A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977)
The most munificient incarnation of God
Lord Chaitanaya freely distributed love of Godhead “Krishna Prema” to anyone and everyone without considering cast, creed or qualification. His mercy knows no bounds. He is Lord Krishna himself in the mood of Srimati Radharani so he is also called combined form of Radha and Krishna. He is more merciful than all other forms of Lord. Inline in other incarnations of Lord, he does not kill sinners but he kills their demoniac mentality by surcharging them with pure love of Godhead.
Our Founder Acharya
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the Founder Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and the world’s most respected spiritual leader of this age. He came to New York in 1965 and in twelve short years made the chanting of 'Hare Krishna' known throughout the world.
His Early Life
On September 1, 1896 (next day of Janmashtami), in a little house in the Tollygunge suburb of Calcutta, a male child was born. his father, Gour Mohan De, and his mother, Rajani, named him Abhay Charan, “one who is fearless, having taken shelter at Lord Krishna’s lotus feet. An astrologer did a horoscope for the child, and the family was made jubilant by the auspicious reading. The astrologer made a specific prediction: When this child will reach the age of seventy, he would cross the ocean, become a great exponent of religion, and open 108 temples. The prediction later on came true.
Abhay was fond of seeing Rath Yatra festival (a very big and famous festival which till today happens in Jagganath Puri, Orissa).When he was 6 years old, his father got him a small Rath yatra cart. Abhay personally painted the cart, copying the Purī originals with a desire to organize rath yatra. Abhay engaged his playmates in helping him, especially his sister Bhavatarini, and he became their natural leader. Responding to his entreaties, amused mothers in the neighborhood agreed to cook special preparations so that he could distribute the prasādam at his Ratha-yātrā festival.
He received his education from Calcutta’s prestigious Scottish Church College. However, as a political activist and early follower of Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement, he rejected his diploma in protest of British rule in India. He was a family man and had children. He worked in a Pharma company for few years and later established a business into pharmaceuticals as well.
Meeting His Guru
Several years later, after a life-changing encounter with Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, a prominent scholar and spiritual teacher who explained that the practice of Krishna Bhakti is too important to wait for political reform, Abhay redirected his attention from politics towards the cultivation of spiritual life and community.
Bhaktisiddhanta represented the ancient tradition of Krishna Bhakti, the yoga of devotion, based on the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita. Upon their first meeting, Bhaktisiddhanta asked Abhay to bring the teachings of Bhagavad-gita and the practice of Krishna Bhakti to the West. Inspired by the depth of Bhaktisiddhanta’s devotional wisdom, Abhay became his lifelong student.
Preparing for the Spiritual Revolution
After four decades of learning and practice, while simultaneously running his own business and supporting his family, Abhay took formal vows of sannyasa. In preparation of his journey to the West, Abhay settled in the holy city of Vrindavan, India and began translating the Sanskrit verses of the Bhagavad-gītā and the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam into English and writing elaborate commentaries explaining each verse. During this time, Abhay was given the title Bhaktivedanta in recognition of his advanced scholarship and spiritual realization.
He tried to approach various Indian political leaders of that time to help him establish the Bhakti movement which was the dire need of the country and the world but somehow the leaders only shown verbal appreciation but no one actually came forward to contribute or support. Everyone was trying to follow the modern western race to advance in technology and lifestyle. Prabhupada grasped this aspect and decided to go to west with a thinking way that if westerners accept this movement then the whole world will follow.
Spreading Krishna Consciousness in the West – He went to America Alone !!
In 1965, at the age of 69, Bhaktivedanta departed from India with unremitting determination to fulfill his teacher’s request. After a month-long voyage, having suffered two heart attacks while aboard an Indian cargo ship, Bhaktivedanta arrived at a lonely Brooklyn pier with seven dollars in Indian rupees and a trunk of ancient Sanskrit scriptures translated into English. With virtually no resources, he sat in Tompkins Square Park and chanted the Hare Krishna Mahamantra with his set of cymbals. Curious onlookers had their first encounter of a real, live swami dressed in his traditional saffron robes introducing a meditative experience that was to reverberate around the world in a few short years.
Turning Hippies to Happies
Although faced with many hardships, Bhaktivedanta began giving Bhagavad-gītā classes in Bowery lofts and leading kirtan (devotional chanting) in Tompkins Square Park. His sincerity attracted the attention of young seekers, eager to learn more about meditation and Eastern spirituality. With their help, Bhaktivedanta rented a small storefront in New York’s Lower East Side and continued giving daily classes and leading kirtan.
Inspired by the support of his young American students, Bhaktivedanta established ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) with the hope that his students’ enthusiasm would continue to grow. The following year, Bhaktivedanta was asked to establish ISKCON in San Francisco, where hundreds of more students began regularly attending his classes and kirtans.
“Initially, the hippies wanted to take drugs and stay high. But Prabhupada taught them that the high of the drug comes down the next morning; Krishna consciousness could sustain them forever,” Prabhupada transformed them through kirtans, lectures and fed them prasadam. They gave up all their vices, donned the dhoti-kurta and became followers of the Vedic culture.
Srila Prabhupada was such a swan amongst men, once he said in San Francisco, 'I have come to make all the hippies into happies.' That evoked a tremendous tumult of transcendental roaring from all the devotees that were present and everyone got swept away in this wave, this tidal wave of ecstasy that was coming from Srila Prabhupada’s heart, and danced for hours and hours and hours. He would cry out, 'Chant and dance, and when you’re tired take prasadam! And then come and chant and dance some more!' And that’s literally what went on for hours and hours and hours." He made ISKCON a way of life for you and me to lead a peaceful and happy life serving Lord Krishna in every walks of life.
In every Town and Village
In the following 11 years, Bhaktivedanta (again honored with a new title – Srila Prabhupada) circled the globe 14 times, bringing Krishna Bhakti to tens of thousands of people on six continents. With their help, he established centers and projects throughout the world including temples, ashrams, farm communities, schools, universities, and what would become the world’s largest vegetarian food relief program. He used to hold Globe in front of him and ask his disciples to go to different countries and start Krishna conciousness movement there. The scale of his activities was unprecedented and revolutionary. He established more than 108 temples and instructed his disciples that no one should go hungry within a 10 mile radius of an ISKCON temple.
His Spiritual Treasure – 50 Million books sold in 59 countries
During this time, Srila Prabhupada continued his translation work and authored an unprecedented number of books, over 70 titles, subsequently translated into 76 languages. His most prominent works include Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, the 30-volume Śrīmad-bhāgavatam, and the 17-volume Sri Caitanya-caritamrita.
In 1977, at the age of 81, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada passed away in Vrindavan, surrounded by his loving disciples who continue to preserve his legacy. Although the teachings of Krishna Bhakti had rarely ventured beyond India’s borders, by the extraordinary devotion and determination of Srila Prabhupada, tens of millions of people around the globe now benefit from the timeless practice of Krishna Bhakti.
Srila Prabhupada lives for ever in our hearts through his invaluable books and instructions.