Who is Srila Prabhupada

Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur

Who is Srila Prabhupada

Srila Prabhupada Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur

Introduction of Srila Prabhupada:

Who is Srila Prabhupada? One part is ʻPrabhu’, which means ʻLordʼ. The second part is ‘Padaʼ, which means ʻFeetʼ.To honor the Lordʼs feet,
an ornamental word, ʻLotusʼ is used to glorify His feet. In the Vaishnava tradition, devotees use the words lotus feet to describe the feet of their Lord.

The inner meaning of  ”Prabhupada”  for Gaudiya Vaisnava devotees exemplifies:
how the loving message of Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is carried.

Another meaning of the word, ”Prabhupada” refers to:
the one who is fully surrendered for spreading the loving message of Mahaprabhu with integrity.

On Friday, the 6th of February 1874, in Jagannath Puri at the home of the magistrate Sri Kedarnath Datta (widely known as Srila Bhakti Vinod Thakur), a blissful divine ray from the bejeweled eyes of Srimati Radharani appeared. In order to inform us of the baby’s divinity, Srimati Radharani arranged that the baby boy be born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his body like a Brahmin thread (yagna upavita). The father, Sri Kedarnath Datta, and mother, Srimati Bhagavati Devi, named the baby Bimala Prasad.

The astrological scholars all came to see the newborn baby. According to the time of his birth, scholars predicted that Bimala Prasad would spread the glories of Lord Jagannath all over the world as foretold by Vedavyasa in the Padma Purana – “Hy-Utkale Purusottamat”. Sri Kedarnath Datta’s whole family was blessed to see the baby, Bimala Prasad.

According to tradition, the baby was to get his first grain ceremony at six months. The sixth month happened to be during the most famous Jagannath Puri Ratha Yatra (chariot) festival where hundreds of thousands of people gathered together. Miraculously, Lord Jagannath’s chariot stopped in front of the home of Kedarnath. All endeavors of the priests and devotees to pull or push Lord Jagannath’s chariot went in vain. Two days passed like this. On the third day, they were still unsuccessful in moving the chariot. That day, Bhagavati Devi, holding her six-month-old Bimala Prasad in her arms, came out to look at the Lord Jagannath. As soon as Lord Jagannath saw Bimala Prasad, a garland miraculously fell from Lord Jagannath’s neck. Lord Jagannath’s priest took that garland and offered it to Bimala Prasad. As soon as this happened, the endeavor of the priests and devotees to pull Lord Jagannath’s chariot became successful. It seemed like Lord Jagannath wanted to greet his intimate devotee who would soon be spreading His glories.

Gradually, Bimala Prasad grew up and started to perform significant activities. One day, Kedarnath Datta brought home ripe mangoes to offer to his deities. Bimala Prasad out of his childish nature took a ripe mango and bit into it. His father said, “First, we should offer everything to the Lord. If we eat anything without offering it, this will be considered stealing and is disrespectful to the Lord.” As soon as Bimala Prasad heard this, he decided to never eat ripe mangoes for the rest of his life. Since his childhood, Bimala Prasad was very determined. His example teaches us that we must be determined to attain any goal.

By the age of seven years, Bimala Prasad was initiated into the chanting of the Hare Krishna Mahamantra on Tulasi beads (Harinama Diksha first initiation) by his father, Kedarnath Datta. He also received the Nrisimha mantra. He had completed listening to the entire Chaitanya Siksamrta from his father by this age as well. Bimala Prasad was initiated into the Kurma mantra and deity worship of the Kurma deity by his father when the Kurma deity was found during the excavation and construction of Kedarnath Datta’s Kolkata residence, Bhakti Bhavan.

Bimala Prasad displayed astonishing educational talent. By the age of nine, Bimala Prasad had memorized all 700 verses of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita. He began his education at an English medium school in Ranaghat and then continued on at Oriental Seminary in Kolkata. His razor-sharp intelligence and memory power were indescribable; he could remember verses and passages verbatim from any book that he had read just once. He composed Sanskrit poetry since his childhood. The 11-year-old Bimala Prasad used to associate with leading Bengali Vaishnavas as part of the Vishva Vaishnava Raj Sabha, which was established by Kedarnath Datta. This association inspired Bimala Prasad to deeply study Vaishnava texts, which were part of his father’s new Vaishnava Depository Library and printing press located in the Bhakti Bhavan Kolkata residence.

By the age of 12, he was proofreading the articles, poetry, book reviews, etc. which were published as part of his father’s monthly magazine, the Sajjana-Toshani. At the age of 13, Bimala Prasad entered the Vidyasagar College (known then as Calcutta Metropolitan Institution) where he gained a modern education studying alongside his fellow youths who were mainly the children of the Bhadralok Bengali intellectual community. He studied Sanskrit, Mathematics, and Astrology alongside his subjects, gaining the title “Siddhanta Saraswati” due to his vast understanding and proficiency in astrology. His teachers were amazed by his penetrating intelligence.

Thereafter, at the age of 18, Bimala Prasad was admitted into Sanskrit College, which was the prime educational institution in Kolkata. There, he deeply studied the Vedas. Rather than studying the mundane curriculum, Bimala Prasad always took great interest in studying his father’s literary works, Narottam Thakur’s Prarthana and Prema-bhakti-Chandrika, and other similar works. Although he had studied extensive Sanskrit grammar texts such as Siddhanta-kaumudi under the advice of scholars, he told his professors that life was meant for worshiping the Supreme Lord and not for the sole purpose of studying verb roots and grammar. Bimala Prasad wrote, “If I go on to study at the university, my family will inevitably harass me to get married. On the other hand, if I present myself as a useless fool, no one will try to interest me in that kind of life.” He soon left Sanskrit College and decided to find a means of maintaining his livelihood with minimum effort while devoting maximum time for devotion to Krishna.

By the age of 21, Bimala Prasad became the secretary and historian of Bir Chandra Manikya, the king of Tripura, and later tutored the princes at the palace. At the age of 24, Siddhanta Saraswati opened the Saraswata Chatuspathi Sanskrit school at Bhakti Bhavan wherein many important scholars came to study astrology. He also traveled to many places of pilgrimage from the north to the south of India together with his father. He deeply studied the teachings of Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya and had books in the four South Indian languages brought to him. His father added the prefix “bhakti” to his name due to Bimala Prasad’s deep interest in Vaishnava studies, making his name “Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati”.

Bimala Prasad was not an ordinary boy. The following story is an example of this. Kedarnath Datta had eight sons and five daughters. His sons were Annada Prasad, Radhika Prasada, Viraja Prasad, Kamala Prasad, Bimala Prasad, Varada Prasad, Lalita Prasad, and Shailaja Prasad. His daughters were Soudamani Devi, Kadambini Devi, Krishna-vinodini Devi, Shyam-sarojini Devi, and Hari Pramodini. Once, Annada Prasad was seriously ill and no medical treatments, exorcisms, etc. were successful in curing him. Kedarnath Datta and Bhagavati Devi were searching for a solution. All of a sudden, Annada Prasad had a revelation in his heart that he was a devotee of the Ramanuja Sampradaya in his previous life. Annada Prasad told his father that at that time, he had somehow committed an offense to Bimala Prasad and that was the reason why he was suffering at the moment. Kedarnath Datta advised Annada Prasad to go and beg forgiveness from Bimala Prasad. As soon as Annada Prasad explained all this to Bimala Prasad, he replied with due respect, “O, my elder brother, I don’t know what offense you had committed, but I forgive you all of them.” After hearing Bimala Prasad’s words, Annada Prasad’s illness was miraculously cured and shortly thereafter Annada Prasad physically passed away.

In 1901, at the age of 27 and upon the order of his father, Bimala Prasad accepted Mahabhagavat Gaurakishore Das Babaji Maharaj as his guru in Godrumadvipa and was then onwards known as Varshabhanavi-dayita Das. At the age of 31, Bimala Prasad began staying in Mayapur and took up a vow to chant one billion (ten crores) holy names. He chanted a daily minimum of 300,000 names (192 rounds on a rosary of 108 beads) and followed the vows of Chaturmasya, such as eating boiled rice and lentils off of the floor and practicing complete austerity. During this vow, in 1914, Bhaktivinode Thakur left this world and in 1915, Gaurakishore Das Babaji Maharaj left this world. In a mood of great distress and separation, Varshabhanavi-dyita Das (Bimala Prasad) thought to give up the preaching mission as he had lost both of his spiritual shelters. He thought instead to devote the rest of his life solely to chanting the holy names.

One day, in the early morning hours, Varshabhanavi-dayita Das had a vision in which Gaurakishore Das Babaji, Bhaktivinode Thakur, the six Goswamis (Rupa, Sanatana, Raghunath Das, Raghunath Bhatta, Gopala Bhatta, and Jiva), Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Sri Nityananda Prabhu, Sri Advaita Acharya, Sri Gadadhara Pandit, and Sri Srivasa Thakur all appeared and told him, “Bimala Prasad, give up your ideas of spending the rest of your life in solitary chanting. You must spread the holy names.” Bimala Prasad replied with eyes full of tears, “How will I preach? You have all disappeared and I do not have any manpower to spread the divine love through the holy names.” All of the divine personalities assured Bimala Prasad, “We will personally send you the required manpower and resources. Do not worry. Go and preach the message of divine love.”

Thereafter, Bimala Prasad came back to his external senses and completed his vow of chanting one billion holy names. On the day of Gaura Purnima in 1918, at the age of 44, he accepted the vow of sannyasa according to the rules and regulations he had learned from the pandits of the Ramanujacharya lineage and established the Sri Chaitanya Math in Sridham Mayapur, Nadia as his first preaching center. From then onwards, he was known as Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami. In the same year, the society of Vaishnava scholars saw his determination and purity in carrying on the mission of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and bestowed upon him the title, Prabhupada. In brief, people used to call him Srila Prabhupada.

Gradually, many intellectual giants from reputed families joined Srila Prabhupada’s mission such as –

  • Kunjabihari Vidyabhushan (Srila Bhakti Vilas Tirtha Goswami Maharaj)
  • Jagadish Bhakti Pradip (Srila Bhakti Pradip Tirtha Goswami Maharaj)
  • Paramananda Vidyaratna
  • Ananta Vasudeva
  • Pranavananda (Srila Bhakti Pramode Puri Goswami Maharaj)
  • Sundarananda Vidyavinode
  • Hayagriva (Srila Bhakti Dayita Madhav Goswami Maharaj)
  • Ramendra Sundar (Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Goswami Maharaj)
  • Vinode Da (Srila Bhakti Prajnan Keshav Goswami Maharaj)
  • Nayanabhirama (Srila Bhakti Vivek Bharati Goswami Maharaj)
  • Patitapavana (Srila Bhakti Keval Audulomi Goswami Maharaj)
  • Nandasunu (Srila Bhakti Hridaya Bon Goswami Maharaj)
  • Aprakrita Bhakti Saranga (Srila Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaj)
  • Abhayacharanaravinda (Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Goswami Maharaj)

and so on. In this manner, Srila Prabhupada began his vast preaching efforts both nationally and internationally. With all of his associates, Srila Prabhupada preached all over India.

In 1933, he sent Bhakti Pradip Tirtha Goswami Maharaj, Bhakti Hridaya Bon Goswami Maharaj, Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaja, and Samvidananda Prabhu to Europe as the first preachers of Lord Chaitanya’s message in the West. Srila Prabhupada also gave the order to Abhayacharanaravinda Prabhu (later known as Bhakti Vedanta Swami Goswami Maharaja) to preach Lord Chaitanya’s message in the English language. For 18 years from 1918 to 1936, Srila Prabhupada massively spread Lord Chaitanya’s loving mission and established 64 preaching centers all over India, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

Conversation between Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose & Srila Prabhupada:

In 1930, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose along with some of his famous associates came to visit Srila Prabhupada at Kolkata’s Bag Bazar Gaudiya Math. Below is an excerpt of their conversation:

Netaji: I am bound by my determination to free our motherland from the colonization of the British. I have given the slogan, “Give me your blood. I will give you freedom” to the whole nation. Now, I have come to know that many youths have taken shelter at your divine feet. Please tell some of them to join my movement so that they can take part in the fight for independence.

Prabhupada: Have you read the Srimad Bhagavad Gita?

Netaji: Yes, I have read it.

Prabhupada: In that case, you must certainly remember this verse from the Gita –
                             “yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ tyajaty ante kalevaram
                               taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya sadā tad-bhāva-bhāvitaḥ”

“O, son of Kunti Devi, Kaunteya, one attains whatever he thinks of at the time of death and will be constantly absorbed in that mood.”

Netaji: Yes, I remember that verse.

Prabhupada: In that case, you must certainly believe in reincarnation ?

Netaji: Of course, I believe in it. Is there any Hindu who does not believe in reincarnation?

Prabhupada: If in the course of circumstances, you die today and then take your next birth in England, then would you still be fighting for the independence of India or would you be trying to protect your own country’s control over India?

Netaji: I understand your logic. However, at this moment, it is fitting to think about independence for our nation.

Prabhupada: You are worried about all that is but impermanent and material, that is, material independence for our nation, thinking that we are Indians. However, the designation of being Indian is itself a material one.
My worry is for humanity at large – how humanity can be freed from the bondage of material illusion. In actuality, I do not think just for humans, but rather for all living entities – how can they become free from material bondage? This is my mindset.

Netaji: I have never before heard such an eloquent explanation of the Bhagavad Gita. However, I just fear that our nation’s independence movement will not be negatively affected.

After speaking these words, Netaji did not make any more requests from Srila Prabhupada and silently left.

I heard from my spiritual master, Srila Bhakti Pramode Puri Goswami Maharaj, how Srila Prabhupada would eloquently answer any query that was posed to him in a strikingly clear manner. If a geography, history, or mathematics professor would come to ask any questions, he would answer them accordingly, citing examples from each subject matter. Srila Prabhupada was known as a living universal encyclopedia.

I also heard how Srila Prabhupada never spent even a moment away from the Lord’s services. Even during his morning walks, Srila Prabhupada used to give dictation to three different people on three different topics, simultaneously. During his physical presence, Srila Prabhupada’s associates were able to publish daily, weekly, fortnightly, and monthly newsletters and magazines. They were also able to print and publish many books such as Srila Prabhupada’s commentary on the Chaitanya-Bhagavata called the Gaudiya-bhasya, Srila Prabhupada’s commentary on the Chaitanya-caritamrta called the Anu-bhasya, the Srimad Bhagavatam, all of Bhaktivinode Thakur’s books, many of the Goswamis’ literature and so on. Nowadays, many of the books published by various Gaudiya Maths are compiled mainly based on Srila Prabhupada’s writings and dictations.

Srila Prabhupada’s determination was very attractive. My spiritual master would often remember the following history. It was the International Religious Conference in Kolkata. The Gaudiya Math was invited to attend and Srila Prabhupada chose Sarvesvara Brahmachari (later known as Srila Bhakti Vichar Jajabar Goswami Maharaj) to present the philosophy of the Gaudiya Math at that conference. Srila Bhakti Vichara Jajabar Goswami Maharaj was not very educated in terms of material academics. Thus, he felt fearful at the sight of such a heavy responsibility and was crying. He felt unqualified to represent the Gaudiya Math in that huge conference. He requested Srila Prabhupada’s servant, Sripad Krishnananda Prabhu, to request Prabhupada to engage someone who was more educated to attend the conference, such as Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Dev Goswami, Srila Bhakti Hridoy Bon Goswami, Sripad Atul Chandra Prabhu, etc.

As soon as Sripad Krishnananda Prabhu presented this message to Srila Prabhupada, Srila Prabhupada said, “Why is he crying? There can be no change. He should follow whatever I have said.” With eyes full of tears, Srila Bhakti Vichar Jajabar Goswami Maharaj went to the conference. The next day, Srila Prabhupada was reading the newspaper and the headline read “Glories of the Gaudiya Math.” Srila Bhakti Vichar Jajabar Goswami Maharaj had so brilliantly presented the teachings of the Gaudiya Math at the conference that it had made the headline. Srila Prabhupada called over all of the disciples who were nearby and said, “Just see, he was crying and felt unqualified. But now look at his qualifications. We are all unqualified but we become qualified when we get the mercy of the guru parampara. We are not representing Mahaprabhu’s mission with our academic degrees. It is Mahaprabhu’s mercy which allows us to represent His mission.”

By his own personal example, Srila Prabhupada used to teach everyone. I would like to narrate a few episodes. We know from the scriptures that maha prasad, even if touched by the mouth of a dog, is considered to be completely pure. Sri Atul Chandra Bandopadhyay (later known as Srila Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaj) used to be very skilled in collecting funds for the temple, preaching, and in a variety of temple-related services. One day, Sri Atul Chandra Bandopadhyay had gone out for some preaching purpose and came back to the temple after the prasadam was finished. He approached the person in charge of all the kitchen ingredients and foods (storekeeper Bhandari) and started yelling at him for not saving any prasadam. Srila Prabhupada used to chant in his room after taking prasadam. Srila Prabhupada heard Atul Chandra’s yelling, came out of his room, and called him over.  Srila Prabhupada said, “Come with me.” Then, Srila Prabhupada took Atul Chandra to the garbage site where all the prasadam remnants and used leaf plates were thrown out. There was a group of dogs eating the leftover remnants at that garbage site. Srila Prabhupada shooed away all of the dogs, bent down, picked up a few grains of rice, and ate them. He said to Atul Chandra, “This is Maha Prasad.” Through this incident, Srila Prabhupada taught us about the inconceivable value of maha prasad.

There is another incident that my spiritual master used to describe. A few days before Srila Prabhupada’s departure, Kunja Babu and Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Dev Goswami were present in Prabhupada’s room. All of a sudden, Srila Prabhupada ordered Srila Sridhara Goswami Maharaja to sing “Sri Rupa Manjari Pada”. Just as Srila Sridhara Goswami Maharaja was about to sing, Kunja Babu said, “Wait. I will call Pranava. He has a sweet voice.” Upon hearing Kunja Babu’s call for him, Sripad Pranavananda entered Srila Prabhupada’s room and began to sing as he understood it was Prabhupada’s desire for him to sing. As he sang a few words, Prabhupada interjected and said, “I said that Sridhara Maharaja should sing this song so let him sing first.” Thereafter, Srila Sridhara Maharaja sang the song Sri Rupa Manjari Pada. Immediately after hearing this song, Srila Prabhupada said, “Now, Pranava, sing Hari He Doyal Mora Jay Radhanath.” Then, Sripad Pranavananda sang the song. This example shows how Srila Prabhupada used to respect everyone while simultaneously ensuring that whatever he instructed was followed. Whoever follows Srila Prabhupada’s instructions will undoubtedly attain the supreme spiritual destination.

Entering the divine abode:

At 5:30 AM on the 1st of January 1937, Srila Prabhupada departed from this world. All the clocks inside the Bag Bazar Gaudiya Math premises had stopped at the exact moment of his departure and it was as if the whole world became filled with inconceivable darkness.

Srila Prabhupada’s entire life example teaches us to be determined and to go forward with the best endeavor in our spiritual practice. In this way, the Lord will definitely accept our service and will deliver us from this miserable world. Srila Prabhupada’s legacy is the bright light of our devotional life. If anyone wholeheartedly follows Srila Prabhupada’s exemplary character, that person will definitely be freed from material entanglement and gradually progress towards achieving divine love for Sri Sri Radha Govinda, which will qualify us to go to our eternal home, Goloka Vrindavan. In this way, we will be eternally peaceful and blissful.