Birth and Childhood
His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada appeared in a family of pure Gaudiya Vaisnavas in 1896 in Calcutta. From early childhood, Srila Prabhupada showed clear signs of pure devotion to Lord Sri Krishna. At the tender age of five, he single-handedly organized a neighborhood Ratha-yatra festival to glorify Lord Jagannatha. He authentically decorated a small cart to resemble the Lord’s colossal chariot in Puri. Besides leading the kirtana party, he organized cooking and prasadam distribution.
With his enthusiasm and ecstatic love for Lord Krishna, Srila Prabhupada engaged the entire neighborhood in chanting:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare,
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
Unlike other children his age who would waste their time playing, Srila Prabhupada preferred to visit the local Radha-Krishna temple. For hours together, he would lovingly gaze upon the transcendental forms of Radha-Govindaji engrossed in Their beautiful darsana and absorbing Their divine blessings.
As King Pariksit and many siddha purushas have done, from his earliest years, Srila Prabhupada began worshiping small Deities of Radha and Krishna. He quickly mastered the traditional beats and ragas on mrdanga and harmonium. With pure devotion Srila Prabhupada would sing sweet devotional bhajans to please Radha-Govindaji.
Meeting Sri Guru and Diksha
At twenty-six years of age, Srila Prabhupada met his eternal spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (Founder-Acarya of Gaudiya Math). At their first meeting, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura gave Srila Prabhupada a divine command: “Go to the West and spread Krishna consciousness in the English language.”
Preaching and Outreach Programs
In full faith, Srila Prabhupada embraced this command as his life and soul. After realizing his guru’s teachings, he started writing and distributing Back to Godhead [Bhagavata-darshana, Hindi ed.], an English language magazine on the science of Krishna consciousness. Although begun in 1944 in a small way, Back to Godhead now circulates worldwide in over fifty languages.
New Delhi Book Distribution
Srila Prabhupada, like all pure Vaisnavas, showed immense compassion for the suffering conditioned souls. Although they are rotting in the materialistic life of ignorance, the stubborn conditioned souls insist that they “have no time for spiritual life.” Neither their indifference, nor the sizzling summer heat of Delhi could keep Srila Prabhupada from distributing the cooling balm of Krishna consciousness. Once while selling Back to Godhead magazines Srila Prabhupada collapsed on the street from heat stroke. Yet he remained fixed in his determination to please his spiritual master.
Sannyasa and Vraja Bhajana
In 1959, Srila Prabhupada took sannyasa after retiring from household life. Taking shelter of Vrndavana, he rented a bhajana kutir in the Radha-Damodara temple where he absorbed the association of Sri Rupa and Sri Jiva Gosvamis. Srila Prabhupada spent six years there performing austerities and intensive Krishna bhajana.
Regularly, he bathed in Yamuna, and took darsana of Madana Mohana, Govindaji, Gopinatha, and Radha Ramana. He prayed for the mercy of the six Gosvamis and continued writing and printing. During bhajana he would sometimes receive blessings, inspiration, and direct guidance from the all-merciful Sri Rupa Gosvami.
Senior disciples say Srila Rupa Goswamipada once blessed Srila Prabhupada with sakshat darshana and a blessing: “Swamiji, just go preach in the west, and tell the people about the teachings of the six Goswamis. And I guarantee, you will be successful!”
Srimad Bhagavatam: Srila Prabhupada’s Love Offering
While living in the Radha Damodara Mandira, Srila Prabhupada began his life’s main literary work, an English translation with his personal commentary of the Srimad Bhagavatam. For Srila Prabhupada it was more of a devotional outpouring than a mere translation from esoteric Sanskrit to understandable English.
Gaudiya Vaisnava history reveals that some advanced devotees would begin crying in spiritual happiness while reading the Srimad Bhagavatam. Smearing the ink on the pages, their tears would make the lines illegible. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada once said that his Srimad Bhagavatam commentaries are actually expressions of his “devotional ecstasies.”
Working alone, Srila Prabhupada wrote in the wee hours of night, begged money to print, and personally hauled the paper around Chandi Chowk, Delhi to publish the first three volumes of Srimad Bhagavatam. Me personally and everyone on this planet has been immensely and immeasurably benefitted by Srila Prabhupada’s devotional presentation of the Srimad Bhagavatam and the divinely sweet, mercy-filled Hare Krishna Maha Mantra. For this, we are eternally indebted!
Humility and Guru Krpa
Recollecting these times, Srila Prabhupada once said humbly to his disciples:
“I did not know anything about writing. But my spiritual master told me to spread Lord Krishna’s glories in English. So this is what I tried to do, following in the steps of my Guru Maharaja. He was such a transcendental aristocrat. I had no great personal qualifications. I just tried to follow his instructions.”
Other disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura tried in various ways to preach Krishna consciousness in English-speaking Europe. One Bengali brahmana named Shri Premananda Bharati, a Gaudiya sannyasi, preached Krishna bhakti in America with some surprising success from 1902-1912. History shows, however, that it was Srila Prabhupada’s preaching mission alone that became a worldwide sensation and a fabulous success in just ten too short years. Of course, this happened by the divine sanction of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Fearless as Abhimanyu, Srila Prabhupada went to the world’s most powerful country, America, and introduced Krishna consciousness there in 1965. Besides speaking English and being a “super power,” America was leading the world in sinful activities and influencing other nations to follow their lead.
If Americans would take up Krishna consciousness, thought Srila Prabhupada, then surely it would spread to “every town and village,” as Lord Caitanya predicted five-hundred years ago. After all, “What’s a glorious victory without a glorious fight,” said Srila Prabhupada.
Perilous Sea Journey & Dancing for Krishna
At the age of seventy, Srila Prabhupada, armed with karatals and a crate of Bhagavatams, set off alone to America in 1965 on the steamship “Jaladutta.” During the arduous forty-day sea journey the ship met heavy storms. For two consecutive nights, Srila Prabhupada had severe heart attacks which almost killed him. On the third night, Lord Krishna appeared to Srila Prabhupada in a dream…
Bhagavan Sri Krishna Himself was pulling the ship forward to America, encouraging Srila Prabhupada and promising him all protection. Upon safely reaching New York City by the mercy of Krishna, Srila Prabhupada penned this prayer
“My dear Lord Krishna, You are so kind upon this useless soul, but I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me. How shall I make them understand the message of Krishna consciousness? I am very unfortunate, unqualified, and most fallen. Therefore, I am seeking Your benediction so I can convince them. For I am powerless to do so on my own.
“O Lord, I am like a puppet in Your hands. So You have brought me here to dance, then make me dance, make me dance. O Lord, make me dance as You like.”
New York City Struggle
In Manhattan, Srila Prabhupada struggled through the icy cold snowbound winter of 1965. He continued writing and occasionally selling a few Bhagavatams. But for one year nothing really happened. Gradually, a few yoga students began attending his classes on Bhagavad-gita. The word spread that an “Indian swami was in town teaching a unique yoga method: chanting Hare Krishna.” After his room was robbed, Srila Prabhupada moved into a small rented storefront apartment at 26 Second Avenue in the Lower East Side where all the seekers of transcendence were gathered.
On July 13, 1966, he founded ISKCON (The International Society for Krishna Consciousness) and initiated a dozen disciples. To receive initiation disciples must daily chant 16 malas of Hare Krishna Maha Mantra, read Srimad Bhagavatam, and give up illicit sex, meat eating, intoxication, and gambling.
Under Srila Prabhupada’s pure guidance the Krishna consciousness movement quickly flourished. Within months ISKCON Radha-Krishna temples opened in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Montreal, Germany and London. In the 1970’s, Srila Prabhupada traveled around the world fourteen times, establishing 108 Radha-Krishna temples in all the major cities of the Americas, Europe, Africa, India, Asia and Australia. He initiated five thousand disciples of different nationalities.
When news reporters queried Srila Prabhupada about his fantastic success, Srila Prabhupada replied, “Whatever has been accomplished has been done only because I had complete faith in the Holy Name of Krishna and the order of my spiritual master!” Srila Prabhupada ki jai!
He opened ashrams and pure vegetarian prasadam “Govinda’s” restaurants. On every continent he started Vedic gurukulas and goshallas to serve and protect Gomata. Srila Prabhupada was the first spiritual master in the western countries to introduce both full-fledged and elegant Deity worship of Radha and Krishna and the annual Ratha-yatra festival of Lord Jagannatha.
ISKCON’s Jagannatha Ratha-yatra festivals, complete with three beautiful wooden carts carrying Jagannatha Swami, Sri Baladeva, and Srimati Subhadra Devi, a thunderous sankirtana procession, and massive prasadam distribution, take place every year in over two-hundred cities worldwide.
Books, the Greatest Charity
Though constantly traveling and preaching to priests, princes, politicians, philosophers, scientists, and his disciples, Srila Prabhupada kept translating the Srimad Bhagavatam. He wrote over eighty books about Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead i.e. The Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Nectar of Devotion and the Science of Self-Realization. Srila Prabhupada also published his English translations with commentaries on the Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Isopanisad, Bhakti Rasamrta Sindhu, Upadesamrta, Narada Bhakti-sutras, Mukunda mala-stotra, and Caitanya Caritamrta.
Srila Prabhupada’s books have been translated into fifty languages i.e. as French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Swahili, Hindi, Marati, Gujarati and Bengali. Millions of copies in various world languages have been distributed worldwide.
The Crowning Glory
In only eleven years, (1966-1977) between the ages of seventy and eighty-one, Srila Prabhupada accomplished his mission. He credited his phenomenal success to his personal effort, and his unshakeable faith in his spiritual master and the Holy Names of Lord Sri Krishna. He was not an ordinary person. Srila Prabhupada was personally chosen and empowered by Sri Krishna to spread prema bhakti through the chanting Hare Krishna all over the world.
Entering Goloka Dhama
In Vrindavana, during the auspicious Radharani month of Karttika November 14 1977, Srila Prabhupada chanted Hare Krishna and entered the eternal pastimes of Radha-Syamasundara while his loving disciples cried their hearts out in kirtana.
ISKCON and Future
Because of cooperation and strict following of Srila Prabhupada’s pure example and perfect instructions, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which he founded 50 years ago, continues expanding the world over. As one of the most dynamic religious and cultural movements, ISKCON has hundreds of temples on five continents.
May we always remember Srila Prabhupada, and continually chant with full heart and pure mind the song he brought to save the world:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Sri Srimad 108 Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada ki jai! Jai Jai Sri Radhe!