From Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta, by HH Satsvarupa dasa Goswami.
The Mayapur Project, 1971 – The Land Is Yours
He had sent two of his disciples, Tamala Krsna and Bali-mardana, to purchase land in Mayapur. Six days had passed, however, and still they had neither returned nor sent word. He had told them not to return until they had completed the transaction, but six days was more than enough time. He was anxious, thinking constantly of his two disciples.
Why were Tamala Krsna and Bali-mardana taking so long? It had been more than just a wait of six days; he had been trying to obtain land in Mayapur for years. And this time the prospects had been excellent. He had clearly instructed Tamala Krsna and Bali-mardana, and by now they should have returned. The delay could mean a complication, or even danger.
The land they were trying for was a nine-bigha plot on Bhaktisiddhanta Road, less than a mile from the birthsite of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The Sek brothers, Muslim farmers who owned the plot, had been asking a high price. Only recently had a Calcutta lawyer familiar with Navadvipa been able to seriously negotiate a fair price. The Sek brothers had settled for 14,500 rupees, and Prabhupada had authorized withdrawal of the funds from his bank in Krishnanagar. Thus Tamala Krsna and Bali-mardana had left for Mayapur, while Prabhupada had remained in Calcutta, carrying on with his affairs but thinking often of the activities of his disciples in Mayapur. Their mission was very important to him, and he kept them in his mind, personally blessing them with his concern.
Prabhupada wanted an ISKCON center in Mayapur; it was a desire that had increased within him as his movement had increased throughout the years. He could easily visit or live in Mayapur; that was no problem. But he needed a place for his disciples. His spiritual master had ordered him to preach in the West; and now with the success of his Krsna consciousness society, the Western Vaisnavas required a center in Mayapur where they could reside and worship and receive the immense benefit of the holy dhama. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had stressed the great importance of Mayapur, and some of his sannyasi disciples had temples there. Why shouldn’t the International Society for Krishna Consciousness also be able to take shelter of Mayapur?
Since birth, Prabhupada had been aware of the significance of Lord Caitanya and His dhama, Sri Mayapur. He had grown up in Calcutta, where everyone knew of Lord Caitanya, and because his father, Gour Mohan De, had been a pure devotee of Lord Caitanya, from childhood he had sung the Bengali songs of Gaura-Nitai and Their pastimes in the land of Gauda. He had imbibed deeply the teachings and pastimes of Lord Caitanya, especially after meeting his spiritual master in Calcutta in 1922.
Lord Caitanya had spent His first twenty-four years in Mayapur and Navadvipa. Yet since His manifest pastimes there almost five hundred years ago, the places of those pastimes had been obscured, the Lord’s birthsite lost, and His teachings confused and misused. Despite the disciplic line of pure devotees from Lord Caitanya, not until the advent of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the father of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, did Lord Caitanya’s saṅkirtana movement and pure teachings begin to emerge. Bhaktivinoda Thakura published many books and preached to reestablish the intellectual, moral, and spiritual integrity of Caitanya Vaisnavism. He researched and explored the land of Navadvipa, ascertaining the exact birthsite of the Lord. Citing Vedic evidence, he established that many previous incarnations of Vishnu had enacted pastimes in Navadvipa.
Not only did Bhaktivinoda Thakura document Navadvipa’s past glory, but he also foresaw its glorious future, when a religion based on the teachings of Lord Caitanya would emerge and spread throughout the world, and when European and American Vaiṣṇavas would throng to Navadvipa to join their Bengali brothers in chanting “Jaya Sacinandana!”. The time would come, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhakura wrote, when in the land of Navadvipa on the plain of the Ganges a magnificent temple would arise, proclaiming to the world the glories of Lord Caitanya.
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, carrying out the desires of his father and preceptor, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, had formed the Gaudiya Math for propagating the teachings of Lord Caitanya and the glories of Navadvipa-dhama. He had induced a wealthy disciple to spend his fortune for erecting a temple at Lord Caitanya’s birthsite in Mayapur, and he had constructed a kirtana hall commemorating the place of Lord Caitanya’s kirtanas. He had also constructed his own residence in Mayapur. He had built temples throughout India-sixty-four in all-but because he wanted the English-speaking world especially to take to Lord Caitanya’s movement, he had emphasized as first priority the publishing and distributing of Krsna conscious literature.
Srila Prabhupada, sitting in his room in the Calcutta temple, shared the great vision of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Yet to enact this great vision he had to take practical steps, and he was content to take them in the most humble way. A devotee should not simply daydream, expecting Krsna to accomplish everything with “miracles.”
Prabhupada, however, was not dreaming idly. Working for years alone in India, he had held his plan of going to the West, and Krsna had at last fulfilled that desire. In America, in whatever circumstances and with whatever small facility Krsna had provided, he had preached. And slowly, step by step, he had met with success, realizing his vision of a worldwide society of devotees. Always he had kept his greater vision in mind, as every step forward had given him deeper satisfaction and had brought him closer to fulfilling his mission.
Whether chanting or writing or reading or preaching, Prabhupada had been absorbed in his plans for spreading Krsna consciousness and fulfilling the dream of the past acaryas. Now he was anxious to complete the next step, and for this he was waiting up past midnight, meditating on his two disciples and their important mission.
Prabhupada wondered if perhaps his boys had been robbed. Before sending them off, he had shown Tamala Krsna how to carry money around his waist in a makeshift cloth money belt. But it had been a great deal of money, and robberies were not uncommon around Navadvipa. Or perhaps there had been some other delay. Sometimes in land negotiations involving large sums of money, the court would require that a clerk record the denomination and serial number of every note exchanged. Or perhaps the train had broken down.
Suddenly Prabhupada heard footsteps on the stairs. Someone opened the outer door and now walked along the veranda just outside. A soft knock.
“Yes, who is it?” Prabhupada asked. Tamala Krsna entered and prostrated himself before Srila Prabhupada.
“So,” Prabhupada asked, “what is your news?”
Tamala Krsna looked up triumphantly. “The land is yours!”
Prabhupada leaned back with a sigh. “All right,” he said. “Now you can take rest.”
Prabhupada had asked the Indian high commissioner for the United Kingdom to petition Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to attend ISKCON’s upcoming cornerstone-laying ceremony in Mayapur. Already Prabhupada had instructed all his G.B.C. secretaries to attend the ceremony, and he had asked the devotees to invite many prominent citizens of Calcutta. Writing to his disciples in India, he said that if they could not get Indira Gandhi to come, they should at least get the governor of Bengal, Sri S. S. Dhavan.
Prabhupada was meeting in London with several of his disciples experienced in architecture and design; he wanted them to draft plans for his Mayapur project. Nara-Narayaṇa had built Ratha-yatra carts and designed temple interiors, Ranacora had studied architecture, and Bhavananda had been a professional designer, but Prabhupada himself conceived the plans for the Mayapur buildings. He then told his three-man committee to provide sketches and an architect’s model; he would immediately begin raising funds and securing support in India for the project. To the devotees who heard Prabhupada’s plans, this seemed the most ambitious ISKCON project ever.
While taking his morning walks in Russell Square, Prabhupada would point to various buildings and ask how high they were. Finally he announced one morning that the main temple in Mayapur should be more than three hundred feet high! Mayapur’s monsoon floods and sandy soil would create unique difficulties, he said, and the building would have to be built on a special foundation, a sort of floating raft. A civil engineer later confirmed this.
The main building, the colossal Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir, was to be no less than three hundred feet high and costing perhaps tens of millions of dollars. Prabhupada’s description astounded the architects as well as the devotees; it sounded grander than the United States Capitol or St. Peter’s Cathedral. The temple’s central dome would house a three-dimensional model of the universe. The design, however, would be based on the Vedic description and would depict not only the material universe but also the spiritual universe.
Entering the main hall, a person would look up and see the planets situated just as Srimad-Bhagavatam describes, beginning with the hellish planets, then the middle planets, wherein the earth is situated, then the heavenly planets of the demigods, and then Brahmaloka, the highest planet in the material world. Above Brahmaloka, the observer would see the abode of Lord Siva, and above that the spiritual sky, or brahma-jyoti. Within the spiritual effulgence of the brahma-jyoti would be the self-illuminating Vaikuntha planets, inhabited by eternally liberated souls. And highest of all would be the supreme planet of Krsnaloka, where God in His original eternal form enjoys His pastimes with His most confidential devotees.
The temple would also house a miniature palace in which the Deities of Radha and Krsna would reside, surrounded by silks and pillars of silver, gold, and jewels. The Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir and the Mayapur city would be ISKCON’s world headquarters.
And why such a fabulous architectural wonder as this in such an obscure part of the world? The answer, Prabhupada explained, was that Mayapur was actually not obscure; it seemed so only from the mundane perspective. To mundane vision, that which was central seemed remote. The soul and the next life seemed remote, while the body and immediate sense gratification seemed central. By establishing the Temple of Human Understanding in Mayapur, Srila Prabhupada would be directing the materialistic world’s attention back to the true center.
Any sincere visitor would be charmed by the beauty of ISKCON’s Mayapur project and would perceive that here indeed was the spiritual world. And the devotees living in Mayapur, by remaining constantly immersed in singing Hare Krsna kirtana and discussing the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, would be able to convince any intelligent visitor that the teachings of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu were the highest truth. The devotees would explain the philosophy of the Absolute Truth, which would enable visitors to comprehend actual spiritual truth beyond sectarian religious dogma. Furthermore, the continuous Hare Krishna kirtana and the blissful devotees engaged in a wide variety of services to Lord Krsna would demonstrate that bhakti-yoga was the simplest, most direct process for meditating on the Supreme Personality of Godhead. While staying in ISKCON’s Mayapur city, a person would quickly become a devotee of the Lord and begin chanting and dancing in ecstasy.
Srila Prabhupada was demonstrating how the world could be spiritualized by linking material things with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, through bhakti-yoga. And why shouldn’t such spiritual feats surpass the achievements of the materialists?
Prabhupada was sorry to learn through the Indian high commissioner that the prime minister could not attend the cornerstone-laying ceremony in Mayapur. Yet he took it as Krsna’s desire. He said he would invite a prominent Vaisnava to officiate, or he might do it himself. “On the whole,” he wrote, “it was Lord Caitanya’s desire that a Vaisnava shall lay down the cornerstone instead of asking some material man or woman to perform the holy work.”
The monsoons came, and the Ganges spilled over her banks, flooding the entire ISKCON Mayapur property. Acyutananda Swami had built a straw and bamboo hut where Prabhupada was soon to stay, but the waters rose until Acyutananda Swami had to live in the bamboo rafters. He wrote Prabhupada that had it not been for Bhaktisiddhanta Road the damage would have been extensive. Prabhupada replied,
“Yes, we were saved by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Road. We shall always expect to be saved by His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaj Prabhupada. Always pray to His Lotus Feet. Whatever success we have had in preaching Lord Caitanya’s mission all over the world is only due to His mercy.”