for ISKCON News on April 26, 2013
Painting o the young Abhay Charan with his father.
Devotees in Kolkata, India headed by GBC Radhanath Swami, have purchased Srila Prabhupada’s birthplace and plan to develop it as a beautiful memorial to the ISKCON founder Acharya.
Fifteen years ago, devotees acquired a house and land in the Tollygunge suburb of Kolkata that had belonged to Prabhupada’s maternal grandfather. But the exact site where Prabhupada was born on September 1st, 1896 remained elusive until now.
“One hundred yards away from his maternal grandfather’s house is a small cottage under a jackfruit tree,” explains Radha Jivan Das, a Florida-based businessman and philanthropist. “In India in those days, when a woman gave birth, she would go back to her father’s house. So Prabhupada’s mother, Srimati Rajani De, went to stay with her joint family in Tollygunge—her parents and brothers all lived there. She gave birth to Srila Prabhupada in this small cottage, which was exclusively for ladies to give birth—a kind of birthing center, so to speak.”
Recently the cottage became available for sale. Kolkata devotees, including vice president Radha Raman Das, negotiated with the elderly lady who had owned it, and purchased it for just $25,000. The funds were raised by Radhanath Swami and Radha Jivan Das, who each paid half of the cost.
Besides being Srila Prabhupada’s birthplace, there are several interesting facts about the property.
The jackfruit tree which stands over the cottage and still bears fruit, was present when Srila Prabhupada was born 117 years ago. Radha Jivan estimates it’s at least 130 or 140 years old.
The property is also special because Srila Prabhupada continued to visit it throughout his childhood. Or rather, he would visit the house of his mother’s family 100 yards from it.
Whenever Srimati Rajane De would go to visit her family, Prabhupada would go with her, taking the thirty-kilometer commute from his father Gour Mohan De’s house on Mahatma Gandhi Road.
During his visits to Tollygunge, Srila Prabhupada—then little Abhay Charan De—would go with his maternal uncles to visit a Madan Mohan temple just across the street from their house.
One of the most interesting and little-known facts, however, is that it was actually Srila Prabhupada’s express wish that his birthplace be purchased by ISKCON.
“Srila Prabhupada’s grand nephew and disciple, Sankarshan Das, is currently managing a preaching center in Godrumadvipa, near Mayapur,” says Radha Jivan.
“When I told him what we were purchasing Prabhupada’s birthplace, he started to cry.” He said, ‘On May 5th, 1977, five months before he passed away, Srila Prabhupada personally handwrote me a Bengali letter. He said ‘Sankarshana Prabhu, this place where I was born under the tree must be acquired.’”
“Prabhupada knew who he was,” Radha Jivan says. “He knew he was the acharya of the age. He knew his birthplace could not just go to waste.”
So it is no surprise that ISKCON devotees are very excited, 36 years later, to finally own this piece of history.
“Several brahmachari disciples of Radhanath Swami are already living there,” says Radha Jivan. “They have installed a murti form of Srila Prabhupada in the cottage where he was born. They are doing kirtan, and distributing kichari prasadam to the hungry in the area. We are currently constructing some bathroom facilities and cleaning the cottage up. We invite any devotees visiting Kolkata to come and see Srila Prabhupada’s birthplace.”
In the next year, devotees hope to purchase two acres of land surrounding the cottage. They will then begin building a beautiful monument for Srila Prabhupada that will attract visitors from all over to see the birthplace of the saint who gave the world Krishna consciousness. The monument will include a museum depicting Prabhupada’s early childhood pastimes.
In the future, the memorial could expand into a full-fledged ISKCON center.
“It may include a nice temple and a school in Srila Prabhupada’s name, where spiritual and material education can be given to the local people,” Radha Jivan says.
ISKCON guru Radha Govinda Swami, upon hearing the news, summed up the importance of this acquisition by ISKCON.
“This Bhumi, this land, that gave birth to the greatest personality—who gave life to the whole world by giving knowledge of Krishna consciousness—must be worshipped,” he said. “This is a great service that has been performed by the devotees and disciples of Srila Prabhupada. They have acquired such sacred earth, which will be worshipped by millions and millions of followers in the future.”