A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), the founder of ISKCON, was born in Kolkatta, India under the given name, Abhay Charan De. He is widely regarded as the foremost Vedic scholar, translator, and teacher of the modern era. He is especially respected as the world’s most prominent contemporary authority on Bhakti-Yoga, devotional service to the Supreme Person, Krishna, as taught by the ancient Vedic writings of India.
He first met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami, in Calcutta in 1922. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, a prominent religious scholar and the founder of sixty-four Gaudiya Mathas (Vedic institutes) in India, liked this educated young man and convinced him to dedicate his life to teaching Vedic knowledge. Srila Prabhupada became his student and in 1933, his formally initiated disciple. Upon initiation, Prabhupada began preaching the topic of Vaishnavism.
At their first meeting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati requested Srila Prabhupada to broadcast Vedic knowledge in English. In the years that followed, Srila Prabhupada wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, assisted the Gaudiya Matha in its work, and, in 1944, started Back to Godhead, an English fortnightly magazine. Single-handedly, Srila Prabhupada edited it, typed the manuscripts, checked the galley proofs, and even distributed the individual copies. The magazine is now being continued by his disciples in the West. He began publishing prolifically on the topic of Vaishnavism.
In 1950, Srila Prabhupada retired from married life, adopting the vanaprastha (retired) order to devote more time to his studies and writing. He travelled to the holy city of Vrindavan, where he lived in humble circumstances in the historic temple of Radha Damodara. There he engaged for several years in deep study and writing. He accepted the renounced order of life (sannyasa) in 1959. At Radha Damodara temple, Srila Prabhupada began work on his life’s masterpiece: a multivolume commentated translation of the eighteen thousand verses Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana). He also wrote the “Easy Journey to Other Planets” book.
After publishing three volumes of the Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada reached the United States, in September 1965, to fulfill the mission of his spiritual master. When he first arrived by freighter in New York City, Srila Prabhupada was practically penniless. Only after almost a year of great difficulty did he establish the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, in July of 1966. Subsequently, His Divine Grace wrote more than fifty volumes of authoritative commentated translations and summary studies of the philosophical and religious classics of India.
In 1972, His Divine Grace introduced the Vedic system of primary and secondary education in the West by founding the Gurukul school in Dallas, Texas. Since then his disciples have established similar schools throughout the United States and the rest of the world. Before he passed away on November 14, 1977, he had guided the Society and seen it grow to a worldwide confederation of more than one hundred Ashrams, Schools, Temples, Institutes, and Farm communities. He also inspired the construction of several large International cultural centers in India. The center at Sridham Mayapur is the site for a planned spiritual city, an ambitious project for which construction will extend over many years to come. In Vrindavan, a magnificent Krishna-Balarama Temple, International Guesthouse, Gurukul school, and Srila Prabhupada Memorial and Museum have been established. There is also a major cultural and Educational center in Mumbai. Major centers are planned in Delhi and in a dozen other important locations on the Indian subcontinent.
Srila Prabhupada’s most significant contribution, however, is his books. Highly respected by scholars for their authority, depth and clarity, they are used as textbooks in numerous college courses. In order to promulgate his translations of Vaishnava classics and thereby make Gaudiya Vaishnavism more accessible to the entire world, Prabhupada founded the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) in Los Angeles in 1972. And has thus become the world’s largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy.
At first, the BBT published translations of such classics as the Bhagavad-Gita, the Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana) and Chaitanya’s autobiography, the Chaitanya Charitamrita, as well as Prabhupada’s commentaries on these texts. As the movement gained importance, publications from other authors soon followed. The BBT publishes both introductory and advanced texts on theological topics such as Bhakti Yoga, meditation, karma, reincarnation, as well as practical topics such as vegetarianism. These works have been translated into more than 60 languages. In addition, the BBT also spreads such works through the mediums of audio and video cassettes, DVDs, and CDs. The BBT also publishes Back to Godhead (BTG), a magazine created in order to further spread the teachings of Prabhupada and provide guidance for initiated members. Prabhupada originally began publication of BTG from his home in Calcutta in 1944, although due to limitations in resources it was published irregularly. Soon after Prabhupada’s arrival in New York City in 1966, he relaunched the magazine, petitioning the efforts of his earliest Western disciples in order to publish it periodically. This magazine is currently published bi-monthly in a wide variety of languages. BBT books are renowned for the distinctive artwork they contain.
More Importantly, In just 12 years, despite his advanced age, Srila Prabhupada circled the globe fourteen times on lecture tours that took him to six continents. Yet this vigorous schedule did not slow his prolific literary output. His writings constitute a veritable library of Vedic philosophy, religion, literature, and culture. At last he reached Lotus feet of Lord from illness on November 14, 1977; However, Srila Prabhupada has drawn appreciation from scholars and religious leaders alike for his remarkable achievement in presenting India’s Vaishnava spiritual culture in a relevant manner to contemporary Western and Worldwide audiences.
Many leading academics have highlighted ISKCON ’s authenticity.
The Hare Krishna movement is “a tradition that commands a respected place in the religious life of humankind.”
The Hare Krishna movement arose out of next to nothing in less than twenty years and has become known all over the West. This is an important fact in the history of the Western world … for the first time since the days of the Roman Empire, an Asian religion is being openly practiced by people of western origin in the streets of western cities.
– Dr. A.L. Basham; Eminent scholar of Hinduism, Author of A Cultural History of India
The ISKCON movement has few parallels in the world in terms of its rapid global spread, its trans-national, trans-ethnic, and trans-professional appeal, its outward simplicity, and the devotional energy of its followers. In the less than three and a half decades since its inception it has established temples in practically all parts of the world, and many of them are marvels of beauty, such as the one that is being opened in New Delhi today. The maha-mantra of Hare Krishna Hare Rama reverberates to the dancing feet of ISKCON devotees each morning and evening in temples from Stockholm to Sao Paulo and from Miami to Mayapur. What ISKCON has achieved is indeed globalization of the Gita appeal.
– Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Former Prime Minister of India
Guess again if you think Bollywood or Indian writing in English, is the country’s biggest cultural export, You may not come across any of these. If you visit Cochabamba in Bolivia or Gaborone in Botswana, what you will find instead is a center of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON ). It is easy to see where the Krishna movement’s global appeal lies. In the midst of today’s impersonal institutions and vast bureaucratic collectivities, it promises an intimate relationship with a personal god.
– Times of India editorial, Jan 6, 2006
The shores of Vizag will once more be engraved in history of Gaudiya Vaishnavism by the erection of Sri Sri Radha Damodar Temple. The proposal is to build a palatial Temple, a spectacular jewel on the Visakhapatnam coast line. The four story high edifice will house 6 temples on the 4th level mainly the signature deities of ISKCON Radha and Krishna, a second sanctum for Jagannath Baladev Subhadra devi, Ram Laxman Sita Hanuman, Gaur Nitai, Narasimha dev and Balaji in addition to 12 Saligram Silas which have been brought in from Nepal.