- Bhaktivedanta, Swami A. C. Prabhupada (1896–1977)
- Vaishnavite guru and founder of the International Society for Krishna ConsciousnessBhaktivedanta Swami played a major role in inter-preting Vedanta for modern Western readers and in spreading the worship of Krishna outside India. For several decades his followers’ chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra and their public distribution of literature became the face of Hinduism in the West.Abhay Charan De was born in Calcutta on Sep-tember 1, 1896, the son of a pious cloth merchant who would visit the Radha-Govinda Temple every day. When Abhay was four, his father gave him a small image of KRISHNA and taught him to worship the deity. Abjay entered Scottish Churches College in 1916. While still a student he entered into an arranged marriage with Padharani Satta in 1919; his wife never shared his devotional aspirations. He completed his college work but refused his degree, in response to Mohandas Karamchand GANDHI’s call to boycott British goods.While working as manager of a pharmaceuti-cal company. De met Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami, head of the GAUDIYA MAT H, an India-wide CHAITANYA-VAISHNAVITE religious move-ment, who became his spiritual master. In 1932 Sri Saraswati initiated De into the Gaudiya Math and gave him the name Abhay Charanaravinda, meaning “one who fearlessly takes shelter at the feet of the Lord.” The GURU told him to prepare to spread the teachings of Krishna worship in the West, but De put aside the suggestion. After his guru’s death two decades later, he wrote his first books: an Introduction to the Geetopanishad and the Bhagavad Gita As It Is. For these publications, a society called the Vaishnavites honored him with the title Bhaktivedanta, meaning “devotion to the knowledge of God.” He left his wife and family in 1959 to study under another teacher, Acha-rya Goswami, at the Radha Damodara temple in BRINDAVAN (Krishna’s birthplace), where he lived austerely in a small room.In 1965 Bhaktivedanta visited the United States to proclaim the message of Krishna. In 1966 he founded the INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS (known as ISKCON), to propound the ancient tradition of Vaishnavism, as taught in the first half of the 16th century by the ecstatic Chaitanya, among modern seekers. The followers of ISKCON have made BHAKTI YOGA famous in the West through their ubiquitous chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra. The orga-nization has published new translations of many ancient Vaishnavite scriptures, particularly the BHAGAVAD GITA and the BHAGAVATA PURANA.The movement became one of the most promi-nent of the alternative religions to emerge during the 1970s in America, from which it has spread to every continent. Before his death, Srila Prab-hupada (an honorific) saw the building of many temples, children’s schools, rural communities, and major cultural centers around the world. Since his death, the movement has diminished in size and has fragmented.On July 9, 1977, Bhaktivedanta Swami appointed 11 of his senior assistants to act as officiating priests (ritviks) to initiate all future ISKCON members on his behalf. After his death at Brin-davan on November 14 that year, the appointees claimed they were in fact chosen as successor gurus, causing confusion and controversy within the movement. ISKCON members believe that Bhaktivedanta Swami still exerts his spiritual influence on anyone who follows his teachings, and that he remains a highly empowered devotee of their God, Krishna. Effigies of Bhaktivedanta Swami are installed in all ISKCON temples.Today, in additon to ISKCON, a reform move-ment, the INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS REVIVAL MOVEMENT (IRM), carries on the teaching of Bhaktivedanta Swami.Further reading: A. C. Swami Prabhupada Bhaktive-danta, Bhagavad-Gita As It Is (New York: ISKCon, 1972); ———, KRSNA, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, 3 vols. (New York: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1970); ———, The Science of Self-Realization (New York: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1977); Steven J. Gel-berg, ed., Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna (New York: Grove Press, 1983); Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, Srila Prab-hupada-lilamrta: A Biography of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, 3 vols. (Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1980–83); J. Stillson Judah, Hare Krishna and the Counterculture (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1974).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.