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Crime News Murders

Peacock Documentary Krishnas Explores Rise and Fall of Guru Kirtanananda Swami

Kirtanananda Swami was arrested on a series of charges in the '80s.

By Cydney Contreras
The show art for Krishnas: Gurus. Karma. Murder.

Peacock is giving true crime fans a new look at the unbelievable true story of Keith Ham in the new docuseries Krishnas: Gurus. Karma. Murder.

"When an Indian Swami gives a lost generation of Americans a new message of love, the Hare Krishna religion is born. But when the Swami dies without finishing his mission, an American Guru tries to seize control of the movement, leading to accusations of racketeering and murder, and investigations by a West Virginia Sheriff’s Detective, the LAPD and the FBI," reads a description of the three-part series, premiering Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Described by the streamer as an "epic American tale," Krishnas features interviews with those involved in the organization and the investigation into alleged wrongdoing, including relatives of Stephen Bryant and Charles St. Denis, two former members who were murdered. 

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"My family was destroyed," Bhima-Karma Saragrahi, the son of Charles St. Denis, says in the trailer.

The Hare Krishnas in the U.S. 

The Hare Krishnas, also known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, came onto the scene in the United States in the late '60s, spreading their message of peace and love throughout the streets of American cities like New York. Led by Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the group reached its peak in the late '60s and was considered a part of the counterculture movement, gaining followers like The Beatles' George Harrison and more.

The first commune, New Vrindaban, was eventually established in an unincorporated area of West Virginia. There, the group created an elaborate golden temple and center for their followers.

Keith Ham's Rise and Fall

When Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada died, follower Keith Ham (Kirtanananda Swami) vied for the role as the group's leader, beginning a years-long power struggle. Critics of Kirtanananda alleged that he used fear to control followers and was more concerned about money than his teachings. Nonetheless, the figure gained control of the Krishnas, leading to a schism.

After years of controversy and allegations of child abuse, Kirtanananda faced multiple charges of racketeering and fraud before ultimately pleading guilty to one charge of fraud and being sentenced to 20 years in prison. He briefly lived in New York City after he was released from prison in 2004 and later relocated to India, where he died at the age of 74 in 2011.

To learn more about the controversy surrounding Ham's reign over the group, stream Krishnas on Peacock Oct. 24.

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