCON as the freedom fighters, when that is not true: ISKCON leaders had a hand in the murder of Sulochan, in fact likely much, much more than Bhaktipada had. Remember that this movie only tells a small part of the story of Swami Bhaktipada and New Vrindaban and it’s prejudiced. If you want to understand more fully the story about Swami Bhaktipada and the murder of Sulochan, with a less biased and more balanced perspective, I recommend you read my book, Killing For Krishna. You might appreciate it. Om Tat Sat!

To listen to Henry speak about this movie, go to YouTube.

To watch the trailer to the film, go to YouTube

To watch the film, go to Peacock TV

For more about Marwar Junction Productions: Marwar Junction Productions.

To purchase Doktorski’s book, Killing For Krishna, go to Amazon

For more about Henry Doktorski, see henrydoktorski.com

Other errors in Krishnas, Gurus, Karma, Murder, not discussed in the video:

1: Hrdayananda: “When Prabhupada met George Harrison and the Beatles, that triggered Keith Ham because he became jealous of what was going on in England, and so he tried to take over the movement.”

Response: Hrdayananda was not a devotee back then. His statement is incorrect. Keith tried to take over ISKCON in September-November 1967. Prabhupada did not meet George Harrison and the Beatles until September 1969.

2: Hrdayananda: “When the Gaudiya Math disintegrated, Prabhupada went through this trauma of seeing this spiritual movement which he had dedicated his life, just self destruct.”

Response: The Gaudiya Math split soon after Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada’s disappearance in January 1937. At that time, Abhay Charan De was a householder living outside the math. He had his own business, wife and children. He had not dedicated his life to Bhaktisiddhanta’s mission, although I’m sure he was saddened by the conflict between his elder godbrothers.

3: Hridayananda: “That [the June 1973 shooting affair at New Vrindaban] was a turning point: acquiring weapons, becoming militant.”

Response: Correct, the attack at New Vrindaban was a turning point, but Hrdayananda puts the blame solely on Kirtanananda, where it does not belong. Who was it who told Kirtanananda, “After the shooting affair, what precautions have you taken? . . . We are not advocates of nonviolence; when there is aggression we must kill them. So I think you shall immediately arrange for guns, and at least 10, 12 men should be trained up so when there is again attack you can properly reply the aggressor. In the meantime, I shall be glad to hear from you what defense measures you have taken to protect the life and property of New Vrindaban. This is very important and you must take all steps.” Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, letter to Kirtanananda Swami (June 22, 1973)

4: Hridayananda: “I literally get a letter in the mail, and suddenly I’m a guru. I didn’t feel I was ready. I was 29 years old. But now, suddenly: God on earth.”

Response: Hrdayananda must be referring to the July 9, 1977 letter from Tamal Krishna Goswami and signed by Bhaktivedanta Swami, which appoints eleven men as ritvik acharyas. In this letter Prabhupada did not appoint any gurus, only ritvik priests.

5: Hrdayananda: “Kirtanananda led for New Vrindaban all kinds of activities which are very much outside our principles.”

Response: Hrdayananda here is talking about New Vrindaban illegal methods of sankirtan, fundraising, but he conveniently forgets that dozens and dozens of ISKCON temples, including the Miami Florida temple under his jurisdiction, also promoted activities very much outside moral principles. All the temples in the United States promoted fraudulent means to raise money. All the temples used illegal copyrighted materials as paraphernalia for their pickers.

In addition, the abuse of women and children were not limited to New Vrindaban. These activities were common in ISKCON not only in America, but also in Europe and India. Hrdayananda puts the blame all on Kirtanananda, where it does not solely belong.

In fact, Prabhupada approved of fraudulent fundraising practices. He gave permission for his disciples to dress as Santa Claus during the Christmas season and go out in the New York City streets and subways impersonating Salvation Army collectors. When one disciple, Rayarama dasa, complained that devotees were lying while collecting money, Prabhupada said he was “insincere.” Prabhupada once told the New York City temple president, "We may tell any damn thing to induce people to give us money on Krishna’s behalf.”

6: Hrdayananda: “He sexually assaulted a young boy from India. And that shocked everyone.”

Response: Hrdayananda here refers to the September 1993 Winnebago Incident. But Bhaktipada’s disciple in the back of the Winnebago was not a young boy from India, he was a young man from Malaysia. And was Hridayananda really shocked?

7: Jeff Banwell: “The Hare Krishnas at New Vrindaban would bring in close to a million dollars per weekend.”

Response: Gross exaggeration. The actual amount was, at most, $100,000 per week. Between 3-5 million per year.

8: Jeff Banwell: “Keith Ham was quoted as saying, ‘There are three things that are better when you beat them: your drum, your dog and your wife.’”

Response: But where did Keith Ham learn this? He learned it from his spiritual master, who claimed not three, but five objects which should be beaten: a drum, an idiot, a sudra, a dog and a woman. He quoted the verse, originally from Tulsi dasa Goswami, a late-Medieval Hindu poet-saint. Prabhupada spoke this during a recorded April 12, 1969 conversation with disciples in New York City. In addition, Prabhupada explained that a wife would become troublesome if the husband was lenient. Wife beating should be legalized in civilized countries; the courts should not interfere with the God-given right of husbands to discipline their wives. Bhaktipada got it from Prabhupada, I’m sorry to say.

9: Jeff Banwell: “The Palace of Gold, I guess you’d call it a rammed earth structure. It was basically mud. The Palace of Gold is basically mud, and it’s been gilded with gold leaf to appear to be something that it is not. That’s my opinion of New Vrindaban.”

Response: Mr. Banwell of course has a right to his opinion, but Prabhupada’s Palace is not a rammed earth structure. It was built with concrete blocks and mortar. The cast pieces are made from cement. Perhaps, if one considers concrete to be made from “mud,” his statement might have some merit. But millions of buildings are made from concrete, and then adorned with decorations. His basic premise is false, although he is correct when he implies that New Vrindaban, at the time, was not what appeared on the surface.

10: Bhima Karma: “Now, Kirtanananda, the court had ordered him to leave New Vrindaban and never come back, like physically never step foot there again.”

Response: Bhima Karma was not there. Perhaps he heard this from others, but factually the court only ordered that Kirtanananda not spend nights at New Vrindaban. He visited New Vrindaban frequently, but slept at Silent Mountain.

11: Bhima Karma: “He was being driven in a Winnebago motor home, the curtain to the back section of the mobile home opened up and the driver catches Kirtanananda having sex with this kid.”

Response: Bhima Karma was not at New Vrindaban at this time. This was not a kid in the Winnebago. This was a sexually mature young man around the age of 17.

12: Thomas Westfall: Sgt. Westfall is quoted in the film as saying that two men attacked the New Vrindaban temple in June 1973. That is because only two men were arrested, but recently, in June 2023, I visited the Kentucky home of the girl (15 years old at the time) whose father had attacked the commune in search of his runaway daughter. I spoke for 45 minutes with the husband of this lady, who told me there were six men in total who attacked the commune, and he named the men. This is reported in the most recent edition of Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 3. This man’s testimony PERFECTLY supports Kirtanananda Swami’s own testimony, in the television footage, in which he claims “five or six men” attacked the commune.

13: Tomas Westfall says that Chakradhari criticized Bhaktipada for riding in a “stretch limousine.”

Response: Bhaktipada did not acquire his Cadillac limousine until three years AFTER the murder of Chakradhari. And it wasn’t a stretch limousine, it was a compact model.

14: Ronald L. Piatt: When we arrested Tom Drescher, he had “$4,000 in large bills.”

Response: They were small bills. Drescher was going to the bank to change the small bills into large bills when they were pulled over by the police.

15: The movie producers claim in a text at the end of the movie that after being released from prison, Kirtanananda moved to India and died in 2008.

Response: Kirtanananda was released from prison in 2004, he moved to India in 2008, and he died in India in 2011.

16: Several times, maybe four times, in the movie, when speaking of Thomas Drescher, the producers show a photo of Greg Carlson (Gaura Shakti), as if they thought Gaura Shakti was Tirtha. I’m sure that Gaura Shakti is happy to see that his picture got into the film, but I’m sure he’s not happy that the producers mistook him for Tirtha. I knew both men, and I don't think they look slightly similar.

To see another review of Krishnas: Gurus, Karma, Murder, see the review by Eric Johanson, who wrote the Foreword to Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 7.


“Excellent commentary. Very riveting commentary and explanation from Hrshikesh dasa (Henry Doktorski). Many troubling facts. Worthwhile listening to the facts and truth described in this video commentary. I greatly value Hrishikesh’s important historical work.”

Yasodanandan dasa ACBSP (Yoland Joseph Langevin)
Tuolumne County, California

“Nicely done. I agree with most points. The Peacock documentary would have us believe that Bhaktipada masterminded the murder of two New Vrindaban devotees. This is not true.”

Jyotirdhama dasa ACBSP (Joseph Pollack, Jr.)
Richmond, Washington