A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was born in 1896, in Calcutta, in a Vaisnava family. His father, Gour Mohan De, named him Abhay Charan. His father’s only wish was that, Abhay would become a devotee of Srimati Radharani.
Abhay studied under British colonial rule, finally going to university to read chemistry. At university, he became a supporter of Gandhi’s movement to gain independence for India. As a measure of this support, he would only dress in white hand loom cloth, woven in India and furthermore, he declined to accept his degree from the university.
Abhay married and went into business as a small pharmaceutical firm to support his wife and family. He met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami, for the first time in Calcutta in 1922.
Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, took a liking to Abhay and told him to devote his life to teaching Vedic Knowledge; more specifically to preach Lord Caitanya’s message to the English speaking world. Although, Abhay accepted, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta within his heart as his spiritual master, it was not until 1932 that he became initiated. He then received both harinama and mantra diksa at his initiation.
In 1936 Srila Prabhupada wrote his spiritual master requesting if there was any particular service that he could render. Srila Prabhupada received a reply to that letter containing the same instruction the he had received in 1922: Preach Krishna consciousness to the English speaking world’s. His spiritual master passed away from this world two weeks later; thus leaving these final instructions engraved on Srila Prabhupada’s heart. These instructions were to form the focus of Srila Prabhupada’s life.
Srila Prabhupada wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita and assisted the Gaudiya Matha in its work. In 1944, during the Second World War, when paper was scarce and people had little money to spend, Srila Prabhupada began a magazine called Back to Godhead. Single-handedly, he would write, edit, oversee the layout, proof-read and sell the copies himself. This magazine is still being published today.
In 1950 Srila Prabhupada adopted the vanaprastha (retired) life; thus retiring from home and family life, in order to devote more time to his studies. In 1953 he received the title Bhaktivedanta from his Godbrothers. He travelled to Vrindavana, where he lived very humbly at the Radha-Damodara temple. He spent several years there studying the scriptures and writing.
In 1959 he took sannyasa, the renounced order of life. It was then, while staying at Radha-Damodara temple that he started on his masterpiece: translation and commentary of the Srimad-Bhagavatam in English. He also wrote Easy Journey to Other Planets. Within a few years, he had written three volumes of English translation and commentary for the first canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Once again, single handedly, he bought the paper and gathered funds, to print the books. He sold the books himself and through agents in the larger Indian cities.
He now felt ready to carry out his spiritual master’s orders and decided to start by taking the message of Krishna consciousness to America, convinced that other countries would follow suit. Obtaining free passage on a freight ship, called the Jaladuta he finally arrived in New York in 1965. He was 69 and practically penniless. All he possessed was a few copies of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and a few hundred rupees.
He had had a very difficult crossing, suffering two heart attacks and once arrived in New York he didn’t know which way to turn. After a difficult six months, preaching here and there, his few followers rented a storefront and apartment in Manhattan. Here, he would regularly give lectures, kirtana and distribute prasadam. People from all walks of life, including hippies, were drawn here; in search of that missing element from their lives and many became part of ‘Swamiji’s’ following.
As people became more serious, Srila Prabhupada’s followers used to hold regular kirtanas in the parks. The lectures and Sunday feast days became renowned. His young followers eventually took initiation from Srila Prabhupada, promising to follow the regulative principles and chant 16 rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra daily. He also reinstated the Back to Godhead magazine.
In July 1966, Srila Prabhupada established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness ‘ ISKCON.
His aim was to use the society to promote Krishna Consciousness throughout the world. In 1967, he visited San Francisco and started an ISKCON society there. He then sent his disciples all over the world to spread Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s message and open new centres in Montreal, Boston, London, Berlin, and other cities in North America, India, and Europe. In India, three magnificent temples were initially planned: Vrindavana, the Krishna Balaram temple with all its ancillary faculties; Bombay, a temple with an educational and cultural centre; and in Mayapur, a huge temple with a Vedic planetarium.
Srila Prabhupada produced all of his books bar the three written in India within the next eleven years. Srila Prabhupada slept little and would spend the early morning hours writing. He would write almost daily between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m. He dictated his text, which his disciples then typed and edited. Srila Prabhupada would translate the original texts from Sanskrit or Bengali, word by word, and gave a complete commentary.
His works include Bhagavad-gita As It Is, the multi-volume Srimad-Bhagavatam, the multivolume Caitanya-caritamrta, The Nectar of Devotion, Krsna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Sri Isopanisad, The Nectar of Instruction, and dozens of small books. His writings have been translated into over fifty languages. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, established in 1972 to publish the works of His Divine Grace, has thus become the world’s largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy.
Despite his heavy literary schedule, Srila Prabhupada did not let his writing stand in the way of his preaching. In just twelve years, despite his advanced age, he circled the globe fourteen times on lecture tours that took him to six continents. His days were filled with writing, teaching his followers and the public, and with guiding his growing society, until the day he departed from this world. Before departing from this world Srila Prabhupada gave many instructions to his disciples to follow in his footsteps and to continue the preaching and spreading of Krishna Consciousness all over the world.He departed this world on November 14 1977.
In the short time he spent in the west, he preached continuously, established 108 temples, wrote more than sixty volumes of transcendental literature, initiated five thousand disciples, founded the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, began a scientific academy (the Bhaktivedanta Institute) and other trusts related to ISKCON.
Srila Prabhupada was an extraordinary author, teacher, and saint. He managed to spread Krishna Consciousness all over the world, through his writing and preaching. His writings comprise of many volumes and are the basis of Krishna consciousness not only for his disciples but for his grand-disciples, affiliated members of the disciplic succession, and for the public at large.
His life history from his earliest days to his passing away in 1977 is vividly described in his authorised biography, the Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta by Satsvarupa Goswami.