Memories of Śrīla Prabhupāda
– By Her Grace Mālati Mataji
As most of you must already know, this year marks the 50th year anniversary of the departure of Śrīla Prabhupāda from India and his subsequent arrival in America. This has resulted in many amazingly wonderful celebrations.
One of the most amazing celebrations occurred in Calcutta on the day of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s departure from Calcutta Port on August 13th but 50 years later. The devotees set-up a very daring plan. Generally such ambitious plans take years of planning. But they literally pulled it off with about two and half months. They hired the enormous Netaji Stadium found in Calcutta which is famous for having a capacity of 13,000 people. They planned to fill the stadium to its full capacity twice, in one day; in other words, hosting a morning program of 13,000 devotees and then an independent evening program, consisting of another 13,000 devotees. This amounts to 26,000 devotees! The goal would be more readily attainable if the program was free, but the guests were asked to pay. Concern crossed their minds a few times and they wondered, “Maybe we have gone a little bit beyond our ability here.” They had very ambitiously invited devotees from 125 countries around the world. These countries represented the presence of ISKCON. The devotees orchestrated this whole plan to celebrate Prabhupāda’s departure. Embedded in their plan was to enter the Guinness book of records on two accounts. One was by having the most people from the most countries partaking in a single yoga session. And the second was by having the largest choir with the most number of people from different countries. Bhakti yoga was the yoga session and the Hare Kṛṣṇa Mahamantra chanting was the choir.
However, the topmost reason was to honor and celebrate Śrīla Prabhupāda’s remarkable success in departing from India. Countless devotees came, including a large number of Sannyāsīs such as: Bhakti Charu Mahārāja, Rādhānath Mahārāja, Jayapatākā Mahārāja, Bhakti Purshottama Mahārāja and many others. Numerous top name local and national political heads attended the celebration out of personal belief and conviction in Śrīla Prabhupāda—that he had, indeed, done something great. They weren’t hiding their appreciation. However, as is prone in India the law was broken by over-occupying the stadium. On both occasions the full capacity of 13,000 was reached, but 15,000 devotees were given entrance—thereby a total of 30,000 devotees attended both events! This excludes the thousands of people who were so eager to honor Śrīla Prabhupāda, but were reluctantly turned away. The Calcutta celebration was like the kickoff ceremony for—the 50th year of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s departure from India. About a week and a half later—in Houston, Texas, USA—the next ceremony took place. It was not as large, but it was enthusiastic. Following this was the arrival ceremony in Boston.
The celebration in Boston was great because that is where Śrīla Prabhupāda first stepped off the boat Jaladuta that brought him to America. They had an unbelievable day of activities that began with the Mayor of Boston reading a letter which proclaimed that that day is to be A.C. Bhaktivedanta Day in Boston. For the first time the Indian flag was raised in Boston. All over Boston they knew that that day was Bhaktivedanta Swami Day. Next, a grand Harinām with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Murti (full-size Murti) proceeded and a large pandal was constructed in the well-known park called The Boston Commons. Śrīla Prabhupāda used to take his morning walk in that very same park. And then Giriraj Swami, who is an alumnus of Boston, gave the Bhāgavatam class on the pandal in the park. Then a second Harinām went from the park to the dock where Śrīla Prabhupāda stepped off the Jaladuta. And there was a great boat that allowed 900 devotees to climb aboard. Not everybody could fit onto the boat as there were more than 900 devotees but the devotees filled the boat, along with Śrīla Prabhupāda, and for 3 hours we sailed around the Boston Harbor, seeing how it was for Śrīla Prabhupāda to first enter and what he was seeing when he first arrived in America. During this period there were memories of Śrīla Prabhupāda such as Kīrtana and Gurupuja. Many senior devotees were present. Then we got off the boat and began the Harinām back to the Commons park. The reason I’m telling this story is because this morning the chanting was so blissful with Baḍa Hari Prabhu. It was such a blissful Kīrtana and during the Kīrtana you were feeling as if you somehow got lifted into a transcendental realm; and of course you’re in Govinda’s courtyard, so everybody is a devotee and I was seeing the monkeys, the pigeons, and the peacocks—all as devotees. It’s a beautiful vision.
In the Harinām from the boat back to the Boston Commons there was very intense chanting, but joyfully intense and there were many chanters, but Chandramauli Swami and Mahavishnu Swami from the UK were the main ones. Trivikrama Swami who’s quite elderly also became enlivened—and so did other younger devotees. And sometimes in America when you have a Harinām, people aren’t always as happy to see you as you would like them to be. But somehow, on that day, Prabhupāda’s mercy was flowing outside of the Harinām. And everybody was just smiling and usually what happens on Harinām, is that devotees aren’t always so considerate and take up the whole side walk, right? And people get a little annoyed. But, on that day, they were just happily jumping aside and looking with such pleasure at this beautiful chanting. It was a Saturday. Boston is a touristic place; there was beautiful weather, and so many people were out. We would stop in places and chant for a while and then move on. At one point you couldn’t tell the so-called spectators from the so-called devotees. Everybody was looking just like a devotee. There was just no distinction and when I saw that, I started laughing because it was such a wonderful thing. So the Kīrtana this morning was reminding me of that wonderful experience.
Somehow by Śrīla Prabhupāda’s extreme kindness and mercy, I got to come along with the group of devotees who came here to Jaipur, probably because my husband was the secretary that helped. So there was an amazing pandal program, an outdoor program that was arranged and it was right on the grounds of Govindaji Mandir. And the extraordinary thing for that occasion was that we had done pandal programs before, but the devotees always had to go out to gather, raise and beg for the money. And you know it was quite an effort to finance one of those programs and dozens of devotees would be involved.
This particular program was organized with Prabhupāda’s permission by two ladies, Her Grace Kauśalyā Devi Dāsī and Her Grace Śrīmatī Devī Dāsī. And they had come to Jaipur and they noticed the amazing mood—which is still here, that amazing mood—but it didn’t have all the commotion that’s there now. There were no motorcycles, cars, subways and trains overhead. It was a quietly, beautifully different city. When they came for their first Maṅgala Āratī to Govinda’s and they saw all the people just literally running—you know, you see in the morning when you come to Maṅgala Āratī, people are running to get in and we just felt so inspired to see this extreme devotion—they thought we must bring Prabhupāda here.
In the olden days there was not much of the tourism industry that is going on now. So being Western devotees in India was a very unusual sight—especially dressed in Sāri and tilak. It was very unusual, like never seen before. We were so strange to them that sometimes they would come up and they would take their finger and rub it on our hand or arm and look to see if we were painted white—like, they wanted to see if color would come off. So these two girls were noticed by the population here and of course all they could talk about was Śrīla Prabhupāda. And some of the leading people came to meet them and they told them their desire; they expressed, “We have a desire to bring our Guru here.” And they told him, “He has books—published books, we have temples around the world.” You know, so they were intrigued that they wanted to meet Bhaktivedanta Swami. So they agreed, “Yes, we will do something.” And they contacted Śrīla Prabhupāda to request permission. You know they couldn’t invite him to do a program unless he agreed. And he gave the permission. So it was the people of the town who really were helping these two ladies pull off a wonderful event. And they were the ones who assisted in the financing and helped introduce them to the important people they needed to make contact with in order to ensure that this was a very first class operation.
So when you first go through the gates of Govinda’s Mandir—on the left side—when you go through the final arch—on the left—if you look a little bit there is a gazebo—a round outdoor enclosed canopy.
It was enclosed, but it was round and it had like a temple dome top with lattice work all around and then there was a veranda. Many of the buildings you see now came after. They are newer buildings but that gazebo stood on its own! Śrīla Prabhupāda lived in there and continued his work from that little enclosure. Shyāmsundar, that was my husband, lived with him and one servant. And the rest of us stayed in very elegant Dharma-śālās. Our Dharma-śālās were just up the road. And they were cement rooms—just cement—the walls, the floor, the ceiling, with straw. So that was it, you just brought your own bedding, and you slept on the straw on the floor. No private room. Of course the men had their own room. And then there was one small room with just a water tap—that was the bathroom. And it was very cold because it was January. This place gets very cold in January. But we weren’t seeing any disadvantage because we felt so blessed to be here with Śrīla Prabhupāda in this wonderful place.
When Śrīla Prabhupāda arrived, the plan was to have a grand procession and take him through all the main streets in town. So they wanted to get an elephant. Because we had seen in different types of situations when the great person was being honored like a big yogi or something, they would have him on an elephant. But there was some other things going on and all the elephants were booked. So then they thought, “Well, if he can’t get an elephant, one of those beautiful silver horse-drawn carts with a beautiful white horse—that would look very good.” But it was wedding season. All the white horses were booked. What we ended up with was a bullock cart with a very old white bullock missing one horn.
You know, Prabhupāda, he didn’t need elephants and white horses, he didn’t need it actually. He has such a beautiful presence himself, that his presence would eclipse anything else. And I remember the devotees were apologetic, because at least we were going to have the parade; you know, we had the procession, but they were apologetic—you know what they were like… And Prabhupāda just, he took a look, and then he got on the cart and he sat in a very, as he would, straight-backed position. And I was at the back of the cart but for some reason I was thinking, “I’d like to be on that cart with Śrīla Prabhupāda.” And I didn’t usually think like this. But I was at that moment, “I would like to be on that cart with Śrīla Prabhupāda.” And then Śrīla Prabhupāda turned to me and he said, “Where is Sarasvatī?” Well, Sarasvatī was my child; she was a small girl at that time. And he said, “Bring her.” So my daughter got to ride with Śrīla Prabhupāda. And as a mother, I felt completely satisfied. Just like when King Prataprudra wanted to meet Lord Caitanya but Lord Caitanya refused him, then Lord Caitanya asked for his son and blessed his son and the King Prataprudra felt very satisfied.
One, two things: you know, there were so many things that went on but my service actually was that I was Prabhupāda’s cook and the house cleaner. So for me everything was based on making sure I somehow or other could adequately do my service under the circumstance, which also included taking care of my husband and my daughter and the other lady devotees. So we would all run down, we would join all of the Jaipur devotees running to Maṅgala Āratī in the morning. And then we would chant rounds and every morning, Śrīla Prabhupāda sat with us and chanted the Govindam prayers: “Govindam Ādi purusham …tamaham bhajami” so that was very beautiful.
Śrī Gopīnātha ki Jaya!
Thank you very much, Hare Kṛṣṇa!