A disciple of Srila Prabhupada's from Manipur heads ISKCON's
efforts to preserve and spread Manipur's spiritual culture.
HIS HOLINESS Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Swami (T. Damodara Singh) was born in Manipur on December 9, 1937. He grew up in the traditional Gaudiya Vaisnava culture, his father, Sri T. Jogendra Singh, being a devout sankirtana singer. His father passed away when Damodara was only seven years old, and Damodara was raised by his mother and elder sister. Under the guidance of his uncle Sri T. Kerani Singh, he dedicated himself to his studies and went on to attend Calcutta University, where he earned a Master's degree with honors in Chemical Engineering and Chemical Technology. While working as a research fellow, he was awarded an Indian Overseas Scholarship from the Government of India. So in the fall of 1969 he joined the Department of Chemistry at the University of California (Irvine) and began working on his Ph.D.
Suddenly one day in the spring of 1970, he received a telegram: "Your mother expired March 24th sraddha April 6th." Deeply saddened, he was planning to return to Manipur for the sraddha ceremony when a letter came from Sri Kerani. The letter instructed, "A Vaisnava never laments for death; rather, he laments for birth. The soul is immortal. Don't come to India now. You can offer worship to Lord Krishna for your departed mother there in America. Concentrate on your duty and don't waste time. Once born in this world, everyone is bound to die." Damodara cancelled his ticket.
Facing many questions about the journey of life, for some time Damodara began to neglect his studies. One evening a friend, Dr. Ravindra Rao, came to console him. As they drove along the Pacific Coast Highway, they saw a group of Hare Krsna devotees, heads shaved, dressed in dhotis, chanting and dancing in Laguna Beach. Surprised, Damodara bought a small book, received an invitation to the temple, and reflected that the life of a devotee is what he should be pursuing, rather than wasting time at the university.
Dr. Rao began going often to the temple in Laguna Beach, and when he found out that Srila Prabhupada was in Los Angeles Dr. Rao proposed to Damodara that they go together to have darsana of Srila Prabhupada.
Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Swami recalls, "I requested him to go first and inform me about Srila Prabhupada."
When Dr. Rao returned he described Srila Prabhupada as being full of spiritual qualities and insisted that Damodara go with him for darsana.
Dr. Rao began going every evening to be with Srila Prabhupada. Each time, he would ask Damodara to go with him, and each time Damodara would decline. Finally Dr. Rao issued an ultimatum: "Tomorrow morning you must accompany me to see Prabhupada. If you don't agree, I will never come see you again in this lifetime." Damodara agreed. As they were driving to see Srila Prabhupada, Dr. Rao disclosed that he would be receiving initiation from Srila Prabhupada that day.
Dr. Ravindra Rao became Ramananda Raya Dasa. After the ceremony, he introduced Damodara to Prabhupada. Damodara at once felt, "Here is my spiritual father." Srila Prabhupada remarked, "You Manipuri Vaisnavas are descendants of Babhruvahana, the son of Arjuna." Later Prabhupada said, "All the intelligent boys and girls of India are coming to the U.S.A. to learn material scientific knowledge and earn dollars. But I did not come here to take anything. I came to give Krsna consciousness to the people here. Why don't you do the same thing that I am doing?"
Damodara was so impressed that he instantly became Srila Prabhupada's follower. He was formally initiated in Los Angeles in 1971 and given the name Svarupa Damodara Dasa. (Later, Svarupa Damodara accepted sannyasa, the renounced order, and became known as Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Swami.)
Srila Prabhupada encouraged Svarupa Damodara to finish his Ph.D. and use his scientific knowledge in Krsna's service. During early-morning walks along Venice Beach in Los Angeles, Srila Prabhupada instructed him about many scientific topics and asked him to spread Krsna conscious ideas in the scientific community. Their conversations later appeared in a book, Life Comes from Life.
Later, in Vrndavana in 1974, Srila Prabhupada made Svarupa Damodara the first director of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, a postgraduate scientific organization for study of the Vedic worldview.
Srila Prabhupada told Svarupa Damodara to present Krsna consciousness both through science and through culture. Therefore, apart from his work with the Institute, through Ranganiketan Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Swami is bringing the Gaudiya Vaisnava culture of Manipur to audiences around the world. And through the ISKCON centers in Manipur he is working to preserve and revitalize the Krsna conscious culture in Manipur itself.