BUTTERWORTH: KC Lim draws curious stares wherever he goes, but he’s used to it by now.
Even with a bright tilak powdered stripe on his forehead and nose, a tulsi bead necklace and a short tuft sprouting from the crown of his closely-shaven grey hair, no-one would mistake this Chinese man for an Indian.
He stands out from the other devotees in the temple, of which he is an important part.
Lim, 59, a Chinese of Teochew descent, born into a Taoist family in Butterworth, is a Hare Krishna follower.
In addition to his day job as an assistant town planner, he is co-president of the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Kanhaiya Temple of Devotion & Understanding (Todu) in Seberang Jaya, Penang, the first Hare Krishna complex in the country.
Todu is part of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, otherwise known as the Hare Krishna movement, with 500 major centres, temples and rural communities around the world.
Lim, now better known as Kalesha Das, regularly conducts prayers at the temple and has done so from the day it opened in 2015.
He told FMT when met at his home in Perai recently, that it has been more than 30 years since he first read the Bhagavad Gita, the 700-verse Sanskrit scripture that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
He found the answers to all of his questions about life right there in the Gita. That’s when he became a Hindu.
He has come a long way since then. Today, he can be found in the temple giving discourses on the Bhagavad Gita, and motivational classes based on the holy scriptures.
Kalesha says that he is not a temple priest, but merely a follower of Vaishnavism, which regards lords Vishnu, Krishna and Rama as supreme deities.
Despite being deeply immersed in the teachings of Lord Krishna, Kalesha said he remains Chinese at heart and celebrates the Lunar New Year just like every other Chinese person.
He remembers when his parents were alive, reunion dinners were very much a highlight of the new year.
These days, he said, reunions are usually with his immediate family only – his Indian wife and four sons aged 19 to 26, all in Penang.
“Chinese New Year is purely a cultural celebration and regardless of my faith, I am still Chinese.
“When I was younger, it was all about angpows, movies, big meat makan, firecrackers, booze and gambling. That was before I took up the Hare Krishna lifestyle.
“These days on Chinese New Year, I give my sons angpows, maybe we go see a movie, have a nice vegetarian meal and continue with our daily meditation and temple services.
On the first day of the new year, they go to visit relatives. “Open houses are limited to those invited, as people are unsure whether we celebrate Chinese New Year, whereas Deepavali, which we also celebrate, is a religious event so that is clearer to everyone.”
Many say he has become an “Indianised Chinese”, but he maintains he has never felt like an Indian at all.
“I may follow Indian culture to a degree by wearing kurtas, dhotis, eating idlis and thosais, and even eating with my hand, but the rest of me is still Chinese,” he said with a laugh.
Perhaps this illustrates something often overlooked: that genuine faith comes from each individual heart and soul rather than being legislated for you by the colour of your skin, the shape of your nose, or where you were born.
So no boozy, carnivorous, gambling parties for Kalesha Das aka KC Lim and his family this Chinese New Year.
He’s looking forward to a quiet celebration away from the puzzled glances of curious passers-by.