July 1976: GITA NAGARI FARM, PENNSYLVANIA – Ride on Radha Damodar bus, Farm activities
Vakresvara Pandit das: I was told that the ride on the Radha Damodar bus was Prabhupada’s long-cherished dream. And because the vehicle that we had just repaired was in such first-class shape, we were informed that our bus would be used to take Srila Prabhupada and that I would be the driver and Mahamuni would be the servant and Sunanda would be the cook. Now, prabhu, I was an expert bus driver, expert. I could pull that bus into any spot, eyes closed. Somehow or other when Prabhupada and all these sannyasis and senior devotees got on the bus, I was terrified. I was really hyperly nervous. So we go out of the Lincoln Tunnel. Now, that’s a huge curve and the curb itself, it has a really high cement curb. And somehow or other, the wheel itself, it gets stuck on the curb. I can’t turn it to get it off. So the curb is guiding the whole bus, and sparks are flying out and no one knows but me. And I’m just praying, I said, “Krishna, why are You doing this to me now? I’m going to kill my guru, sannyasis, the Deities, we’re all going to go tumbling…” I said, “Kill me anytime, anyway You want, please don’t…” Prabhu, I have never ever, ever experienced fear, anxiety, suffering like that. So I was just praying, trying to hold the bus so that the wheel would veer off to the left. And finally, after about two minutes of that intense, intense…two minutes was like an eternity, a few eternities. So finally the bus pulls away. Definitely some of my life force was dropped on that curve coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel.
Taruni dasi: Srila Prabhupada had been standing looking at the wonderful fields. The devotees were gathered around. There were two fellows who were new devotees, very enthusiastic. They were country boys from not too far away, and they had brought from their own garden a medium-sized basket full of vegetables. And Srila Prabhupada picked up an eggplant out of the basket and he just held it in his hand as though it were a jewel of some sort, and he held it up and just looked at it. It had a real value, this produce. You could just tell his pleasure was immense. So at some point he spoke about how we should be able to feed the neighboring city temples, supply them with very luscious kinds of fresh foods like this. Not only that, but in time of need we should be prepared to also produce an abundance sufficient to feed people living in a 10-mile radius.
Kamra dasi: Prabhupada took a walking tour of the barn and the machine area, and Paramananda was a little bit apologetic because Prabhupada had been to New Talavan a few months ago and chastised them for having farm equipment. But actually they had farm equipment and it was standing outside in the weather getting rusty, and at Gita Nagari we had a lot of farm equipment but everything was very well protected. But Paramananda was very much self-conscious. So as he was showing Prabhupada the different equipment. He was saying, “This is a disk and it’ll do the work of so many men, and this is a plow and it’ll do the work of so many men.” And Prabhupada was very silent. But when Prabhupada gave his class later on that evening he said, “It’s not that we hate machinery. Everything can be used in Krishna’s service.” He also very much caught our mood that we didn’t want to be in the cities. So when Prabhupada noted that, he commented in his class, “It’s not that we hate the towns and villages. Everything belongs to Krishna.” So he saw our mentality, and he cut through it very effectively.
July 1976: NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK – Arrival, Temple activities, Rathayatra
Dhristadyumna das: When we picked up Prabhupada in the airport in New York, I was in the car following. Tamal, Adi Kesava, Ramesvara were in the car with Prabhupada, and they wanted to show Prabhupada where the temple was in relationship to all the other prestigious buildings in New York. So we went up Park Avenue around Grand Central Station and the Seagram’s Building where my father worked, and my father had been one of the guarantors for the temple. He had spoken up as a character reference for us to get this building. So as they drove by the Seagram’s Building, which itself was an architectural landmark, the first all-glass skyscraper in New York, they pointed out, “Oh, Prabhupada, look. That’s Dhristadyumna Swami’s father’s building, the biggest liquor company in the world.” Prabhupada said, “Liquor? Hiranyakasipu. But his son is like Prahlada.”
Racitambara dasi: My husband, Chaitanya Simha, they had been working on the building of the L.A. temple, and then it was finished. Then one day Srila Prabhupada called him up to his quarters and he said, “We’ve purchased a 13-story building in New York.” And he was explaining to my husband that it was an old nursing home and it was just a very old broken-down building, and the whole bottom floor needed to be gutted and made into a temple room. And all the floors had to be repainted and scraped and sanded and it was just a tremendous amount of work, and he was asking my husband how long that would take. So my husband was working it all out, and he was about to open his mouth to say, “Possibly we could do it within a year.” But just before he got that out, Srila Prabhupada looked at him and smiled and he said, “I am due to be in New York in six weeks.” And the next thing I knew, my husband came home and said, “Pack, we’re moving to New York in the morning.” And we did. We started work immediately, and honestly in the six weeks I don’t remember sleeping. I guess we must have. It was a 24-hour marathon for six weeks, and we did it. I don’t know how it manifested, only by Prabhupada’s mercy. But then there’s a sweet little end to this. When Srila Prabhupada was arriving, we were lining the walk from the front door to the car and everybody was standing there with beautiful gifts and so many things to offer to Srila Prabhupada. And then I saw my husband come rushing out from doing the last-minute things, and I could see him looking. Everybody had something to give Srila Prabhupada, and he felt he had nothing. So he rushed back in and he went into the pujari area, the flower room, but every last flower had been used and all he could find was one rose, kind of dead and blackened. So he just grabbed it and ran back out, and he was holding that. Then Srila Prabhupada came out of his car, and he just kind of floated along swan-like. Everyone was giving him gifts and his arms would pile up, and then he’d hand them back to his servant. Then my husband was watching all these gifts, and finally he put this old rotten rose behind his back. Srila Prabhupada was looking straight ahead the whole time, and then he came to my husband and he stopped and he held his hand out. My husband didn’t do anything for a minute, and Prabhupada moved his hand like “Give it to me.” So he brought this old wilted rose out from behind his back and put it in Srila Prabhupada’s hand, and Prabhupada held the rose between his two hands in a pranam and turned to my husband and said, “Thank you very much.” He is just such an amazing soul. The most wonderful thing about Srila Prabhupada is he just knew everything, he just knew your heart.
Tosan Krishna das: Regarding the Rathayatra, Srila Prabhupada actually asked, “How is it possible you got the permit?” because he was aware that it was very difficult to get a permit on Fifth Avenue. As a matter of fact, it was technically against the law because there was an edict by the mayor that said no new parades since 1962. So he asked, “How did you do it anyways?” And so I thought I would tell him something since he’s asking. It was ultimately his mercy, his pastime. So I simply said, “Well, Srila Prabhupada, on the application I said ‘three hand-pulled carts’.” And so Srila Prabhupada laughed and he said, “Yes, this is in our line. Just like Vamanadev, he only asked for three steps of land.” Of course, what’s always amazing about Srila Prabhupada’s quips is they’re so full of spiritual realization and knowledge and they’re so spontaneous and so quick. “Yes, that is in our line.” So wonderful.
Chris Murray: The New York Rathayatra was really a momentous event. It was a great triumph, the one I filmed. I’m from New York City and I went to high school near the Plaza Hotel, where Rathayatra to this day still begins there. So the Upper East Side was where I grew up, and I knew the significance of the Rathayatra Festival going down Fifth Avenue. I really understood what that meant. And I reflected on how much it meant to Srila Prabhupada because he started in New York City, and New York City I knew meant a lot to Prabhupada because it’s the most important city in the world. And I think Prabhupada knew if he could establish himself in New York, then that was a good thing. For me, having the Rathayatra Festival go down Fifth Avenue with Srila Prabhupada in the chariots was one of the most triumphant moments in the history of ISKCON because New York is the Big Apple and in a way the whole world watches everything that was going on there. And sure enough, the next day in the New York Times on the front page was a picture of the Rathayatra chariot going down Fifth Avenue, and I was so proud because I knew Srila Prabhupada would see that. It described the Rathayatra procession with Prabhupada in very sober and positive terms.
Tripurari Swami: Parading down Fifth Avenue with Lord Jagannatha was the fulfillment of really a life-long ambition. I was sitting with Prabhupada once in Mayapur and he turned to me and he said, “When I was a young boy, I wanted to perform Rathayatra. And so my father got me a Rathayatra cart.” And Prabhupada was looking at me like he was about a 6- or 8-year-old boy and he said, “Everybody thought it was just a play Rathayatra.” Then he touched me like this with his hand and he said, “But it was real. It was real.” He said, “I used to go to sleep in my bed with the ratha cart next to me. In the night, I would wake up and reach out to make sure that it was there.” He said, “In this way, from my childhood I was performing Rathayatra in a small way, and now I’m doing it in a big way all over the world.” His ambition as a young boy was to take the train from Calcutta to Puri so that he could go to the Rathayatra in Jagannatha Puri. What an ambition for a child – such a pure ambition on his part that Lord Jagannatha fulfilled it in such a grand style.
Dhristadyumna das: In 1976 after Mayapur, Tamal Krishna Maharaj and I went to New York to get help from my father to be able to get into China because China was closed. Madame Mao was in power and her Gang of Four, and it was terribly xenophobic. No Westerners were allowed in except under special circumstances. So through my father’s contacts, we were able to get IDs as Spiritual Sky Incense representatives going to look for incense punk. So in New York we got Brooks Brothers suits, we started to grow our hair. The party was now under Madhudvisa, who was the GBC of Radha Damodar New York and Gita Nagari, they had merged into one huge party. And Adi Kesava was the president there in New York. So we had a room there, we did our thing and we got prepared, and we were en route to Hong Kong via Hawaii, where Prabhupada was writing his Eighth Canto, the story of Gajendra. And at that time, two things happened simultaneously: one, he didn’t approve of us going to China anymore because he considered it a waste of time under those conditions, there wouldn’t be any possibility for preaching; and secondly that Madhudvisa had disappeared, given up his sannyasa. So Prabhupada said, “So you go back and take up your party,” which was the last thing we ever expected to hear from Prabhupada given the intensity of the emotions just two months earlier in Mayapur. So that was a big shock. Prabhupada said, “So now you go back and take up your party, but one thing you must learn: you cannot force.” So there were some discussions then about sannyasa. Prabhupada said, “Actually I have not given any of you sannyasa. But I am in a war with Maya, the material energy, and I need leaders.” He said, “It is called in wartime ‘battlefield commission.’ There are no qualified leaders, but someone has to lead the charge. So you take every fifth man, ‘You are now lieutenant of the squad.’ He is really a private, but we make him lieutenant for the day and he leads the charge.” Then Prabhupada said, “It is to be understood that you are not sufficiently equipped for this fight and most of you will go down.” I know what he means now that I’m older. We knew very little, but we were enthusiastic. So we show back up in New York, having never gone to China, and Prabhupada is coming. So Tamal and Adi Kesava asked would I manage the Rathayatra overall, so I did. And it was wonderful working with Jayananda. I’ll never forget that.
Tosan Krishna das: The parade had already traveled about a mile from Central Park, and it was headed toward Washington Square Park at the end of Fifth Avenue. Srila Prabhupada stepped up onto the Subhadra cart at 34th Street, and the police who were overseeing the parade took note and they told me later, “That man was really special.” And they ended up volunteering, the same group, every year for that duty because they actually took some thrill in the occasion. It was a voluntary task. Obviously there was some compensation, but they took interest and they looked forward to participating themselves in the Rathayatra.
Hari Sauri das: The Rathayatra parade was going down Fifth Avenue and we drove down parallel, maybe down Sixth Avenue. We crossed a couple of blocks and we saw on one cross street one of the ratha carts, and then when we got down to the next cross street there was the other one. So it stretched a whole city block, and it looked really impressive from where we were. Then we cut across to the cross street where the Empire State Building is, and then we waited there for a few minutes for the ratha cart and we were a little bit ahead. Then the ratha carts came down and then they stopped just where we were, and then Prabhupada got out. I remember there was this tremendous scrimmage. It was all reporters from newspapers and TV and what have you, and they were all…literally one or two of them were fighting with each other to get in because everybody was so packed up, and the devotees were all around chanting and dancing like crazy when Prabhupada came out. Prabhupada just kind of glided through the whole thing. Prabhupada bumped his head on the decking, it was so low. We were a little paranoid that some crazy people might try to do something, so it was a security measure. We also sat with him under the decking, and there were about three or four devotees that sat on the corners and next to the vyasasana. And I found out later that they were all armed, they all had guns on them. I think the deprogramming stuff had just started up in America and there had been demonstrations in L.A. in early June, so they were a little bit afraid of that. So from our vantage point, we really didn’t see very much. We were underneath the decking there. All we could see was lots and lots of people up and down the streets. Prabhupada really enjoyed it because it was exactly 10 years to the month when he had formed ISKCON in New York in that little tiny storefront with just a small group, 5 or 10 hippies, and now he’s back in New York gliding down Fifth Avenue with these massive ratha carts, hundreds and thousands of people watching. Prabhupada said it was like a dream come true.
Kesava Bharati Goswami: I had lived with Jayananda for two years in San Francisco, so we were very close. He was in preparation like normal, doing everything himself, superhuman effort to prepare the carts for the festival. So I came up the elevator in that skyscraper building, and I came around the corner and there was a bathroom down that hallway. I saw Jayananda and he was walking with his torso parallel to the ground, literally. I yelled out, “Jayananda!” and then I went running down the corridor. And before he got to his room, I came in front of him and I said, “Jayananda, what’s going on with your body, with your health? What is it?” And he looked at me, put his hands on both my shoulders and he said, “All right, I’ll tell you something, but you’ve got to promise me one thing – that you won’t say anything until after the Rathayatra.” And I said, “OK, Jayananda, I won’t say anything, please.” Then he lifted up his arm, and underneath his armpit there were huge lumps. And then he lifted up his other arm and his other arm was the same, these huge lumps. I said, “Jayananda, you have to take care of…” and he said, “You promised.” So I kept my mouth shut based on that promise. Of course, it turns out he had leukemia. It means that Jayananda was suffering like anything during the preparation of that Rathayatra, and then that famous picture of him pulling the cart in complete ecstasy. You look at his face, you could not have told that he was wracked with pain. That’s who Jayananda was – fixed in service to Srila Prabhupada.
Tripurari Swami: I had taken sannyasa in 1975 so I was still a relatively new sannyasi and, of course, I was a young man, I was only 25 years old. Prabhupada was at his quarters on the 11th Floor and I was sitting with Prabhupada, and he said to me, “Tripurari Maharaj, have you seen the New York women?” I was a young sannyasi, and I didn’t know what to answer. Have I seen the New York women? So I hesitated to answer, and he just went on. He said, “They are so beautiful, so charming,” and he began to talk about the New York women. Then as he continued he said, “In this way, they are controlling all of the men in New York City. And because they are controlling all of the men, all of these buildings are going up and the whole city is manifesting,” and he went on like this describing the whole development of New York. And he said, “It is all Vishnu maya.” And it was so edifying for me because often the take on sannyasa in ISKCON was anti-women and women were to be avoided and something like that. But to see Prabhupada, the perfect sannyasi, meditating even on the beauty and the charm of the women and then be able to take it to that point that he did in perfect Krishna consciousness, “It is all Vishnu-maya,” he could meditate completely on the material nature, the material energy, and because of seeing it in relation to Krishna, he would never be in danger of being affected by the material nature. This is the real idea of sannyasa. So it was very enlivening to me to hear him say that. He wasn’t really trying to teach me the points, he was just being himself and just expressing himself. Of course, whenever he expressed himself, however poetically and beautifully through his motions and through his words, it was very profound and edifying.
Laksmi Nrsimhadev das: On any given day in New York, the streets of New York and at Washington Square Park were always filled. So the additional event of Rathayatra captured the attention even of New Yorkers, who are well-known for having seen everything and done everything. This was a first for them to see literally hundreds of saffron and white-robed devotees bouncing up and down joyously in kirtan, and at the helm of it all was Srila Prabhupada. The stage was right under the arch there. Prabhupada ascended to that stage and there was an ocean of people, devotees from all over the United States as well as so many bystanders.
Hari Sauri das: We were all sitting on the stage facing Prabhupada and everybody else was on the ground facing Prabhupada, and Prabhupada was the only one that was looking out. So he left after about 20 minutes. He gave a short speech about where the Rathayatra had originated from, and then we left and went back to the temple and he left the devotees to run the rest of the festival. When we got back to the temple, Prabhupada was a little fatigued. He went to take rest right away, and Prabhupada asked me to massage his legs and feet. So as I started massaging him he started chuckling, and then he said, “I thought there would be some fanaticism.” And I said, “What was that, Srila Prabhupada?” Because I remember there were some Christians out there with their “Turn or burn” banners and all the rest of it. Then Prabhupada said, “Did you see?” He said, “There was one man, he was shouting. He was standing on the edge of a fountain and he was heckling.” And he said, “Then one big black man came up and he knocked him into the fountain,” and Prabhupada laughed like anything.
Bhakti dasi: Atreya Rsi told me that I had to offer my obeisances to Srila Prabhupada when I walked into the room, and there was no way I was about to do that at my point in my Krishna consciousness. I was too green. I wasn’t about to offer my obeisances to anybody. But I was respectful, so I walked in and I folded my hands and bowed my head slightly and didn’t say anything. And then I didn’t know where to go, so I just went towards the back of the room. Srila Prabhupada was way across the room at a desk, and Srila Prabhupada looked at me and he said, “So, you are interested in Krishna consciousness?” And I remember I didn’t understand a word he said. I’d never met anybody from India before, I’d never heard them speak, so I didn’t understand the accent. Prabhupada recognized my embarrassment and said to my husband, “So you will translate?” My husband looked at me and said, “So, you are interested in Krishna consciousness?” Then we talked for a little while. I asked a few questions. Then a young woman came into the room with a big bowl of sweets. They were white balls, looked like very large golf balls. I didn’t know they were sweets at the time. Then he looked up at me, and he motioned with his finger for me to come forward. So I got up and I went to his desk and he said, “Hold out your hand.” So I held out my left hand and he said, “No, no, no, other hand.” So I held out my right hand and he took one of these balls and he put it in the palm of my hand, and I remember it was juicy. I remember the juice was dripping from my hand, and I was trying to hold it so that it didn’t drip on the floor. And I looked at the ball and I looked at Prabhupada and I looked back at the ball, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with it. Prabhupada motioned with his hand and his wide open mouth as if to say, “Pop it in your mouth.” That’s exactly what I did. This huge ball, I got it into my mouth in one fell swoop. And when I bit down into it, the juice was just so sweet and the squeak on my teeth really got me and my eyes bulged. It was just such a delightful thing that Prabhupada got such a kick out of it, he laughed and laughed. We talked for a few more minutes, and then someone came in and said, “Srila Prabhupada, it’s time for you to go to the airport.” The sannyasis left first, and then my husband left and I kept thinking, “What am I going to say to Srila Prabhupada to make him understand how grateful I am for the time that he spent with me and the loving exchange we had had?” I kept thinking, “What can I say? What can I say?” And I was almost out the door and I remember the last minute I turned around, I folded my hands, I looked Prabhupada straight in the eye and I said, “Hare Krishna,” and that was the first time I’d ever said Hare Krishna. And Prabhupada said without a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Jaya.” Then I left, and I was in ecstasy. That was the beginning of my spiritual life, from that point forward.
July 1976: BHAKTIVEDANTA MANOR, U.K. – Various activities, Arrival, Home program
Kesidamana das: After college I went to India for about a year, then I came back to England. I was very interested in the Indian philosophy. So I read many, many books, and I sent away one time for Prabhupada’s Gita. I got it by mail order. So I read that in a few days, and I was thrilled by the book because it was so clear and sensible and correct. There wasn’t anything that I could find fault with and I thought, “This book is perfect.” So then I hitchhiked down to the address within it, which was the Manor. I arrived at the Manor, and that was the weekend that Prabhupada was there. Actually when I walked in the Manor, Prabhupada was just giving a darshan. So Rohininandan invited me to the darshan. It was a darshan particularly for new people. So I sat down and, as chance would have it, I was sitting immediately in front of Prabhupada. So Prabhupada was sitting there perfectly relaxed, and I felt very thrilled to see Prabhupada. I felt an immediate rapport. Prabhupada was sitting there, and every now and again he’d glance at me and smile at me. So I felt enlivened, and I had this feeling that Prabhupada was looking at me and he was saying, “Where have you been?” So anyway, the next day or so Prabhupada went off to Soho Street, and he came back to a great reception. The car, it was a black Rolls Royce, pulled around to the back of the Manor. As he drove by, I looked in the window and I saw Prabhupada’s expression, and it was just startlingly full of love. Prabhupada got out of the car, and a huge uproarious kirtan was going on. The devotees were leaping in the air and chanting. So Prabhupada glanced over at me, and then he pointed with his chin to this about 11-, 10-year-old boy that was dancing next to me with his arms upraised. And as he pointed with his chin, he smiled at me and I immediately understood, “This is what you do.” Prabhupada had seen that I was confused, and so I immediately understood, “This is what Krishna consciousness is – simply to dance and chant like a child without any mental reservations.”
Caturbhuja das: This is our residence, Bhagwat Bhawan. It’s a very ordinary semi-detached property, and by that stage we had been initiated for six, seven years. This is Mukunda, and what we’re anticipating is the arrival of Sri Gurudev, Srila Prabhupada. These are our family friends who have been invited. These are people who visit Bury Place. This is Dr. Bajpai, a very well-known medical doctor in a number of medical fields. He is on the right-hand side along with my father on the left, and we’re simply discussing how we individually met Srila Prabhupada. Dr. Bajpai, who was a first life member of ISKCON London, had many, many conversations with Srila Prabhupada, and Srila Prabhupada would often discuss philosophy and medicine.
Jaya Hari das: One of the things Srila Prabhupada did in the early days, which the devotees really didn’t do too much of, and that was to make contact with his fellow nationals. Obviously in London there was a very, very large prominent Hindu community who had never heard of the Hare Krishna Movement at that time. I think Srila Prabhupada’s physical presence, him being an Indian as well, opened up a lot of doors to the Indian Hindu community who might not have otherwise accepted the Hare Krishna Movement simply because they would have been skeptical in thinking, “Oh, what are these Americans or Europeans practicing this for?” But when they met Srila Prabhupada, their minds were changed completely. So if you had a devotee like Ksirodaksayi Visnu and his wife and his sons, they didn’t live in the temple. But they lived in north London in a house which had Deities in it, and it showed that you could practice Krishna consciousness outside of the temple environment. You could do it anywhere in fact.
Caturbhuja das: This is the temple room. This is an example of what Prabhupada blessed us with since the initiation. He installed our Deities sometime back. For us it was a wonderful, wonderful homecoming, and I think Srila Prabhupada felt that as well. The dialogues would not be formal. Sometimes they would be just as friends, or as father and grandfather would have. And whenever we would reciprocate with Srila Prabhupada, whether it was through glances or through singing or through listening, he would just reciprocate and laugh and joke tenfold. Srila Prabhupada would tell us many, many stories from different parts of Srimad-Bhagavatam, and he would intermix accounts of these stories in his own life. I distinctly recall feeling stories of kindness from Srimad-Bhagavatam, gentleness of devotees, and clemency. We were always making mistakes, but Srila Prabhupada would have that quality to be forgiving. Though he was communicating Krishna consciousness, it was never in an academic way or it was never dry or impersonal. It was just full of life.
Karanodaksayi Visnu das: This is Srila Prabhupada sitting down on the vyasasana. He spoke a little while, and then he felt that he would like to take a little rest and bath in our place. So my father arranged all the bathing arrangements and he took massage, and then he took prasadam. It was at that time where Srila Prabhupada asked the whole family to come into his room, and Srila Prabhupada gave my father the instruction that “I want you to establish daiva varnasrama dharma by practical example.” What he said at this time was that “First I came to Ksirodakasayi Visnu’s house as a friend. Then I came to Ksirodaksayi’s house as a spiritual master. And now I’m coming to his house with Radha and Krishna.” Srila Prabhupada had conquered the whole world, but he was still happy to come to an ordinary house like this and bless us with his blessings. It was amazing how Srila Prabhupada hadn’t changed one iota, in spite of all the opulence and the great wealth that he had acquired. But still he was always fixed in his love for his disciples.
January 1977: ALLAHABAD, INDIA – Kumbha Mela Festival
Kusa dasi: There was talk of the Kumbha Mela, and Srila Prabhupada said it was the most auspicious Kumbha Mela in 144 years and all the rishis and sages and sadhus would come from all over to attend this particular Kumbha Mela. So it became real imperative that we all figure out how to get there. But there were no trains, planes, and no way to get in, no way. Everything had been booked for months in advance. So Abhirama knew the manager of the entire train station in Bombay, his name was Mr. Gupta. So he came in and he saw Srila Prabhupada, and he put on two extra cars for the devotees, one second-class car and one first-class car, and so the devotees were able to go in. As we were on our way, we were in the coupé right next to Srila Prabhupada and Ramesvara Maharaj, and we were trying so hard to hear. You could hear their voices but not what they were saying, but it was so comforting to know Srila Prabhupada was right there.
Ramesvara das: On the way to the festival, and I think it must have been one or two in the morning, I suddenly woke up, my eyes completely snapped open. So I looked around, expecting to see Srila Prabhupada sleeping, but in fact he was up sitting there and clearly waiting for me to wake up. He somehow made me wake up. And so he gave me the opportunity to talk with him, and we spoke for hours. And every question I could think of about the world and world events and events to come I was asking. We talked about the Cold War and nuclear arms, and we talked about many different things. Prabhupada would explain all from the point of view of absolute knowledge, why the world is always a violent place and why there’s always war and misery and pain. So that was helpful for me to understand that whatever time in history that you live, these characteristics will always be there.
Tota Gopinatha das: Early ’77 in Vancouver, we were going out on sankirtan and I was with Kripanidhi das. We loaded up a van full of books, and I told Kripanidhi for some reason that day I was going to go alone. And by the end of the day, it was 640 Srimad-Bhagavatams and Caitanya-caritamrtas. Then later on in the year I was in Berkeley, and Radhaballabha had approached me. He was on the train with Prabhupada going to Kumbha Mela at the time, and he said that Prabhupada was very ill. He was lying down and they showed him the newsletter of all the devotees and the temples around the world that would distribute books, and the biggest distributor would get his name underneath your temple. And Radhaballabha said that Prabhupada sat up and he pointed to my name and he said, “This is what gives me life, when I see my disciples distributing my books like this,” and he pointed to my name, Tota Gopinatha. Every time I go to tell the story, even now it makes me cry, I get tears in my eyes. That’s the one thing that’s kept me a devotee. It’s for that one second, special moment when Prabhupada points to your name like that and recognizes you.
Kusa dasi: When we arrived there, we were taken out to the campsite and Srila Prabhupada was distressed by the location because it was sort of an out-of-the-way place. So he called for the managers to come, and he really questioned why we were in this location because he wanted to be centrally located in the middle of the action. But then at the end of their conversation he said, “Never mind,” and he said, “I will send you to the action.” He would send Harinam sankirtan and book distribution parties out to the people during the day, and he wanted to make sure that there was adequate prasadam. The first day there was not a proper amount of prasadam to distribute to other people. There was just enough for the devotees there, and Srila Prabhupada really stressed that that wasn’t the appropriate arrangement.
Ramesvara das: During the festival, I don’t think we really did the things that Prabhupada was planning to do in terms of having kirtans, a big stage and so on because Prabhupada, his body was becoming ill. He was manifesting symptoms of the illness that lasted for those last six or seven months, and so it didn’t appear that he was comfortable. It appeared that there was pain and he was just not being bothered by it because of his transcendence. So there were a lot of mixed emotions at this festival because of that. But there was a constant nonstop parade of all kinds of people, dignitaries, spiritualists who were there and heard that Prabhupada was there and would find their way to where our tents were and come to get Prabhupada’s blessings. That was the whole purpose of this festival is to purify yourself in these rivers, and you get the darshan of the holy men. So the people who knew, they would try to find Prabhupada.
February 1977: MAYAPUR, INDIA – Gaura Purnima Festival
Mahaniddhi Swami: The devotees came from Los Angeles with the new Balarama mridanga, and they were colorful and lightweight. Everyone was excited about it – this will be the new drum for ISKCON. So they put it on Prabhupada’s darshan desk one evening and everyone was holding their breath, what will be the judgment. And then he very deftly and expertly hits it, hits the mridanga, plays one or two bols and tals, and then sits back. Then he said very matter-of-factly, “It’s dead.” All the excitement over that mridanga, Prabhupada dissipated it with two words, “It’s dead.” And we could understand how that it’s not so easy to please the spiritual master, things have to be done correctly and properly, because the whole relationship between the disciple and the guru is one where the guru wants to bring perfection out of our hearts. Like the lady in the village is churning the milk to bring the butter out of the milk, but if she stops halfway and says, “I’ve done my job, that’s enough,” then the butter will not appear. So I saw that he was churning, churning everyone in the room, and especially churning the producers of the mridanga, “More surrender. Your perfection is not here yet. You have to do more churning to get this final product of the perfect mridanga or the perfect offering or the perfectly pure heart.”
March 1977: BOMBAY & JUHU, INDIA – Pandal, Temple
Giriraj Swami: While Srila Prabhupada was in Mayapur after the Gaura Purnima festival, we arranged for what turned out to be Srila Prabhupada’s last public preaching program – the pandal program at Cross Maidan. As had been done in Delhi, we arranged prominent people to come as chief guests. But the biggest, of course, was the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Sri S.B. Chavan. He had great appreciation for Srila Prabhupada, and he actually helped the devotees get permission to build the temple at Juhu. So Srila Prabhupada was very pleased when he came and spoke. And Srila Prabhupada also addressed him very nicely in his talk and told him that as long as we’re in the material world, as long as we’re in politics there will be upheavals, but we should tolerate the upheavals and continue with our duties in Krishna consciousness.
Jayadvaita Swami: Prabhupada’s health had deteriorated considerably. He had no muscular strength at that time. In Mayapur earlier, he extended his arm and flapped where his arm muscles were with his hand and said, “Flat tire.” So Prabhupada’s health had really gone down. He was practically deposited on his asana and just was there. One night the verse was “Hogs, dogs, camels, and asses glorify a person who has no interest in hearing about the Personality of Godhead.” So the disciple was reading and Prabhupada hardly said anything, the reading was going on. But as it was going on, Prabhupada was getting more enlivened. So he would go from giving one sentence to giving two sentences and four sentences, and soon Prabhupada was speaking with full enthusiasm. He had so much energy. By the end of the lecture, practically Prabhupada was roaring.
Lokanath Swami: The theme that Prabhupada had chosen was that the material civilization, modern civilization is total failure, only solution is Krishna consciousness. And he was speaking on this theme every night. Bhavananda, a lot of times some others would read a text from Bhagavatam, purport, and then Prabhupada would comment. The memory I have is how strongly he was preaching, like a roaring, scaring his fellow citizens, trying to wake them up, shake them up. I don’t remember any other time Prabhupada was as strongly, forcefully, emphatically making his points, reminding them bharata-bhumite manusya-janma haila yara, janma sarthaka kari’ kara para-upakara. “You are born in India. If you want to make your life perfect, don’t lead the life of cats and dogs. Do para-upakara, take to Krishna consciousness.”
Sri Nathji das: I was there when this play was shown here. I remember the Vaikuntha Players. I remember how powerful the actor and actress. Only thing it surprised me to see Sita as an American lady. I didn’t mind Rama being American, but I was still in the bodily concept. But the important thing was these actors and actresses were so wonderful in their acting. They really brought out the best of Ramayana. At the end, Prabhupada said that these are better than the book. Then he said something else that evening. He said, “When Lord Chaitanya Himself performed His plays 500-plus years ago, Saci Mata, His own mother, could not recognize her own son.” Lord Chaitanya, I believe, acted as Laxmi-devi. That’s the power of a strong actor who really puts his consciousness, heart and soul in the role he plays, and that’s when the Lord Himself assists such an actor to exhibit all the qualities of that person. So I observed that, and Prabhupada was extremely happy with these Vaikuntha Players. That was obvious at the end of the play.
Smriti Warrier: I didn’t get chastised, I didn’t get reprimanded for anything. He was always very kind to me. I think that’s what helped me love him more and do things more. And the time that he got sick and he came to Bombay, they wouldn’t let you go into his quarters. I was not used to that. I was used to walk in any time. I remember Tamal Krishna came in and he looked at me and I said, “They won’t let me go in and see Prabhupada.” Then he said, “He’s taking rest.” I said, “But I want to see him. He’s been here for so many days, I haven’t been able to see him.” So then he said, “You be very quiet, just go in and come out.” I remember going in there and Prabhupada was sleeping, and I just stood there for a few moments. I remember just standing there and looking at him. He was just lying there, and you didn’t see him feeling the pain. He was telling us he was very sick and his stomach hurt, but you didn’t see that. You saw him very calm and peaceful. And I just grabbed his feet and I ran. I don’t know if I woke him up or not, but I remember that I just grabbed his feet and I ran out. And that was the last time I saw Prabhupada.
May 1977: RISHIKESH, INDIA – Arrival, Cooking
Bhakti Caru Swami: When we arrived in Rishikesh, one of the first things Prabhupada wanted was to drink some water. So somebody gave him some water from the tap and Prabhupada said, “Did I come to Rishikesh to drink tap water?” So I just ran down to the river and got some water from the Ganges, and Prabhupada was very pleased to drink that straight from the river. Those days I was a brahmacari, I just got initiated a couple of months ago, and Prabhupada was very restful there. We were just a handful of devotees. One day I was cooking, and Prabhupada decided to teach us how to cook. He first asked me to cut the vegetables, and then he showed also how to cook basmati rice. The rice was just mixed with ghee, and Prabhupada told me not to even wash the rice, and then put it on the fire. And when the rice was cooked, every single grain was separate. And Prabhupada showed how to make the chapatis. One day was Ekadasi, and somehow we were not careful and we broke the Ekadasi. We took some grain for breakfast, and then we realized that it was Ekadasi. So I went and told Prabhupada. Prabhupada’s immediate reaction was “So, what can be done? You broke it, you took the grain.” But then he got very annoyed. He said, “Then what’s the point in having a pandit with us if he can’t even tell us when is the Ekadasi?” And Prabhupada said then observe the Ekadasi the next day. Although he didn’t break the fast, but Prabhupada that day also took grains with us. That shows his compassion for his disciples.
Tamal Krishna Goswami: In Rishikesh, Prabhupada was lecturing there, every evening giving a class. The famous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was also in Rishikesh at the time, and many of his teachers were coming to attend Prabhupada’s lectures. So at that point, Maharishi sent a note to Prabhupada saying that “Swamiji, I have heard that you are quite ill. Perhaps you should not exert yourself so much. Better not to lecture in the evenings.” Because he felt worried that so many of his teachers were listening to Prabhupada. One European lady was there, a very sweet lady, and she asked Prabhupada, “It’s very nice what you are preaching, but what are you doing for the suffering of the people of the world?” And you would think that Prabhupada would be very sensitive to her being an elderly European lady. Well, Prabhupada, he just exploded. He said, “What do you know about mercy? What do you understand about compassion? It is simply sentiment.” He said that “Your idea of giving some sort of relief to people’s suffering is like blowing air on a boil. It’s full of pus. The kind act you can do for such a person is to cut it.” So mercy means to cut through the ignorance that persons are under, and our preaching is based on this understanding that ignorance causes suffering and that to enlighten people is the way to free them from ignorance.
Bhakti Caru Swami: So everything was very wonderful in Rishikesh, and Prabhupada was very restful and we were having a wonderful time. Then all of a sudden one day there was this huge storm, and it looked so ominous. It was not only heavy rain but there was a storm, and the storm made some electric poles topple over in some place and electric supply got disrupted. And it became very cold also – cold, rainy and wind. And it was very eerie, ominous. In those days, I used to attend Srila Prabhupada from twelve to two. And it was around one o’clock Prabhupada just called me and he told me that “The time has come for me to die, and I want to die in Vrindavan. So make arrangements to take me to Vrindavan.” And it was such a shock as if it was a bolt from the blue. So that night only we packed everything up, and we decided to leave the next morning.
May – August 1977: VRINDAVAN, INDIA – Arrival, Translation
Bhakti Caru Swami: When Prabhupada arrived, the devotees were so happy. And when Prabhupada went to his room, all the devotees came in and there Prabhupada broke the news why he came. And I remember in a flash of a moment, their ecstasy was transformed into agony. Devotees started to cry. And understanding their feelings, Srila Prabhupada then started to console the devotees by explaining about the futility of our material existence. He quoted the verse dehino’smin yatha dehe, that it is just a matter of transmigrating from one body to another. Prabhupada called me when all the devotees left and he told me, “From now on, don’t cook for me. Don’t force me to eat anything.” He said, “What’s the use of eating when there is no appetite?” And I felt that Prabhupada is actually stopping to eat and drink like Pariksit Maharaj preparing to leave his body.
Rajendranandana das: Our gurukula wasn’t finished at that time, and we had rooms in the guesthouse on the third floor, top floor. I would go onto the roof of the guesthouse, and you could overlook onto the roof of Srila Prabhupada’s house. And in the evening they would set up a mosquito net for him and a lamp on his desk, and you could hear Prabhupada push the button, “click,” of his Dictaphone and then translate. And he would do that night after night. Who knows how late Srila Prabhupada would stay up translating even in his poor health. So it was very assuring to hear Srila Prabhupada in the still of Vrindavan in the night where you would hear a bell from some ashram ringing the time out or you would hear a peacock call. But in the stillness of the night, you would hear Srila Prabhupada translating his Bhagavatam for us and for the world.
Sarvamangala dasi: I went to Vrindavan and I was given the service of being Prabhupada’s secretary, and I got this room that overlooked Prabhupada’s roof. I had a bird’s-eye view from my little office. It was great. I remember looking out one time and there was a huge wind blowing, they call it the Loo, that bad wind. It’s really unhealthy and everybody goes indoors and buttons up their shutters, and Prabhupada just stayed outside translating. He kept trying the mike and putting it down and waiting for the wind to go down a bit, but he just had his chadar on even when it didn’t go and he just kept on translating.
Mokshalakshmi dasi: The most dramatic thing I remember of that period is when Srila Prabhupada left for London. He left at midnight. So all the devotees stayed up to say goodbye to Prabhupada because he was going off to the West to preach. As the car pulled off, it suddenly stopped; and it stopped in such a position that I was looking down at Srila Prabhupada and Prabhupada was looking up at me. He was on…at least one guesthouse mattress had been placed in the back of the Ambassador car, and he was lying on it. And I’ll never forget looking down at Prabhupada and Prabhupada looking at me because obviously his body was flesh and bones, but there he was going off to London to preach. And I was so shocked because he didn’t look like he should be going anywhere, but still his determination to preach and to please his devotees was far bigger than his desire to look after his own body. And that picture of Prabhupada has stayed in my mind all these years, Prabhupada’s determination.
Turya das: I remember standing in the alleyway there watching Prabhupada drive away. And when Prabhupada’s lights were no longer seen, I was reflecting about how Srila Prabhupada’s life’s energy was simply utilized for the purpose of helping others, benefiting others. It was not ever selfishly used but it was selflessly used, and this was Srila Prabhupada’s glory.
August – September 1977: BHAKTIVEDANTA MANOR, U.K. – Arrival, Room darshan, Programs in temple
Abhirama das: Srila Prabhupada was very happy to be here at this point in London because India had become most unpleasant. Just prior to leaving, the riot had occurred in Mayapur where Bhavananda had been arrested and other devotees had been arrested. Srila Prabhupada understood that they were actually looking for him, that they wanted to arrest him, and he was feeling very disgusted with India. He said, “What have I done? All they have done is harass me.” When he came into London he said, “Here everyone is so nice. Everyone has always been so helpful to me.” So we came into the Manor, into his rooms, and I remember sitting with him that day or the next day in the drawing room, and he was just appreciating how nice things were in the West. He said, “Everything in your Western countries is so nicely done. People are also so nice. Simply if they wouldn’t eat the cow. Isn’t there any other kind of meat they can eat besides the cow?”
Gopimata dasi: I was traveling. I intended to come to Europe to do street clowning with my girlfriend. In New York City, we met a sankirtan devotee who gave us a book and a record, Radha Krishna Album. And when we heard this music, I remember thinking that there is nothing I want to do besides find out what this means and meet the people who are singing this music. So we went to England. That was in March of ’77. So it was only four months later that the devotees said Srila Prabhupada is coming, and we all considered it a wonderful miracle that somehow or other we were actually going to be able to meet him. Many of the older devotees were pained to see him in that condition; but to me, it was the first time I saw him and he was so incredibly attractive. He was glowing like the sun, just so beautiful like the ripened fruit of tapasya. I had never experienced anyone who was exuding so much love. I was astonished. I had an interesting experience that while he was giving this first lecture, I was sitting back in a corner where I could see him but so many devotees around. But I had the strange feeling that while Prabhupada was speaking, he was looking directly at me and speaking to me. It was as if he had sat down in front of me and said, “My dear child, this is why you’ve been suffering in the material world, and now it’s time for you to go back home, back to Krishna. Come with me and I’ll take you home.” I felt pretty silly due to my big false ego thinking that I had received special attention. So after the lecture when I went out into the hallway, I overheard some devotee speaking that “Oh, I had this strange experience that Prabhupada was looking straight at me and speaking directly to me.” And then I heard another group of people speaking, and at least three or four different groups of devotees mentioned like this. I was stunned, “What kind of person is this?” It was also interesting while I was in this lecture, I had a unique feeling that Prabhupada was looking straight into my soul, that he was looking at my essential self and not at the person who I had previously thought I was, but looking through all the layers of my conditioning to see my true self, that I was an eternal spiritual living entity, a servant of Krishna. And that he would hold this realization of me so strongly, it felt as if that could bring me out of all those layers of conditioning to the point where I can also realize who I am. So because I was a latecomer and in one way felt unfortunate that I was only able to see Prabhupada in his very last days, in another way I felt like I received a wonderful benediction.
Adikarta das: He would sit on the chair in front of the Deities, and the kirtan went on for a long time. I remember Bhagavan, he was leading, but they were singing that tune, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. And so Prabhupada was sitting there watching and he was completely happy, it seemed, just listening to the kirtan. To me that was indicative of how important the kirtan is that Prabhupada, even though he was trying to write so many books and do so many things, but he still just sat down for an hour, he would just listen to the kirtan and nod his head. But he was completely happy. Everybody was dancing and he was swaying his head, and he looked very immersed in some kind of deep reverie.
Rucira dasi: And then he would be carried out and he would go up to the top landing, and they would turn him around and he would smile at everyone. And then he would go on up to his rooms. Everyone would bring news. When they would go in, they would come back out and tell you what was happening. But it was so different from any other time that Prabhupada had come in that you knew he was on a different platform. He stopped pretending to be on the madhyama-adhikari platform because he would just glorify…anyone who went inside, he would glorify everything that they’d done, “You were such a great help in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s movement.” And it was pretty incredible. That time was just so different.
Krishna Kshetra das: The atmosphere was, as it always was whenever Prabhupada was present, incredibly intense. But now it had a special intensity because it was more than clear that Prabhupada was making his last appearance for us in the West. What struck me was his having darshan of Radha-Gokulananda – no words spoken but simply his presence before the Deities, one had a clear sense that he is now simply reciprocating with the Deities and They are saying, “Yes, it’s that time.” And then after one or two days, the news came that Prabhupada was going to Bury Place. Prabhupada came into the temple and came before the Deities, and this time he took off his sunglasses. He had been keeping them on all the time, but this time in front of Radha-Londonisvara he took them off. One could see the tears streaming down his face. It was pretty amazing.