Prabhupāda had come to Vṛndāvana to observe the Kārttika season (from October 16 to November 14). He planned to lecture daily at the samādhi of Rūpa Gosvāmī in the courtyard of the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, speaking from The Nectar of Devotion, his own translation of Rūpa Gosvāmī’s book, Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. On his Western tour he had invited devotees to join him for Kārttika in Vṛndāvana, and now a few dozen devotees from America, Europe, India, and other parts of the world had gathered to be with him.
He was concerned with developing his Vṛndāvana project, so rather than immediately rushing to Bombay, he had come here first, sending some of his leading disciples to tackle the problems in Bombay. Now, like a general engaged on a different front, he awaited word from his lieutenants in Bombay. He moved into his two small rooms at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, while his disciples stayed nearby in the former palace of the Mahārāja of Bharatpur, an old building near the Yamunā.
Although Prabhupāda was introducing his disciples to Vṛndāvana, he was also introducing the residents of Vṛndāvana to his disciples. Already his group was encountering some of the same attitudes Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and his party of pilgrims had met in 1932: the people’s refusal to accept lowborn persons as Vaiṣṇavas. Prabhupāda trusted, however, that if his disciples could construct a wonderful temple for Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, the hearts of the Vṛndāvana residents would change, and they would accept his disciples. He tolerated the roughness and slowness of his disciples, and when Vṛndāvana residents came to see him, he humbly requested they also overlook his disciples’ faults and recognize them as genuine devotees of Kṛṣṇa; after all, they had given up sinful life and were regularly chanting the holy names of God.
Prabhupāda lectured both morning and evening. Sitting on a simple āsana about two feet high, a bare bulb suspended over his head, Prabhupāda would address his disciples and the few interested guests who sat before him.
Some of the devotees had speculated that since they were now in Vṛndāvana, Prabhupāda would probably talk on highly elevated spiritual topics, such as Kṛṣṇa’s rasa with the gopīs. But it was not so. Rather, one of his disciples would read from The Nectar of Devotion, and Prabhupāda would interject extensive philosophical comments on attaining pure love of Kṛṣṇa through the successive stages of bhakti-yoga.
While Prabhupāda’s talks were especially for his disciples, he also stressed that the brāhmaṇas of India accept the Western Vaiṣṇavas. And he cited dozens of scriptural references to prove his point that birth status, being a material designation, did not apply in spiritual life. Stressing preaching as the essence of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he urged the disciples present to continue propagating the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.
Prabhupāda’s disciples were thrilled by these talks and by Prabhupāda’s personal dealings with them in the intimate atmosphere of his rooms at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, which he referred to as his “eternal residence,” the place where he had actually begun his plans for the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. His disciples could hear him rise early and begin translating Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and dictating his purports. At ārati time, he would open the shutters of his room and behold the Deities. At other times the devotees might see him walking on the terrace chanting japa. And they found him always available to answer their questions and help them with their personal problems.
* * *
Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Goswami, Śyāmasundara, and Karandhara arrived in Bombay. Things had worsened, Girirāja informed them. When Mr. N. had seen the notice in the newspaper publicly advising that ISKCON had entered into an agreement for the Juhu property, he had become furious. Girirāja had gone to him with folded hands and bowed down before him, but Mr. N. would not be appeased. He had gone back on all his promises and had canceled the sales agreement, on the plea that the devotees had not obtained the deed within a six-month period. The two-lakh down payment, he had claimed, was now his, and the devotees should vacate the land immediately.
Mr. N. had shut off the water supply to Hare Krishna Land. Several days later, a hoodlum had shown up at the entrance to the property, brandishing a machete whenever devotees passed by. A friend of Mr. N. had printed a handbill ascribing scandalous behavior to the American Hare Kṛṣṇa devotees and was having it distributed at the nearby Vile Parle train station. Although a few devotees had left and others wanted to, about thirty devotees still remained in Bombay.
The first thing to do, Karandhara said, was to find a new lawyer, and he went to Bombay’s most prominent solicitors and hired a specialist in land transactions and conveyances. Next, the leading devotees and their solicitor met with Mr. N. in his office. Mr. N. was stubborn and uncooperative, and the ISKCON lawyer was threatening. A court battle seemed inevitable.
Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Goswami, Karandhara, Bhavānanda, and Śyāmasundara talked together, and the more they talked, the more they began to see the entire Juhu scheme as impossible. Even without Mr. N.’s treachery, just to live on the land was very difficult. The devotees and the Deities had such poor living facilities that the roof leaked and the cement floor was crumbling. Rats, flies, cockroaches, village dogs, and mosquitoes infested the place-with even an occasional poisonous snake. Devotees were always contracting tropical diseases, especially malaria and hepatitis.
So although ISKCON’s new lawyer was prepared to take the case to court, the devotees were hesitant. Mr. N. had said that they-not he-were criminals, because they had not gotten permission from the charity commissioner; they were on his land illegally. He said he would sue for damages. He even seemed to be on the verge of some violent action. Considering all angles, the leaders whom Prabhupāda had entrusted to solve the Juhu entanglement decided that ISKCON should relinquish the land. Drafting a joint letter to Śrīla Prabhupāda, they had Śyāmasundara hand-deliver it to him in Vṛndāvana.
Sitting in his room at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, Śrīla Prabhupāda read the letter from Bombay and then set it aside. He walked out into the open courtyard. In the last light of day many birds were chirping, and the devotees sat on the ground on a dhurrie, waiting. Prabhupāda sat on the simple raised seat and began singing Jaya Rādhā-Mādhava.
He had Pradyumna read, stopping him to explain a point whenever he felt inclined. He spoke of the special benefits of residing in Vṛndāvana, but warned that one should not come to the dhāma to do business or to commit any offenses. If, however, a Vṛndāvana resident did commit an offense, he could still receive the special benefits-provided he remained “sticking to the dust of Vṛndāvana.”
Night fell, and in the dark courtyard Prabhupāda continued lecturing beneath the dim electric bulbs. Visiting pilgrims came and went, watching “the Swamiji” lecturing in English to his Western disciples.
After the question-and-answer period, Prabhupāda walked back to his room, exchanging words along the way with Gaurachand Goswami, the temple proprietor. Some devotees lingered in Prabhupāda’s room, and many Indians peered through the barred windows, although they had never cared to look years ago, before the room’s permanent resident, Bhaktivedanta Swami, had gone to America.
When Prabhupāda was finally alone, he began to think of Bombay. Although hundreds of miles away, the occurrences there were beating on his heart here in Vṛndāvana. He took out his copy of the agreement he had signed with Mr. N. Then he called his secretary and began dictating a letter to his leaders in Bombay.
He began his letter like a lawyer, answering logically, point by point. One reason his disciples had given for wanting to give up the land was that the charity commissioner had refused them permission. In that case, Prabhupāda reasoned, they should try to get back the money and give up the land. But it appeared that the charity commissioner’s permission was delayed, not denied-a small matter. Although Mr. N. had mentioned a six-month time limit for obtaining the charity commissioner’s approval, Prabhupāda pointed out that the original agreement mentioned no such time limit.
Another reason Prabhupāda’s men had given for wanting to relinquish the land was that, according to Mr. N., they had failed to obtain the conveyance within six months, as per the original sales agreement. Prabhupāda replied that, according to the clause in question, “it is our option to rescind the contract within six months, not the vendor’s.” But the real point was that Mr. N. had accepted checks worth one lakh rupees as down payment within the six-month period, and therefore the sales agreement was completed.
… we consider that he has completed the conveyance and we do not want to rescind but we shall close the deal immediately, finished, that’s all. He’s trying to avoid this issue by tricks, and he has dominated you and you are little afraid of him, and he has fooled you to think he is in superior legal position so that you will give him some money. But this is cheating. We shall not give him any more money. Don’t pay him any more. First of all bring a criminal case against him… So why you should be disappointed and afraid of him? Our position is very, very strong.
If Mr. N. was threatening violence, that also was not grounds for quitting the land. The devotees were on the land legally and should seek police protection.
Therefore I say that you boys cannot deal very well in these matters, because you are too timid. Now whatever you like you may do. Immediately criminal case should be taken, that you are not doing because he is bluffing you. He says big words and makes threats and you believe him foolishly and do like he says. That I shall not do.
Prabhupāda’s conclusive advice was that the devotees go to the magistrate and tell him, “We gave Mr. N. money, and now he is threatening violence to drive us away.” They should not be afraid.
Prabhupāda had not come to Vṛndāvana only to lecture; he wanted to begin construction on his new property. And the news from Bombay didn’t distract him from his purpose. Every day he would have the devotees hold a saṅkīrtana procession from the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple to the property at Ramaṇa-reti. He would also go out occasionally to see the site, still nothing more than grass huts, a wire fence, and a small stock of building materials. Subala, the disciple in charge of construction, was slow and reluctant, and Prabhupāda sent for Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Goswami to come from Bombay and take charge.
Early one morning Subala left the land at Ramaṇa-reti, where he had been staying, and approached Śrīla Prabhupāda on the roof of the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple. “Prabhupāda,” he said, “I am having so much difficulty. I don’t have time to read, I can’t chant my rounds properly, I can’t think of Kṛṣṇa. I’m always thinking of how this contractor is cheating us, or I’m thinking of signing checks for labor and materials. It’s just too much. All these things on my mind are stopping me from thinking of Kṛṣṇa.”
“Do you think Arjuna was simply meditating on Kṛṣṇa on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra?” Prabhupāda replied. “Do you think Arjuna was sitting in yogic trance, while on the battlefield Kṛṣṇa worked? No, he was fighting. He was killing for Kṛṣṇa. He was thinking of all the soldiers he had to kill for Kṛṣṇa.
“Thinking of the checkbook, thinking of the men, thinking of the contractors-this is also like Arjuna’s thinking. This is Kṛṣṇa’s service. You should not worry about thinking of Kṛṣṇa directly. Arjuna wasn’t sitting before Kṛṣṇa in a trance, meditating on His form. He was engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service. Similarly this is Kṛṣṇa’s service, and you should engage. Your life is full of Kṛṣṇa’s service, and that is very good.”
Subala was still unsatisfied. He complained to Prabhupāda that the other devotees wouldn’t cooperate with him. He wanted to go into seclusion in Vṛndāvana for the rest of his life and chant, instead of becoming a full-time preacher in ISKCON.
Śrīla Prabhupāda asked, “What do you mean, no one will listen to you? You think that means they are defective? No, you are defective.” Prabhupāda raised his voice. “If you are preaching and no one will listen, don’t think you should go away in disgust and save yourself by chanting. No, that is not our line. We must qualify ourselves so they will listen. Do you know the story of Mr. Beecham?”
Subala shook his head.
“No one would buy his medicine,” Prabhupāda continued, “so he became anxious. Still he tried, and one day a man approached him in his shop and asked if he had any Beecham’s Powder, and in excitement that someone had asked for his medicine, he died. Similarly, better we spend our whole life and die just to make one person Kṛṣṇa conscious. That is our line, to become so absorbed in preaching Kṛṣṇa, whether in Vṛndāvana or anywhere. We must save all these asuras from destroying the world.”
In stressing active service and practical results, Śrīla Prabhupāda was exactly following the teaching and example of his spiritual master. According to Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, to chant in a secluded place and not preach was “a cheating process.” Devotional service meant practical work for Kṛṣṇa. The simple, positive way to control the senses was to engage them fully in the service of Kṛṣṇa. Active service was the topmost yoga, Prabhupāda told Subala, a fact that he had repeatedly explained in his books. In the recently published Second Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, he had written,
Here it is clearly mentioned that the inhabitants of Vṛndāvana were extensively busy in the hard labor of their day’s work, and due to the day’s hard labor they were engaged in sound sleep at night. So practically they had very little time to devote to meditation or to the other paraphernalia of spiritual activities. But factually they were engaged in the highest spiritual activities only. Everything done by them was spiritualized because everything was dovetailed in their relationship with Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The central point of activities was Kṛṣṇa, and as such the so-called activities in the material world were saturated with spiritual potency. That is the advantage of the way of bhakti-yoga. One should discharge one’s duty on Lord Kṛṣṇa’s behalf, and all one’s actions will be saturated with Kṛṣṇa thought, the highest pattern of trance in spiritual realization.
As far as possible, Prabhupāda engaged each disciple in a certain service according to the particular disciple’s psychophysical nature. But everyone had to take up some kind of work for Kṛṣṇa. Since Prabhupāda desired to build a temple in Vṛndāvana, then whoever would help him do it, whether they were trained or not, or whether it was their tendency or not-whoever offered him assistance-would become very dear to him and to Lord Kṛṣṇa.
When a householder couple, Guru dāsa and Yamunā, agreed to remain in Vṛndāvana to help Prabhupāda build the temple, Prabhupāda welcomed it and shared with them the intention of his plan.
If you can construct a nice temple in Vrndavana for me in this way, I shall be eternally grateful. Because we are a worldwide movement of Krishna, and if we do not have a nice place at Vrndavana, then what will be the use? Vrndavana is Krishna’s land, and in the future many of our disciples will go there just to see, along with many tourists and other friends, so therefore we must have sufficient place for them… I know that you are not trained up for being construction manager, neither that job must be very tasteful to you, but because you are sincere devotee of Krishna, He is giving you all strength and intelligence how to do it. That is what we want; that is advancement in Krishna consciousness.
By the time Prabhupāda and most of his disciples left Vṛndāvana at the end of Kārttika, relations between his disciples and the residents of Vṛndāvana had improved. The people of Vṛndāvana were impressed by the devotees’ daily sankīrtana procession to Ramaṇa-reti, and they were impressed by Prabhupāda. Although Prabhupāda felt that much time had been wasted-it had been a year since Mr. S. had offered them the land-he was now hopeful.
ISKCON projects were developing all over the world, and all were struggling. The devotees’ only means of income was from the sale of books and, to some degree, from their Spiritual Sky incense business. As yet Prabhupāda had no architectural plan for his Vṛndāvana project, but he determined to gather from his Book Fund and from devotees enough money for materials and labor. One day he went to the building site and asked a devotee to mix a little cement, and with his own hand, he laid down the first concrete for the foundation.
* * *
November 11, 1972
Prabhupāda had come to Hyderabad for a paṇḍāl program. Big crowds attended his lectures, and wherever he went, even while getting into and out of his car, people surrounded him to touch his lotus feet. Although Hyderabad had been suffering from drought, a few days after Prabhupāda’s arrival rains came. One newspaper suggested that the harināma-kīrtana Śrīla Prabhupāda and his devotees performed so enthusiastically must have ended the drought. Prabhupāda agreed.
Śrīla Prabhupāda met with Mr. N., who was visiting Hyderabad from Bombay. Śyāmasundara still had a cordial relationship with Mr. N., because Mr. N. had been fond of his three-year-old daughter, Sarasvatī. So he went to Mr. N. and convinced him to speak to Prabhupāda. Mr. N. agreed, but being suspicious that Prabhupāda might try to use mystic power to persuade him to do something against his will, he brought a guru with him, thinking the guru would counteract Prabhupāda’s spiritual power.
Mr. N., his guru, and Śyāmasundara all came to the home of Panilal Prithi, where Prabhupāda was staying. Prabhupāda met informally with his guests, conversing with them over prasādam, until he yawned, and Mr. N.’s guru said, “Oh, Swami, you must be very tired. We should not disturb you now. You should rest, and we may talk later.”
“Oh, yes,” Prabhupāda replied, “I am very tired.”
So Mr. N. and his guru excused themselves and retired to the adjoining room.
After a few minutes Prabhupāda called Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Goswami into his room. “When someone asks you if you are tired,” Prabhupāda said, “it means he is tired. If you go into the other room, you will see that they are sleeping.” He instructed Tamāla Kṛṣṇa to carefully awaken Mr. N. without disturbing his guru and bring him in.
Tiptoeing into the room, Tamāla Kṛṣṇa found both Mr. N. and his guru asleep on the beds. He went over to Mr. N., touched his arm, and said quietly, “Mr. N., Mr. N., wake up. Prabhupāda would like to speak with you. Come quickly.” Mr. N., being roused from his slumber, obediently walked into Prabhupāda’s room, forgetting his guru friend.
For two hours Prabhupāda talked with Mr. N., and by the end of the discussion they had worked out a new sales agreement. Tamāla Kṛṣṇa and Śyāmasundara, working in a separate room, drafted and typed the documents, while Prabhupāda and Mr. N. settled the final legal points. Then Mr. N. signed the agreement, while his guru friend continued sleeping soundly.
Later that day Tamāla Kṛṣṇa confided to Śrīla Prabhupāda, “I am so disturbed by these dealings that I can’t chant my rounds properly.”
“That is natural,” Prabhupāda replied. “Sometimes when I am disturbed, I also.”
“But I can see that I am making spiritual advancement, even so,” Tamāla Kṛṣṇa admitted.
“I used to think how to avoid difficult situations,” Tamāla Kṛṣṇa said. “But now I think I should not run away from them.”
“Yes,” said Prabhupāda, “we should welcome these. They give us an opportunity to advance more.”
Śyāmasundara and Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Goswami flew back to Bombay with Mr. N. that afternoon. According to the new terms, ISKCON would pay Mr. N. the five lakhs of rupees for the government tax, and in return Mr. N. would execute the deed. But there was also a new time limit-three weeks-and the devotees would have to work fast. Prabhupāda himself would soon come to Bombay to settle the matter once and for all.
* * *
November 25, 1972
Although Prabhupāda had come to Bombay with hopes of finishing the land transaction, Mr. N. was still delaying, despite the new agreement. Obviously his stalling was simply part of his plan to cheat ISKCON. Śrīla Prabhupāda waited many days in Bombay, finally departing for a paṇḍāl program in Ahmedabad. He left behind instructions for his disciples to get the deed on the new terms or else to take back the original two lakhs of rupees paid as the down payment.
While Śrīla Prabhupāda was away, however, Śyāmasundara, Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Goswami, and the others began talking about how even if they could one day get the deed to the Juhu property, to develop Hare Krishna Land the way Prabhupāda had envisioned would be practically impossible. Śyāmasundara argued that even if they got the land, how could they really expect to build a big temple and hotel out here in the jungle? It just wouldn’t work. Meanwhile, from Ahmedabad Prabhupāda continued to wage his Bombay campaign, and he requested Mr. N. and Mr. D. to come to Ahmedabad to try and make a settlement. They declined.
In Bombay the devotees learned that if they wanted to get back their down payment as well as the money they had deposited toward the fivelakh gains tax, then they would have to cancel the new agreement. They were confused, and their time was running out.
One morning one of Prabhupāda’s disciples, Viśakhā-devī dāsī, arrived in Ahmedabad from Bombay. Prabhupāda called for her and told her to return to Bombay immediately with a message. Out of concern that his leaders in Bombay not make a wrong decision and decide to relinquish the land, he told her to tell them that they should not under any circumstances cancel the agreement with Mr. N. “Actually,” he said, “this is not a woman’s job, but everyone else here is either engaged in the paṇḍāl or has not been with us long enough to do this task.”
Viśakhā took the next train out of Ahmedabad and arrived in Bombay the following morning. But what Prabhupāda had foreseen had already happened: the devotees had canceled the sales agreement. They were convinced that to get the land would be a mistake, and their lawyers had agreed, pointing out that if the devotees wanted to retrieve their money, they should cancel the agreement immediately. When the devotees heard Prabhupāda’s message from Ahmedabad, confusion reigned. They now had no legal standing, no claim to the land. And they had failed to carry out Prabhupāda’s desire! Girirāja phoned Prabhupāda in Ahmedabad to tell him what had happened.
“Bhaktivedanta Swami here,” Prabhupāda said as he took the telephone. Girirāja was saying that a devotee had come from Ahmedabad with a message. “Yes, yes,” Prabhupāda said, “what is the point?” Finally Girirāja blurted out that they had canceled the sales agreement. Prabhupāda was silent. Then in a voice that expressed both anger and resignation, he said, “Then everything is finished.”
“I shall be the last man to give up the Hare Krishna Land to the rogue Mr. N.,” Prabhupāda wrote to a life member just before leaving Ahmedabad for Bombay. Prabhupāda was now immediately planning how to rectify his disciples’ mistake. No money had yet been transferred, so perhaps it was not too late.
Mr. N. could not possibly understand why Prabhupāda was so de termined in his fight to keep the Juhu land. Not that Prabhupāda had kept his motives hidden, but only a devotee can understand the mind or actions of another devotee. Mr. N. was dealing with Prabhupāda just as he had dealt with C. Company. He had cheated them, and now he would cheat ISKCON. He could only surmise that Prabhupāda and his disciples were driven by the same motive as he himself, the only motive he could understand: material possessiveness.
Actually, even Prabhupāda’s disciples were having difficulty understanding Prabhupāda’s unbreakable determination. Prabhupāda’s main motive was to preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness in Bombay. Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “My Guru Mahārāja ordered me to preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the West, and I have done that. Now I want to preach in India.” Bombay was the most important city in India-the gateway. And within Bombay, Kṛṣṇa had somehow led Prabhupāda to this land, where he had begun preaching and had brought the Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. In Prabhupāda’s eyes, the land was suitable for the large, gorgeous temple and international hotel he had planned.
Bombay was an important city and required grand temple worship, large festivals, mass prasādam distribution, and a variety of Vedic cultural programs. The Juhu land seemed ideal for a school, a theater, a library, apartments-a Hare Kṛṣṇa city. So how could Prabhupāda retreat from this rogue who was trying to cheat him? There would always be persons opposed to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, Prabhupāda said, but that did not mean the devotees should give in. A preacher had to be tolerant, and sometimes, when all else failed and Kṛṣṇa’s interest was at stake, he had to fight.
Another reason Prabhupāda refused to give up this particular plot of land was that he had promised the Deities, Rādhā-Rāsavihārī. He had invited Kṛṣṇa here and prayed, “Dear Sir, please stay here, and I will build You a beautiful temple.” When Prabhupāda had been touring and a devotee from Bombay had written him that the Deities were being neglected, Prabhupāda had written back insisting that these “abominable activities” be rectified. The Deity of Kṛṣṇa was not a stone statue but was actually Kṛṣṇa, eager to reciprocate with His sincere devotee.
So if using the land for missionary work was the obvious or external reason for Prabhupāda’s determination to keep his Hare Krishna Land, then the internal reason was his personal commitment to Their Lordships Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Rāsavihārī. Certainly Mr. N. and his associates could never understand this. Even Prabhupāda’s own disciples could not realize it fully. Prabhupāda had brought Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa into very poor conditions, but with the promise of something wonderful to come. At his request Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa had come, and They were standing patiently, giving eternal benediction to Their worshipers, while Prabhupāda struggled to fulfill his promise.
Five hundred years ago each of the six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana had had his own Deity, for whom he had built a beautiful temple. But Prabhupāda was empowered to install and maintain many Deities. In his Western world headquarters were the opulent Rukmiṇī-Dvārakādhīśa, in New York Rādhā-Govinda, in Dallas big Rādhā-Kālacandajī, on a traveling bus in America with Kīrtanānanda Swami and Viṣṇujana Swami were Rādhā-Dāmodara, in London Rādhā-Londonīśvara, in Māyāpur Rādhā-Mādhava, and in Australia Rādhā-Gopīnātha. All were Prabhupāda’s worshipable Deities, arcā-vigraha incarnations of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa appearing at the request of Their pure devotee for the benefit of neophyte devotees in various places around the world.
To establish many Deities was one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s prime contributions as a world preacher. And when he would visit each temple, he would always stand reverently before the Deities, taking Their blessings, and then he would offer prostrated obeisances. “Be humble,” he would instruct the devotees. “Always remember you are dealing with Kṛṣṇa.” And sometimes he would be unable to suppress his ecstatic symptoms of love for the Deities. Through his representatives, his many disciples, he worshiped all these Deities, but in the case of Rādhā-Rāsavihārī his involvement was more direct. Having taken India as his own managerial duty, he considered caring for this Deity his specific responsibility.
Prabhupāda’s fighting spirit to keep the land was so keen that he sometimes appeared to be fighting for fighting’s sake. He sometimes even compared Mr. N. to the demon Kaṁsa in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, who had repeatedly tried to kill Kṛṣṇa. Just as Kaṁsa had employed many minor demons in his attempts to kill Kṛṣṇa, so Mr. N. had employed demoniac agents like lawyers, friends, and hoodlums. Kṛṣṇa’s killing of demons like Kaṁsa was His pastime, or līlā-He enjoyed it. And Prabhupāda, as the servant of Kṛṣṇa, was fully absorbed in this fighting. He was vigilant, militant. When Mr. N. bluffed or frightened the devotees, causing them to back down, Prabhupāda held his ground. He took naturally to the fight; Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa’s mission were being challenged.
Never before had Prabhupāda been so threatened or met such active enemies. In New Delhi, when he had been selling his Back to Godhead magazines, he had often met with brusque words, and in America people had ignored him and occasionally heckled him. But no one had seriously attempted to stop his preaching. Here, however, was a demon working actively to cheat him, to destroy his preaching, to disperse his disciples, and to displace his deity. He was forced to fight, and his disciples, if they were to understand his mood, would also have to fight.
Prabhupāda was acting as the protector and the parent of the Deities and of ISKCON Bombay. As he had described in The Nectar of Devotion, many great devotees have an eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa as His protector. When as a child Kṛṣṇa had fought the serpent Kāliya, Kṛṣṇa’s mother and father had been plunged into transcendental anxiety. They had seen their child entangled in the coils of the serpent and, fearing for Kṛṣṇa’s life, had wanted to protect Him. The eternal mother and father of Kṛṣṇa always worry that Kṛṣṇa may meet with harm, and when danger appears to come, their natural anxiety increases many times. In this way they show the most intense love for Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mood was to protect Rādhā-Rāsavihārī and also his Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Although he knew that Kṛṣṇa was the supreme protector and that nobody could oppose His will, out of a protective desire to spread Kṛṣṇa’s glories he feared that the demon Mr. N. might harm Kṛṣṇa.
Prabhupāda’s feelings of anxiety and protectiveness extended to his disciples also. Although out of duty he often criticized and corrected them privately, before others he usually defended and praised them. When Dr. Patel, a Bombay physician, had criticized the way the devotees were living, not protecting themselves from mosquitoes, Prabhupāda had said that because his devotees were liberated and did not identify with their bodies, such things did not trouble them.
Prabhupāda saw his disciples as children, with little worldly experience; they did not know how to deal with rogues and could be easily tricked. But if the son was gullible, the father would have to be shrewd and strong to protect his family. As protector of the devotees and of Kṛṣṇa’s mission, Prabhupāda wanted to establish good housing so that his disciples could serve Kṛṣṇa in comfort-even elegance. Prabhupāda’s spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, had taught the same thing when he said that preachers of Kṛṣṇa consciousness should have the best of everything, because they were doing the best service to Kṛṣṇa. Prabhupāda was therefore determined to establish his Hare Kṛṣṇa city in Bombay. He did not take the attitude of a naked mendicant, who cares for nothing of this material world. He felt responsible for his thousands of disciples, and therefore he took on so many anxieties.
Mr. N. could not know what motives were driving Śrīla Prabhupāda. Nor could he imagine the full ramifications of opposing Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa’s pure devotee, even though the danger of such a position had been explained in India’s most famous classics, Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and Rāmāyaṇa. Prabhupāda was fighting on the side of Kṛṣṇa; therefore, Mr. N. was opposing the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
By Prabhupāda’s disciples’ cancellation of the agreement, ISKCON’s legal position had been weakened. But Prabhupāda had faith that if the devotees just maintained possession of the land, their position would remain strong. At the same time, he urged the devotees to preach more. They should not think that without a temple they could not preach, so he arranged for another big Bombay paṇḍāl festival downtown, which proved to be a great success, with twenty thousand attending nightly.
Important guests like Mr. R. K. Ganatra, the mayor of Bombay, made introductory speeches, and the devotees also took an active part, organizing, advertising, cooking and distributing prasādam, distributing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, and preaching at a question-and-answer booth. The paṇḍāl festival served to lift the devotees out of the doldrums of their protracted legal fight and the austerity of their living at Juhu.
During the last week of January 1973, Prabhupāda met with Mr. N. at the residence of Mr. Mahadevia. Although Prabhupāda’s lawyers had filed a criminal case against Mr. N., Prabhupāda wanted to attempt an out-of-court settlement. He had always been gracious and charming with Mr. N., and Mr. N. had always appeared responsive and polite. But this time was different. Gone were the smiles and friendly words. The two were remaining barely civil to each other. After a few minutes, Prabhupāda asked his disciples to leave the room.
Speaking in Hindi, Mr. N. began accusing Prabhupāda and the devotees of being connected with the CIA. “I will come on Monday,” said Mr. N. tersely, “with a check for two lakhs to pay back your down payment.”
“All right,” Prabhupāda replied. “If you don’t want to part with your land, then we will leave. But think before you do this.”
Mr. N. continued his accusations. “You people are calling yourselves the owners of the land, but you are just a big disturbance to the whole area, getting up at four and all this…”
“We do not claim to be the owner,” Prabhupāda replied. “Kṛṣṇa is the real owner. I am not the real owner. Kṛṣṇa is already there on His land. Why are you bothering us so much? Simply take the money and give us the land. Or, if you want us to vacate, then prepare the check.” Prabhupāda had been speaking with restraint, but now his tone became angry. “Bring out your check, and we will vacate tomorrow morning. No, we will vacate tonight! Give us our money back. Have you the money?”
Mr. N. shouted, “I will remove the Deities myself! I will break the temple and remove the Deities!” Mr. N. then stormed out of the room.
That week Mr. N. was hospitalized after a severe heart attack. Two weeks later he died. When Prabhupāda heard of Mr. N.’s death, he was at first silent. Then he quoted a verse Prahlāda Mahārāja had spoken following the death of his demoniac father, Hiraṇyakaśipu: modeta sādhur api vṛścika-sarpa-hatyā. “Even a saint is pleased when a snake or scorpion is killed.”
Mrs. N., although not as legally astute as her late husband, carried on the fight, and her lawyers, eager to collect their fees, pursued even more intently than she the litigation to drive out ISKCON. In April 1973, at ISKCON’s instigation, ISKCON’s case came before the High Court. There were tactical delays, however, and month after month passed with no decision.
Prabhupāda did not commit himself to construction on the land, because he had no deed and no assurance of one. He toured the West, returned to India, but still nothing had happened to resolve the matter. Life in ISKCON Bombay was peaceful, but progress remained stunted, the outcome uncertain.
Then one day, without warning, Mrs. N. launched a violent attack. On the morning of June 1, while the devotees were attending their routine duties, a truck drove onto the Juhu property. A demolition squad had come to dismantle the temple. Somehow Mrs. N. had convinced an official in the city government to authorize demolition of the temple, a modest structure of brick and steel-reinforced concrete. When Girirāja attempted to show the officer in charge a letter establishing ISKCON’s rights, the man ignored the letter and signaled for the demolition to begin. Soon more trucks arrived, until nearly one hundred demolitionists, working with blowtorches and sledgehammers, swarmed over the property.
The demolitionists mounted ladders and began breaking the roof of the temple hall with sledgehammers. Others used torches to cut through the steel supports. The plan of the demolition squad was to knock out the steel supports of the kīrtana hall and proceed methodically toward the Deity house, wherein Rādhā-Rāsavihārī stood. The devotees tried to stop the demolition, but policemen soon appeared on the scene and, working in pairs, would grab the dissenters by the legs and arms and carry them away. Police dragged the women away by the hair, while tenants on the land looked on. Some were glad to see the demolition, although others were sympathetic. Out of fear of the police, however, no one moved to help the devotees.
One devotee, Maniṣvi, ran to a telephone and called Mr. Mahadevia, who, along with his friend Mr. Vinoda Gupta, rushed to Hare Krishna Land, to find the police dragging off the last protesting devotee by the hair. She had been trying to close the doors to the altar to protect the Deities when three policemen had wrestled her away. Mr. Mahadevia rushed to the house of a sympathetic tenant, Mr. Acarya, and phoned his brother Chandra Mahadevia, a wealthy businessman and friend of Bal Ṭhākura, the leader of one of the most influential political parties in Bombay.
Mr. Chandra Mahadevia informed Bal Ṭhākura of the emergency: at the instigation of a Hindu and under the order of a Hindu municipal officer, a Hindu temple of Lord Viṣṇu was being demolished. Mr. Ṭhākura in turn informed the municipal commissioner, who denied knowing of any order to demolish the temple and who in turn phoned the local ward office that had sent out the demolition squad. The ward office sent a man to stop the demolition. The officer arrived around two P.M., just as the demolition squad had cut through the last pillars and were dismantling the roof above the Deities. The order to stop the demolition was given to the ward officer in charge, who then stopped the demolition squad.
Prabhupāda was in Calcutta at the time of the attack, and when the devotees reached him by phone, he told them to organize the local ISKCON sympathizers and life members and protest the attack by mass publicity. They should also expose the persons responsible. This would be very effective against Mrs. N. and her party.
Prabhupāda mentioned various life members he thought would help. Mr. Sada Jiwatlal, the head of the Hindu Viswa Parishad, should help with publicity, since his organization was a defender of Hindu dharma and was meant for handling such cases as this. Mr. Sethi should help in preventing further violence. This episode, Prabhupāda said, had been part of Kṛṣṇa’s plan; the devotees should not be afraid.
The next morning a photo of the demolished temple appeared on the front page of the Free Press Journal with the headline, “UNAUTHORIZED TEMPLE DEMOLISHED BY MUNICIPAL AUTHORITIES.”
Devotees began counteracting the bad publicity. Mr. Sada Jiwatlal turned his downtown office into an ISKCON office, and he and the devotees began the campaign. Despite the unfavorable propaganda, many Indians were shocked at the violence, and the municipal corporation unanimously condemned those officials responsible for the attack on a Hindu temple. Devotees, working from six A.M. to nine P.M. at Sada Jiwatlal’s office, phoned the newspapers, wrote letters and circulars, and contacted possible sympathizers.
Mr. Vinoda Gupta, a member of the Jan-Sangh political party, which favored maintaining India’s Hindu culture, joined with Kartikeya Mahadevia and others to form a “Save the Temple” committee. Mr. Gupta published his own leaflet declaring ISKCON to be a bona fide Hindu organization. As Girirāja met with and elicited the support of government officials, many of Bombay’s leading citizens, appreciating the authenticity of the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement, began to show sympathy and offer assistance.
Thus the plan of Mrs. N. and her lawyers backfired. Although they had been thinking they were dealing with only a mere handful of young foreigners, they soon found themselves facing many of Bombay’s most influential citizens.
Śrīla Prabhupāda predicted that the results would be positive. A few days after the incident he wrote,
The demolition of our temple by the municipality has strengthened our position. The municipality standing committee has condemned the hasty action of the municipality, and has agreed to reconstruct the shed at their cost. Not only that, the temporary construction shall continue to stay until the court decision is there as to who is the proprietor of the land. Under the circumstances we should immediately reconstruct the Deity shed. Barbed wire fencing should be immediately done to cover the naked land. And if possible, immediately in front of the Deity shed, a temporary pandal should be constructed, with our materials. If it is so done, then I can go to Bombay and begin Bhagawat Parayana, to continue until the court decision is there. This is my desire.
Prabhupāda also asked Girirāja to give full coverage of the temple demolition in his Hare Krishna Monthly journal to life members. Prabhupāda himself wrote an article for the Monthly describing his movement and the events leading to the attack on the temple. He condemned the Bombay municipality for having the “audacity to smash our temple, against the law and principle of religious faith.” A clique in Bombay, he said, had conspired to drive the devotees from their land without returning their money, and he asked for sympathizers and life members of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement to come forward and help him at this difficult hour.
Only about a dozen ISKCON life members responded to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s call. There were hundreds of life members in Bombay, each of whom had donated 1,111 rupees and were receiving Prabhupāda’s books. But when it came to a personal commitment in a time of controversy, only a few were willing to help. Those who did help, however, were able to assist in ways that the innocent, naive, and uninfluential disciples of Prabhupāda could not.
The devotees began to see the entire course of events as Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, since many life members were now rendering valuable service to Prabhupāda and Lord Kṛṣṇa. In the past Prabhupāda had stayed in the homes of many life members, preaching to them and their families, convincing them of his sincerity and of the noble aims of his movement. These friends and members-like Bhagubai Patel, Beharilal Khandelwala, Brijratan Mohatta, Dr. C. Bali, and others-were acting not simply out of Hindu sentiment but out of deep respect and affection for Prabhupāda.
Girirāja, working with Sada Jiwatlal, tried to convince the municipal council to authorize the rebuilding of the temple structure. While doing so, however, he discovered that Mrs. N. had that very day (a Friday) filed for a court injunction preventing ISKCON from rebuilding. Justice Nain told Girirāja that he did not want to grant Mrs. N.’s request and that he would hear the devotee’s case on the following Monday. This meant that the devotees had from Saturday morning to Monday morning, two days, to rebuild the temple.
The devotees reasoned that, although they had no actual permission to rebuild the temple, there was as yet no law to stop them. If Justice Nain ruled against them, then to rebuild would be very difficult. They decided, therefore, to use the weekend to rebuild. Mr. Lal, a former contractor, helped arrange materials: bricks, mortar, asbestos sheets. Mr. Sethi offered a crew of laborers. At eight P.M. on Friday the masons began their work, continuing throughout the night despite the rain. And on Monday morning, when the judge learned of the new temple, he declared, “What is built is built. No one can destroy the temple.”
When Prabhupāda heard the news, he considered it a complete victory. The temple had been rebuilt, and public opinion was swinging strongly in ISKCON’s favor.
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