Bhaktivedanta, Swami Prabhupada
(1896–1977)
The religious name of Abhay Charan De, leader of the successful
Hare Krishna movement that emerged in North America
and Europe in the 1970s and is organizationally embodied
in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
Born in Calcutta, India, September 1, 1896, he studied
philosophy, economics, and English at the University of Calcutta.
As a young man he was a follower of Gandhi and advocated
independence for India, and he refused to accept his degree in
order to show solidarity with Gandhi. Intensely religious even
as a child, he nevertheless followed his father’s wishes by marrying
and going into business. He was initiated into the Goudiya
Vaishnava Society by Vaishnava holy man Shi Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta
Saraswati Goswami, and followed the Bhaki (‘‘devotional’’)
worship of Vishnu’s incarnation as Krishna, which had
been initiated by Chaitanya, a Bengali saint of the sixteenth
century. Krishna’s life is described in the Hindu scriptural texts
Bhagavad-Gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Prabhupada managed a pharmaceutical business in order to
support his family, but his guru, who died in 1936, ordered his
disciples to preach the Chaitanya message in the West. The
honorific name ‘‘Bhaktivedanta’’ was bestowed upon Prabhupada
by the Gaudiya Vishnava Society. During this period he
authored his first books, an Introduction to the Geetopanishad and
the Bajgavad-Gita as It Is, a translation and commentary on the
Gita from the Chaitaya perspective. In 1956, when his family
duties were accomplished, Prabhupada renounced his secular
life, including his family, to devote his whole life to religious
teaching. His actions followed the ancient Hindu tradition of
renunciation of everyday householder life when one’s responsibilities
were fully discharged.
At the age of 58 Prabhupada became a swami, and in 1965,
shortly before the change in American immigration laws relative
to India, he immigrated to America. He preached the worship
of Krishna in New York and soon attracted students and
dropouts, offering his brand of Vaishnava Hinduism in place
of radicalism or drug counterculture. Large contributions were
made to ISKCON funds by ex-Beatle George Harrison and B.
M. Birla, a wealthy Indian textile magnate.
Swami Bhaktivedanta spent much of his time distributing
his translation of the Bhagavad-Gita and completing his translation
and commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam and a variety
of other writings. He kept up a voluminous correspondence
and taught his devotees the basics of Krishna devotion. Like his
devotees, he spent much time chanting the Hare Krishna mantra,
and his devotees reported that he sometimes exhibited
such emotional transports as weeping and dancing. They regarded
him as a transcendental being and gave him the title
H.D.G.—His Divine Grace.
Prabhupada saw his movement spread internationally, and
he experienced the harsh criticism of the new anticult movement.
Swami Bhaktivedanta died of heart failure on November
14, 1977, at the age of 81, at Vrindavana, India, the district in
Mathura where Sri Krishna spent his childhood. By the late
1970s ISKCON had some 5,000 American disciples and had
gained the support of many Indian Americans, who found it
like the worship they had left behind when migrating. The
movement was left in the control of initiating gurus and a governing
board. It experienced intense attacks by anticult groups
and suffered some tumultuous internal conflicts, but ISKCON
has emerged in the 1990s as a stable Hindu body that has
begun to integrate a second generation in its adult membership.
ISKCON has temples across North America, in most countries
of Europe, and in numeorus locations around the world.
For information, contact the ISKCON International Ministry
of Public Affairs, 1030 Grand Ave., San Diego, CA 92109.
Sources
Bromley, David G., and Larry D. Shinn, eds. Krishna Consciousness
in the West. Lewisburg Bucknell University Press,
1989.
Gelberg, Steven, ed. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. New York
Grove Press, 1983.
Goswami, Satsvarupa dasa. Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta. 6 vols.
Los Angeles Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1980–83.
Prabhupada, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Bhagavad-Gita as
It Is. New York Bhativedanta Book Trust, 1972.
———. KRSHA The Supreme Personality of Godhead. 3 vols.
New York Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1970.
———. Letters from Srila Prabhupada. 5 vols. Culver City,
Calif. Vaishnava Institute, 1987.
———. The Nectar of Devotion. Los Angeles Bhaktivedanta
Book Trust, 1970.
———. The Science of Self Realization. Los Angeles Bhaktivedanta
Book Trust, 1977.
———. Teachings of Lord Chaitanya. Los Angeles Bhaktivedanta
Book Trust, 1974.