ON THE DISAPPEARANCE OF OUR BELOVED SPIRITUAL MASTER, HIS DIVINE GRACE, OM VISHNUPADA 108 A. C. BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI PRABHUPADA.
From the diary of one of his disciples, Anantacarya Dasa.
I arrive at the Mandir (from California) at about 9:30 A. M. As soon as possible I enter Srila Prabhupada's room. He is lying on his back in his King-Sized bed, being massaged gently by his close associates. There is a kirtan in progress. Srila Prabhupada is incredibly thin, and his hands and feet are swollen. His limbs are supported by pillows. There is a discussion in progress between Srila Prabhupada and his close disciples. Srila Prabhupada has expressed his wish to go on parikram to Govardan Hill. Upon being asked if he will ride in a minibus, his answer is "Bullock Cart". (This discussion is being recorded and is on tape, I believe). Tamal Krishna is writing down on a pad what Srila Prabhupada's desires are. Srila Prabhupada is so weak that the only parts of his body that he is moving are the lower parts of his arms, and then only barely. He at most pushes against a cover slightly or raises a hand as a signal. If he wants to move a leg even slightly, he asks someone to do it for him. It just does not seem possible for a person to be so emaciated, but there He is, our Spiritual Master, in His transcendental body---that looks thinner than people who have been living under near starvation conditions. And in this unbelievably weakened condition he is proposing to go down the road 20 miles in a bullock cart. What to speak of then circumnambulating the hill, staying overnight, and then coming back the next day! Even in this unbelievable bodily condition, He remains our intrepid and enthusiatic devotionally courageous Spiritual Leader. He certainly isn't going to let any kind of bodily condition stop him from going to Govardhan Hill for Govardhan Puja. We, of course, are all worried, but start making plans for the parikram.
Kirtan starts quietly, and most of us leave the room with Shastri-ji.
At about 3:50 P.M. I re-enter the room. There are about 10 devotees singing a nice kirtan for Srila Prabhupada. Shortly thereafter, another devotee and I are given a chance to lead the kirtan. He is playing the harmonium, and I accompany him with a pair of karatals. We sing continuously until 7:00 P.M. During this time Srila Prabhupada asks to be seated up in bed!!! He not only sits up in bed, but also accepts a portion of choody noodles! He chews just a little bit of it, and, after he is done, Upendra carefully distributes to us that which is left on the plate. Needless to say, the devotees in the room waste no time in honoring the Maha Prasad that has come right off the plate of the pure devotee! Srila Prabhupada is always giving to us, no matter what his apparent condition.
At 6:45 A.M. I re-enter the room. About 20 devotees are being led in a nice kirtan by Satswarup Maharaj. Srila Prabhupada is now worse. Now he has a cold, too. Now a cold on top of everything else. Srila Prabhupada's sister arrives, dressed all in white, and goes to the head of the bed to see her brother. She reaches out her hand to give him a long, consoling touch. She then proceeds to the foot of the bed, reaches under the covers, and touches his feet before she leaves. At about 8:30 A.M. I leave the room.
At about 9:00 P.M. I re-enter Srila Prabhupada's room. There are about 15 to 20 devotees gathered around the bed including Kaviraj and another elderly gentleman friend of Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada is being massaged on one leg with looks like an oil of some kind, and a compress is being applied to the other leg. He doesn't seem to be doing well at all. Many devotees are staying and not leaving to take rest. At about 10:30 P.M. He begins to sleep very well. He is on his left side and sleeping silently. By 11:00 P.M. there are only four disciples left in the room: Swarup Damodara, Jagadisha Prabhu, a bramacari(who is reading under a lamp in the corner), and myself. Swarup Damodara is sitting quietly in the corner keeping an eye on Gurudev; Jagadish is seated quietly against the wall; the bramacari is reading; I am chanting Hare Krishna. At this point, the only sound in the room is Anantacarya whispering the Hare Krishna Mantra.
The night is getting cold outside, and Swarup Damodara wants to stop a cold draft which is coming in on Srila Prabhupada by way of a French window near the bed; but it won't close. So I go outside and push while Swarup Damodara pushes from the inside. Somehow or other we manage to get it closed without waking up Gurudev.
Later on, at 11:40 P.M., Srila Prabhupada awakes and asks to be rolled from his left side onto his back. Swarup Damodara helps him roll over to His back, then gives Him his medicine, and then fixes him up with the urinal. While He is being moved to his back, Srila Prabhupada's feet become uncovered, so I go over and tuck in Gurudev's lotus feet under the blankets.
It is now about 2:30 A.M. and, insofar as there are more devotees in the room to keep Srila Prabhupad company, I depart from the room.
All Glories to our inconceivably merciful and infinitely wonderful Spiritual Master!
At about 10:15 in the morning, I am passing by the windows of Srila Prabhupada's room and hear a loud kirtan going on in the room. Due to the strength of the kirtan I find myself thinking that now Srila Prabhupada is feeling better, but shortly later one of the devotees tells me that his condition is as critical as ever. Again at about 12:00 noon I pass the windows and the kirtan is still good and strong. Prasadam today is at 1:15 P.M., and as we are taking prasadam, a server walks into the center of the prasadam room and says, "I don't know how many of you have already heard about it, but Kaviraj has said that Srila Prabhupada has only five more hours in his body". At that announcement I begin to gulp down the remaining prasadam on my plate and then double time to Srila Prabhupa's room. I am afraid that the room will be so packed that I will be too late to get inside, but upon arriving, the room is about 1/3 filled with 25 to 30 devotees who are gathered close to the bed, chanting strongly. Our Spiritual Master is in what looks like a coma: He is not moving: His facial expression is like that of a trance. He is lying on his back with his head tilted back and to the side. His lips are parted, but there is no movement, and his eyelids are closed down tightly. Gurudev's bed is a nice large bed. It is sizeable enough that, even though Gurudev is lying in the middle of it, there is plenty of room for several devotees to sit on the bed along side of Him. Upendra, Bavananda Maharaj, and other close disciples of Srila Prabhupada are seated on the bed. Caru das, the president of the Berkeley Temple, is seated on the floor at the foot of the bed, massaging Srila Prabhupada gently. Tears are coming down his face as he gently strokes the legs and feet of his Spiritual Master. Other devotees are crowding around all sides of the bed, getting as close as they can, and singing kirtan continuously. All Srila Prabhupada's personal servant's are in attendance and they have worried looks on their faces(Bhakta Caru Maharaj, Upendra das, Bavananda Maharaj, Swarup Damodara das). The room is starting to fill up fast as the word gets around the Mandir about what Kaviraj has said. Everybody is now pouring into the room to chant for Srila Prabhupada---brahmacaris, matajis, children from the Gurukula, Sannyasis, visitors,---everybody. Hamsadutta Maharaj sits on a corner of the bed down by Srila Prabhupada's feet, and takes over the kirtan. He leads the kirtan nicely and keeps us chanting the right prayers(Pancha Tattva Maha Mantra, Hare Krishna, Samsara Dava). He asks for a prayer book and then leads us in the complete set of Govindam Prayers. We don't know all the words, of course, but he is singing them, and then we all join in for the refrain(Govindam Adi Purusam, Tam aham bajami---). The room is now getting stuffy because so many devotees are packed in. We open all the doors and windows and turn on the fans. More people from outside the Mandir are now showing up. Srila Prabhupada's sister is already here, seated on the floor next to the bed. For the many hours to follow, she almost constantly remains close to him. No matter what happens next, she will do her best to hobble along to be with Srila Prabhupada. Some of Srila Prabhupada's elderly vaishnava friends are arriving and a bench is brought in for them to sit on. The room is jammed. Kirtan goes on without ceasing as Hamsadutta leads us through the afternoon hours. The afternoon is filled with devotees coming and going and chanting. Some of the elderly Vaishnava gentlemen later on decide to leave, but the real frail short one stays on, sitting politely on the bench and quietly chanting japa. A real Vaishnava gentleman, chanting Hare Krishna continuously. Will I ever, in this lifetime, be able to appreciate what a merciful privilege it is---to be allowed to associate with the wonderful Vaishnavas in this room?
At 5:00 P.M. Kaviraj arrives and proceeds to the bed. The devotees crowd close. In no time he has searched for Srila Prabhupada's pulse, but then reaches for his stesthoscope. He moves it around from point to point on Srila Prabhupada's chest and midsection, and then says something to Bhakta Cara Maharaj with a worried look. Only a handful of devotees could actually hear what Kaviraj said, but somehow or other the word is passed around--only 3 more hours, that's all. Kaviraj asks that some of Srila Prabhupada's books be placed nicely around his head on the pillows and some pictures of the Dieties also be placed on the pillows at the head of the bed. The books are placed nicely, and the diety pictures are now leaning against the pillows and bedstead. There are also japa beads lying near his head. So his lovely head and face are framed with some of his favorite transcendental paraphernalia. It is so beautiful to see the head of Gurudev surrounded that way.
By now it has sunk into us what is happening, and Pradyumna and others have begun preparations for the Samadhi. There is talk of palanquin, fresh saffron cloth, garlands, etc. Hamsadutta looks very worried but keeps right on going with dedication and devotion. Srila Prabhupada is now occasionally swallowing with his mouth closed. His breathing is noticeable by the slight rise and fall of the sheet which covers his frail body. He is given some kind of liquid by Bhakta Caru, but I am too far away to see exactly what it is. From 5:00 to 6:00 P.M. I am appointed guard duty and sit in the vestibule. People from the town are arriving, and I can't tell who to let in and who to keep out. Everyone is extremely determined to see Srila Prabhupada and beg to please be let into the room for one last Darshan with him. At 6:00 P.M. I leave guard duty and re-enter the room. Now even the Matajis are crowding right up to the bed in order to be as close as possible to Srila Prabhupad. ISKCON photographers are carefully taking photographs and motion picture films. As before, many of us are crying. As for Bavananda, his eyes are continuously filled with moisture. Upendra too. We are all pressing toward the bed to see Gurudev. Now he is motionless again.
Kaviraj walks in at about 7:50 and goes to the bed. He bends over for the pulse and we all push forward even more. I cannot see what is going on, so I stand on a chair in the back of the room, but still I cannot see Srila Prabhupad. But I can see Kaviraj, and instantly upon checking for the pulse he swiftly says "finished" or something to that effect. He (or Tamal?) immediately gives the order for loud, loud chanting of the of the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra. We all erupt with the Hare Krishna Mantra with an almost hopeless frenzy. Now it really begins to sink into us what has happened. Kaviraj has said that it's all over. Many of us start sobbing. There are devotees frantically chanting, crying, sobbing, breaking down completely. One boy goes into a crying convulsion and has to be dragged to a corner where he collapses in convulsive sobbing. Devotees are crying, sobbing, chanting, and running in every direction. Tamal orders us to leave the room. I go upstairs to cry alone. The night is filled with close and distant sobbing, women wailing, bells ringing, and even the dogs are barking and howling.
I go back downstairs about 3/4 of an hour later. No more matajis, children, or visitors are present. The devotees in the room are now the saffron clothed ones. Mostly leaders in the Hare Krishna movement. Kirtan is continuing nicely. Srila Prabhupada has already been clothed nicely in saffron, garlands of flowers are placed on him, and a lovely bouquet of Tulasi manjaris is laid across his chest. There is sandlewood pulp covering his forehead and a large tulasi leaf fixed in the middle of his forehead. His skin has now turned pale, but one look at that powerful face and you know that whatever are the conditions, He is still the boss, still the Spiritual Master. Saffron material is now covering his form, and a saffron colored "swami" hat is covering his head. We bring in the palanquin, and he is picked up from the bed by four or five devotees and placed securely in the seat of the palanquin. Other Vrndaban Vaishnavas now come back in, led by Narayana Maharaja. They pay their heartfelt obeisances, and place flower garlands around their beloved friend. They are clearly much affected by the departure of Gurudev, and offer their most reverent obeisances to him. At this point I am crying almost all the time.
Tamal Krishna states the plan for the next couple of hours: "The palanquin will now leave for the Temple Room where Gurudev will see the Dieties and an Arotik. Then a Gurupuja, an offering of flowers by devotees, and then chanting until the samadhi is ready". The palanquin containing Srila Prabhupada is lifted, and with strong chanting is carried out of the room. Srila Prabhupada in his palanquin is then taken around the around the outside of the Krishna-Balaram Temple 3 times. Three times around the circumference of the Temple Building with the devotees following and chanting. It is a joyous, happy kirtan. Round and round the Temple with Srila Prabhupada, and then he enters the temple as our transcendental leader to see the dieties. First the palanquin is placed in front of Gour-Nitai with the devotees singing joyously for their Gurudev. On to Krishna-Balaram: and then to Radha-Krishna. The kirtan is strong and jubilant. Then the palanquin is lifted and Srila Prabhupada is taken around the inside of the Temple, then outside, and then re-enters again and is placed before the Krishna-Balaram Dieties for continued jubilant kirtan and dancing. The devotees are singing and dancing and circumnambulating the palanquin. The devotees circle close to the palanquin and drink in the nectar of close darshan with Srila Prabhupada. We go around many times, circling closely. Now the palanquin is lifted and proceeds to the Vyasasan where both palanquin and Gurudev are placed right on and in the Vyasasan. He is in his palanquin which is on the blue velvet asana, with lion figures on both sides.
Gurupuja begins. Omkara dasa does the arotik while Hamsadutta leads us in a rip-roaring kirtan. Really rip-roaring. After the Gurupuja, we prepare for the offering of flowers (marigolds) to Srila Prabhupada. The first devotees to offer flowers and obeisances to Srila Prabhupada are: His sister; His Vrndaban friends; Tama Krishna Maharaj; then Upendra; Pradyumna, the ISKCON swamis and Temple Presidents. Some of the Gaudiya Math (?) offer garlands of flowers and decorative spiritual paraphernalia. We offer the marigolds by circling motions and then shower them on Srila Prabhupada. Then each devotee (after offering his flowers) prostrates himself before the Vyasasan. While this is going on, Narayana Maharaj leads us in a very, very nice kirtan. He is leading us so very, very nicely, and from his leading chant, one can appreciate how much he is devoted to Srila Prabhupada. After the men have offered flowers and obeisances, then the matajis offer. At the end, Tamal announces that the townspeople of Vrndaban have requested to please let them have darshan once more with Srila Prabhupada, so now instead of proceding directly to the samadhi, Srila Prabhupada will wait in the Vyasasana during the night and then proceed to the seven temples of Vrndaban in the morning. After the parikram of Vrndabn in the morning, He will return for samadhi. We are ordered by Tamal to stay up all night with Gurudev for continuous kirtan. Srila Prabhupada is now being fanned by camara while the kirtan goes on.
The Parikram begins at about 6:45 A.M., and the palanquin is lifted from the Vyasasan and carried to the center of the courtyard of the templeroom where we circumnambulate Srila Prabhupada with more chanting, of course. We then proceed through the front gate of the Mandir, down the road to Vrndaban, and parikram to each of the (7)? Temples of Vrndaban. Narayana Maharaj is arranging everything nicely, leading the procession, leading the kirtan, and seeing with great attention that everything goes along perfectly for our Gurudev. Narayana Maharaj is now conducting the parikram, acting on our behalf as our very capable leader, and seeing to it that everything is conducted nicely for Srila Prabhupada. For the next 6 hours, he is indefatigable, watching everything, and continuously providing the devoted and competent leadership needed so that all the details of the parikram and samadhi are executed perfectly.
It certainly is quite an impressive procession as it moves along down the road. The procession actually consists of two parts. First, there is a large group of devotees consisting of Narayana Maharaj and most of the Sannyasis (and others, too). This group leads the procession and also leads the strong kirtan. Then there is a gap of about 20 yards to the next group which consists of the Palanquin with Srila Prabhupada, the palanquin bearers, close attendants, devotees, and others. Immediately following this group are the matajis, and then several rickshas carrying Srila Prabhupada's Sister and some of the children from the Gurukul. There are eleven dandas gliding through the air. When one looks toward the palanquin, he usually sees Citsukananda bearing the load up front and Vishnu Tattva Das supporting the rear of the palanquin. Although they are from time to time temporarily relieved, these two boys are seen carrying the heavy palanquin for most of the procession. And it is indeed heavy. Some boys who try to carry it cannot even get the carrying bar up to their shoulder so that it can move, and, as a result, are not able to share in this mercy. For the entire procession, Bavananda Maharaj is inseparable from Srila Prabhupada's side. Tamal Krishna is also there at the palanquin, taking part of this part of the procession and giving the directions and leadership to the second group of devotees. From time to time the going gets a little rough. At this, there is anxiety written all over Upendra's face, because there isn't much that he can do about it. Nevertheless, Srila Prabhupada and his devotees sail through the streets of Vrndaban. The streets are lined with people shouting "Hari Bol!" "Hare Krishna!" "Jai Gurudev!". Families are coming out on the rooftops to see the procession, and the townsfolk of Vrndaban, young and old, are paying standing obeisances to Srila Prabhupada. We stop in front of each of the Temples and there are resounding "Jai Gurudev"s.
At one point on the road (not to far from the mandir) there is a young woman standing at the side of the road watching the procession go by. After the last devotee walks by, her eyes begin to get wide, and they light up with amazement and veneration. She follows the procession down the road with her eyes, and then turns and walks to the center of the road. She bends down, and with hands outstretched, palms down, she rubs her hands in a circular motion in the dust. Lifting her hands she then, again in a circular motion, smears the dust of the lotus feet of the Vaishnavas all over her cheeks. At that point, with eyes still as wide as large coins, she beams with a smile, and with that smile radiates to us that she understands that it is not everyday at 7:30 in the morning that a person gets a chance like this!!!!!
A little farther down the road, another young woman, dressed in the finest of exquisite garments, steps from her house into the street ditch in order to see the palanquin go by. When she recognizes who is in the palanquin, then, regardless of the finery she is wearing, she immediately bends her knees into the gutter, brings her head and arms to the ground, and pays obeisances to Srila Prabhupada. How is it possible to keep from crying when one sees just how much Srila Prabhupada is loved and revered by everybody.
We return to the Mandir, and the samadhi begins immediately. Srila Prabhupada has a bathing ceremony, a change of garments, flower garlands, puja offering, prasadam offering, and is finally covered with salt and then sand. It is a lengthy and beautiful ceremony, and does not terminate until 1:00 P.M. in the afternoon. The temple bell is ringing continuously, and the kirtan goes on without interruption. At about 1:00 P.M. the samadhi ceremony ends, and the devotees take Prasadam.
These pages began as a diary---but somehow or other turned into something like a partial report of some of the details of the past few days. In consequence, even though it is clear that I am certainly not competent to write about those events, I am begging the mercy of our Gurudev and the Disciplic Succession to allow me to write down as a diary this little bit of information for those devotees who were not able to be with their Spiritual Master during his last days with us. Please, Srila Prabhupada, forgive my offenses. It is only by your mercy that I can possibly do anything. You have given me so much, and I have given you so little.
Namah Om Vishnupadaya Krishna Presthaya bhutale,
Srimate Bhaktivedanta Swamin iti namine.
Namaste Saraswati Deve Gauravani pracarine,
Nirvisesa sunyavadi pascatya desatarine.
Author's e-mail address is: Nectarcup@mailaka.netAnantacarya Das.
Krishna-Balaram Mandir, Vrndaban, India.
17 November, 1977.
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