Monday, February 12, 2007
Prabhupad's grand nephew - Sankarsan Prabhu, interview
MK: Well, we will start with your name…
Sankarsan Prabhu: Hare Krsna, my name is Sankarsan Das. I am a disciple of Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and I joined ISKCON in 1970, and I took initiation in 1972 at Sridham Mayapur. From that time, I am serving in this movement. I used to serve in Calcutta temple as the public relations director.
MK: What does that mean?
S: The public relations director means that I had to go to all the newspapers. I used to cultivate all the newspapermen, all the ministers, all the VIP's, all the journalists, and all the lawyers.
This was my job, and particularly, it was the assignment given in the beginning, under the instruction of Srila Prabhupada. Since 78', I used to do all the public relations in Calcutta temple and in Sridham Mayapur.
I used to come into the temple distributing magazines with Jayapataka Maharaja, going to sankirtan, and distributing books to libraries and universities. And I was giving prasadam to needy people, like this, all the welfare work I used to do, under the instruction of Srila Prabhupada.
MK: Where were you staying?
SP: I was living in Taliganj. I was born in Taliganj, in the same house that Prabhupada was born in. In the same land my father was born, I was born, my grandfather was born, and Prabhupada's sister was born, so a long time I had a good relationship with Srila Prabhupada and his family. His family relationship to me was that he was my granduncle and I was his grandnephew, and not only that, Prabhupada instructed me in my childhood time. I used to come to Taliganj, and stay in his house. It was a very favorite place for me at that time, because it was at that time, totally village. Now we are seeing that it is Calcutta, but that that time, about 100 years back, Taliganj was totally village. It was a nice place because there were about four of Lord Krsna's temples there, and in the village Mother Ganga was flowing. So in that very auspicious place, I am talking about 100 years back, I am talking about where Prabhupada was born, in our family. So, I am also very fortunate and lucky regarding this. Among our family members, only myself and one of my sisters took initiation from Srila Prabhupada. We joined. And Prabhupada highly appreciated us, because he was very glad that of his family members, we joined in this movement. That was 1970, in the beginning of the ISKCON movement in Calcutta. So, in the beginning times, I used to distribute books under the instruction of Srila Prabhupada. And also I used to go to all the libraries and universities in Calcutta to distribute Srimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad Gita. And sometimes I used to go with the sankirtan party. And also distributing prasad. This was the beginning of my service.
In 1996, the 100-year anniversary came, and then some sanyassis requested me, also Adridharan das, and Abhiram das requested to give the land where Prabhupada was born. So I told my father, Krsna Chandra das, who was occupying the land. I requested my father to give the land to ISKCON, so they could do something as a memorial for Srila Prabhupada.
It was '95 that we gave the land to ISKCON. Then '95 we shifted to Mayapur - my wife, my children, and myself. Then Jayapataka Maharaja gave me this service in Swarupganj. He told me you take charge of Swarupganj. Because here we had only the land and one house.
MK: Can you tell me more about the family relationship?
SP: Okay. This is my family relationship. Prabhupada mother's name was Rajani Devi.Rajani Devi had an elder sister, named Laksmimoni. So Laksmimoni and Rajani, they're two sisters. So, Rajani's son was A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Abhay Charan. And Laksmimoni's son was Purnachandra. So Purnachandra and Abhay Charan, they're two brothers-'cousin brothers'. They had a very good connection. So naturally when the child's birth time came, the elder sister called Rajani, Prabhupada's mother. Laksmimoni called Rajani, "Please come to my house. I will look after you." At that time, childbirth was at home, not in the hospital.
MK: Laksmimoni was living in Taliganj ?
SP: Laksmimoni used to live in Taliganj, Rajani's parent's house, [for] 300 years actually our house, was very big. So, we gave some land and some room to Rajani's parents. Very big house.
MK: But it was actually her husband's.
SP: Laksmimoni's husband's name is Tarupnath. Laksmimoni's property actually belongs to Laksmimoni's son, Purnachandra. Like Abhay Charan, Purnachandra was a very prominent son. Abhay Chandra conquered all the world and Purnachandra was a very good, very lucky businessman. Purnachandra used to do business with the foreigners, I mean at that time, British. He was a gold merchant. He used to purchase gold from the government and sell it. At that time, the British government was there. So, in that way, he made a lot of money and purchased a lot of land.
At that time, the British government was there, and so whatever you have to purchase, you had to take permission. You had to take permission from the government. Otherwise, you cannot do anything. So that way, he made a lot of money.
So, Rajani devi used to come to our house in Taliganj. She was pregnant at that time and stayed there before childbirth. Then in 1896, first September, Prabhupada was born in Taliganj, in presence of his mashi, Laksmimoni. In Bengali, we say 'mashi', mother's sister.
Mother was there. Purnachandra was there. So all the relatives were there. Purnachandra was already born…elder brother. Then about one and a half years he [Prabhupada] was at Taliganj. When he was 2 years old, he shifted to Mahatma Gandhi road.
We did not need to buy anything. We had the garden. We used to grow potato, paddy, and all vegetables. At that time, we had a big garden. We never used to purchase anything. Milk, paddy, it was all coming. And even to 100 people we used to give prasad per day, no problem.
My grandfather, Purnachandra was a very rich man.
MK: Is Purnachandra your grandfather?
SP: Yeah, yeah.
MK: You came from his son or daughter?
SP: My grandfather, Purnachandra, and then my father was Krsna Chandra, then I am his son.
MK: You are from Krsna Chandra?
SP: Yes, So, my relation is grandnephew, or grandson, same thing. But it does not matter if I am family relationship or not, but Prabhupada was born in our family, in the presence of all of our family members. And we are actually Vaishnava, which is why Prabhupada used to always like our house. We are not fish/meat eaters. Why Prabhupada liked our family? Because Laksmimoni was a pure Vaishnava. She is a very pure Vaishnava. Whenever she used to cook something, or she used to bring something, first she would offer to Lord Krsna. We have a big temple in our house, just opposite Taliganj. You'll find a big Radha Mohanji temple, which is one of our local temples. So, that is a very old temple, about 300 years, that temple.
We used to get everything from our own gardens - fruits, vegetable, and milk. I have heard from my father. First, we used to give fruits, vegetable, and milk to Madan Mohanji, so naturally we were very rich family.
MK: Is Madan Mohanji the local deity?
SP: Yes, the local deity in Taliaganj. His temple still exists and Madan Mohanji is still there - very nice, very prominent deity.
MK: How are the Malliks related to Prabhupada exactly?
SP: It is just the same caste, Mallik. We are born in Suborna-bunik. Suborna means 'gold' and 'bunik' means business. So those who are doing gold business, gold merchants, they are called Suborna-buniks. And Udaram Datta Thakur, among the Dwadus Gopa's, in the Caitanya Caritamrita, you will find that he is a Suborna-bunik. He was an associate of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and he was a very exalted devotees. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu uttered his name many times.
In Caitanya Caritamrita, many times, you will find the name of Udarama Datta. He was a very elevated Vaisnnava. He was Suborna-buniks. We have heard that all the Subornabunik family descendents came from Udaram Datta Thakur. Like if we want to know if you are Russian, or American, there must be some origin. So if you want to know how the Subornabuniks family comes, the origin is Udarama Datta Thakur. We have heard from Srila Prabhupada, and in the Caitanya Caritamrita you will find that Prabhupada gave a very nice explanation about Udarama Datta Thakur. The descent of all the Subornabuniks comes from Udarama Datta Thakur.
So in that way, Prabhupada was related to the Mullik family, who were very rich in North Calcutta. There is some connection with Mullik. They gave some accommodation to Gaur Mohan De, to do some business on their property, as well as a place to stay, in North Calcutta. Then they admitted Srila Prabhupada at Multilal Sil School. This was very near to his house, just 5 minutes by foot. He used to go to school every day by foot. Multilal Sil School, on Mahatma Gandhi Road, in North Calcutta. It is a very old school where Srila Prabhupada used to go. Gradually, after passing school, he went to the Scottish Church College.
His father had started a cloth business in Mahatma Gandhi Road. Every day he had to go to work, and every day he used to come by tram. When the child comes to the age of 8 months, we are giving the grains ceremony, first prasadam. So naturally he was 8 months there, under the care of Laksmimoni, and for 1.5 years, he was in Taliganj with Rajani devi, then sometimes he used to go to North Calcutta. After the grains ceremony, then he moved to Mahatma Gandhi Road. After he finished his school life, then he went to his college life, then he started work at Kartik Business Laboratory.
Because they have a small business, cloth business. That's why the had a house at North Calcutta, Mahatma Gandhi Road... Not so many people used to stay in Calcutta during the British times. So people at that time invited them, "Oh, I have a big house. Why don't you come stay with us?" Like that. There is no question of rent. Please, come here! The richest people in Calcutta at that time, particularly the Suborna-bunik community, they used to (to their relatives) say, why are you staying in there? Please come to our house because… well, they get some association.
Prabhupada's mother would think that 'my son will become a lawyer.' He will go abroad for the further advancement of his education and he will complete a law degree there. And the father, Gaur Mohan, used to think that my son will become a nice devotee of Radharani.
Prabhupada had two brothers. Another brother, named Krsna Charan, his own younger brother, used to stay in Taliganj, and he passed away there. So we had much nice family connection with Srila Prabhupada.
Particularly when I met with Srila Prabhupada the last time in 1977, he used to say that my health is not permitting. In 1976, he was in Calcutta temple, and he said I have to go to Bubeneswar myself. So we took him to the Howrah railway station, to drop him at evening time, on the Jagganatha Express. I was crying because his health was not permitting and some foreign devotees were there. Tamal Krsna Maharaja was there.
I asked Srila Prabhupada, "What do you think about Taliganj?" He said, "This is a very old place, my childhood place. I like it very much. When I remember your forefathers, I cry, because they used to love me like anything." In the beginning, all the family members are very much pious, so much affectionate; that's why everyone had a good connection. That's why Prabhupada had a big, good heart. He learned from mother, Rajani, his father, Gaur Mohan, and his aunt, Laksmimoni, all the big-hearted people.
When any devotees came to his house, he used to feed always. Even I saw in 1970, '71, '72, so many life members, and Prabhupada was always watching that they have nice prasad, everyone. So this is something. Even in the West, he used to call all the devotees for prasad. When any devotee comes to the temple, first he was thinking about prasad. In that way, Prabhupada conquered the heart of everyone, all the Western people. And particularly, you people that came under the banner of ISKCON, this is a miracle in the age of Kali. In the age of Kali, we have seen so many miracles, but this is a miracle to us, that particularly the Russian devotees are fully surrendered unto the Lotus Feet of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, by the blessings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Without his mercy, nobody can come to this platform.
So then I was advised by Abhiram das and some senior godbrothers like Jayapataka Maharaja, Tamal Krsna Maharaja and Subag Swami: "Why are you not doing something at Taliganj?" Then I gave the land to ISKCON, in 1995, before the 100-year anniversary of Srila Prabhupada. They promised that they will do something to make some memorial there. My wife used to do [service] as assistant head mistress in gurukula in Mayapur. She was working with Kala's wife, Yasomati Mataji. After leaving the property at Taliganj, I used to do the same service, Public Relations Director and the assistant editor of Bhagavat Darshan, and also making some life members from the very beginning.
Bhakti Caru Maharaja was Chairman at that time. Bhakti Caru Maharaja called my wife, because she used to teach all of the foreign children nicely Bengali and English and mathematics. Then one day, Jayapataka Maharaja and Bhakti Caru Maharaja called me and said "We have some property at Svarupganj, why not you are taking charge over there?" I said Maharaja, "I am alright, I am in Mayapur. "They said, "No, no, you go over there because we want to do some medical activities over there."
Actually, Prabhupada had a desire that we do some welfare work in the surroundings of Mayapur because he told us that within these ten miles, no one should be hungry. That's why we started prasadam distribution. And similarly, we have this charitable medical service because the villagers will come and get free medical treatment, particularly we are focusing on the name of ISKCON, that ISKCON is doing this type of village, free service. This is because when some opulent king is there, naturally the neighbors expect something from the king because he has too much opulence. So, in the same way, people are thinking that ISKCON is here nearby like a king, which is why we are doing some good service for ISKCON's good name in West Bengal, with food relief, and medical relief. In the 2000 flood, 500 residents from the local neighborhood came to the temple and we gave them all rooms, shelter.
MK: How did you met Srila Prabhupada?
SN: It was 1970 that I met Prabhupada in Gaudihat Road, near Hindustan Road. So it was in the month of August, 30th of August, he came from abroad with a few of his foreign disciples like Tamal Krsna, and Jayapataka, Hamsadutta, Devamrita Swami, Bhanu swami, and one foreigner lady, Himavati, Hamsadutta's wife. So Prabhupada was on Hindustan Road, and one very prominent businessman in South Calcutta, Mr. Das Gupta was building a new house there. Prabhupada just came and was looking for a new place where he can start his organization. Somehow or other, he found a place in South Calcutta, where he started. This is before 3C Albert Road. He was at Hindustan Road about 5 or 6 months. It was a nice, new building, the ground floor he was there. From Gujarat. This place I met Srila Prabhupada first. Then I came to know through the newspaper, there was a nice article saying that one Indian monk with foreign disciples was at Hindustan park. So, I saw that news clipping, and I went to see the foreigners and that Indian. But I did not know that he is my relative and that he was my granduncle. It was my curiosity. So, I went there. Prabhupada had a very nice habit, that whenever he met some newcomer, he used to ask them their name, tomar nam ki? What is your name? Where are you coming from? He was asking like that. So, I went to see him as a visitor. I did not know that he was born in our family. But I had heard from my father a long time back that that man, Abhay Charan, (we used to call him 'Abhay Kaka') had went abroad. We knew that very well. But Prabhupada never informed us that he came back with all the foreign disciples. So, I went there, and Prabhupada asked my name. I told him my name, and he said, "Oh, you're coming from Taliganj?" My name then was Gauri Shankar. My calling name is Shankar. So when I told him my name, immediately he was very pleased. He said "very nice, very nice. I saw you when you were a child." Maybe when I was 1.5 years old, he used to visit Taliganj and he saw me at that time. I don't know, but he told me. He named all of my family members, and asked how they are and he said, do you know that I was born and brought up there? I said, No, but I have heard it from some of your brothers and other members. Then he asked me how is the Radha Mohanji temple-still that temple is existing? "Yes, still that Radha Mohanji temple is there", I told him. Then immediately he was very pleased and asked Acyutananda to kindly give me some prasadam after class. This was the first meeting with Srila Prabhupada.
Then Acyutananda Swami took me inside, to the kitchen. They had made some kitcheri on that day, so very nice kitcheri prasadam was there, and they gave us some. Then Prabhupada told me, "Please come again, and please inform your father and uncles that I am here. They should come and see me". Also, he told me, "You know my sister's house?" I said, "Yes, I know your sister's house, Tatala." Prabhupada said, "Please kindly inform Bhavatarini (Pishima) that I am here." And immediately I went to North Taltala, Bhavatarini's house and went to her son's shop. I informed them that Prabhupada is here, on Hindustan Road, so kindly send Bhavatarini di, that means Pishima, immediately. Tatala, that place is far away from Taliganj, where Pishima used to live. They have their own house, rich lady. So again, I went the next day, and I saw that Pishima had come, and she used to cook, and very many foreigners liked Pishima's cooking. Prabhupada was asking me so many things. Then I said, "Do you know your own brother, Krsna Charan?" Prabhupada said, "Yes, I know that he passed away." Krsna Charan used to stay in our house, and he left his body over there. In that way, so many family matters were discussed on that day, and it was a very nice impression when I met Prabhupada. In the beginning, it was so nice that all the foreign disciples used to visit North Calcutta, all the schools and colleges, particularly in the main square. They used to distribute books, particularly I saw Acyutananda and Jayapataka Maharaja. They used to go into all the office areas, distributing Back to Godhead. I also went there one day, with Acyutananda and Jayapataka Maharaja doing traveling kirtan, distributing prasadam and Back to Godhead. At that time, it just cost one rupee. Prabhupada had said, just whatever they can give, you take the money and give the magazine. This is the beginning. Gradually, so many places I had the chance to visit with Prabhupada, so many home programs. In that way, I am very much pleased to serve the ISKCON organization. Thank you.
He, after renouncing his life in 1950, never used to visit any relatives' houses. Even I have seen that he never used to visit any relatives' house. This I have seen in my lifetime, when his sister Pishima came, who he is fond with. Pishima took initiation from Goswami Maharaja. The first initiation was taken from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, and the second initiation from Goswami Maharaja. And from the very beginning, Pishima used to cook and she was helping. So, they were very fond of each other. So, I have seen from my family that myself, my father and my sister, and a few of us used to visit Prabhupada because only we were following Vaishnava rituals. Of our family, Prabhupada used to like us because he was born and brought up there on that land, particularly during his childhood pastimes. So many times I saw that Prabhupada didn't like any relatives. I have heard that Pishima used to say that Radharani used to come, Pishima would say this when Prabhupada was in a good mood. And then Prabhupada would become angry, and say that "I am a sanyassi, I cannot see anyone that is my relative. I will not come to Calcutta."
He said my own sons are foreigners, because they have taken this vow to preach the divine message of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu all over the world. This is why they are my own sons. Because whatever they are doing, I have no words to describe this thing, Prabhupada said once upon a time. I saw myself that he is a very strict sanyassi. One of his two sons (Vrindavan and Matura Mohan), Vrindavan came. They were very eager to see their father. Prabhupada was just asking, "What about your spiritual life?" Not so many things this way or that way. He was asking as spiritual father, not as a material father. Not how is your property? How is your family? How is your health? All the time, 100% he was concerned about the spiritual life. How you are progressing? In that way, we learned that he was always conscious to serve Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Posted by Padmalocan Das (ACBSP-1971)