The News Agency of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

When ISKCON First Came to South Africa

By: for ISKCON News on Jan. 19, 2012
Right to left: Bob Narandas, Shyamlal Das, Ksudhi Das, Champak Lal Soni
In 1972, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada sent two young devotees to South Africa to set up the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). It was decided that Rsi Kumar Swami and Ksudhi Das Brahmacari would be the first ISKCON devotees to travel to South Africa and establish Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s movement. Ksudhi Das is currently in South Africa for a short visit and is staying at the Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple of Understanding in Chatsworth, Durban. He was invited by the ISKCON Vaishnava Research Forum to address an audience on the early history and development of ISKCON in South Africa at the Forum Lecture programme on Wednesday 11th January 2012. Shyamlal Das as well as Bob Narandas and Champak Lal Soni, all pioneers of the movement during its fledgling years in South Africa were also invited.

In his address, Ksudhi Das recounted that memorable day in March 1972 when he met Srila Prabhupada in Mayapur. Ksudhi Das said, “I offered my obeisances to him and said, “Srila Prabhupada, I am going to Africa now. I hope this gives me the opportunity to increase my services to you.”” Ksudhi continued, “Srila Prabhupada put his hands behind his head and said, service to Lord Caitanya, service to Lord Caitanya, service to Lord Caitanya.” Ksudhi explained that both himself and Rsi Kumar Swami first went to Switzerland and then travelled to Nairobi, Kenya. While they were in Nairobi, they met many Indian people who supported their cause and Mr Damji Devji was one such person.

Ksudhi Das explained that Mr Devji gave them letters of introduction to many of his friends and relatives in South Africa and on the plane to South Africa, they met Mr D.P. Desai and Arvind Gokool who recognized the letters from Mr Devji. Ksudhi Das further explained that Arvind Gokool became the first life member of ISKCON in South Africa. He continued with highlighting the role of Mr Naginbhai Soni and his son Champak as well as Bob Narandas and Mr Ashwin Kara, the manager of the Popatlal Kara stores, in facilitating their early preaching by providing accommodation, etc. Champak Lal Soni, a well- known jeweler in the Gujarati community of Durban, came forward and offered his beach cottage to the devotees.

Ksudhi recalled that both he and Rsi Kumar Swami gave numerous lectures at various Hindu temples in and around Durban and that these Krishna Conscious programmes were attended by hundreds of people. He also mentioned the great difficulties presented to them by the secret police services of the apartheid government who did not allow public gatherings due to the fear of political uprisings.

Thereafter, Shyamlal Das, followed by Bob Narandas and Champak Lal Soni, addressed the audience. Shyamlal also recalled some of the difficulties that he had faced with the secret police service in the early days. He spoke about the great strides that ISKCON has made in bringing Krishna Consciousness to the people of South Africa through the magnanimous efforts of the founder acarya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and various devotees and members of the Indian community in this country.

Mr Bob Narandas fondly remembered the white Mercedes-Benz that he had provided for Srila Prabhupada’s transport during his stay in South Africa. He also mentioned the house in Devon Terrace, Westville, which was arranged by Mr J.T. Bhoola for Srila Prabhupada’s preaching programmes. Bob also recollected the details of a spectacular Janmastami celebration at the ISKCON farm in Cato Ridge, that was attended by about 15 000 people and in which he played a major role in assisting to organize. Narandas reminisced about how he had engaged many of the senior Gujarati matajis from Victoria Street in Durban in assisting to cook the prasadam for the Cato Ridge festival. Bob, a close friend of Riddha Das, author of the book “Mission in the Service of His Divine Grace”, also spoke briefly about his input towards the compilation of the book, where he assisted in providing important historic details and photographs.

Mr Champak Lal Soni was the final speaker. He thanked the Vaishnava Research Forum for organizing the program and mentioned that it was important to reflect on the history of an institution as it enables one to develop a sense of appreciation for the sacrifices of others and paves the way for cohesion and progress within the institution. He then paid tribute to Ksudhi Das. Champak mentioned that Ksudhi Das had endured many hardships in the pioneering days of the Hare Krishna Movement in this country and that he was blessed by Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna to establish the roots of the Movement here and prepare the country for Srila Prabhupada’s imminent visit in 1975. The delightful exchanges between Champak and Ksudhi Das resonated the nectar of this transcendental history and everyone present in the Temple room were left enraptured with ecstasy. In his book, “Mission in the Service of His Divine Grace”, Riddha Das writes “ … without the help of Mr Soni and his father, Mr Naginbhai Soni, in the early days, the story of ISKCON South Africa could well have been altogether different.”

In the introduction to his book, Riddha writes, “In my research, I came to learn of the great sacrifices that had been made by my spiritual brothers and sisters who helped to bring Krishna Consciousness to South Africa. I also realized that many Indian residents of South Africa were instrumental in helping to establish ISKCON. This book provides a glimpse into those sacrifices in the early days, without which Krishna Consciousness would not have flourished in South Africa.”
Due to time constraints the magnanimous contribution towards the early development of the movement by various other devotees could not be fully covered in the programme. However, these are highlighted in detail in the book “Mission in the Service of His Divine Grace”. Devotees such as Partha Sarathi Das Goswami, Gokulendra Das, Pusta-Krsna Swami, Tulasi Das, Dhiranga Das, Rocani dasi, Ramanujacarya Das and others made great contributions to the preaching efforts.

The programme concluded with supper prasadam at 9:00pm.

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