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Voyage Of Compassion

Reminisce Prabhupada’s journey to the West aboard the Jaladuta, the epitome of a pure devotee’s compassion. Memories and anecdotes connected to Prabhupada’s legendary voyage

The Swamiji is too old to go to the United States

By 1965, Bhaktivedanta Swami published the third and final part of the first canto of Srimad- Bhagavatam. One day he met Mr. Agarwal, a Mathura businessman, and mentioned to him in passing, as he did to almost everyone he met, that he wanted to go to the West. Although Mr. Agarwal had known Bhaktivedanta Swami for only a few minutes, he volunteered to get him a sponsor in America.

With Sponsorship papers in hand, Bhaktivedanta Swami went to Bombay and met Sumati Morarji, the head of the Scindia Steamship Line, who had helped him with a large donation for printing Volume Two of Srimad-Bhagavatam. He showed his sponsorship papers to her secretary, Mr. Choksi, who was impressed and went to Mrs. Morarji on his behalf.

"The Swami from Vrindavana is back”, he told her. "He has published his book on your donation. He has a sponsor, and he wants to go to America. He wants you to send him on a Scindia ship.

Mrs. Morarji said no, "The Swamiji is too old to go to the United States and accomplish anything."

Mr. Choksi conveyed to him Mrs. Morarji's words, but Bhaktivedanta Swami listened disapprovingly. She wanted him to stay in India and complete Srimad-Bhagavatam. "Why go to the United States?" She had argued. "Finish the job here."

Reference: Excerpts from Acharya book with illustration by Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa

They say, 'Swamiji is going to die there.'

Bhaktivedanta Swami, however, was fixed on going. He told Mr. Choksi that he should convince Mrs. Morarji. He coached Mr. Choksi on what he should say: "I find this gentleman very inspired to go to the States and preach something to the people there ... " But when he told Mrs. Morarji, she again said no. The Swami was not healthy and it would be too cold there. People in America were not so cooperative, and they would probably not listen to him. Exasperated with Mr. Choksi's ineffectiveness, Bhaktivedanta Swami demanded a personal interview. It was granted, and a grey- haired, determined Bhaktivedanta Swami presented his emphatic request, "Please give me one ticket."

Sumati Morarji was concerned. "Swamiji, you are so old-you are taking this responsibility. Do you think it is all right?"

"No,” he reassured her, lifting his hand as if to reassure a doubting daughter, "it is all right."

"But do you know what my secretaries think?" said Mrs. Morarji, "They say, 'Swamiji is going to die there.'" Bhaktivedanta made a face as if to dismiss a foolish rumor. Again he insisted that she give him a ticket.

"AII right," she said, "Get your P-form, and I will make an arrangement to send you by our ship."

Bhaktivedanta Swami smiled brilliantly and contently left her offices, past her amazed and skeptical clerks.

Reference: Excerpts from Acharya book with illustration by Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa

Prepared to live on boiled potatoes and cereal

Bhaktivedanta Swami, arrived in Calcutta about two weeks before the Jaladuta's departure. Although he had lived Much of his life in the city, he now had nowhere to stay. It was as he had written in his "Vrindavana Bhajana": "I have my wife, Sons, daughters, grandsons, everything, But I have no money, so they are a fruitless glory." Although in this city he had been so carefully nurtured as a child, those early days were also gone forever: "Where have my loving father and mother gone to now? And where are all my elders, who were my own folk?  Who will give me news of them, tell me who?  All that is left of this family life is a list of names."

Out of the hundreds of people in Kolkata whom Bhaktivedanta Swami knew, he chose to call on Mr. Sisir Bhattacarya, the flamboyant kirtana singer he had met a year before at the governor's house in Lucknow. Mr. Bhattacarya was not a relative, not a disciple, nor even a close friend; but he was willing to help. Bhaktivedanta Swami called at his place and informed him that he would be leaving on a cargo ship in a few days; he needed a place to stay, and he would like to give some lectures. Mr. Bhattacarya immediately began to arrange a few private meetings at friends' homes, where he would sing and Bhaktivedanta Swami would then speak.

A week before his departure, on August 6, Bhaktivedanta Swami traveled to Mayapur to visit the Samadhi of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. "You have ordered me to preach in the west and now after so many years I am going. Please give me your blessings and pray to Krishna to protect me."

As the day of his departure approached, Bhaktivedanta Swami took stock of his meager possessions. He had only suitcase, an umbrella, and a supply of dry cereal. He did not know what he would find to eat in America; perhaps there would be only meat. If so, he was prepared to live on boiled potatoes and the cereal. His main baggage, several trunks of books, was being handled separately by Scindia Cargo. Two hundred three-volume sets-the very thought of the books gave him confidence.

Reference: Excerpts from Acharya book with illustration by Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa

Boards Jaladuta, a regular cargo carrier

The Jaladuta was a regular cargo carrier of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company, but there was a passenger cabin aboard. During the voyage from Kolkata to New York in August and September of 1965, the cabin was occupied by "Sri Abhay Caranaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami," whose age was listed as sixty-nine and who was taken on board bearing "a complimentary ticket with food."

The Jaladuta, under the command of Captain Arun Pandia, whose wife was also on board, left at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, August 13, 1965.

Srila Prabhupada : So some way or other, in 1965, I went to America with great difficulty. But I took about two hundred sets of books. The customs clearance was done, I told them that 'Oh, I am taking these books for distribution. Not for sale.' Anyway, they passed, and with these books I reached America.

Reference: Excerpts from Acharya book with illustration by Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa

Two days two heart attacks!!

On the nineteenth, August, 1965, when the ship arrived at Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Bhaktivedanta Swami was able to get relief from his seasickness. The captain took him ashore, and he traveled around Colombo by car. Then the ship went on toward Cochin, on the west coast of India. Janmastami, the appearance day of Lord Krishna, fell on the twentieth of August that year. Bhaktivedanta Swami took the opportunity to speak to the crew about the philosophy of Lord Krishna, and he distributed prasadam he had cooked himself.

August 21 was his seventieth birthday, observed (without ceremony) at sea. That same day the ship arrived at Cochin, and Bhaktivedanta Swami's trunks of Srimad-Bhagavatam volumes, which had been shipped from Mumbai, were loaded on board.

By the twenty-third the ship had put out to the Red Sea, where Bhaktivedanta Swami encountered great difficulty. He noted in his diary, "Rain, seasickness, dizziness, headache, no appetite, vomiting." The symptoms persisted, but it was more than seasickness. The pains in his chest made him think he would die at any moment. In two days he suffered two heart attacks. He tolerated the difficulty, meditating on the purpose of his mission, but after two days of such violent attacks he thought that if another were to come he would certainly not survive.

Reference: Excerpts from Acharya book with illustration by Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa

Lord Krishna is rowing the boat

On the night of the second day, Bhaktivedanta Swami had a dream. Lord Krishna, in His many forms, was rowing a boat, and He told Bhaktivedanta Swami that he should not fear, but should come along. Bhaktivedanta Swami felt assured of Lord Krishna’s protection and the violent attacks did not recur. The Jaladuta entered the Suez Canal on September 1 and stopped in Port Said on the second. Bhaktivedanta Swami visited the city with the captain and said that he liked it. By the sixth he had recovered a little from his illness and was eating regularly again for the first time in two weeks, having cooked his own kichari and puris. He reported in his diary that his strength renewed little by little.

Srila Prabhupada : Thursday, September 9: this afternoon, we have crossed over the Atlantic Ocean for twenty-four hours. The whole day was clear and almost smooth. I am taking my food regularly and have got some strength to struggle. There is also a slight tacking of the ship and I am feeling a slight headache also. But I am struggling and the nectarine of life is Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, the source of all my vitality.

Friday, September 10 : Today the ship is plying very smoothly. I feel today better. But I am feeling separation from Sri Vrindaban and my Lords Sri Govinda, Gopinath, Radha Damodar. The only solace is Sri Caitanya Caritamrta in which I am tasting the nectar of Lord Caitanya's lila [pastimes] and have left Bharatabhumi just to execute the order of Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in pursuance of Lord Caitanya's order. I have no qualification, but have taken up the risk just to carry out the order of His Divine I depend fully on their mercy, so far away from Vrindaban.

Reference: Excerpts from Acharya book with illustration by Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa

A calm Atlantic crossing

During the voyage, Bhaktivedanta Swami sometimes stood on deck at the ship's rail, watching the ocean and the sky and thinking of Caitanya-caritamrta, Vrindavana-dhama, and the order of his spiritual master to go preach in the West. Mrs. Pandia, the captain's wife, whom Bhaktivedanta Swami considered to be "an intelligent and learned lady," foretold Bhaktivedanta Swami's future. If he were to pass beyond this crisis in his health, she said, it would indicate the good will of Lord Krishna.

The ocean voyage of 1965 was a calm one for the Jaladuta. The captain said that never in his entire career had he seen such a calm Atlantic crossing. Bhaktivedanta Swami replied that the calmness was Lord Krishna's mercy, and Mrs. Pandia asked Bhaktivedanta Swami to come back with them so that they might have another such crossing. Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote in his diary, "If the Atlantic would have shown its usual face, perhaps I would have died. But Lord Krishna has taken charge of the ship."

Reference: Excerpts from Acharya book with illustration by Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa

Jaladuta reached Boston

After thirty-five-day journey from Kolkata, the Jaladuta reached Boston's Commonwealth Pier at 5:30 A.M. On September 17,1965, the ship was to stop briefly in Boston before proceeding to New York City. Among the first things Bhaktivedanta Swami saw in America were the letters "A & P" painted on a pier front warehouse. The gray waterfront dawn revealed the ships in the harbor, a conglomeration of lobster stands and drab buildings, and, rising in the distance, the Boston skyline.

Srila Prabhupada: So when I was on the ship at Boston port, Commonwealth port, I was thinking that, I have come here. I do not know what is the purpose because, how will the people will accept this movement? They are differently educated, and as soon as I say, 'So, my dear sir, you have to give up meat-eating and illicit sex and no intoxication and gambling,' they will say, 'Please go home.'

Reference: Excerpts from Acharya book with illustration by Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa

Markine Bhagavata-dharma

Bhaktivedanta Swami had to pass through U.S. Immigration and Customs in Boston. His visa allowed him a three-month stay, and an official stamped it to indicate his expected date of departure. Captain Pandia invited Bhaktivedanta Swami to take a walk into Boston, where the captain intended to do some shopping. They walked across a footbridge into a busy commercial area with old churches, warehouses, office buildings, bars, tawdry bookshops, nightclubs and restaurants.

On board the ship that day, Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote a poem that he titled, 'Markine Bhagavata-dharma' - Teaching Krishna Consciousness in America. He wrote, "My dear Lord Krishna, You are so kind upon this useless soul, but I do not know why you have brought me here. Now you can do whatever You like with me. But I guess you have some business here, otherwise why would You bring me to this terrible place?"

Reference: Excerpts from Acharya book with illustration by Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa

New York receives its first Vaishnava Sannyasi

On the nineteenth of September, the Jaladuta sailed into New York Harbor and docked at a Brooklyn pier, at Seventeenth Street. Bhaktivedanta Swami saw the awesome Manhattan skyline, the Empire State Building, and like millions of visitors and immigrants in the past, the Statue of Liberty. He was dressed appropriately as a resident of Vrindavana. He wore kanthi-mala (neck beads) and a simple cotton dhoti, and he carried japa-mala (chanting beads) and an old chadar, or shawl. His complexion was golden, his head shaven, sikha in the back, his forehead decorated with the whitish Vaishnava tilaka. He wore pointed white rubber slippers, not uncommon for sadhus in India. But who in New York had ever seen or dreamed of anyone appearing like this Vaishnava? He was possibly the first Vaishnava sannyasi to arrive in New York with uncompromised appearance. Of course, New Yorkers have an expertise in not giving much attention to any kind of strange new arrival.

Reference: Excerpts from Acharya book with illustration by Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa