ISKCON Founder-Acarya, His Divine Grace A.C. (Abhay Charanaravinda) Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (known by his followers as Srila Prabhupada, which literally means “one at whose feet the masters sit”) was born Abhay Charan De in Calcutta, India, in 1896.
Active as a young man in Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement, his life changed upon meeting his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Swami. Bhaktisiddhanta gave his future disciple his life’s mission in their very first meeting, telling Abhay Caran to go to the west and preach Krishna consciousness to an English-speaking audience.
While it would be some years before he would fully embark upon this mission, the seed had been planted. Abhay Caran was married and had a family, and he ran a successful pharmaceutical business, but he also practiced bhakti-yoga in accordance with the instructions of his spiritual master, hearing from him and reading his written works at every opportunity, preparing himself spiritually to carry out his spiritual master’s request.
During his time as a grhasta (householder) he began his first translation of Srimad Bhagavatam into English, though the translation was lost before it was completed, and in 1944 he began to write, edit, publish and personally distribute the magazine Back to Godhead, a publication which presented writings of the important spiritual teachers of the Vaisnava tradition in English and Hindi versions, with an emphasis on the message of Caitanya Mahaprabhu (Lord Caitanya), the most recent incarnation of Krishna.
Abhay Charan left his business, home and family in 1950 to fully immerse himself in the path of bhakti yoga. In 1959, he accepted the renounced order of life, sannyasa, and was given the name Bhaktivedanta Swami in recognition of his spiritual knowledge and devotion to Krishna. In 1965, at the age of seventy, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami begged free passage on a steamship headed to the United States. It was a very difficult trip; after surviving two heart attacks during the 35 days at sea, he arrived in the United States with only the sacred books he was translating, seven dollars, and some dry cereal for sustenance.
He began preaching in lofts in the Bowery district and in Tompkins Square Park, and after some time he opened the first temple in the Krishna consciousness movement with the help of young people in a rented storefront on New York’s Lower East Side.
In July of 1966, Bhaktivedanta Swami officially incorporated the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), revealing by its name his plans for a worldwide sankirtan movement that would bring Krishna consciousness to “every town and village” as prophesied by Lord Caitanya. While most spiritual movements brought from India to the West at this time took their name from their founders, Prabhupada insisted on keeping the focus on Krishna, not himself.
The next center to open was in the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco, where the first Ratha Yatra outside of India was held, at Srila Prabhupada’s request. Later Prabhupada would send disciples to London, where they made contact with George Harrison of The Beatles, who became a supporter of the movement.
In the eleven years between the incorporation of ISKCON and 1977 when Srila Prabhupada left his body, dozens of temples were opened, and Prabhupada himself traveled to spread Krishna consciousness on six continents.
During this time he worked tirelessly to translate the most important Vedic scriptures into English, often only resting two hours a night. The first book to be published widely was his Bhagavad Gita As It Is, which presented the Bhagavad Gita translated into English with commentaries from the great spiritual teachers of India, with the goal of presenting the Bhagavad Gita without interpretation or speculation, simply presenting it “as it is”.
He continued to translate and write commentaries up until his last days, completing, among other works, the translations of Bhagavad Gita, Caitanya Caritamrita, Sri Isopanisad, Bhakti Rasamrita-Sindhu, and all but the last two cantos of Srimad Bhagavatam, the translation of which was completed by his disciples in accordance with his instructions. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the publishing arm of ISKCON was established by Srila Prabhupada to publish his writings and preserve them for future generations.
Srila Prabhupada continues to live on in his books and through the lives he has touched, whether in person or through his writings. His devoted disciples continue his mission through book distribution and nama sankirtan, with the goal of fulfilling the prophecy of spreading Krishna consciousness to every town and village throughout the world. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.