On September 17th, 1965, a 69-year-old Indian holy man from Calcutta stepped off the cargo ship Jaladuta at Boston’s Commonwealth Pier. He had suffered two heart-attacks on the treacherous 35-day journey. And all he had to his name was seven dollars in Indian rupees and a crate of his translations of sacred Sanskrit texts.
“I didn’t know where to turn, left or right,” he later said. But what he did know was that he was determined to carry out the will of his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, to bring the teachings of Lord Krishna to the English-speaking world, and thus alleviate the suffering of the masses.
Fifty years later, on September 17th 2015 – the day of his arrival – Boston City Hall raised the Indian flag in his honor, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh released a proclamation declaring it “His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada Day in the City of Boston.”
That weekend, on Saturday September 19th, nearly 500 of his disciples and grand-disciples from all over the U.S. and Canada as well as from Russia, Ukraine, England and India gathered at Commonwealth Pier – the same place he had arrived alone – to celebrate his priceless gift to them and to the world.
Anuttama Das, Radhanath Swami, Bhaktimarga Swami and Pyari Mohan Das at Boston's Commonwealth Pier, where Srila Prabhupada arrived in the US
Chartering a two-storey touring boat, they took a three-hour ride into Boston Harbor, as Niranjana Swami led a beautiful kirtan.
Onboard, devotees offered a few dozen garlands to a murti form of Srila Prabhupada, followed by guru-puja, along with more rapturous kirtan by Bhaktimarga Swami.
Under a blue sky and puffy white clouds on the roof of the boat, many senior devotees then spoke from their hearts about what Srila Prabhupada’s coming meant to them. They included Trivikrama Swami, Jayadvaita Swami, Romapada Swami, Navayogendra Swami, Chandramauli Swami, Malati Devi, Visakha Devi, Rangavati Devi, and more.
“They spoke of how he was at this very harbor with no money and no solid plans of what awaited him, and how he achieved so much because of his dedication and devotion Krishna,” says GBC Anuttama Das, who also attended. “Some shuddered to think where they would have been – if even alive – had Prabhupada not come.”
Devotees at Boston Common
Alighting from the boat, devotees were chauffered back to Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States, for lunch. They then made their way to Faneuil Hall, a historic Boston landmark since 1743, for a festival attended by a large audience including some local Buddhist monks.
There MC Graham M. Schweig, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Christopher Newport University, recounted Srila Prabhupada’s achievements: how in twelve years, he established with his early disciples at least one hundred centers around the globe, published over fifty thick volumes of translations and commentary, which have been translated into dozens of languages, and traveled twelve times around the world bringing his teachings to virtually all peoples.
“Swami Prabhupada has brought more light into this world, a world in which we still find too much darkness,” Schweig said. “Let us celebrate on this day how Swami Prabhupada raised greater awareness to the monumental teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. Let us honor on this day how Swami Prabhupada selflessly traveled the world to the hearts of so many.”
Devotees hear offerings to Srila Prabhupada on the boat tour
This was followed by a colorful and historical 20-minute Powerpoint presentation by Guru Gauranga Das from Switzerland, telling the story of Prabhupada’s journey from Kolkata to Boston, and then on to New York.
The event also included speeches by Malina Shah from the Mayor of New York’s Advisory Council for South Asian Affairs; Mary Truong, Executive Director at the Commonwealth of Massacheusetts; and L.T. Ngaihte, Consul and Head of Chancery at the Consulate General of India, New York.
After them Ambarisa Das (Alfred Ford), great grandson of auto magnate Henry Ford, spoke about how his great-grandfather’s belief in reincarnation and vegetarianism made Krishna consciousness a natural step for him; and how Prabhupada’s message had brought deeper meaning to his life.
Ambarisa Das (Alfred Ford) speaks at Faneuil Hall
Meanwhile Rukmini Devi talked about how Prabhupada came to sow the seeds of revolution within the hearts of the younger generation; Radhanath Swami spoke about the importance of awakening people to his message; and Anuttama listed his movement’s achievements up till now, such as 600 temples, 3 billion meals of prasadam served, and 1,000 Harinama parties on the streets.
The program ended with a 15-minute trailer for the upcoming film “Acarya,” by husband-and-wife team Yadubara and Visakha, with scenes showing Prabhupada’s arrival to Boston.
The next day, a Rathayatra circled Boston Common from noon to 2pm, and the traveling Festival of India put on kirtan and stage performances including a magic show by ISKCON Boston president Pyari Mohan.
Devotees gather with Srila Prabhupada Fanueil Hall
Another highlight was the unveiling of a specially commissioned sculpture by Ukrainian artist Volodymyr Zhuravel. The sculpture, which took Zhuravel six months to make, shows Prabhupada alighting from the Jaladuta in Boston, and will be temporarily displayed at ISKCON Boston until a permanent location is found. An accompanying piece, showing Prabhupada boarding the ship in Kolkata, is being kept at ISKCON Kolkata and will be installed in a park near that city’s Khidirpur Dock.
The festival ended with Bhaktimarga Swami, the Walking Monk, being introduced onstage, and setting off on his 907-mile trek retracing Srila Prabhupada’s journey from Boston to Butler – where he stayed with the Agarwal family – and then on to New York, where he incorporated ISKCON.
The whole event was broadcast live on Mayapur.tv.
Niranjana Swami presents the sculpture of Srila Prabhupada arriving at Commonwealth Pier
“It was a very warm and heartfelt festival,” says Anuttama Das. “Because all the devotees, individually and together, were remembering what Prabhupada had done, the sacrifices he’d made, and how much we had all personally benefitted from them. So I saw devotees young and old all sharing a real sense of gratitude for Srila Prabhupada.”
While speaking on the Boston Harbor boat tour, Anuttama also synthesized what should be on our minds now.
“Prabhupada would be happy to see us celebrating our successes,” he said, “But his question would be ‘What’s next?’ That we shouldn’t feel comfortable on ISKCON’s achievements, but should think about what we can do next to try to help suffering humanity and spread Krishna’s glories.”
And in the short term, that is remembering that the 50th anniversary celebrations of Prabhupada’s leaving Kolkata and arriving in Boston are pre-events to the main course.
“The important thing now is to see what devotees in Los Angeles, New York, London, Delhi, Nairobi, Sydney – all over the world – are going to do to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ISKCON’s incorporation in 2016,” says Anuttama. “Your chance to have a big celebration is coming up next!”
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