Today you go to any part of the world and in all probability you will come across someone who is a devotee of Lord Krishna. There are more than 600 temples of Iskcon spread across the globe and scores of farm communities where Krishna’s devotees live. In all the temples, devotees gather early in the morning at 4:30 a.m. for Mangala Aarti, Tulasi Aarti, Narsimha Aarti and Shikshashtakam prayers. After the morning aarti all chant the Hare Krishna Mahamantra on their beads for around 2 hours and then there is a daily class based on scriptures like Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam for about an hour. This temple schedule is followed all across the world without any ambiguity.
In 16th century Lord Chaitanya had said, “I want to flood the whole world with the chanting of the holy names.” And we see it practically happening today. Hare Krishna movement which was started by Lord Chaitanya around 500 years back have today spread to each and every nook and corner of the world.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the pioneer of Bhakti movement, appeared in 1486 CE. He spread the sankirtan movement i.e. the congregational chanting of the holy name of Krishna all over India including present day Bangladesh. 16th century is the period of Lord Chaitanya. Surendranath Dasgupta writes in A History of Indian Philosophy, “The religious life of Chaitanya unfolds unique psychological symptoms of devotion which are perhaps unparalleled in … history… .”. Encyclopaedia Britannica says that Lord Chaitanya introduced and popularised “the community celebration [sankirtana] of Krishna as the most powerful means of bringing about the proper bhakti attitude.”
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had appeared during the period when sacred Vedas had been misinterpreted by caste brahmanas, people were materialistic and had more faith in mere rituals than in genuine devotion to God. He revived the original teachings of Vedic literature and vigorously preached against any kind of discrimination based on caste, creed, religion and gender. He propagated that anyone and everyone has the right to practice devotional life and develop love of God because everyone is the children of the same God.
This is why we see he had thousands of followers and they belonged to different socio economic and religious backgrounds. Prataparudra, the king of Orissa, was his follower and so were people from humble background like Sridhar. Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, the head priest of Jagannath temple, was also his devotee and so was Haridas Thakura, who was born in a Mulsim family. Many women were also his followers such as Jahnava Devi.
After Lord Chaitanya left this planet his prominent followers carried the movement for several years but later for want of powerful leaders the movement lost its sheen. It was later revived in 19th century by Bhakti Vinod Thakur, a devotee and scholar par excellence. He wrote over hundred books in Sanskrit, Bengali and English languages to share the sublime message of Lord Chaitanya. He was the first scholar to present the teachings of Lord Chaitanya in English language and he sent his books to even western universities where it was appreciated. He even discovered the birthplace of Lord Chaitanya in Mayapur, West Bengal, which had got lost after the departure of Lord Chaitanya. Later his son, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, another great erudite scholar carried his legacy successfully forward. He wrote profusely and preached vigorously. He established 64 Gaudiya maths in different parts of India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Germany and England.
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura desired to spread the sankirtan movement all over the world and for this he especially requested his disciple A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to go and preach in the western world.
Srila Prabhupada tried his best to fulfil the instruction of his guru and after lots of struggle he got a chance to go to the west at the age of about 70 years to share the message of Krishna. His journey on a cargo ship was not smooth; he suffered two heart attacks on the way. He was penniless, was carrying just 40 Indian rupees (equivalent to around 6 dollars), he had no guarantee of regular supply of food, he had no permanent place to stay but he still took the risk to please his guru and Krishna. And soon because of his pure teachings Krishna consciousness spread like wildfire all over the world.
Srila Prabhupada shared the sublime message of sacred Vedas without any compromise and he refused to dilute the Vedic teachings to make it more acceptable to contemporary people. Not just the philosophy but even the attire and the food he introduced even in the west were completely Vedic. Men were supposed to wear Dhoti-kurta and had to have shikha and tilak and women were required to don saree and wear tilak. And all devotees were supposed to take only sanctified vegetarian food.
Srila Prabhupada was not captivated seeing the material beauty of the western world. Although he praised the western men and women for their workmanship but reminded them unambiguously that material advancement will not bring ultimate satisfaction in their life. Purpose of human life is to know God and so he begged them to chant his names. Chanting revives our relationship with the Supreme Lord and satiates our hungry heart.
When a British asked Srila Prabhupada, “We have ruled in India for 200 years so what you have come to give us which we don’t have”. He promptly replied “You took everything from India but failed to take the sublime message of Bhagavad Gita, I have come to give that to you”.
Message of sacred Vedas such as Bhagavad Gita always has a mesmerizing effect on the lives of people. Wisdom words of Vedas have transformed the hearts of millions of people around the world. And so today we find that Hare Krishna movement is growing from strength to strength and Krishna’s devotees can be found everywhere – in USA, in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Australia – chanting and dancing while singing the Hare Krishna Mahamantra:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
By Purushottam Kumar