At 7:20 p.m. on November 14, 1977, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, departed from this world. At the time, he was in his quarters at the Krsna-Balarama temple in Vrndavana, India, surrounded by loving disciples chanting the Hare Krsna mantra. The chanting continued throughout the night as devotees performed the last ceremonies for their revered spiritual master. The following morning, the devotees took Srila Prabhupada’s body on procession to the main temples in Vrndavana, the holy city most sacred to Lord Krsna, and finally they performed the burial ceremonies in the temple’s outer courtyard.
Vedic tradition prescribes that when an exalted spiritual personality departs, a wake and cortege be held to honor him. Accordingly, soon after Srila Prabhupada’s departure, his body (dressed in simple saffron robes, garlanded, and seated on a palanquin) was taken into the temple, before each of its three altars, and then carried several times around the temple. After placing the palanquin on the vyasasana (the seat of honor used only by the guru), the devotees remained in the temple throughout the night, chanting Hare Krsna and singing songs of bereavement. Guiding the ceremony was tridandi svami Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja, a disciple of Sri Srimad Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada’s respected Godbrother.
The next morning, at daybreak, devotees carried Srila Prabhupada on his palanquin through the streets of Vrndavana, giving the residents a chance to see him for the last time. Srimad Narayana Maharaja led the chanting as the procession visited each of the eight main temples in the holy city. When the procession returned to the Krsna-Balarama temple, devotees performed the final ceremonies and interred Srila Prabhupada’s body. Srila Prabhupada’s disciples then began a daily program of twenty-four-hour chanting and offerings of flower garlands, incense, and other tokens of devotion at Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi (tomb). The morning ended with a devotional feast in his honor.
All over the world, Srila Prabhupada’s disciples felt profound shock and grief when they heard of his passing. For them, the most beloved person in the universe, the dearmost teacher and friend, the very source of spiritual life and knowledge, was now gone. Many wept for hours, and others wondered how the Krsna consciousness movement could go on without its powerful founder and guide.
As the days passed, devotees sought solace in the timeless philosophy Srila Prabhupada had preached so untiringly. Buoyed by this philosophical understanding and consoled by many sincere friends and well-wishers, devotees resolved to work together even more vigorously to spread the teachings of their beloved preceptor.
An Outpouring of Appreciation for Srila Prabhupada
During the eleven years of Srila Prabhupada’s worldwide preaching, he touched the lives of millions through his personal presence, his books, his temples, and his disciples. With his passing, many people felt moved to express their remorse and sent notes of condolence to Vrndavana. Characteristic of the response from devotees’ parents was the following letter:
“Dear Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami,
“Hare Krsna. I have just returned from a visit to the Krsna center in New York. I went to attend the memorial service for His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada.
“I was very emotionally overcome as I listened to each devotee express his love, devotion and extreme gratitude to Srila Prabhupada. Even in their sadness, there was such a strong expression of joy and thankfulness for having been blessed with Krsna consciousness.
“I am writing at this time to express my sincere sympathy and deep understanding to you, to my son, and to all the devotees who have been so dear to His Divine Grace since the start of the Hare Krsna movement. I know that his physical presence will be greatly missed by all of you, but he has left behind a legacy of great wisdom and much love for all of you, his devoted disciples.
Polly C. Perlmutter
Nowhere more than in India was Srila Prabhupada’s greatness appreciated by the leaders of society. The following letters from the Governor of Tamil Nadu and from one of India’s foremost scholars evince Srila Prabhupada’s broad following in his homeland:
“I was deeply shocked to hear of the demise of your beloved gurudeva, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The death of this great world teacher of God consciousness is a severe loss not only for you and for myself, but for all Indians and indeed the whole world.
“As an Indian and a devotee of Lord Krsna, I feel I must express my eternal gratitude to Swami Bhaktivedanta for spreading the Lord’s message so far and wide throughout the world. His truly remarkable achievements have greatly deepened my own faith, and that of my countrymen, that traditional Indian culture and Western technology can in deed work hand in hand.
“Srila Prabhupada was not a flashy orator or a worker of cheap miracles. Yet large numbers of people were attracted by him because of his simplicity, openness, and genuine love for God.
“I spoke several times with Srila Prabhupada on the importance o spreading sanatana-dharma [eternal religious principles] throughout the world. Several times he quoted Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the divine fountainhead of Krsna consciousness, to the effect that especially those born in India should first perfect their lives by becoming Krsna conscious and then preach Krsna’s message all over the world. His words deeply struck me then with their urgency and strength of purpose. Now with the demise of Srila Prabhupada who so perfectly fulfilled this order of Sri Caitanya, it remains for all of us—Indians, Americans, Europeans, etc.—to carry on His mission to the full extent of our abilities. Let us all cooperate to bring Krsna consciousness and true, lasting peace all over the world.
Prabhudas B. Patwari
Governor of Tamil Nadu”
“By his spotless example of service. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada showed us the way in which a true son of Bharata Mata (Mother India) should live. In his daily life, he never compromised the sacred principles held most dear to our ancients, the learned and holy guides of mankind. Rather, he fearlessly preached against the deadly mistakes Western society is making and never for a moment became overawed or illusioned by their scientific advancement. Yet because he saw the hand of God at work everywhere, he always held high his ideal that Western technology could be utilized in such a God-conscious way that all mankind could benefit. It is only through God consciousness, he taught us, that any form of permanent good could be done for the world.
“The effects of his supremely beneficial social work can be found all over the world. Tens of thousands of today’s youth have adapted to the self-controls of yoga their master prescribed, and so they have made themselves into more fit young men and women, capable of leading an enlightened world of tomorrow. “I have no doubt that those who follow the master’s divine instructions live eternally with him and that the great Swamiji remains with his disciples as their eternal guide
Director of the Center of Advanced Study in Sanskrit, University of Poona, India”
Devotees Pay Homage To Srila Prabhupada
The weeks following Srila Prabhupada’s passing saw a number of special commemorative events.
On November 27, a viraha-mahotsava (festival in honor of the spiritual master’s passing) was held in all the Society’s centers throughout the world. Devotees chanted Hare Krsna, expressed their eternal gratitude and devotion to Srila Prabhupada, and served feasts for the thousands who attended. At the Society’s center in Mayapur, near Calcutta, devotees held a second festival on December 2. Besides several moving eulogies by Srila Prabhupada’s God-brothers and senior disciples, the Mayapur mahotsava included the establishment of a shrine in Srila Prabhupada’s honor.
The Vrndavana mahotsava on November 27 was especially significant; some of the world’s leading Vaisnavas (devotees of Visnu, or Krsna) came together in the most important Vaisnava city—Vrndavana, where Lord Krsna appeared fifty centuries ago—to pay homage to the most glorious Vaisnava of our era. Prabhupada’s disciples deeply appreciated this glorification of their spiritual master. The following are excerpts from the statements of Sri Visvambhara Gosvami (priest of the Radha-ramana temple) and Sri Narayana Maharaja.
Sri Visvambhara Gosvami:
Respected guests, acaryas from Vrndavana, devotees of ISKCON from around the world, and residents of Vrndavana: Today we are all assembled here in an atmosphere of great pain and separation. Until 1953 I had a very intimate relationship with Sri Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja, and for the last six years I have also been in quite close touch with him. I have one very clear impression of Sri Swamiji Maharaja: that he had unalloyed devotion to and faith in the name of Sri Krsna. On the strength of the name of Sri Krsna, and with great attachment to and consciousness of Krsna, he went to foreign countries in every corner of the world to spread the glory and message of Krsna consciousness. He spread the pure teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: “Simply chant the name of Krsna and your life will be successful. The only real meaning and goal of human life is to love Lord Krsna and be a servant of Lord Krsna. Take shelter of the lotus feet of Sri Krsna, and you will easily reach self-realization and be released from all anxieties and miseries caused by the entanglement of birth and death.
Spreading these teachings all over the world cannot be done by any ordinary man. Only one who is specially empowered by God and guru to fulfill the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu can do what Srila Prabhupada has done. Today I would like to assure all the members of-ISKCON—both those known to me and those unknown to me—that whenever you require help, we will work together with you shoulder to shoulder, to propagate the names of Sri Krsna. To finish the work of Srila Prabhupada and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, we are even ready, if required, to sacrifice our own lives.
Sri Narayana Maharaja:
Honored guests, devotees, and acaryas of Vrndavana: Whether he believes it or not, every living being is the eternal servant of God. But when the living being turns away from God and forgets God, he comes under the control of maya [illusion] and becomes entangled in the cycle of birth and death wandering through 8,400,000 forms of life. God and the devotees of God do no like to see the living beings suffer. So out of compassion for them, to bless them they incarnate within this material world.
Five hundred years ago the Lord appeared as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu for the deliverance of the fallen souls of Kali-yuga [the present age of quarrel and hypocrisy]. He spread the glory of Krsna and love of Krsna all over India. After Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s disappearance. His followers carried on His mission. But in the course of time, owing to the influence of Kali-yuga, people in general became degraded. They became mad after sensual enjoyment. Contending parties arose, and the true purport of Sri Caitanya’s message was lost. The teachings and the love of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu were forgotten, and the succession was broken.
Then, in 1874, to reestablish the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu – to revive love of God for the welfare of the world—Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvat Gosvami Maharaja, an eternal servant of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, appeared on this earth. It was he who revived the work of Sri Caitanya. To assist him he had so many great disciples, but out of these disciples Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was the most prominent, for he actually spread the message of his gurudeva in the Western countries.
Srila Prabhupada was born in 1896 into a very aristocratic and religion family. His parents and his grandparent were all Vaisnavas. From his very child hood he was worshiping Sri Radha and Krsna, and he was observing all Vaisnava festivals by the age of twelve years. It can be seen from his life that he was attached to the name of God from his childhood. After he graduated from college in Calcutta, he became the manager of a chemical manufacturing firm. But Srila Prabhupada was not one to remain in worldly activities. He was great saint, who appeared in this world to fulfill a specific mission. So when the time was ripe he left his worldly activities without hesitation. Later he lived for four years in Mathura, where, seeing his enthusiasm to preach Krsna consciousness, I advised him to enter the renounced order, sannyasa. I told him that it would be most beneficial to the world if he would take sannyasa, and he accepted my prayers. At the same time my own guru, Om Visnupada Sri Srimad Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja came to Mathura, and Srila Prabhupada took sannyasa from him.
When Srila Prabhupada was twenty-five years old he left his studies and joined Gandhi’s movement for independence. Shortly thereafter, he went with a friend to see Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami for the first time. Srila Prabhupada told me how fortunate he was that he went to see Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, who, after seeing Srila Prabhupada’s English education and strong faith, spoke for two hours about God: “Human life is not meant for sensual enjoyment. The human form is very rare and should not be wasted in sensual enjoyment. If we simply engage in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, we have to take birth again and again. The only duty of human life is to practice devotion to Sri Krsna so that, at the time of death, we can return to His lotus feet.”
Srila Prabhupada told me he was fascinated and deeply influenced by the lecture of Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, who at that very first meeting asked him to spread the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu all over the world.
India can teach the world the eternal religion—that the real nature of all living beings is to be the eternal servant of God. It is the pride of India that she can give this teaching to foreign countries. So this great saint, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, has not done any ordinary thing. He acted as a humble servant of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and with full confidence he followed His order: “Preach the message of Sri Krsna in every corner of the world.” When he went to America he didn’t have any money—just a few rupees. With a trunk full of his Srimad-Bhagavatams, some chanting beads, and a pair of hand cymbals, he went to America. He didn’t have any other belongings. In New York City he would sit in a park where people gathered for walking and enjoyment, and he would sing the maha-mantra and play his cymbals. He would explain the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to those who would come to sit with him and inquire. So he was a guru in the real sense—an empowered guru—because without being empowered by God, no one can distribute the name of God or teach devotion to God.
In the Vedic scriptures we find many similar examples of empowered (saktyavesa) incarnations: Srila Vyasadeva, Sri Sukadeva Gosvami, Sri Naradaji. Naradaji is a saktyavesa incarnation of devotion; God’s energy works through this great soul to spread devotional service. In the course of time we will realize that Srila Prabhupada was also an incarnation of devotion. So this is a festival of separation from Srila Prabhupada, for by feeling the pain of separation from him our devotion to him will increase. If one ‘does not feel the pain of separation from God or guru, one’s devotion has not yet begun; one whose heart is filled with this pain of separation has already developed devotion to God. Actually, though, Srila Prabhupada has not died. He is still with us in our hearts—if we ask his mercy. Then, wherever we are, at any time, he will direct us and give us strength.
Today we no longer have Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja with us in his physical form, but in his words he is present without any doubt. So we should not think that because Parama-bhagavata Sri Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is not present here physically, there is no more work to be done. Instead, we should all take his mission seriously and work more to spread Krsna consciousness all over the world. That will be our real homage to Srila Prabhupada. We should all work together, ignoring the small differences among us. As Sri Visvambhara Gosvami has already said, we will help you in every respect. Please don’t feel that you are alone. We are all behind you and will help you according to our strength.
We pray to Srila Prabhupada to please have mercy on us, that we can be successful in spreading his words and the words of Lord Caitanya. We pray that he may give us strength, and that he may give us the same faith in the guru and faith in the Lord that he had.