A Lot of Ground to Be Covered
December 3, 1970
INDIA CONTINUED TO be like a dream for Prabhupāda’s disciples, who gazed out the windows as the train moved them through India’s unfamiliar rural world. The trackside bushes blossomed in yellow. Mile after mile of irrigated agricultural fields passed by – wheat, rice, sugarcane, and varieties of dāl. Small villages – mud-walled houses with straw roofs, or thatched walls with tile roofs – drifted peacefully by. An occasional village temple made of stone would rise above the surrounding simple structures. Cowherd boys with sticks tended their herds on the grassy banks of meandering streams. And the grazing cows, the oxen plowing in the ancient fields, the dung patties drying in the sun for fuel, the smoke rising from the cooking fires, and the smell of the warm earth – all were part of a peaceful, simple way of life the devotees were coming to appreciate through Prabhupāda’s association.
Prabhupāda and his disciples were en route to Indore, a city of 475,000 in the central Indian province of Madhya Pradesh, thirteen hours northeast of Bombay. The directors of the Gita Jayanti Mahotsava, a festival to celebrate the teachings of Bhagavad-gītā, had invited Prabhupāda and his disciples to attend their convention and public meeting.
In Indore Śrīla Prabhupāda and his disciples settled into their quarters near the Gita Bhavan, the site of the Gita Jayanti Mahotsava. The directors of the convention had assigned Prabhupāda a bungalow with a lawn and garden and had provided nearby facilities for his disciples.
The devotees toured the grounds of the Gita Bhavan, noting the many swamis and sādhus who had arrived from various parts of India for the Mahotsava. They saw the large paṇḍāl and stage, the eye hospital run by the Gita Bhavan, and the diorama exhibit. The diorama exhibit they regarded as the kind of eclectic mixing of spiritual paths that Prabhupāda often referred to as “hodgepodge.” Kṛṣṇa, Buddha, Jesus, Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, and demigods and animals were all on display. While admiring the energy and imagination that had produced such an exhibit, the devotees questioned the benefit of such a conglomeration.
On the first night of the festival Prabhupāda was scheduled as the last speaker. His disciples, who sat with him onstage, grew bored and restless from the ordeal of so many hours of Hindi speeches. And knowing that these speakers were presenting Māyāvāda misconceptions made the evening especially painful. Śrīla Prabhupāda sat sternly and waited, his hand in his bead bag, his head held high, his lips murmuring the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra.
When Prabhupāda finally spoke, he began by explaining that in the West he was spreading the teachings of the Gītā as it is. Bhagavad-gītā, he said, could be properly understood only in disciplic succession, just as Arjuna, the original student of the Bhagavad-gītā, had understood it. The Gītā was for the devotee of Kṛṣṇa and should not be misinterpreted by nondevotees. To misinterpret the Gītā, he said, was to cheat in the name of religion. He also spoke strongly against pseudoincarnations.
Prabhupāda concluded his talk and asked his disciples to begin kīrtana. It was an ecstatic, spontaneous event, and Prabhupāda began dancing onstage along with his disciples. The crowd came to life and began clapping rhythmically. Haṁsadūta jumped down from the stage, still playing mṛdaṅga, and began inducing members of the audience to join in chanting and dancing. Several other devotees also jumped down, and soon hundreds of people had risen to their feet, swaying, clapping, and singing: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare / Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. This was the real Gita Jayanti Mahotsava. The holy name of Kṛṣṇa was being sung, and everyone was happily united in the kīrtana.
Greatly pleased by the performance of Prabhupāda and his disciples, the paṇḍāl directors visited Prabhupāda the next day in his bungalow. Prabhupāda complained at having to wait so long before he could speak; his disciples shouldn’t be required to sit through hours of speeches in a language they couldn’t understand. When Prabhupāda intimated that the speeches seriously deviated from the teachings of the Gītā, the director of the Gita Bhavan replied, “We do not favor any particular way. Followers of the Śaṅkara school and others also come to our institution. We do not subscribe wholly that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the sole God or anything of the sort. There is a power behind Him …”
This remark drew fire from Śrīla Prabhupāda. What kind of glorification of the Gītā was this if the speakers did not accept Kṛṣṇa as He is explained in the Gītā? The Gītā declares Kṛṣṇa to be the highest truth: mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat. Prabhupāda advised the directors of the Gita Bhavan to try to understand the meaning of Bhagavad-gītā. The directors did not change their opinion, but they were intelligent enough to see that Prabhupāda was a great paṇḍita and saint, and they listened respectfully. Nodding, they said they accepted his point of view.
After the men left, Prabhupāda continued, “They are thinking that there is something beyond Kṛṣṇa or that it is the spirit within Kṛṣṇa that we have to surrender to. But they do not know that the within and the without of Kṛṣṇa are all absolute, eternal, and full of bliss.”
Prabhupāda said he could see that the organizers of the Gita Jayanti Mahotsava had invited him to draw larger crowds. But they would not make him sit again through all the Māyāvādī nonsense, he said. From now on, he would go with his disciples, speak, chant, and then leave.
The next night, however, despite promises by the paṇḍāl directors, Śrīla Prabhupāda again had to wait until the end of the program before he could speak and hold kīrtana. This night, the crowd was larger than before, and they were clearly waiting for Śrīla Prabhupāda and the foreign sādhus. When Prabhupāda’s turn came at last, he spoke and then asked his disciples to begin kīrtana.
During the kīrtana one of the members of the Gita Bhavan gestured to the devotees to jump down into the crowd as they had done on the preceding night. But what had been a spontaneous event the night before could not be artificially staged simply as a crowd pleaser. The man, however, was insistent. He came forward to the edge of the stage, reached up, and began grabbing at the feet of the dancing devotees, trying to pull them into the audience. The devotees became annoyed. Grabbing indiscriminately, the man pulled at one of the women’s sārīs. Śrīla Prabhupāda was also dancing, but when he saw this he rushed to the edge of the stage, swinging his karatālas toward the man’s face and shouting, “Stop this!” The man retreated, and Prabhupāda and his disciples continued their kīrtana. Although little-noticed by the crowd, Prabhupāda’s burst of lionlike ferocity had amazed his disciples.
The festival directors were once again pleased with Prabhupāda’s lecture and kīrtana. But Prabhupāda sent them word that he would not again sit through the other lectures, waiting his turn to speak. He had wearied of hearing opinions on Bhagavad-gītā that avoided the conclusion of Bhagavad-gītā – surrender to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Absolute Truth. Some speakers made the Gītā an allegory, some said Kṛṣṇa was not an actual historical personality, and some simply took advantage of the Gītā’s popularity to put forward their own political or social philosophies. A person with his own philosophy should write his own book, Prabhupāda said, not use as a vehicle for his own ideas the Bhagavad-gītā, a scripture worshiped by millions and respected throughout the world. Why should a conference under the name Gita Jayanti become a forum for speculative philosophies? Bhagavad-gītā states that the Gītā itself is the essence of knowledge, meant to benefit the entire world. To misrepresent the Gītā, therefore, was the greatest disservice. Prabhupāda felt that by sitting through such a program, he and his disciples were tacitly approving the blasphemous speeches.
On the third night of the festival, Prabhupāda and his disciples came early to the stage, having been promised by the festival directors that they would be first on the program. But when another speaker stood and began his discourse, Prabhupāda, followed by his disciples, stood and walked off the stage. The festival director was quite disturbed by this, since most of the audience had come especially for the kīrtana. He pleaded with Prabhupāda to return, but Prabhupāda refused. He did agree, however, to send his disciples every night; they would speak and hold kīrtana.
“We are talking of Ajāmila, a brāhmaṇa residing in Kanyākubjā, presently known as Kanpur,” Prabhupāda began, and he narrated the story of Ajāmila’s life, pausing from time to time to read the Sanskrit text or to elaborate on the story and its lessons. Ajāmila, a young brāhmaṇa, had strictly followed the religious principles, until he became infatuated with a prostitute. As Prabhupāda lectured he focused on the bogus speakers at the Gita Jayanti Mahotsava.
“There are so many things to know, but these things are not being discussed here. It is very cheap to do whatever you like – you simply meditate and you become God. So much cheating is going on all over the world. The so-called yogīs say, ‘You meditate, and as soon as you are realized, you become God.’
“The Bhagavad-gītā is being interpreted in so many different ways. And these so-called explanations are being accepted by the innocent public as authoritative knowledge. Someone is explaining that kurukṣetra means this body, and pañca-pāṇḍava* means the senses. But this is not explaining. How can you explain the Bhagavad-gītā as it is when you do not understand it? Such an attempt is nonsense.”
* The five Pāṇḍava brothers, pure devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa, are referred to in Bhagavad- gītā. They were the victors of the Battle of Kurukṣetra.
In his second lecture Prabhupāda narrated more of Ajāmila’s life: his leaving his chaste wife and going to live with the prostitute, his adopting illegal means for supporting her, his having ten children by her and living sinfully until his eightieth year. This story took place, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, thousands of years ago. “At that time there was only one Ajāmila, but you will find many Ajāmilas like that at the present moment, because it is the Age of Kali.”
In his second lecture Prabhupāda narrated more of Ajāmila’s life: his leaving his chaste wife and going to live with the prostitute, his adopting illegal means for supporting her, his having ten children by her and living sinfully until his eightieth year. This story took place, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, thousands of years ago. “At that time there was only one Ajāmila, but you will find many Ajāmilas like that at the present moment, because it is the Age of Kali.”
Ajāmila had great affection for his youngest son, Nārāyaṇa. And as Ajāmila lay on his deathbed and saw the agents of death approaching, he cried out for his son – “Nārāyaṇa!” Prabhupāda continued his story.
“He was just on the point of death, so – naturally he had affection for his son – so he was calling, ‘Nārāyaṇa! Nārāyaṇa! Nārāyaṇa! Please come here! Please come here!’ That is natural. I know my father, when he was dying, I was not at home. So he was living for one day to see me. He was always inquiring whether Abhay has come back. Like that. So father’s paternal affection is like that, and similarly Ajāmila was calling, ‘Nārāyaṇa! Nārāyaṇa!’ ”
Nārāyaṇa is also a name of Kṛṣṇa. And Prabhupāda said that, according to Bhagavad-gītā, if a person remembers Nārāyaṇa, or Kṛṣṇa, at the time of death, he becomes liberated. One’s mentality at death determines one’s next birth. Because the devotee is Kṛṣṇa conscious, he enters the spiritual world at death; and because the materialist is absorbed in sense pleasure and mental speculation, he has to take birth after birth in the material world. Prabhupāda gave an example.
“One gentleman in Calcutta was a fairly big businessman. He was dealing in shares, stocks. So at the time of death he was crying, ‘Kamarhati! Kamarhati!’ So the result might be that he might have taken his birth as a rat in the Kamarhati mill. It is possible. At the time of death, whatever you think, that will carry you to your next type of body.”
Because Ajāmila had called on the name of the Lord, even though referring to his son, he became purified of all sins. Yet because of his sinful life, the messengers of Yamarāja, the lord of death, also appeared, to take him for punishment.
“When Ajāmila was dying, he saw that there were three ferocious persons, very fearful persons, with ropes in their hands. Sometimes a dying man cries, because he sees somebody has come to take him to Yamarāja. He sees, and he is very fearful. So Ajāmila also became fearful. The assistants of Yamarāja have hair very curled, and the hairs on their bodies are standing. Now at the time of Ajāmila’s death, the assistants of Yamarāja came to take him.”
Prabhupāda paused. “We shall discuss sometime again.” And he ended his lecture.
Prabhupāda began making life members in Indore by sending Haṁsadūta out alone. Haṁsadūta was inexperienced and even skeptical that anyone would pay the 1,111 rupees.
Haṁsadūta: One day Prabhupāda told me to go to the market with a neighbor and take these books – he had three Kṛṣṇa books – and try to make some life members. Just show them the books, he said, and tell them this is a token of our work. Then ask them to please help our mission by becoming a life member for 1,111 rupees. I was thinking that no one was going to give one thousand rupees for two or three books, so I just didn’t do anything about it. I just avoided the issue. The next day Prabhupāda gave me the same instruction, but again I didn’t do anything. On the third day he said I had to go, so I went next door and got a man who took me to the cloth merchants.
We went to the shop of the biggest cloth merchant in Indore. The man didn’t speak English, so the neighbor who had accompanied me translated. I would say, “Tell him this. Tell him that.” And the man would translate everything. After I had exhausted my presentation, I said, “Now ask him to give a check for 1,111 rupees.” My translator relayed the message, and the merchant immediately took out his checkbook and wrote the check.
Then we visited another merchant, and the same thing happened – he immediately wrote a check. We went to another merchant, and he also became a life member. So I made three life members on the first day, and when I came back and told Prabhupāda, he was in ecstasy.
By sending disciples and by sometimes going out himself, Śrīla Prabhupāda soon had a dozen ISKCON life members in Indore. Prabhupāda, Haṁsadūta, and Girirāja visited the king of Indore and invited him to become a life member, but the king declined. The devotees were disappointed, and in the car on the way back to Gita Bhavan, Haṁsadūta asked Prabhupāda, “Did I say the right thing about the books?”
“My books are like gold,” Prabhupāda replied. “It doesn’t matter what you say about them. One who knows the value, he will purchase.”
Because visitors often asked Prabhupāda and his disciples what they thought of various popular spiritual teachers, Prabhupāda gave his disciples hints on answering such questions. If the teacher was not a bona fide follower of Vedic scripture, Prabhupāda said, the devotee should reply, “Swami who?” By thus indicating that he had not heard of the particular teacher, he would minimize the teacher’s importance. Then the devotee should ask, “What is this swami’s philosophy?” When the person explained, the devotee could defeat the particular philosophy, without attacking the person.
India had many Māyāvādī gurus, Prabhupāda explained, and they often traveled in groups from one convention to another. Although each had his particular style, primarily they were interested in capātīs. “And for every capātī,” he said, “there are many Māyāvādīs. So there is competition.”
One of Prabhupāda’s frequent visitors was Vairaghi Baba, an educated man who had visited America and who spoke fluent English. He regularly joined in the kīrtana with the devotees, chanting and dancing with them onstage, and when he visited Prabhupāda in his room he behaved with Prabhupāda in a familiar way – too familiar, Prabhupāda’s disciples thought. But Prabhupāda tolerated him.
One day some devotees met Vairaghi Baba at a lunch engagement, and they noticed he was drinking tea. Almost naively, and yet with an air of challenge, one of the devotees asked why he was drinking tea. “Oh, I am an avadhūta,” Vairaghi Baba replied. The devotees, who had never heard this word before, reported the incident to Prabhupāda. “Avadhūta,” Prabhupāda explained, “means one who is beyond the regulative principles. Generally this refers to
* An incarnation of Lord Kṛṣṇa who descended along with Lord Caitanya to spread the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa and deliver the fallen souls of this age. His supremely independent activities, without regard of rules and regulations that apply to human beings, made Him famous as an avadhūta. His unusual pastimes are relished by devotees and are not to be imitated.
A small group of devotees were sitting with Prabhupāda in his room one afternoon. “Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s excellence was Her cooking,” Prabhupāda said. “She could also sing and dance, but Her great service was Her cooking for Kṛṣṇa. Mother Yaśodā would ask Her personally to come and cook for Kṛṣṇa and the cowherd boys. So, all in a line, She would feed them prasādam.”
An Indian lady came to the door, bringing an offering of chidwa – fried cashews, potatoes, and raisins with spices. Śrīla Prabhupāda took some, then distributed the rest to the other devotees. “Do you like this?” he asked, turning to Yamunā.
“Oh, it is very, very tasty,” she replied.
“Yes,” he said, “you should learn to prepare this. I like it very much. My Guru Mahārāja was also fond of potato chidwa, and he would sometimes request it late in the afternoon. He was very fond of it.”
“Śrīla Prabhupāda,” a devotee asked, “may we publish pictures of you without tilaka?”
“Yes,” he replied, “my Guru Mahārāja has been recorded without tilaka. You have seen that picture where he is looking up from his books at his working table?”
“Yes,” the devotee replied, “I have seen that picture. I have seen you look in that very same way, with the very same expression as in the picture of your Guru Mahārāja.”
“You have only seen the glitter,” Prabhupāda corrected. “He is the gold. I am only iron. Iron can never be gold. But you have seen the glitter of real gold.”
One afternoon a renowned astrologer visited Prabhupāda and offered to read his palm. “No,” Prabhupāda replied, “I am finished with that. But you may read my disciples’ palms.” The astrologer read the palms of the several devotees present, made his predictions, and then left. The devotees turned to Prabhupāda, wondering what to make of it. “As soon as you clap your hands in front of the Deities during ārati,” Prabhupāda said, smiling, “all the lines of your palm are changed.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda told his disciples a story about when he had lived in Vṛndāvana. A Bengali widow walked to the Yamunā River to take her bath every morning. And every morning without fail she would return with a pot of water for the Rādhā-Dāmodara pūjārīs to use in bathing the Deities. Prabhupāda said he would sometimes open the gate for the woman, since he also rose very early, and she would enter and wake the pūjārī.
“Although the Vṛndāvana nights are cold in the winter,” Prabhupāda said, “the woman never once failed to come with the water. For this activity she will return back to Godhead. One who cannot rise early in the morning is not very serious about spiritual life. One must rise before the brāhma-muhūrta hour – that is very auspicious. And one will take the trouble to do so if he is serious about spiritual life.”
One day Prabhupāda was sitting outside near his bungalow, chanting on his beads, when an unknown man approached, calling out the names of Kṛṣṇa. Suddenly the man fell to the ground, rolling and crying, appearing to be in great ecstasy. Prabhupāda remained seated and observed the exhibition but made no response. The man continued his crying and rolling and chanting; Prabhupāda now ignored him completely. After several minutes, the man got up and walked away, obviously disappointed.
Early one morning as Prabhupāda sat in his room with his disciples, a gentleman entered and tearfully announced that his mother was dying. The devotees, watching for Prabhupāda’s reaction, saw him remain grave. He didn’t try to reassure the man or preach to him, but made only a very mild comment. Prabhupāda was unpredictable. He was always Kṛṣṇa conscious, and he always acted in accord with guru and śāstra. But exactly how he would act in a given situation was unpredictable. Whatever he did, however, was Kṛṣṇa conscious and correct, and he was always instructing them by his example.
On Prabhupāda’s last morning in Indore he continued the story of Ajāmila. He explained that because Ajāmila had uttered the holy name, he had immediately obtained salvation, even though he had been so sinful.
“So Ajāmila, at the time of his death, just remembered his youngest son, whose name was Nārāyaṇa. The very name of Nārāyaṇa has got the full potency of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Nārāyaṇa. That is the secret of this nāma-saṅkīrtana movement. By chanting the holy name of Nārāyaṇa, you immediately contact with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Nāma, the Lord’s name, is not material – it is spiritual. Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa’s name, there is no difference. …
“In a very appealing voice Ajāmila began to ask his son Nārāyaṇa, ‘Please come here. I am dying.’ He was very afraid of the Yamadūtas.
“Kṛṣṇa sent the Viṣṇudūtas to give Ajāmila shelter. The Viṣṇudūtas looked just like Lord Nārāyaṇa, with four hands. With a grave voice, they said to the Yamadūtas, ‘What are you doing? Stop! You cannot take this man to Yamarāja.’ ”
Prabhupāda ended his lecture – and his stay in Indore. Having accepted an invitation to travel to Surat in the state of Gujarat and hold Kṛṣṇa conscious programs, he and his disciples would be leaving shortly. Devotees from Bombay would also join them. Prabhupāda had come to Indore for the Gita Jayanti Mahotsava, but actually the Mahotsava was but a small part of his preaching in Indore. He had met hundreds of people, made life members and friends. He had touched their lives. His presence in Indore would leave a lasting impression.
Baba Balmukund: I’ve seen many sādhus and great saints in this Gita Bhavan. I saw Śrīla Prabhupāda also in the same place. I was very much impressed by Śrīla Prabhupāda and his preaching. It was because Prabhupāda had revealed the reality about bhakti, because he was a pure bhakta, that he could change the people of the West and give them another dress, he could give them another diet, he could entirely change their culture and give them true bhakti. And this was the greatest thing Prabhupāda has done. Let the world say as it likes, but he has done a marvelous thing regarding Lord Kṛṣṇa’s bhakti. What Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ram Tirtha, and others could not do, Śrīla Prabhupāda has done. It is a marvelous thing.
December 17, 1970
It was like a dream come true. Thousands lined the street for many blocks, while the devotees, playing karatālas and mṛdaṅgas and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, made their way along. Spectators stood on rooftops or clustered at windows and doorways, while others joined the procession. The police had stopped traffic at the intersections, allowing only the kīrtana procession to pass. The earthen road, freshly swept and sprinkled with water, had been decorated with rice flour designs of auspicious Vedic symbols. Green, freshly cut banana trees adorned either side of the way. Overhead, women’s sārīs strung like bunting across the narrow roadway formed a brightly colored canopy over the kīrtana party.
Mr. Bhagubhai Jariwala, Prabhupāda’s host in Surat, had advertised the daily parade routes in the local newspapers, and now, day after day, the devotees were holding a kīrtana procession through various sections of the city. While more than twenty of Prabhupāda’s disciples led the daily procession, thousands of Indians chanted, cheered, and clamored to see, and women threw flower petals from the rooftops.
Often the procession would have to stop as families came forward to garland the devotees. Sometimes the devotees would receive so many garlands that their blissful faces would be scarcely visible, and they would distribute the garlands to the people in the crowd. Never before had the devotees met with such a reception.
“It is a city of devotees,” Prabhupāda said. He compared the people of Surat to dry grass catching fire. By nature they were Kṛṣṇa conscious, but the arrival of Śrīla Prabhupāda and his saṅkīrtana party had been like a torch, setting the city spiritually ablaze.
The entire population of Surat seemed to turn out every morning, as tens of thousands flocked at 7 A.M. to the designated neighborhood. Men, women, laborers, merchants, professionals, the young, the old, and all the children – everyone seemed to be taking part. Cramming the streets and buildings, they would wait for the kīrtana party, and when the devotees arrived, everyone became joyous.
Prabhupāda attended only a couple of the morning processions, preferring to stay in his quarters at Mr. Jariwala’s home. Each morning Prabhupāda would come out onto his second-floor balcony, just as the devotees were leaving. Although the mornings were cold and many of the devotees sick, seeing Prabhupāda on the balcony offering them his blessings eased their troubles. Prabhupāda would wave, and the devotees would set off down the street, chanting.
The devotees had no special paraphernalia other than mṛdaṅgas and karatālas – no flags, no marching band, no ratha (cart), just an enthusiastic kīrtana party. And there was no official paṇḍāl, no Sadhu Samaj, no Vedanta Sammelan, no Gita Jayanti Mahotsava – just an entire city of kṛṣṇa-bhaktas waiting eagerly for the American Hare Kṛṣṇa chanters.
To be worshiped for chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa was just the opposite of what the devotees had experienced in the West. In Hamburg, Chicago, New York, London, Los Angeles, the devotees had been insulted, threatened with arrests, assaulted, and ignored. Of course, sometimes they had been tolerated and even appreciated, but never honored.
The daily saṅkīrtana outing was exhausting, since the route was long and the stops frequent. Many of the devotees had sore throats from singing, and the usual digestive upsets persisted. But the devotees took everything as the mercy of Lord Caitanya, who was allowing them to engage a whole city in His saṅkīrtana movement.
Twenty devotees from the West had just arrived in Surat, as had an American photographer, John Griesser, on assignment for Asia Magazine. John went out every day to shoot the kīrtana processions, and as he did he felt himself becoming caught up in something much greater than a mere photo assignment.
The people of Surat, who considered themselves kṛṣṇa-bhaktas at heart, saw Prabhupāda as a great saint. And they saw his disciples, in whom they found the true Vaiṣṇava qualities, as saints also. The devotees’ dress, behavior, and way of life showed pure bhakti-yoga, and their kīrtana was genuine worship of the holy name. By honoring the Lord’s devotees, the people of Surat knew they were honoring Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself. Devotion to Kṛṣṇa was the heart of their own culture, yet they had never expressed it to such a degree as now.
After several days of kīrtana processions, the mayor of Surat, Mr. Vaikuntha Sastri, closed all schools and proclaimed a holiday throughout the city. Everyone was now free to celebrate the mercy of Lord Caitanya and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. Signs throughout the city read, in Gujarati, “Welcome to the American and European Devotees of Krishna,” and “Welcome to Members of the Hare Krishna Movement.”
The devotees felt tired and blissful as they returned to Mr. Jariwala’s home, and Prabhupāda was waiting for them. As soon as they saw him, they all bowed down.
Cidānanda: Prabhupāda was at the foot of the stairs, greeting us. We were in complete bliss, with flower garlands all over us, big smiles on our faces. We were very happy that we had been so well received. It was as if Prabhupāda was standing there saying, “Just see how wonderful this Kṛṣṇa consciousness is! Just see how happy you are!” He was standing there smiling. He was so happy that we were happy.
The devotees were not alone, however, as they returned to Mr. Jariwala’s home, for hundreds of Indians thronged behind them, eager to see Śrīla Prabhupāda. Śrīla Prabhupāda, his disciples, and a clamoring crowd of Surat devotees squeezed tightly into Prabhupāda’s room. The guests – those who got in – inquired about ISKCON and its activities, while those outside pushed to get inside. The crowd around the house grew so great that traffic couldn’t pass. While Prabhupāda continued to answer questions inside, the crowd outside grew larger and more restless. By their good fortune, they had realized Prabhupāda’s greatness, and they wanted to be with him. As their desire became stronger, their eagerness more intense, Prabhupāda got up from his seat and walked out to the balcony. The crowd roared, “Hare Kṛṣṇa!” their arms upraised.
When Prabhupāda returned inside, the crowd remained unsatisfied, and he asked some of his disciples to try and pacify them. Several devotees went out to the people, answering their questions and telling them Prabhupāda would come out to see them again.
Bhagubhai Jariwala had come in touch with Prabhupāda’s movement several years before in San Francisco, when he had donated a silver mūrti of Kṛṣṇa to the San Francisco temple. Now the Jariwala family, to accommodate their guests, had moved into modest quarters on the roof of their home and offered the rest of the house to Prabhupāda and his disciples. Hospitable hosts, they made the devotees feel welcome to stay forever.
At lunch and again in the evening, Prabhupāda would take prasādam with the devotees and guests, the devotees sitting in rows on the floor and Prabhupāda sitting at the head, in a chair at a table. Mr. Jariwala and his family would serve everyone. Often respectable citizens would also attend the lunches. Mr. Chandra Desai, the chief minister of Gujarat; Mr. Vaikuntha Sastri, Surat’s mayor; the state education minister; and others attended.
The prasādam was the finest Gujarati cooking, and when a dish was particularly to Prabhupāda’s liking he would ask one of his women disciples to learn from Mrs. Jariwala how to cook it. Honoring prasādam twice a day with Prabhupāda was another intimacy the devotees shared with their spiritual master in India. Had they been with him in any other part of the world, such intimacy would probably have been impossible.
Beginning at 4:30 A.M. Prabhupāda would hold kīrtana and ārati before Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa and lecture from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. His room would be filled with guests, including the members of the Jariwala family. Although at outside engagements Prabhupāda usually spoke Hindi, in these morning meetings he always spoke English, for his disciples. He continued lecturing on Ajāmila, focusing on Ajāmila’s degradation due to bad association and on his deliverance by chanting of the holy name. To Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples, who were all aspiring to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa purely and go back to Godhead, these topics were urgently relevant. He was speaking of them.
“Anyone who utters the name of Kṛṣṇa is immediately freed from all sinful activities. That is the power of Kṛṣṇa’s name. The difficulty is that after being freed we again commit mistakes. Kṛṣṇa’s name has got the power – as soon as you utter the name you immediately become freed from all contaminations. But if one thinks, ‘I am chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, so even if I commit sinful activities it will be counteracted by my chanting,’ that is the greatest offense. Just like sometimes in Christian churches they go on Sundays and confess and they are supposed to be excused from sinful reaction. But again, after coming back from the church, they commit the same sin with the expectation that ‘Next week when I go to the church I shall confess, and it will be counteracted.’ This kind of understanding is prohibited. … If you accept spiritual life and at the same time go on committing sinful activities, then you will never be able to progress.”
Prabhupāda’s outdoor evening engagements were well attended. The city officials made one of Surat’s main intersections a festival site, rerouted all traffic, and set up a stage and sound system. Thousands would gather nightly. The crowd was sometimes so large and excited that Prabhupāda would have difficulty speaking above the noise, so he would hold a kīrtana. In the quiet that followed, he would have one or two of his disciples speak. Then he would speak. If the audience again became noisy, he would again say, “All right, let us have kīrtana.” Or sometimes he would simply sit and distribute bits of crystalized sugar candy to the thousands who approached him to touch his lotus feet and take a piece of prasādam.
Girirāja: All the area around this block was completely packed with people. They were all mad after Śrīla Prabhupāda and Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Although a very big area, still people were occupying every space available, perching on rooftops, looking out windows, sitting on odd cement boulders or blocks scattered here and there.
Everything about Prabhupāda’s program was completely satisfying to everyone. The old people liked it because there was the saintly figure of Śrīla Prabhupāda with his young foreign disciples. And the intellectuals liked it because Śrīla Prabhupāda was giving such sound philosophy. And the children liked it because they could run and dance and join in the kīrtana.
Mādrī dāsī: At one program they mobbed us so, we couldn’t even get out of the cars, they were so eager to see Śrīla Prabhupāda. There were so many people. Prabhupāda said, “All right, the next night will be a night for ladies only.” So the next night only ladies came, but still it was just as packed, and Prabhupāda gave a wonderful lecture.
Bruce: One program was so noisy that no one stopped talking, so Prabhupāda just started chanting the Brahma-saṁhitā. That was the whole program. He just chanted the Brahma-saṁhitā. Then he gave up and went out.
Cidānanda: Before going out to attend these programs, Prabhupāda looked like a general getting ready to go out for battle. He would come out of his room, beautifully dressed and effulgent, ready to go out and fight māyā. There were thousands and thousands of people waiting. I didn’t know what to make of it. I couldn’t handle so many people. But Prabhupāda was waging war on māyā. He was there to convince all these people, and the more people would come, the stronger he would get.
Prabhupāda preached in the outlying villages also. He would ride in a car with Mr. Jariwala, several disciples, and his Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities to Bardoli or Meol. The village dwellings were made of baked mud, with straw roofs and cow dung walls and floors. For Prabhupāda’s visit the villagers drew rice flour designs on the ground outside their houses and lined their lanes with clay pots, plantain leaves, and coconuts.
Mr. N. D. Patel: The people in my village were much impressed by the presence of Prabhupāda. They used to say that he has done miracles by chanting. “He is a miracle saint, no doubt,” people were saying. “So many Western people have become devotees, just by chanting the name of the Lord.” The people were very much impressed by Prabhupāda’s practical way of bhakti. In his lecture Śrīla Prabhupāda created such a good impression, not only on Vaiṣṇavas but so many Christians, Parsis. Even some Muhammadan friends started believing in Lord Kṛṣṇa as the universal Godhead.
With regards to all the saints, nobody has been able to spread this philosophy like this in the past. In our village we are already Vaiṣṇavas, of course, but we used to believe in Sūryajī, Durgā, Ṭhākurajī, and all these things. But after Prabhupāda’s explanation of what is Gītā, what is Lord Kṛṣṇa, we are chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare / Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. After Prabhupāda conducted his discourse here in the village, the people were so impressed that even in his absence they chant the mahā-mantra loudly and they greet people with the words “Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa.” At the time of departure the people wished every devotee and Prabhupāda with the words “Hare Kṛṣṇa!”
When there were no outside engagements, Prabhupāda would sit in his room and receive visitors. To a member of Parliament who came to visit, Prabhupāda said that wherever he traveled he encountered the concept of India as a beggar, backward and poverty-stricken. Ambassadors from India, he said, had only reinforced that image by going to Western countries and begging, “Give me rice, give me money, give me alms.” India, Prabhupāda explained, had the greatest wealth of spiritual culture and the knowledge of Bhagavad-gītā. Prabhupāda had taken this wealth to the West and given it away freely. He was not a beggar.
Yamunā: During visiting hours, riding in the car, walking, standing, or sitting, Prabhupāda was chanting japa all the time in Surat. His fingers were always moving within his saffron bead bag. He was always a Vaiṣṇava – the pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa, well groomed, with beautiful, neat tilaka on, and his hand was always in his bead bag. As he was sitting to greet people, one would be struck by his inconceivable beauty. Śrīla Prabhupāda said persons who give themselves to others are called magnanimous. And this was how Śrīla Prabhupāda was during his pastimes in Surat. He was always delivering Kṛṣṇa to everyone he met. He affected people’s hearts by his great potency.
Every morning in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam class Prabhupāda added another installment of the Ajāmila story. Sometimes he would refer to the degradation of Indian culture, citing specific examples he had seen during his India tour.
“Now I am very sorry to inform you that in your city I have seen two temples – they are known as Rama Mandir. But there is no Rāma. This cheating is going on, and you are accepting. There is no Rāma Deity worship, but a man’s photo is there, Sri Rama. And people are so foolish they do not question why this is going on. In Indore I have been in the Gita Bhavan, and so many nonsense things are there. Another place I saw Gita Samiti, and there was not a single photograph of Kṛṣṇa, but a lamp is there. And this is in the name of dharma.
“Last night this boy informed me that Bhagavad-gītā is going to be distributed by some swami, but according to Bhagavad-gītā that swami is fool number one. He is distributing Bhagavad-gītā, and people are accepting and paying for it. This is going on. It is a very serious situation all over the world. In the name of dharma [religion], adharma [irreligion] is going on.”
Just as Ajāmila had become degraded, Prabhupāda explained, Indian culture had also become degraded. The only hope was for people to return to their rightful position of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
“So all over the world – not only in India – there cannot be peace unless you reform the whole social structure. And that can be done only by this movement, Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Now see how this man fell down. Lusty people – they don’t care for society, they don’t care for elderly persons, they do it in the road, in the street, on the sea beach, anywhere, in the cinema. These things are going on. It is advertised also in the cinema nowadays to attract people. Formerly in India it was not so. But they are introducing all of this nonsense to make people more lusty. To become lusty means he is going to hell. If you want to open the door to your liberation, then you should engage yourself in serving the mahat, the pure devotees. If you want to open the door to the hellish condition of life, then you mix with those who are too much attached to women.”
He spoke of the slaughterhouse and continued to decry the public display of illicit sex. Regarding illicit sex, he said that what had been a rare incident in the time of Ajāmila was now a common affair.
“How can young people protect themselves? They are not trained up. This Ajāmila was trained up, and yet he fell down. I saw in many parks, such as Golden Gate Park, within the cars the young boys and girls … Now here it is said that this behavior is expected of the śūdra, not from the higher castes. So just try to understand. They are thinking that they are becoming advanced. But they are not becoming advanced. They are becoming degraded. The whole world is degraded, and India is also imitating their degradation. How, by degraded association, one becomes himself degraded – that this story will reveal.”
Prabhupāda had accomplished in Surat what he had intended. He had given the holy name, and the people had embraced it. The people of Surat, though not prepared to alter their lives radically and live as ISKCON devotees, appreciated that Prabhupāda had turned Westerners into devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa and that he was teaching the pure message of the scriptures and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. They had responded to Prabhupāda not out of a dogma or ritual but out of an appreciation of the importance of spiritual life and a recognition that Prabhupāda and ISKCON were genuine.
For Prabhupāda’s disciples, the visit to Surat had given them a glimpse of what the world would be like if everyone was a devotee.
Kumbha-melā is the greatest congregation of human beings on earth. Every twelve years in Allahabad, sādhus and pilgrims from all over India gather at the Triveṇī, the confluence of the three holy rivers Ganges, Yamunā, and Sarasvatī. And at an auspicious time that assures the worshiper liberation from the cycle of birth and death, as many as fifteen million people enter the sacred waters. A smaller version, the Māgha-melā, takes place annually during the month of Māgha (December–January). January of 1971, however, happened to fall halfway through the twelve-year cycle from one Kumbha-melā to the next, and the Melā was known as Ardha-kumbha-melā. Millions would attend, and Śrīla Prabhupāda decided to take advantage of the opportunity and attend the Melā with his disciples to preach.
While his disciples took the train from Surat to Allahabad, Prabhupāda, accompanied by Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, Haṁsadūta, Nanda Kumāra, and others, went briefly to Bombay and then to Calcutta, where he satisfied himself that his shipment of books from Dai Nippon was safely stored at a Scindia warehouse. He also purchased twenty-four-inch brass Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities to take with him to Allahabad. On January 11 he wrote:
… tomorrow morning we are going to Allahabad to attend the Ardha Kumbha Mela festival. We shall be going all 40 strong devotees and there are an expected 7,000,000 going by there also for the month of Magh.
About twenty-five devotees had taken the train from Surat to Allahabad, and others, newcomers from the U.S. and England, would soon be arriving. After a twenty-three-hour train ride, the first group arrived. As they disembarked, they could see only fog. With the address of a brahmacārī-āśrama where they were to stay until they could pitch their tents at the Melā site, they started forward.
The devotees knew little of what to expect as they crowded into several one-horse ṭāṅgās and proceeded toward the appointed brahmacārī-āśrama. They had heard that the Kumbha-melā was the most auspicious time to bathe at the Triveṇī and that the water was icy cold. In the foggy morning, they saw pilgrims along the road, riders on camels, and guards carrying rifles. Reaching the āśrama at sunrise, they could see the sacred Ganges before them.
The next morning the devotees started for the pilgrimage site, joining the stream of pilgrims funneling toward the Triveṇī. As they passed the Ram Bhag train station, a sign read, “From this point the confluence of the holy rivers Ganges and Yamunā and the forts are five kilometers.” Riding in bicycle rickshas, the devotees merged with the moving tide of pilgrims, and soon they saw before them, on what one week before had been an empty plain, a city of tents. From the small tents, big tents, and giant paṇḍāls with flags flying rose a dissonance of sounds – music, loudspeaker announcements in different languages, bhajanas, and the hum of prayers.
The devotees got down from their rickshas, paid their drivers, and proceeded ahead, moving with the flow of pilgrims. As they walked, the ground transformed from grass to sand to mud, and the amplified music and the din of mantras and chants increased. The entire way was lined by beggars with leprosy, elephantiasis, and deformities.
The Melā committee had given ISKCON a good location near one of the entrance gates, and a few of the experienced devotees engaged workers in setting up the tents. ISKCON’s paṇḍāl was large and brightly colored, with three smaller tents close by – one for the men, one for the women, and one for Śrīla Prabhupāda. A flimsy shack of corrugated tin served as a kitchen. Prabhupāda was to arrive the next day, and the devotees worked quickly putting down hay and rolling out darīs (large carpets of coarse cotton fabric). The devotees would have to build their own fires, gather their own vegetables, wash their own clothes, and do everything for themselves – all in the middle of a cold, barren sand flat. It was a far cry from being served like princes at a life member’s home.
The devotees were in the midst of a great religious festival and human spectacle, and without Prabhupāda most of them were bewildered by the strange sights and sounds. Yogīs sat all day in the same posture, while crowds stood watching. Trident-carrying Śaivites, with simple red cloth, rudrākṣa beads, and matted hair, sat smoking gāñjā. A procession of elephants, followed by two long files of naked sādhus, strode by. An ascetic lay on a bed of thorns. And there were still others, extreme renunciants rarely seen by the rest of civilization. And of course the various Hindu sects abounded, their chants and prayers rising into the air to mingle with the morning mist and the smoke from the ten thousand campfires that clouded the sky above the city of tents.
When Prabhupāda arrived at the ISKCON camp the next day, the devotees were ecstatic. Eagerly they began to tell him of the bizarre sights of the Melā. One of them mentioned a guru riding on an elephant and added, “Actually, you should ride on the elephant.”
“No,” Prabhupāda replied, “I would put Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa there.”
Prabhupāda’s presence reassured his disciples, reminding them that spiritual life was neither exotic nor bewildering, but simple and practical. In Prabhupāda’s presence the devotees’ attractions to mystic yoga, Vedic rituals, and material blessings and benedictions vanished. They accepted that great spiritual benefit awaited the pilgrims at the Melā, but as Prabhupāda had said, “To go to a holy place means to find a holy person and hear from him. A place is holy because of the presence of the saintly persons.” The devotees understood, therefore, that the greatest spiritual benefit lay in hearing from Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Sitting in his tent with his disciples, Prabhupāda explained the significance of Ardha-kumbha-melā. For millions of years, he said, this had been among the most sacred places in India. During the appearance of the tortoise avatāra, when the demons and demigods had been churning immortal nectar, a drop of that nectar had fallen here. Since then, every six and twelve years certain auspicious planets form a jug, and this jug, filled with immortal nectar, is said to pour that nectar upon the Triveṇī. Lord Rāmacandra and Hanumān appeared here in Allahabad, and here Lord Caitanya taught Rūpa Gosvāmī the science of devotional service. Prabhupāda said he had also lived in Allahabad with his wife and family, and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had initiated him at Allahabad’s Rūpa Gosvāmī Gaudiya Math in 1932. As for the Melās, anyone who came and bathed at the auspicious times when the prāṇa was pouring down from the heavens was guaranteed either promotion to the heavenly planets or liberation.
John Griesser: I talked with other so-called gurus, and they were very impersonal. They didn’t seem to care so much for persons, especially Westerners. They had a dislike, sort of a disdain, even though occasionally some of them would have a Western disciple. Prabhupāda was completely different. He didn’t seem so much concerned about externals but was very concerned about a person’s philosophy, his consciousness. And of course he always tried to inject Kṛṣṇa consciousness into everyone he met.
Prabhupāda said that although most of the saints and sādhus present were inauthentic, many were perfect yogīs, some of them three and four hundred years old. These yogīs, from remote parts of India, would come out for the Melā and then return to seclusion. “I have personally seen,” he said, “that they take bath in the Ganges and come up in the seven sacred rivers. They go down in the Ganges and come up in the Godāvarī River. Then they go down and come up in the Kṛṣṇā River, and go down, like that.” The devotees, therefore, should respect everyone who attended the Melā.
“So actually it’s true,” one of the devotees inquired, “that just by bathing here they are liberated?”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda said, “it’s true. They come here for liberation. But we have not come for liberation. We have come to preach. Being engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s unalloyed devotional service, we are already liberated. We are not interested in liberation. We have come to preach devotional service.”
When Prabhupāda rose early the next morning, the temperature was near freezing. His tent had no heat. He walked to the paṇḍāl to lead the kīrtana at maṅgala-ārati, and as he sat on his vyāsāsana a disciple handed him his quilt, which he wrapped around himself. To rise and bathe in such cold was difficult for most of the devotees. A few went to the Ganges, others bathed at a nearby pump, and some refused to get up at all.
Girirāja: The program was very rigorous, because it was bitterly cold at night and we were expected to get up at four o’clock in the morning and bathe and attend maṅgala-ārati. So a few staunch devotees like Tamāla Kṛṣṇa and Haṁsadūta got up early – by three or three-thirty – and walked all the way from our camp to the Ganges to take an early-morning bath. But those of us staying in the brahmacārī tent were not so staunch, and generally when it was time to get up at four o’clock it was so cold out that we preferred to remain in our sleeping bags.
Śrīla Prabhupāda also started to notice that some of us were coming late to maṅgala-ārati and that some of us were not coming at all. Prabhupāda became very upset about this, because he knew how important maṅgala-ārati was for us. So one morning, although he was a little frail in health, he got up at four o ’clock and came out in his gamchā, sat down under the pump, and took that ice-cold bath early in the morning – just to encourage us to get up, bathe, and come to maṅgala-ārati. That had a very profound effect on all of us, and we felt so ashamed that we just couldn’t sleep late anymore.
After kīrtana Prabhupāda lectured on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, resuming the story of Ajāmila. This particular story, with its glorification of the Lord’s holy name, seemed especially relevant. The holy name was so powerful that by chanting only once Ajāmila had been saved. Chanting, therefore, was far more beneficial than the prāṇa coming down from the constellations.
Dawn came and the sky lightened – but only barely. A damp, heavy fog from the river, mingling with the smoke from the campfires, clung to everything. Rain began to fall. The devotees were unprepared for this weather. With food hard to get and cook and toilet facilities the crudest, the devotees wondered how they would last for the scheduled two weeks.
Prabhupāda, however, who shared with his disciples all these austerities, remained transcendental and apparently unaffected. If the sun peeked through the clouds, he would sit outside and take his massage. Then he would bathe himself, sitting in his gamchā, dipping his loṭā into warmed Ganges water, and pouring it over his body. He seemed so content, the devotees took heart. He wasn’t complaining, so why should they?
Early in the morning, Prabhupāda took the devotees out chanting. He wore his gray woollen cādara and his swami hat strapped under his chin, and his disciples dressed in the warmest clothes they had – sweaters, hats, cādaras. Prabhupāda led the party as they weaved and wandered through the densely populated tent city. The kīrtana was a joy to the other pilgrims. Ironically, amid such an exotic gathering of yogīs, renunciants, naked sādhus, and the like, Prabhupāda and his disciples created the greatest stir.
And they were preaching. Although other groups were uttering mantras or lecturing in their tents, there was nothing else like this. This was the only saṅkīrtana, and everyone welcomed it. With Prabhupāda stately but joyful at the head, the procession grew, and Indians joined the Western sādhus in chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Prabhupāda sent the devotees out on saṅkīrtana each morning. As the kīrtana party roamed from camp to camp, many pilgrims would run up, offering prostrated obeisances, money, and respect. With strong, experienced street kīrtana drummers and chanters like Madhudviṣa, Dīnanātha, and Haṁsadūta leading the chanting party, the devotees would forget the cold and the austerity.
Prabhupāda stressed the importance of chanting; always there must be kīrtana, he said. Philosophy and lectures would not be as effective at such gatherings, because the common people would not understand. Lord Caitanya had never lectured in public, but always He had held kīrtana.
As a result of the devotees’ kīrtana, thousands would stream into ISKCON’s large paṇḍāl to see the Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities and take prasādam. ISKCON had the only Kṛṣṇa Deity at the whole Melā, and thousands would line up to see Him. Prabhupāda would speak in English in the morning and in Hindi at night, and his evening kīrtanas in the paṇḍāl became a great success. The Western sādhus with the women and the little child were a great curiosity to behold.
Prabhupāda also arranged for mass prasādam distribution, and he assigned Revatīnandana and a few helpers to cook almost nonstop over two small wood fires in the kitchen shed. Some nights the devotees would cook vegetables and halavā or vegetables and purīs for as many as seven hundred people. ISKCON’s impact on the Melā pleased Prabhupāda.
In the meantime our program for touring India has been going with all success in every place we are invited. Now we have come to the Ardha Kumbha Mela at Prayag (Allahabad) and we have got undisputed prominence amongst all groups here in the large gathering.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lectures on Ajāmila gave life to the cold and sometimes sick devotees. This opportunity to hear from Prabhupāda was the reward for all their austerities. In each morning class, Prabhupāda continued to stress the importance of chanting the holy names purely.
“The purification of one’s chanting hari-nāma means as soon as you chant the holy name of Kṛṣṇa you will see the form of Kṛṣṇa, realize the qualities of Kṛṣṇa, remember the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa. That is pure chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. That is stated in the commentary of Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī – that a pure devotee who chants Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra immediately realizes the nāma, rūpa, guṇa, līlā,* everything about Kṛṣṇa, simply by chanting the names. You will feel the form of Kṛṣṇa. You will remember all His qualities – ‘Oh, Kṛṣṇa is so qualified; He is so magnanimous.’ Then you will remember His līlā, pastimes – ‘Oh, Kṛṣṇa instructed Arjuna. Kṛṣṇa played with His cowherd boys. Kṛṣṇa had very nice talks with the gopīs, with His mother, Yaśodā.’ These things you will remember. That is the actual perfection of chanting.”
* Name, form, qualities, and pastimes, respectively.
Prabhupāda reiterated that the only reason he had come with his disciples to the Melā was to glorify Lord Kṛṣṇa so that others could understand the importance of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. But if the devotees were to successfully give Kṛṣṇa consciousness to others, they must first realize Kṛṣṇa themselves. It was possible, he said, to think of Kṛṣṇa always. He gave the example of the Indian women carrying big waterpots on their heads. Just as they have learned to keep their balance, in spite of all other movements, so a devotee, despite his activities and despite any mental agitation, should always remember Kṛṣṇa. And the best way to remember Kṛṣṇa is to practice always chanting the holy name.
“I remember one of our teachers in our school life instructed that if you always think, ‘I shall pass my examination with distinction,’ then you will pass in the first division. If you think, ‘I shall pass my examination in the first division,’ then you will probably pass in the third division. And if you think, ‘I will somehow or other pass my examination in the third division,’ then you will fail. This means that if you expect more than your capacity, then it may be possible that at the time of examination you will pass. So when chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, Caitanya Mahāprabhu has said not that you chant only one hour – no. One should practice, and that practice was shown by Haridāsa Ṭhākura (who chanted almost twenty-four hours daily). But because we cannot, therefore we have to engage always in the service of Kṛṣṇa. That will make you remember Kṛṣṇa.”
Prabhupāda said that the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa is exactly like a lion’s roar. As a lion’s roar frightens all small creatures, the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa ends all one’s sinful reactions. He repeatedly warned the devotees, however, to avoid the most dangerous offense, that of committing sins on the strength of the holy name.
“But even if you fall down, there is no loss. That is the statement of Nārada. If one takes to Kṛṣṇa sincerely and executes devotional service but then again falls down, still he will come back. Just like we have practical experience. Some of our students have fallen down. But whatever sincere service he has rendered, that is his permanent credit. And one day he will be saved, just like Ajāmila.”
On Prabhupāda’s last day in Allahabad a Mr. Gourkishore visited him in his tent, inviting him to Benares. As chairman of the 45th annual festival commemorating Lord Caitanya’s visit to Benares, Mr. Gourkishore wanted Prabhupāda to attend the festival as the honored guest. When Prabhupāda said he felt ill and that perhaps some of his disciples could go in his stead, Mr. Gourkishore persisted until Prabhupāda finally agreed. But first Prabhupāda wanted to visit Gorakhpur.
February 3, 1971
The Ardha-kumbha-melā over, some devotees went to Delhi, some to Bombay, and others to Calcutta. Prabhupāda and the remaining devotees went to Gorakhpur – a ten-hour journey on the antiquated meter-gauge railway. Prabhupāda had been invited by his only disciple in Gorakhpur, Dr. R. P. Rao (now Rāmānanda), a research chemist who had met Prabhupāda in San Francisco, taken initiation in 1967, and since returned to his family and four children to teach chemistry at Gorakhpur University.
Prabhupāda and his disciples moved into crowded quarters at Rāmānanda’s modest home, and about one hundred people attended Prabhupāda’s lecture that evening. Prabhupāda already had plans for a Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple on the Gorakhpur University campus as well as accredited courses and degrees in Kṛṣṇa consciousness – B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. He envisioned graduates going out to teach Kṛṣṇa consciousness in schools, colleges, and temples all over the world. He inspired Rāmānanda and a group of his friends to form a committee to introduce Kṛṣṇa consciousness within the university, and he initiated about one dozen disciples. Since they all professed to be following the rules against illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling and had been lifelong vegetarians, he waived the usual six-month trial period. He asked them to chant sixteen rounds daily and to make their city Kṛṣṇa conscious. In his absence they should maintain Rāmānanda’s home as an active ISKCON center and try to establish courses in Kṛṣṇa consciousness at the university.
February 6, 1971
Mr. Gourkishore was counting heavily on Prabhupāda’s participation in the upcoming celebration. The climax of the week-long observance of Lord Caitanya’s visit to Benares would be a parade, Mr. Gourkishore said, and Prabhupāda and his disciples had an important part in it. Newspaper articles, handbills, and loudspeaker carts had announced throughout the city the presence of Śrīla Prabhupāda and his “foreign disciples.” The devotees sensed they were being treated like entertainers, expected to perform as if under contract – but without salary.
On the day of the procession Prabhupāda rode in a silver chariot, the kind customarily used in extravagant wedding processions. The chariot was pulled by a pair of white horses, wearing silver crowns and decorative blankets. The leading float in the parade bore a six-foot statue of Lord Caitanya in yellow nim wood. Next followed a file of decorated elephants. One elephant carried a banner reading Harer Nama Eva Kevalam, one carried actors dressed as Lord Rāma and Sītā, another carried two actors dressed as Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, who waved to the crowds, and another a picture of Lord Caitanya and His associates performing saṅkīrtana. Next came a decorated flatbed truck with children portraying Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityānanda, chanting and dancing. Then followed a series of professional kīrtana groups and Prabhupāda’s “foreign disciples” dancing and performing kīrtana.
Behind the devotees, Śrīla Prabhupāda rode in his chariot. On either side of the chariot walked a devotee fanning Prabhupāda with a cāmara whisk, while Prabhupāda sat with his right hand in his bead bag, his left hand on his cane. He was dressed in silk, with pearl buttons on his kurtā. A wide patch of sandalwood paste covered his forehead. He didn’t wave or smile or turn to see the crowds, but sat calmly, chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa on his beads.
Following Prabhupāda’s chariot was a śāhnāī group, several more kīrtana parties, and finally another statue of Lord Caitanya, carried by eight men.
The festival committee said three hundred thousand attended, double what they would have had without Prabhupāda and his foreign disciples. The procession was over, however, and as the star attraction, Prabhupāda had made his appearance and drawn a large crowd, and now nothing more was required. He felt tired. He and his disciples were taken to a nearby dharmaśālā and served a feast. Prabhupāda remained grave and as soon as possible returned to his quarters and his regular schedule.
A student at the University of Benares who had met Prabhupāda at the Allahabad Melā stopped by to visit. The boy’s father had given him a biography of Lord Caitanya as a gift for Prabhupāda, and when the boy showed Prabhupāda a picture of his father, Prabhupāda said, “Yes, your father is a devotee. So why don’t you also take initiation?”
The boy was hesitant. As he walked with Prabhupāda in the garden, Prabhupāda said, “You have got the seed of devotional service from your father, so you must now cultivate.”
“But how can I shave my head?” the boy inquired. “I am a university student.”
“No, it is a custom. You should shave once, and then you can keep short hair.”
“But how can I wear tilaka? They will laugh at me.”
Prabhupāda said the boy should not fear criticism. He should become a soldier of Kṛṣṇa. Just as the government honors its valiant soldiers, Kṛṣṇa rewards a devotee who accepts difficulties and criticism on His behalf.
“What about guru-dakṣiṇā?” the boy asked.
“Guru-dakṣiṇā is just a formality,” Prabhupāda said. “It was a custom in olden days that when someone gets initiation, he goes to the various homes. It is a sign that you have become a servant of your guru, you are prepared to beg alms for your guru. It is whatever you give.”
The boy returned home and told his father. The next day was an auspicious day, his father said – the appearance day of Lord Nityānanda. A good day to receive spiritual initiation.
So the next day, on Nityānanda Trayodaśī, Śrīla Prabhupāda initiated the boy, giving him the name Nirañjana dāsa. When Prabhupāda asked Nirañjana if he had any questions, Nirañjana said he wanted to know his eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa; was it as servant, as friend, as parent?
Prabhupāda replied that servitude was the common ground in all transcendental relationships with Lord Kṛṣṇa. By chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Nirañjana would become more and more purified and realize more and more his relationship with Kṛṣṇa. Nirañjana asked how he would understand his relationship.
“No, don’t jump,” Prabhupāda said. “You have some śraddhā [faith] from your father, and now you are associating with devotees and chanting. Gradually you will realize.”
Nirañjana agreed to be patient.
Prabhupāda asked Nirañjana to arrange a lecture for him on campus, and Nirañjana, with the help of his uncle, a philosophy professor, got Prabhupāda a speaking engagement for his last morning in Benares.
On the day Prabhupāda was to leave, he met with John Griesser, the American photographer traveling with him and his party since Surat. John, who had shaved his mustache and thought a lot about his future, came to say good-bye – until Bombay, where they would meet again in a few weeks.
John found Prabhupāda in the courtyard, enjoying the sunshine and eating gur (date sugar) from a clay pot. Prabhupāda asked that the pot be broken and distributed to John and the other devotees present, and while John sat licking gur from a piece of clay pot, Prabhupāda talked about his boyhood in Calcutta.
John: Prabhupāda was talking in his accented, rhythmic English about his boyhood days in Calcutta, and he described a gracious city, before the crowding and squalor of today. As a schoolboy he had seen splendid Victorian buildings of white marble, surrounded by stately lawns and trees.
Suddenly Prabhupāda looked over at me and laughed. “So, John,” he said, “I think Kṛṣṇa has captured you.” I agreed I had known it for quite a while, but now Śrīla Prabhupāda confirmed it.
When Prabhupāda was leaving Benares to return to Gorakhpur, many of his disciples went to the wrong train station. While Prabhupāda and a few followers waited at the correct train station, Kauśalyā asked him, “How did you like it here in Benares, Śrīla Prabhupāda?”
“It is all right,” he said, indifferently.
“Did you have a nice rest?” she asked, trying to think of some positive aspect of the visit.
“Rest I can have any time,” said Prabhupāda. “But I like to be with my devotees.”
Surrounded by luggage, Prabhupāda sat on the bench, while Tamāla Kṛṣṇa and Śyāmasundara ran from the ticket office to the train and back. The train would leave soon. But where were the other devotees? Prabhupāda watched as his spiritual sons argued with the conductor, telling him the train couldn’t go until the other devotees arrived. “They do not know what they are doing,” Prabhupāda said, and he smiled.
February 10, 1971
On hearing that Prabhupāda wanted to preach in Gorakhpur, Hanuman Prasad Poddar, eminent head of the Gita Press publishing company, offered one of his properties, a two-story house (his former residence), known as Krishna Niketan. Mr. Poddar, who was bedridden in another house in Gorakhpur, had first met Prabhupāda in 1962, and he appreciated Prabhupāda’s mission.
When Prabhupāda received permission to use the Krishna Niketan, he acted quickly. It was not proper, he said, that the Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa he had brought from Calcutta had been packed away in a trunk after the Ardha-kumbha-melā. They had already been worshiped, so Their worship should not be stopped. “The Deities have to be installed tomorrow,” he said, and he put Kauśalyā and Nanda Kumāra in charge of the preparations.
Seeing that Nanda Kumāra and Kauśalyā needed more help, Prabhupāda called for all his disciples, and soon twenty American devotees were scurrying about, preparing for the next day’s festival. Prabhupāda directed the devotees in cleaning the temple room from ceiling to floor and in building the altar. He asked Himavatī to donate her fanciest sārī, which he hung like a curtain before the table that was to be the Deities’ altar. The altar needed a backdrop, he said, and while Kauśalyā stood on the table he handed her pieces of colored fabric to arrange against the wall. The backdrop completed, Prabhupāda took a rug a devotee had bought in Allahabad and placed it over the table-altar.
That night Prabhupāda surveyed the temple room. “Oh, it is very nice,” he said. He retired to his room, and two devotees stayed up all night sewing clothes for Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. The next morning the Deities were placed on the altar, and the devotees resumed Their worship, offering Them prasādam and ārati six times a day.
The devotees were living in an ISKCON temple atmosphere for the first time since they had arrived in India, and their lives became regulated and secure. The weather warmed, and the devotees – many of whom had exhausted their health in Allahabad – felt relief. The Gorakhpur temple was situated on several acres of agricultural land outside the city; it was a peaceful place. During the day Prabhupāda would rest, as the sunshine came through the window and warmed his body.
In the evenings guests would come for kīrtana and Prabhupāda’s lecture. Speaking on the Sixth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Prabhupāda referred repeatedly to Śrīdhara Svāmī’s commentary, from the fourteenth century.
Śrīdhara Svāmī said that simply by chanting – without any regulative principles – one becomes liberated. So how is that? Śrīdhara Svāmī replies, also, that there are regulative principles. The idea is that chanting of the holy name is so powerful that it can immediately liberate the chanter. But because we are prone to fall down again, therefore there are regulative principles. …
“Morning, noon, and evening, we should daily chant Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra with devotion and faith. By doing this, one can avoid volumes of miserable conditions of life – simply by chanting. So one should be so much careful and faithful. You should know that as soon as you are chanting, Kṛṣṇa is dancing on your tongue. Therefore, how much careful and respectful we should be.”
Each night Prabhupāda would take the commentaries of Śrīdhara Svāmī as his text.
“So Śrīdhara Svāmī gives this example, that without knowing that there is a very nice medicine a man takes so many thousands of medicines. Similarly, the great stalwart leaders of religious principles, without knowing this Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, take so many troublesome ritualistic ceremonies. Actually, there is no need. The whole thing is – Śrīdhara Svāmī is giving the stress very strongly – that you can simply chant Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra without understanding any ritualistic ceremonies. …”
Śrīdhara Svāmī’s commentary was filled with quotations from various scriptures about the supreme benefit of chanting the holy names of Kṛṣṇa.
“Then Śrīdhara Svāmī says, akhila-ceṣṭitam. That means that any endeavor for pushing on Kṛṣṇa’s glories, that is as good as chanting the holy name. When you go out for canvassing, for pushing on this movement, people might think that you are not chanting. But suppose you are canvassing for a life member – that topic is also as good as chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, because it is akhila-ceṣṭitam. One’s life must be dedicated simply for Kṛṣṇa’s service.”
Speaking before his Indian audiences, Śrīla Prabhupāda also told about his preaching in the West. One evening he gave a personal history, describing how his spiritual master, on their first meeting, had immediately told him to preach Lord Caitanya’s message to the English-speaking world.
“At that time I argued with him that we are a dependent nation, and who is going to hear about our message? So he defeated my argument. Yes. He was a learned scholar. So what I was? I was a tiny boy. So I agreed that I was defeated.” Prabhupāda laughed softly.
Prabhupāda told about his business years in Allahabad and how he again met his spiritual master and became initiated. He told of starting Back to Godhead in 1944, of taking sannyāsa, and of finally traveling to America in 1965. He mentioned his struggles in New York City and how the first boys had joined him when he started his movement in a storefront on Second Avenue.
“So practically we began work from 1968. In 1966 I started, but in ’67 I became very much sick, so I came back to India. And again I went there in 1968. Practically this propaganda work began vigorously from 1968. From ’68, ’69, ’70, and this is ’71. So three, four years, all these branches have grown up, and now practically throughout the whole continent of Europe and throughout America they know what is Hare Kṛṣṇa movement, due to our propaganda.”
Early each morning before sunrise, Prabhupāda would sit in the temple room before his disciples and lecture from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. And each morning the lights would go out, leaving everyone in darkness. It was a typical Indian power failure, and Prabhupāda would stop lecturing while a devotee lit two candles by his vyāsāsana and two candles on the altar. Long shadows would mix with the luminous gold of the Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities, and Prabhupāda, wearing spectacles and holding open the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in his hand, would appear wonderfully mysterious.
One morning Śrīla Prabhupāda sang a new song, Jaya Rādhā-Mādhava.
“I will teach you this song,” he said. Reciting the first line, he had the devotees repeat it again and again. One line at a time, he went through the song.
They should know it, he told them, by the next morning.
Only a few devotees managed to memorize the song, so the next morning Prabhupāda went through it again, line by line. During the evening lecture he explained the meaning of the song.
“Jaya rādhā-mādhava kuñja-bihārī. Kṛṣṇa is enjoying in Vṛndāvana. That is the real picture of God – simply enjoying. The vṛndāvana-līlā of Kṛṣṇa is the perfect presentation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead – He is simply enjoying.
“All the inhabitants of Vṛndāvana – the gopīs, the cowherd boys, Mahārāja Nanda, Yaśodā – everyone is simply anxious how to make Kṛṣṇa happy. They have no other business. The residents of Vṛndāvana have no other business than to satisfy Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa has no other business. Yaśodā-nandana braja-jana-rañjana yāmuna-tīra-vana-cārī. He is acting as the little son of Yaśodā. And His only business is how to please the residents of Vṛndāvana.
“Yaśodā-nandana braja-jana-rañjana yāmuna-tīra-vana-cārī. He is wandering in the forest of Vṛndāvana on the bank of the Yamunā. This is the actual picture of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“But Brahmā, Indra, big, big demigods, they are also bewildered. They are sometimes mistaken how this cowherd boy can be the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Just like some of us think like that. But those who are thinking like that, for them also there is manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s supremacy. Gopī-jana-vallabha giri-vara-dhārī. Although He is engaged in pleasing the residents of Vraja, when there is need He can lift up the Govardhana Hill at the age of seven years. Or He can kill the Pūtanā at the age of three months.
“So many demons used to visit daily. Kṛṣṇa used to go with the calves and cows, with His friends in the forest, and every day Kaṁsa used to send a demon to kill Him. Aghāsura, Bakāsura, Dhenukāsura – so many.
“So also, Kṛṣṇa is playing just like a cowherd boy. His supreme mercy as the Supreme Personality of Godhead is never absent there. That is God. God is not created by meditation. God is God. God is never manufactured. We should know this.”
On the third morning after introducing Jaya Rādhā-Mādhava, Prabhupāda again sang it with the devotees responding. Then he began to explain it further. Rādhā-Mādhava, he said, have Their eternal loving pastimes in the groves of Vṛndāvana.
He stopped speaking. His closed eyes flooded with tears, and he began gently rocking his head. His body trembled. Several minutes passed, and everyone in the room remained completely silent. Finally, he returned to external consciousness and said, “Now, just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.”
After this, the Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities of Gorakhpur became known as Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Mādhava.
Kauśalyā would regularly wash the temple floor while Prabhupāda gave his Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam lecture. One morning Prabhupāda interrupted his lecture. “Just see this girl,” he said – Kauśalyā was down at the other end of the room, scrubbing. “This is first-class service.”
The next day Prabhupāda called Kauśalyā forward. “Every morning you are washing the floor so nicely,” he said, “but this morning you are washing the floor like a crow takes a bath.” Prabhupāda shook his hand, as if flicking water about. “You do not know how to wash the floor. I am going to show you.” Prabhupāda came down from his vyāsāsana and walked to the other end of the room, followed by all the devotees.
“Where is your bucket?” Kauśalyā brought over her bucket. Prabhupāda asked for a rag. She gave him hers. He then crouched down and started scrubbing. “This is how you wash the floor,” he said, “ – with lots of water. And you do it a section at a time.” It should be done in two stages: first with a wet rag, and then with a wrung rag.
The devotees stood in amazement, watching. Several times Prabhupāda repeated the procedure, washing a section of the floor and then drying it, careful not to touch the clean area with his feet. “See?” he said. “That is expert.”
When Tamāla Kṛṣṇa requested Prabhupāda to move on to Bombay and bigger preaching, Prabhupāda replied, “Let us see if Kṛṣṇa wants us to have this place.” Haṁsadūta also became restless to preach, and Prabhupāda sent him with a group of brahmacārīs to Aligarh and Agra.
Little appeared to be happening in Gorakhpur, but Prabhupāda had plans. He was still negotiating with the university authorities for land for constructing a temple.
If we are successful in our attempt, it will be unique in all the world and soon more and more college campuses will follow. … And if we can establish a seat of Krishna Consciousness then students may take their doctorate degree in Krishna Consciousness and go out and preach all over the world.
Prabhupāda had three goals: to reach the Gorakhpur university students, to introduce kīrtana into the factories, and to introduce kīrtana into the homes. The main obstacle was lack of commitment from the local people. Many were willing to attend his evening lectures, but to actually surrender time, money, and energy in the service of Kṛṣṇa was more difficult. At least the Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple was lively, and Prabhupāda hoped the directors of Gita Press would turn the Krishna Niketan building over to ISKCON permanently.
Prabhupāda continued lecturing, morning and evening. For three consecutive evenings he spoke on a single verse of Caitanya-caritāmṛta, defeating the Māyāvāda arguments that the Absolute Truth is ultimately impersonal Brahman.
“The Māyāvādī philosophers say that the Absolute is impersonal and that there is no different energy. So Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s challenge is that the Absolute Truth has got multienergies. Suppose someone has a big business, a big factory. So if the proprietor says, ‘I am all-pervading over this factory,’ that is correct. Take, for example, Birla. They say, ‘Birla’s factory.’ Birla’s name is there. Although Birla is a person and he is not personally present in that factory, everyone says, ‘Birla’s factory.’ That means Birla’s money, Birla’s energy, is there. If there is any loss in that factory, the suffering goes to Birla. Or if there is any gain in the factory, the profit goes to Birla. Therefore Birla’s energy is there in the factory. Similarly, the whole creation is a manifestation of Kṛṣṇa. Everything there is Kṛṣṇa, His energy. He is represented by His energy. That is called simultaneously one and different, acintya-bhedābheda-tattva.”
Discussing preaching in America, Prabhupāda said the Western world was ninety-nine percent in the modes of ignorance and passion. Although America was the richest nation on earth, its youth were becoming hippies, much to the dismay of parents and government leaders. So despite their wealth, they were unhappy. They were ripe, however, for understanding spiritual knowledge.
“This is the causeless mercy of Lord Caitanya. Now you can see that these boys, when they are chanting – how they are in ecstasy. They are immediately on the transcendental platform. Not only here, everywhere they are chanting – in every temple. The advantage of these boys and girls is that they have no hodgepodge in their head. They directly accept Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they directly accept the instruction of Lord Caitanya. Therefore they are making advancement. Their fortune is that their brain is not congested with hodgepodge ideas. They have given up all other occupations and accepted Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So in India we can also do that. What is the difficulty? We must do this. Just accept this:
* “Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Bhāg. 1.3.28)
Prabhupāda celebrated the appearance day of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī in Gorakhpur. At the morning gathering he said, “We should honor this day and very respectfully pray to Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī that ‘We are engaged in your service, so give us strength. Give us intelligence. We are being guided by your servant.’ So in this way we have to pray. And I think in the evening we shall distribute prasādam. There will be so many guests coming, so they can be distributed prasādam.”
Prabhupāda said life members and other friends should be invited for the flower offering at noon. One of the devotees asked about the feast.
Prabhupāda: “Feasting means purī and halavā and a vegetable and chutney. That’s all – four things. Make it simple.”
Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: “Prabhupāda? You want us to offer a feast to your Guru Mahārāja at noontime? A special plate of feast?”
Prabhupāda: “Not a special plate. The process is that whatever we offer to the Deity, that is offered to guru. And guru offers to his guru. In this way, it goes to Kṛṣṇa. We don’t directly offer to Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. No. We have no right. Nor does Kṛṣṇa accept in that way. The pictures of the ācāryas – why are they there? Actually you have to offer the plate to your guru, and he will offer to his guru, he offers to his guru, his guru. In this way, it will go to Kṛṣṇa. That is the process. You cannot directly approach Kṛṣṇa or predecessor ācāryas. That is not possible.”
One day Prabhupāda visited Hanuman Prasad Poddar. Mr. Poddar had been gravely ill for some time, but he was able to sit up and speak briefly with Prabhupāda. As the pioneer of the Kalyana magazine, which printed installments of the Mahābhārata and other Vedic classics, Hanuman Prasad Poddar was a world-famous patron of Indian religious thought. His inexpensive Hindi Bhagavad-gītā translation had been distributed by the millions, so that even a poor man could have a copy of Bhagavad-gītā. Mr. Poddar had been a friend to Prabhupāda when in 1962 Prabhupāda had come to him in Gorakhpur and shown him his manuscript for the first volume of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Appreciating the importance of the work, Mr. Poddar, by his word of approval, had helped Prabhupāda get a donation for its printing from the Delhi industrialist Mr. Dalmia. Now, almost ten years later, Prabhupāda was showing Mr. Poddar his recently published books Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, The Nectar of Devotion, and his magazine Back to Godhead. Mr. Poddar was impressed, and he and Prabhupāda exchanged their sincere appreciation of each other’s work.
Mr. Suryakant Fogla: Hanuman Prasad Poddar was my grandfather. He was very much ill at the time Prabhupāda came here to meet him in his bedroom upstairs. There are certain things which cannot be explained, but they were talking in the language of their eyes. My grandfather expressed some gratitude, some affection, some regard by his eyes, and Prabhupāda’s reply was also in the same way. The appreciation from both sides could easily be seen and appreciated by the persons who were present. A lot of Prabhupāda’s disciples were there, and everyone was almost in tears when those two saints, great people, met and talked to each other.
They were talking about the spiritual world, and they were praising each other for their deeds. My grandfather also was saying that what Prabhupāda has done, it is unforgettable for anyone of the world. Because to take our Indian culture to Western countries – the credit entirely goes to our beloved Prabhupāda. And he was the only person who took Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and the holy name outside – in such a way that nobody else could and will be able to in the future.
Since Mr. Poddar was ill and weak, Prabhupāda left after about half an hour. Prabhupāda had spent two weeks in Gorakhpur, and now he was eager to go to Bombay. Leaving two disciples behind to attend to the Deity worship and continue preaching in Gorakhpur, he left.
ISKCON’s Bombay headquarters was a four-room flat on the seventh floor of the Akash-Ganga Building. Rent was nearly three thousand rupees a month, and the devotees had no guaranteed monthly income. Yet because the building was in a vital, prestigious location, Prabhupāda had taken the risk. Such a headquarters would be a necessary base for the preaching he wanted to do in Bombay, and his next preaching would be a grand eleven-day paṇḍāl program. “If you are going to hunt,” Prabhupāda said, “then you should hunt for a rhinoceros. In that way, if you don’t succeed, everyone will simply say, ‘Oh, it couldn’t be done anyway.’ But if you do succeed, then everyone will be surprised. Everyone will be amazed.”
As Prabhupāda revealed his plans for a gigantic paṇḍāl festival, the devotees became keenly aware that Prabhupāda’s inspiration was motivating all their preaching; without him they could never attempt anything so bold and ambitious as a giant paṇḍāl festival in Bombay. Often “the American and European disciples” had been billed along with him, as if of equal importance, but the devotees saw themselves as only foolish servants trying to help the genuine pure devotee of the Lord. Although Prabhupāda credited his disciples, his disciples knew that Prabhupāda was Kṛṣṇa’s empowered representative. He was their authority and personal link to Kṛṣṇa; his words and actions evinced full transcendental potency. As Kṛṣṇa was unlimited, Śrīla Prabhupāda, Kṛṣṇa’s dearmost friend, was entitled to demand unlimited service on Kṛṣṇa’s behalf. In the service of Kṛṣṇa, no project was impossible. Impossible, Prabhupāda said, was a word in a fool’s dictionary.
But as Prabhupāda unfolded his plans for the paṇḍāl festival, the devotees doubted: How could they ever raise the money? How could they erect such a huge tent? Where would they get so much food? And who would cook it? Prabhupāda seemed amused at their doubts. “You are all Americans,” he said. “So what is the use of being American unless you do something wonderful?”
A Bombay paṇḍāl, Prabhupāda said, would be the perfect way to link America’s ingenuity with India’s spirituality. He gave the example of a blind man and a lame man. Although separately they are helpless, by cooperating – the blind man carrying the lame man on his shoulders, and the lame man giving directions – the two can work successfully. America, because of materialism and ignorance of God, was blind. And India, because of foreign invasions, poverty, and misinterpretations of Vedic knowledge, was lame. America had technological advancement and wealth, and India had spiritual knowledge. The job of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement was to combine the two strengths and uplift the world. And one practical application would be the Bombay paṇḍāl festival.
Prabhupāda divided the work, assigning Śyāmasundara to publicity, Tamāla Kṛṣṇa to the paṇḍāl arrangements, Girirāja to fund-raising, and Madhudviṣa to the scheduled programs onstage. Catching Prabhupāda’s spirit of “shooting the rhinoceros,” Śyāmasundara organized a massive publicity campaign, with giant posters and banners strung across the streets, announcing “His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda will speak in English language about the science of God. Prasadam distribution and bhajan singing will be led by his American and European bhaktas – Hare Krishna Festival at Cross Maidan – March 25 to April 4.”
Girirāja: Śrīla Prabhupāda took Bombay by storm. The whole city was alive with excitement about the Hare Krishna Festival. We had banners at all the major intersections in Bombay. We had posters up on all the walls, many posters on every wall, and we had very big advertisements in the newspaper, with a beautiful picture of Śrīla Prabhupāda superimposed over a globe, and the words Bhagavat Dharma Discourses: A Hare Krishna Festival. World Preacher of Bhakti Cult, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
Day by day the momentum grew more and more, and every day something new was happening. Finally, in the last two days, we got a huge billboard at Victoria Train Station, the busiest intersection of downtown Bombay. By then everyone knew so much about the festival and where it was going to be and everything that all this billboard said was Hare Krishna in huge letters. By then everyone knew, so just these two huge words Hare Krishna was enough.
Then Śyāmasundara had arranged for a big helium-filled balloon that was attached to a very long rope at the Cross Maidan site. That balloon just hovered over the city, and there was a streamer attached to the balloon, saying Hare Krishna Festival. It was real American ingenuity, flair, and dynamism.
Inspired by Śyāmasundara’s lead and taking up a spirit of competition, the other devotees worked at their projects with great enthusiasm. When Prabhupāda called a meeting of the local ISKCON life members and supporters, the turnout was disappointing – only about a dozen. And even those, on hearing the proportions of Prabhupāda’s plan, became hesitant. The festival would cost more than one hundred thousand rupees! Although some life members doubted whether the devotees could actually execute such a large production, a handful of stalwarts – Sadajiwatlal, Chandulal Bahl, Kartikeya Mahadevia, Kailash Seksaria, Ramchand Chabria, G. D. Somani, and others – vowed they would do their best to help raise the funds.
Prabhupāda remained actively involved, and he warned his disciples to be wary of cheaters during their business transactions. Every night the devotees would report to him, and he would ask about many details. He wanted the best location, the best work, and the best price. He wanted to know everything: What about the cooking area? Are all the devotees working to their full capacity? Is the mailing list complete? Have the invitations been sent? What about the latrines? What was the cost for the sound system? He scrutinized every detail with sharp, critical intelligence.
Girirāja’s fund-raising work was going well. He had donations solicited from businessmen and had printed a souvenir pamphlet. But he was feeling a strain, and he came to Prabhupāda for solace. “Can we use force in Kṛṣṇa consciousness?” he asked.
Prabhupāda frowned. “No. We cannot use force.”
“But what if we see one of the workers is lazy on the job and not doing what he is supposed to?”
“No,” Prabhupāda replied. “We can never use force.”
“Well, what about in making life members?”
“Force we cannot use,” Prabhupāda repeated. “But we can trick them.” He told a story about a boy who didn’t want to do arithmetic; as soon as the teacher wrote one plus one on the board, the boy would balk. So the teacher drew a picture of a cow on the board and asked the boy, “If a man has one cow and then he buys another cow, how many cows will he have?” The boy answered, “Two.” Thus the teacher began teaching him arithmetic, even though he was unwilling to learn.
“So people may be averse to serving Kṛṣṇa,” Prabhupāda explained, “but we can trick them and get them to serve without their knowing it. But we can never use force. These people are all businessmen. They are always calculating profit and loss. But they are also pious, and they want to go to Kṛṣṇa. So you have to convince them that by giving this money they will gain so much by coming closer to Kṛṣṇa. And that is the truth. When they are convinced, then they will give.”
Prabhupāda had ordered from Jaipur two sets of large white marble Deities (paid for by a donation from R. D. Birla). One set was to be installed in the Bombay temple and the other worshiped at the paṇḍāl and later sent to one of the temples in the West. But the devotees were anxious that the Deities be finished and shipped on time. And there were other sources of anxiety, right up until the very day of the festival. Paṇḍāl construction, prasādam distribution, seating arrangements, sound systems – whether these things would be ready on time and whether there would be enough money remained uncertain. But under Prabhupāda’s direction the devotees worked steadily, with firm faith in Kṛṣṇa.
And all turned out successful, with ten thousand people attending the first day and twenty thousand that night. The devotees, including those just arrived from the West, numbered about a hundred, and the large stage easily accommodated them, with ample space for dancing kīrtanas. Onstage, within a gorgeous, golden-domed altar, surrounded by profuse flower arrangements, stood Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Prabhupāda’s large red vyāsāsana, covered by a canopy, stood at stage center. Also onstage was a display of Prabhupāda’s books. The tall and spacious paṇḍāl, built to hold more than thirty thousand, was lined with fluorescent bulbs, and the stage glowed with colorful flashing lights.
The program was kīrtana, prasādam, a lecture, and slides, more kīrtana, and more prasādam. And the Bombayites – devotees at heart, despite their sophistication and Westernization – loved these very things: Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, kīrtana, and prasādam. And that all this was being presented by Westerners made the paṇḍāl especially attractive.
The cooks prepared prasādam at the paṇḍāl site, cooking over a hard coal fire and using big paddles to stir kicharī and halavā in woks eight feet across. Each night the devotees would serve thousands of plates.
Prabhupāda’s appearance in the evening was always the high point. He would sit on his vyāsāsana, little Sarasvatī would walk out and garland him, and the crowd would cheer. He would wait for the crowd to quieten, which never happened. So he would just begin speaking, his voice ringing over the powerful sound system. He titled his first lecture “Modern Civilization Is a Failure, and the Only Hope Is Krishna Consciousness.”
Prabhupāda sat, eyes half closed in concentration, addressing the largest audience that had ever assembled to hear him. His speaking was particularly forceful, as he glorified Kṛṣṇa and criticized the enemies of Kṛṣṇa. He spoke against governments that were not Kṛṣṇa conscious and against gurus who neglected the worship of Kṛṣṇa. He stressed the necessity of teaching Kṛṣṇa’s message to the whole world, while his Godbrothers from the Bombay Gaudiya Math sat in the audience, listening respectfully.
“And you are practically seeing that all over the world these Bhagavad-gītā principles – Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Lord – is being accepted. All these boys and girls who are dancing in Kṛṣṇa consciousness – four years ago, four years back, they never heard of Kṛṣṇa. Of course, some of them knew Bhagavad-gītā, because Bhagavad-gītā is very widely read. But because Bhagavad-gītā was not properly presented, although for the last hundred or two hundred or more than that years Bhagavad-gītā is widely read all over the world, there was not a single kṛṣṇa-bhakta. But since Bhagavad-gītā is being presented as it is, within four years there are hundreds and thousands of kṛṣṇa-bhaktas. That is our point, that you present the thing as it is, without any adulteration …
“So it is our mission. It is India’s culture. People are hankering after this culture, Kṛṣṇa culture. So you should prepare yourself to present Bhagavad-gītā as it is. Then India will conquer all over the world by this Kṛṣṇa culture. Rest assured. But we are hankering after help from others. Our government men go there in America: ‘Please give us wheat. Please give us money. Please give us soldiers.’ Simply begging business. But here is a thing which you can give to them. Simply begging does not glorify your country.”
Girirāja: Prabhupāda was preaching forcefully to the people of Bombay, and every evening the paṇḍāl was packed with at least twenty thousand people. Śrīla Prabhupāda would preach so strongly, emphasizing following religious principles. He knew that these people are Hindus but they are not following these principles. Prabhupāda was speaking so powerfully that I knew that what he was saying would be hard for many of the audience to accept.
“We have something to give to the whole world. That is Kṛṣṇa consciousness. … Why you neglect this treasure of Vedic knowledge? And the summarized knowledge is Bhagavad-gītā. So if we simply try to understand Bhagavad-gītā as it is, we understand immediately the science of God. And because we are all parts and parcels of God, we are actually hankering after uniting with God. That is our seeking. Ānandamayo ’bhyāsāt. God is ānandamaya [by nature, full of pleasure], and we, being part and parcel of God, or Kṛṣṇa, we are also ānandamaya. But we are seeking ānanda [pleasure] in a different atmosphere, in the material atmosphere. Therefore we are being baffled. The only remedy is that you take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness and you will be happy. So it is the duty of every Indian to understand this science.”
Girirāja: At that time I was thinking that if Prabhupāda had wanted to flatter the audience or compromise his philosophy, he could have attracted millions of followers. But because he was preaching so boldly and forcefully without compromise, many of the audience did not like it, because it was a challenge to their sense gratification and to their sentiment.
“This is a science. It is not a dogmatic, bluffing thing. It is a science, and spoken by the Lord Himself, and understood by all the ācāryas. Kṛṣṇa says, ācāryopasanam: we have to understand things through the ācāryas. Ācāryavān puruṣo veda: one who is not following the footsteps of the ācāryas, he cannot understand anything. Kṛṣṇa also says, tad-vijñānārtham. That is said in the Kaṭhopaniṣad: tad-vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet. Kṛṣṇa says, tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā. So everywhere the same instruction is there, ‘You approach a person who is coming in disciplic succession – evaṁ paramparā-prāptam – and try to learn Bhagavad-gītā as it is.’ Your life will be sublime. Your life will be successful. That is our mission.”
Girirāja: The fact is that people were wild about Prabhupāda and ISKCON. One night we showed slides of the Ratha-yātrā in San Francisco, and the audience was going wild. In front of ten thousand people Prabhupāda announced that we will hold Jagannātha Ratha-yātrā in Bombay, and everyone started to cheer and applaud.
Day after day, the paṇḍāl festival was a success. Bombay’s most important citizens came and were impressed. White-shirted businessmen and their well-groomed wives joined in the chanting. For hundreds of thousands of Bombay citizens, coming to the Cross Maidan to attend an evening paṇḍāl program was easy enough. Some were intent on listening to the lecture and inquiring deeply into devotional service, others came mostly to see the Deity, take prasādam, or appreciate the kīrtana. In any case, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda and the Hare Kṛṣṇa devotees were a refreshing addition to the life of the city. It was the biggest public event in Bombay.
One evening Prabhupāda conducted a Vedic marriage ceremony and an initiation before thousands of people. The marriage was arranged between Vegavān, who was Swedish, and Padmavatī dāsī, who was Australian. They completely enchanted the whole audience – she with her ornate red sārī and Indian jewelry, including a nose ring, and he with his nice white dhotī and kurtā and clean-shaven head. Six brahmacārīs were initiated at that time also.
Girirāja: The audience was impressed. First of all they were amazed just to see foreign devotees, foreign sādhus. Then, on top of that, to see them being initiated, and even more than that, being married in front of ten thousand people – it was overwhelming. So during the ceremony, as Śrīla Prabhupāda made the boy and girl husband and wife, he mentioned that she was from Australia and he was from Sweden. Then Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “This is the real United Nations,” and everyone burst into applause. It was the most glamorous, wonderful program.
The final night of the festival, the devotees carried the Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa in a palanquin to the seaside. Prabhupāda spoke and held kīrtana before a crowd of twenty-five thousand.
The next day, the Indian Express reported, “FITTING FINALE TO HARE KRISHNA FESTIVAL.”
It was a grand, fitting finale to the 11-day Hare Krishna festival which attracted thousands of devotees at Cross Maidan in South Bombay.
The decorated murtis of Radha and Krishna were taken in procession on a regal ratha from the venue through Dirgaum Road to Chaoupatty in the evening.
Dozens of nama-sankirtana mandalas from all over the city spearheaded the procession with loud and ecstatic chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, followed by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in an elegant horse-drawn coach chanting. Crowds chanted Hare Krishna on the road sides as the ratha was pulled by devotees along the route.
At Chaoupatty the four-foot-tall Deities, splendidly dressed and decorated with jewels and garlands, were displayed on Their magnificent “simhasana” (throne) donated to the Hare Krishna movement by Madhav Baug and Mumba devi temples.
During the celebrations Prabhupada spoke from the Gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam daily, morning and evening. More than thirty of his foreign disciples conducted kirtana, aratika, and film shows in the specially erected pandals.
Prabhupada will deliver his final public message to the citizens before leaving in a few weeks on a preaching tour of the major cities of Russia.
Bombayites would not soon forget the Hare Kṛṣṇa festival, and a letter from Prabhupāda to the ISKCON life members pledged that it had been only the beginning:
By the Grace of Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha and Krishna our recent festival in Cross Maidan Exhibition Ground has been counted a grand success, and quite noticeably the spirit of bhakti has been actively revived in Bombay. My blessings go especially to all of you who have joined with us in service.
As you may know, my plan is to establish in this most auspicious city a unique International Krishna Conscious Training Centre, where hundreds of persons from abroad may be educated in the Vedic way of life, while at the same time Indian boys and girls may be trained up for prachar (preaching) work in foreign countries. We will construct classrooms, workrooms, dormitories, kitchen for large-scale public prasad distribution, a lecture hall, library, and a beautiful temple for the glorification of Radha and Krishna.
We are on the threshold of bringing this important project to fruition, and we are very excited to inform you the progress made in this respect.
You will agree with me that your active participation and your direct involvement in this is most essential, and hence I appeal to you to spare your valuable time for Krishna and make it a point, inspite of your extremely busy life, to extend your unstinted co-operation. It is proposed to hold a meeting on Monday, the 26th April 1971, at 6:30 p.m., “Akash Ganga,” 7th floor, 89 Bhulabhai Desai Road, Bombay-26, to discuss and to finalise plans to channel our united energies to achieve the goal. It will also be a great opportunity for like-minded Krishna devotees to meet, to have darshan of the deities, and to exchange views and suggestions to make rapid progress in spiritual life.
I very much want to meet you again, so kindly make it a “must” to attend our meeting; there is a lot of ground to be covered to spread Krishna Consciousness to millions and millions of our slumbering brothers and sisters!
That so many were accepting ISKCON and the saṅkīrtana movement as bona fide testified to the purity of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s presentation of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s teachings. His teachings were not sectarian; they were meant for everyone all over the world. He was teaching love of Kṛṣṇa, the universal principle for all humanity. In his lectures at the paṇḍāl he had lamented that although India was known as the land of religion, where God consciousness had traditionally permeated society, India’s leaders were becoming atheists and communists. Whether Indians, polluted by the madness for sense gratification and confused by a hodgepodge of pseudoreligious teachings, could still recognize and adopt the real thing remained to be seen. But at least in Bombay, the paṇḍāl program had had a great effect – of that Prabhupāda felt satisfied.
The program had been the same program he had introduced everywhere: chanting, dancing, taking prasādam, worshiping the Deity, hearing about Kṛṣṇa. It was Lord Caitanya’s program, adapted slightly according to the particular circumstances – but Lord Caitanya’s program nonetheless. This saṅkīrtana was the only possible remedy for the disease of modern society. Yet people were reluctant to take the remedy. Prabhupāda, therefore, had “labeled the bottle.” The medicine was unchanged, but he had labeled it attractively: a gala evening of entertainment, music, and refreshments, featuring the youth of America and Europe transformed into Vaiṣṇavas.
The labeling was simple, nondeceptive; everyone in Bombay knew well that the Hare Kṛṣṇa paṇḍāl festival was a product of their own Vedic heritage. They were fully aware that the Hare Kṛṣṇa leader was a great ācārya in the ancient tradition. But it had come to them in such a spectacular and attractive way that they had become caught up in it.
Madhudviṣa: No one really thought Prabhupāda was leaving India. In India Prabhupāda was the cutting edge of the whole movement. He was the force. Things were moving because of Prabhupāda. In the Western world Prabhupāda would give the idea, and the devotees would expand on it; Prabhupāda was the overseer, but he didn’t have such an integral, active part in the West. But in India Prabhupāda was right in the thick of it. He was checking the accounts. He was so much involved in the Indian scene that Ṛṣi Kumāra, the Bombay treasurer, would have to go to Prabhupāda every other day and show him the accounts. He was very much involved in everything. The whole movement in India depended on Prabhupāda. Because of this, no one thought that Prabhupāda would really leave us.