His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) is widely regarded as the world’s pre-eminent exponent of the teachings and tradition of Bhakti-yoga, the practice of loving devotion to God, to the Western world.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was born Abhay Charan De on September 1, 1896 in Calcutta, India. From birth, Abhay was raised in a family devoted to Krishna (whose name means the all-attractive, all-loving Lord). As a youth he became involved with Mahatma Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement. However, it was a meeting with a prominent scholar and spiritual leader, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada, which proved most influential on young Abhay’s future.
Upon their first meeting in 1922, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, who represented an ancient tradition of Bhakti-yoga, asked Abhay to propound the teachings to the English-speaking world. Deeply moved by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s devotion and wisdom, Abhay became his disciple and dedicated himself to carrying out his mentor’s request. But it wasn’t until 1965, at the age of seventy that he would set off on his mission to the West.Abhay Charan, now known as Bhaktivedanta Swami (an honorary title awarded by his peers), was given free passage aboard a cargo ship to New York. The journey proved to be treacherous, and he suffered two heart attacks while on the ship. After 35 days at sea he finally arrived at a lonely Brooklyn pier with just seven dollars in Indian rupees and one crate of his translations of sacred Sanskrit texts.
In New York he faced great hardships, and was regularly without money and a steady place to live. He began his mission humbly, giving classes on the Bhagavad-gita in lofts in the Bowery (New York’s infamous skid row), and leading kirtan (traditional devotional chants) in Tompkins Square Park. His message of peace and goodwill resonated strongly with the hippie community and younger generation, some of whom came forward to become serious students of the Bhakti-yoga (loving devotion to God) tradition. With the help of these followers, who affectionately began calling Bhaktivedanta Swami “Swamiji,” a small storefront was rented on New York’s Lower East Side to use as a temple. In July 1966, After almost a year of adversity and struggle, Swamiji established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness for the purpose of working for real unity and peace and reinstating proper values in the world.