His Divine Grace
Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami
অভয় চরণারবিন্দ ভক্তিবেদান্ত স্বামী
Abhay Charan De
1 September 1896
|Died||8 November 1977 (aged 81)|
Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India
|Resting place||Bhaktivedānta Swami's Samadhi, Vrindavan|
|Religion||Sanātan Dharma (Hinduism)|
|Notable work(s)||Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Caitanya Caritāmṛta|
|Alma mater||Scottish Church College, University of Calcutta (B.A.)|
|Monastic name||Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Bhakti-vedānta Svāmī|
|Temple||Gaudiya Math, ISKCON|
|Philosophy||Achintya Bheda Abheda|
|Based in||Vrindavan, India|
|Period in office||1966–1977|
|Initiation||Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Diksa|
by Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī
|Ordination||Gaudiya Sannyasa, 1959, by Bhaktiprajnāna Keśava Gosvāmī|
|Website||Official website of Prabhupada|
Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami (IAST: Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Bhakti-vedānta Svāmī; 1 September 1896 – 14 November 1977) or Srila Prabhupada, born Abhay Charan De, was an Indian spiritual teacher and the founder-acharya (preceptor) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), commonly known as the "Hare Krishna movement". Members of the ISKCON movement view Bhaktivedanta Swami as a representative and messenger of Krishna Chaitanya.
Born in a Subarna Banik family in Kolkata (then called Calcutta), he was educated at the Scottish Church College there. Before adopting the life of a novice renunciate (vanaprastha) in 1950, he was married with children and owned a small pharmaceutical business. In 1959, he took a vow of renunciation (sannyasa) and started writing commentaries on Vaishnava scriptures. In his later years, as a travelling Vaishnava monk, he became an influential communicator of Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya's theology to India and specifically to the West through his leadership of ISKCON, founded in 1966. As the founder of ISKCON, he "emerged as a major figure of the Western counterculture, initiating thousands of young Americans." He was criticized by anti-cult groups, but was well regarded by religious scholars, such as J. Stillson Judah, Harvey Cox, Larry Shinn and Thomas Hopkins, who praised Bhaktivedānta Swāmi's translations and defended the group against distorted media images and misinterpretations. Religious leaders from other Gaudiya Vaishnava institutions also gave him credit for his achievements.
He has been described as a charismatic leader who was successful in acquiring followers in many countries including the United States, Europe and India. His mission was to propagate throughout the world Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a school of Vaishnavite Hinduism that had been taught to him by his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. After his death in 1977, ISKCON, the society he founded based on a form of Hindu Krishnaism 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. His translation of and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, titled Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, is considered by ISKCON adherents and many Vedic scholars as the finest, bona fide translation of Vaishnava literary works.
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His sannyasa name is "Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami" or abbreviated as "A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami".
In his 1956 and 1958 Back to Godhead (BTG) magazines, "Goswami" prefixes his name. In his 1960 BTGs as well as some letterheads, "Tridandi Goswami" prefixes his name. In a letter, he explains his usage of "Tridandi Goswami" for Vaisnava sannyasins. In BTGs since 1970 and his books, his name has been written and continues to be written with the following honorifics: "His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda: Founder-Ācārya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness".
Prabhupada was born Abhay Charan (lit. 'fearless, having taken shelter at the Lord's lotus feet') on 1 September 1896, one day after Janmashtami (the day when Lord Krishna was born), one of the most important festivals, in a small town near Calcutta, in an affluent Suvarna Banik Bengali family. Since he was born on the day of Nandotsava ("the celebration of Nanda," Krishna's father, a traditional festival celebrated in the honour of Krishna's birth) he was also called Nandulāl. His parents, "Sriman" Gour Mohan De and "Srimati" Rajani De, were devout Vaishnavas (devotees of Vishnu). In accordance with Bengali tradition, his mother had gone to the home of her parents for her delivery and a few days later Abhay returned with his parents to his home at 6 Sitakanta Banerjee Lane, Calcutta. At the time of his birth, an astrologer had predicted that Abhay would be a great religious teacher and would establish 108 temples of Lord Krishna.
Abhay Charan received a European-style education at the Scottish Church College affiliated to the University of Calcutta, a university in Bengal. Most of his professors were Europeans. The college was located in north Calcutta, near De's residence on Harrison Road. In the college, Abhay Charan De (অভয়চরণ দে) was a member of the English Society as well as the Sanskrit Society, and it is believed that his education prepared him for future leadership. He graduated in 1920 with degrees in English, philosophy and economics. He rejected his diploma to support Gandhi's independence movement. 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.
Srila Prabhupada travelled around the countryside to impart his religious teachings to the followers of Lord Krishna. Once, when he had gone to preach about Vaishnavism and Lord Krishna, his wife sold his manuscript to a book seller in exchange for tea biscuits. Afterwards, when he enquired about the incident, she angrily said that she preferred tea over him. Srila Prabhupada tried his best to convince his wife to help him in his mission, but his wife would not change her views. However, Srila Prabhupada was determined to fulfil his Spiritual master's instructions to impart the wonderful gift of God consciousness, or Krishna consciousness (consciousness for Krishna) to humanity so that all the souls of the world could find a way to be relieved of pains and sufferings of the world. Driven by his conscience, in 1950 he decided to renounce the worldly desires and dedicate his life to humanity.
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In 1922, when he first 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 (from his front room at Sita Kanta Banerjee, Calcutta), he started the publication called Back to Godhead, for which he was writer, designer, publisher, editor, copy editor and distributor. He personally designed the logo, an effulgent figure of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the upper left corner, with the motto: "Godhead is Light, Nescience is darkness" greeting the readers. In his first magazine he wrote:
Under the circumstances since 1936 up to now, I was simply speculating whether I shall venture this difficult task and that without any means and capacity; but as none have discouraged me, I have now taken courage to take up the work.— A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Back to Godhead magazine (Vol. 1, 1–4, 1944)
In 1947, the Gaudiya Vaishnava Society recognised his scholarship with the title Bhaktivedanta, (bhakti-vedānta) meaning "one who has realised that devotional service to the Supreme Lord is the end of all knowledge" (with the words Bhakti, indicating devotion and Vedanta indicating conclusive knowledge).
His later, well known name, Prabhupāda, is a Sanskrit title, literally meaning "he who has taken the shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord" where prabhu denotes "Lord", and pāda means "taking shelter." Also, "at whose feet masters sit". This name was used as a respectful form of address by his disciples from late 1967/early 1968 onwards. Previous to this, as with his early disciples, followers had called him "Swamiji".
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. Of all the notable temples in Vrindavana, the Radha-Damodar mandir had at the time the largest collection of copies of the original writings of the Six Gosvamis and their followers – more than two thousand separate manuscripts, many of them 300 to 400 years old. His guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, had always encouraged him to print books, and beholding his spiritual master, Abhay felt the words deeply enter his own life: "if you ever get money, print books." referring to the need for the literary presentation of the Vaishnava culture.
Srila Prabhupada also lived at Gaudiya Matha at Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, where he wrote, studied and edited the Gauḍīya Patrikā magazine. There he also 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 entered the doors of this matha dressed in white, as Abhoy Babu, but he left the matha dressed in saffron, as a Vaishnava renunciate (sannyasi). He took his vows of renunciation from his friend and godbrother Bhakti Prajnana Keshava. On becoming a sanyasi, he was given the title of Swami (स्वामी Svāmī). He single-handedly published the first book of Bhagavata Purana consisting of seventeen chapters, filling three volumes of four hundred pages each. The introduction in the first volume consisted of a biographical sketch of Chaitanya Mahāprabhu.
Srila Prabhupada then left India on a Scindia Line freighter named Jaladuta with the sole aim and hope of fulfilling his spiritual master's instruction to spread the message of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu around the world. When he left all he had a suitcase, an umbrella, a supply of dry cereals, about eight dollars worth of Indian currency, and several boxes of books.
Main article: International Society for Krishna Consciousness
In 1936, just days before Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's death, Prabhupada was specifically ordered to spread Krishna consciousness using English language to the West. But he did not take the mission given to him by his spiritual master with sufficient seriousness until he was reading a Bhagavad-gita commentary written by Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, who was the father of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.
When he sailed to the United States in 1965, his trip was not sponsored by any religious organization, nor was he greeted upon arrival by any group of loyal followers. As the Indian freighter Jaladuta neared the destination, the magnitude of his intended task weighed upon him. On 13 September he wrote in his diary, "Today I have disclosed my mind to my companion, Lord Sri Krishna." On this occasion and on a number of others, he called on Krishna for help in his native Bengali. Examining these compositions, academicians regard them as "intimate records of his prayful preparation for what lay ahead" and a view on "how Bhaktivedanta Swami understood his own identity and mission."
I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me. But I guess You have some business here, otherwise why would You bring me to this terrible place? How will I make them understand this message of Krishna consciousness? I am very unfortunate, unqualified and most fallen. Therefore I am seeking Your benediction so that I can convince them, for I am powerless to do so on my own.
By journeying to the United States, he was attempting to fulfil the wish of his guru, possible only by the grace of "his dear Lord Krishna". It was in July 1966 that he brought "global missionary Vaishnavism" to the Western world, founding the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in New York City. He spent much of the last decade of his life setting up the institution. Since he was the Society's leader, his personality and his management capabilities were responsible for much of ISKCON's growth and the success of his mission.
When it was suggested to him at the time of founding the ISKCON in 1966 that a broader term "God Consciousness" would be preferable to "Krishna Consciousness" in the title, he rejected this suggestion, citing that the name Krishna includes all other forms and concepts of God.
After a group of devotees and a temple had been established in New York, another centre was started in San Francisco in 1967. From there he travelled throughout America with his disciples, popularising the movement through street chanting (sankirtana), book distribution and public speeches.
Once ISKCON was well established in San Francisco, a small number of devotees from the San Francisco temple were sent to London, England, where they came into contact with The Beatles. George Harrison took a great interest, spending a significant amount of time speaking with him and producing a recording with members of what became the London Radha Krisna Temple.
Over the following years, his role as preacher and leader of Krishna consciousness movement took him around the world several times setting up temples and communities in other continents. 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.
Following the establishment of temples and centres in the United States and Europe, he returned to India in 1971, holding many public programs which were well attended. From 1971 onwards, the movement became increasingly popular and spread throughout India. He was particularly eager to see the progress on "the impressive temple project in" Mumbai which he and his disciples had fought with determination to establish, with large temples in Mayapur and Vrindavan to follow in the mid-1970s. To promote the vedic education system within the modern Indian education structure, he introduced a chain of Gurukul in various parts of India. The Bhaktivedanta Gurukula and International School is one of the most successful of these schools.
In 1996, the Government of India recognized his accomplishments by issuing a commemorative stamp in his honour as a part of the Prabhupada Centennial celebrations.
On 1 September 2021, to commemorate the 125th Brith Anniversary of Srila Prabhupada, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi released a Rs 125 Commemorative Coin in honour of Srila Prabhupada.
Speaking at the inauguration of ISKCON's cultural centre in New Delhi on the occasion of Ramnavmi in 1998, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then newly elected Prime Minister of India, said:
If today the Bhagavad Gita is printed in millions of copies in scores of Indian languages and distributed in all nooks and corners of the world, the credit for this great sacred service goes chiefly to ISKCON. ... For this one accomplishment alone, Indians should be eternally grateful to the devoted spiritual army of Swami Prabhupada's followers. The voyage of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to the United States in 1965 and the spectacular popularity his movement gained in a very short spell of twelve years must be regarded as one of the greatest spiritual events of the century.— Atal Bihari Vajpayee – 5 April 1998 
Srila Prabhupada also dreamed of building a Vedic Planetarium Temple that would show the creation of the universe according to the Bhagavata Purana, for which he asked his disciple Alfred Ford (a.k.a. Ambarish Das) to help. This temple is being built in Mayapur.
A number of memorial samadhis or shrines to Bhaktivedanta Swami were constructed by the members of ISKCON to his memory, the largest being in Mayapur and Vrindavan in India as well as temples in the United States. Prabhupada's Palace of Gold was designed and constructed by devotees of the New Vrindavan community and dedicated on 2 September 1979. In 1972, it was intended to be simply a residence for Bhaktivedanta Swami, but over time the plans evolved into an ornate marble and gold palace, which is now visited by thousands of Hindu pilgrims each year and is a centrepiece of the community that strongly relies upon tourist trade.
Bhaktivedanta Swami's books are considered one of 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, and it has also published his multi-volume biography, Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, that according to Larry Shinn, will "certainly be one of the most complete records of the life and work of any modern religious figure". Prabhupada reminded his devotees before his death that he would live forever in his books, and through them would remain present as a spiritual master (guru). Bhaktivedanta Swami had instilled in his followers an understanding of the importance of writing and publishing not only with regard to his works, but also their own initiatives. His early disciples felt Prabhupada had given them Back To Godhead for their own writings from the very start.
A prominent Gaudiya Vaishnava figure, Shrivatsa Goswami, who, as a young man, met Bhaktivedanta Swami in 1972, affirmed the significance of book publishing and distribution in spreading the message of Caitanya in an interview with Steven Gelberg:
Making these Vaisnava texts available is one of Srila Prabhupada's greatest contributions. Apart from the masses, his books have also reached well into academic circles and have spurred academic interest in the Chaitanya tradition ... The significance of making these texts available is not merely academic or cultural; it is spiritual.
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 would point 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 is 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 himself 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.
Additional books have been published posthumously.
1896 - September 01 - Calcutta - took birth. "Timeline of Srila Prabhupada's Life - 1977".
November 14, 19:30 - Disappearance Day of Srila Prabhupada - age 81.
Prabhupada, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, leader, Hare Krishna Movement. Founder, Internat. Soc. for Krishna Consciousness, 1965.
I have just finished Gita Gan, a verse by verse translation of the Gita into Bengali, and now I am working daily on the Caitanya-caritamrta.
I am still awaiting quotation from you for Bengali Caitanya-caritamrta and also Gitar Gan. We want to print 50,000 copies of each, in the size just above the smallest size book which you showed me.
Why not reprint our Gitar Gan in Japan fifty thousand copies?
Many years ago Srila Prabhupada wrote a long Bengali poem called Geetar-gan. This small book presents the gist of Bhagavad-gita.
Jayapatākā: ... We're printing right now. It's in the press at the present time. The Bhakti Kathā, Jñāna Kathā, Bhagavāner Kathā and then hardback Vairāgya-vidyā.
Jayapatākā: Well, this Vairāgya Vidyā, that will be printed in two weeks ...
I was so encouraged that I soon collected as many of Śrīla Prabhupāda's Bengali writings from the Gauḍīya Patrika as I could and printed them as booklets under the titles "Bhakti Katha" (The Science of Devotion), "Jñāna Katha" (Topics of Spiritual Science), "Muni-gānera Mati-bhrama" (The Deluded Thinkers) and "Buddhi-yoga" (The Highest Use of Intelligence). Finally, I compiled all the booklets into a hardbound book called Vairagya Vidyā, which has now been translated in English and titled Renunciation through Wisdom.