Srila Prabhupada was born as Abhay Charan De in Kolkata on the 1st of September 1896 to a pious Vaisnava (devotees of Lord Visnu/Krsna) family. Growing up in colonial India, Abhay was very inspired by Gandhi’s ideals for the freedom of India. Abhay received a European-style educational training at the Scottish Church College in Kolkata. He successfully graduated in 1920 but rejected his European diploma in alignment with Gandhi’s independence ideals.
In 1922, Abhay met his prospective spiritual master, His Holiness Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Maharaja, who preached the philosophy of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and most importantly, bhakti-yoga (which refers to devotional service unto Lord Krsna). Sarasvati Maharaja requested Abhay to bring the teachings of Caitanya Mahaprabhu to the English-speaking world. “The whole world is copying the Americans – If we teach them about Krsna consciousness, then the world will follow suit,” was his thinking.
Abhay was formally accepted as Sarasvati Maharaja’s disciple in the year 1933 and was given the name Abhay Caranaravinda das. Although Abhay could not carry out his spiritual master’s instructions of preaching in the West immediately due to his familial commitments, he never forgot his words. Abhay was always eager and anxious to fulfil his guru’s instructions to him and prepared his life towards that mission.
His guru once told Abhay, “If you ever get money, print books,” referring to the need for literary presentation of the Vaisnava culture and philosophy. Taking these instructions to heart, Abhay founded the Back to Godhead magazine in 1944, for which he was writer, designer, publisher, editor, copy editor and distributor.
In 1959, Abhay took a vow of Sannyasa, or renunciation and was renamed Abhay Caranaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami (known popularly as A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami).
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami turned 69 in 1965. He then decided that it was time to fulfil his guru’s instructions and left for New York by a cargo ship named Jaladuta. His trip was not sponsored by anyone, nor did he have a group of loyal followers who awaited him in New York. Armed with his suitcase full of Srimad Bhagavatam books, an umbrella, and just forty rupees, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami entered New York with the determination to spread the mission of his guru and Lord Caitanya.
A year after his arrival in 1966, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami successfully brought Global Vaisnavsim to the Western world and formally founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in New York City. For the next decade, he worked tirelessly to set up the organisation in every town and city of the world.
Before his passing in the year 1977, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami established 108 temples all over the world, wrote, and published over sixty volumes of transcendental literature, initiated more than five thousand disciples, founded the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, and began a scientific academy (the Bhaktivedanta Institute) and other trusts related to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Throughout his mission, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami followed and communicated the teachings of Lord Caitanya and introduced the concept of bhakti–yoga to an international audience. Within the world of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, this was considered a tremendous victory and a fulfilment of a long-time vision and mission.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami was affectionately known as Prabhupada by his disciples. Prabhupada literally means “he who has taken shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord” where Prabhu denotes “Lord Krsna” and pada denotes “taking shelter”.