Who Is Srila Prabhupada?
A short introduction to the person who introduced Krishna to the world.
People often ask, "Who is Srila Prabhupada?", and that is not an easy question to answer because Srila Prabhupada eclipses conventional designations. He was a scholar, a philosopher, a cultural ambassador, a prolific author, a religious leader, a teacher, a social critic, and a holy man. And truthfully, he was all these things and more.
Certainly no one could ever have confused him with the modern entrepreneurial "gurus" who come to the West with slickly packaged, watered-down versions of Eastern spirituality. Srila Prabhupada was, rather, a true holy man of deep intellectual and spiritual sensitivity.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, appeared in this world in Calcutta, India on Nandotsava, the annual festival day celebrating Krishna’s birth, in the year of 1896. His father was a pure devotee of Lord Krishna who would always invite holy men to his home for meals. He would ask them to bless his son to become a great devotee of Radharani, Lord Krishna’s most beloved devotee and consort. Srila Prabhupada’s father once bought him a small cart to pull the Deity of Lord Jagannatha, as they do during the popular Rathayatra festival in Jagannatha Puri. So, even from his childhood Srila Prabhupada would organize Krishna Conscious festivals, giving us a glimpse of his accomplishments to come.
As the young man, Abhay Charan De, Srila Prabhupada attended Scottish Churches College in Calcutta, which was administered by the British Raj. Later, he joined Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement and refused to accept his diploma from that college as a protest against the British exploitation of India, although he had completed all the requirements for the degree. After his school days, a friend of his father, Dr. Bose, made him a manager of his chemical company.
Thereafter, in 1918, Srila Prabhupada was married and soon started a family. He first met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, in Calcutta in 1922. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, a dedicated preacher of Chaitanya Vaishnavism, prominent religious scholar and the founder of sixty-four Gaudiya Mathas (Vedic institutes), liked this educated young man and inspired him to dedicate his life to teaching Vedic knowledge.
At their first meeting Srila Prabhupada accepted Bhaktisiddhanta as his guru, and eleven years later in 1933 at Allahabad he became his formally initiated disciple. At their first meeting, in 1922, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati requested Srila Prabhupada to broadcast Vedic knowledge in English. In the years that followed, Srila Prabhupada wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita, and in 1944 started “Back to Godhead”, an English fortnightly magazine. Maintaining the publication was a struggle. Single-handedly, Srila Prabhupada edited it, typed the manuscripts, checked the galley proofs, and even distributed individual copies. “Back to Godhead” is still in circulation to this day, published by his disciples and followers in the West and is published in over thirty languages. Recognizing Prabhupada’s philosophical learning and devotion, the Gaudiya Vaishnava Society honored him in 1947 with the title “Bhaktivedanta”.
In 1950, at the age of fifty-four, Srila Prabhupada retired from married life, adopting the vanaprastha (retired) order to devote more time to his studies, preaching and writing. Srila Prabhupada traveled to the holy city of Vrindavana, where he lived in very humble circumstances in the historic medieval temple of Radha-Damodara. There he engaged himself for several years in prayer, deep study and writing. He accepted the renounced order of life (sannyasa) in 1959. At Radha-Damodara, Srila Prabhupada began work on his life’s masterpiece: a multivolume annotated translation of the eighteen-thousand-verse Srimad-Bhagavatam. He also wrote “Easy Journey to Other Planets” during this time.
After publishing the first three volumes of Srimad Bhagavatam in India Srila Prabhupada arrived in the United States of America, in September 1965, as a penniless monk determined to fulfill the request of his spiritual master to teach Krishna Consciousness in the western world. After almost a year of great difficulty and hardship he established the,” International Society for Krishna Consciousness”, (ISKCON)with the help of his first western followers, in July of 1966.
He traveled around the world 13 times and visited every major country of the world to teach the science of Bhakti-yoga and the chanting of the Holy Names of God. He accepted thousands of disciples, gave thousands of lectures, wrote thousands of letters, and met with many important scholars and dignitaries who deeply appreciated his efforts. Gradually his society, Iskcon, grew to become a worldwide confederation of more than one hundred ashramas, schools, temples, institutes, restaurants, and farm communities. Srila Prabhupada also inspired the construction of several large international cultural centers and Temples in India and around the globe. At the world headquarters in Sridhama Mayapur, West Bengal, India the world’s largest most magnificent Radha-Krishna Temple is being constructed along with the site for a spiritual city that is predicted to accommodate 50,000 devotees.
Srila Prabhupada’s most significant contribution, however, are his books. Highly respected by the academic community for their authority, depth and clarity, they are the most widely used standard textbooks on Vedic knowledge. Srila Prabhupada’s faithful translation and commentary of Bhagavad-Gita, the gem of India’s spiritual classics, has been distributed throughout the world in more than 50 languages. The English edition alone has been printed in nearly one million copies, making it the most widely read, and popular edition of the Gita.
In just twelve years, in spite of his advanced age, Srila Prabhupada circled the globe fourteen times on lecture tours that took him to six continents. In spite of such a vigorous schedule, Srila Prabhupada continued to write prolifically. His writings constitute a veritable library of Vedic philosophy, religion, literature and culture. Before Srila Prabhupaa departed this world for the abode of his beloved Lord in November of 1977, he established 108 temples in nearly every major city of the world, and deeply touched the lives of thousands of followers who today continue to follow the example of his life and precepts.
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