To better understand the significance of Srila Prabhupada's passing, we can look back Five hundred years, to another historic moment.
If you visit the town of Puri on the Bay of Bengal, you will find, amid palm trees and small houses, a stone shrine marking the place where the great saint Haridasa Thakura sat alone or with a devotee companion and worshiped Krsna. There he passed almost the whole day and night simply chanting the Hare Krsnamaha-mantra. He softly repeated the sacred syllables hour after hour, keeping count on his prayer beads until, long after sunset, the holy names had crossed his lips no less than three hundred thousand times.
Not far from Haridasa Thakura's secluded hermitage lived Lord Caitanya and His followers, who loudly chanted the maha-mantra, proclaiming the glories of Krsna. People honored Lord Caitanya as an extraordinary devotee, and a select few knew that He was an incarnation of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and that He had come to this world to spread the chanting of the mahamantra. Since Haridasa was fully dedicated to chanting themaha-mantra, Lord Caitanya felt especially affectionate towards him and numbered him among His inner circle. Lord Caitanya and His followers visited Haridasa often.
One day Lord Caitanya's personal servant Govinda brought Haridasa a present of prasada, vegeterian food first offered to Krsna and then distributed to others. In India devotees of the Lord traditionally share prasada among themselves to express spiritual friendship. Govinda wanted to give Haridasa theprasada, but he saw that Haridasa was lying on his back and chanting Hare Krsna very slowly.
"Please get up and take your prasada", Govinda said.
"I am fasting today," said Haridasa ."I have not yet fulfilled my daily vow of chanting three hundred thousand names. How , then, can I eat in good conscience?" After a moment, Haridasa reconsidered. "You have broughtmaha-prasada" he said, "so how can I neglect it?" He then offered prayers and took a little portion.
The next day, Lord Caitanya Himself came to see Haridasa. With great concern He inquired, "Haridasa, are you well?"
Haridasa bowed down to the Lord and replied, "My body is all right, but my mind and intelligence are not well. My disease is that I cannot finish my prescribed amount of chanting."
Lord Caitanya tried to console Haridasa. "Now that you are old," He said, "you may reduce your chanting. You have already done more than enough to spread the glories of Krsna's names in this dark material world."
But Haridasa remained in a somber mood. He had something else on his mind. "My Lord," he said, "kindly hear my real plea. I feel in my heart that You will soon end Your pastimes in this world and return to Your spiritual home. Before that time comes, kindly let my poor body fall dead at Your lotus feet. I do not wish to witness Your last days."
Lord Caitanya answered gravely, "My dear Haridasa, Krsna is so merciful that He must do whatever you want but whatever happiness is Mine is all due to your being present with Me here in Puri, and it is not at all fitting that you go away and leave Me aside."
Still, Haridasa would not be dissuaded. Catching Lord Caitanya's feet, he cried, "My Lord, do not create an illusion! You have millions of devotees more useful than me. If an insignificant insect like me dies, what is the loss? Besides, You are always affectionate to Your devotees, and although I am only an imitation devotee, I still hope that You will fulfill my desire."
Lord Caitanya then embraced Haridasa Thakura, and after agreeing that He would return the next day, He left to perform His noontime duties.
The next day, the Lord returned with all His associates, and upon seeing them Haridasa Thakura bowed down with deep humility. Lord Caitanya inquired, "My dear Haridasa, what is the good news?" Haridasa replied, "My Lord, the good news is whatever mercy You can bestow upon me."
Upon hearing this. Lord Caitanya began great congregational chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, and all His devotees surrounded Haridasa Thakura and joined the chanting. Then Lord Caitanya began praising Haridasa Thakura for his saintly qualities. The more the Lord praised Haridasa, the more the pleasure the Lord felt. All the devotees were struck with wonder, and they bowed down at Haridasa's lotus feet.
Then Haridasa asked Lord Caitanya to sit down before him, and he fixed his eyes on the Lord's moonlike face and placed the Lord's lotus feet upon his chest. As he chanted the Lord's name, tears fell from his eyes. Soon he gave up his life his soul passed from his body.
At that very moment, everyone was roaring Krsna's holy names, and Lord Caitanya became Overwhelmed with spiritual ecstasy and love for His departed devotee. He raised Haridasa's body and placed it on His lap and then danced in the courtyard in great ecstatic love. All the devotees joined Him in dancing and chanting.
Later, the devotees raised Haridasa's body onto a carrier and took the carrier on their shoulders toward the sea. All the way there they chanted, and Lord Caitanya danced in front. Upon reaching the shore, Lord Caitanya bathed Haridasa's body in the waves and declared, "From this day on, this sea is a great pilgrimage site."
The devotees dug a hole on the beach and placed Haridasa's body in it. Then Lord Caitanya started covering the body with handfuls of sand and chanting "hari bol! hari bol!" "Chant the holy name of the Lord!" The devotees took up the chanting and threw more sand, and then they constructed a platform to mark the spot. Lord Caitanya danced and chanted all around the platform, and the whole universe became filled with the vibration of Krsna's names. Afterward, Lord Caitanya and His devotees swam and sported in the sea.
At last Lord Caitanya went to the temple of Jagannatha ("the Lord of the universe" Krsna) to get prasada from all the shopkeepers near the main gate.
"I am begging prasada for a festival to celebrate the passing of Haridasa Thakura," the Lord said. "Please give Me alms."
Greatly pleased with the Lord's request, all the shopkeepers came forward with big baskets of prasada. But just then Svarupa Damodara, one of the Lord's chief devotees, stopped the shopkeepers, and after they returned to their shops, he and other devotees went around to the shops, gathered all theprasada, and found servants to carry it to Lord Caitanya's residence.
There, after asking all the devotees to sit in rows, Lord Caitanya personally started distributing the prasada. Since Lord Caitanya was not accustomed to eating small amounts of prasada, He put enough on each plate for at least five men. After some time, the devotees begged the Lord, "Please sit down and watch we shall distribute the prasada."
When the prasada was served, all the devotees waited for Lord Caitanya to start eating, and then they themselves started. Before long, everyone was filled to the neck, because the Lord kept telling the servers, "Give them more! Give them more!"
After all the devotees finished their prasada, Lord Caitanya garlanded them with flowers. Then the Lord gladly informed the devotees, "Anyone who has seen the festival of Haridasa Thakura's passing, anyone who has chanted and danced here, anyone who has thrown sand over Haridasa's body, and anyone who has partaken of the prasada will very soon achieve Krsna's favor."
The Lord praised Haridasa Thakura. "Being merciful upon Me, Krsna gave Me the company of Haridasa Thakura. but now He has separated us. When Haridasa wanted to leave this world, I could not stop him he simply gave up his life and went away. And now, without him, this world has lost its most valuable jewel."
Lord Caitanya then ordered everyone: "Say 'All glories to Haridasa Thakura!' and chant the holy name of Krsna." After saying this He began to dance, and everyone chanted and danced with Him. Finally, Lord Caitanya bade all the devotees farewell, and then with mixed feelings of happiness and distress He rested.
Surely Lord Caitanya and His associates lamented the passing of Haridasa but they also knew that he had gone back to Krsna in the spiritual world and for that reason they rejoiced.
Near Puri, in a grove by the seashore there still stands a small, grayish temple of Krsna, the Tota Gopinatha temple. II you were to walk from this temple to the sea, along the way you would find the samadhi (tomb) of Haridasa Thakura There the devotees hold a yearly festival to honor his passing.
On a wall of the samadhi, a marble plaque bears a verse by the great devotee Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838-1914). It explains how Lord Caitanya and His devotees were able to rejoice at the passing of a great Vaisnava, a great devotee of the Lord:
He reasons ill who tells that Vaisnavas die,
when thou art living still in sound.
The Vaisnavas die to live, and living try
to spread the holy name around.
The history of Haridasa Thakura's passing is more fully described in Sri Caitanya caritamrta, translation and commentary by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada