When His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (who later became known as Srila Prabhupada) entered the port of New York City on September 17, 1965, few Americans took notice — but he was not merely another immigrant. He was on a mission to introduce an ancient religion, which originated in India, into mainstream America. Before Srila Prabhupada passed away on November 14, 1977, at the age of 81, his mission proved successful. He had founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and saw it grow into a worldwide confederation of more than 100 temples, ashrams and cultural centers.
Srila Prabhupada, earlier known as Abhay Charan Dey, was born September 1, 1896, just after Janmashtami (Lord Krishna’s birthday) in a traditional Vaisnava and Subarna Banik family in Kolkata, India. He from his early life, was well-trained and well-encouraged to bhakti school by his devoted parents Sriman Gour Mahan De and Srimati Rajani Devi. Starting his education life in Matilal school, he later was enrolled in a well-reputed college named Scottish Church College. His future leadership was expounded there due to being a member of English Society as well as that of Sanskrit Society. He, later, as a patriot to the nation, was involved with Mahatma Gandhi’s independence movement and thus eventually, rejected his diploma from that very college. He, according to parents’ orders, at the age of 22, married Srimati Radharani Devi. As a householder he ran a pharmaceutical business to maintain his family.
In 1922, Abhay Charan Dey was deeply influenced by Gaudiya Vaishnava denomination, once he met a prominent scholar and religious leader, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada, and was asked to propagate Lord Chaitanya’s teaching to Western world in English language. His path of freedom for the nation was turned into achieving eternal independence after then. He formally became the disciple of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada in 1933. Preparing life for fulfilling the order of the spiritual master, he started publishing the magazine named ‘Back to Godhead’ in 1944. Due to his great contribution to Gaudiya Vaisnava Society, he was recognized with the title ‘Bhaktivedanta’ in 1947. Later in 1959, for the sake of dedicating his whole life to propagating the bhakti cult, he took sannyasa from his godbrother Bhakti Prainana Keshava Swami Maharaj. He started residing at the medieval Radha-Damodar temple in the secluded town of Vrindavan and, having a transcendental circumstance, started translating Srimad Bhagavatam Purana with his precious commentary there. Thus, for 32 years, after departing his spiritual master, he was preparing himself for his journey to Western world.
Mission to the West:
Srila Prabhupada, in 1965, sailed to United States through a cargo ship named ‘Jaladuta’ with just a typewriter, 3 volumes of Srimad Bhagavatam, to the magnitude of his intended task weighed upon him by his spiritual master. Having struggled heavily in the first one year, he resonated with many young people and out of them, some came forward to Krishna Consciousness. He, with the help of them, officially registered the organization known as ‘International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)’ in New York City on July 11, 1966. He traveled throughout America from San Francisco, once he established a temple there in 1967. There, he also introduced Jagannath processions. Being the mood of propagating Krishna consciousness, he sent some of his disciples to London, England, and they came with contact with the Beatles there through George Harrison, who later contributed a large in the movement and donated his property in establishing temple name ‘Bhaktivedanta Manor’.
His continuing leadership over the following years, enlivened thousands of all classes of people during his 14 times circling the globe. Consequently, he established 108 temples including in Mayapur (called the headquarters of Hare Krishna movement), Mumbai, as well as Vrindavan (the spiritual city) in India, and throughout the world. Introducing Gurukul education to Western world, conversing with many scientists, philanthropists etc, giving love and compassion to many people, he propagated Lord Chaitanya’s Sankirtan movement forward.
Books and Publishing:
Many learned and scholars believe that Srila Prabhupada’s greatest contribution is his books. Within his lifetime, he authored over 70 volumes of classic Vedic scriptures like Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam etc, which are greatly praiseworthy due to having their authority, depth and clarity. Many universities respect and keep several of his books as their textbooks. Moreover, his writings have been translated into 76 languages throughout the world. Based on the reports from ISKCON’s news on February, 2014, half a billion books authored by Srila Prabhupada, had been distributed since 1965; thus it reached a great milestone of distributing books worldwide. Srila Prabhupada, before giving up his body from this universe, reminded his disciples that he would be present forever in his teachings and in his books.
Being concerned in enhancing the book distribution and in reducing the cost as well, Srila Prabhupada in 1972, established the publishing house as ‘The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust’. He instilled in his followers an understanding of the importance of writing and publishing books saying “My spiritual master always instructed me to publish books if I get money” and requested them saying “please print as much as books in as many languages throughout the world, thus the mission of Lord Chaitanya will be fulfilled.” Thus, Vaisnava texts become available to great masses and people get a chance to analyze, to approach and to introspect over those books, due to Srila Prabhupada’s great contribution over this area.
In his late time, Srila Prabhupada was in Vrindavan, the sacred holy place which he called his home, and was engaged himself in visiting Vrindavan, Govardhana Hill, etc. Surrounded by his loving disciples in his quarters at the Krishna-Balaram temple, he departed from this universe at 7.20pm on November 14, 1977. He, even in the last moments of his life, was engaged in translating Srimad Bhagavatam through Dictaphone. During his lifetime, he touched millions of people through his wisdom, heart-touching behavior and his unlimited compassionate heart, and they felt moved to express their remorse and sent notes of condolence to Vrindavan.
Prabhupda’s Palace of Gold in West Virginia:
In his remembrance, the disciples of Srila Prabhupada constructed number of memorial samadhis in different places like Mayapur, Vrindavan and in the larger sized temples in America. Devotees from New Vrindavan community constructed Prabhupada’s palace in West Virginia and dedicated it to the memorial of Srila Prabhupada on 2 September 1979. Although, in the beginning, it was intended to be the only residence of Srila Prabhupada, but over the period of time, it became the visiting place of thousands of pilgrims each year.
Updated on 24th November, 2021