Chronology of Srila Prabhupada’s Departure
by Anantacarya das (ACBSP)
These are extracts from a diary I kept 32 years ago during the last five days of Srila Prabhupada’s presence with us in Vrindavan, India.
Arriving at the Krishna-Balaram Mandir from California at about 9:30 a.m. on November 11, I enter Srila Prabhupada’s room. Lying on his back in a large bed, he is being massaged gently. A kirtan is in progress. Prabhupada is incredibly thin; his hands and feet are swollen. His limbs are supported by pillows. Srila Prabhupada says he will go on parikram to Govardhan Hill. Devotees ask if he will ride in a minibus; his answer is “bullock cart”.
Srila Prabhupada is so weak he can barely move his forearms or raise a hand as a signal. If he wants to move his leg, he asks someone to help him. It is startling to see him so emaciated, but there he is, in his transcendental body. In this unbelievably weakened condition he proposes to go 32 kilometres in a bullock cart, circumambulate the hill, stay overnight and return the next day! He remains our intrepid spiritual leader, not wanting….
his bodily condition to stop his Govardhan Puja. Worried, we start planning for the parikram.
At 1:00 a.m. on November 12 Srila Prabhupada is resting, Swarup Damodara, tending closely to him, is relieved by another devotee who begins massaging Prabhupada. While he rests, the room is completely silent. We chant japa under our breaths. I learn that Prabhupada’s associates have talked him out of going on the parikram, and we are to go in his place.
Kaviraj Shastri, the doctor, comes in at 8:00 a.m. and declares Srila Prabhupada’s pulse to be normal. Kaviraj says that he has seen many, many patients, but never one with a body like Prabhupada’s. One day everything will seem in disorder, but the next day everything will be perfect again. Today there is no more high blood pressure either. Kaviraj plans to go to Jaipur to get the ingredients for a medicine, saying if Prabhupada will continue to take milk and medicine he will be well.
At 3:50 p.m. ten devotees are singing a kirtan for Srila Prabhupada. Then another devotee leads kirtan on the harmonium, and I accompany him on kartals. We sing continuously until 7:00. Prabhupada asks to be seated up in bed, and accepts a few chudi noodles. After he is done, Upendra carefully distributes his Mahaprasad among the devotees. Prabhupada is always giving to us, no matter what his apparent condition.
Entering the room at 1:00 a.m. on November 13, I offer obeisances near the bed. The room is silent except for the very faint sound of Srila Prabhupada’s breathing as he sleeps, and the slight rustle of a devotee’s beads. Prabhupada awakens and begins to have more trouble with his body. Despite rearranging his pillows, massaging, moving him and changing the blankets, Prabhupada is not doing well.
Upendra is sent for, and under his care Srila Prabhupada goes back to sleep. He sleeps for an hour, then awakes at 3:00. For awhile he is cold, but then the quilt which is put on is too heavy, and he asks that it be removed. His left leg is in pain, and he needs to be helped to pass urine. He insists that all covers stay off.
We get Upendra up again and send for Dr. Shastri. Srila Prabhupada loudly and distinctly says “Hare Krishna”, repeating it twice at five-minute intervals. Upendra tells us: “You may all chant japa out loud.” Kaviraj takes the pulse, looks over Srila Prabhupada and leaves. Prabhupada becomes quieter.
After mangala aratik I re-enter the room. Satsvarupa Maharaj is leading 20 devotees in kirtan, but Srila Prabhupada is worse. Now he has a cold, too. Prabhupada’s sister arrives, dressed in white, and goes to the head of the bed to see her brother. She reaches out her hand to give him a long, consoling touch, then proceeds to the foot of the bed and touches his feet before she leaves.
By 9:00 p.m. there are 20 devotees gathered around, including Kaviraj and another elderly gentleman friend of Srila Prabhupada. A devotee is massaging Prabhupada’s leg with oil, and a compress is applied to the other leg. At about 10:30, lying on his left side, he begins to sleep very well. Only four disciples are in the room: Swarup Damodara, sitting quietly in the corner, keeping an eye on Gurudev; Jagadish, seated against the wall; a brahmacari, reading by a lamp; and I, whispering the Hare Krishna mantra.
The night is getting cold, and Swarup Damodara wants to block a draft from a French window, but it won’t close. I go outside and push, while Swarup Damodara pushes on it from the inside. We manage to close it without waking Prabhupada.
At 11:40 Srila Prabhupada awakes and asks to be rolled onto his back. Swarup Damodara helps him roll over, gives him his medicine and arranges the bedpan. I tuck in Prabhupada’s lotus feet under the blankets.
At 12:15 a.m. on November 14, Srila Prabhupada is sleeping soundly. Chanting the Mahamantra very softly. I stand next to him, looking at his lovely head and face, and for 90 minutes I can’t see anything else. I stand in one spot and meditate upon his lotus face and head.
At about 10:15, I am passing by the windows of Srila Prabhupada’s room and hear a loud kirtan going on in the room. I think that Prabhupada must be feeling better, but one of the devotees tells me that his condition is as critical as ever. At noon the kirtan is still strong. At 1:15 p.m., while we take prasadam, a server announces Kaviraj’s prognosis that Srila Prabhupada has only five more hours in his body.
I head quickly to Prabhupada’s room, now one-third filled with perhaps 30 devotees gathered close and chanting strongly. Our spiritual master appears to be in a coma: he is unmoving, and his facial expression is trancelike. Lying on his back with his head tilted to the side, his lips are parted, but there is no movement, and his eyelids are closed. Several devotees, including Upendra and Giriraj, are seated on the bed. Caru das, from Berkeley Temple, is seated on the floor, tears streaming down his face as he strokes the feet of his spiritual master. Prabhupada’s personal servants Bhakticaru Maharaj, Upendra and Swarup Damodara are in attendance, all worried.
Everybody comes to chant for Srila Prabhupada — brahmacaris, brahmacarinis, householders, Gurukula children, sannyasis, visitors. A devotee sits on a corner of the bed by Srila Prabhupada’s feet and leads us in the Pancha Tattva prayer, the Mahamantra and the Gurvastakam prayers. Asking for a prayer book, he leads us in the complete set of Govindam Adi Purusham prayers from the Brahma-samhita. He sings from the book and we all join in for the refrain.
The room is now getting stuffy because of all the people. We open doors and windows and turn on fans. Srila Prabhupada’s sister is here, seated on the floor next to the bed. For many hours to follow, she remains nearby. No matter what happens next, she will do her best to be with Srila Prabhupada. A bench is brought in for Prabhupada’s elderly Vaishnava friends. Kirtan goes on unceasingly, and the afternoon is filled with devotees coming and going and chanting. Some elderly Vaishnavas later leave, but a really frail gentleman remains on the bench, quietly and continuously chanting japa. Will I ever be able to appreciate what a privilege it is to associate with these wonderful Vaishnavas?
At 5:00 p.m. Kaviraj arrives and moves a stethoscope about on Srila Prabhupada’s chest and midsection, worriedly informing Bhakticaru Maharaj of the new prognosis. The word is passed around: only three more hours. At Kaviraj’s request, japa beads, Deity pictures and some of Srila Prabhupada’s books are placed around his head. It is beautiful to see Prabhupada’s lovely head and face thus framed with transcendental paraphernalia.
Pradyumna and others have begun preparations for the Samadhi. There is talk of a palanquin, fresh saffron cloth and garlands. Srila Prabhupada swallows occasionally with his mouth closed. His breathing is noticeable by the slight rise and fall of the sheet covering his frail body. Bhakticaru Maharaj gives him some water. For an hour I sit in the vestibule as townspeople arrive. Everyone is determined to see Srila Prabhupada and begs for a last darshan. At 6:00 p.m. I re-enter the room and the women devotees are clustered about the bed to be as close as possible to him. Upendra’s eyes are continuously filled with moisture.
At 7:50 Kaviraj bends over for the pulse, and we all push forward. I stand on a chair in the back of the room but cannot see Srila Prabhupada. Having checked for the pulse, Kaviraj swiftly says “finished”. We all erupt with the Hare Krishna mantra with an almost hopeless frenzy. It begins to sink in that it’s all over. Devotees are frantically chanting, crying and breaking down completely. One boy collapses in convulsive sobbing. Tamal Krsna Maharaj has us leave the room. The night is filled with close and distant sobbing, women wailing, bells ringing, and dogs are barking and howling.
I go back downstairs 45 minutes later. Srila Prabhupada has been freshly clothed in saffron, and he is adorned with garlands of flowers and a bouquet of Tulasi manjaris. Sandalwood pulp covers his forehead and a large tulasi leaf is on his forehead. His skin has become pale, and a saffron hat covers his head. Four devotees place him securely in a palanquin. Vrindavan Vaishnavas, led by Srila Narayan Maharaj, pay reverent obeisances and place flower garlands, much affected by Srila Prabhupada’s departure.
Srila Prabhupada in his palanquin is taken three times around the outside of the temple, with devotees following and chanting. The palanquin is placed successively in front of Gaur-Nitai, Krishna-Balaram and Radha-Krishna; the kirtan is strong and jubilant. The palanquin is again lifted, and Prabhupada is taken around the inside of the temple, then outside. Re-entering, he is placed before the Krishna-Balaram Deities for continued kirtan, with devotees circumambulating him. We go around many times, circling closely. Now the palanquin is lifted, and both palanquin and Prabhupada are placed right on the blue velvet Vyasasan with the lion figures on both sides.
Omkara does the Gurupuja aratik during a roaring kirtan. The first devotees to offer marigolds and obeisances to Srila Prabhupada are his sister, his Vrndavan friends and Tamal Krishna Maharaj; then Upendra, Pradyumna, the ISKCON swamis and temple presidents. Some Gaudiya Math devotees offer garlands of flowers and decorative spiritual paraphernalia. We offer the marigolds by circling motions and shower them on Prabhupada. Narayan Maharaj leads us in a nice kirtan. We learn that the townspeople of Vrndavan requested a last darshan, so Srila Prabhupada will wait on the Vyasasan during the night and then proceed on Vrndavan parikram before returning for samadhi. Tamal Krsna Maharaj tells us to hold continuous all-night kirtan.
As kirtan continues, the night grows cold. The temple room is less crowded and only a few are singing. Most of the 25 devotees in the temple room are chanting japa. After a cold shower I dash back to the kirtan. By 2:00 a.m. the air has become penetratingly cold. Four or five younger devotees and I are clustered near the Vyasasan to keep the kirtan going, along with two elderly Indian devotees who refuse to leave Srila Prabhupada, though they can hardly stay awake. One sits motionless in front of the Vyasasan with only a chadar wrapped around his shoulders. Pradyumna sits with us and chants on his beads. He is looking quite worn-out, but stays with Prabhupada. Viraha Prakash Maharaj is now standing by the side of the Vyasasan steps.
About 3:00 a.m. I am asked to fan Prabhupada with one of the camaras. It is dark enough that the devotees cannot see my tears. By 4:30 many devotees are returning, and Srila Prabhupada’s sister also returns. She obviously wants to sit even closer to him, but male devotees fully occupy the carpet, so she humbly sits on the cold floor next to a pillar. Now the women come forward and offer incense to Srila Prabhupada. At 4:45 I volunteer to whisk Prabhupada again.
By 5:00 a.m. everyone is back. As mangal aratik starts, some devotees turn their backs to Srila Prabhupada to pay obeisances to the Deities. Narayan Maharaj tells Gopal Krishna that the devotees are to face Prabhupada, and there is to be a simultaneous aratik for Prabhupada at the Vyasasan while the aratik continues for the Deities. Gopal Krishna quickly arranges aratiks at each of the three altars plus the Vyasasan. Narayan Maharaj leads the kirtan, concluding with a resounding “Jaya Gurudeva.” An aratik for Tulasi Devi follows.
The Parikram begins at 6:45 a.m. as the palanquin is lifted from the Vyasasan and carried to the courtyard, where we circumambulate Srila Prabhupada with more chanting. We proceed through the front gate of the mandir, down the road to Vrndavan and its seven major temples. Narayan Maharaj leads the procession and kirtan and takes care that all details of the parikram and samadhi are executed perfectly.
The procession is led by a large group of devotees leading the strong kirtan; 11 dandas are visible. After 20-metre gap is a second group with Srila Prabhupada’s palanquin, bearers and attendants, followed by the women devotees and rickshas carrying Srila Prabhupada’s sister and some Gurukula children.
The palanquin is borne by Citsukhananda in the front and Vishnu Tattva das in the rear. Although relieved from time to time, these two men carry the heavy palanquin for most of the procession. Bhavananda is inseparable from Srila Prabhupada’s side, while Tamal Krishna Maharaj leads the second group of devotees. Upendra appears anxious, but Srila Prabhupada and his devotees sail through the streets of Vrndavan, stopping before each temple. The streets are lined with people shouting “Haribol,” “Hare Krishna” and “Jai Gurudev.” Families come onto rooftops, and Vrindavan’s townsfolk, young and old, pay standing obeisances to Srila Prabhupada.
Not far from the mandir a young woman watches the procession go by, eyes alight with amazement and veneration. Looking at the departing procession, she turns and walks to the center of the road. She bends down and, palms down, rubs her hands in a circular motion in the dust. She smears the dust of the Vaishnavas all over her cheeks and beams with a radiant smile.
Down the road another young woman in exquisite garments steps from her house into the street ditch to see the palanquin go by. Heedless of her finery, she bends her knees into the gutter, brings her head and arms to the ground, and pays obeisances. How is it possible to keep from crying when one sees just how much everyone loves and reveres Srila Prabhupada?
Returning to the mandir, the samadhi begins immediately. Srila Prabhupada has a bathing ceremony, a change of garments, flower garlands, puja offering and a prasadam offering. Finally he is covered with salt and then sand. During the lengthy and beautiful ceremony, the temple bell rings continuously and the kirtan goes on without interruption. At 1:00 p.m. the samadhi ceremony ends, and the devotees take prasadam.
Although I am not competent to write about these events, I beg the mercy of our Founder-Acarya and the entire disciplic succession to record this for those who were not able to be with Srila Prabhupada during his last days with us. All glories to our inconceivably merciful and infinitely wonderful Srila Prabhupada.