A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), also known as Srila Prabhupada, is the Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and the world’s foremost teacher of Krishna Consciousness in the 20th century.
Born in India as Abhay Charan De, Abhay received a classical European education from Calcutta’s prestigious Scottish Church College. However, as a political activist and early follower of Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement, he rejected his diploma in protest of British rule in India. Several years later, after a life-changing encounter with Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, a prominent scholar and spiritual teacher who explained that the practice of Krishna Consciousness is too important to wait for political reform, Abhay redirected his attention from politics towards the cultivation of spiritual life and community.
Bhaktisiddhanta represented the ancient tradition of Krishna Consciousness, the yoga of devotion, based on the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita. Upon their first meeting, Bhaktisiddhanta asked Abhay to broadcast the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita and the practice of Krishna Consciousness in the Western world. Inspired by the depth of Bhaktisiddhanta’s devotional wisdom, Abhay became his lifelong student and disciple.
After four decades of learning and practice, while simultaneously running his own business and supporting his family, Abhay took formal vows of sannyasa, or celibate priesthood. In preparation for his journey to the West, Abhay settled in the holy city of Vrindavana, India and began translating the Sanskrit verses of the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad Bhagavatam into English, writing elaborate commentaries on each verse. During this time, Abhay was given the title Bhaktivedanta in recognition of his advanced scholarship and spiritual realisation.
In 1965, at the age of 69, Srila Prabhupada departed from India with unremitting determination to fulfil his teacher’s request. After a month-long voyage, having suffered two heart attacks while aboard an Indian cargo ship, Srila Prabhupada arrived alone at Brooklyn with just seven dollars in Indian rupees and a trunk of Sanskrit scriptures translated into English.
Although faced with many hardships, Srila Prabhupada began giving Bhagavad-gita classes in Bowery lofts and leading kirtan (devotional chanting) in Tompkins Square Park. His sincerity attracted the attention of young seekers, eager to learn more about meditation and Eastern spirituality. With their help, Srila Prabhupada rented a small storefront in New York’s Lower East Side and continued giving daily classes and leading kirtan.
With the support of his young American students, Srila Prabhupada established ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) in 1966. In the following 11 years, Srila Prabhupada circled the globe 14 times, establishing centres and projects throughout the world including temples, ashrams, farm communities, schools, universities, and what would become the world’s largest vegetarian food relief program.
During this time, Srila Prabhupada continued his translation work and authored an unprecedented number of books, over 70 titles, subsequently translated into 76 languages. His most prominent works include: Bhagavad-gita As It Is, the 30-volume Srimad Bhagavatam, and the 17-volume Sri Caitanya-caritamrita.
In 1977, at the age of 81, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada passed away in Vrindavana, surrounded by his loving disciples who continue to preserve his legacy to this day. Although the teachings of Krishna Consciousness had rarely ventured beyond India’s borders, by the extraordinary devotion and determination of Srila Prabhupada, tens of millions of people around the globe now benefit from the timeless practice of Krishna Consciousness.
Krishna West was established by one of Srila Prabhupada’s exemplary students, H.D. Goswami, to help facilitate ISKCON’s outreach to Western audiences and to continue serving Srila Prabhupada’s mission to broadcast the illuminating teachings of the Bhagavad-gita and the joyful practice of Krishna Consciousness in the West.