India: Dancing White Elephants
August 29, 1970
FOR THE FIRST time in almost three years, Prabhupāda returned to India – to Calcutta, his hometown. Although it was late and the journey from Tokyo had been twelve hours, Prabhupāda felt happy as he descended the stairway from the airplane. Acyutānanda and Jayapatāka, his only American disciples in India, were standing on the airfield, and as they saw him approaching in his saffron silk robes, they bowed down. Prabhupāda smiled and embraced them. They ushered him to a flower-bedecked car and accompanied him to the terminal building, where he entered the V.I.P. lounge.
Some of Prabhupāda’s Godbrothers and old Calcutta friends were present to receive him, and a kīrtana party from the Chaitanya Math was chanting. The reception was large and festive. As the room resounded with Hare Kṛṣṇa, Prabhupāda took his seat. The sound of the kīrtana, the many pictures of Kṛṣṇa, and the smell of incense and jasmine flowers combined with Prabhupāda’s transcendental presence to transform the drab airport into a heavenly scene.
Indians crowded forward to place flower garlands around Prabhupāda’s neck, and as the garlands piled higher, Prabhupāda removed them. But the garlands kept coming, and again they piled up, almost covering Prabhupāda’s face. The American devotees watched in fascination as the Bengali brahmacārīs played their mṛdaṅgas with exotic rhythms. The people in the crowd pressed in closer to touch Prabhupāda’s feet and ask his blessings, and Prabhupāda smiled, seeming quite at home. When the kīrtana ended, he began to speak.
“I am coming back to the city after three years. Hare Kṛṣṇa. I have been around the world and have found that happiness and peace cannot be established in this world by materialistic advancement. I have seen Japan, which is highly advanced in machines and technology. Yet there is no real happiness there. But the people of India, even if they do not understand the significance of saṅkīrtana, they enjoy listening to it. My advice to the Indians is that if you advance only in science and technology, without paying attention to hari-nāma, then you will remain forever backward. There is tremendous strength in hari-nāma. …”
Reporter: “You have said, and I quote, ‘Even communism, if it is without kṛṣṇa-nāma, is void.’ Why do you say that?”
Prabhupāda: “Why do you refer to communism in particular? Without Kṛṣṇa consciousness, everything is void. Whatever you do, Kṛṣṇa must remain in the center. Whether you are communist or capitalist or anything else – it doesn’t matter. We want to see whether your activities are centered around Kṛṣṇa.”
Reporter: “Right now there is too much turmoil in Bengal. What is your advice to us at this time?”
Prabhupāda: “My advice is to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. This is the piece of advice to both the capitalists and the communists. All animosity between them will cease completely, and all their problems will be solved, if they take this advice.”
The crowd, affirming Prabhupāda’s words, began to shout, “Sādhu! Sādhu!”
Prabhupāda sat in the back seat, on his way from the airport to the home of Mr. Das Gupta on Hindustan Road. Outside the car window the familiar scenes of Calcutta passed by. For the newcomers riding with him, however, Calcutta was foreign and unfamiliar. Gaunt, loitering cows and street dogs, small horses pulling huge loads, barefoot ricksha-wālās, open shops with exotic foods, dense crowds of pedestrians, the sultry heat, and the incredible traffic – these, although familiar to Prabhupāda, plunged the disciples who had flown with him into culture shock. Tamāla Kṛṣṇa looked nervously at the driver, who swerved in and out of traffic, honking his horn. Prabhupāda laughed softly. “Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, how do you like this driving?”
Acyutānanda and Jayapatāka, however, were acclimatized to Calcutta and had learned to appreciate its culture. They had met high-class, cultured Bengalis who accepted them as sādhus despite their American birth. They had preached in many homes and had attracted curious crowds by chanting in public. They had not, however, achieved a solid foothold for ISKCON. But now Prabhupāda had come to change that. He would preach wonderfully, just as he had done in America, and his disciples were eager to serve as his instruments. He would be their vital force, their inspiration, for he was empowered by Lord Caitanya.
Prabhupāda reached the home of Mr. Das Gupta at almost midnight. Many people wanted to see him, and when Devānanda Mahārāja tried to turn them away Prabhupāda said, “No, no, let them come in.” Prabhupāda’s sister, Bhavatarini, arrived with an array of special dishes she had cooked.
“We can’t eat now,” one of the sannyāsīs protested. “It’s late at night.”
“No,” Prabhupāda said, “we must eat everything. Whatever my sister cooks, we have to eat. This is her favorite activity. She likes to cook for me and feed me. Everyone must take prasādam.” The devotees at the Chaitanya Math had also cooked a feast, and as Prabhupāda was honoring the prasādam prepared by his sister the prasādam from the Chaitanya Math arrived. He took a little and induced his followers to eat sumptuously.
It was 1:00 A.M. Prabhupāda sat in his room with Acyutānanda, Jayapatāka, and Devānanda Mahārāja. He explained how irresponsible letters from his disciples in India had perpetrated within ISKCON a deep misunderstanding of the spiritual master’s position. He quoted the verse sākṣād-dharitvena samasta-śāstraiḥ and explained it: “The guru is on an equal level with Hari, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is not God, but he is the dearmost servant of God.”
Prabhupāda continued preaching to his disciples, clearing away any misconceptions about the spiritual master’s position. All the past unpleasant events, he said, were now being rectified. The devotees should continue working together with new life and vigor.
Acyutānanda asked Prabhupāda if he could take sannyāsa. The Indians, he said, would respect a sannyāsī more. Prabhupāda agreed that sannyāsa would help Acyutānanda’s preaching, and he said that Jayapatāka should also take sannyāsa. The ceremony would be in a week, on Rādhāṣṭamī.
The Amrita Bazar Patrika carried a front-page news story of Prabhupāda’s arrival. A photo showed Prabhupāda walking, with his hand in his bead bag, surrounded by young sannyāsīs carrying daṇḍas.
Many VIP’s have come to Dumdum Airport before but never have we seen gaiety and celebrations of this magnitude. … It was difficult to imagine that he was 75 years old because he was completely fresh after this long journey. With a little smile on his face, he blessed one and all with the word, “Hari Bol!”
Prabhupāda wrote to the devotees in Japan:
In India, from the very moment we stepped down from the airplane, there is good propaganda work going on. … The boy Bruce is improving and becoming more interested. He has now sacrificed his hairs for Kṛṣṇa – that is a good sign.
Calcutta was in political turmoil. A group of Communist terrorists, the Naxalites, had been rioting, murdering prominent businessmen and threatening the lives of many others. Many wealthy Marwari industrialists were leaving the city for Delhi and Bombay. Aside from the terrorists, Bengali college students were growing unruly. But the older people of West Bengal, comprising most of Prabhupāda’s visitors, were alarmed by the violence and unrest. The only shelter, Prabhupāda told them, was Kṛṣṇa.
People are in very much perturbed condition. All of them are expecting me to do something for ameliorating the situation, but I am simply advising them to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa because this transcendental sound is the only panacea for all material diseases.
Prabhupāda saw no need to fabricate a special program for the social problems of Calcutta. Chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa was “the only panacea for all material diseases.” The question was how best to use his American disciples to give this panacea to the Indians. Prabhupāda had his party of ten devotees, and he had asked his leaders in the West for twenty more within the month. He had ordered $60,000 worth of books and magazines from Dai Nippon, and his sannyāsīs were going daily into the streets to perform kīrtana.
The saṅkīrtana party was getting a good response. Shavenheaded Westerners, wearing śikhās, Vaiṣṇava tilaka, and saffron robes, playing karatālas and mṛdaṅgas, chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa with heart and soul, quoting Sanskrit verses from Bhagavad-gītā, affirming Lord Kṛṣṇa to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead – for the Bengalis this was sensational, and hundreds would gather to watch. Prabhupāda knew the great appeal his disciples would have; everyone would want to see them. He therefore affectionately called them his “dancing white elephants.”
These same devotees, who had grown to love chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa in the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, were now going into an exhausting heat never encountered in America and chanting on Dalhousie Square for several hours daily. Crowds would press in closely, sometimes teasing, laughing, or scoffing, but more often looking on with deep amazement.
Prabhupāda’s idea was that when Indians saw young Western people adopting the principles of Kṛṣṇa consciousness the faith of the Indians in their own culture would increase. Prabhupāda explained to his disciples how formerly, during the time of Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira, India had been a Kṛṣṇa conscious state. For the last thousand years, however, India had been under foreign subjugation, first under the Moguls and then under the British. As a result, the intelligentsia and, to a lesser degree, the masses of India had lost respect for their own culture. They were now pursuing the materialistic goals of the West, and they saw this as more productive and more practical than religion, which was only sentimental.
Westerners living as renounced Vaiṣṇavas could, as Prabhupāda was well aware, turn the heads and hearts of the Indians and help them regain faith in their own lost culture. It was not a material tactic, however, but a spiritual strength. Prabhupāda stressed that the devotees must be pure in their actions; this purity would be their force.
The chanting in Dalhousie Square and along Chowranghee had gone on for about ten days when Prabhupāda decided to stop it. The street kīrtana, although an excellent method of preaching, was not the most effective method for India, he said. There were many professional kīrtana groups in Bengal, and Prabhupāda didn’t want his disciples to be seen like that – as professional performers or beggars. He wanted them to preach in a way that would bring them closer to the more intelligent, respectable Indians, and he unfolded his new plan.
He called it “Life Membership.” His disciples would invite Indians interested in supporting and associating with ISKCON to become members. A membership fee of 1,111 rupees would entitle the member to many benefits, such as copies of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books and free accommodation in ISKCON centers around the world.
Speaking one evening in a private home before a group of wealthy businessmen, Prabhupāda initiated his life membership program. After lecturing, he invited his audience to become ISKCON life members, and several Calcutta merchants immediately signed.
B. L. Jaju: I was really overwhelmed by the simplicity of Prabhupāda’s nature. He told me how he had been carrying on his regular business when his guru had told him that four hundred years back Caitanya Mahāprabhu had said that Hare Rāma, Hare Kṛṣṇa would be chanted all throughout the world. He said that that was the job given to him by his spiritual master and that he would have to go to America and do it.
I found no snobbery in him. He was very simple. And he was telling, as if my brother was telling to me, simply how he went to U.S.A., how he started, and how gradually he planned to have this Kṛṣṇa consciousness throughout the world.
Seeing his disciples who had changed their lives, I began to think, “Why not I? In my humble way, I should do something, without worrying what other people are doing.” I found that imperceptibly he was affecting my life. My wife and even my son were really surprised when they found that these white people, whom we thought could never turn to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, had changed so much. So we thought we also must try to follow better the teaching of the Gītā.
Whether at a life member’s home, at a formal lecture before a large audience, or in his own room, Prabhupāda continued speaking from Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam about Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Of this he never tired. A guest would ask a question, and Prabhupāda would begin his answer by having one of his disciples read a relevant verse from the Gītā. Then he would explain it. If the guest was unsubmissive and wanted to challenge, Prabhupāda would argue.
Sitting at his low desk, occasionally drinking water from his loṭā, Prabhupāda would talk hour after hour. The temperature rose to 100 degrees, and as Prabhupāda sat in his room preaching, he wore no shirt, only a simple top cloth, which left his arms, shoulders, and part of his chest bare. Sometimes the devotees sitting with him would be sick or sleepy or otherwise inattentive, and sometimes they would excuse themselves, returning hours later to find him still preaching. Guests also came and went. Yet except for a nap after lunch, Prabhupāda kept preaching, often throughout the day and into the night. Never bored with his subject matter, he would speak as long as there was an interested hearer.
His audiences varied. Sometimes he would speak to a room of husbands and wives, all cultured and well dressed, and sometimes he would speak to one lone old man. Sometimes his audience listened quietly, or argued, or even when appreciating showed their misunderstanding. Sometimes a guest would ask him why he criticized Bengal’s reputed saints and politicians, and he would explain on the basis of Bhagavad-gītā that the real sādhu always glorifies Kṛṣṇa.
Prabhupāda often related his preaching to events of particular interest to his audience, such as Calcutta’s political unrest or the downfall of Vedic culture. Yet his concern for local affairs was only the practical necessity of the moment, for he was beyond India. He was thinking of people, places, and activities all around the world. In answering his letters, he would deeply ponder matters in England, Australia, Hawaii, or New Vrindaban. And beyond this, he would always be thinking of Kṛṣṇa. He wanted to glorify Kṛṣṇa throughout the world; India happened to be his present field.
The devotees in India had the privilege of closely observing Prabhupāda in his preaching. His superior tolerance and kindness both inspired them and, by contrast, exposed to them their own inadequacies. As newcomers to India, the devotees were still greatly involved with the practical affairs of living in Calcutta. Weather, disease, and culture shock distracted their minds from Kṛṣṇa consciousness. But Prabhupāda’s presence, his preaching, and his example reminded them that reality was beyond the body.
Sometimes the devotees criticized certain of Prabhupāda’s visitors. They met Indians who sat with Prabhupāda and presented a facade of godliness but who later smoked cigarettes and showed other signs of low character. Once a group of devotees complained to Prabhupāda about these hypocritical Indians, but Prabhupāda told them the story of the bee and the fly. The bee, he explained, always looks for honey, and the fly for a nasty sore or infection. The devotee should be like the honeybee and see the good in others, not like the fly, looking for the faults.
Prabhupāda’s disciples discovered that the best way to learn to live in India was to follow exactly what Prabhupāda did. When taking prasādam with him at someone’s home, they would eat the same foods as he, and in the same order. When he would finish, they would finish; and when he would wash his hands, they would wash. Life in India was strange, even bewildering, and Prabhupāda’s disciples did not have Prabhupāda’s vision of his mission in India. But they were following him, like little ducks, wherever he went.
As the devotees came closer to Prabhupāda and witnessed more of his unique qualities, they came to love him more than ever. Sitting in his room on a white cushion and leaning back on the white bolster, Prabhupāda appeared golden-hued and regal, despite his simple surroundings. The devotees could see that he was unaffected by his surroundings, whether in Los Angeles, where he had lived comfortably amid opulence, or in Calcutta. He was at home in India, but he was not just another Indian, not even just another Indian sādhu. He was unique. And he was theirs.
From Prabhupāda’s first day in Calcutta he had thought of going to Māyāpur, the sacred birthplace of Lord Caitanya. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, father of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s spiritual master and pioneer in spreading Lord Caitanya’s teachings beyond India, had longed for the day when Americans and Europeans would join with their Bengali brothers in Māyāpur, chanting the holy names. Prabhupāda wanted to purchase land, establish a Māyāpur center for his Western disciples, and fulfill the dream of his spiritual predecessors. He had written to one of his Godbrothers,
I wish to go to Mayapur to pay my respects to our Beloved Spiritual Master His Divine Grace Sri Srila Prabhupada as well as to complete the purchase of the land. So if Jagmohan Prabhu will accompany us to finish this transaction it will be very kind of him and I hope you will kindly request him to accompany us.
The followers of Lord Caitanya accept Māyāpur, one hundred and ten miles north of Calcutta, to be identical with Vṛndāvana. Five thousand years ago Lord Kṛṣṇa lived in Vṛndāvana, performing His childhood pastimes, and five hundred years ago Lord Kṛṣṇa appeared in Māyāpur as Lord Caitanya. For the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, therefore, Māyāpur and Vṛndāvana are the two most dear and sacred places on earth. What better place for ISKCON to have its world headquarters than in Māyāpur! But despite various attempts over the past several years, Śrīla Prabhupāda had still not acquired property there.
He had gone to Māyāpur with Acyutānanda in 1967, seen a plot of land, and asked Acyutānanda to try and get it. But Acyutānanda and the Muhammadan owner had never reached an agreement. Some of Prabhupāda’s Godbrothers had temples and property in Māyāpur, but they wouldn’t help. Some even seemed to be working against him. When Prabhupāda had written one of his Godbrothers in Māyāpur asking him to help Acyutānanda secure land, the Godbrother’s secretary had replied that he was unable to do so. The secretary had remarked, “One must be very fortunate to get land in Māyāpur.”
Prabhupāda criticized his Godbrothers’ uncooperative spirit. He was becoming impatient. “Why are we not able to get the land in Māyāpur?” he asked his disciples. “This is dragging on for three hundred years!” Again he wrote one of his Godbrothers.
Regarding propagating the Name of Sri Mayapur as Birthplace of Lord Caitanya, it is going on regularly in our different literatures and books. If you kindly take the trouble of coming here conveniently, I can show you how we are giving publicity to the Birthsite of Lord Caitanya. Perhaps you know that I begged from His Holiness Sripad Tirtha Maharaj a little piece of land at Mayapur for constructing a home for my Western disciples, but he refused the proposal. Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur wanted that the American and European devotees would come to Mayapur, and the prophecy is now fulfilled. Unfortunately they are loitering in the streets of Calcutta without having a suitable place at Mayapur. Do you think it is all right?
Accompanied by a small party of men, Prabhupāda took the train to Navadvīpa, just across the Ganges from Māyāpur. There they were met by members of the Devananda Math. Riding in rickshas to the Devananda Math, the devotees were charmed by the rural atmosphere of Navadvīpa. Everything was lush from the rainy season, and the devotees found their romantic expectations of India now being fulfilled as they proceeded along roads lined with tropical vegetation. At the Devananda Math Prabhupāda and his disciples were given special prasādam and good accommodations.
Then the rains returned. Day after day the rains came, and the Ganges rose higher and higher, until crossing the swift river into Māyāpur became impossible. Since the rains were not likely to abate soon, Prabhupāda decided to leave. He and his disciples boarded an early-morning train to Calcutta.
The tracks were flooded. Repeatedly the train had to stop – once for more than eight hours. The heat and the crowds of passengers constantly passing through the car made the wait torturous for the devotees. Prabhupāda asked one of his disciples to take a ricksha and try to arrange better transportation. Nothing was available. At last the train continued toward Calcutta, only to stop at the next station, where all the passengers changed to another train. Finally Prabhupāda reached Calcutta and Mr. Das Gupta’s home.
“Maybe Lord Caitanya does not want us to establish our headquarters in Māyāpur,” Prabhupāda said. The two purposes in his mind – establishing a place in Calcutta and purchasing land in Māyāpur – he had not accomplished.
Prabhupāda continued holding programs in people’s homes and talking with guests in his room. One day a Mr. Dandharia visited Prabhupāda and mentioned Bombay’s upcoming Sadhu Samaj, a gathering of the most important sādhus in India. It was to be held at Chowpatti Beach and promised to be a big affair. Mr. Dandharia requested Prabhupāda to attend, and Prabhupāda accepted.
Responding to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s request for more disciples to join him in India, a group of twenty American devotees traveled to Brussels and took an inexpensive flight aboard a propeller-driven craft to Bombay. At the airport, while the devotees were wondering where they should go, Mr. Kailash Seksaria, a wealthy Bombay businessman and nephew of Mr. Dandharia, approached them with a letter from Prabhupāda. Mr. Seksaria had arranged for several cars, and he escorted the devotees to his home in an affluent Bombay residential area on Marine Drive. He fed them and provided them with living quarters.
Two days later a telegram arrived informing the devotees and their host that Prabhupāda would be arriving the next day. Prabhupāda arrived at the Bombay airport and, after an enthusiastic reception, rode with Mr. Seksaria to his home.
Marine Drive runs along the seashore, and the houses lining it belong to the very rich. Mr. Seksaria’s residence was seven stories, and he offered Śrīla Prabhupāda the first floor, with its large rooms overlooking the Arabian Sea.
Bombay, Prabhupāda said, was India’s most materialistic city. It was the nation’s movie capital and the city where, more than in any other Indian city, the people wore Western dress. The “gateway to India,” it boasted the most industries, the most businesses, and the most billboards. It was a cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures and religions but had none of the Naxalite terrorism of Calcutta or the heavy political atmosphere of New Delhi. Nor did it have the aristocratic families who worshiped Lord Caitanya and His saṅkīrtana movement. But it had its own advantages for preaching, Prabhupāda said. It was a city of wealth, with many pious citizens who were intelligent and quick to adopt a good idea. He predicted Bombay would be a favorable city for Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Prabhupāda’s first Bombay preaching engagement was at a gathering of sādhus, a paṇḍāl in an open field just a few blocks from Mr. Seksaria’s home. Prabhupāda’s disciples had also been invited, and they arrived several hours before Prabhupāda. The array of Indian sādhus, sitting onstage in long rows, startled the devotees. Some of the sādhus were bearded, some shavenheaded, some with long matted hair and holding tridents, some covered with ashes, some adorned with beads and clay markings. The devotees were amazed, and many of the sādhus, on seeing the white-skinned Vaiṣṇavas, were also amazed.
When the devotees came onstage and began their kīrtana, the audience responded by clapping in rhythm and chanting. Afterward, on the advice of Mr. Seksaria, the devotees took their kīrtana out into the streets, and many in the audience followed.
That evening the devotees returned to the paṇḍāl with Prabhupāda. Prabhupāda sat on a raised platform, and his disciples sat at his feet. After having three of his disciples speak in English, Prabhupāda spoke in Hindi, while the audience of more than five hundred listened silently. After his lecture he came down from the platform, and a crowd gathered around him, touching his feet and following him to his car.
When Prabhupāda heard from his disciples of their spontaneous kīrtana through the streets of Bombay, he said they should go to the busiest bazaars and chant daily. So they did. Wherever large numbers of people gathered, the devotees would go and chant. They were strong, youthful, exuberant, and faithful, and they would chant in the streets for three or four hours each day.
Although Prabhupāda did not physically go into the streets chanting with his disciples, he was with them by his instructions and by his presence before they went out in the morning and when they returned in the evening. They were chanting because he had told them to. And they knew that chanting was the natural activity of the soul; everyone should chant. The devotees knew that at the end of life they would go back home, back to Godhead. And better than that, at the end of the day they would go back to Marine Drive to Prabhupāda, who would smile and encourage them.
Radio stations and newspapers took note of the Western devotees chanting in the city. One article appeared in the October 10 edition of the Times of India:
A group of Americans, including women with babes in arms, belonging to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has been moving around Bombay during the past few days chanting Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, or Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, to the accompaniment of cymbals, castanets, and drums (mridangams).
… Can the materialistic West, or at any rate, a microscopic part of it, have turned at last to embrace the spiritualism of the east? I met several of the Kirtan-chanting Americans (who have come here to attend the seventh All-lndia Conference at the Bharat Sadhu Samaj which begins here today) and was at once struck by their sincerity and utter surrender to the cult they have adopted. The Vaishnavas of Mathura could not be so guileless I thought, as this band of Bhakti enthusiasts.
The sand of Chowpatti Beach was fine and clean. The audience numbered in the thousands. Sādhus sat onstage, Prabhupāda and his followers among them. It was twilight. The sky above the Arabian Sea was cloudy, and a pleasant breeze was stirring.
There had already been two lectures expounding the Māyāvāda philosophy, and now it was time for Prabhupāda to speak – the last scheduled speaker of the evening. The audience was eager to hear him; his accomplishments in the West had caused great curiosity, especially now that he had arrived in Bombay and his devotees were chanting daily in public. Prabhupāda’s disciples, bored and exasperated by the preceding two hours of Hindi oratory, could scarcely wait any longer for Prabhupāda to speak. But Prabhupāda, instead of addressing the audience, turned to his disciples and said, “Begin chanting.”
As soon as the devotees began the kīrtana, little Sarasvatī stood and began to dance. Following her, the other devotees rose and began to dance. As the kīrtana came alive with mṛdaṅgas and karatālas, the dancing and chanting of the devotees seemed to disturb some of the sādhus onstage, who rose one by one and left. The audience, however, responded enthusiastically, many of them standing and clapping. After five minutes of ecstatic kīrtana, the devotees spontaneously jumped down onto the sand and headed toward the audience. Thousands in the crowd rose to their feet and began to move along with the devotees in a dance, backward and forward.
Indians began crying in uncontrolled happiness, overwhelmed by the genuine kṛṣṇa-bhakti of these foreigners. Never before had such a thing happened. Policemen and press reporters joined in the chanting and dancing. Chowpatti Beach was in an uproar of Hare Kṛṣṇa kīrtana, as Prabhupāda and his disciples showed the potency of Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana movement.
After about ten minutes the kīrtana ended, though a tumultuous unrest pervaded the talkative crowd. Fifteen minutes elapsed before all the people returned to their seats and the program could continue. The devotees had left the stage and taken their seats on the ground level, leaving Prabhupāda alone onstage. Prabhupāda’s voice echoed over the public-address system.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I was requested to speak in Hindi, but I am not very much accustomed to speak in Hindi. Therefore, the authorities in this meeting have allowed me to speak in English. I hope you will follow me, because it is Bombay and most people will be speaking English. The problem is, as this evening’s speaker, His Holiness Swami Akhandanandaji spoke to you, how we can make everyone accustomed to take up good habits – sad-ācāra? I think in this age, Kali-yuga, there are many faults.” Prabhupāda went on to explain the power of Lord Caitanya’s movement to clean the hearts of everyone. He referred to the two great rogues whom Lord Caitanya had delivered, Jagāi and Mādhāi.
“Now we are saving, wholesale, Jagāis and Mādhāis. Therefore, if we want peace, if we want to be situated on the sad-ācāra platform, then we must spread the hari-nāma mahā-mantra all over the world. And it has been practically proven. The American and European Vaiṣṇavas who have come here, who have chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra – they were cow flesh eaters, they were drunkards, they were illicit sex mongers, they were all kinds of gamblers. But having taken to this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, they have given up everything abominable. Sad-ācāra has come automatically. They are no more meat-eaters, they are no more gamblers, they are no more illicit sex mongers, they are no more intoxicators. They do not even take tea, they do not even take coffee, they do not even smoke, which I think is very rare to be found in India. But they have given up. Why? Because they have taken to this Kṛṣṇa consciousness.”
Prabhupāda ended his talk after about five minutes.
“I do not feel that I have to say very much. You can see what is the result of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It is not something artificial. It is there in everyone. I have not done anything magical. But this Kṛṣṇa consciousness is present in all of us. We simply have to revive it.”
The audience responded with cheers and a great round of applause. Prabhupāda, with greater force and eloquence than the long-winded Māyāvādīs, had shown the essence of spiritual life – ecstatic chanting of the holy names. And he had offered the living testimony of his American disciples.
For the next week, Prabhupāda and his disciples were the talk of Bombay, and they began receiving many invitations to speak and perform kīrtana throughout the city. The Times Weekly’s coverage of the Sadhu Samaj spotlighted the memorable presence of Śrīla Prabhupāda and his disciples.
A group of twenty Americans, members of the Hare Krishna delegation, took over the dais. The air was filled with the beating of mridangas, the clash of cymbals and the music of the maha-mantra. Swaying from side to side, their tufts of hair tossing in the breeze they chanted: Hare Krishna …
One greying reporter whom I had always regarded as a particularly unsentimental person said to me in an emotion-choked voice: “Do you realize what is happening? Very soon Hinduism is going to sweep the West. The Hare Krishna movement will compensate for all our loss at the hands of padres through the centuries.”
About twenty-five newsmen came to a press conference on the fifth floor of Mr. Seksaria’s residence. Prabhupāda sat with his disciples on a large mattress and answered questions, and the devotees showed a film of the San Francisco Ratha-yātrā. The reporters asked about New Vrindaban. They questioned the devotees: Why had they become sādhus? Why had they left their country?
The next day the press was full of stories of Prabhupāda and his movement. The Times of India picked up on a particular angle: “U.S. MILLIONAIRE’S SON SEEKS SOLACE IN KRISHNA SOCIETY.” The article told of Girirāja’s renouncing his father’s wealth to join Prabhupāda’s movement. One newspaper quoted Girirāja: “My father works hard and earns fabulous money. He also fights with my mother. My sisters ran away from the house. Thus, in spite of material comforts, nobody is happy.” Quoting Śyāmasundara: “My father is very rich, but he has to take sleeping tablets every night.” And there were other articles.
Soon letters appeared in the letters column of the Times of India.
As far as my knowledge goes, these foreign Hindus of the Hare Krishna movement cannot be equal to the native original brahmanas and Hindus. They will have to be relegated to the lower castes. It is significant to see one of the newly converted sadhus, Sri Gopal dasa, formerly Charles Poland of Chicago, stated that he was a construction worker formerly. Doing sudra’s work, it would thus become necessary to allot the three lower castes to these foreign converts according to their profession.
Another letter stated, “The Hare Krishna movement is just a sporadic fad of sentimentalists.”
Prabhupāda said these letters should be answered, and he personally outlined replies, delegating their writing to specific disciples. Within a few days, Prabhupāda’s replies appeared in the press.
In India even amongst the brahmanas in different provinces there is no social intercourse. So if they are socially accepted or not doesn’t matter. For example, amongst the qualified legal practitioners in different provinces there may not be social intercourse, but that does not mean they are not qualified lawyers. This is a cultural movement, and if the whole world accepts this cult, even though Indian brahmanas do not accept it will do no harm at all. … We are not striving for social or political unity, but if Krishna consciousness is accepted there will automatically be political, social and religious unity. …
The fact that one of our boys was a construction worker does not mean that he belongs to the sudra community. The sudra community is the less intelligent class or illiterate class who have no information of the value of life. In America even the highest cultured and educated person can go to work as an ordinary construction worker because they accept the dignity of labor. So although a boy was working as a construction worker in America, he is not a sudra.
But even if he is accepted as a sudra, Lord Krishna says that anyone who comes to Him is eligible to be elevated to the highest position of going back to home, back to Godhead.
In a letter signed by Girirāja, Prabhupāda refuted the charge that his movement was a “sporadic fad of sentimentalists.”
… How can our movement be sporadic when this science was taught in the Gita five thousand years ago and instructed to the sun-god millions of years before that? How can it be called sporadic when our activity is sanatana-dharma, the eternal occupation of the living entity? Would faddists give up all meat-eating, intoxicants, illicit sex, and gambling for over five years now? Would faddists give up friends, family, and money and get up at 4:00 A.M. daily, ready to go to any country in the world and preach in any conditions immediately on the request of their spiritual master?
Prabhupāda saw all news coverage of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement as an aid to propagating Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Even by criticizing the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, he said, the papers were broadcasting the holy name of Kṛṣṇa. And Kṛṣṇa’s name was absolute.
Mr. Seksaria held a special program for many important dignitaries of Bombay. Although he had expected no more than two hundred persons, many more came. They were Bombay’s elite – the women dressed in expensive silk sārīs and wearing gold and jewels, the men in silk Nehru-collared suits or white starched dhotīs and kurtās.
Prabhupāda held kīrtana with his disciples, and then he spoke, briefly and gravely. “You are all very intelligent persons,” he said. “You are all very learned and educated. You are all very great persons. I beg you – I take the straw of the street between my teeth, and I beg you – just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. Please chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.”
After his talk, Prabhupāda left, and the devotees showed slides of the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement’s activities around the world. They also made their first public life membership appeal, and Mr. G. D. Somani, one of India’s leading industrialists, as well as Mr. Seksaria, signed on as members.
Although Prabhupāda was happy to see the number of ISKCON’s life members increasing, that his shipment of books from Dai Nippon had not yet arrived made him anxious. The devotees were promising life members books, but where were these books? Every day the problem became more and more pronounced.
Prabhupāda learned of a Calcutta port strike. His books had apparently arrived, but the ship, unable to unload cargo in Calcutta, had left port. He worried that the ship would unload the books in some other Indian port. The exact whereabouts and condition of the books, however, remained unknown. Prabhupāda was greatly concerned. He decided to send a competent disciple, Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, to Calcutta to try and retrieve the books. Meanwhile he would continue preaching, depending on Kṛṣṇa.
October 21, 1970
Accompanied by a group of disciples (seven men and two women), Prabhupāda began the two-day train ride from Bombay to Amritsar. Years ago Prabhupāda had traveled as a preacher in India alone, riding the trains to Jhansi, Delhi, Kanpur, Calcutta, and Bombay to publish Back to Godhead and solicit support. After only five years in the West, he now had the great advantage of sincere disciples, and now the Indians were taking notice.
He had stationed Acyutānanda Swami, Jayapatāka Swami, Haṁsadūta, and others in Calcutta; Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, Śyāmasundara, and others in Bombay. His disciples would make life members and try to establish permanent ISKCON centers in two of India’s major cities. His Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement was beginning in India, and he wanted to travel with his disciples wherever there was an opportunity to preach. Just as he had worked in America – never settling comfortably in one place, but always traveling, speaking about Kṛṣṇa, meeting new people and offering them devotional service – so he would also work in India.
The train arrived at Kurukṣetra station. “Near here,” said Prabhupāda, “Lord Kṛṣṇa spoke Bhagavad-gītā five thousand years ago. They say it does not exist – a mythological place. It is a symbol of the field of the body and the senses, they say. It is an allegorical place. But here we are at the station.” As he spoke, the sun was setting, and a bright, orange sky shone over the flat land. “How can they say Kurukṣetra is not a real place?” he continued. “Here it is before us. And it has been a historical place for a long, long time.”
When the train arrived at Amritsar station, members of the Vedanta Sammelan committee received Prabhupāda and escorted him and his disciples to a park on the outskirts of the city. They showed him the large paṇḍāl the Niketan Ashram had erected for the Vedanta Sammelan and assigned him and his disciples their quarters – three small rooms. Prabhupāda took one room, the two women the second room, and four of the men crowded into the third, leaving three men to sleep outdoors on cots. The first night in the northern climate was cold. Available bedding was meager, and none of the devotees had brought warm clothing.
At four the next morning the devotees congregated in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s room for maṅgala-ārati and kīrtana before the Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa – the same Deities who had been traveling with Prabhupāda for the past one and a half years. Despite the austere conditions, the devotees felt fortunate to have such intimate contact with Prabhupāda and Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. Prabhupāda played mṛdaṅga, leading the chanting of prayers to the spiritual master. Afterward, he had the pūjārī distribute to each devotee a bit of the fruit and sweetmeats that had just been offered to the Deities. It was still before sunrise, and the room was chilly. As the devotees sat huddled beneath a naked bulb, Prabhupāda had them read aloud from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
That same morning Prabhupāda attended the Vedanta Sammelan. There were thousands of people in the audience, and since most of them did not understand English, Prabhupāda spoke in Hindi. His presentation pleased everyone, and the committee members honored him by making him president of the Vedanta Sammelan.
Although the program was scheduled only for several hours in the morning and evening, Prabhupāda did not limit his preaching to these times; he preached every hour of the day. While he sat in his room, a constant stream of guests came to him, hundreds of pious Hindus seeking his blessings. Recognizing this vestige of Vedic culture, he pointed it out to his disciples. “Just see,” he said, “how they treat a saintly person.”
Prabhupāda also began receiving the usual flood of invitations to visit the homes of Hindu families. He accepted as many invitations as possible – more than possible, it seemed to his disciples.
Prabhupāda moved quickly. When the cars were ready, he would come out of his room and go, leaving behind anyone who wasn’t ready. After each engagement, he would get into his car and go directly to the next. Latecomers would sometimes find he had already left. They would then jump into bicycle rickshas and try to catch him. A wrong direction or a missed turn might make them miss the next engagement. And when at last they would catch up, they would find Prabhupāda coolly, gravely in the midst of a lecture on Bhagavad-gītā or laughing and taking prasādam with his host.
Every day brought at least a half-dozen engagements – “Come to our temple for darśana,” “Come to our house for prasādam.” And whenever Prabhupāda would return to his āśrama, he would find a long line of guests waiting to spend a few moments with him.
None of the devotees could match Prabhupāda’s pace and enthusiasm. His energy seemed never to wane. For his disciples, being invited insistently to take a full meal at half a dozen homes in one day was too much. They tended to overeat, and some of them got sick. But Prabhupāda knew how to handle the situation expertly. He would fully satisfy each host, speak about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, hold kīrtana, take a little prasādam, and move on.
One evening, in response to an invitation, Prabhupāda visited the home of Baladeva Indra Singh, a descendant of one of ancient Punjab’s ruling families. Although nearing sixty, Mr. Singh was still a robust Punjabi kṣatriya, handsome, tall, and sporting a big black mustache. He showed Prabhupāda and his disciples through his elegant home, with its large portraits of ancestors, uniformed kṣatriyas with their helmets and swords. In the trophy room, which had many animal skins and stuffed heads mounted on the wall, Mr. Singh brought Prabhupāda and his disciples before his prize trophy, a large tiger’s head. Prabhupāda approached closely. “You have killed this?” he asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Singh replied. And he described the details of the hunt. The man-eater had killed many people in a nearby village, Mr. Singh explained. “So I went and shot it.”
Prabhupāda’s eyes widened, and he turned to his disciples. “Oh, very nice!”
Later, Prabhupāda sat in a chair, and Mr. Singh sat before him on the floor. He said something was troubling him. An astrologer had told him that in a previous lifetime, thousands of years ago, he had fought in the Battle of Kurukṣetra – but on the side against Kṛṣṇa!
“That’s not possible,” Prabhupāda said. “Everyone present at the Battle of Kurukṣetra was liberated. If you had actually been at the Battle of Kurukṣetra, you would not still be within this material world.” Mr. Singh wasn’t certain whether to feel relieved or disappointed. But Prabhupāda assured him, “That’s all right. Don’t worry. Now you are a devotee of Kṛṣṇa.”
When Prabhupāda asked Mr. Singh to become a life member of ISKCON, he agreed immediately. He confessed that when he had first invited Prabhupāda and his disciples he had actually been skeptical, but after being with Śrīla Prabhupāda for a few minutes, he said, all his doubts and suspicions had vanished. He would be happy to become ISKCON’s first life member in Amritsar.
Although the devotees requested Prabhupāda to take fewer engagements, he would not slow down. It was his disciples, he said, who were finding the pace difficult. One night, after the eighth and final engagement of the day, Prabhupāda returned to his room just a little before midnight. For the devotees the day had been exhausting, and they were eager to get to bed as soon as possible. Noticing Prabhupāda’s light still on, one of them went to his window. Prabhupāda was sitting at his desk, leaning back against the wall, listening to a tape recording of one of the talks he had given that day.
One afternoon Prabhupāda and his disciples went to see the famous Golden Temple of the Sikhs. A guide took them around and answered Prabhupāda’s questions. Sikh businessmen, the guide explained, maintained the temple and its expenses. The Sikhs pride themselves in the assertion that no one in Amritsar goes hungry, and they daily feed dāl and capātīs to ten thousand people. This interested Prabhupāda, and he observed their massive operation. He watched the group of men rolling capātīs, flipping them deftly through the air onto a giant griddle while other men, using long paddles, turned the capātīs, held them briefly over the hot coals, and then placed them in stacks. “This is how to distribute prasādam,” Prabhupāda said.
Prabhupāda signed the guest book “A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.” Under Religion he wrote “Kṛṣṇaite.” And under Comments he wrote “very spiritual.”
Prabhupāda and his disciples visited Rāma-tīrtha-sarovara, the lake where in a bygone age the great sage Vālmīki had his āśrama. The terrain surrounding Rāma-tīrtha-sarovara was dry and rocky, and vegetation was sparse. As they stopped at the beautiful bathing ghāṭa, its steps leading down into the lake, the devotees were in a jubilant mood, happy to be on a field trip with their transcendental father and teacher. The peaceful lake and the beautiful ghāṭa seemed an ideal setting for being with Prabhupāda.
The devotees, who knew little of Lord Rāma, listened intently as Prabhupāda began to tell some of the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His incarnation of Lord Rāmacandra. During the last days of His earthly pastimes, Prabhupāda said, Rāma banished Sītā, His wife and eternal consort. Pregnant and alone, Sītā sought shelter at the āśrama of Vālmīki, where she soon gave birth to a son, Lava. Vālmīki created another son for Sītā from straw and named him Kuśa.
When Sītā learned that Rāma was sending a challenge horse throughout the world, she instructed her sons to catch the horse. In this way, she concluded, they would capture their father and bring Him before her. Unfortunately, while the boys were away on their mission, they learned that Lord Rāmacandra had departed from the world. Grief-stricken, they returned to Vālmīki. To mitigate the boys’ anguish of separation, Vālmīki sang to them Rāmāyaṇa, the transcendental narrative of Lord Rāma’s activities. One day, as Sītā was out walking, the ground opened before her, and she returned into the earth from which she had appeared.
These events, Prabhupāda explained as he stood with his followers by Rāma-tīrtha-sarovara, had happened no less than eight hundred thousand years ago. For the devotees, it was as if Prabhupāda had opened a new door to the spiritual world.
The organizers of the Vedanta Sammelan repeatedly asked Prabhupāda and his party to play a larger part in the paṇḍāl program. The scheduled discourses were mostly on Māyāvāda philosophy: God is impersonal, all religious paths are equal and lead to the Supreme One, all is one, we are all God. Such dry speculations could not hold the public’s attention, and the Sammelan organizers daily requested the devotees to hold kīrtana in the paṇḍāl. But with so much other preaching, Prabhupāda preferred holding programs of his own in private homes around the city.
A devotee asked Prabhupāda about a Māyāvāda slogan he saw posted: Tat Tvam Asi, with the English translation underneath: “You are that too.” This was a favorite saying of the impersonalists, who imagine that the living entity is God, Prabhupāda said. He explained elaborately the distinction between God and the living entity and told how God, when He appears, displays certain unmistakable characteristics that identify Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. “These yogīs will just talk and talk Vedānta,” Prabhupāda said. “It is simply mental speculation, and they never come to any conclusion. They will go on speculating for years and lifetimes, but we will realize God simply by eating.” And from the plate of prasādam before him he took a sweet and popped it into his mouth.
In the midst of his activities in Amritsar, Prabhupāda continued to think of his spiritual children in various places throughout the world, and he regularly wrote them. To the devotees in Calcutta he wrote, “I am very much anxious to hear what you are doing there and if you have made any life members by this time.” He asked them to register ISKCON with the government and try to establish a permanent center there.
To his disciples in Bombay he wrote, “I am very anxious to know your situation; whether you have removed to the Rāma Temple or where you are stationed now.” To Karandhara in Los Angeles he wrote:
I hope everything is going on well with you in our Los Angeles World Headquarters.
Please send me a report of your general activities. … and also your Governing Body Commission activities. Please offer my blessings to all the members of our Temples. How is the Deity worship being carried on?
Replying to Upendra in the Fiji Islands:
Regarding worship of demigods, the whole Hindu society is absorbed in this business, so unless our preaching work is very vigorous it is very difficult to stop them.
And to Bhavānanda in New York:
Please conduct the Samkirtan program regularly and that will give me great pleasure. Regarding our new temple in Brooklyn, Kṛṣṇa has given you very good chance to serve Him.
October 30, 1970
After ten days in Amritsar, Prabhupāda was on the train heading back to Bombay. He rode in a small first-class compartment with Gurudāsa, while the rest of his disciples rode in another part of the train. Prabhupāda’s car, being close to the locomotive, caught soot from the engine’s smoke stack, until he was soon flecked from head to foot with small black particles.
Yamunā: We were traveling between Amritsar and Delhi, and I decided to go see how Śrīla Prabhupāda was doing, if there was anything he wanted (because sometimes when the train stopped he would ask for a devotee to purchase fresh fruit and other things from the vendors on the train platform). So Kauśalyā and I made our way through several cars to Prabhupāda’s first-class compartment. He was lying back on several pillows with one knee up, looking like a monarch. He had a beautiful smile on his face.
We paid our obeisances, and Śrīla Prabhupāda looked at us with a twinkle in his eye. “Is there anything hot to eat?” he asked. “What do you mean?” I said. “Do you want me to get your lunch, Śrīla Prabhupāda?” “No,” he said, “not that. Some rice, some hot rice.” I said, “What do you mean, Śrīla Prabhupāda – from the train?” He said, “Well, no. If you can make me some hot rice.” I said I would.
I had no idea how I was going to prepare hot rice for Śrīla Prabhupāda, but Kauśalyā and I found our way to the kitchen. Nobody was there, only two men dressed in black, turmeric-stained shorts, standing over the coal stove smoking cigarettes. I didn’t know how to speak Hindi, but I said the best I could, “My Guru Mahārāja wants some cāval, some hot rice.”
The men laughed at us as if we were crazy, and so I thought we had better find someone who would give us permission. But when we found the manager of the restaurant, he said, “No. Impossible. You can’t cook in the kitchen.” I said, “I’m sorry, this is for my Guru Mahārāja. There is no question of choice. I have said to him that I will fix rice, and I have to fulfill this.” But again he said, “No, it is impossible.”
I went and found the conductor of the train and explained the situation to him. “If I can’t do this for my spiritual master,” I said, “then I might as well jump off the train.” The conductor took us very seriously and said, “Of course, of course, you can fix whatever you like in the kitchen.”
So he brought us back to the kitchen and told the head of the kitchen as well as the head of the restaurant that he was giving us permission. The coal stove was gigantic, and I was completely unfamiliar with it. All sorts of aluminum pots and dishes were hanging around the kitchen. We cleaned out one of the pots as best we could, boiled the water, and put in the cāvāl. We prepared a gigantic platter of very hot rice with butter, fresh lemon, salt, and pepper and carried it through the train to Prabhupāda’s compartment.
“Here’s your rice, Śrīla Prabhupāda,” I said as we entered. And his eyes lit up and opened wide. He gave a huge grin. “Oh, my goddesses of fortune have come,” he said. “They have brought me my rice. Thank you very much. This is just what I wanted.” He ate so much from this huge plate. He took a little kacaurī and purī with it, and a little pickle. He was very pleased.
That night the train pulled into the New Delhi station, with its scurrying crowds of passengers, hawking vendors, refreshment counters, newsstands, beggars, and coolies in their dingy red jackets. The stopover would be twenty minutes.
Suddenly a man appeared in Prabhupāda’s compartment, identifying himself as D. D. Gupta. Although Prabhupāda had not met him before, they had corresponded. He was a Delhi man, not especially influential or wealthy, but he wanted to help. Offering Prabhupāda a box of sweets, he invited him to stay in Delhi. Prabhupāda, however, already had other plans and had even wired ahead to notify the devotees in Bombay of his arrival.
Prabhupāda looked over at Gurudāsa, who was feeling happy and especially blessed to have this intimate contact with his spiritual master. Twelve hours they had spent in the same compartment, eating together, talking together. Just minutes before, Prabhupāda had been stressing the importance of farming and explaining how the scarcity of food was due to mismanagement, not to lack of rain or arable land. Gurudāsa was happy, and he was looking forward to the next leg of the journey with Prabhupāda, anticipating the scenery and his return to Bombay.
“This man is inviting us,” Prabhupāda said. “Get down and see what you can do.”
“Get down?” There was hardly time to ask questions or discuss what to do in Delhi; the train would be leaving immediately. Gurudāsa said he would stay, but he would need help. He and Prabhupāda agreed on a team: Yamunā (Gurudāsa’s wife), Girirāja, Durlabha, Bruce, and Gopāla. Gurudāsa ran to tell his wife and the brahmacārīs the news.
The devotees had little trouble picking up their light bags and getting off the train, but they felt sad to be leaving Śrīla Prabhupāda. As the train pulled away they offered obeisances outside Prabhupāda’s window and waved to him, praying for his mercy. This was an austerity – perhaps a tiny drop of what Prabhupāda had gone through when he had first arrived in America.
For the next month, Prabhupāda and his disciples stayed at Manoharlal Agarwal’s Sītā-Rāma temple in Chembur. Actually it was Mr. Agarwal’s residence, but since he maintained the worship of Sītā-Rāma Deities he called his home Ram Sharanam, “under the shelter of Lord Rāma.” Prabhupāda occupied one room, and his disciples two other rooms, with access to a kitchen and bath. The Sītā-Rāma temple and suburban neighborhood provided a peaceful atmosphere, and Prabhupāda returned to concentrated work on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, corresponding with ISKCON centers around the world and looking after the small group of disciples who were with him. He had great hope Kṛṣṇa would provide a way for ISKCON to become well established in India.
We are just now receiving great publicity and it is reported that Bombay has now got its atmosphere filled with Krishna Consciousness. It is a fact, and the important members of the Bombay community are appreciating our Movement. …
For the present I am more prominent than all swamis. People are appreciating – What are these swamis? They cannot go outside. There is a Bengali saying that a jackal is king in a small forest. The story is that a jackal became king in the forest by fooling the other animals for some time, but he remained always a jackal and his ruse was at last exposed.
Although Mr. Agarwal was honored that Prabhupāda had accepted his invitation and was now living as his guest, Prabhupāda knew that the situation would ultimately prove inconvenient for everyone involved. To open one’s home to a dozen guests and feed them daily was a strain, even for a wealthy man; and for the devotees to live in those tiny quarters under the already trying conditions of irregular hours, frequent sickness, and tropical heat was not easy.
The solution, of course, was for the devotees to get their own place, an ISKCON center in Bombay. As a sannyāsī, Prabhupāda was prepared to stay anywhere, moving as often as necessary, accepting alms. He had lived that way for years before going to America. But now he had twenty spiritual children to support in India, and more on the way. They were not mature. He wanted them near him so that they could observe how he did things and imbibe the spirit of preaching in India.
When a Hindu organization in downtown Bombay requested a few devotees to attend a three-day program, Prabhupāda approved. But when the program was over and the leaders of the organization invited the devotees to stay on indefinitely, Prabhupāda said, “No. They will simply eat and sleep.” Better for them to stay with him at crowded Ram Sharanam.
Mrs. Sumati Morarji, the wealthy director of Scindia Steamship Lines, had financed the printing of the third volume of Prabhupāda’s Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in 1964, and in 1965 she had provided him free passage to America. Now she invited Prabhupāda to speak at Scindia House, near Juhu Beach. Seated onstage, Prabhupāda and Sumati Morarji reminisced, celebrating Prabhupāda’s success.
“I did not think you would come back alive,” Mrs. Morarji said. “But I am so much pleased to see you.” No longer was Prabhupāda the poor sādhu Mrs. Morarji had met six years ago. He was a success, and Sumati Morarji and her staff and friends were happy to hear about the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement in the West.
Before Prabhupāda’s lecture, Tamāla Kṛṣṇa formally introduced him to the audience. “Śrīla Prabhupāda left for the West five years ago from this city. He had almost no money. He went to New York, where he chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa in a park, underneath a tree. Soon he opened a temple, where he continued his chanting and held classes on Vedic philosophy. Many people came, and gradually he opened new centers: San Francisco, Montreal, Boston, and so on. Now he has many devotees and over forty temples. In each temple there is a full-scale program of saṅkīrtana, Deity worship, and prasādam distribution. India has sent many ambassadors and ministers to the West, but none of them can say that he made the Americans give up eating meat, fish, and eggs and got them to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. Everyone is indebted to Śrīla Prabhupāda, because he came to relieve the suffering of all the fallen souls. …”
Prabhupāda sang three verses from the Brahma-saṁhitā and invited the audience to join in the chorus: Govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi. After speaking for half an hour, he accepted prasādam with Sumati Morarji and honored guests and dignitaries. He met Dr. C. Bali and his wife, the famous dancer and movie actress Vaijayanti Mala. He spoke only briefly with them, and they became life members of ISKCON.
Vaijayanti Mala: Swami Prabhupāda made his preaching so simple that even a layperson would understand what our great philosophy and our great teachings meant. Not only was he propagating the great culture of our Lord Kṛṣṇa, but he was making the people of other parts of the world really understand its meaning and its significance. By his simple and yet very great teachings of Kṛṣṇa, he took this message so far and so wide that it’s really a marvel that a person single-handedly could do so much. He not only preached and, you know, just talked about the whole thing, but he also established so many centers in so many parts of the world. This is really amazing that he could do it in spite of all difficulties. But his perseverance and his persistence, I think, kept him on.
The public sensation of Prabhupāda’s disciples chanting in the streets of Bombay and at the Sadhu Samaj had died down; the regular news coverage had stopped. Still Prabhupāda was sought after by many important people in Bombay. His accomplishments after five years in America commanded the esteem and attention of intelligent Indians, and daily he received respectable visitors who accepted him as the authority on Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
The Indians regarded Prabhupāda as unique. Even in a culture where swamis and holy men are commonly treated with respect, he was regarded as special. His visitors would beg him to come to their homes and sanctify them. And this was also in line with Prabhupāda’s desire; he wanted to engage the Indians in chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, hearing the philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā, and honoring the Lord’s prasādam. He wanted them to appreciate the purity of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, enlist as life members of ISKCON, and help him establish a large center in Bombay.
In preaching to Indians, Prabhupāda would often urge them to return to their all-but-forgotten spiritual culture. “Our culture is Kṛṣṇa consciousness,” he said before a group of Bombay citizens. “But we are forgetting and becoming too materially absorbed. Lord Ṛṣabhadeva says that this is not good, because according to the law of karma you will have to take another body. But you don’t have to give up your hard struggle for material life. Arjuna was not advised to do this. He remained in his position and executed Kṛṣṇa consciousness.” Prabhupāda concluded, “I am begging. I have forty-two temples in the West, and in each one there are fifty to one hundred disciples. Thousands of books have to be printed. Please help me with this movement.”
Manoharlal Agarwal, Prabhupāda’s host at Ram Sharanam, would often sit with him for hours, inquiring about spiritual life. Mr. Agarwal was particularly interested in hearing of Prabhupāda’s work in America: How had he transformed so many Christians into rāma-bhaktas? Had he been alone, or had there been helpers? How did he dress in America? What was his approach? Prabhupāda recounted his early preaching on the Lower East Side of New York, and he explained how everything had happened by Kṛṣṇa’s desire.
Mr. Agarwal doubted whether Westerners would be able to stay with Kṛṣṇa consciousness for very long. “Now in the radiance of your company,” he said, “as long as you are here bodily and physically, they may continue to observe all these restrictions. But when your physical influence will not be there, one day when you will have to leave this world, then all these people that have come in contact with you, will they go bad?”
“No,” Prabhupāda said firmly.
“Your claim is very tall,” replied Mr. Agarwal. “Can you tell me what is the basic foundation of your claim?”
Prabhupāda reminded him that all his disciples had been initiated into the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra and that according to the Vedic scriptures the constant chanting of the Lord’s holy name will save even the most fallen souls and protect them from falling again. Even after his passing away, Prabhupāda predicted, his disciples would not fall victim to māyā, as long as they continued their prescribed chanting.
One day Mr. Agarwal asked how long Prabhupāda and his disciples were planning to stay. Prabhupāda said that he was very happy staying where he was but would try to find a new place immediately. Mr. Agarwal insisted that he had no intention of asking Prabhupāda to leave; his home belonged to Prabhupāda, not to himself. He begged him to kindly continue to stay.
Prabhupāda said this reminded him of an incident from the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, and he told a story about Haridāsa Ṭhākura, the great devotee of Lord Caitanya. Haridāsa Ṭhākura used to live alone in a cave, where he chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa day and night. Many pilgrims would visit him, but when they learned that a python was also living within the cave, they became afraid. Although Haridāsa Ṭhākura was satisfied with his cave, he didn’t want to inconvenience his visitors, so he said he would leave the cave that very day and not return again. Yet even as he spoke, the huge python came winding out from the back of the cave into the presence of all. Passing near Haridāsa Ṭhākura, the snake bowed his head to the ground and slithered away. The Supersoul within the heart of the python had impelled him to leave the cave so that Haridāsa Ṭhākura could remain.
Prabhupāda laughed as he told the story. “Agarwalji,” he said, “you have said the same thing. You have said that you will go away and that we will stay. But no, no, we will go. We will go.”