When Param Pujya A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Shrila Prabhupada (Shrila Prabhupada) entered the port of New York City on September 17, 1965, Americans could hardy care. He was yet another visitor to this fabulous country, albeit undergoing deep social and political turmoil. However, Shrila Prabhupada was not here to just visit America as he had no interest in its concrete cities and houses with indoor plumbing. Instead, he had come here to spread the ancient Vedic teachings of India. Before he passed away on November 14, 1977 at the age of 81, he had achieved this mission: over 350 vibrant centers not only in America but across the globe were bristling with Vedic teachings!
Shrila Prabhupada was born Abhay Charan De on September 1, 1896 in a pious Hindu business family of Calcutta, India which at that time was still chained to the British imperialists. He received his college education in one of its premier institution, the Scottish Church College. When he was a college student of 22 years of age, his family arranged his marriage with an 11 year old girl, Radharani Devi, following the then prevalent tradition of marrying girls before their puberty. Three years later, the couple had their first son. Abhay later became a successful pharmaceutical businessman and would have continued with it had he not met with a remarkable religious personality of that time, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta was a leader in the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya (religious sect) of Bengal. As though divinely arranged, this meeting left an indelible impression on Abhay's mind, and he later accepted Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati as his guru (spiritual master). It was on his Guru's urging that Shrila Prabhupad later took the arduous sea journey to America to spread the teachings of Bhagwan Shri Krishna to the English-speaking world. Abhay was later honored with the title of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. In 1959, at the age of 58, he took sannyasa, the renounced order of life, following the Vedic ashram (stages of life) system and started living a solitary life of a renunciant in Vrindavan, away from his family.
In 1965, at the age of sixty-nine, Srila Prabhupada traveled to New York City aboard a cargo ship. The journey was treacherous, and the elderly spiritual teacher suffered two heart attacks aboard the ship. Arriving in the United States with just seven dollars worth of Indian rupees and his translations of sacred Sanskrit texts, Shrila Prabhupada began to share the timeless Vedic wisdom with one and all. Experiencing a multitude of hardships, he pushed on his mission that soon spread among the American masses. Americans were disillusioned with Vietnam War; they were experimenting with mind-altering drugs and the Hippie counter-culture was in vogue.
Starting with a small storefront as a temple on New York’s Lower East Side, he soon went on to start an organization, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in the state of New York on July 11, 1966, less than a year after his arrival in this country.
In the eleven years that followed, Srila Prabhupada traveled extensively all over the world on lecture tours, bringing the teachings of Bhagvad Gita to thousands of people on six continents. Men and women from all backgrounds and walks of life came forward to accept his message, and with their help, Srila Prabhupada established ISKCON centers and projects throughout the world. With the desire to nourish the roots of Krishna Bhakti (devotion) in its very home, Srila Prabhupada returned to his home country India several times, where he sparked a revival in the Vaishnava tradition. There, he opened dozens of temples, including large centers in the holy towns of Vrindavan and Mayapur.
Shrila Prabhupada’s most significant contributions are his books. "If you ever get money, print books" was his guru's instruction, which Shrila Prabhupada aptly carried out by authoring English translations of Bhagavad-Gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Chaitanya Charitamrita and numerous other books. His writings have been translated into 76 languages. Perhaps the best tribute to this extraordinary personality of our times comes through the words of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister of India: "The voyage of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to the United States in 1965 and the spectacular popularity his movement gained in a very short spell of twelve years must be regarded as one of the greatest spiritual events of the century."Jai Shrila Prabhupad!