At the end of August, disciples, followers, and admirers of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada celebrate the anniversary of his appearance in this world. As part of our spiritual practice, we routinely offer Prabhupada the following salutation (pranati):
nama om vishnu-padaya Krishna-presthaya bhu-tale
srimate bhaktivedanta-svamin iti namine
namas te sarasvate deve gaura-vani-pracarine
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krishna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet. Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Bhakti Siddhanta Sarasvati Goswami. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Caitanya-deva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism.”
The first two lines are identical to those of the pranati of Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, except for the change of name from “Bhakti Siddhanta Sarasvati” to “Bhaktivedanta Swami.” The mantra begins in the standard way for mantras in the Vedic tradition with nama˙ (“I offer my respectful obeisances”) and om, which invokes the Supreme Lord.
The term vishnu-padaya means “unto one who is at the feet of Lord vishnu.” Because vishnu is a form of Krishna, every devotee of Krishna is naturally a devotee of vishnu as well. To be “at the feet of vishnu” means that Srila Prabhupada is situated in full submission to God and is therefore under His sure protection.
Krishna-presthaya means “unto one who is very dear to Krishna,” and bhu-tale means “on the earth.” I’ve sometimes wondered about the appropriateness of continuing to use the phrase “on the earth” now that Srila Prabhupada is no longer physically present here. Among the billions of human beings on earth during Prabhupada’s time, he certainly was uniquely dear to Krishna. As many readers may have guessed, I answer my own doubt about continuing to say “on the earth” by reminding myself that Prabhupada is still present in many ways for example, in his immortal books and in the hearts of all who love him.
The pranati identifies Prabhupada by name: Bhaktivedanta Swami. Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master gave him the name Abhaya Charanaravinda Dasa, which was changed to A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami when he accepted sannyasa. He used the name A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami after that, signing his letters with it. It also appears on the covers of his books. I’ve noticed a tendency among devotees to use variations such as Bhaktivedanta Goswami and Abhaya Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami, but I prefer to use the name he himself used. For those who think that “Goswami” is somehow more glorious than “Swami,” I suggest “Tridandi Goswami A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami,” which appeared on his letterhead. (Although it may be obvious, I’m stating my own opinion on this point. I hope that the unique name A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami will be widely recognized for thousands of years.)
In the second part of the pranati, we address Prabhupada directly: namas te (“obeisances unto you”). And then Srila Prabhupada is identified as “Sarasvati” (“servant of Bhakti Siddhanta Sarasvati”). The grammar of the verse calls for the e at the end, so we have sarasvate (the last syllable is pronounced “tay” not “tee”). And note the long a after the initial s. As a disciple of Bhakti Siddhanta Sarasvati (short first a), Prabhupada is Sarasvati (long first a).
The word deve, translated as “O spiritual master” in the full translation above, is the required grammatical form for deva and can also be translated as “O my lord” or “O godly one.”
Then the pranati praises Srila Prabhupada for His service to Krishna. First of all, gaura-vani-pracarine: Srila Prabhupada is a guru in the line of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (gaura), and his general mission was to spread (pracarine) Lord Caitanya’s teachings (vani). By the blessings of his predecessors, he did so like no one else before him.
More specifically, Prabhupada’s guru asked him to carry Caitanya’s message to the West (pascatya-desa), beyond the borders of India, especially to the English-speaking world. Bereft of knowledge of Krishna and of devotion to Him, the people of the West were caught in the grip of the debilitating philosophies of nirvisesa (impersonalism, or Mayavada) and sunyavadi (voidism, or Buddhism). Prabhupada introduced Krishna to the West with vigorous faith and determination. He met with astounding success in saving countless souls yearning for a tangible relationship with God.
We fortunate beneficiaries of Prabhupada’s dedicated service to his guru and Krishna should acknowledge our appreciation by bowing to his feet and reciting his pranati often, with full concentration and humility.