Prabhupada, A. C. Bhaktivedanta

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PRABHUPADA, A. C. BHAKTIVEDANTA . A. C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada (18961977) was the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), more commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement.

On September 19, 1965, the steamship Jaladuta sailed into New York harbor from Calcutta and docked at a Brooklyn pier. Seventy-year-old A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami emerged from the ship to fulfill the instructions of his spiritual master to teach the spiritual message of the Caitanya cult in the West. Caitanya, the founder of bhakti-yoga, preached that all people regardless of their station in life, could reach spiritual realization through love and devotion to Ka (God). Bhaktivedanta Swami was dressed in traditional garb: he wore kahī-mālā (neck beads), a plain cotton dhotī around his body, a cādar (shawl), and he carried jāpā-mālā chanting beads). His head was shaven except for the sikhā (tuft of hair) in the back, and his forehead was marked with tilaka (sacred clay). Carrying only forty Indian rupees (about seven U.S. dollars), Bhaktivedanta set out to bring the message of "Ka Consciousness" to the United States, and ultimately to the world.

Prabhupada was born Abhay Charan De into a Gauīya-Vaiava family in Calcutta, India, on September 1, 1896. His father was Gour Mohan De, a cloth merchant, and his mother was Rajani. Across the street from the Des's residence in north Calcutta was a Rādhā-Govinda temple where the family worshipped. Prabhupada's father raised his son to be Ka conscious. At night, Gour Mohan read from the Caitanya-caritāmta and the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (the principle scriptures of Bengali Vaiavas), chanted on his jāpā beads, and worshiped the deity of Ka. He wanted his son to become a preacher of the Bhāgavatam and to grow up singing bhajans (religious songs), and playing the mdaga (a drum used to accompany congregational chanting).

In 1916 Prabhupada began studies at Calcutta's Scottish Churches' College, where he majored in English, philosophy, and economics. Yet after completing his fourth year and passing the exams for his degree, Prabhupada refused to accept his diploma. He did this to register his protest against British rule of India, for he had become sympathetic to Mahatma Gandhi's Indian independence movement. During his college years Prabhupada's father arranged for his marriage to Radharani Datta. After marrying, Prabhupada gained employment as a manager in a pharmaceutical firm in Calcutta to support his wife and family.

In 1922 Prabhupada met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (18741936). Prabhupada was impressed by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's boldness after, upon meeting Prabhupada for the first time, he commented, "You are educated.Why don't you preach Lord Caitanya's message throughout the whole world?" (Goswami, 1980a, p. 39). Later he would tell Prabhupada, "If you ever get money, print books" to help spread the mission of Lord Caitanya (Goswami, 1980a, p. 91). Although Prabhupada had accepted Bhaktisiddhanta as his spiritual master after their first meeting, he became formally initiated as his disciple in 1932. Thereafter, Prabhupada assisted in the work of his spiritual master's organization, the Gaudīya Mah. Following Bhaktisiddhanta's death, the Gauīya Mah suffered years of infighting and schism, and Prabhupada decided to create his own movement, the League of Devotees, in 1953 in Jhansi, India. After only two years, however, the organization collapsed, having made no full-time members. In 1944 Prabhupada began publishing Back to Godhead magazine, which he distributed in Indiaand then worldwide after he began ISKCON in 1966.

In recognition of his philosophical learning and devotion, the Gauīya Vaiava Society bestowed the title of "Bhaktivedanta" on Prabhupada in 1947. In 1950, at the age of fifty-four, Prabhupada retired from family life and four years later adopted the vānaprastha (retired) order to devote himself completely to study and writing. Thereafter he took up residence in Vrindaban, India, where he lived and worked at the Rādhā-Damodara temple. On September 17, 1959, Prabhupada accepted the renounced order of life (sannyāsa ), whereupon he was given the name Abhay Caranaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami. While living alone at the Rādhā-Damodara temple, Prabhupada began translating and providing commentaries on the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (Bhāga-vata Purāna ).

After publishing three volumes of the Bhāgavatam in India, Prabhupada decided to fulfill the instructions of his spiritual master by traveling to the United States. Having received free passage aboard the freighter the S.S. Jaladuta, Prabhupada left his Indian homeland for the United States as a poor Indian sādhu (saintly person). After six months of hardship, Prabhupada established his International Society for Krishna Consciousness in July of 1966. His first temple was a rented store front at 26 Second Avenue in New York's Lower East Side. In that year he also initiated his first American disciples. In 1967, Prabhupada traveled to the emerging hippie community in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. There, amid the drug culture, Prabhupada taught that the chanting of "Hare Krishna" was a "high" superior to LSD. In San Francisco, Prabhupada attracted 150 to 200 converts to his movement within two years. From San Francisco, Prabhupada sent disciples to Montreal, Los Angeles, Boston, London, and other major cities to begin ISKCON temples.

Prabhupada established over one hundred temples worldwide, wrote more than sixty volumes, including Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is (1972), the multivolume Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (19721977) and Caitanya-caritāmta (19741975), The Nectar of Devotion (1970, and many other books on the Vedic scriptures. These volumes included translations of the original Sanskrit and Bengali texts, along with Prabhupada's commentaries. His writings have been translated into more than fifty languages by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, established in Los Angeles in 1972 to publish Prabhupada's works. Between 1973 and 1977 several million books and other pieces of Ka Consciousness literature were distributed yearly by ISKCON members in shopping malls, airports, and other public locations in the United States and worldwide. As Prabhupada commented, "If one percent of the readers become devoteesthat will change the world" (Goswami, 1983b, p. 5).

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada died on November 14, 1977, in Vrindaban, India. In just twelve years from the time he arrived in North America, Prabhupada initiated nearly five thousand disciples worldwide, circled the globe eight times lecturing on Ka Consciousness, began and oversaw a worldwide movement, and established himself as a scholar of Vedic philosophy and religion.

See Also

International Society for Krishna Consciousness.


Goswami, Satsvarupa dasa. Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta: A Biography of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Los Angeles, 19801983; 2d ed, 1993. Vol. 1: A Lifetime in Preparation: India, 18961965 (1980a). Vol. 2: Planting the Seed: New York City, 19651966 (1980b). Vol. 3: Only He Could Lead Them: San Francisco, India, 1967 (1981). Vol 4: In Every Town and Village: Around the World, 19681971 (1982). Vol. 5: Let There Be a Temple: India, Around the World, 19711975 (1983a). Vol. 6: Uniting Two Worlds: Around the World, Return to Vndāvana, 19751977 (1983b).

Goswami, Tamal Krishna. "His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada: Founder, Prophet, and Priest." In A Hare Krishna at Southern Methodist University: Collected Essays 19951997, pp. 247265. Dallas, Tex.

International Society for Krishna Consciousness. "A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada." Available from

Selengut, Charles. "Charisma and Religious Innovation: Prabhupada and the Founding of ISKCON." ISKCON Communications Journal 4, no. 2: 51-63.

E. Burke Rochford Jr. (2005)