“The Land Is Yours”
IT WAS MIDNIGHT. Śrīla Prabhupāda sat on a pillow behind his low desk, his light the only one on in the building. All the other devotees were in bed. On the desk before him rested the dictating machine and a volume of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam with Bengali commentary. A small framed picture of his spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, sat between two small vases of roses and asters. On the floor beyond the desk was the broad mat covered with white cotton fabric, where a few hours before, devotees and guests had sat.
But now he was alone. Although usually he retired at ten, rising three or four hours later to translate, tonight he had not rested, and his Bhāgavatam lay closed, his dictating machine covered.
He had sent two of his disciples, Tamāla Kṛṣṇa and Bali-mardana, to purchase land in Māyāpur. Six days had passed, however, and still they had neither returned nor sent word. He had told them not to return until they had completed the transaction, but six days was more than enough time. He was anxious, thinking constantly of his two disciples.
A breeze arrived, carrying the fragrance of nīm trees through the open window. The night was becoming cool, and Prabhupāda wore a light cādara around his shoulders. Absorbed in thought, leaning against the white bolster pillow, he paid little attention to the familiar sights in his room. A clay jug with drinking water sat beside him, and a potted tulasī plant sat upon a small wooden pedestal. The electricity, off most of the day and night, was now on, and moths and other insects hovered around the bare bulb overhead. A lizard patrolled the ceiling, occasionally darting forward near the light to capture an insect.
Why were Tamāla Kṛṣṇa and Bali-mardana taking so long? It had been more than just a wait of six days; he had been trying to obtain land in Māyāpur for years. And this time the prospects had been excellent. He had clearly instructed Tamāla Kṛṣṇa and Bali-mardana, and by now they should have returned. The delay could mean a complication, or even danger.
The land they were trying for was a nine-bīgha plot on Bhaktisiddhānta Road, less than a mile from the birthsite of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu. The Sek brothers, Muslim farmers who owned the plot, had been asking a high price. Only recently had a Calcutta lawyer familiar with Navadvīpa been able to seriously negotiate a fair price. The Sek brothers had settled for 14,500 rupees, and Prabhupāda had authorized withdrawal of the funds from his bank in Krishnanagar. Thus Tamāla Kṛṣṇa and Bali-mardana had left for Māyāpur, while Prabhupāda had remained in Calcutta, carrying on with his affairs but thinking often of the activities of his disciples in Māyāpur. Their mission was very important to him, and he kept them in his mind, personally blessing them with his concern.
Prabhupāda wanted an ISKCON center in Māyāpur; it was a desire that had increased within him as his movement had increased throughout the years. He could easily visit or live in Māyāpur; that was no problem. But he needed a place for his disciples. His spiritual master had ordered him to preach in the West; and now with the success of his Kṛṣṇa consciousness society, the Western Vaiṣṇavas required a center in Māyāpur where they could reside and worship and receive the immense benefit of the holy dhāma. Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had stressed the great importance of Māyāpur, and some of his sannyāsī disciples had temples there. Why shouldn’t the International Society for Krishna Consciousness also be able to take shelter of Māyāpur?
Since birth, Prabhupāda had been aware of the significance of Lord Caitanya and His dhāma, Śrī Māyāpur. He had grown up in Calcutta, where everyone knew of Lord Caitanya, and because his father, Gour Mohan De, had been a pure devotee of Lord Caitanya, from childhood he had sung the Bengali songs of Gaura-Nitāi and Their pastimes in the land of Gauḍa. He had imbibed deeply the teachings and pastimes of Lord Caitanya, especially after meeting his spiritual master in Calcutta in 1922.
Lord Caitanya had spent His first twenty-four years in Māyāpur and Navadvīpa. Yet since His manifest pastimes there almost five hundred years ago, the places of those pastimes had been obscured, the Lord’s birthsite lost, and His teachings confused and misused. Despite the disciplic line of pure devotees from Lord Caitanya, not until the advent of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, the father of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, did Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana movement and pure teachings begin to emerge. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura published many books and preached to reestablish the intellectual, moral, and spiritual integrity of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism. He researched and explored the land of Navadvīpa, ascertaining the exact birthsite of the Lord. Citing Vedic evidence, he established that many previous incarnations of Viṣṇu had enacted pastimes in Navadvīpa.
Not only did Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura document Navadvīpa’s past glory, but he also foresaw its glorious future, when a religion based on the teachings of Lord Caitanya would emerge and spread throughout the world, and when European and American Vaiṣṇavas would throng to Navadvīpa to join their Bengali brothers in chanting “Jaya Śacīnandana!”* The time would come, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote, when in the land of Navadvīpa on the plain of the Ganges a magnificent temple would arise, proclaiming to the world the glories of Lord Caitanya.
* “All glories to Lord Caitanya, the son of Śacī!”
Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, carrying out the desires of his father and preceptor, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, had formed the Gaudiya Math for propagating the teachings of Lord Caitanya and the glories of Navadvīpa-dhāma. He had induced a wealthy disciple to spend his fortune for erecting a temple at Lord Caitanya’s birthsite in Māyāpur, and he had constructed a kīrtana hall commemorating the place of Lord Caitanya’s kīrtanas. He had also constructed his own residence in Māyāpur. He had built temples throughout India – sixty-four in all – but because he wanted the English-speaking world especially to take to Lord Caitanya’s movement, he had emphasized as first priority the publishing and distributing of Kṛṣṇa conscious literature.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, sitting in his room in the Calcutta temple, shared the great vision of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. Yet to enact this great vision he had to take practical steps, and he was content to take them in the most humble way. A devotee should not simply daydream, expecting Kṛṣṇa to accomplish everything with “miracles.”
Prabhupāda, however, was not dreaming idly. Working for years alone in India, he had held his plan of going to the West, and Kṛṣṇa had at last fulfilled that desire. In America, in whatever circumstances and with whatever small facility Kṛṣṇa had provided, he had preached. And slowly, step by step, he had met with success, realizing his vision of a worldwide society of devotees. Always he had kept his greater vision in mind, as every step forward had given him deeper satisfaction and had brought him closer to fulfilling his mission.
Prabhupāda sometimes told the story of a poor potter who dreamed of expanding his business and becoming fabulously rich. As the potter slept one night, he dreamed of how much land and how many houses he would have and of how he would have a beautiful wife. When the potter considered that perhaps the wife would quarrel with him, he became angry and said, “If my wife fights with me, I will kick her!” And kicking, he broke the only two pots in his stock and was reduced to nothing.
Whether chanting or writing, or reading, or preaching, Prabhupāda had been absorbed in his plans for spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness and fulfilling the dream of the past ācāryas. Now he was anxious to complete the next step, and for this he was waiting up past midnight, meditating on his two disciples and their important mission.
As Prabhupāda sat, rapt in thought, the only sounds were the usual sounds of the night: mice within the walls, a brahmacārī snoring on the veranda, and in the distance the night watchman making his rounds, his stick striking the street. There were no cars, and only an occasional wooden ricksha clattered along the potholed street.
Prabhupāda wondered if perhaps his boys had been robbed. Before sending them off, he had shown Tamāla Kṛṣṇa how to carry money around his waist in a makeshift cloth money belt. But it had been a great deal of money, and robberies were not uncommon around Navadvīpa. Or perhaps there had been some other delay. Sometimes in land negotiations involving large sums of money, the court would require that a clerk record the denomination and serial number of every note exchanged. Or perhaps the train had broken down.
Suddenly Prabhupāda heard footsteps on the stairs. Someone opened the outer door and now walked along the veranda just outside. A soft knock.
“Yes, who is it?” Prabhupāda asked. Tamāla Kṛṣṇa entered and prostrated himself before Śrīla Prabhupāda.
“So,” Prabhupāda asked, “what is your news?”
Tamāla Kṛṣṇa looked up triumphantly. “The land is yours!”
Prabhupāda leaned back with a sigh. “All right,” he said. “Now you can take rest.”
Prabhupāda had asked the Indian high commissioner for the United Kingdom to petition Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to attend ISKCON’s upcoming cornerstone-laying ceremony in Māyāpur. Already Prabhupāda had instructed all his G.B.C. secretaries to attend the ceremony, and he had asked the devotees to invite many prominent citizens of Calcutta. Writing to his disciples in India, he said that if they could not get Indira Gandhi to come, they should at least get the governor of Bengal, Sri S. S. Dhavan.
Meanwhile, Prabhupāda was meeting in London with several of his disciples experienced in architecture and design; he wanted them to draft plans for his Māyāpur project. Nara-Nārāyaṇa had built Ratha-yātrā carts and designed temple interiors, Ranchor had studied architecture, and Bhavānanda had been a professional designer, but Prabhupāda himself conceived the plans for the Māyāpur buildings. He then told his three-man committee to provide sketches and an architect’s model; he would immediately begin raising funds and securing support in India for the project. To the devotees who heard Prabhupāda’s plans, this seemed the most ambitious ISKCON project ever.
While taking his morning walks in Russell Square, Prabhupāda would point to various buildings and ask how high they were. Finally he announced one morning that the main temple in Māyāpur should be more than three hundred feet high! Māyāpur’s monsoon floods and sandy soil would create unique difficulties, he said, and the building would have to be built on a special foundation, a sort of floating raft. A civil engineer later confirmed this.
The first building, Prabhupāda said, should be a large guesthouse, four stories high, and his design, although not strictly conforming to any one school of architecture, resembled most that of Rajasthan. He wanted a pink-and-rust colored building with many arches and a wide marble veranda on each floor except the ground floor. The building should run east-west, so that the sun would pass lengthwise over it and not shine directly into the building’s broad front. Southerly breezes would cool the guesthouse in summer. The building should be equipped with electric fans and lights, modern toilets and showers, and the rooms should be furnished, spacious, and well ventilated.
This guesthouse should be built as soon as possible, Prabhupāda said; then other buildings would follow. He wanted residential buildings for five hundred devotees, a large prasādam hall seating several thousand, a kitchen complex, and a gośālā (a shelter for the cows that would pasture in nearby fields). In time ISKCON would acquire adjoining land and develop parks, with flower gardens, trees and shrubs, fountains, walkways, and arbors.
The main building, the colossal Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir, was to be no less than three hundred feet high and costing perhaps tens of millions of dollars. Prabhupāda’s description astounded the architects as well as the devotees; it sounded grander than the United States Capitol or St. Peter’s Cathedral. The temple’s central dome would house a three-dimensional model of the universe. The design, however, would be based on the Vedic description and would depict not only the material universe but also the spiritual universe.
Entering the main hall, a person would look up and see the planets situated just as Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describes, beginning with the hellish planets, then the middle planets, wherein the earth is situated, then the heavenly planets of the demigods, and then Brahmaloka, the highest planet in the material world. Above Brahmaloka, the observer would see the abode of Lord Śiva, and above that the spiritual sky, or brahmajyoti. Within the spiritual effulgence of the brahmajyoti would be the self-illuminating Vaikuṇṭha planets, inhabited by eternally liberated souls. And highest of all would be the supreme planet of Kṛṣṇaloka, where God in His original eternal form enjoys His pastimes with His most confidential devotees.
The temple would also house a miniature palace in which the Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa would reside, surrounded by silks and pillars of silver, gold, and jewels. The Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir and the Māyāpur city would be ISKCON’s world headquarters.
And why such a fabulous architectural wonder as this in such an obscure part of the world? The answer, Prabhupāda explained, was that Māyāpur was actually not obscure; it seemed so only from the mundane perspective. To mundane vision, that which was central seemed remote. The soul and the next life seemed remote, while the body and immediate sense gratification seemed central. By establishing the Temple of Human Understanding in Māyāpur, Śrīla Prabhupāda would be directing the materialistic world’s attention back to the true center.
Any sincere visitor would be charmed by the beauty of ISKCON’s Māyāpur project and would perceive that here indeed was the spiritual world. And the devotees living in Māyāpur, by remaining constantly immersed in singing Hare Kṛṣṇa kīrtana and discussing the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, would be able to convince any intelligent visitor that the teachings of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu were the highest truth. The devotees would explain the philosophy of the Absolute Truth, which would enable visitors to comprehend actual spiritual truth beyond sectarian religious dogma. Furthermore, the continuous Hare Kṛṣṇa kīrtana and the blissful devotees engaged in a wide variety of services to Lord Kṛṣṇa would demonstrate that bhakti-yoga was the simplest, most direct process for meditating on the Supreme Personality of Godhead. While staying in ISKCON’s Māyāpur city, a person would quickly become a devotee of the Lord and begin chanting and dancing in ecstasy.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was demonstrating how the world could be spiritualized by linking material things with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, through bhakti-yoga. And why shouldn’t such spiritual feats surpass the achievements of the materialists?
Prabhupāda was sorry to learn through the Indian high commissioner that the prime minister could not attend the cornerstone-laying ceremony in Māyāpur. Yet he took it as Kṛṣṇa’s desire. He said he would invite a prominent Vaiṣṇava to officiate, or he might do it himself. “On the whole,” he wrote, “it was Lord Caitanya’s desire that a Vaiṣṇava shall lay down the cornerstone instead of asking some material man or woman to perform the holy work.”
The monsoons came, and the Ganges spilled over her banks, flooding the entire ISKCON Māyāpur property. Acyutānanda Swami had built a straw and bamboo hut where Prabhupāda was soon to stay, but the waters rose until Acyutānanda Swami had to live in the bamboo rafters. He wrote Prabhupāda that had it not been for Bhaktisiddhānta Road* the damage would have been extensive. Prabhupāda replied,
* The elevated road that runs before ISKCON’s property and the birthplace of Lord Caitanya, serving as a dike against the Ganges.
Yes, we were saved by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Road. We shall always expect to be saved by His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaj Prabhupada. Always pray to His Lotus Feet. Whatever success we have had in preaching Lord Chaitanya’s mission all over the world is only due to His mercy.
November 10, 1971
The car pulled out from the crowd in front of the airport terminal. Prabhupāda, sitting in the back seat, his bamboo cane against his knee, his hand in his bead bag, talked with his Delhi disciples. As the car moved through the broad avenues of New Delhi, Prabhupāda removed two knee-length flower garlands from around his neck and placed them beside him on the seat. It was midday, and the November climate was pleasant. Prabhupāda had arrived from Calcutta just in time for the ten-day ISKCON paṇḍāl festival, beginning the next day.
One of the devotees mentioned how fitting it had been that the mayor of New Delhi, Mr. Hans Raj Gupta, had greeted Prabhupāda at the airport. Prabhupāda smiled.
In his speech before Mayor Gupta and a gathering at the airport, Prabhupāda had explained India’s duty of performing welfare work for the rest of the world. He had also described how, at age twenty-five, he had met his Guru Mahārāja and had then received the order to carry Lord Caitanya’s message to the English-speaking world. Explaining why he had waited until he was seventy before going West, he had remarked, “I was trying to become a successful tool for preaching Lord Caitanya’s message.” Hundreds of thousands of preachers were needed now, as the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement was spreading throughout the world. “And the black men are also dancing,” Prabhupāda had said. “And they are asking the Indian people, ‘Why you and the swamis do not give us this sublime method?’ ”
Delhi was the third Indian city Prabhupāda had visited since his return from Africa a month ago. His first stop, Bombay, had begun roughly. Śyāmasundara had neglected to carry Śrīla Prabhupāda’s inoculation card, so immigration officials had denied Prabhupāda entry into India, quarantining him at the Bombay airport hospital for ten days.
Confined to a suite with an adjoining veranda overlooking a garden, Prabhupāda had resigned himself to a more limited sphere of activity. Still, each morning after breakfast he had conducted a dialogue with Śyāmasundara about certain leading Western philosophers: Śyāmasundara would present a particular philosophy, and Prabhupāda would discuss it in light of the Vedic view. Then, with only one day left before the end of the ten-day quarantine period, the inoculation card had arrived, and Prabhupāda had been released.
Immediately he had left for Calcutta and a series of kīrtana and lecture programs at Desh Priya Park. He had stayed in Calcutta two and a half weeks, appreciating the location of the ISKCON temple at Albert Road in the heart of what had once been the sāhab (European) section. “Now I am bringing the sāhabs back to the sāhab quarter,” Prabhupāda had said, “but this time they are all coming as Vaiṣṇavas. You should never give up this place.”
Some of the Calcutta devotees had complained to Śrīla Prabhupāda that the temple was being mismanaged and that, due to insufficient income, their diet was inadequate. When Prabhupāda had questioned the temple leaders, one devotee had replied, “Śrīla Prabhupāda, I was simply trying to execute your will.”
“Is it my will,” Prabhupāda had asked, “that all the devotees should be disturbed?”
He had settled the differences, arranged for an improved diet, and had even recommended a democratic election of temple officers. But he had also explained that because Kṛṣṇa consciousness was such an important mission, the devotees should cooperate, even if there were discrepancies. The material world is like an ocean, he had said, and there would always be waves.
During this visit to Calcutta, Prabhupāda had also spoken of his plans for Māyāpur. Nara-Nārāyaṇa had built a scale model of the building ISKCON would construct on the newly acquired property, and Prabhupāda had shown it to all his guests and had asked them to help. Seeing Prabhupāda’s absorption in this project, Girirāja had volunteered to help in any way required. “It seems the two things you want most,” Girirāja had said, “are for the books to be distributed and to build a temple at Māyāpur.”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda had said, smiling. “Yes, thank you.”
When Prabhupāda arrived at the home of Mr. Ram Niwas Dandaria in New Delhi, a waiting reporter interviewed him.
“I understand,” said the reporter, “that by ‘Kṛṣṇa’ you mean some eternal principle.”
“I do not mean a principle,” Prabhupāda replied. “I mean a person like you and me.” Prabhupāda was explaining Lord Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Person when suddenly sirens began sounding.
“Blackout! Blackout!” cried the reporter and others in the house. War between Pakistan and India had been imminent for weeks, and air raid drills and warnings were now commonplace in Delhi.
“Sir” – the reporter spoke tensely in the darkened room – “this is the presence of reality. We are being threatened by this fight with Pakistan. The siren is the ugly reality coming for us.”
“We are always in the ugly reality,” Prabhupāda said, “ – twenty-four hours a day. Suppose there is no blackout? Still, if you go in the street, there is no guarantee that you will get home. In this way, you are always in the ugly reality. Why do you say only this blackout? This is just one of the features of this ugly reality. That’s all.”
Reporter: “Yes, but at the moment …”
Prabhupāda: “You do not realize that you are in ugly reality twenty-four hours a day? Padaṁ padaṁ yad vipadām. There is danger at every step.”
Reporter: “I know, sir, but this is collective, national danger. Have you anything to offer us as a remedy?”
Prabhupāda: “Kṛṣṇa consciousness is our only remedy. Take to this process, and you will be happy.”
Reporter: “Sir, I think someone should go to the Yahya Khan [the president of Pakistan].”
Prabhupāda: “What benefit will you derive by going to Yahya Khan?”
Reporter: “Someone is out to kill me.”
Prabhupāda: “But suppose Yahya Khan does not kill you? Will you be safe? Then what is the use to go to Yahya Khan? You will die today or tomorrow. If you want to save yourself, then go to Kṛṣṇa. That is our proposition. Even if you go to Yahya Khan, and he does not fight, then you mean to say that you will live forever? What is the use of flattering Yahya Khan? Flatter Kṛṣṇa, so that you may be saved perpetually. Why don’t you do that?”
Reporter: “I was only thinking in terms of collective security. I can see your point.”
Prabhupāda: “You should know that you are always in danger.”
Reporter: “Yes, sir, we agree. The late Einstein said the same thing.”
Prabhupāda: “That is our position, and Kṛṣṇa says, ‘I will save you.’ Therefore, let us go to Kṛṣṇa. Why go to Yahya Khan?”
Reporter: “Simply because he is disturbing us, that’s all.”
Prabhupāda: “Your mind is always disturbing you all the time, because it is always with you. Your body is always with you. Are you not suffering from bodily pains? Why don’t you go to Yahya Khan to cure your pains? You are always in danger. Why don’t you realize that?”
Reporter: “We realize that this is a national disaster.”
Prabhupāda: “These are symptoms. People are trying to give a patchwork cure for the disease. We are giving the supreme cure. This is the difference. No patchwork cure will help you. You need a complete cure.
evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma
naiti mām eti so ’rjuna
The cure is no more repetition of birth and death. That is what we want. That is the benefit of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Yaṁ prāpya na nivartante / tad dhāma paramaṁ mama. If you go to Kṛṣṇa, then you don’t come back again to this material world.”
Reporter: “Sir, mine was a very hypothetical question. Suppose a hundred pure, saintly, Kṛṣṇa conscious people are meditating or discussing together, and someone comes along and drops the bomb – ”
Prabhupāda: “Those who are Kṛṣṇa conscious are not afraid of bomb. When they see a bomb coming, they think that Kṛṣṇa desired the bomb to come. A Kṛṣṇa conscious person is never afraid of anything. Bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syāt. One who has the conception that something can exist outside of Kṛṣṇa is afraid. On the other hand, one who knows that everything is coming from Kṛṣṇa has no reason to be afraid. The bomb is coming – he says, ‘Ah, Kṛṣṇa is coming.’ That is the vision of the devotee. He thinks, ‘Kṛṣṇa wants to kill me with a bomb. That is all right. I will be killed.’ That is Kṛṣṇa consciousness.”
When the reporter asked if the Vaiṣṇava would die without fighting, Prabhupāda said that the Vaiṣṇava would fight, but only under the direction of Kṛṣṇa, and he cited Arjuna and Hanumān as examples. He continued to explain Kṛṣṇa consciousness as the only solution. The blackout ended.
A few of Prabhupāda’s disciples had organized the New Delhi paṇḍāl program like the public festivals Prabhupāda had already introduced in India. Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, Tejās, and Gurudāsa had enlisted the help of important Delhi men, including the mayor and members of New Delhi’s Management and Reception Committee. These persons had granted permission and issued letters of introduction to others, whom the devotees had then approached for donations.
The devotees found everyone they met sympathetic to Śrīla Prabhupāda. They respected him, especially after meeting him. Some disagreed philosophically, yet all were impressed by Prabhupāda’s converting Westerners to Hindu dharma and God consciousness, and they had genuine respect for Prabhupāda’s worldwide propagation of the teachings of Bhagavad-gītā.
Prabhupāda had great stature among the Indians as a sādhu. Speaking only on the basis of the scriptures, he exhibited full surrender to Lord Kṛṣṇa. He was above politics and sectarianism; he was fully spiritual and commanded respect. Everyone, regardless of personal philosophies or practices, seemed to accept him as a true representative of Indian culture, a genuine sādhu and guru.
Among the distinguished persons who agreed to appear as guest speakers during the ten-day festival were Sri Hans Raj Gupta, mayor; H. Bachchan, a famous Hindi poet; Sri Syama Caran Gupta, chairman of the Delhi Metropolitan Council; Sri C. B. Agarwal, a famous orator; Sri Vipin Candra Misra, magistrate of the Delhi High Court; Dr. Atma Ram, a renowned scientist; Colonel B. R. Mohan, ex-mayor and industrialist of Lucknow; Sri L. N. Sakalani, a prominent industrialist; Sri Aditya Nath Jha, the lieutenant-governor of Delhi; Sri Jagjivan Ram, Indian defense minister; and His Excellency James George, the Canadian high commissioner. Gurudāsa had also had friendly conversations with the U.S. ambassador to India, Kenneth Keating, who had repeatedly expressed his respect for the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Ambassador Keating regretted that he would be out of town during the function.
The devotees had secured an excellent location at the L.I.C. Grounds in Connaught Place, the heart of New Delhi’s commercial district. There they had arranged for a large tent and outdoor lighting for the ten-day festival. On opening day the program started at six A.M. with a kīrtana and an ārati before the newly arrived Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, white marble Deities from Jaipur enthroned upon a flower-bedecked altar on the large stage. Attendance was sparse at first, but picked up when after a noon kīrtana and ārati devotees began distributing kṛṣṇa-prasādam. The evening program started with a kīrtana, which continued enthusiastically, building to an ecstatic climax as Śrīla Prabhupāda entered.
For the pious people of Delhi, the evening Hare Kṛṣṇa festival was a momentous occasion. Since the location and the hour were ideal and admission was free, the crowd had grown to tens of thousands, many having come specifically to see the young American Vaiṣṇavas.
At Prabhupāda’s arrival hundreds of people surged forward to touch his feet and receive his blessings, as a ring of disciples escorted him through the crowd. Prabhupāda, wearing a gray wool cādara, his “swami hat” pushed back casually on his head, moved calmly forward toward the stage with natural, aristocratic poise. He sat on the vyāsāsana, and the audience quieted.
New Delhi’s mayor, Sri Hans Raj Gupta, spoke first. He had met Śrīla Prabhupāda in the early 1960s when Prabhupāda had approached him for a donation to publish the first volume of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Mayor Gupta, recognizing Prabhupāda as “someone sincere and near to God,” had helped, and Prabhupāda had later presented him with complimentary copies of the first two volumes of his Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Mr. Gupta was impressed by Prabhupāda’s success in spreading Vaiṣṇavism in the West, and as he introduced Śrīla Prabhupāda, he expounded on the Kṛṣṇa consciousness philosophy he had read in Prabhupāda’s Bhāgavatams.
He said, speaking in Hindi, that as mayor of Delhi for five years he had many times welcomed important visitors and delivered addresses, but such functions were usually only formalities. This was not, however, the case with Śrīla Prabhupāda, he said, since no one he had ever known could compare with him. He praised Prabhupāda for doing “an immense amount of good work in India and the whole world.” Said Mayor Gupta, “He has also given me love and affection, and I am more affected by that than anything else.”
Then Prabhupāda spoke. When he began by asking whether the audience preferred him to speak in Hindi or English, many called out for Hindi, a few for English. But Prabhupāda announced, “I am going to speak in English, because my disciples, being Americans and Europeans, have joined me. They are following me, and they must understand. If I speak in Hindi they cannot follow. So I am going to speak in English.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Prabhupāda continued, “I thank you for your kindly participating in this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Just now we will vibrate one transcendental song, Jaya Rādhā-Mādhava Kuñjabihārī. As you know, Kṛṣṇa’s eternal consort is Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, the pleasure potency of Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When He wants to enjoy, He exhibits His pleasure potency, which is known as Rādhārāṇī.”
After chanting Jaya Rādhā-Mādhava Prabhupāda expounded the science of Kṛṣṇa for half an hour, quoting Bhagavad-gītā on why Kṛṣṇa comes to the material world, how the jīva souls are transmigrating from one body to another, birth after birth, and how human life is the opportunity for the jīva souls to revive their love of Kṛṣṇa.
“This is religion,” Prabhupāda said, “ – simply surrender to Kṛṣṇa. Become a Kṛṣṇaite. … It doesn’t require a church. It doesn’t require a mosque. It doesn’t require anything. But wherever you sit down, you can chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. This is the easiest method.”
Following Śukadeva Gosvāmī, the ancient speaker of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Prabhupāda condemned a materialistic life spent “working hard like the hogs or dogs,” without self-realization. He emphasized that India had a treasure house of knowledge, which Indians should distribute all over the world. Unfortunately, the Indians were forgetting their real duty.
In conclusion Prabhupāda said, “So there are many things to be spoken in this connection of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. I am trying to present this to you in the next ten days. This is the beginning. I shall request you to come here. We don’t charge any fees. We are depending on Kṛṣṇa. If Kṛṣṇa likes, He will benefit us. We are completely surrendered to Kṛṣṇa. If He likes, He can maintain us. If He likes, He can kill us. We don’t mind. We have no business. We have no separate interest. We request you to come and join this movement. It is not sectarian. We have many Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muhammadans, and Sikhs also all over the world who are now in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We are preaching one word, Kṛṣṇa, one scripture, Bhagavad-gītā, and one mantra, Hare Kṛṣṇa. Chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare / Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. Thank you very much.”
Prabhupāda attempted to leave the stage, and again the crowd rushed forward to touch his lotus feet. Although Prabhupāda’s disciples were already convinced of his greatness, that greatness took on a vivid reality at times like this, when they heard him speaking so powerfully and saw him surrounded by throngs of worshipers.
As Prabhupāda proceeded to his car, he remained calm and humble, but the disciples surrounding him tensed to protect him from being jostled by a frantic crowd. Yet despite the devotees’ sincere attempts, individuals in the crowd would manage to break through, diving between the devotees’ legs to throw themselves before Prabhupāda.
“Do you know why they are worshiping me?” Prabhupāda said, turning to the disciples near him. “It is because I am free from sex desire.”
For ten consecutive nights Śrīla Prabhupāda lectured at the paṇḍāl. In many of his lectures he would speak of dharma (religion) in connection with the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.
“The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is the topmost yoga system. It is very scientific. Don’t think it is a sentimental movement. It is authorized, supported by the Vedic literatures. And actually it is becoming effective. Religion is surrender to God. These boys and girls have taken to this real religion. This movement is so important, and we are giving everyone a chance to make this life successful. Therefore our humble request is that you take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
On the fifth evening, after Justice Misra had referred to religion in his introduction, Śrīla Prabhupāda defined the word in his lecture. “Religion means constitutional position. In the English dictionary religion is described as faith. But by Vedic definition religion cannot be changed like faith because it is the law given by the Lord. Only surrender unto the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa is dharma. That is Kṛṣṇa’s verdict. One should not have any ulterior motive in approaching God.
“Why not surrender immediately? Be intelligent. Real religion means to surrender immediately. Why should you wait for many, many births? We request all of you to try to understand this process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness very seriously. Take to it, and you will become happy.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda saw the Indian people abandoning their dharma for materialism, and he spoke strongly, pointing out their great mistake and urging them to rectify it. “If you actually want to advance your nation, India, then you must take to the culture of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This will glorify your country. You cannot compete with the Western world in the field of technology. It is impossible. The Western countries are meant for that purpose, for advancing technology. But you are meant for a different purpose. Your special advantage is that you have been born in this land of Bhārata-varṣa after many, many births and after performing many pious activities.
“India is very poverty-stricken, so wherever I go I am told I come from a very poor country. India advertises this image – our ministers beg from other countries. We are accepted as a beggars’ culture. At the Berkeley University one Indian student protested the studying of the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. He was the only student to protest. He said, ‘Swamiji, what benefit is made by accepting this Hare Kṛṣṇa movement?’ In another place a girl asked me, ‘Swamiji, what is God?’ So I asked her, ‘Are you Indian? You should be ashamed of being called an Indian, because you ask what is God, although you come from India, the land of God.’ India is the land where Lord Kṛṣṇa appeared. So although you may be born Indian, if you have no dharma, what is the difference between you and the animals?”
One night while Prabhupāda was speaking, an American hippie in the audience approached the stage. He had long, wild blond hair and wore a vest and high leather boots. A miniature framed picture of Viṣṇu, Brahmā, and Śiva hung on a chain around his neck. When the boy tried to climb up on the stage, some of the devotees pushed him back, but Śrīla Prabhupāda intervened. He had a devotee bring a cushion and place a microphone in front of the boy. Then Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “Yes?”
“Have you realized yourself?” the young man demanded. “Have you realized the soul in the innermost depths of your being?”
“Yes!” Śrīla Prabhupāda replied.
At first the man was taken aback, but then he again challenged, “Now you tell me another thing. When was the Bhagavad-gītā written?”
“Now you answer my question,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said. “What is the process of receiving knowledge from the Bhagavad-gītā?”
“No,” the young man retorted, “you tell me – when was the Bhagavad-gītā written? In your lecture you said five thousand years ago, but according to other swamis, it was written only fifteen hundred years ago. Answer my question. I asked you first!”
Śrīla Prabhupāda raised his voice angrily. “I am not your servant, I am Kṛṣṇa’s servant. You must answer my question!”
A heated argument began, with the hippie yelling at Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Prabhupāda arguing back. Finally, the devotees removed the boy from the stage.
The incident confused the audience. Many people began to leave. “Why did your Guru Mahārāja become angry?” some of them demanded from the devotees. “He should have answered the man’s question.” Some of the civic leaders supporting the paṇḍāl program also became upset, fearing Śrīla Prabhupāda had made an unfavorable impression on the public. Those who were devotional, however, remained in their seats to hear further what Prabhupāda had to say.
To the devotees it was inconceivable. Why had Prabhupāda, in the middle of his talk, invited a crazy hippie onto the stage, given him a microphone and a seat, and then argued with him to the point of yelling and shouting? And all before an audience of twenty thousand!
Bhavānanda: One man who had helped organize the paṇḍāl protested,“Oh, Swamiji has gotten angry. This is not good.” But Śrīla Prabhupāda seemed to have done it purposefully. He had spoken for a long time that evening on how to understand the Bhagavad-gītā, and then he had this hippie brought on the stage. It was bewildering to us. We couldn’t figure it out.
Girirāja: Śrīla Prabhupāda was actually using the entire incident to illustrate the process of understanding Bhagavad-gītā. After the man left, Prabhupāda completed his lecture by stating that one must approach Kṛṣṇa or Kṛṣṇa’s representative with a submissive attitude, by serving and inquiring, not simply asking challenging questions. The whole incident had illustrated this point.
Yadubara: Many in the audience misunderstood the incident. It caused a split. But those who understood what Śrīla Prabhupāda had done could see that this hippie was a rascal, and this had been a time for transcendental anger against his nonsensical opinions.
Tejās: After everything was over, Prabhupāda told us, “Just as the gopīs were lusty for Kṛṣṇa, Arjuna would also get angry for Kṛṣṇa. So it is not bad that a devotee becomes angry for Kṛṣṇa.” But many people in the crowd could not understand this point – how a devotee is not impersonal. The Indians are used to seeing impersonalist yogīs who express no emotion. The audience was mostly impersonalists.
The last night of the paṇḍāl program, Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke privately with James George, the Canadian high commissioner.
Mr. George: “You have attracted so many Canadians and Americans.”
Prabhupāda: “I have not attracted them. Kṛṣṇa has attracted them.”
Mr. George: “True.”
Prabhupāda: “Kṛṣṇa is all-attractive. I am simply presenting the means of being attracted. That is my business. It is similar to the way a magnet attracts iron. If the iron is rusty, however, then magnetic force cannot attract. Therefore, my business is to remove the dirt. This process is ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanam, cleansing the heart.
“At the present moment every one of us is in a consciousness of thinking, ‘I am this body.’ Because you were born in Canada, you are thinking you are Canadian. Because I was born in India, I am thinking I am Indian. And because he was born in America, he is thinking he is American. None of us are American, Canadian, or Indian. We are living entities.”
Mr. George: “I have no problem following all of that. How, though, is this change of consciousness to be brought about, for example, in the West? This, I take it, is your mission.”
Prabhupāda: “There is no question of East and West. It is philosophy – it is science. In mathematics, for instance, two plus two equals four. This is equally understandable in the West as well as the East. It is not that two plus two in the West is five, and two plus two in the East is three. Two plus two is equal to four everywhere.
“The first knowledge, then, that must be understood by human society is that we are not these bodies. It is very common knowledge. From this point, our spiritual knowledge can advance. If we do not know what spirit is, then what is the question of advancing in spiritual knowledge?”
After their conversation, Mr. George accompanied Prabhupāda to the stage and introduced him to the crowd.
“For several years I’ve been wanting to meet this swami and see what it was about him that was affecting so many of our young people in Canada and North America. I was very happy this evening to come in response to your kind invitation, and especially to meet Swamiji. I think, as he himself said to me a short time ago, there is something really happening. Whether he is doing it or it is being done through him, as he said, it is beside the point. But there is something happening, and everyone who doubts that should be here tonight to see this. It is happening, not only here in Delhi, but it’s happening in Toronto and Cleveland and Los Angeles and New York and all sorts of places. What is it? I don’t know how he would answer that question. For me, at a deeper level what is happening is the awakening of a search.”
In his lecture, Śrīla Prabhupāda compared the material body to a machine operated by a driver, the soul. And he spoke of the soul’s natural position as servant of Kṛṣṇa. Addressing Mr. George, Prabhupāda concluded his speech.
“Here our honorable high commissioner of Canada is present. I request that since you have come to our country, please try to understand this philosophy. I have traveled in your country, in Canada, also, and as you have already mentioned, we have got five branches, in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Hamilton, and Ottawa. So the boys are struggling. They are distributing culture, these books, and I am getting very encouraging reports. Many young men are also coming. It is a very scientific movement. So I request you to inform your government to give these boys facility to inject this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement in your country. Thank you very much. Hare Kṛṣṇa.”
After the successful ten-day paṇḍāl festival – seven hundred thousand had attended – Śrīla Prabhupāda took his disciples on a short excursion to Vṛndāvana. His preaching tours had taken him to such places as Amritsar, Surat, Indore, Gorakhpur, Allahabad, and Benares, but never to Vṛndāvana. With so many of his disciples gathered in Delhi for the festival, Prabhupāda considered it an opportune time to travel to nearby Vṛndāvana.
They set out in two vehicles, Śrīla Prabhupāda and four others in Mrs. Kamala Bakshi’s Ambassador and forty devotees following in a rented bus. Prabhupāda remained silent during the ride out of the city, past the factories and through the agricultural fields, groves, and villages along the Delhi–Agra Road en route to Vṛndāvana. When, after a couple of hours, they approached the outskirts of Vṛndāvana, Prabhupāda directed the driver of his car to a village and into the center of the small town to a sweet-water well. Here Prabhupāda and his party drank, took a breakfast of fresh fruit, and then continued on their way. Just before reaching Chhatikara Road, which leads directly into Vṛndāvana, Prabhupāda’s car broke down.
Tejās: After Prabhupāda’s car broke down, he rode the rest of the way with us on the bus. Our relationship with Prabhupāda was very reverential, although we were in the most intimate situation, staying with him and traveling in a bus with him. Prabhupāda never said anything about it. In those days we were actually very much like a family – Prabhupāda knew everyone, and everyone knew Prabhupāda and would talk to him – but still we were very reverential.
In Vṛndāvana a Mr. G. L. Saraf accommodated Prabhupāda, his secretaries, and the women in the party at his home, Saraf Bhavan. The rest of the devotees stayed in a nearby dharmaśālā.
Prabhupāda had come to Vṛndāvana for more than just a pilgrimage; he had come to try and secure land for ISKCON. When in 1967 he had come to Vṛndāvana from America, he had come to recuperate, but on recovering his health he had looked for a place in Vṛndāvana for his disciples. He had tried to establish an “American House,” a center where his disciples could live in Vṛndāvana’s ideal atmosphere and receive training in Kṛṣṇa conscious culture and then go out and preach. But after two months of little prospect for establishing his American House, he had left.
This time, however, Prabhupāda was coming to Vṛndāvana as that city’s famous ambassador to the world, renowned for propagating the glories of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and Vṛndāvana in the West. The success of the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement was being widely publicized in India, as Prabhupāda and his band of foreign disciples traveled from city to city holding kīrtanas, lecturing from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and telling of Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the West. So when Prabhupāda arrived in Vṛndāvana with forty disciples, the entire town heralded his presence.
The municipality of Vṛndāvana arranged a formal reception, attended by prominent local citizens and sādhus. A spokesman for the city praised Śrīla Prabhupāda and his accomplishments. “O great soul! Today we, the inhabitants of Vṛndāvana, known as Brijabāsīs, all combinedly offer our humble welcome to Your Holiness in this holy place of Vṛndāvana, and in doing so we feel very proud. … For many years you stayed in the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple and worshiped Her Majesty Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī in a meditative mood, and thus you now have the transcendental vision to deliver the entire world. As proof of your perfection, we can see these foreign devotees before us, and we feel very proud to see how you have transformed them into such pure devotees.
“O great preacher of Vedic culture, formerly a great many swamis went to foreign countries, but now you have wonderfully preached the saṅkīrtana movement and the sublime philosophy of bhakti cult in the Western countries, and that is the only means for giving peace and prosperity to all people of the world in this age. For preaching religion and culture, your holy name will remain ever dazzling.
“To speak frankly, we feel a very intimate relationship with you, and we feel perfect satisfaction at this time in the privilege to present you this address of welcome. We take it for granted that you are one of us in Vṛndāvana. We are sure that wherever you travel, you must carry with you the impression of Śrī Vṛndāvana-dhāma. The culture, religion, philosophy, and transcendental existence of Śrī Vṛndāvana-dhāma travel with you. Through the great message Your Holiness carries, all the people of the world are now becoming very intimately related with Vṛndāvana-dhāma. We are certainly sure that through your preaching alone the transcendental message of Vṛndāvana will spread all over the world. May you be crowned a success in these noble activities.”
Then Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke, beginning by explaining how the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is trying to establish daiva-varṇāśrama, or a God-conscious social order, with universal application.
“We should not consider that Kṛṣṇa is Hindu or Indian. Kṛṣṇa is for all. These foreigners are taking to Kṛṣṇa consciousness by understanding that Kṛṣṇa is for all. They are not accepting a form of religious principles, like Hindu or Muslim or Christian. These are designated religions. If I am calling myself a Hindu, this is not my religion – this is my designation. Because I happen to take birth in a Hindu family, therefore I call myself a Hindu. Or because I take birth in a particular land, I call myself Indian or American. But our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is not for such designated personalities. This Kṛṣṇa consciousness is sarvopādhi-vinirmuktam. When one becomes free from all designations, he can take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. As long as one is Hindu or Muslim or Christian, there is no question of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
“So these boys and girls, or ladies and gentlemen, who have joined me, they have given up their designations. They are no longer Americans or Canadians or Australians. They are thinking of themselves as eternal servants of Lord Kṛṣṇa. Without this, there is no question of liberation from the material contamination. As long as there is material contamination, we have to devise these social orders and spiritual orders, according to śāstra – as brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya, śūdra, brahmacārī, gṛhastha, vānaprastha, and sannyāsa. These are all material designations. But this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is for becoming transcendental to these material designations, and these boys, these foreigners, they are being taught in that light.
“When I started my propaganda in New York, 26 Second Avenue, that time only half a dozen boys were coming and hearing. That hearing means I was singing, chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, and reading some verses from Bhagavad-gītā, and they were patiently hearing. Because I know if someone patiently hears the holy name of Kṛṣṇa or about His pastimes, then – śṛṇvatāṁ sva-kathāḥ kṛṣṇaḥ – Kṛṣṇa purifies him from within.
“So, actually it so happened with these boys and girls. I say boys and girls, because in the Western countries there is no distinction. They are given equal liberty. In our country there is still discrimination. I mean to say, grown-up boys and girls are not allowed to mix together, although it is going on now. But in European countries there is no such restriction. So there was no possibility of making any distinction between the boys and the girls. So many of them are attending. I was chanting in Tompkins Square Park, and these boys and girls used to surround me and dance and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. Some of them became a little advanced and purified and came forward, ‘Swamiji, please accept me as your disciple.’
“So my condition was that anyone who wants to become my disciple must be free from the four kinds of sinful activities: illicit connection with women, meat-eating, intoxication, gambling. In this way, on this condition, these boys and girls were accepted as my disciples. According to pañcarātrikī viddhi, when they are fairly advanced they are given the sacred thread, upanayana-saṁskāra, following the path and instruction of my Guru Mahārāja, His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Prabhupāda. According to śāstra, they should not be considered as coming from families of mlecchas and yavanas – they should not be considered like that – because they are now purified. That is also mentioned by Śukadeva Gosvāmī in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and you know of it:
ābhīra-śumbhā yavanāḥ khasādayaḥ
ye ’nye ca pāpā yad-apāśrayāśrayāḥ
śudhyanti tasmai prabhaviṣṇave namaḥ
How to become purified? By taking shelter of a bona fide spiritual master. So they are all purified according to the pañcarātrikī viddhi, and many of them have got this sacred thread.”
Prabhupāda continued explaining the holy name’s power to elevate anyone, regardless of birth, and he cited Haridāsa Ṭhākura who, despite his Muhammadan birth, was accepted as the ācārya of chanting the holy name. Prabhupāda also discussed the dynamics of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, telling how, according to Rūpa Gosvāmī’s principle of yukta-vairāgya, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was using material things in the service of Kṛṣṇa.
“In the Western countries they are very luxuriously situated. My disciples are giving me residential quarters even a governor could not imagine. I remember one night some time back I was a guest in a Lucknow government house. At that time the governor was Biswanath Das, and he was personally known to me. So I remember the kind of luxurious apartment where I had the opportunity to lie down one night. But they, my disciples, are giving me all this. So we cannot reject that, because that is the standard of living in America. You cannot say, ‘No, I shall not lie down in this nice apartment. I shall lie down in the street. I am a sannyāsī.’ Then nobody will respect me. There in America the standard of living is like that. Therefore, Rūpa Gosvāmī says that you should not be attached to that, but for the service of Kṛṣṇa if you have to use such things, you should receive it.
“People are engaged in the service of māyā, but we want to engage everything in the service of the Lord. That is the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. So we are using airplanes, we are using dictaphones, we are using teletype machine. Even for cleansing our floor, we are using a machine. This is the system. In each and every center we have got new cars. We cannot do without them. In Europe and America practically no gentleman walks in the street. It is the system there. So we have to use it, but we should not be attached to it. Our attachment should be only for Kṛṣṇa, and for Kṛṣṇa’s service we can accept anything. That is the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.”
Prabhupāda concluded his address by asking for land. He wanted to establish a temple for his society in Vṛndāvana.
Afterward, a Mr. S., a motor parts salesman and resident of Vṛndāvana, offered Prabhupāda a plot of land his family had been saving for some worthy religious purpose. Prabhupāda smiled. Although he had only just arrived in Vṛndāvana, already Kṛṣṇa was providing an opportunity for establishing his ISKCON center. Prabhupāda thanked Mr. S. for offering this service to Lord Kṛṣṇa. By his donating land, the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement would increase, and the donor, Mr. S., would benefit.
Prabhupāda was aware that behind the formal reception and ceremonial words of Vṛndāvana’s prominent citizens dwelt a deeper feeling of reserve and even suspicion, especially among the caste gosvāmīs, the proprietors of Vṛndāvana’s major temples. While accepting Śrīla Prabhupāda’s foreign disciples as devotees (of a sort), many Vṛndāvana residents nevertheless felt reluctant to accept the foreign Vaiṣṇavas as brāhmaṇas, sannyāsīs, and pūjārīs. This misunderstanding was due to a traditional Hindu concept: only those born in caste brāhmaṇa families could become brāhmaṇas.
Prabhupāda, however, followed exactly in the footsteps of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, who had freely accepted anyone, regardless of sex or social position. When in 1932 Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had led more than one thousand followers in a Vṛndāvana pilgrimage, certain prideful caste brāhmaṇas had denied the pilgrims entry into the temples. The pilgrims had been harassed by rock throwers and boycotted by shopkeepers. Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had then met with brāhmaṇas of Vṛndāvana and had scripturally proved to them that the soul, being transcendental, was free from designation and that anyone who became a Vaiṣṇava automatically qualified as a brāhmaṇa. The prejudices, however, had remained.
Prabhupāda also followed Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta in denying that the gosvāmī title could be inherited. Gosvāmī meant one who controlled the senses, and the title could not be adopted simply because one was born in a family of so-called gosvāmīs.
The original gosvāmīs were the six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana: Śrī Sanātana, Śrī Rūpa, Śrī Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa, Śrī Jīva, Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, and Śrī Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmīs, all of whom were in the renounced order and were, therefore, without issue. Almost five hundred years ago, these six Gosvāmīs had discovered the places of Kṛṣṇa’s Vṛndāvana pastimes and had built the first big temples in Vṛndāvana. They had appointed married disciples to carry on the Deity worship in their temples, and now the descendants of those original priests were claiming exclusive rights as temple gosvāmīs in Vṛndāvana. Prabhupāda had written in The Nectar of Devotion about his spiritual master’s struggle in this matter:
… after the disappearance of Lord Caitanya’s great associate Lord Nityānanda, a class of priestly persons claimed to be the descendants of Nityānanda, calling themselves the gosvāmī caste. They further claimed that the practice and spreading of devotional service belonged only to their particular class, which was known as Nityānanda-vaṁśa. In this way, they exercised their artificial power for some time, until Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, the powerful ācārya of the Gaudiya Vaiṣṇava sampradāya, completely smashed their idea. There was a great hard struggle for some time, but it has turned out successfully, and it is now correctly and practically established that devotional service is not restricted to a particular class of men.
Prabhupāda therefore opposed the caste gosvāmīs’ ideas of birthright. And the caste gosvāmīs feared Prabhupāda’s movement, since it threatened their hereditary social preeminence. Yet on this occasion of Prabhupāda’s triumphant return after preaching Vṛndāvana’s glories to the Western world, no one protested his attempts to establish a temple. Those who disagreed remained silent or even offered flowery praise.
The land was in Ramaṇa-reti. Prabhupāda noted that the property on the outskirts of Vṛndāvana was located on busy Chhatikara Road, a main thoroughfare into Vṛndāvana and a traffic route to Agra and the Taj Mahal. The land was also adjacent to the Vṛndāvana parikrama path, where millions of pilgrims passed annually, circumambulating Vṛndāvana and visiting its temples and holy places.
Ramaṇa-reti (literally “charming sand”) was mostly forest, with a few āśramas and abandoned fields. Celebrated as a favorite spot of Kṛṣṇa’s, where He and His brother Balarāma and Their cowherd boyfriends had played five thousand years ago, Ramaṇa-reti abounded in transcendental love of God, which is the special atmosphere of Vṛndāvana.
Although various city officials had casually mentioned that the city might donate land, Prabhupāda took more seriously Mr. S.’s offer. Mr. S. explained that although other sādhus had been asking for the land, he and his wife had not yet decided; they wanted to give it to a group who would build a Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple there as soon as possible. When Prabhupāda assured Mr. S. he would do so, Mr. S. vowed that the land was now Prabhupāda’s.
Prabhupāda had heard such promises before, and they had often proved false. But considering this offer serious, he appointed disciples to remain in Vṛndāvana to draw up a deed with Mr. S.
Meanwhile, Prabhupāda took his disciples on a pilgrimage to many of the important holy places of Vṛndāvana: Varṣāṇā (the birthplace of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī), Gokula (the place of Kṛṣṇa’s earliest pastimes), Rādhā-kuṇḍa, Govardhana, and Vṛndāvana’s major temples. At Govardhana Prabhupāda told the devotees not to step on Govardhana Hill or pick up any of the rocks: Govardhana Hill was nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa. Also at Govardhana Prabhupāda took the devotees to a little temple, where he showed them Kṛṣṇa’s footprint. The footprint was very large. If Kṛṣṇa’s foot had been that big, the devotees marveled, then He must have been eight feet tall. “Yes,” Prabhupāda said. “They were much bigger then.”
Near Govardhana, at Bindu-sarovara, a lake commemorating the place where Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa first met, the devotees swam while Prabhupāda bathed from buckets of water in the nearby field. Later, while Prabhupāda took prasādam, the devotees tried to chase away a few stray dogs by throwing stones and yelling, but Prabhupāda stopped them. “Leave them alone,” he said, and he began throwing the dogs prasādam from his plate.
At Varṣāṇā, the birthplace of Rādhārāṇī, the devotees carried Prabhupāda on a palanquin up the many steep steps to the temple. On the top of the hill, he looked toward a distant hill. “Just over there,” he said, pointing, “Kṛṣṇa used to come down that hill. Rādhā would come down this hill, and They would meet in the middle. There was a forest there. So this is a very special place, because it is the meeting place of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.”
In each holy place Prabhupāda would sit down, hold a kīrtana, and come before the Deity and offer obeisances. Then he would briefly describe the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa related with the particular place.
Dīnadayādri: The Indians at the holy places were always hounding Prabhupāda for money. They assumed that his disciples, being Americans, were rich, so they wanted money. Prabhupāda would give something, but there were so many that as soon as he would give to one, half a dozen others would crowd around him, preventing him from walking by. In some of the temples they wouldn’t let us enter.
Prabhupāda then took his group to the place beside the Yamunā where Kṛṣṇa had shown His mother all the universes within His mouth. Touching the water, Prabhupāda said, “It is too cold for an old man like me. But you take a bath. I’ll put a few drops on my head.” He directed the women to a separate place to swim, where the Indian women bathed, and the men plunged in and began swimming. They sported in the water as Prabhupāda stood on the bank, watching. Suddenly Prabhupāda put on a gamchā, walked to the river’s edge, sprinkled some water on his head, and then waded in up to his knees. The devotees were delighted to see him duck beneath the water and begin bathing and splashing with them in the Yamunā.
Śrīla Prabhupāda decided that he would remain in his quarters at Mr. Saraf’s home, while his old friend Hitsaran Sharma took the devotees to Vṛndāvana’s famous temples. Prabhupāda did, however, make a point of going with his disciples to visit the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, where he had lived for several years writing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Back to Godhead magazine before going to America in 1965.
At the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple Prabhupāda told the devotees of his plans for an ISKCON temple in Vṛndāvana, and he suggested to the Rādhā-Dāmodara pūjārī that ISKCON use the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple.
“We shall prepare the whole temple nicely,” Prabhupāda said, “and we shall make a silver throne for the Deity. Fifty to a hundred men will take prasādam here. It will be unique. If you want to, we can do it. Otherwise we can start our own temple somewhere. We are prepared to spend money. If you give us a chance, we’ll spend it here. We want to make this a great festival in Vṛndāvana, because it is Jīva Gosvāmī’s place. Rūpa Gosvāmī and Jīva Gosvāmī sat here. We have literature, we have books. Everyone is associating with us all over the world.”
Yamunā-devī dāsī: His Divine Grace was very frequently giving indication of how much he wanted his rooms at Rādhā-Dāmodara maintained nicely. He was extremely fond of his quarters there. One night during his stay in Saraf Bhavan he agreed that he would stay for one twenty-four-hour period within his rooms at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple. It was a very exciting event for all of us to look forward to. He selected three or four men to accompany him to spend the night there at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple.
Saraf Bhavan was some distance from Seva-kuñja, where the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple is located. During the very early hours of the morning I walked through the streets of Vṛndāvana and arrived at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple. Inside of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s sleeping room I could see the light coming through the latticed red stone windows and the wooden shutters. Back and forth he was walking and chanting.
Suddenly, very much to my surprise, the wooden shutters burst open, and a shaft of light filled a small corner of the courtyard. Prabhupāda stood in his room under one bare light bulb. When he saw me, he asked, “How have you gotten here?” I said that I had walked. “Oh, this is not good,” he said. “It is very dangerous in the street. There are so many wild dogs. And there are dacoits. In this quarter a man will kill even for a loṭā [waterpot].”
So there was some chastisement from Prabhupāda on the one hand, but on the other hand he seemed pleased. “So you are chanting japa?” he said. And I said, “Yes, Śrīla Prabhupāda.” He said, “That is very nice. So go to the samādhi of Rūpa Gosvāmī and chant there.”
Then around four o’clock other pilgrims were starting to filter in to attend the morning ārati program. Prabhupāda came out where we were chanting, and he said that this corner at Rādhā-Dāmodara temple was just like the hub of the wheel of the spiritual world – it was the center. He requested that his rooms always be well maintained and that they be cleansed daily.
Rādhānātha: I had only met Śrīla Prabhupāda briefly in Bombay, and then I had gone alone to live in Vṛndāvana. I had lived there about six months with the local people, and it was there that I got real attached to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. I used to just live on the bank of the river with all the bābājīs – a very simple life. I know it was just by that initial contact with Prabhupāda that that seed was planted.
One day a big bus full of American devotees having a kīrtana pulled into Vṛndāvana, and I was thinking, “Oh, here they are again.” The first thing I asked was, “Is Prabhupāda coming?” And they said, “Yes, Prabhupāda is here. He will be speaking tomorrow morning.”
I was already attracted to a lot of gurus in Vṛndāvana – Prabhupāda’s Godbrothers and also devotees from other sampradāyas. But on the morning when I came for the Bhāgavatam class and heard Prabhupāda chanting Jaya Rādhā-Mādhava, I just sat there and listened. I had never seen anyone with such a quality of love for Kṛṣṇa. All the great people I had met in India became insignificant when I saw Prabhupāda chanting Jaya Rādhā-Mādhava. He was so serious and grave, and the quality of his devotion was so intense. I just couldn’t believe it.
He kept looking over at me every now and then, kind of nodding, because I guess he remembered me from Bombay. Then he spoke, and he was glorifying Vṛndāvana so nicely. He was talking about how wonderful Vṛndāvana is, how spiritual the atmosphere is, and he was talking about how careful the devotees must be to take advantage of the atmosphere.
From that day I started thinking, “This is my Guru Mahārāja” – just because of the way he spoke. His lecture had been so precise and inclusive that it had encompassed every other philosophy and every other teacher I had ever heard. I could see also that Prabhupāda’s example was pure, and I could see his disciples were actually giving up sinful life. I used to go to his darśanas every day, although I was still living on the bank of the Yamunā.
All the people of Vṛndāvana were glorifying Prabhupāda. They were so proud of him, because the people of Vṛndāvana are attached to Vṛndāvana. They love Kṛṣṇa, and they love Vṛndāvana, because Vṛndāvana is the place where Kṛṣṇa lives. That’s their mood. They worship the land of Vṛndāvana. But they would tell me they appreciated Prabhupāda. Most of them would call him “Swami Bhaktivedanta.” They would say, “He’s the greatest saint, because he is bringing Vṛndāvana all over the world. He is making the glories of Vṛndāvana known to the whole world.”
Then one day Prabhupāda and his disciples went to an āśrama in Ramaṇa-reti. I got there late, just as Prabhupāda was leaving. He was walking the last twenty yards or so to his taxi, and many Brijabāsīs were offering their full daṇḍavats in the road. I felt very insignificant, another member of the crowd, and as Prabhupāda walked by me I offered my full obeisances also.
When I lifted my head to get up, however, I saw Prabhupāda’s feet were right there in front of me. I thought, “Oh, my God, Prabhupāda is standing right there.” I very slowly looked up, and Prabhupāda was just standing there looking right at me. He looked me in the eyes for a couple of seconds and then said, “So how long have you been here in Vṛndāvana?” I said, “About six months, Śrīla Prabhupāda.” He just looked at me again, and he was in a very serious mood, very compassionate, gazing into my eyes. He nodded his head and said, “Do you like it here?” I said, “This is the most wonderful place I’ve ever been in my life.”
Then all of a sudden his serious expression just blossomed into the most beautiful smile. His eyes were glistening radiantly, and he looked at me for about five or ten seconds. It seemed like a real long time – I couldn’t believe the mercy he was giving me – and then he just replied, “That is very nice. Vṛndāvana is a wonderful place.” And then he walked on.
This was very special for me, because most of the devotees were always telling me I was in māyā for staying in Vṛndāvana and because I was kind of attached to my own program in Vṛndāvana. I was feeling that the devotees didn’t understand, and I was upset with them, thinking that they didn’t appreciate the atmosphere. But Prabhupāda’s words alleviated all my anxieties toward the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. It was the most special personal contact. It wasn’t what Prabhupāda was saying. It was his personal, transcendental concern for me. So then I went to his classes every day and all the darśanas, and there was no doubt in my mind. He very much convinced me on every level of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
When Prabhupāda left, the devotees told me that I should join and go on parikrama with them all around India, and they said that Prabhupāda had personally invited me to come. I was unbelievably appreciative that Prabhupāda was so merciful, but at the same time I was very attached to Vṛndāvana. I told them I just wanted to stay here, and if they ever came back I would serve Prabhupāda here, but that I didn’t want to leave Vṛndāvana.
Soon after that, my visa expired. So I had to leave the country. But before I left, the people of Vṛndāvana, especially the bābājīs, were telling me that Swami Bhaktivedanta had established New Vṛndāvana in the West. They said, “If you have to leave Vṛndāvana, you should go to New Vṛndāvana. So whatever you do, don’t leave Vṛndāvana. New Vṛndāvana and Old Vṛndāvana are the same, because Swami Bhaktivedanta has created Vṛndāvana in the West.” They said it with great pride. So I left for New Vṛndāvana.
Prabhupāda trained his disciples in the etiquette of living in Vṛndāvana-dhāma. “In the holy dhāma,” he said, “if one of my disciples drinks from a jug incorrectly and he contaminates that jug, everyone will notice it. Don’t be criticized for this uncleanliness, or I will be criticized. It is the duty of the disciple to follow these etiquette habits very austerely. I am putting so much energy into this party in India because I want to train you how to live here.”
Prabhupāda wrote his disciples in the West of his successful tour of Vṛndāvana.
I am currently in Vrindaban with a party of 40 devotees, and we are having daily parikrama of the holy places. We shall return to Delhi tomorrow by coach. The officials and residents of Vrindaban have greeted us very nicely, and they are simply astounded to see our SKP chanting with great jubilation through the city streets. The Mayor has publicly proclaimed that I have done something wonderful, and practically speaking, they realize that before I went to the western countries no one there knew about Vrindaban. Now hundreds of visitors and hippies from your country come here to see Krishna’s place. The Vrindaban devotees have understood that Vrindaban is now world-famous due to my preaching work, so they are all very much appreciating their home-town Swamiji.
December 1, 1971
Upon his return to Delhi, Śrīla Prabhupāda, along with the forty disciples who had accompanied him to Vṛndāvana, stayed at the Birla Mandir. The host offered Prabhupāda a small house reserved for special guests in the back of the formal gardens.
Meanwhile, political turmoil continued to trouble the nation’s capital, as the threat of an all-out war between India and Pakistan increased. Even peaceful Vṛndāvana had been disturbed, being only ninety miles from Delhi and thirty-four miles from Agra, with its large military installation. One night, while Śrīla Prabhupāda had been staying at Saraf Bhavan, the local authorities had ordered a blackout. Śrīla Prabhupāda and the devotees had been confined to their quarters, the electricity had gone off, and everyone had covered their windows with blankets, so that even the candlelight could not be detected.
Nevertheless, despite political agitation and threats of war, Prabhupāda had now come to Delhi to preach. On his second day in the city he visited the American ambassador to India, Kenneth Keating, at the American Embassy.
Śrīla Prabhupāda explained to Mr. Keating the basic philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness: the distinction between the material body and the self, or soul, living within the body. “You have got this striped coat,” he told Mr. Keating, “but I cannot address you ‘Mr. Striped Coat.’ Yet we are actually being addressed like that. We are identifying with this body.” And Prabhupāda explained the soul’s transmigration through the 8,400,000 species.
“That is very interesting,” Mr. Keating commented. “I believe in the transmigration of the soul.”
“It is a fact,” Prabhupāda said. “Just like this child is transmigrating from one body to another” – he indicated Sarasvatī. “In the same way, when I give up this body I will transmigrate to another body. This is a science.
“I see the American boys and girls, although coming from very rich and respectable families, are turning to hippies. In spite of your arrangement for very big universities, they are becoming frustrated. They are no longer satisfied to live in material opulence. So the present position of human society is dangerous, because everyone is feeling dissatisfied and confused.”
“Do you have many Indian followers as well as foreigners?” Mr. Keating inquired.
“Yes, so far as Indians are concerned, everyone accepts Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
“Well,” Mr. Keating added, “I am very impressed with the sincerity of these young American men.”
“Everyone,” said Prabhupāda, “as soon as he understands the science of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, will accept it immediately.”
“When Swami Rajanandaji was here,” said Mr. Keating, “I asked him his definition of God, and he thought a minute and said, ‘Well, I would say God is the thread which links one good person to another.’ I thought that was a very interesting definition.”
“This is stated in Bhagavad-gītā,” Prabhupāda said. “Just like you have a pearl necklace, and it is strung on a thread. So all the pearls are resting on that thread. Everyone is resting in God – not that only good men should be resting on that thread. The definition given by the Vedānta-sūtra is perfect: janmādy asya yataḥ. ‘God is the origin, or source, of everything.’ What do you say?”
“I am very impressed,” Mr. Keating replied.
“Another definition of God,” Prabhupāda continued, “is that He is all-attractive. Everyone has the attractive features of opulence, strength, fame, beauty, renunciation, and wisdom to some extent. You are an ambassador, a representative of your country. So you are attractive. Sometimes somebody comes to me, ‘Let me see the Swamiji.’ So this attractiveness everyone possesses. But God means He who has got all attractiveness in full.”
After some time Ambassador Keating apologized and excused himself for an appointment he had to keep. “I am an ambassador, and I have to move from the sublime to the mundane. I appreciate very much your coming.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “Now I am also coming to the mundane point of view. Next time I come back to the U.S.A. I wish to see the president.”
“I can write a letter,” Mr. Keating offered. “I will be glad to help you.”
Prabhupāda smiled. “You are busy helping the whole world so that peace may come and people may be happy. But instead of being happy, the people of your country are becoming hippies – there is some defect. And here is a chance to rectify that defect: Kṛṣṇa consciousness. So let us do something tangible, scientific, so that people will become happy.”
That evening Prabhupāda wrote one of his disciples about the meeting:
You may be pleased to know that this morning I met here in Delhi with your American Ambassador to India, Mr. Kenneth Keating. He has got very good respect for our Movement, and he has promised to help me to arrange a meeting with your President when I shall return to your country perhaps in the late Spring. I have requested him to help this Movement and that help will save your country from great danger by turning hippies into happies. … Let us see what can be done.
The next day, while Prabhupāda was on his morning walk in the streets of Delhi, he asked a devotee to get a paper from a newsboy passing by on a bicycle. Prabhupāda read the headlines: “Emergency declared; three enemy planes downed.” He had a devotee read aloud:
Pakistan launched a massive attack on the western front, bombing seven Indian airfields and crossing the cease-fire line in strength in Poonch. … The Prime Minister in her broadcast late tonight described it as a full-scale war launched by Pakistan against India. … Earlier the President had declared national emergency.
The national emergency had international implications, with America cutting off supplies to India and supporting Pakistan, China threatening India, and Russia supporting India.
“This war will not last long,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said immediately. “It will soon be finished. And Pakistan will lose.”
Later that night he heard Indira Gandhi’s broadcast over the radio:
I speak to you at a moment of great peril to our country and our people. … Today a war in Bangla Desh has become a war on India. This imposes on me, my Government and the people of India a great responsibility. We have no other option but to put our country on a war footing.
Prabhupāda was not alarmed. War was not the only “ugly reality”; birth, death, old age, disease, and so many other material sufferings were inevitable – war or no war. Prabhupāda continued to follow the news, however, and some days Śyāmasundara would purchase for him three or four different newspapers.
After a few days at the Birla Mandir, Prabhupāda and his party moved to a dharmaśālā in the Kamala Nagar district of old Delhi. There Prabhupāda delivered what the devotees later referred to as “the blackout lectures.” While black-painted newspapers and blankets covered the windows and combat jets flew overhead, Prabhupāda would speak by candlelight to his disciples.
“The propensity to fight is very strong in this Age of Kali,” he said, “and the population is becoming so sinful that they are trying to accumulate atomic weaponry for ultimate destruction of humanity.” Sometimes Prabhupāda would ask a disciple to speak to the group also. No guests were present, since during blackouts no one could walk the streets, and on some nights the police pounded on the door demanding the devotees extinguish even their candles.
“Due to the war in India,” Prabhupāda wrote in a letter, “our programs here have been reduced, and there is every night a blackout.” Not only in Delhi but in other parts of India his disciples were encountering difficulties in their preaching attempts. In Māyāpur the government had ordered the devotees to leave the area because of its close proximity to Bangladesh.
As Prabhupāda had predicted, however, the war did not last long. On December 17 Prabhupāda read the headlines of the Indian Express – “NIAZI SURRENDERS: BANGLA DESH IS FREE. India Decides on Unilateral Cease-Fire in West.” Prabhupāda was joyous. He told the devotees confidentially that the reason the war had ended so quickly was because of their massive saṅkīrtana-yajña at the paṇḍāl a month earlier.
On the very same page that had announced India’s victory, however, another headline read, “PM blames USA for war.” Indira Gandhi was blaming President Nixon for the war. The American devotees tensed as they walked the streets, sensing the Indians’ mistrust, and daily newspaper propaganda only worsened the condition. “There is great propaganda now against America in India,” Prabhupāda wrote, “due to the country’s stand against India and the war with Pakistan.”
Delhi was the seat of much political agitation, and Prabhupāda decided to relocate the devotees who were there with him. Although his disciples were peaceful and far from being politically active, he sent some to Calcutta, while others accompanied him to Bombay. International politics would not stop the oncoming wave of Lord Caitanya’s movement.