Service in Separation: Honoring Srila Prabhupada on His Disappearance Day

ISKCON New Vrindaban Prabhupada at his Palace

Srila Prabhupada’s Murti at his Palace of Gold

By Madhava Smullen

“It was devastating,” says Advaitacarya Das, bowing his head.

Srila Prabhupada’s Disappearance Day is coming up on November 15th in New Vrindaban. And Advaita, who has been a resident since the early 1970s, is recalling the day in 1977 when he and the other devotees at Prabhupada’s first farm community heard the news of his passing.

“We had had a couple of false alarms, and we thought it was all going to be okay. We weren’t going to lose Prabhupada. Then the news hit, and it was like coming out of the fourth round pumped and ready to go, and taking a right cross to the head.”

Advaita recalls snow falling softly outside as the devotees chanted Je Anilo Prema Dhana, everyone sobbing openly as they sang. Even as they mourned, however, they planned a celebration of chanting, dancing, and feasting; for a pure devotee’s passing on to be with Krishna eternally is also a cause for rejoicing.

“I remember walking down to the outdoor kitchens we called ‘the pits’ to cook with everybody,” Advaita says. “We were heartbroken, yet simultaneously kind of ecstatic. It was such a mix of emotions.”

Devotees fasted all that day, and in the evening spoke their remembrances of Srila Prabhupada at his Palace, which, at that time, they were still building as a home for him. They had spent the day beautifully decorating his Vyasasana in fall colors, and his picture smiled out from it – the same place where his murti now sits. After offering him a huge feast and honoring the prasadam, they then chanted kirtan throughout the night.

ISKCON New Vrindaban Varsana Swami Prabhupada Palace Sangam 2014

Varsana Swami shares memories about Srila Prabhupada’s Disappearance.

Varsana Swami, another longtime resident, had an experience similar to Advaita’s.

“It was dark outside — there were no lights installed inside the Palace at that time,” he says. “And it was the darkest night for us. We were all crying and faltering, and the devotees were literally holding one another up. We felt so weak. How could we go on without Srila Prabhupada?”

As they chanted together throughout the night, their mood of separation intensified beyond anything they had ever experienced before. Devotees were ready to give up their lives for Prabhupada. And then, suddenly, at around three in the morning, the mood shifted.

“We were borne aloft on a tide of perennial joy,” says Varsana Swami. “The devotees could not contain their ecstasy as they danced in jubilation throughout the night. We talked to each other, and the experience had been unanimous: we had never felt so close to Srila Prabhupada before.”

This, according to Varsana Swami, was Srila Prabhupada’s final lesson: that the deepest sacrament of the Gaudiya Vaishnava siddhanta is service in separation – a relationship which never ends.

Ever since, devotees at New Vrindaban have been observing Srila Prabhupada’s Disappearance day in a similar way – with chanting, remembering, and feasting – and trying to develop that relationship in a deeper and deeper way.

This year is no different. Community residents as well as devotees from nearby cities like Pittsburgh and Columbus will gather for this special, intimate festival, beginning with a Bhagavatam class on Srila Prabhupada’s contributions and teachings at 8:00am.

At 10:30am, there will be bhajans, remembrances and homages to Srila Prabhupada by his disciples and grand disciples; and at 1:00pm, pushpanjali, guru puja and kirtan in Radha-Vrindabanchandra’s temple room.

New Vrindaban Bahulaban Pits Sobhavati, Sankirtan, Bhokta, Advaita, Kutila, Kuladri 1977 or 1978

Advaita and other Brijabasis cooking a feast in the ‘Bahulaban Pits’, late ’70’s.

Then, at 1:30pm, a sumptuous feast offered to Srila Prabhupada will be served. It will be prepared amongst others by Advaita, who put all the love in his heart into cooking something special for Prabhupada on that momentous day back in 1977, and will do the same on November 15th this year. He’ll be joined by many of the friends he cooked with at Srila Prabhupada’s Appearance and Disappearance Day festivals over the years at New Vrindaban, including his wife Madri, Sudhanu and his wife Lajjavati, Tejoymaya Das, and perhaps Kuladri and his wife Kutila too.

“It’s always the best feast of the year,” says festival organizer Vrindavana Das. “They’re so delectable, absolutely mouth-watering. I can never forget those feasts!”

From 6 to 8:30 in the evening, the Brijabasis will gather at Srila Prabhupada’s Palace, just as they did back on that transformational night in 1977.

“The Palace is Srila Prabhupada’s home, and everyone feels so connected with him there,” says Vrindavana. “So the memories shared there are especially sweet and moving. You can really feel Prabhupada’s greatness through the stories about how he was able to relate to each devotee differently based on their mood and relationship with him. For younger devotees like myself, who didn’t have personal association with Srila Prabhupada, it’s really inspiring to hear how he encouraged and motivated his disciples in devotional service.”

And ultimately, that care is the essence that senior devotees like Advaita would like to see carried over from earlier festivals to today’s celebrations of Prabhupada’s appearance and disappearance.

“That’s what the devotees celebrated in Prabhupada – we all knew that he cared about us,” Advaita says, and the emotion comes through in his voice. “We were wretched creatures, but Prabhupada opened his arms to us. And that’s what made us love Prabhupada.”

“So we need to show real love, real appreciation, real care for the devotees, like Prabhupada showed to us,” he concludes. “And that’s what will revive the community spirit that made those early festivals so special.”


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