Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad, founder of Gaudiya Mission and the most illustrious follower of his mentor-father Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, was a Vaishnava-saint in the truest meaning of the term. Not only was he a great scholar and organizing genius, he was blessed with all the Vaishnava virtues like compassion, humility, magnanimity and divine love. The more one learns about him and his achievements in the field of revival of true Vaishnavism in his short life span of sixty three years, the more astounded one becomes of his versatile genius and unparalleled spiritual stature.
Born as the fourth child of Keder Nath Dutta, later known to the world as Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur on 6th February, 1874 at the Purushottama Kshetra (Puri), he was named Bimala Prasad, meaning “the mercy of the transcendental potency of Lord Jagannath”. Miracles occurred at various phases of his life. People were struck with wonder and admiration when a garland from the neck of Lord Jagannath fell on him during the chariot festival. He was then only six months’ old. The convoy of chariots had somehow remained stalled in front of Bimala Prasad’s home at Narayanchhata for three days. On that very spot, his father offered him Mahaprasada to perform his “annaprasana” (first rice) ceremony. It was as early as nine years when he was given “mantra” by his father and taught how to follow the ritual of worship for the Deity of Sri Kurma Devi who had manifested herself in the house of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur at Rambagan in Calcutta (Kolkata).
Bimalaprasad was an exceptionally brilliant student and his teachers marvelled at his mastery of Sanskrit and Bangali. Mathematics and Astrology were his favourite subjects. He was conferred the title Sri Sriddhanta Saraswati by his teachers in recognition of his scholarship in different subjects including holy scriptures. Bimalaprasad was given “Harinama” (the holy name) the ‘Tulsimala’ (rosary) as well as Sri Nrisinha Mantra. From then on Srila Saraswati Thakur started assisting his ‘Guru’ and father in preaching the holy name of Lord Krishna and participating in the deliberations of “Visva Vaishnava Raja-Sabha” (the great assembly of Vaishnavas from all over the world.
In 1892 Srila Saraswati Thakur enrolled himself in Sanskrit collage, Calcutta, and shortly became famous as a debater. The tug of spirituality weaned him away from academic activities, but his reputation as an astrologer earned him the chair of Astronomy at Calcutta University at the instance of the then Vice-chancellor Asutosh Mukherjee. He also served the princely state of Tripura as a tutor of the royal family.
Finally the devotional life started manifesting itself fully. He had his Bhagavati Diksha (Initiation) from Gourkishor Das Babaji, a Vaishnava Saint of a very high order, in 1900 at the instance of Bhaktivinode Thakur. Shortly after he went on a pilgrimage to Remuna via Baleswar to have a “darshan” of Khirchora Gopinath and then to Puri. In 1902 when Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur established his “Bhajan Kutir” near the ‘Samadhi’ of Srila Haridasa Thakur, Srila Saraswati Thakur used to read and explain the Chaitanya Charitamrita to the audience. He also started compiling materials for Vaishnava Manjusa, a Vashnava encyclopedia.
Following his pilgrimage to holy places like Himachal, Rajmahendri, Madras, Perumvudur, Tirupati, Kanjivram, Kumbhakanon, Sri Sangam, Madurai etc, Srila Saraswati Thakur began preaching Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s message at Mayapur. He was instrumental in effecting a change in the 19th century elite Bengali mindset which strictly followed the “Vasnashram dharma” and establishing the principle of “daivivarnashramadharma” which placed a devotee above caste and class.
In 1918 Srila Saraswati took ‘Sanyas’ (renunciation) on March 7, 1918. On the day of Advent of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu at Sri Mayapur, strictly in accordance with vedic rites. It was on the same day Srila Prabhupada set up Sri Chaitanya Math where the images of Sri Radhagovinda and Sri Chaitanya were installed. In November 1918 Srila Prabhupad established Bhaktivinode Asan at Ultadanga in Calcutta a year later, Visva Vaishnava Raja Sabha was established in the city.
Then, one after anther the Gaudiya Math at Dacca, Sri Purushottam Math at Puri were established Preaching continued all over the country including Vraja Mandal, West and South Inida, Nabadwip Calcutta and East Bengal, not in that order Though. Under his guidance and inspiring leadership, publication of Vaishnava scriptures, magazines and journals started at regular intervals. Srila Prabhupad Sent a preaching mission to the West in the 1930s.
Srila Prabhupada was not only an intellectual and spiritual giant. He was also a great teacher who trained his disciples in the nuances of scriptures and how to preach them among the people at large. He was the living example of austerity and inmates of Gaudiya Math imbibed the spirit of austerity, simplicity, humble service to all beings and adherence to strict devotional regime under his tutelage.
The members of the elite and the common people were equally inspired by his presence and elevating speeches and discourses. Vice-chancellors, university professor civil servants, lawyers and the upper classes of society sought his advice on spiritual matters. He was one of the busiest persons of his time, yet the among the most serene and composed. He was against wasting time and urged his disciples to expend every iota of energy to serve at the Lotus feet of the Lord. It was the first day of the year 1937, that Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad left this mundane world to be united with his Creator, Lord Krishna, It was 5.30 AM. and a Thursday. His mortal body was interned in his Samadhi at Nabadwip as devotees chanted his favourite pronam mantra—“Nama Om Vishnu—padaya Krishna Presthaya Bhutale Srimate Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswathi Namine.”
Prabhupada may not be physically among us, but his ever shining examples of living, loving, teaching and making steady progress to the realization of the Godhead continue to guide the Gaudiya Mission and its legion of monks, brahmacharis, devotees and disciples striving for ever to live up to the teachings of universal love and compassion for all which Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, propagated.