Shrila Prabhupada was born in Calcutta in 1896. He met Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, his spiritual master, in 1922 also in Calcutta. Although this was the first time they met, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta at once told him, “You are an educated young man, why don’t you preach the message of Lord Chaitanya in English?” This request became the driving force in Shrila Prabhupada’s life.
He married and supported his wife and family with a pharmaceutical business. In 1936, Shrila Prabhupada wrote a letter to his spiritual master, who at that time was passing his last days on earth. Shrila Prabhupada inquired, “How can I serve you?” Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta wrote back, “Preach this Krishna consciousness movement in English.” Shrila Prabhupada recognized this as the same instruction he had received at their first meeting and thus knew this to be his life’s mission.
Shrila Prabhupada retired from home and family life in 1950 and dedicated the next ten years of his life to studying and preaching. In 1959, he accepted the order of sannyasa, renunciation, and within a few years wrote three volumes of English translation and commentary of the first canto of Srimad-Bhagvatam, the “graduate study” to Bhagavad-gita. At this point, Shrila Prabhupada decided to go to America, convinced that if America took to Krishna Consciousness, the rest of the world would follow.
Shrila Prabhupada begged free passage from a pious shipping magnate who had sponsored the printing of his books, and he sailed for America. Travelling 37 days across the ocean, he suffered two painful heart attacks. Shrila Prabhupada arrived in New York City in September of 1965. As he related later on, “I did not know whether to turn left or right.” After spending a difficult fall and winter season living here and there, his new followers rented him a small storefront and apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
One day Shrila Prabhupada brought his followers to Tompkins Square Park to chant Hare Krishna in public. This was the turning point. In 1966, Shrila Prabhupada officially incorporated ISKCON, The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and began to strongly develop it as an instrument for spreading the message of the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literature throughout the world.
By the time Shrila Prabhupada left this world, after preaching actively for only 12 years, he had established 108 centers with the help of his followers and initiated disciples, written more than 60 books of transcendental literature, traveled around the world 14 times preaching Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-bhagvatam, and other Vedic literatures, initiated over 5’000 disciples, founded the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust – the world’s largest publisher of Vedic literature – and began a scientific academy – the Bhaktivedanta Institute.