September – December 1969: LONDON, ENGLAND – Harinam, Rathayatra (Summer 1970)
Mandakini devi: That scene is one of the harinam we had daily going down Tottenham Court Road, and actually harinam was the life of the temple in Bury Place. It was a very wonderful temple, a very tight family. Actually the father and mother were Gurudas and Jamuna, and they were taking care of us in a very personal way.
Shyamasundara das: These are the devotees arriving from a concert tour in Germany. A group of devotees headed by Mukunda and Tamal went over there, and it looks like they’re coming back to London for the Rathayatra. After our Hare Krishna Mantra record was released in Europe, it became very popular to the point where we had an agent who was booking us concert tours all over Europe, especially England but in other countries too. We became so famous that we would put on these concerts with thousands of people in the audience who would pay to come and chant Hare Krishna and see this famous group called Radha Krishna Temple, and they would line up for autographs after the concerts. We used to go out to George’s house in Esher, just the six of us, for kirtan with George and his wife, and sometimes his friends would come over. On one occasion, George says, “You know, we ought to make a record.” One thing led to the other, and very quickly George called us into the studio and we did his Hare Krishna Mantra record. I should also mention that Mukunda and Gurudas and I always knew that we would be doing this. So from the time we got to London, we began acquiring instruments and practicing. We were a pretty practiced group so that by the time George discovered us, we already knew how to do this stuff pretty well. Jamuna with her voice and Mukunda, he was the lead musician, he had everything orchestrated. He played the harmonium, the drums, whatever was required. I acquired an esraj, which is an Indian instrument, a bowed instrument that sits in the lap, and you get that eerie violin-type sound. So we were already a group before we met George. We knew that when he met George that we must have some kind of a musical relationship. So we were already pretty well polished. So when we went into the recording studio to do this record, we did it in about an hour. The record was in the can in an hour. Paul McCartney was there, and he did a lot of the mixing in the control booth. This was an exceptionally ecstatic Rathayatra. This is the first real formal Rathayatra we had in London. We had one in 1969 where I built a cart. There were only the six original devotees plus a few English devotees. The cart collapsed a hundred feet after it got started at Marble Arch, caused one of the largest traffic jams in London history, and there was no one around to record that. This is really the first major Rathayatra in England, 1970, and there were so many devotees there. From all over Europe they came and from America even. One of the most ecstatic Rathayatras in London ever.
Mandakini devi: And harinam, we went, I believe, three times on harinam – in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening until night to Piccadilly Circus. When we were coming, it was to take a little prasadam or to see the aratik and to read Bhagavad-gita and whatever scriptures we have. So we were fully absorbed. So it was really our meditation, this harinam. We used to meditate on hearing and chanting the Holy Name, trying not to be distracted from all the crowd and all the shop windows, and actually we got so absorbed that everybody was feeling full of bliss and joy. When we first joined and Prabhupada saw us dancing with our nylon bright pink and blue saris, he was very kind. He said, “These young girls, they are just flowers blowing in the wind.”
Draupadi dasi: At that time, I was maintained…my family was selling hippie bells and beads on Oxford Street, and the devotees used to pass by on harinam. That was quite an interesting harinam sometimes. There used to be one devotee called Ishan and he was French Canadian, he used to play trumpet. He used to wear a dhoti and it was a leopard-skin-patterned dhoti, it wasn’t leopard skin. But they were quite a funny crowd, and they used to go down Oxford Street chanting and sometimes I joined on, once or twice. So finally then the record came out, the Hare Krishna record, and that one I used to play all day long at my little apartment. Then we heard the guru is coming. Prabhupada didn’t disappoint us, he arrived on time. Then I attended the first lecture in Conway Hall. Actually I didn’t understand anything that Prabhupada was saying really. A few little words I could get now and again, but I just sat there just drinking the vibration and the whole divine presence of his being. So by the time the interval came, I went to speak with the devotees and said, “OK, when can I join?” It was just enough to see Prabhupada one time. By the time he’d opened his mouth and by the time he’d closed his mouth was enough for me, and around a week later I moved into Tittenhurst Park. The devotees were living on John Lennon’s estate at that time, and so I arrived there. I got out of the van and the first person I saw was Malati, and she said, “Prabhupada’s in the temple room. Quick, quick! Prabhupada’s in the temple room.” So I ran down this path through the trees into the temple room and I entered into the doorway, and there I could see Srila Prabhupada and he was just blessing a newborn baby. It was the baby of Ishan. Ishan was holding out the baby to Prabhupada, and Prabhupada placed his hand on the baby’s head. Then Srila Prabhupada got down from the vyasasana, and he walked towards the doorway. I was just getting up from paying my obeisances, and Malati immediately said, “Prabhupada, these people are coming to Krishna consciousness.” I just looked up at Prabhupada and Prabhupada looked down at me and he said, “Hare Krishna!” and a big, big smile on his face. It was like at that time everything just went spinning. It seemed that I had been traveling through so many universes and so many lifetimes just to come to that point, to see my spiritual master and spiritual father and pure devotee of the Lord stood before me just looking at me in this first meeting. It was something really, really strong. So then one week later I got initiated, and it was during that initiation ceremony actually that I heard the four rules and regulations from the mouth of Srila Prabhupada himself for the first time. But that was OK with me because I just was magnetized and fixed on Prabhupada, “Yes, Prabhupada.” Anything Prabhupada said was OK, so no problem.
Yogeswara das: Part of satisfaction, of course, of a Rathayatra like this in those early days was just the mere miracle of having pulled it off. We really were just a handful of young people. There was also a certain sense of fulfilling of a mission, a prophecy, and that Srila Prabhupada had told us that this was Lord Chaitanya’s prediction. And the sense that we were a part of the fulfillment of that prediction was a very exciting thing, especially back in these days when Rathayatra was not an established annual event in every major city. This was a first. This was a very, very big accomplishment.
Yamuna dasi: Our sankirtan for Lord Jagannatha and for the Rathayatra Festival was, as you can see, completely ecstatic. Jagannatha was the center of our lives. The Lord Jagannatha came to us before Radha-Londonisvara came to us via Shyamasundara. Shyamasundara carved these beautiful deities and They, like in San Francisco, were the center of all the devotees’ lives. During prasadam, we used to even speak about Lord Jagannatha and Lord Jagannatha, Subhadra and Balarama’s beauty, and we would race up from prasadam just to sit at Their feet and sing jagannathah svami nayana-patha-gami bhavatu me. So by the time this event came, you can see how ecstatic the devotees are chanting. In some cases, it was the first time that devotees from all these three European countries were together in one place. London Rathayatra became so famous as the long walking yatra. Later Srila Prabhupada walked in great ecstasy, or danced in great ecstasy throughout the whole event. Srila Prabhupada commented about this Rathayatra. He said, “Make the deities so beautiful that everyone will be attracted to Them. Make it very opulent.” So that was the direction that we were heading was to try to make the deities visible for those that were witnessing Them for the first time, the passersby, and to increase the love of the devotees already familiar with the Lord. How nice to see people that would never have had access to Lord Jagannatha. So this was a real growth period in London. Just as there was a burgeoning of youth interested in spiritual life and breaking out of the mold of the ‘50s and ‘60s in the United States, this happened in London at the same time. So mostly through the Holy Name, the sankirtan, we attracted people. Sometimes it was prasadam, but mostly it was through sankirtan. Look at them, the crowds, just immense. And this is only after being in England for two years. The first year, 1968, we were the handful, ’69 it was increasing, and this is by ’70, not even a full two years. Of course, Srila Prabhupada’s arrival in 1969 was the catalyst. We were the seeds being planted, and he was the blossoming creeper of Lord Chaitanya’s love. And when he came, everything ignited like a firestorm! It was like a firestorm actually, with the thunder and the voracity and the speed of a firestorm.
Shyamasundara das: I remember he sent us several letters guiding us on Rathayatra, saying things like “I wish that I was there.” We knew we couldn’t expect him to be there, but he was with us. Don’t forget, this was the height of Krishna awareness in London. Everyone knew us. We were famous. The flashing billboards in the center of London, Leicester Square, everyone knew about the temple. We were part of the broad band culture of London at that time, 1970. George Harrison was our friend. John Lennon was our friend. All the famous people of England were aware of us. We were appearing in concerts. We were on the street every day, Oxford Street, and you can see by this time many people were curious to see, “What is this Hare Krishna phenomenon?” And more and more Indian people had joined us. At first they were very leery of what we were doing and they stayed away, they shied away. We had several core Indian families who were very, very helpful and very solid. Gradually the majority of Indian people in London began to understand that this was the real thing, that this was Vaisnavism. Nicely dressed gentleman. Prabhupada always used to say that only two places in the world a gentleman can live – India and England. He liked the higher level of culture in England. The bobbies everywhere. They were helping. They were helping move the deities. Afterwards they all said, the bobbies all said that was one of the most delightful public displays they’ve ever seen. Everyone was perfectly mannered. They got a little taste of the ecstasy themselves. All of the devotees were so enlivened in England in those days. It was such an ecstatic experience all the time. Things were humming. They had a play, “Civil Disobedience.” Not a great theme. We were children. We didn’t know much about tact and diplomacy, politics. We did this for Prabhupada because we knew he would be happy.
Yogeswara das: Dhananjaya playing the role of Chand Kazi’s men and Tribhuvanath was playing a styrofoam mrdanga, and we’re enacting the scene here where Chand Kazi and his henchmen are attacking Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtan party. The origins of the street chanting were 500 odd years ago in West Bengal when Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the most recent incarnation of Krishna, brought the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra into public. Here you see yours truly playing the role of Lord Chaitanya, albeit with contemporary microphone, and this was the enactment of a story that took place 500 years ago in India. Here we see Gurudas, one of the first six disciples of Srila Prabhupada to come to London to open a temple, leading the chanting. I suspect this is toward the end of the play where Lord Chaitanya has convinced the Kazi to allow the chanting to go on.
Shyamasundara das: The next day all the newspapers in London, all the front pages were filled with descriptions of the 1970 Rathayatra. They had never seen anything like this in London before. Normally when this many people would gather in public for a parade, it would be some protest march. This was a celebration. We sent clippings from the newspapers that covered this Rathayatra to Prabhupada, and he showed them to everyone. He said, “You see, my devotees have conquered London.”
July 1970: SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – Harinam, Arrival, Rathayatra, Departure
Madhudvisa das: Srila Prabhupada called San Francisco “New Jagannatha Puri.” So devotees would come from all over the world to attend the Rathayatra because Srila Prabhupada was there in attendance. There were no Rathayatras in Australia or Tokyo or Los Angeles, New York. So people would come from all over the world, and so it was a great occasion for the devotees to come together and celebrate that festival with Srila Prabhupada. This is in front of the 518 Frederick Street. This is right on the sidewalk in front of Frederick Street. Devotees painting the canopy and upholstering the asanas. This was the biggest festival that was ever held in ISKCON in the early days, 1970 Rathayatra. It was like this monster. Out of this little storefront, we created this huge publicity campaign and we mobilized the whole city of San Francisco.
Bhavananda das: All of this happened, all these three huge ratha carts, all generated out of this little teeny San Francisco center. You really couldn’t call it a temple, it was just a storefront. It was teeny. Imagine the energy, and there was no consideration of yourself. You just never thought about yourself, “Oh, I’m tired,” “Oh, I’m wet,” “Oh, I’m cold.” You just got on with it. You couldn’t disappoint Prabhupada.
Karnamrita das: At the time I was a new devotee, had been a devotee about four months. Of course, I had been hearing Prabhupada’s lectures and reading his books and listening to some of the recordings, and there was a lot of anticipation about Rathayatra in general. But the airport, when we went to the airport to greet him, there were so many devotees there and we were having this huge kirtan waiting for Prabhupada to come.
Sridhar Swami: I had joined in ’69 at 518 Frederick Street, but I couldn’t stay because I was a Canadian. So I went back up to Canada and moved into the temple in Vancouver, and I stayed there for six months. We came down for Rathayatra, and by that time I was really psyched up. You’re meeting the spiritual master of the universe, you’ve been wandering throughout the universe for millions of lifetimes, now with this meeting your karma, everything is going to be relieved. So I was quite excited.
Karnamrita das: We were waiting for the plane to come in, and Prabhupada was coming off the plane and he was walking up. It seemed like to me he was by himself. Maybe there were some devotees in the background, but the image I have is Prabhupada was walking up this plank and he had this very innocent expression. I had never really seen a person exemplify that kind of humility before because he was walking up and he had this expression as if to turn around and see who everyone had come to meet.
Bhavananda das: But I got all the temple presidents to spend $100 each and buy these white gardenias, those big beautiful highly scented gardenias. Each president stepped forward and gave him a huge white gardenia garland, just covered with gardenias.
Karnamrita das: His eyes were very penetrating, something about his eyes. It seems like Krishna bhakti comes from his eyes or something, but just for a second feeling his glance and just feeling the depth of that glance. And the intensity of emotion that everyone felt, we were just caught up. Everyone around me and myself, tears were just coming from our eyes and just seeing a person who had characteristics that I had never experienced before and feeling the intensity of the kirtan, it was very moving to this day.
Bhavananda das: We used to be able to do that – go into an airport and just rock it down. Everything was for Prabhupada. We didn’t know anything else, we didn’t know anyone else. We were like clean slates. He taught us everything. We had no outside influence. Look at that. He’s dancing right in the airport. Why? Because he got a wonderful welcome and the devotees were so enthusiastic. So you reciprocated, and the more you could do for him the more he would reciprocate in kind.
Madhudvisa das: That’s the lot. Three carts are being built in that lot. This is where Srila Prabhupada came to visit the Rathayatra cart, and he amazed all the devotees. He just laid out flat on the dirt and paid his obeisances to the Rathayatra cart and he said, “The ratha is as good as the deity.” You can see, Jayananda and Nara Narayan are there.
Nara Narayan das: Here it is the moment of truth actually. You see, we’re pulling the Rathayatra cars out into the street more or less in front of the temple on 518 Frederick Street. I’m in the middle of all of this because I figured if anyone’s going to get squashed, I’m the designer and architect, I should be the one to get squashed. When we had finally built them and realized how massive they were, we were scared stiff as to what would happen when we took them off the blocks and started rolling them down the hill. We thought they would continue to roll and go right through the temple door and out the back and down into the Bay. I might add, it had no brakes whatsoever and, therefore, if it had gotten away, it would have gotten away. What we did with the paint was we used natural earth pigments. I took deep tone latex base and mixed the pigments with water and had it shaken up at the paint place. So what we did was we used the same pigmentation that they use in Jagannatha Puri. You see how many men it was required to brake the Rathayatra car. All of this was designed and built custom within a matter of a few weeks. I think we had about six or eight weeks in which we built everything from scratch, and we were able to acquire lumber. We spent very little cash for lumber. Most of it was acquired from donation and wood that was left inadvertently lying around.
Bahulasva das: Srila Prabhupada sent Nara Narayan up to design the carts. I remember one meeting that Nara Narayan was walking around the room holding his head, and Srila Prabhupada said what was the matter because you could see Nara Narayan was in anxiety. He told Srila Prabhupada that he needed special empowerment, he felt he needed a special empowerment in order to do these carts, and he told Prabhupada it had to come in a name. So Prabhupada told him, “All right, for this now you have become Viswa Karma, the architect of the universe.” Nara Narayan lit up, and that was all he needed to get his inspiration for figuring out how to build all the three carts because he had to invent the scopes for the domes coming down.
Nara Narayan das: The tops were designed so that the whole Rathayatra car could slip under a 15-foot-high overpass. So the entire part came down. We had it all designed the year before, we just took a pole and lowered it down, but that cart was only 35 feet tall. These were over 60 feet tall. So we just were building it, we didn’t think. Then Srila Prabhupada was in Los Angeles, he happened to talk to Tamal and said, “And how is the lowering mechanism going to be designed?” Tamal said, “Oh, Nara Narayan is working on that. He knows all about it. He’s a genius engineer, he can do it.” So Srila Prabhupada said to Tamal, “So who is checking on Nara Narayan?” Tamal said, “Oh, you don’t have to check on Nara Narayan, he knows what he’s doing.” And Prabhupada said, “Why not ask?” So Tamal phoned up, he said, “Ha, ha, ha, I hate to ask you this, I mean, it’s so silly, but how are you doing the mechanism, how is it raising up?” We said, “Well, we’re just…we’re…uh…” We hadn’t thought of how to do it. So Locan, myself, Madhudvisa and Jayananda, we all sat there for four days without sleeping, day and night, not able to figure out how to raise the top. Finally, somehow or other it came to me how to make this telescoping tube that could be raised up in increments, which is sort of the model that’s been used ever since except it’s been made much more sophisticated since then, much better design. Then Prabhupada said sternly, “No one should ever be in charge completely of something, there should be committee to make sure.” Because Prabhupada, if anyone, had tremendous confidence in what I could do and Tamal had complete confidence in what I could do, and yet I had made the biggest blunder that could have destroyed the whole festival if we had not stopped and worked that out.
Prafullamukhi dasi: When he first came to the temple, I wasn’t very conscious of who he was because I was a brand new devotee. He came into the temple room, and everyone paid their obeisances. When everyone had their heads down, I looked up at Srila Prabhupada and he laughed, he smiled at me. It was the first realization that I ever had, that he was the first person that had ever loved me. That was very clear, that he was the first person in my life that had ever loved me and that he knew clearly who I was and everything about me. I felt he saw right through me, not in a bad way, not like saw through my artificiality, but saw who I really was. That was a very special thing. Then everyone sat down and he spoke a little bit, and then someone brought him a plate of sweets. I remember he took a gulabjamon and he tossed it in his mouth from his lap, and I remember thinking that was so incredible. I’ve tried it in the past and it just lands on my forehead or over my shoulder, but it was so incredible to watch him. Everything he did was so perfect and aristocratic.
Nara Narayan das: Oh, these are the horses. This is interesting. My father made the horses. My father was a dramatic Holocaust survivor. His heart had flames coming out of it from the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto. And so he built these horses. He painted them with fire and with smoke – they looked as though they were smoldering – and he put them on the front of the Rathayatra cars, which was quite a contribution, four for each Rathayatra car. I wanted to engage him, so I asked him to do it. But when I saw the horses, I was absolutely horrified. They looked like horses of the apocalypse coming out of hell. So my father was very proud of them, they were rather dramatic horses. My parents, I should say, were separated for 40 years. So my mother was also at the Rathayatra Festival, and my mother and father hadn’t seen each other for maybe five years. My mother walks up and said, “Who has made these horses?” She recoils in horror seeing these smoldering, burned, crazed horses with wild rolling eyes. “Who has made these horses?” I look at her and say, “Uh, my dad made them.” She said, “Well, this will never do!” So she went and grabbed buckets of paint and painted them all up with a nice merry-go-round design, caparisoned and white and clean and healthy-looking horses. And they looked at these horses together and they sort of felt, “Yes, this is what we’ve done to honor our son’s choice,” and I could see that they both felt great satisfaction. From my perspective as a budding transcendentalist, two years in the movement, I thought, “This is their devotional service. This is the moment that was created for them by Lord Krishna to accomplish something in their lives and to give my brother and myself permission to go forward with the power of the pitris behind us.”
Brahmananda das: I got the Krsna Bookpublished in Japan by Dai Nippon. I had to go there to supervise. This was the first book with color photos. This was very special. The windows to the spiritual world. I went there in I think it was May, and I told Dai Nippon…I met with all the executives…that there was a festival in July and I wanted to bring the finished book to the festival in San Francisco. So it meant they had two months to produce the book and they said, “Impossible.” I said, “Well, there is no impossible. You have to do it because I want to present the book to the spiritual master at the festival.” They said, “Well, it’s impossible, but anyway we’ll try.” So they worked so hard, and I would go every day and push them. Every day I would ask them, “Are you going to have it ready? Are you going to have it ready?” They’d say, “It’s impossible, it’s impossible.” Then I booked my return flight to arrive in San Francisco the day of Rathayatra, and actually they didn’t have it ready. I said, “This is going to have serious repercussions for our future business with you” and so on, and then I went to the airport. So as I was walking up the stairs to get on the plane, this big black limousine drove out onto the tarmac, it had flags on it. Dai Nippon was one of the largest companies in Japan, they printed Timemagazine and everything. This long black limousine and it comes right to the airplane, and out come all the Dai Nippon executives in their blue suits. There were about five of them. So I went down and they were all bowing from the waist, and they gave me this carton. The stewardess is saying, “Come on, you’ve got to get on the plane, we’ve got to take off.” So I just took the carton, I thanked them and got on the plane. I couldn’t wait for the plane to take off. I tore open the carton, and there is this silver shining KrsnaBook. It was so ecstatic. Then I start going through the book and looking at everything, the pictures and how it all turned out, and there was this man next to me. He was a business executive, American, and he saw me. He said, “What do you got there?” I said, “Oh, this is my spiritual master, I printed the book in Japan, it’s the first book.” He said, “How much is it?” And I said…whatever I said, “Ten dollars” or something, which was a good amount in those days. He said, “OK, I’ll take it.” So then I came to San Francisco, went right away to Prabhupada’s apartment. I brought in the carton, presented the book to Prabhupada. Prabhupada was so pleased and he said, “How many copies do you have?” I said, “Well, there were 20 but now there’s only 19.” He said, “Oh, only 19? What happened to the other one?” I said, “Well, I sold it on the plane to the person next to me.” Prabhupada said, “Oh, very good, this is very auspicious that the first copy was distributed.” Then he ordered, he said, “All these books,” there were only 19 of them. He said, “These should all be distributed at the Rathayatra.” And then the one that he had in his hand, he said, “And this one also.”
Madhudvisa das: You couldn’t see the deities until They were on the ratha cart. That was one of our technicalities that we thought had to be there, that no one should view the deities until…it was like looking at prasadam before you offer it. So nobody’s going to see the deities until They get on the Rathayatra cart. And then when They were all up on the cart, then They would be revealed in all Their magnificence.
Turya das: I think there were some disturbances going on, and Prabhupada had given Vishnujan the Nrsingha prayers. Vishnujan had just been up with Prabhupada and came down and we were on the street right in front of the temple, and Vishnujan said to all of us that Prabhupada had given him this mantra for protection of the festival and right on the street he taught us. I think this is the first time we chanted the Nrsingha prayers.
Brahmananda das: Myself and Gargamuni and others there, we did not want Prabhupada to go to the Rathayatra Festival. What happened is that we got threats. The Black Panthers sent word that “We’re going to attack your guru if you hold this festival,” and they were very credible threats. So we were afraid. So we told Prabhupada that “You shouldn’t go to the festival,” but Prabhupada couldn’t accept it. First of all, he didn’t care so much about threats. But second, it was just inconceivable that Prabhupada would not go to the Rathayatra and Prabhupada insisted on going, and I was insisting Prabhupada not go. So Prabhupada insisted, “You must take me.” So Gargamuni was driving the car. He drove very slowly and he took a very roundabout route in order to arrive late at the festival.
Nara Narayan das: Things started out well, but they quickly got worse. One of the carts had a certified weld that cracked, and Balarama’s car was out of commission. The newspapers wrote an articled called “Harried Krishna.” That was just after we were attacked by the Black Panthers. So they had all these Black Panthers all in afros, black T-shirts and black pants and they attacked with some martial arts. So Brahmananda and others were fighting them. We had poles to keep people from getting crushed under the Rathayatra cars, very beautifully decorated poles. So we used these poles to fend them off. My father was dressed like an Old Testament prophet of old with his white beard, and he stood there and he had a staff and he was crashing it onto the ground crying, “Tolerance! Tolerance! Tolerance!” We marched literally seven miles to the sea. At one point, there were cars parked on either side. I cried out, “Move the cars!” and 25 people would grab each car and just send it skittering. Subhadra’s cart had an interesting miracle attached to it as well. What happened is we came along and Shyamasundara had used a piece of malleable iron as the axle for Subhadra’s cart, and it had started to get worn through after two years of Rathayatras, which we weren’t aware of. So we warned everyone not to ride on Subhadra’s cart because we were worried about it not being strong, but guess what? People got on anyhow and the wheel bent almost horizontal. We thought, “Oh, no, we’ve lost Balarama’s cart, now we’ve lost Subhadra’s cart. What on earth are we going to do?” So it suddenly occurred to me and I said, “Wait a minute, I want 50 people to lift Subhadra’s cart,” and 50 people rushed forward and lifted Subhadra’s cart. “And I want another 50 people to grab the wheel and bend it down again,” and they did. They came and they took the wheel and that piece of iron that was two-and-a-half inches thick, they just bent it back again so the wheel was perfectly vertical.” Then I said, “Now I want another 50 people to guard it so nobody gets on,” and nobody got on.
Madhudvisa das: When Prabhupada arrived at Rathayatra in the middle of Golden Gate Park, all of the devotees stopped. Srila Prabhupada was supposed to give a lecture at the beginning of the Rathayatra Festival; but because there was some disturbance at that time, Prabhupada delayed his arrival and he entered Golden Gate Park up the road about a mile or so from the beginning and then walked back towards the Rathayatra cart and took everybody by surprise. Prabhupada had many garlands that were given to him and he took one of his garlands off and he looked for Jayananda and he garlanded Jayananda with the flower garland that was given to him, making that benediction to Jayananda. Prabhupada began to dance in a circle, and you see Prabhupada’s flowing robes. Bhavananda picked out the fabric for that cloth.
Bhavananda das: I saw this really nice shimmery peach silk satin cloth, but it was actually an upholstery cloth. But it was beautiful, so I wanted that. So I bought that, and I insisted…Madhudvisa was tearing his sikha out…I insisted on buying real pearls. I wanted to make real pearl buttons and a real pearl button on the side…you know, the little strap that goes under his chin on his Prabhupada hat…a real pearl there. So Madhudvisa, mumbling and grumbling, gave me the money. And when Madhudvisa brought the cloth over, Prabhupada looked at it and said, “As you dress me, so I shall dance.” It was wonderful.
Makhanlal das: He gave instructions about the dancing, I know that, for that year. I think it was 1970 that he told the devotees how to dance, in front of the deities specifically, based on the descriptions that are in the Chaitanya-caritamrta. At that time, the Chaitanya-caritamrtawas not available. In one group, Lord Nityananda would be the dancer in front of one chariot. In another chariot, I think it was Advaitacarya may have been the dancer. Like that. It was basically for the pleasure of the deity, then you have an ecstatic dancer. Not to impress the crowd but, in Krishna consciousness, for the specific pleasure of the deity.
Madhudvisa das: Prabhupada was showing the devotees that he liked to dance, not just the Swami step but jumping up and down. That was a new revelation. He introduced that at La Cienega Boulevard temple. At the temple, he had introduced the jumping. Before, the Swami step was the conservative dance step that was used by everybody. But when Prabhupada started to jump at the La Cienega Boulevard temple in Los Angeles, that’s when jumping became part of the choreography of the temple.
Revatinandan das: At the start of the procession we had speakers on Subhadra’s car, and Jivananda and I and a couple other devotees were sitting in the back with microphones to have kirtan over the microphone. Then Prabhupada sent word back that he didn’t want the speakers anymore and he just wanted kirtan parties in the crowd like in India. So Jivananda and I turned the speakers off, hopped out and started doing kirtan.
Nara Narayan das: We marched literally seven miles to the sea. Nobody thought of complaining or why don’t we have buses to take us or something. People marched seven miles to the sea; and when they got there at the Family Dog Auditorium, which was run by Chet Helms who did all the Janis Joplin and Grateful Dead concerts and Moby Grape and Quicksilver and all that…there are those horses again…he let us use that place, and there were 10,000 people waiting at the beach who hadn’t wanted to go through the ordeal of marching.
Narada Muni das: I was helping to cook, and then I went down to the Family Dog Auditorium, where Srila Prabhupada was going to come after. There were so many people that would participate actually that we filled the Family Dog Auditorium and simultaneously the beach was also filled with people, and we were distributing prasadam in both places, big kirtans were going on in both places. I was in the Family Dog when Srila Prabhupada arrived, and it was just so wonderful. Srila Prabhupada was such a swan amongst men, and he floated into the Family Dog Auditorium. There were literally thousands and thousands of hippies present, and they were all in their full regalia because this was a big event for them. So just ordinarily, in that day, people’s dress was interesting enough. But for this Rathayatra Festival, they really decked themselves out. Many dressed as Radha and Krishna and similar costumes like that. So Srila Prabhupada came amongst this. He walked onto the stage, and he looked out amongst the throngs of hippies and he smiled. Then he said, “I have come to make all the hippies into happies.” That evoked a tremendous tumult of transcendental roaring from all the devotees that were present and everyone got swept away in this wave, this tidal wave of ecstasy that was coming from Srila Prabhupada’s heart, and danced for hours and hours and hours. Vishnujan would be chanting and swooning, and then he would cry out, “Chant and dance, and when you’re tired take prasadam! And then come and chant and dance some more!” And that’s literally what went on for hours and hours and hours.
Jagatarini dasi: There were so many unusual people there and Srila Prabhupada explaining that the people in general had become hippies because they were disillusioned with modern society; but if they didn’t find any guidance, then they would end up in a more difficult situation than the one that they had actually left. And he urged all of these drug-taking hippies to take up his message of Krishna consciousness and actually become first-class human beings. It was an amazing experience for me. I think it was what cemented my understanding that I should stay within the Krishna consciousness family.
Gour Hari das: They assigned duties to everyone, and I was to be in charge of making the feast with the idea of feeding between five and ten thousand people, maybe more. So undaunted…I had never really cooked for large amounts of people…but in those days, we could climb Mount Everest and not be tired. Prabhupada’s energy was just driving the movement so powerfully that if we were given a duty to do, it was nothing. It was a feast actually that Prabhupada requested. There was so much prasadam there, we had gotten truckloads of watermelons donated so at the end we just stopped slicing the watermelons and just started giving whole watermelons to take home with them or to serve out.
Badrinarayan das: It was the Family Dog Auditorium. I think it used to be the Shrine Auditorium, it was the Family Dog Auditorium. Bhavananda had gotten a bunch of barbecue grills and filled them with briquettes and bags and bags of frankincense incense, so the whole place was just billowing with frankincense incense. But I remember that a bunch of the Hell’s Angels followed us. They got their fighting spirit out of them, and they followed the carts. So when we got to the Family Dog Auditorium…Prabhupada came on the stage a little bit later, we were all inside the auditorium. When Prabhupada came in, all the devotees bowed down; and there was something so magnanimous and also heavy about Prabhupada’s presence that so many other people bowed down. It’s not an unusual occurrence that people would just instinctively bow down, that here’s a saintly person. I remember that it was a wood floor and when they bowed down, there was a couple of Hell’s Angels next to me and their chains and billy clubs and everything fell out and hit the floor; and I was thinking how when all the Lord Brahmas all bowed before Krishna, all their helmets. So was thinking that Prabhupada in Kali-yuga, even the Hell’s Angels with all their billy clubs and helmets and everything. And Prabhupada started the lecture…it was the most amazing thing because they were hippies and college students from UC Berkeley and San Jose State, and then there were these Hell’s Angels and there were Black Panthers, it was just such a montage. And Prabhupada started off his lecture by saying, “My dear frustrated youth of America…”
Bahulasva das: When Prabhupada danced, when we had kirtan inside the Family Dog and Srila Prabhupada danced, it was very hard to even express what it was like. Everybody, the crowd went ecstatic. Not just devotees, all the people there were crying in ecstasy. It was a miraculous event. Prabhupada looked like he floated. It appeared that his feet weren’t even touching the stage. Then after the event, we had a little apartment for Srila Prabhupada that was just off of Frederick Street where Prabhupada was staying when he came up. We drove up there, and Prabhupada was sitting in the car and the door was open. I was standing there with Jayananda, and Madhudvisa knelt down at Srila Prabhupada and said to Srila Prabhupada was he pleased with the festival; and Prabhupada grabbed Madhudvisa’s head and pulled it over on his lap and rubbed his head like this and said, “I loved it!” And all of the devotees went crazy over that. It looked like Ramacandra and Hanuman, he looked just like Hanuman kneeling in front of Lord Ramacandra. The whole thing just looked so regal.
Turya das: Prabhupada was so happy about the Rathayatra Festival and the success of it. He was just going on and on. He was saying, “Why have we done all this? Why have we put out all this energy to put on this festival?” He began to speak that this is the compassion of the Vaisnava. For the purpose of benefiting others, the Vaisnava goes to such great lengths to see to the preaching of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He said, “This is Vaisnavism, this is Vaisnavism,” twice he said, and actually tears began to come to his eyes. And as tears came to his eyes, he couldn’t speak anymore. “This is Vaisnavism,” as he thought of the success of the Rathayatra. So being unable to speak anymore, he actually just waved his hand for everyone to leave. I realized that I was going back to Hawaii very soon, so I let everyone leave and I was the last one and I paid my obeisances. Prabhupada saw me there and he pointed to his servant, at that time it was Karttikeya Maharaja, to give me the garland from his deities. So he put it upon me and I realized that in this moment of Srila Prabhupada’s extraordinary compassion, I was getting his mercy in the form of that garland and paid my obeisances and left.
Narada Muni das: I remember in the airport after the ecstatic greeting and kirtan there were some reporters there, and this reporter kept asking Srila Prabhupada when it was that he realized God. Srila Prabhupada, as we know, would never ever put himself forward or take credit. He was always a humble servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of the most intimate devotees of Krishna. So Srila Prabhupada would just explain to the person that anyone can realize God and how God is there in the transcendental sound of His Holy Name. So Srila Prabhupada was trying to give him some philosophical understanding. But the man was very persistent and he kept inquiring, “But you, Swamiji, when did you first realize God?” So Srila Prabhupada smiled and he said, “I first realized God when I was 5 years old.” Of course, Srila Prabhupada then said, “Actually there was never time when I did not remember God.” So we know that, that Srila Prabhupada displayed the symptoms of a pure devotee from birth. He talks about that in the Bhagavatam and how his symptoms also of holding Rathayatra and worshipping Radha-Krishna, these are symptoms of a liberated soul coming into this material world just for the purpose of delivering the conditioned souls. So here Srila Prabhupada confirmed his full God realization from inception in this material world.
Deena Bandhu das: Those were the old days before terrorism, so we just used to take these huge monster kirtan parties right into the airport. Then Prabhupada came, and I guess there was a press conference. I remember I was standing right next to Prabhupada, and I just remember I was looking at Prabhupada and suddenly my heart started fluttering and I felt the most incredible ecstasy. And I’ve never before or since felt that ecstasy as I was standing there looking at Prabhupada.
July – August 1970: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Temple at Watseka Avenue, Departure for India, ISKCON temple activities
Jagatarini dasi: We would all do like that. We were each given a flower and then we would give it to him, and Srila Prabhupada would give us a flower in exchange. Occasionally he would stop and say something to one of the devotees, and we were all hoping that he would stop and say something to us. I remember I had been staying there in the temple for about two weeks, and one day he stopped and when I offered my flower he said to me, “Oh, you are new here,” and I said, “Yes.” He said, “Are you happy here?” and I said, “Yes.” He said, “Very good.” I took the flower and he continued. But it was very exciting. That was the most exciting part of the day is we’d all line up kneeling on either side of the entranceway into the temple. The children would run down the middle and Srila Prabhupada would show them some extra affection and play with them a little bit, show them different flowers until they found one they liked. He was always very, very affectionate with the children.
Dayananda das: The exchange of flowers that started in Los Angeles after Prabhupada came back from his morning walk was just one of the sweetest and most memorable exchanges that I’ve ever had in my Krishna conscious career with Prabhupada. Prabhupada would go on the morning walk, and typically he would go to Venice but not always, Venice Beach. Then when he returned, prior to the greeting of the deities, the devotees would be prepared for him in two lines and all the children would be there. It was such a sweet time and everybody was so happy that it’s so obvious that the children also enjoyed the whole thing. The whole atmosphere was completely enjoyable and family-like, this wonderful, wonderful exchange of flowers with Prabhupada. This was going on outside the temple. We could have done it inside the temple or something, but it was just there being done as Prabhupada dismounted from the car and we were right there on the street and greeting Prabhupada right when he first arrived there.
Sukadev das: Prabhupada got out of his car and as he got out of his car, Prabhupada had his foot there and Dinanath hopped down, grabbed Prabhupada’s foot, had Prabhupada’s foot in his hand, and he was kissing Prabhupada’s feet. And I’m a new devotee, “He’s kissing his feet!” The feet are considered to be the most objectionable part of the body, not something that you would bend down and kiss. I’m looking down and Dinanath just completely ignored any kind of social convention, he had no concern for what anyone was thinking. He was just kissing Prabhupada’s feet and I couldn’t believe it, and Prabhupada just let him do it. I just thought, “I can’t believe it, he’s kissing his feet!” But Dinanath got the mercy.
Narada Muni das: Srila Prabhupada was so personal in his dealings with the devotees, and that was one aspect that was so attractive to people in the early days of the Krishna consciousness movement. You see how Srila Prabhupada, he always relished reciprocating love with his devotees. It simply wasn’t Srila Prabhupada asking for service or demanding things from his followers, but Srila Prabhupada always wanted to give back. And when Prabhupada would come to the temple in L.A., I always think that such a nice example of that was how Srila Prabhupada would reciprocate with us in this bhakti, this exchange of love, by giving flowers to the devotees as we would line up along the pavement. It was very sublime because Srila Prabhupada, he was never rushed. We would give him a flower, and then Srila Prabhupada would give us a flower. I always think how Srila Prabhupada said that love is an exchange of feeling, you need two for love. I remember sometimes when we would give a flower and then he would give one back, Prabhupada would just stand there so when we bowed down we could put our head right on Srila Prabhupada’s feet. He always had this very ecstatic, blissful smile, and you could see that Srila Prabhupada loved us in such a way that was practically incomprehensible because he saw us as these lost particles of spirit soul from Lord Krishna and he was so happy to play a part in bringing us back to Krishna’s lotus feet. That’s me, whoa. So this was a real highlight in my life of being able to get a flower from Srila Prabhupada and give a flower back to Srila Prabhupada. So simple yet so sublime. There was always one devotee who would block Srila Prabhupada’s walkway, his pathway into the temple just so he could get to ask Srila Prabhupada for his mercy or to say something to Srila Prabhupada, and Prabhupada never ever got disturbed or agitated that this person was being so bold in his approach. He would always just shake his head wonderfully or touch the devotee on his head with a blessing. So we all felt that this was a very special time where Srila Prabhupada was really giving us a blessing; and when he was handing us this flower, it was like Prabhupada was touching our heart with that flower, that soft lotus petal of his flower-like glance.
Dayananda das: Shortly after this exchange, everybody would follow Prabhupada into the temple and there was the greeting of the deities. Prior to this, at least in Los Angeles, I don’t think that there was really a formal greeting of the deities ceremony. So I believe this basically introduced the greeting of the deities ceremony as we know it today, at least it certainly did in Los Angeles. And then typically on many mornings, Shilavati would fill the deity room with frankincense, clouds of frankincense. Then when she opened the doors, the frankincense would often billow out into the temple and there would be this cloud of frankincense, which also to me was very mystical, and Prabhupada bowing down. Then afterwards he took caranamrita, and then he would proceed to his vyasasana. I remember Vishnujan leading us in the Samsara Prayers. One time Prabhupada, at the end of the singing of the Samsara Prayers, said very gravely, “samsara-davanala-lidha-loka,” he said the whole first verse and he said, “What is the meaning?” And everybody was stunned because…probably a few devotees knew, but after being quizzed like that from Prabhupada, nobody knew. Then one person recited the English meaning of the verse, but Prabhupada then said that we should all know what the meaning was.
Danavir Goswami: It wasn’t too long after I joined that the Govinda Prayers started to be played in the morning. The album had come from England, that Radha Krishna Temple album. Just one morning it happened. It seemed quite spontaneous that the deity doors opened up and the Govinda Prayers went on, and Prabhupada went through his normal offering his dandavats in front of each altar. But when he went around and he sat on the vyasasana, tears were coming down his face. He was so pleased by the Govinda Prayers, and he wasn’t able to speak for some time.
Narada Muni das: We were celebrating I believe it was the Appearance Day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaja, and Srila Prabhupada gave a lecture and he was saying how he had not done any service for his spiritual master. And he was thanking all of us, implying that without us his service couldn’t have been rendered when in actuality it was only by Prabhupada’s mercy that we were able to render any service. So he said, “Because I have nothing to offer to my Guru Maharaja, I am going to offer all of you.” And then Srila Prabhupada went and he performed arati to the deities, and he offered us to his spiritual master. I don’t know exactly the spiritual process, but I definitely felt the result of Srila Prabhupada’s kindly connecting us with his Guru Maharaja. Then after arati Srila Prabhupada turned and started dancing, and the word can’t really be understood in terms of what Srila Prabhupada was manifesting. It was more like when Lord Chaitanya is described when He was dancing in a circle like a firebrand, it was one continuous movement. Srila Prabhupada was hopping up and down across the temple room back and forth; and the entire place where we were, the whole space, was immediately transported to another dimension. We were really out of the material world. I was a very young devotee, and I remember to this day my crying, tears running down my face, and realizing how Srila Prabhupada was actually entering into our hearts and he was cleaning them, he was purifying us so that someday in the future we would actually be able to render devotional service.
Laxmimoni dasi: We were sitting in Srila Prabhupada’s room, and Prabhupada had just had an arati for his little Radha and Krishna deities. He had music of himself singing playing, and Prabhupada was playing kartals. We were sitting next to him. And then when the arati was over, Jagadish handed Srila Prabhupada a letter from Dharmaraj prabhu requesting initiation. So Prabhupada said he could get initiated. Then he turned to Jagadish and he said, “Do you know how to perform this fire sacrifice for the initiation ceremony?” and Jagadish said no, he didn’t know how. So Prabhupada instructed someone in the room to give Jagadish instructions on how to perform the fire yajna for the initiation. At that time he said, “You have to know how to do this ceremony because someday you will have disciples of your own.” He looked at me and I was in my eighth month of pregnancy and he said, “Just like before she was not mature, but now she has become mature and she is having children of her own. So in the same way, someday you will also have children of your own.”
Mahatma das: When it was my turn, I was called up to Prabhupada’s vyasasana. And then he didn’t chant the whole mantra. What he did was chant word by word in my ear. Then after that, he took the thread and put it on my shoulder and he patted me on the shoulder and he was smiling. I was thinking, “This is encouraging,” and I was feeling like he was happy that I’d become a brahmana and also perhaps felt that I was qualified and that’s why he was smiling and encouraging me. But I also felt that he was happy that he was making brahmanas, that he felt his movement was expanding, that now someone who had taken first initiation six months earlier was given brahminical initiation because he was following the process, the process was working. And I think this indicated to Prabhupada the future success of his movement, and I think that’s why he was encouraged and that’s why he was smiling – that he felt that he’s able to make brahmanas out of Westerners, and these brahmanas are needed in society to spread Krishna consciousness.
Brahmananda das: At this time, there was what Prabhupada considered to be the minimization of the spiritual master by the leaders, mostly from myself. I was the most infected with this I’d say jealousy of the spiritual master. At this visit to Los Angeles, things were going wrong – from ISKCON Press, which I was in charge of. The books were printed, Prabhupada’s title was not properly put. It was just A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, “His Divine Grace” had been left out. Even one book, one of the Bhagavatam chapters, just had A.C. Bhaktivedanta – even the “Swami” was removed. I presented Prabhupada a book from ISKCON Press from Boston that we printed, and he opened the book and the binding just snapped right off. And this was in the temple when the formal presentation was made. When he went in the temple and he took the caranamrita, and then he stopped and said, “It is salt.” Then on the altar, they had placed the acharya photos…I think it was Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s photo was placed upside down. To cure me of my disobedience and jealousy, Prabhupada ordered me to take sannyasa and that sannyasa would be a cure because I had give up all my position. I was in charge of the Press and New York temple, that had to all be given up. Sannyasa is a purification. I had no choice in the matter. Prabhupada just came down the stairs and just stood over me as I was bowing down and said, “Tridandi Goswami Brahmananda Swami,” and then walked out.
Danavir Goswami: When we would come back through the alley, we would stop right beneath Prabhupada’s room and his window and we would continue chanting there until Prabhupada came to the window and traditionally he would wave. On one particular day, we were out there chanting and Prabhupada looked out the window and waved. And then he told Karandhar, “Don’t involve them in this,” and he was speaking about the controversy that was going on with the sannyasis. He said, “Don’t involve them in this, they are innocent.”
Narada Muni das: I remember when Srila Prabhupada was getting ready to leave Los Angeles to go back to India and he wasn’t feeling well; and that’s when Srila Prabhupada spoke to us for the first time about vani and vapu, how vani is a much more intimate association with the spiritual master than just associating with his physical form. But being absorbed in both hearing and executing his instructions and his teachings links the disciple in a much more intimate way with the spiritual master, in an eternal way rather than a temporary way. So Srila Prabhupada spoke on that and, of course, it was very encouraging to hear it, but at the same time it was very sad as we felt great separation.
Brahmananda das: Part of Prabhupada’s leaving America, going back to India, is that there were the circumstances of myself and some others that were so offensive that Prabhupada wanted to leave, but another aspect is that he did not want to leave. There is a conversation, it’s in the Conversations, Prabhupada talks about how Lord Dwarakadisa wanted Prabhupada to go back to India, and Prabhupada didn’t want to go. Prabhupada didn’t want to go because his spiritual master had given him the Western world to preach in, and Prabhupada considered that his godbrothers, they were given India to preach in. So there was no need for him to be in India. And furthermore, that he had just gotten the Watseka Avenue facility and he wanted to develop that as the World Headquarters for the Hare Krishna Movement. But in this conversation, Prabhupada says that “Lord Dwarakadisa ordered me to go.” He said, “I was talking with the Deity and I was arguing with Lord Dwarakadisa that ‘I don’t want to go,’ and Lord Dwarakadisa was commanding me to go, that ‘I want you to go.’” And Prabhupada was saying, “But I have this very nice temple and I want to develop it.” And Lord Dwarakadisa said, “All right. I want you to go to India, that if you go to India I will give you a temple that is better than this Watseka.” Prabhupada couldn’t refuse that and Prabhupada said, “All right.” Then, of course, Prabhupada came to India, and Prabhupada got the Krishna-Balarama Mandir.
Ujjala dasi: When Srila Prabhupada was leaving at the airport, my son Gopal was 3 years old and he sat next to Srila Prabhupada with all of his servants while we were waiting for Prabhupada to board the plane. They offered Srila Prabhupada a glass of orange juice and Prabhupada said, “Give it to him, he will drink it.” So my son drinks the orange juice. Then they give the cup back to the servants and they fill it up again, thinking, “We’ll give Prabhupada another glass of orange juice,” and Prabhupada said, “Give it to him.” And then he says, “You want to come?” He says, “Where’s your ticket?” Then he nudged him with his arm and he said, “So you will be the next acharya?” like that.
Bahulasva das: Devotees were all putting on garlands, and I came up and paid my obeisances and touched Prabhupada’s lotus feet and put the garland on him. Then when I bowed down to touch Prabhupada’s feet again, he looked down at me and I looked up and that was when I knew that this was my spiritual master. After that, my material life was like a waning moon. Nothing really that I had been doing before was any longer satisfying, and I would just remember that and think of Prabhupada and want to do more and more devotional service. That was the effect that Srila Prabhupada had.
Danavir Goswami: Prabhupada had been in L.A. for eight months, it was just the longest period of time. The devotees in L.A. had become so accustomed to Prabhupada’s presence every day. They had him and they cherished him, and the L.A. temple was growing like anything. Prabhupada’s presence just seemed to make everything blossom. Devotees were joining every day, everything was really expanding. So the devotees were very attached to Prabhupada. Eight months he had been there. Then not only was he leaving, which they kind of thought that he would never leave; and the L.A. temple had set itself up, it was managing in such a way that he didn’t have to manage directly. He had good managers there, and he was very pleased with it. So he could stay there peacefully and do his translation work and do his writing and do whatever he wanted and there was no inconvenience for him. So when Prabhupada said he was leaving, it was a shock. And then not only did he say he was leaving, but he said because he was old there was a good chance he wouldn’t return but we should carry on the movement anyway. So devotees took that very hard. At the airport, everyone was crying. We ran out to the fence to watch the plane and new devotees, old devotees, everybody was crying.
Bahulasva das: When I would come down from Berkeley to L.A. to see Prabhupada, you would fall asleep in the brahmacari ashram to Vishnujan playing harmonium and then you would wake up in the morning to Vishnujan playing harmonium. You would never know if he ever even slept. Maybe he did, I’m not saying he didn’t sleep, but that was how nonstop Krishna conscious Vishnujan was. You sensed that about being in Vishnujan’s presence, that he was just an otherworldly being. To see Vishnujan and Srila Prabhupada was the most wonderful thing to watch. Of course, everybody wanted to have Prabhupada lead kirtan when Prabhupada was there, but Srila Prabhupada would always want Vishnujan to lead kirtan. And when they would look at each other, you’d start crying sometimes just to see Prabhupada and Vishnujan looking at each other. There was just so much love the way Prabhupada would look at him. You never saw anybody ever look at anybody like that. Vishnujan would always be emotional and get teary-eyed.
August 1970: NEW VRINDAVAN, WEST VIRGINIA – Janmastami Festival
Suresvara das: This is August 1970, New Vrindavan. I was a brand new devotee, and Satsvarupa das Adhikari and Uddhava prabhu drove some of us new guys down from Boston to New Vrindavan for Janmastami Festival, which was thefestival in ISKCON at the time, it was pre-India gatherings.
Dinadayadri dasi: In those days, it was standard practice in ISKCON to do nirjala fasting on these big days like Gaura Purnima and Janmastami and Vyasa-puja, which means no food and no water. At midnight on Janmastami we’d have a little break fast drink, a salty lemon drink, and that was it. Then we’d fast all day till noon on Vyasa-puja. It wasn’t considered any kind of fanaticism, that was just the standard, that was just what we did.
Shyamasundara das: This was the first international GBC meeting where all the devotees Prabhupada had chosen to the Governing Body Commission met together for the first time to begin sharing some of the load of management that Prabhupada had carried alone through the entire movement up to that time. There was some controversy going on in ISKCON at that time. He was testing our abilities to manage the movement.
Revatinandan das: Subal, Brahmananda, Gargamuni and Vishnujan were together and they came to this president’s meeting. They weren’t presidents, they were new sannyasis. The president’s meeting was happening in the temple building in New Vrindavan; and meanwhile, the first GBC meeting was happening at Hayagriva’s house, which was on a little hill right next to the temple but up the hill. Brahmananda and Gargamuni and Subal…Vishnujan didn’t have much to do with it…took over the president’s meeting and started doing this whole trip on us about how we had gotten way ahead of ourselves, we couldn’t even understand who Prabhupada was what to speak of understanding who Krishna was, that we should understand that our entire relationship was with Prabhupada and when you read Bhagavad-gita you shouldn’t read “Sri Bhagavan uvaca,” you should read “Srila Prabhupada uvaca.”
Suresvara das: So what do I see when I jump out of the van hours and hours later from Boston is one of our sannyasis holding somebody against a fence and saying, “Prabhupada is God, Prabhupada is Krishna, and because we haven’t recognized this he’s left us.” There I was brand new, thrilled by Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is, joining the Hare Krishna Movement, and here two months later I’m attending my first festival and right before my eyes I appear to be seeing the entire movement torn asunder by this controversy.
Brahmananda das: Prabhupada confronted us, myself specifically, with the minimization in Los Angeles before taking sannyasa. It was the most shocking experience of my life. Prabhupada’s chastisement was so severe. Spiritually I could feel Prabhupada withdrawing his mercy. And then Prabhupada gave us the sannyasa, so I felt and the others that we have to compensate for the minimization. And the way to compensate for that was to emphasize. Instead of underemphasizing Srila Prabhupada, we should now overemphasize him.
Bhavananda das: Devotees were leaving, they were blooping. There were devotees just crying and walking down that road, down to the bottom of the mountain, and just leaving. These were devotees who were totally dedicated to Prabhupada. There’s no other reason for them to be in this movement. There was nothing except Prabhupada. So every devotee that you see in this film, they’re there because of Prabhupada. They’re in the movement because of Prabhupada. No one else, nothing else. And suddenly these men announce to us that Prabhupada has left and is never coming back, we’ve offended him. The mood was chaos.
Dinadayadri dasi: And they also said unless we could chant purely we shouldn’t chant at all, we would be offenders to the Holy Name. And this was a new idea because Srila Prabhupada had taught us that we become purified by chanting, that there’s a clearing stage and you won’t be…but you do it and you become purified by doing it. And this was devastating news to me personally and to everyone, an atmosphere of total depressive devastation took over. Everyone was wailing and weeping and thinking we were all going to have to leave Prabhupada because we couldn’t chant purely. It really cast a spell on everybody.
Atreya Rsi das: I remember at the time when I would listen to them, they wouldn’t make any sense to me. I was 28 years old in 1970. And I would listen to them, they wouldn’t make any sense. But I knew Prabhupada. I hadn’t met him, but I knew he had something. So I would go in front of this very primitive altar that they had, and on the lower step they had Prabhupada’s picture. I would sit in front of his picture and I would cry, and I would talk to Prabhupada. I’d say, “Prabhupada, when will these kids grow up? Why don’t you come and help?” I would never get angry at them. I would feel like they were innocent, they were wonderful, they were sincere, they were genuine, they were beautiful, but they were childish.
Suresvara das: Srila Prabhupada had just formed the GBC that summer, and their first act as far as I’m aware is to consult Prabhupada about what his new sannyasis are saying. And Prabhupada’s response is…I’m paraphrasing but “It’s nonsense, that’s not true. The spiritual master is not God. The poison here is personal ambition because if the spiritual master is God, that means you can become God too. So it’s Mayavada philosophy.” Of course, Prabhupada’s books were being consulted by both sides to prove this or that. But Prabhupada responded very strongly, and he expelled them.
Dinadayadri dasi: To me that experience is it was like the loss of innocence, the ISKCON movement lost its innocence at that point. Because before that it was all innocent and simply Prabhupada. And after that, even though the movement continued and it was wonderful, there was this opening for this maya, this contamination to enter. So finally it got philosophically straightened out. The sannyasis fled, they just disappeared in the middle of the night, nobody knew where they went.
Brahmananda das: Prabhupada was in Japan at the time. We had to…by letters and so on, so it took time. But basically we were arrested and put into a van, and Bhagavan drove the van to Detroit.
Bhagavan das: Everybody was still upset by the whole thing, and I didn’t want them talking to any of the devotees. So now that I recall, I locked them in the attic and we just sent food up there, nobody was allowed to talk to them. Then either I got word from Prabhupada or I just decided to send them out to preach, and they ended up going up to Ann Arbor.
Brahmananda das: We went out into the street. I had a quarter, that’s all I had was a quarter, and the four of us went walking down the street. We didn’t know where to go, we didn’t know what to do. I felt very disturbed. To be asked to leave devotees was the most terrible thing. What could be worse? But at the same time, we were forced to take shelter of Prabhupada and Krishna. We felt, “Well, this is what sannyasa is, you have nothing,” and we just walked down the street. We walked as far as we could until it became night, then we had to sleep somewhere. So along the roadside there were these big fir trees, and fir trees…very thick. So they offered some protection, and the needles make a very soft…so we slept under the fir trees on the needles. It’s interesting, in the morning we woke up and we were right outside the front gates of the Ford Motor Company of Detroit. And then interesting things happened. We had no food, we had no money, we were just starving. Then we sat under a tree and we had kirtan and read to each other, what else are we going to do? And as we were doing this the first day…I’m telling you, you’re not going to believe this…but a little boy came up and he had with him a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk. Where did this little boy come from? And he said, “Here, my mommy told me to give this to you,” and he put the bread down and then ran away.
October 1970: CAIRO AIRPORT, EGYPT – Devotees on route to India
Malati dasi: This was the first wave of devotees to enter India as a group of Westerners, the World Sankirtan Party from ISKCON, and it was on Prabhupada’s personal order and invitation that we were together. It actually became very second nature for us to immediately begin harinam sankirtan wherever we were. That was what we were going to India for, it was under the banner of the World Sankirtan Party. So we had no…we didn’t have second thoughts about having immediate kirtans.
Dinanath das: I know I was nervous there because there were guards standing around with rifles and we were in a Muslim land, but we were bold. At that point, we were on our way and our devotion to Prabhupada was our focus. We had no idea about India, what was in store, but we knew we were being led and we had a mission.
Yamuna dasi: Most people had their faces skewed, staring and wondering, “What are they doing?” We even tried to preach to them in English. As soon as the kirtan party would stop, we would all either chant japa with some ferociousness or go out and preach to whoever was standing and staring at us. There’s the famous Brothers Airway prop plane that was really not fit for human travel. It was the inside of a freight company’s plane with absolutely no facility. You could see straight into the cockpit from the main body of the plane. I remember there were these guards with big machine guns, huge, huge guns pointed at Giriraj as he was walking along. They couldn’t put him in a category and weren’t sure what he was invocating but they had their guns on him, and he was completely oblivious, immersed in the Holy Name.
Nanda Kumar das: I took a walk. I just didn’t want to watch and I took a walk around the plane, chanted myself, prayed for protection. And when I came back around the plane, I looked over. The first thing I saw were two machine guns leaning up against the bus and Giriraj Maharaja holding one guy in each hand, and these Egyptian military guys were jumping up and down chanting Hare Krishna with big grins on their face.
October 1970: BOMBAY, INDIA – World Sankirtan Party Harinam, Programs
Yamuna dasi: Our sankirtan party from Europe and England arrived in India on October 4th, 1970. And I was only in Bombay for under two weeks, but those two weeks were two of the most powerful two weeks in my life because at this time Srila Prabhupada allowed us to taste kirtan in Lord Krishna’s Bharatavarsa. The center of our activity every single day was nagar sankirtan. That was our main engagement. We had prasadam in the morning, a morning program, chanted our rounds and then went out on kirtan, sometimes twice a day. This kirtan party was so wonderful. We were like a family, a tight family, and each person played a role. Those are Malati’s banners, the same ones we brought from England. The heartbeat of our kirtan were the mridangas of Dinanath and Rishi Kumar, they kept the rhythm going, and all of the rest of us played either another drum or kartals. And we were shoulder to shoulder, just like godbrothers and godsisters, with so much affection and respect we had for each other. We felt as if Srila Prabhupada were our father and we were all his spiritual children, and there was such a nice mood in this early sankirtan leg of Srila Prabhupada’s mission in India.
Giriraj Swami: We were enthralled by the streets of Bombay, everything was so new and exotic, and I think the people were enthralled by us too from the way they looked at us. But we were thrilled to see how Krishna conscious the people were. You’d see people wearing dhotis and kurtas and, of course, most of the women wore saris. We’d see cows. We’d see names of buildings and businesses that included the Holy Names of Krishna and Rama. And we were just enthralled and at the same time filled with the sense that we were pioneers in Srila Prabhupada’s mission working to please him and serve him according to his superior guidance and vision, and we had faith that the whole process would culminate in some wonderful result.
Gurudas: There were many engagements, and Prabhupada would just have us set up anything for him to speak. It didn’t matter if it was small or large or in a seedy part of town; and when he spoke about Krishna and sang the Holy Names, he was happy and he would get energy. Sometimes we would even say, “Well, Prabhupada, we went to this place before and two people showed up, and we don’t know if it’s worth your time to go there.” And Prabhupada would say, “No, I am like a cow, I give milk anywhere. That is what I like to do.” And we would go, just go with him – this place, that place, this town, that town. We just liked to be with him.
Yamuna dasi: After kirtan took place, Srila Prabhupada wanted his books displayed. And he would inevitably speak something of his books or have a disciple speak something about his books and surround himself with his books, and I can think of no place where this activity didn’t take place, where he didn’t want his books displayed and sold and made available. He would very oftentimes give a gift copy to whoever was hosting.
Kausalya dasi: Srila Prabhupada taught us how to drink water without touching the glass and how to peel a banana without touching it with our left hand with our teeth, and he said, “Everyone will be watching you very carefully, so you should do these things nicely.” He was tireless when we were in India. He went from engagement to engagement to engagement. And then in the evening he would speak public lectures, and then every morning we would get up early and have arati and morning lecture on the Bhagavatam in his room.
Giriraj Swami: The Somanis were a very religious and wealthy family of Bombay. The senior Somani at the time was G.D. Somani and he became a Life Member, and gradually the other brothers and then sons and nephews also became Life Members. But they were very devout Hindus, and they were very active in promoting Hinduism in India. And when they met Srila Prabhupada, and practically all the pious and aristocratic Hindus of Bombay and India in general, when they came to know about Srila Prabhupada and the work he had done to spread sanatana-dharma in the West and throughout the world, they were astonished. They felt here is the first time that someone from India has gone abroad and really made an impact on people’s lives, really brought people to sanatana-dharma, to Krishna consciousness, and they wanted to come forward and help. They wanted to be part of the great movement that Srila Prabhupada had started. At the same time, Srila Prabhupada had the idea that the people of India want to imitate the West, they want to imitate the Americans. So Srila Prabhupada had the idea that if the Americans take to Krishna consciousness and then the Indians see it, they will also want to imitate the Americans taking to Krishna consciousness. And actually Srila Prabhupada’s thought worked. People looked again at their own tradition, at their own culture, at their own practices and saw there must be more there than they even thought themselves. Otherwise why would Americans and Europeans who had every chance to enjoy material facilities and sense gratification, why would they be chanting Hare Krishna and dancing, studying Bhagavad-gita and preaching, and then why would they come to India? So they were thrilled. And sometimes they were so moved when they saw us tears would come to their eyes, they were just so touched. At the end of Srila Prabhupada’s visit, Kailash Seksaria arranged a huge program on the terrace of his house and invited all the elite of Bombay and they came. But the thing that struck all of us was Srila Prabhupada’s humility. Here he was addressing some of the most affluent and aristocratic and influential people of India, and he spoke very briefly. He referred to his disciples and his work in the West, and then he appealed to the ladies and gentlemen present. He spoke the verse from Prabodhananda Saraswati, dante nidhaya trnakam padayor nipatya, “You are very learned and intelligent and pious people. I stand with a straw in my teeth and I beg you, please chant Hare Krishna.” And then he went into the last kirtan.
Shyamasundara das: One time they were having a yogi sangha or samelans where many yogis come from all over India to speak, a venue on Chowpatty Beach in Bombay. Many different swamis and yogis were sitting up on this stage and each day several of them or one of them would speak, and they invited Prabhupada and us to come down there. At first they didn’t like the idea that Prabhupada would have us up there on the stage with him. But he told them that “These Western Vaisnavas are every bit as spiritually advanced as the other yogis and swamis here, I want them up with me,” and they agreed. Prabhupada was introducing us to India as the real authentic thing, that we were swamis and yogis in our own right. He was very proud of us. At the same time he was showing us his country, he was also showing his countrymen what he had done in the West. Huge crowds came down and all very intelligent high-class families came down to hear the yogis speak, and here was Prabhupada stealing the show. No one could put on a show like we could. Nobody even came near.
Revatinandan das: This was in Bombay. The program was a sankirtan procession where they took deities on a kirtan procession. They had bands. The bands were playing the Mexican Hat Dance. You know the Mexican Hat Dance? That’s what the band was playing for the deity, for Radha-Krishna deities. We were chanting along with the Mexican Hat Dance, I remember that. We got out on this pier and there were several speakers to speak, and one of the other speakers was one of the most famous Mayavadi sannyasis in Bombay and Prabhupada knew his name. He was in the Shivananda line, which is the big Mayavadi Shivite line in India. Almost every one of the big gurus that came to the West was a disciple of Swami Shivananda in Bombay, and this guy was his successor. Then Prabhupada spoke and he said, “So you have been listening to such-and-such, or such-and-such is here and he is very famous,” and he mentioned him by name, “and he is impersonalist. He does not believe that Radha-Krishna are the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But I will tell you something that I know. In secret he is worshiping Radha-Krishna deities.” And the man smiled real big, and Prabhupada had him. He said, “Even though he says he does not believe God is person, he cannot resist worshiping Radha-Krishna.”
October 1970: MATHURA, INDIA – Harinam at train station
Yamuna dasi: Sankirtan at Mathura Junction station, this being such a holy place and the first time that any of us had touched the holy dham. We were in a trance of ecstasy feeling Lord Krishna’s presence by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy. When we jumped from these trains to do kirtan, it was the life-giving aspect of our existence. The trains were just vehicles to take us from one kirtan to another. That Srila Prabhupada allowed us to become so attached to kirtan is a miracle, but it was from the beginning in India our main activity. Very oftentimes people didn’t join in in the kirtan because they were so quick, just a short 4 or 5 minutes in a station, sometimes 10 minutes. And it was so nice, our party, various people would lead kirtans. It was not one person all the time, people shared the leading of the kirtans. Such a nice experience and, again, the camaraderie was so strong.
When we passed Kurukshetra, Srila Prabhupada called us all to the train car. We were standing looking out the train car door and Srila Prabhupada took his left hand and unfolded his arm and said, “This is where the Battle of Kurukshetra took place,” and all of the devotees paid obeisances while we were speeding along in the train. Then we had a small stop in Kurukshetra station, and we jumped out and performed kirtan. We all felt so fortunate to be with Srila Prabhupada.
October 1970: AMRITSAR, INDIA – Arrival, Harinam
Yamuna dasi: Arrival in Amritsar. Srila Prabhupada was so tireless in this preaching phase. From mangal arati until eleven o’clock at night we had engagements, and all of his youthful devotees, 25 and early 30’s, could barely keep up with Srila Prabhupada. When we weren’t having kirtan at the pandal itself, we did nagar kirtan throughout the streets of Amritsar and they were very receptive to our kirtan party. This is a very large Sikh population where the Golden Temple is.
Revatinandan das: One day we were brought to have a tour of the Golden Temple, and no pictures like a mosque; and at the top of the little temple there’s a grantha, the holy book is there, and they sit reading it all the time. After we went there, we went to the chapati room. In those days, they were feeding anywhere from six to eight thousand people a day a free meal. The pit itself must have been about 12 or 14 feet across, and suspended over the middle of the fire was a big old cast iron plate. Then around the room were all these Indian men and women rolling chapatis. As we sat and watched, there were chapatis unpuffed and puffed flying through the air in the room all the time like flying saucers. Prabhupada said, “See how they are doing this. This is how you distribute prasadam.” He really liked it. He said, “Learn to do like this.”
December 1970: SURAT, INDIA – Harinam, Programs
Kausalya dasi: The citizens of Surat would greet us with sandalwood paste and kumkum, and many times they would come and give us bananas and mangoes and whatever kind of fruit they had. We were pulled into people’s houses from the middle of kirtan and offered a cold lassi or some sweets. The whole town was just suffused with Krishna consciousness. The entire town was on fire with devotion. They made us even more spiritual and more devotional. We’d done harinam in many places, but the people made this an experience of a lifetime. Prabhupada was tireless. He would speak nonstop. He would greet the children and give them the little sweets, and he would sit for hours and have darshan with thousands of people. People were just so kind to us and so genuinely sweet.
Nanda Kumar das: Prabhupada said when we were in Surat, “This is a city of devotees.” They basically closed the whole town off for Prabhupada. They would close off streets and have parades with him, and every shop would shut down. The man who we stayed at his home, Bhagubhai Jariwala, was a beautiful, small-bodied, elderly, very healthy-looking Indian banker. I remember we all had dysentery there too, it was pretty serious, 20 sick devotees, and they just took care of us. They just kept taking care of us. Whatever we needed, they would take care of it. And at the end when we left, Bhagubhai Jariwala talked and he said, “I want to thank all of you for this wonderful experience. It’s been an honor to serve you. And please forgive me for any offenses I’ve committed,” and he started crying. Prabhupada looked over at us and he said, “Just see. This is a Vaisnava.” And then he gave us all money, after we had been offensive and sick in his house. But they never took offense, they never took any…the whole family, they just served and served and served and served and served.
Hansadutta das: I remember in one town where we arrived that the whole town had closed shop, the mayor came, everyone came to the train station. In other words, the whole town closed down to greet us, to greet Prabhupada. I don’t know whether it was the mayor but some dignitary said that even if Indira Gandhi had come to this town, she would not have received the reception that they have organized for Prabhupada. Especially this program in Surat, every day they would take us to a different part of the town to do harinam, and the devotees were received like they had just flown in from a heavenly planet. It was just overwhelming. I remember at one point I started weeping because I could understand that this is what is meant by Lord Chaitanya’s mercy and the flood of the sankirtan movement. Because just a few years before we were just on the street, vagrants and hippies and whatever. The potency of Prabhupada was manifested through his early disciples in settings like Surat in India where people by the thousands, they were hanging out the window, off the roof, in the street. It was packed wall to wall, just enough room for the devotees to pass through. But they were so enchanted and mesmerized by the presence of the devotees chanting Hare Krishna, you could understand that this was because of Prabhupada. We were just following behind him like little ducklings follow the mother.
Giriraj Swami: Sometimes gentlemen would come to meet Srila Prabhupada and discuss with him. Once I was struck when Srila Prabhupada told one gentleman that the government of India should have a Department of Bhagavad-gita, that Bhagavad-gitais the greatest asset of India and it should be preached all over the world. But then he said, “Unfortunately, the government is neglecting.” Quite often he would say that India’s ambassadors go all over the world and beg, “Give me money, give me rice, give me this, give me that.” And Srila Prabhupada said, “But I am going not to beg but to give. I am giving the knowledge of Bhagavad-gita, and people are appreciating.”
Yamuna dasi: Before we went to India for the first time, in San Francisco in 1967, Achyutananda sent us pictures of Srila Prabhupada on nagar sankirtan in Calcutta. And when we saw Prabhupada chanting in the streets of India in this one still picture, all of us were just praying for the day that we would join Srila Prabhupada. He said he would take us to India and show us India on foot; and when we were in San Francisco, we had no idea what that meant. But this is what it meant. Going on pilgrimage to a place is one thing; but until you’re on foot in the streets, walking as those before us have walked, chanting the Holy Name, you can’t taste India.
Revatinandan das: Surat is near Dwaraka, and so it’s a traditionally Vaisnava province. They worship mostly Bal Krishna in the Vallabhacharya line, but any Krishna worship is very popular there. So Mr. Jariwala was very respected in the town, and every day he had our kirtan route printed in the newspaper. So people knew exactly which streets we were going to be on and they had those streets streamered with sari cloth all the way across the roads, everybody had little white chalk auspicious diagrams in front of their houses on the sidewalk, and they were out there with kumkum and rice and flower garlands to put the red kumkum and rice on our foreheads and garland us. We got so many garlands put on us that after a while we had to take 20 of them off and pass them out to the crowd, and next thing you know we’d have 20 more garlands on. We got garlanded 50 times in the course of each procession, and people were doing arati to us in the street as we went by in the kirtan procession. Basically, that was just a ton of fun.
Yamuna dasi: Generally, the women were placed in the front in sankirtan in those days rather than in the back, and we all danced in the same way. Or sometimes we were in the middle of the kirtan party and the men surrounded us. Shyamasundara and Kausalya and Yamuna and Malati and Hansadutta, Chidananda, Giriraj, Gopal. This is the time when we met Mr. John Griesser for the first time, who came to film Srila Prabhupada, and he joined our party. I think he was the only nondevotee in our party, and that person later became Yadubara das.
Yadubara das: I first met Srila Prabhupada here in Surat. I’d come to India to do a master’s degree thesis in photography on the origins of Krishna consciousness in India. The summer before I’d done a couple of magazine articles on the movement. That’s me in the blue shirt. I brought those magazine articles with me and showed Srila Prabhupada, and he liked them. He went through each of them page by page, much to my embarrassment because one of them had some nudity in it. Srila Prabhupada didn’t bat an eye, he just kept going through until he reached the article on Krishna consciousness. And then his comment was, “Even we find gold in a dirty place, we take it.” The second day I was there Srila Prabhupada asked me, “So you’re going to become a devotee?” I couldn’t imagine myself wearing the robes and the shaved head so I said no, although inwardly I felt I was. So Srila Prabhupada’s reply was, “Then you cannot stay.” I was naturally shocked. And I didn’t leave, I stayed with the party for two months. Every day I’d sit in Srila Prabhupada’s room, and invariably when a visitor came in he’d introduce me. He would say, “This is Mr. John, he is from America. He is an expert photographer.” In this way Srila Prabhupada encouraged me, and he could understand I was becoming a devotee gradually.
Revatinandan das: We were brought into the Durga temple. This one was new, the deity was new, she was nicely dressed and nicely worshipped. When we came into the room, I remember Prabhupada said, “Do just exactly like I do.” And when Prabhupada came before the deity of the demigod, he bowed down before the demigod just like you’d bow down before the Radha-Krishna altar; but instead of putting his left side toward the altar, he put his right side toward the altar. He said, “When you bow down before a demigod, you keep the demigod on your right. The understanding is your spiritual master is in front of you and Radha and Krishna are on your left. So you’re still bowing to Radha and Krishna and your guru, but you’re also offering respect to the demigod at the same time. And that’s how you offer respects to a demigod, with your right-hand side toward the altar.” In other words, he was respectful to Durga but he didn’t want her worshipped in the same way that we would worship Radha and Krishna, so that’s the distinction.
Kausalya dasi: Not only did we have kirtan through the streets of Surat, many times they would invite us outside town for engagements in the villages. Prabhupada was so available to us at all times, and one time I had gone into his room. We were staying at the house of Bhagubhai Jariwala. I went into his room and I told him I had memorized the Sri Isopanisad. So on one of these engagements, after speaking he called me and he said, “Kausalya, come here.” So I came up to him and he said, “Sing Sri Isopanisad.” I thought, “Oh, God, I’m on the spot now.” So I did it, I sang the Sri Isopanisad. The whole time I’m looking at Prabhupada while I’m singing and his smile, he’s gradually becoming more and more pleased and his smile is getting bigger and bigger. When I finished, he called me closer to him and I started to pay my obeisances, and he grabbed my head and put it on his lap and patted me on the back and rubbed my head. I felt like a puppy dog. It was really special.
Giriraj Swami: As in other places, we would go into Srila Prabhupada’s room early in the morning and sing the prayers to the spiritual master. So one morning after the prayers, Prabhupada gave a little talk and then he asked, “Why does Krishna come into the material world?” So different devotees gave different answers, but Dinanath prabhu gave the answer that He comes to give pleasure to the devotees. And Srila Prabhupada said yes, that was the right answer, because the other purposes could be fulfilled by other agents but only Krishna could come and satisfy His pure devotees. So after Dinanath gave the answer, Srila Prabhupada said, “Now you are liberated because the Bhagavad-gita says janma karma ca me divyam evam yo vetti tattvatah, that one who knows about the appearance and activities of Krishna in truth, tyaktva deham punar janma naiti mam eti so’rjuna, never has to take birth again but he goes back home, back to Krishna.”
When we would come back from the harinam sankirtan in the mornings, many of the people of Surat would be following the harinam party. But although Prabhupada wasn’t with us physically on the harinam sankirtan, he was in the back of everyone’s mind. He was in the back of our minds because whatever we were doing was for him, and he was in the back of everyone else’s minds because he was the great saintly person who had gone to the West from India and taken Krishna consciousness to the foreigners. So when we got back to the Jariwala house, people wanted to see Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada would be in his room doing his own work, but sometimes the demand of the audience from below was so great that Prabhupada would emerge onto the balcony and give them darshan from the balcony. The throngs were elated, and so were we.
January – February 1971: ALLAHABAD, INDIA – Kumbha Mela Festival
Madhudvisa das: This was the first time that all the devotees from all over India came together. Prabhupada had arrived in Calcutta and other devotees had arrived in Bombay, and for a whole year people were doing preaching at different places. Some devotees were preaching in Delhi, some devotees had gone down south, but at this time Prabhupada was going to reorganize all the preaching in India. So devotees came from all over different parts of India to be with Prabhupada at this specific time. So in the morning Srila Prabhupada would go out and take his walk, and he wanted to have a kirtan party going on with him when he took his morning walk. And as we walked through the different camps, sadhus would come out and pay their respects to Srila Prabhupada.
Yamuna dasi: As Srila Prabhupada described this Magh Mela at the time, they reported seven million saintly souls that went to take part in the festivities throughout the month. Never had we been in such crowds of people or lived amidst so many people. Srila Prabhupada determined what our activities would be from morning till night at this pandal. So it was both for purification and for example of what Vaisnavas do. And while a program of deity worship went on with aratis and offerings throughout the day, one of the main engagements of the day was prasad distribution. So virtually people were cooking and distributing prasadam throughout the whole day, and different devotees volunteered for that cooking service. Sagar Maharaj was instrumental in showing us how to shop in this environment, and Rebatinandan Maharaj was quite instrumental in the making and distribution of both halava and kittri.
Revatinandan das: I didn’t get to go on a single one of those morning kirtans. I had to cook for 45 people breakfast on the fires. Then I had to cook lunch on those fires. Then one day Prabhupada said…after lunch was over he said, “I want you to prepare rice, puris and chutney for 700 people,” and that was to be passed out in the pandal in the afternoon. And then after that I had to get dinner ready for 45 people. I had two little wood fire pits and all we had was sticks, just sticks. Not even chunks of wood that you could make a bed of coals out of, just sticks. So all you had was flame and soot. The pots were covered with soot, I was covered with soot. Somehow I was putting out every bit I had to do that service at that time. It was the hardest thing I ever did materially.
Malati dasi: I was just following the crowd, most of us were. And then we arrive in this place by foot and it’s just like all the bizarre things you’d ever thought about or heard about India were right there in front of your face and going on – the naked nagar babas, men riding on elephants, the snake-charming babas – it was just all happening there. And every day Prabhupada, as you can see, would take us out on nagar sankirtan. There’s my daughter, haribol.
Hansadutta das: This is a very ancient festival. Prabhupada told us it goes back many, many thousands of years. At this time, all the holy men they come and they gather because there’s a very auspicious constellation; and if you take bath at that time, you’re guaranteed liberation. I remember asking Prabhupada whether that was really true. Prabhupada said, “Yes, it’s true.” He said, “But we didn’t come here for that because we’re already liberated. We came here to preach Krishna consciousness.” But I did go for the…because I wanted the guarantee. I went, and you have to go early in the morning about four o’clock. And there are no lights, it’s very cold, the wind is blowing because it’s wintertime, and just hundreds of people are wandering towards the river. It was a really sensational experience. Here you can see Srila Prabhupada is shaving. There was no hot water available. Of course, perhaps someone heated a little water up for Prabhupada. But the amazing thing was that Prabhupada, at such an advanced age, came to this place with so many devotees to live in a tent. Everyone was living in a tent and it was wintertime, it was cold. Of course, during the day it warmed up a bit because of the sun. But it’s also said that on a certain day in the course of this festival it rains and, sure enough, when that day came it rained. And so it was really miserable after that because everything was damp and very difficult to keep warm. So here we see Srila Prabhupada and the devotees getting ready to make a visit to the local Gaudiya Math. Of course, Prabhupada lived in Allahabad for a number of years and he had a business there, and he told us also later that he donated the deities there. But I remember what struck me when we went there that day was there was Prabhupada in the lead and then there was eight or nine rickshaws following behind, again like little ducklings. Wherever he went, we followed behind, that was our relationship, never knowing exactly the full significance of what Prabhupada was doing. But as I said before, looking back now, it’s clear to me that Prabhupada knew exactly. It was like a great campaign that he had planned and been carrying out.
Yamuna dasi: The Rupa Gaudiya Math in Allahabad. This was a most exciting event for all of Srila Prabhupada’s Western disciples. Not only were we attending a program with Srila Prabhupada, but we were attending a program at a temple that he was very instrumental in serving in the years before he left India when he lived in Allahabad. Here’s the deities. We were all aware of the fact that Srila Prabhupada had, in his business years, arranged for the arca-vigraha at this mandir, the Radha and Krishna deities. It was his service. This is, in fact, one of the first arca-vigraha that I ever saw a photo of in my entire life. When we were in San Francisco in 1967 and some very early photos were sent from Calcutta taken by Achyutananda and Ramanuja brahmacari, we had a photograph of these deities that were sent to us in San Francisco. So it was one of the first Radha and Krishna deities that I ever saw from India. So they always remained very dear to me. Srila Prabhupada was very proud of the fact that of all these pandals at the Magh Mela that year, none attempted a deity worship program of Radha-Krishna arca-vigrahas but ours. So we became very famous for even that aspect of our presence. The arca-vigraha was Sri Sri Radha-Madhava.
Hansadutta das: Prabhupada, on another day, he took us all through…not all of us but I know I was with him, and we drove through the city and he pointed out different places where he lived and where his business was and things like that. I remember one day Prabhupada told us that many yogis come here and some of them are very old, up to 300 years, and he said that they appear just like young boys so you wouldn’t recognize them. He said two came to see him, and they told him that they lived in the jungle with some tigers.
Kausalya dasi: I remember being amazed because it was the first time Prabhupada spoke about some of the siddhis that the yogis there had. He told us, “You must be very careful because these are very powerful yogis here,” and that many of them have very powerful siddhis and they can go down in the Ganga at the Himalaya and come up here at Triveni. They have the siddhi to be able to move between places. He said, “So you must be very respectful, very careful.”
Madhudvisa das: During this time at the Kumbha Mela, we were taken across the Ganga in boats and we went to the ashram of Prabhudutt Brahmacari. He was an old man and he was famous because he had done the translation of the Chaitanya-caritamrta, which was originally written in Bengali and Prabhupada had translated it into English, but Prabhudutt had translated it into Hindi. So most people in Northern India speak Hindi, so they were able to appreciate the translation of Prabhudutt. Allahabad figures as a very prominent place in the Gaudiya Vaisnavas’ history because Rupa Goswami was instructed by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Allahabad, in Prayag, for so many days, I think 10 days, when Rupa Goswami was on his way to Vrindavan to carry out his mission. At this specific spot, Mahaprabhu instructed Rupa Goswami; and Rupa Goswami later on wrote down all the Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy which governs all the Gaudiya Vaisnavas to this very day, all his writings. He was considered the most prominent of the Goswamis, Rupa Goswami.
Revatinandan das: But I was so sick that when I got up in the morning about four o’clock and had to run for the outhouse, there was somebody in the outhouse. And then I went back in and I climbed between the quilts again to get warm, and I just laid there and I couldn’t move. And then I heard the mangal arati start, and I got up and I got dressed and I came into arati and I must have been 10 minutes late. Prabhupada watched me walk in from the back, and he was talking about the Bhagavatam story of Ajamila about the subject of atonement. The Sanskrit word is prayascitta, and it means atonement. He was talking about how atoning for sins doesn’t solve the problem because it doesn’t cleanse the seed of sinful desire from the heart. So even though you can get free from the reaction by atonement, by some kind of prayascitta, you can’t stop the tendency to commit the sin again that way. Then he started talking about Ajamila and how Ajamila as a youth…and he said he did some very pure service, and Prabhupada was looking at me as he said it. And then he said, “Very pure.” But then later in his life because of circumstance, he fell down and he went to his death as a fallen worldly man. But it was right as I walked in and as he was looking at me that he talked about Ajamila doing some pure service in his youth, and then as he was looking at me he said, “Very pure.” Even now thinking back on it and what happened and then how my life has gone since, it almost seemed like he saw my future.
Giriraj Swami: Here we see Vairagi Baba meeting Srila Prabhupada on the harinam procession at Kumbha Mela, and he was a devotee of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He had huge kartals that we call whompers, and he would chant “haribol, haribol” and clash the whompers together. Srila Prabhupada had met Vairagi Baba earlier in Bombay at Prem Kutir, and then again Srila Prabhupada met him at the Gita Jayanti samelan in Indor. One evening Vairagi Baba joined Srila Prabhupada and the devotees on the stage and Srila Prabhupada got up off the vyasasana
Malati dasi: There was a big hundi and we’d empty the coins every day, and the next day we’d go on a walk. Prabhupada would have us give the coins to the lepers and other afflicted people. There was a whole colony of these people as part of the Mela. They’d come to the Mela to get the blessings of the sadhus and to get some paisas, they have to live. So one devotee one morning stopped and said, “Well, wouldn’t it be better if we gave them prasadam?” because we saw prasadam as a big plate of halva and kittri. Prabhupada stopped and turned and he said, “For them, this is prasad.”
February 1971: BENARES, INDIA – Festival glorifying Lord Chaitanya
Radha Govinda Swami: I was in Benares at that time when Srila Prabhupada was touring, traveling India with his 40 disciples. I read in a newspaper in America Krishna-bhakti is preached. Naturally, I was a devotee of Krishna so I liked this topic. So I went there. Then there was a procession from Dashashvamedha Ghat to Tapan Misra’s house that is now in Benares. When the procession finished, I approached Srila Prabhupada and I spoke in Hindi, “When you went to America, and how you preach?” Prabhupada said, “You see, I just chant Hare Krishna and give some lecture.” He said, “They need this Vedic knowledge. So just see how they are happy and they are chanting.” Then I asked, “Where is your program after Benares?” Prabhupada said, “I will go to Gorakhpur.” So I wrote down the date. Then I went to Gorakhpur, and Prabhupada was there. He was staying in Krishna Niketan. I went there, I was waiting. Prabhupada was at that time alone, so I did not recognize that he is Prabhupada. “Where is A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami?” I asked Prabhupada. So Prabhupada asked me, “Why you want to meet with him?” I replied, “Because he is my guru. I like him very much.” So Prabhupada asked me, “Why you accept him as your guru?” I said, “Because he is the servant of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.” Then Prabhupada asked me, “Who is Chaitanya Mahaprabhu?” So I said, “He is Krishna Himself.” So I was talking and Prabhupada asked, “Why you accept Lord Chaitanya as Krishna?” “Because I read Chaitanya-caritamrta Krishna Himself came as a devotee to preach.” Then Prabhupada said, “No, no, no, He’s not Krishna, He is devotee of Krishna.” I said, “No, He is Krishna Himself.” But Prabhupada insisted, “No, He is devotee of Krishna, He is not Krishna.” Then I spoke very hard words to Srila Prabhupada. I said, “Just keep quiet, don’t speak anymore.” Then Prabhupada laughed very loudly, very loudly he was laughing. Then some bhaktas came and they were offering obeisances. So I realized that he is Guru Maharaj, he is Srila Prabhupada. So when they offered obeisances, I also offered obeisances. So I said, “Please forgive me, I offended at your lotus feet. I did not recognize you. Please forgive me.” Then Prabhupada caught my hand like this and said, “Come to my room.” Then three disciples were sitting there and Prabhupada was laughing, laughing. His smile was not stopped, and then he told that “He knows that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna Himself.” He said, “You chastised me, I like that. I am very happy with your words.”
March 1971: BOMBAY, INDIA – Cross Maidan Festival
Shyamasundara das: The biggest splash we made, of course, was the Cross Maidan festival in March of ’71. We brought Western-style advertising techniques to India for the first time and made huge advertising efforts with balloons, and I remember we had one skyscraper seven-story building with Hare Krishna written down the side in giant letters. We selected the grounds right in the center of Bombay called Cross Maidan where daily tens of thousands of people walked, and the whole idea was to introduce Hare Krishna Movement to India. Daily fifty to a hundred thousand people would attend morning and evening lectures, but all day long the pandal was kept open for people to walk around and ask devotees questions. There was a question and answer booth, the different displays of Krishna consciousness around the world. People began to get the idea that this was a global movement started by one of their own.
Lokanath Swami: I was especially attracted by their appeal that said, “American sadhus are in town, European sadhus.” I had only heard of Hardwar sadhus or Vrindavan-Mathura sadhus or Pandharpur sadhus. So I was curious. That time I didn’t get to see Prabhupada, I was mostly meeting devotees. But I was very much impressed with Prabhupada’s devotees, Prabhupada’s followers. They were pretty dead serious, grave, convinced, knowledgeable, and I had these impressions. And if this was his followers and disciples, then I could only imagine their guru, their spiritual master must be far, far superior.
Radhanath Swami: I had just come down from the Himalayas and Varanasi and Bodh Gaya, and I was in Bombay and I was walking down the road. I saw a big sign saying “Hare Krishna Festival at Cross Maidan.” It was on that first day of the pandal program, tens of thousands of people attended. I was way, way back in the crowds, just watching, and Prabhupada came on stage. Madhudvisa prabhu was leading kirtan and devotees were dancing, and Gurudas prabhu was taking photos. I saw Gurudas called over by Prabhupada, and they were talking for some time. Then Gurudas was looking, looking, looking through the crowds for quite a while, and he came all the way to the back of the crowds and took me by the hand and said, “Prabhupada wants you to sit with him on stage.” I asked, “How does Prabhupada know who I am?” And he didn’t say anything, he just pulled me up. When we came to the stage, Prabhupada smiled at me and with his hand he gestured that I should sit not far from his vyasasana and I sat. I saw Srila Prabhupada when he was speaking, he just had such a sincere longing to reach people’s hearts, such deep compassion, such deep concern.
Dadhi-harta das: When he sat down to speak, I could barely understand, his accent was so strong. But the purport was “surrender,” and that came through. The idea of surrendering was a little overwhelming, but the thought was certainly there. I knew this was a pivotal moment, meeting His Divine Grace.
Radhanath Swami: This marriage ceremony seemed to be a very, very proud event for Srila Prabhupada because it was really displaying the international influence of Krishna consciousness on a very solid basis of lifelong vows of dedication. While the marriage was taking place, suddenly I felt somebody holding onto my hand. I turned down and it was little Saraswati, who looked at me right in the face and said, “Guess what?” I replied, “What?” And with a big smile on her face she said, “Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead,” and then she ran away. Later on, during one of the lectures, Srila Prabhupada noted how this little Saraswati was a perfect preacher because whatever she knew about Krishna, she was eager to share that with others.