Srila Prabhupada meeting his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, for the first time

Srila Prabhupada meeting his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, for the first time

“Although initially reluctant but when Srila Prabhupada met his guru for the first time his life got completely transformed, he dedicated his life fully at the lotus feet of Lord Krishna and preached to millions of people the message of Krishna.”  

There are certain events which eventually turn out to be the turning point in the history of humanity. One such event occurred 100 years back in 1922, when Srila Prabhupada met his guru Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura in Kolkata.  That meeting fanned the flame of devotion which young Abhay had in his heart for Krishna. It helped him to define the mission and purpose of his life.

He now knew what he has to do in his life and took a vow like the famous kuru warrior Bhisma, that practicing, preaching and propagating Krishna Consciousness will be the ultimate goal of his life. He spearheaded a worldwide Krishna Conscious movement and established Iskcon in 1966, in New York. Today the world bows down to this great saintly personality and out of love and reverence calls him, Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada always thanked and glorified his guru for transforming his life.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura: A spiritual revolutionary leader

Abhay was born and brought up in Kolkata. Kolkata was a cosmopolitan city and for British it was an important city. The British East India Company established its base in Kolkata first and the city was the capital of British India from 1772 – 1911. However, Indians en masse were protesting against the British empire. The political movement gave birth to many prominent nationalistic leaders who were galvanizing the masses against the foreign subjugation.

During this time, few prominent personalities were also trying their best to revive India’s pristine spiritual culture and glory which people were not paying much attention to. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was one such spiritual leader who was working tirelessly to revive Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a movement started by Lord Chaitanya around 500 years back. Later his son, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, played a key role in inspiring thousands of people to practice devotion to Krishna and Chaitanya.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura was a spiritual revolutionary leader and a fearless preacher. He practiced what he preached and preached what Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had asked to preach without any adulteration.

He was based in Mayapur, the birthplace of Lord Chaitanya and was having a preaching centre there. But to expand the movement of Lord Chaitanya, he knew he also need to establish a base out of Mayapur.

Gaudiya Math in Kolkata

He decided to have a preaching centre n Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), capital of West Bengal, because it was said during his time and is still said “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.” So, Srila Saraswati Thakura thought that if people of Kolkata become devotees of Krishna then rest of India (including present day Pakistan and Bangladesh) too will become devotees of Krishna eventually.

So, he established a centre in Kolkata in November 1918 at 1 Ultadanga Junction Road and named it Bhaktivinod Asan.  In September 1920, on day of Sri Krishna Janmastami, he installed small deities of Sri Gandharvika Giridhari and a tall deity of Sri Chaitanya at Ultadanga centre. And on that auspicious day, he also renamed the centre to Sri Gaudiya Math.

Gradually Gaudiya Math became one of the most important preaching centres of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Srila Sarswati Thakura took several initiatives to spread the teachings of Lord Chaitanya from here.

It was at this place Abhay met Srila Saraswati Thakura and accepted him as his guru. And we can say that at this place only Srila Saraswati Thakura who was also called simha guru because of his courageous preaching sowed the seed of Iskcon in the heart of Abhay who later came to be known as Srila Prabhupada.

When Abhay (Srila Prabhupada) met his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, Thakura for the first time

Abhay was young, dynamic and educated. From his childhood days, he was a great devotee of Lord Krishna and Srimati Radharani. He always gave credit to his father and mother for instilling love for Krishna in his heart when he was just a little child.

His father, Gour Mohan De, and mother, Rajani De, were always engaged in practicing loving devotion to Krishna and would inspire their children to do the same. Abhay’s heart was full of devotion for Krishna, so when he saw anyone befooling people in name of Krishna, he became disturbed.

Since people were not practicing bhakti as given in Vedic scriptures in letter and spirit so many charlatans had sprung up and usurped the position of spiritual leaders. Bereft of spiritual knowledge, people had become gullible, so were easily fooled by bogus spiritual leaders. Abhay had seen that many sadhus who would frequent his home hardly had any spiritual substance.

They would don the saffron robe to look like a sadhu, but their main business was to collect donation and eat nice food at the house of their guest. Although Abhay did not disrespect anyone but being a seeker of truth, he kept distance from these people. Like most of the youngsters of 1920s, Abhay also wanted to actively participate in India’s freedom movement. He was inspired by Gandhi.

Abhay’s friend

One day, his friend Narendranath Mullik asked Abhay to meet Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura who was preaching in Kolkata.  The year was 1922. Narendra had met him recently and was very much inspired. But young Abhay laughed at the proposal. He remembered meeting so called saffron robe wearing great sannyasis. He had seen their true character, so he simply refused.

But Narendra knew that this great personality is different, he is amazing. Abhay was his friend and he knew his spiritual inclination. So, he wanted Abhay to meet the saint.  He tried to convince him, “He is not like any other sannyasi you have met. He is different.” Still Abhay was reluctant.  But Narendra was persistent and finally Abhay could not say no to his friend.  But he went with a sceptical mind.

Abhay’s visits Gaudiya Math

When they reached Gaudiya Math, a devotee ushered them to the roof where Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura was speaking to some of his disciples and guests.  He was tall, slender and had fair complexion. He wore sannyasi robes and had Vaisnava tilaka on his forehead and other parts of his body. On his neck were Tulasi beads and brahminical thread adorned his torso.  He looked scholarly and grave.

Both Abhay and Narendra paid obeisance to this divine personality by respectfully bowing down in front of him. This is how one pays respect to a Vaisnava sannyasi. Born in a devotee family Abhay knew the Vaisnava etiquette.

Before they could rise after paying obeisances, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura who was conversing with his guests looked towards them and said, “You both are young, educated, so why don’t you preach the message of Lord Chaitanya all over the world?” Abhay could not believe what he heard.

Mostly he had heard sannyasis asking for money for their organisation or wanted to be invited at house for eating opulent food or asking people to become their disciples. But here he was asking him to become a worldwide preacher. Abhay did not accept anything at face value. He immediately countered, “But we Indians are under subjugation. Who will listen to us?  Who will appreciate our culture and philosophy? First, we should fight for our independence and get it.”

Krishna Conscious is emergency

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura said, “Krishna Conscious is emergency. It cannot wait for anything else. Rulers keep on coming and going, political situation of a country keeps on changing. But devotion to Krishna should never stop irrespective of any political or social turbulence.”

Abhay was flabbergasted by his boldness and his courage to speak the truth. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura had complete conviction that only Krishna consciousness can solve the problem of not just India but of whole world.

Abhay was drawn towards him. He sat there in rapt attention. Abhay was like a chataka bird who only drinks pure rainwater. The chaste bird is ready to die out of thirst but does not drink any water other than rainwater. Abhay too was not ready to hear any spiritual knowledge to quench his spiritual thirst. But he was desperately waiting to drink the uncontaminated transcendental knowledge coming out from the mouth of a pure devotee of Krishna.

Today, Krishna had answered his prayer. He was in front of such a great soul.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura’s qualities

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura spoke fluently in English and Bengali, quoted Sanskrit verses from the scriptures to give authenticity to his talk. He said that we do not belong to any particular nation or religion, but we are eternal spirit souls and our only relation is with Krishna which we have now forgotten and so suffering.

Once we understand our true spiritual identity and focus all our attention to re-establish our lost relation with Krishna then all the problems of our life will cease to exist. Our only business is to chant the names of Krishna and serve the mission of Krishna.

Abhay was delighted to hear the pure transcendental teachings. He saw that this person thinks nothing but Krishna and asks nothing but to chant the names of Krishna. He has no interest in anything material.  His door was open for anyone who was interested in practicing Krishna Consciousness.

Like other so-called sadhus he had seen earlier, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura was not coaxing people especially the rich ones for donation. He treated rich and poor, Hindus and non-Hindus, Indians and non-Indians alike. He saw everyone as the children of Krishna.

Abhay’s experience

It was getting dark. Abhay was listening to this great personality for last two hours and was relishing his words. Monks at Gaudiya Math gave him and his friend prasad. They both bowed down to the sage and came out of the building. It was dark outside, but Abhay’s heart was enlightened. In his heart he felt deep satisfaction and deep joy.

Although he met him for the first time but in his heart he knew that he has eternal relationship with him. He was eager to join his mission but he was married, had family responsibilities which he could not give up abruptly. But as the great guru had said that Krishna consciousness cannot wait for anything else so, he decided that from now the purpose and mission of his life will be to practice and preach Krishna consciousness.

What about Abhay’s involvement in India’s freedom movement?  In fact, this was the best way by which he could serve his motherland and the entire humanity.

Abhay was grateful to his friend for bringing him here. When Narendra asked him, “How was his experience?”

Abhay just said “wonderful.” He could not think of any other word to express his feelings. When the heart is overwhelmed with feelings of devotion, words fail to describe those emotions. 

Abhay fulfils the first instruction of his spiritual master

Whenever he got opportunity, he met Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. He had already accepted him as his guru in the first meeting itself and he formerly took initiation from him in 1932. As a grihasta he did his best to serve his guru and Gaudiya Math.

He had deep desire to fulfil the first instruction of his guru – to spread Krishna Consciousness all over the world. With lots of struggle and difficulty, he finally succeeded. He established Iskcon in 1966 and travelled all over the world to preach pure devotion to Krishna.  His disciples and admirers started calling him as Srila Prabhupada.

Srila means one who has “beauty and power to understand the lila (pastimes) of Krishna.” Prabhupada has two meanings.

  1. At whose feet (pada), many Prabhus (masters) bows down.
  2. One who is always at the lotus feet (pada) of the Supreme Master (prabhu), Lord Krishna.

Today Iskcon has more than 600 temples all over the world in prominent cities. Iskcon organizes famous Jagannath Rath Yatra festival in many important cities of the world such as Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Rome, Zurich, Sydney, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, Dhaka, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai. 

Srila Prabhupada’s contribution

Srila Prabhupada wrote several books and also translated Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, Chaitanya Charitamrita and other Vedic literatures. These books of Srila Prabhupada are now available in 89 languages. In last 55-56 years, Iskcon has distributed millions of these Vedic literatures including Bhagavad Gita all over the world. It has played an important role in the exponential growth of Hare Krishna movement across the globe.  

Lauding the contribution of Srila Prabhupada and Iskcon, Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi said, “Today there are hundreds of ISKCON temples in different countries around the world and is spreading the Indian culture. ISKCON has told the world that for India, faith means zeal, enthusiasm, to be in high spirits and faith in humanity.”

Although he attained great success but he always remembered his guru, always remained grateful to him. Srila Prabhupada gave all credit for the success of Krishna Consciousness movement to his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, his eternal spiritual father.

Many years later, reflecting on his first meeting with his guru, Srila Prabhupada said, “I accepted him as my spiritual master immediately. Not officially, but in my heart. I was thinking that I had met a very nice saintly person.”

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