September 14 2009

The other day I visited Srila Prabhupada’s remaining family members, his youngest son Vrindaban Candra De, and his youngest daughter Bhaktilata mataji. It was the first time I have been to their flat since 1976 when Srila Prabhupada purchased it for them:

[From TD1]

January 12 1976 Calcutta

Sudama, Jayapataka, and Sridhara Swamis and other devotees met us at the airport.
Rather than going straight to the temple, Prabhupada first went to inspect a flat he is thinking of purchasing for his former family members. Then he traveled to the temple in our own bus.
>>> Ref. VedaBase => TD 1-8: Bombay and Calcutta

Sudama, Jayapataka, and Sridhara Swamis and other devotees met us at the airport.

Rather than going straight to the temple, Prabhupada first went to inspect a flat he is thinking of purchasing for his former family members. Then he traveled to the temple in our own bus.

January 14 1976

After breakfast prasadam Prabhupada and I went to see an apartment at Park Circus. He is thinking of purchasing it for his son and daughter, who met us there. Prabhupada didn’t say very much to them, and after a few minutes we returned to the temple.

January 15 1976

Later in the morning Prabhupada went to see another flat. And then just before massage time he sent me to show two friends of his the place we saw yesterday.

[end quotes]

Srila Prabhupada bought the flat near Park Circus and gave the keys to his son Vrindaban in February 1976 in Mayapur. They have lived there ever since. Under an arrangement made by Srila Prabhupada in 1977 shortly before he left us, the family receives a small allowance every month and the maintenance of the flat is paid for by the Mayapur Vrindavan Trust (MVT) of which I am the current secretary.

I went to inspect the flat and make preparations for some overdue repairs. While there I met Smt. Bhaktilata for the first time. Just like other members of the family, and especially Srila Prabhupada’s sister, whom we call Pishima (aunty), Bhaktilata looks strikingly similar to Srila Prabhupada:

Pisima on November 15 1977, the morning after Srila Prabhupada's disappearance in Vrindavana

Pisima on November 15 1977, the morning after Srila Prabhupada's disappearance in Vrindavana

I was happy to see the family worship small Radha Krsna Deities every day, along with a small murti of Srila Prabhupada. They have pictures on the walls and I was checking one out in particular:

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami-Chippiwada elhi 1964-5

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami-Chippiwada Delhi 1964-5

I knew it had been taken at the temple in Chippiwada Delhi and I was fasinated to see it on Vrindaban Candra’s bedroom wall. As I inspected it, Vrindaban informed me that he had taken the photo himself on a small box camera when he was visiting his sannyasi father for three weeks while he was in residence at the Radha Krishna temple of Pandit Sri Krishna Sharma.  I have seen the photo before in the Prabhupada Lilamrta but it was uncredited. I was very happy to finally find out who the photographer was and I surmised it must have been taken in early 1965, because Srila Prabhupada is sitting with all three volumes of the first canto of his English version of Srimad Bhagavatam, and the last volume had been publish in late 1964.

Satsvarupa Maharaja writes about Srila Prabhupada’s residence in Chippiwada in the first volume of Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta:

SPL 10: “This Momentous Hour of Need”

“It was an important maxim of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s that a preacher should go to the cities and not remain in the seclusion of a holy place. So in that spirit, Bhaktivedanta Swami continued commuting to Delhi, even though to him it was a hell and even though he had no fixed residence there. Often he was taken in by businessmen who felt obliged on the basis of Indian culture: a good man, if he wanted to be favored by God, should accommodate the sadhus and give them meals and a place to stay. But the vision of such pious men was a sentimental Hinduism, and their receptions were artificial; they could not really appreciate Bhaktivedanta Swami’s work. And Bhaktivedanta Swami was not of a mind to impose himself upon such hosts.

Then he spoke with Mr. Hitsaran Sharma, manager of the Radha Press. In the past Mr. Sharma had printed flyers and stationery for the League of Devotees, and Bhaktivedanta Swami had stayed in Mr. Sharma’s house on occasion. Mr. Sharma introduced Bhaktivedanta Swami to Pandit Sri Krishna Sharma, a caste brahmana and active religionist, secretary to the century-old Delhi religious society Sri Naval Prem Sabha. Out of sympathy for Bhaktivedanta Swami’s literary labors, Krishna Pandit gave him a room in his Radha-Krsna temple in the Chippiwada neighborhood of Old Delhi. Now Bhaktivedanta Swami would have a permanent office in Delhi.

The train from Mathura would arrive at the Old Delhi station near Chandni Chowk, the broad avenue down which poured a river of workday traffic: rickshas, bicycle riders sometimes a dozen abreast, autos in lesser numbers, men running on foot pulling heavy carts, and beasts of burden-donkeys, oxen, an occasional camel or elephant, carrying heavy loads and being driven by men with whips in their hands.

From the intensely busy Chandni Chowk, Bhaktivedanta Swami would take the short walk to Chippiwada, past the Red Fort, keeping the Gauri-Sankara temple on his left, then proceeding along a side street past the large, imposing Jama Mosque. Near Chippiwada the streets would become narrow. Chippiwada had been a Muslim neighborhood until the India-Pakistan partition of 1947, when thousands of Punjabi Hindus had settled there. Chippiwada was part of a mixed Hindu-Muslim neighborhood so crowded with people that cars were not allowed to enter the streets; only oxcarts and rickshas could penetrate the narrow, crowded lanes, and in some areas the lanes were planted with iron posts to keep rickshas out. Even a bicycle rider would create havoc amongst the densely packed crowds of shoppers and workers who moved along the streets and lanes. Side streets led to other side streets-lanes so narrow that the second-floor balconies on opposite sides of the street were only inches apart, practically forming a roof over the street, so that a pedestrian could glimpse only the narrowest patch of sky. Private yards, shops, and alleys became almost indistinguishable from the public thoroughfares. Although most shops bore signs in Hindi with subheadings in English, some bore the curvy scripts of Arabic, and women dressed in black with veiled faces were a common sight. In the heart of this intense city life was the narrow entrance of Krishna Pandit’s Radha-Krsna temple, with a plaque of the demigod Ganesa and a row of nesting pigeons just above its simple arched door.

The temple, with its resident families, retained some of the tenement atmosphere of the neighborhood. Although the temple room was dark, the Radha-Krsna Deities on the altar were well illuminated. Radharani was the color of cream, and Krsna was black marble and stood about two feet tall. He was decorated with dots of fresh sandalwood pulp and a mask of yellow sandalwood on His forehead. Both Deities were dressed in silk garments. On the second floor, just above the Deity room, was a guest room, Bhaktivedanta Swami’s room. Its cement walls and floor were completely bare. Protruding up from the floor was a three-foot high concrete pyramid with a spire, indicating that the Deities were directly beneath.

Bhaktivedanta Swami soon found that his room was not secluded but was side by side with other residential rooms. Outside the door, a metal grating smaller than in the Vamsi-gopalaji temple and Kesavaji Math revealed the small temple courtyard below. From the roof, hardly a single tree could be seen. The view was of tenement rooftops so tightly crowded together that it seemed one could walk from roof to roof all the way to the colossal Jama Masjid. The mosque’s three large domes, surrounded by taller minarets, rose high above the ordinary buildings, attracting flocks of pigeons, which perched upon the domes or flew in wheeling patterns in the sky.”

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