His Divine Grace
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Abhay Charan De
1 September 1896
|Died||14 November 1977 (aged 81)|
|Resting place||Srila Prabhupada's Samadhi Mandir, ISKCON Vrindavan|
|Notable work(s)||Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (translation), Caitanya Caritāmṛta (trans.)|
|Alma mater||Scottish Church College, University of Calcutta|
|Monastic name||Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Bhakti-vedānta Svāmī|
|Temple||Gaudiya Math, ISKCON|
|Period in office||1966–1977|
|Initiation||Diksha, 1933 (by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati)|
Sannyasa, 1959 (by Bhakti Prajnan Keshava)
|Post||Founder-Acharya of ISKCON|
Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami (IAST: Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Bhakti-vedānta Svāmī; 1 September 1896 – 14 November 1977) was an Indian Gaudiya Vaishnava guru who founded ISKCON, commonly known as the "Hare Krishna movement". Members of ISKCON view Bhaktivedanta Swami as a representative and messenger of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in a Suvarna Banik family, he was educated at the Scottish Church College. While working at a small pharmaceutical business, he met and became a follower of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. In 1959, after his retirement, he left his family to become a sannyasi and started writing commentaries on Vaishnava scriptures. As a travelling Vaishnava monk, he became an influential communicator of Gaudiya Vaishnavite theology across India and the Western world through his leadership of ISKCON, founded in 1966. He was well regarded by a number of American religious scholars but was criticised by anti-cult groups.
He has been described as a charismatic leader by his followers,who was successful in acquiring followers in many Western countries and India. After his death in 1977, ISKCON, the society he founded based on a form of Hindu Krishna Bhakti using the Bhagavata Purana as a central scripture, continued to grow. In February 2014, ISKCON's news agency reported reaching a milestone of distributing over half a billion of his books since 1965.
As found by scholars like Stephen Knapp,a major mention of Prabhupada is found in the Brahmavaivarta Purana
Prabhupada was born Abhay Charan on 1 September 1896 in Calcutta. He was also called Nandulāl. His parents, Gour Mohan De and Rajani De, were devout Vaishnavas and resided in Calcutta.
Abhay Charan studied at the Scottish Church College. He is said to have refused his degree in response to Gandhi's calls to challenge British rule. In 1919, at the age of 22, he was married to Radharani Devi, who was then 11 years old, in a marriage arranged by their parents. At 14, Radharani Devi gave birth to their first son.
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In 1922, he met his spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, in Prayagraj. He was asked to spread the message of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the English language. In 1933 he became a formally initiated disciple of Bhaktisiddhānta. In 1944, he started the publication called Back to Godhead, for which he was writer, designer, publisher, editor, copy editor and distributor.
In 1947, the Gaudiya Vaishnava Society gave him the title Bhaktivedanta, (bhakti-vedānta). He became known by the honorific Prabhupāda.
From 1950 onwards, he lived at the medieval Radha-Damodar mandir in the holy town of Vrindavan, where he began his commentary and translation work of the Sanskrit work Bhagavata Purana. His guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, had always encouraged him to publish books referring to the need for the literary presentation of the Vaishnava culture.
Prabhupada also lived at Gaudiya Matha at Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, where he wrote and edited the Gauḍīya Patrikā magazine. While there he donated the statue of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu which stands on the altar beside those of Radha Krishna (named Śrī Śrī Rādhā Vinodavihārījī). In September 1959, he was initiated as a sannyasi by his friend Bhakti Prajnana Keshava and was given the title of Swami. He published the first book of Bhagavata Purana.
Main article: International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Prabhupada was the first Hindu preacher to take advantage of the removal of national quotas by the 1965 Immigration Act of the United States. In July 1966, he founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in New York City. He defended the name, arguing that Krishna included all other forms and concepts of God. In 1967, a centre was started in San Francisco. He travelled throughout America with his disciples, popularising the movement through street chanting (sankirtana), book distribution and public speeches. George Harrison of The Beatles produced a recording with some of the devotees in London and helped establish the Radha Krisna Temple in that city.
Over the following years, his role as preacher and leader of the Krishna consciousness movement took him around the world several times setting up temples and communities in other countries. By the time of his death in Vrindavan in 1977, ISKCON had become an internationally known expression of Vaishnavism.
Through his mission, he followed and preached the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and introduced bhakti yoga to an international audience. Within Gaudiya Vaishnavism this was viewed as the fulfilment of a long time mission to introduce Caitanya Mahaprabhu's teachings to the world.
Bhaktivedanta Swami died on 14 November 1977 at the age of 81, in Vrindavan, India. His body was buried in Krishna Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan.
Beginning his public preaching mission in India, he founded the League of Devotees in Jhansi in 1953. On his return to India in 1971, he oversaw the construction of temples in Mumbai, Mayapur and Vrindavan. To promote Vedic education within the Indian education structure, he started a chain of ISKCON schools. In 1996 the Government of India issued a commemorative stamp and a Rs 125 commemorative coin in his honour.
A number of samadhis or shrines to Bhaktivedanta Swami were constructed by the members of ISKCON, with those in Mayapur and Vrindavan in India being notable. Prabhupada's Palace of Gold, built by the New Vrindavan community in 1979, was intended to be a residence for Bhaktivedanta Swami, but has now developed into a tourist attraction.
Bhaktivedanta Swami's books are considered to be among his most significant contributions. During the final twelve years of his life, Bhaktivedanta Swami translated over sixty volumes of classic Hindu scriptures (e.g. Bhagavad Gita, Chaitanya Charitamrita and Srimad Bhagavatam) into the English language. His Bhagavad-gītā As It Is was published by Macmillan Publishers in 1968 with an unabridged edition in 1972. It is now available in over sixty languages around the world with some of his other books available in over eighty different languages. In February 2014, ISKCON's news agency reported reaching a milestone of distributing over half a billion books authored by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada since 1965.
The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust was established in 1972 to publish his works.
Bhaktivedanta Swami said:
Actually, it doesn't matter – Krishna or Christ – the name is the same. The main point is to follow the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures that recommend chanting the name of God in this age.
Other typical expressions present a different perspective, where he pointed out that "today I may be a Hindu, but tomorrow I may become a Christian or Muslim. In this way faiths can be changed, but dharma is a natural sequence, a natural occupation or a connection and it can not be changed, because it is permanent, according to him". While the ISKCON theology of personal god is close to Christian theology, both personal and monotheistic, being a preacher of bhakti and a missionary he sometimes would add that "already many Christians have tasted the nectar of divine love of the holy name and are dancing with karatalas (hand-cymbals) and mridangas (drums)".
His approach to modern knowledge was similar to that of sectarian Orthodox Judaism, where the skills and technical knowledge of modernity are encouraged, but the values rejected. "Whatever our engagement is, by offering the result to Krishna we become Krishna conscious". Bhaktivedanta Swami taught a dualism of body and soul and that of the genders. Similar to many traditional religions, he considered sexuality and spirituality as conflicting opposites. Among some liberal male followers there is a positive recognition of his example in applying the spirit of the law according to time, place, person and circumstance, rather than literal tracing of the tradition.
Prabhupada, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, leader, Hare Krishna Movement. Founder, Internat. Soc. for Krishna Consciousness, 1965.