By Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
San Francisco, 1967
One day Malati hurried into Srila Prabhupada’s apartment, took a small item out of her shopping bag, and placed it on Prabhupada’s desk for his inspection. “What is this, Swamiji?”
Srila Prabhupada looked down and beheld a three-inch wooden doll with a flat head, a black, smiling face, and big, round eyes. The figure had stubby, forward-jutting arms, and a simple green and yellow torso with no visible feet. Srila Prabhupada immediately folded his palms and bowed his head, offering the little figure respects.
“You have brought Lord Jagannatha, the Lord of the universe,” he said, smiling and bright-eyed. “He is Krishna. Thank you very much.” Srila Prabhupada beamed with pleasure, while Malati and others sat amazed at their good fortune of seeing Swamiji so pleased. Prabhupada explained that this was Lord Jagannatha, a Deity of Krishna worshiped all over India for thousands of years. Jagannatha, he said, is worshiped along with two other deities: His brother, Balarama, and His sister, Subhadra.
Excitedly, Malati confirmed that there were other, similar figures at Cost Plus, the import store where she had found the little Jagannatha, and Srila Prabhupada said she should go back and buy them. Malati told her husband, Syamasundara, and together they hurried back and bought the two other dolls in the set.
Srila Prabhupada placed the black-faced, smiling Jagannatha on the right. In the center he placed the smallest figure, Subhadra, who had a red, smiling mouth and a rectangular black and yellow torso. The third figure, Balarama, with a white, round head, red-rimmed eyes, and a happy red smile, had the forward-jutting arms like Jagannatha and a blue and yellow base. Prabhupada placed Him next to Subhadra. As Prabhupada looked at them together on his desk, he asked if anyone knew how to carve. Syamasundara said he was a wood sculptor, and Prabhupada asked him to carve three-foot-high copies of the little Jagannatha, Balaräma, and Subhadrä.
More than two thousand years ago, Srila Prabhupada told them, there was a king named Indradyumna, a devotee of Lord Krishna. Maharaja Indradyumna wanted a statue of the Lord as He had appeared when He and His brother and sister had traveled on chariots to the holy field of Kurukshetra during a solar eclipse. When the king requested a famous artist from the heavenly planets, Vishvakarma, to sculpture the forms, Vishvakarma agreed-on the condition that no one interrupt his work. The king waited for a long time, while Vishvakarma worked behind locked doors. One day, however, the king felt he could wait no longer, and he broke in to see the work in progress. Vishvakarma, true to his word, vanished, leaving behind the uncompleted forms of the three deities. The king was nevertheless so pleased with the wonderful forms of Krishna, Balarama, and Subhadra that he decided to worship them as they were. He installed them in a temple and began worshiping them with great opulence.
Since that time, Srila Prabhupada continued, Lord Jagannatha has been worshiped all over India, especially in the province of Orissa, where there is a great temple of Lord Jagannatha at Puri. Each year at Puri, during the gigantic Ratha-yatra festival, millions of pilgrims from all over India come to worship Lord Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra, as the deities ride in procession on three huge carts. Lord Caitanya, who spent the last eighteen years of His life at Jagannatha Puri, used to dance and chant in ecstasy before the Deity of Lord Jagannatha during the yearly Ratha-yatra festival.
Seeing this appearance of Lord Jagannatha in San Francisco as the will of Krishna, Prabhupada said that they should be careful to receive and worship Lord Jagannatha properly. If Syamasundara could carve the forms, Prabhupada said, he would personally install them in the temple, and the devotees could then begin worshiping the deities. San Francisco, he said, could be renamed New Jagannatha Puri. He chanted, Jagannathah svāmī nayana-patha-gāmī bhavatu me. “This is a mantra for Lord Jagannatha,” he said. “Jagannatha means “Lord of the universe.’ “O Lord of the universe, kindly be visible unto me.’ It is very auspicious that He has chosen to appear here.”
Syamasundara bought three large blocks of hardwood, and Prabhupada made a sketch and pointed out a number of details. Using the small statues, Syamasundara calculated ratios and new dimensions and began carving on the balcony of his apartment. Meanwhile, the devotees bought the rest of the tiny Jagannathas from Cost Plus, and it became a fashion to glue a little Jagannatha to a simple necklace and wear Him around the neck. Because Lord Jagannatha was very liberal and merciful to the most fallen, Srila Prabhupada explained, the devotees would soon be able to worship Him in their temple. The worship of the forms of Radha and Krishna in the temple required very high, strict standards, which the devotees were not yet able to meet. But Lord Jagannatha was so merciful that He could be worshiped in a simple way (mostly by chanting Hare Krishna), even if the devotees weren’t very much advanced.
Prabhupada set March 26, the appearance day of Lord Caitanya, as the day for installing the deities. The devotees would have a big feast and begin worshiping Lord Jagannatha. Prabhupada said they would have to build an altar, and he told them how to prepare it.
While Syamasundara hurried to finish his carving, a small splinter lodged itself in his hand, and the wound became infected. Finally Syamasundara got blood poisoning and became so sick that he had to go to the hospital. Lord Jagannatha was taking away the reactions to Syamasundara’s previous sinful activities, Prabhupada said.
On March 26, the appearance day of Lord Caitanya, Prabhupada said that during the morning they would stay together in the temple, read about Lord Caitanya, and hold kīrtana, and in the evening they would have a ceremony for installing Lord Jagannatha. Having fasted until moonrise, they would then break fast with a prasādam feast.
When Srila Prabhupada entered the temple that morning, he saw the work the devotees had done. The new altar stood in the rear of the room, above where his dais had been, and his dais was now on the right side of the room, against the wall. From his seat he would be able to see the altar very easily. The altar was a simple redwood plank seven feet above the floor and fixed between two thick redwood pillars. A canopy covered the place where the deities would stand. Below the altar hung Haridasa’s painting of Lord Caitanya and His associates dancing during kīrtana, and behind the painting was a madras backdrop. About three feet above the floor, a shelf below the painting held candlesticks and would be used for articles to be offered to the deities.
Prabhupada took his seat. As usual, he led kīrtana and then chanted one round of japa with the devotees. Then he had Hayagrīva read aloud from the biographical sketch of Lord Caitanya from the first volume of Srimad-Bhagavatam. But many devotees were sleepy, despite Hayagrīva’s reading loudly with force and elocution. Although Prabhupada was listening attentively and wanted the others to sit with him and hear about Lord Caitanya, when he saw that so many were dozing he stopped the reading and held another kīrtana. Then he chanted japa with them for about fifteen minutes.
“All right,” he said. “We will read again. Who will read?” Līlāvatī’s hand flew up urgently. “All right.” He had her sit near his dais, and someone placed a microphone before her. Līlāvatī’s reading presented a contrast to the deep tones of Hayagrīva. But she was another scholarly voice. Her careful pronunciation of the Sanskrit words and phrases was pleasing to Srila Prabhupada, and he several times commented, “Oh, very nice.” Līlāvatī was thrilled and read on intensely, determined to keep everyone awake.
That evening, devotees and hippie guests filled the room to capacity. Prabhupada was present, and the mood was reverential and festive. It was a special event. The just-finished deities sat on the altar, and everyone was glancing at them as they stood on their redwood shelf beneath a yellow canopy, their features illumined by spotlights. The deities wore no clothes or ornaments, but were freshly painted in bright black, red, white, green, yellow, and blue. They were smiling. Srila Prabhupada was also glancing at them, looking up to their high altar.
Prabhupada lectured about the four social and four spiritual orders of life described in the Vedic literatures. According to one’s quality and work, he said, each person has a certain occupational duty. “But the ultimate goal of that duty,” he explained, “is to satisfy the Supreme Lord.” It doesn’t matter if one is lowborn or poor. “Material qualification has nothing to do with spiritual evolution. Spiritual evolution is that with your talent, with your capacity, with your work, you have to satisfy the Supreme Lord.”
Prabhupada gave the example of Sridhara, an impoverished devotee of Lord Caitanya’s who earned the equivalent of less than five cents a day yet offered half his earnings in worship of the Ganges. If one were rich, however, one should still give half his wealth to the service of the Lord. Prabhupada cited Rūpa Gosvāmī, who had given fifty percent of his wealth for Krishna consciousness, given twenty-five percent for his family, and saved twenty-five percent for emergencies. Suddenly Prabhupada began speaking about the money his disciples in New York had lost: “And twenty-five percent for himself so that in times of emergency… because as soon as money is gone out of my hand, I have no control. We have recently lost $6,000-not here, in our New York. So as soon as the check is out of hand, now it is gone. It is gone…”
Prabhupada gestured to indicate money flying like a bird out of his hand. At this reference to the troubling, entangling affair with Mr. Price and the foolish boys and their hard-earned money gone, Prabhupada paused for a moment. Then he continued with the lecture.
“Paying attention to Bhagavān, the Supreme Person, is practical,” Srila Prabhupada said. “Here is Krishna. Krishna’s form is there. Krishna’s color is there. Krishna’s helmet is there, Krishna’s advice is there. Krishna’s instruction is there. Krishna’s sound is there. Everything Krishna. Everything Krishna. There is no difficulty.
“But if you turn your attention to the impersonal and to the Supersoul in the heart, as the yogīs do, then it is very difficult. It is very difficult. You cannot fix your attention to the impersonal. In the Bhagavad-gita it is said that, kleśo ‘dhikataras teśām avyaktāsakta-cetasām: “Those who are attached to the impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth-their business is very troublesome.’ It is not like chanting, dancing, and eating-this is very nice. But that is very troublesome. And even if you speculate on the impersonal, the result that is achieved by working hard for many, many lives is that you will have to also eventually come to Krishna.”
Srila Prabhupada continued describing Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, citing evidence from scriptures like Bhagavad-gita and Brahma-samhita. The first step in spiritual life, he explained, was to hear from Krishna Himself. But Prabhupada warned that if one heard the class and then went outside and forgot, he could not improve. “Whatever you are hearing, you should say to others,” Prabhupada said. And he gave the example of how disciples were writing in Back to Godhead what they had heard from their spiritual master. And to speak or write what one has heard, a person has to be thoughtful…
“You are hearing about Krishna, and you have to think. Then you have to speak. Otherwise, it will not work. So, śrotavyah kīrtitavyaś ca dhyeyah pūjyaś ca. And you should worship. Therefore, you require this Deity for worshiping. We have to think of, we have to speak, we have to hear, we have to worship (pūjyaś ca). And should we do this occasionally? No. Nityadā: regularly. Regularly. This is the process. So anyone who adopts this process-he can understand the Absolute Truth. This is the clear declaration of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Thank you very much. Any question?”
A young boy raised his hand and began earnestly: “Well, you mentioned about how we should follow the supreme law, how we should be like what your spirit tells you? Or what you, your supreme, whatever it tells you? I mean… whatever it tells you? I mean, if you meditate a lot, you feel you should do… something…”
Prabhupada: “It is not something. It must be actual fact.”
Boy: “Yeah, I mean like…”
Prabhupada: “So, there is no question of something.”
Boy: “Well, I see…”
Prabhupada: “Something is vague. You must speak what is that something.”
Boy: “Well, let’s say, be… uh…”
Prabhupada: “That you cannot express. That means you have no idea. So we have to learn. This is the process. I am speaking of the process. If you want to have knowledge of the Absolute Truth, the first thing is faith. Then you must be thoughtful. Then you must be devoted, and you must hear from authentic sources. These are the different methods. And when you come to the ultimate knowledge-from Brahman platform to Paramātmā platform, then to the Supreme Absolute Personality of Godhead-then your duty shall be to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is the perfection of your active life. These are the processes. And it is concluded that everyone, never mind what he is-his duty is to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“And how can we satisfy? We have to hear about Him, we have to speak about Him, we have to think about Him, we have to worship Him-and that is regularly. This will help you. But if you have no worship, if you have no thought, if you have no hearing, if you have no speaking, and you are simply thinking of something, something, some thing-that something something is not God.”
Boy: “I mean, well, you know, I’m so young. I didn’t know what I meant. I don’t know what…”
Prabhupada: “Don’t know. That I am speaking-that you have to know by these processes. We are all “don’t knows.’ So we have to know. This is the process.”
Young woman: “Since we don’t yet understand the supreme law, because we are young and just new to this, then how can we speak about it?”
Prabhupada: “Therefore you have to hear! The first thing is śrotavyah: you have to hear. Unless you hear, how can you speak? We are therefore giving you facility to hear. You hear, and then you can speak. Then you can think. We are giving all facility to hear, to speak, to think, to worship. This is the Society’s work. Unless you hear, how can you speak? The first task is given śrotavyah. Then kīrtitavyaś ca dhyeyah pūjyaś ca nityadā. These are the processes. You have to hear. And hearing, you have to repeat, chant. And then you have to think. You have to worship. These are the processes.
Upendra: “Swamiji… so we have to hear, I understand. But do we speak, or do we first listen for a long time and then speak?”
Prabhupada: “No. Why a long time? Suppose you hear two lines. You repeat that two lines. And aside from everything else, you hear Hare Krishna. So you can chant Hare Krishna. What is the difficulty there? śrotavyah kīrtitavyaś ca. You have to hear and chant. So if you cannot remember all the topics which we are speaking from the Bhagavad-gita or Srimad-Bhagavatam, you can at least remember this: Hare Krishna. Therefore, it is the easiest process. You hear Hare Krishna and chant Hare Krishna. The other things will come automatically.
“Now, this is possible for everyone. Even the child can repeat Hare Krishna. What is the difficulty? You hear Hare Krishna and chant Hare Krishna. We are not giving you very difficult or troublesome task. Then everything will follow. We are giving you everything. But if you feel in the beginning it is difficult, then you can do this-this is very nice-chant Hare Krishna. You are doing that, actually. Hearing and chanting-this process will help you. It is the basic principle of advancement in spiritual life. Without hearing, we shall simply concoct, waste our time, and mislead people. We have to hear from the authoritative sources.”
Srila Prabhupada paused. The philosophical talk had been rigorous, lasting about forty-five minutes. He wasn’t tired-he could have gone on-but now he wanted to conduct the deity installation. Everything necessary for spiritual life was here: the temple, the devotees, the books, the Deity, prasādam. He wanted these young people to take advantage of it. Why should they remain living like animals and thinking of spiritual life as a vague groping for “something”? They should take advantage of Krishna’s mercy and be successful and happy. And for this, Prabhupada was their tireless servant.
Prabhupada: “So, Hayagrīva? Come here.” Prabhupada had had the devotees arrange for a large candle on a plate. The ceremony he had planned would be a simple one, with devotees and guests one after an other coming up and offering the flame in circles before the Jagannatha deities. “This should be lighted up,” Srila Prabhupada said, “and when there is kīrtana, one must be doing like this before the Deity. [Srila Prabhupada moved his hands around in a circle before the Deity.] You see?”
Hayagrīva : “Yes, yes.”
Prabhupada: “Yes, with the kīrtana. And then when one person is tired he should hand it over to another person, devotee. When he is tired he should give to another-as long as the kīrtana will go on. This should be done with the kīrtana just now. Do you follow? Yes. You begin, and when you are tired you hand over to another. It will go on like that.”
Srila Prabhupada, from his seat, guided Hayagrīva in approaching the Deity with the lit candle. Some of the girls tittered with nervous expectation. “Before the Deity,” Srila Prabhupada said. “All right. Now better begin kīrtana.”
Prabhupada began playing karatālas and singing the Hare Krishna mantra to the popular melody he had introduced in America. “Just in front,” he called out, gesturing to Hayagrīva to stand more directly before the deities. Devotees and guests began rising to their feet and dancing, arms raised, bodies swaying rhythmically back and forth as they faced the bright, personal forms of the deities and chanted. Colored lights within the canopy began flashing intermittently blue, red, and yellow, highlighting the extraordinary eyes of Lord Jagannatha, Subhadra, and Balarama. Mukunda, who had arranged the lights, smiled and looked to Swamiji, hoping for approval. Prabhupada nodded and continued forcefully singing Hare Krishna.
The young hippies were enthusiastic in singing and dancing, knowing that the kīrtana usually lasted an hour. Some had grasped the Swami’s words when he had spoken of fixing the mind on the personal form of the Supreme Lord; and they had understood when he had looked up at the deities and said, “Here is Krishna.” Others hadn’t followed, but thought that it was just great and blissful to sing Hare Krishna and look at the grinning, big-eyed deities up on the altar, amid the flowers and billowing incense.
Prabhupada watched with pleasure as one person after another took a turn at offering the candle before Lord Jagannatha. This was a simple procedure for installing the Deity. Although in big temples in India the installation of the Deity was a complex, exact procedure, requiring several days of continuous rituals directed by highly paid priests, in San Francisco there were no brāhmana priests to pay, and the many other standards would be impossible to maintain.
For non-Hindus to handle Lord Jagannatha and conduct His worship would be considered heresy by the caste-conscious brāhmanas of India. Except for Prabhupada, none of the persons present would have been allowed even to enter the temple at Jagannatha Puri. The white man, the Westerner, was not allowed to see Lord Jagannatha except once a year as He rode in His cart during the Ratha-yatra festival. But these restrictions were social customs, not the scriptural injunctions. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had introduced Deity worship and initiation for anyone, regardless of caste, race, or nationality. And Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvatai’s father, had longed for the day when the people of the West would mingle with their Indian brothers and chant Hare Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada had come to the West to fulfill the desires and the vision of his spiritual master and of Bhaktivinoda Thakura by creating Vaiśnavas among the Westerners. Now, if the Westerners were to become actual devotees, they would have to be given the Deity worship. Otherwise it would be more difficult for them to become purified. Srila Prabhupada was confident in his spiritual master’s direction and in the scriptures. He had faith that Lord Jagannatha was especially merciful to the fallen. He prayed that the Lord of the universe would not be offended by His reception at New Jagannatha Puri.
When the kīrtana ended, Prabhupada asked Haridasa to bring him the candle. Prabhupada passed his hands across the flame and touched them to his forehead. “Yes,” he said, “show everyone. Each and every one. Whatever they can contribute. Here, take it like this and show everyone.” He indicated that Haridasa should present the candle before each person in the room so that all present could touch their hands to the flame as he had shown and then touch their foreheads. As Haridasa went from person to person, a few devotees dropped some coins on the plate, and others followed.
Srila Prabhupada explained further: “The Bhagavatam has recommended hearing, chanting, thinking, and worshiping. This process which we just now introduced on the advent of Jagannatha Svami means that now this temple is now completely fixed. So this is the worshiping process. This is called ārati. So at the end of kīrtana, this ārati will go on. And the worshiping process is to take the heat of the light and, whatever your condition is, pay something for the worship. So this simple process, if you follow, you just see how you realize the Absolute Truth.
“Another thing I request you: All the devotees-when you come to the temple, you bring one fruit and one flower. If you can bring more fruit, more flower, it is very good. If not, it is not very expensive to bring one fruit and one flower. And offer it to the Deity. So I will request you, when you come to the temple you bring this. Whatever fruit it may be. It does not mean that you have to bring very costly fruit. Any fruit. Whatever you can afford. One fruit and one flower.”
He paused, looking around the room: “Yes, now you can distribute prasādam.”
The guests sat in rows on the floor, and the devotees began serving prasādam, offering the first plate to Prabhupada. The food preparations were those Prabhupada had personally taught the devotees in his kitchen: samosās, halavā, puris, rice, several cooked vegetables, fruit chutney, sweets-all the Sunday specials. The guests loved the prasādam and ate as much as they could get. While the devotees, especially the expert women, served more and more prasādam, the guests relaxed and enjoyed an evening of feasting and convivial conversation. After Prabhupada tasted all the preparations, he looked up with raised eyebrows: “Very nice preparations. All glories to the cookers.”
A few minutes later, as the feasting continued, Srila Prabhupada spoke into the microphone, “Jagannathah svāmī nayana-patha-gāmī bhavatu me. Howard, repeat this.”
Hayagrīva swallowed, cleared his throat, and spoke up: “Jagannathah svāmī nayana-patha-gāmī bhavatu me.”
Prabhupada: “Yes, this should be chanted. Jagannathah svāmī nayana-patha-gāmī bhavatu me.”
A boy asked what it meant. Hayagrīva replied, “Oh… uh, Lord of the universe, please be present before me.”
When Prabhupada noticed an older, respectably dressed man leaving the room without receiving a feast plate, Prabhupada became concerned: “Oh, why is he going away? Ask him to come.”
A boy ran after him, opening the temple door and calling, “Please don’t leave. Swamiji requests…”
As the man reentered the storefront, Prabhupada requested, “Please, please, take prasādam.” And turning to the servers, he instructed, “Give him first.” And so the feasting continued beneath the altar of Lord Jagannatha and under the auspices of His servant, Srila Prabhupada.
The next day, acting on a whim, the devotees took the Jagannatha Deity off the altar and carried Him to Golden Gate Park for a kīrtana. Within minutes, hundreds gathered in the
meadow below Hippie Hill, dancing and chanting around Lord Jagannatha. After several hours, the devotees returned Him to the altar.
Prabhupada disapproved: “The Deity should never leave the temple. The deities don’t go out to see the people, except on special occasions. They are not for parks for birds to drop stool on. If you want to see the deities, you have to visit them.”
[The above is an excerpt from Prabhupada Lilamrita, the biography of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.]