(Srila Prabhupada murti, Istanbul, Turkey)
Prabhupada Arrives in Istanbul
"How can Prabhupada arrive in Istanbul?" I hear some of you say. Let me share this wonderful pastime with you.
Around winter of 2006 a local devotee wanted so much to have Srila Prabhupada's murti here that she offered to pay half of the cost. Jumping at the chance of seeing this long-awaited desire manifest, I sent out an Internet message asking if devotees could help us get the murti here. One American claimed he could accomplish this for about $2,000. While contemplating how to raise so much laxmi, we were saved by a devotee who informed us that this person had cheated the Scottish yatra; he didn't have Prabhupada's murti at all.
Sadness was lifted, though, by a letter from Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhu, based in Vrindavan, offering us the murti for $1,700. The price for us was still too great, but we wanted him here so much. Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhu could not reduce his price, but he did say something which continues to stick in my mind: "Wherever Prabhupada goes, he increases the sankirtana mission of Caitanya Mahaprabhu." Should we spend the laxmi on getting our new temple ready as soon as possible or on getting Prabhupada here? Through a devotee's desire to have the murti here, and through my feeling that success required his presence firmly seated as the captain of his transcendental ship, we decided to go for it in faith that Krishna would help us get it all done.
With great joy we informed Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhu that he could go ahead, but there was still the question of payment. Understanding our strong desire, as well as the fact that Prabhupada was now going to reside in a predominantly Muslim country, Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhu allowed us to pay in instalments. Dharma got together $500 & I put $200 to make a $700 down payment. Prabhupada was soon ready to leave Vrindavan, packed with three changes of sannyasi dress, japa beads, an imprint of his lotus foot and a tiny Deity form of Tulasi Devi made by the same devotee in Vrindavan who had made our Gaura-Nitai Deities. Almost immediately an Internet friend (whom I still haven't met in person) said that he could bring our box here for free, as he had monthly shipments coming from India. We were excited that Prabhupada was going to be here soon.
Our place was a mess; where would Prabhupada stay? There was no clean, comfortable place as yet; it was like a building site here. I didn't feel comfortable about this, but an answer soon came. Listening to CDs of devotees relating their personal exchanges with Srila Prabhupada, I heard devotees talking about how Prabhupada was so eager for the Bombay and London temples that he had come to live among the noise and mess just to inspire completion of the work.
Prabhupada's murti was delivered to the shipping agent, and there were constant e-mails back and forth. The shipping agent announced that he would not ship the box, fearing that its contents were dangerous. My friend here was confused. While he thought my intentions were honest, at the same time he had long worked with this agent and trusted him thoroughly. Knowing of Srila Prabhupada's position as founder-acarya of the Hare Krishna movement, the agent feared he could lose his business connections here by sending the murti to a mostly Muslim country.
Our service continued, but we could have felt better with better news. By now Gaura Purnima 2007 was approaching. For the first time since joining Prabhupada's mission in 1995 I had to decide to stay in Turkey and use the time and laxmi to complete the work here. Flying to Delhi and bringing back the murti was not possible. Local Turkish devotees were going to Mayapur and returning via Vrindavan and Delhi. They pleaded with flight officials to bring Prabhupada back with them, but that was not possible either.
Two months later, another friend based in Delhi tried to help us. A second shipping agent looked at ways to get Prabhupada here, but the outcome was negative. Bhaktisiddhanta's accountant did not want to ship until the full bill was paid. A lot of e-mails ensued. Finally, there was a note from Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhu, now back in America: "In spite of all the difficulty Srila Prabhupada will be landing in Turkey soon to change the life of that country."
We began to realize that having Prabhupada come to our center and stay with us was not a cheap thing; we had to really pray for it. We began to feel a bit hopeless; we had a heartfelt desire to associate with Prabhupada here and serve him daily in his personal manifest form, but Krishna just was not allowing it. Then we got uplifting news from my spiritual birthplace, Mayapur Dhama. A devotee loan of $500, hand-delivered to Vrindavan, solved the problem with the accountant.
Four weeks before Janmastami 2007, a shipping agent said that shipping by boat would be cheap but time-consuming, while shipping by air would be very expensive but quick. Both paths had the same problem of Turkish customs clearance. We might end up with Prabhupada stuck in customs and having to be returned due to being a religious figure.
Finally a ray of hope opened up. There was a way to get Prabhupada here and somehow avoid anticipated customs clearance problems by using a cargo company like DHL. Many things needed to be done to have the place somewhat ready in the fortnight before Janmastami. Previously, Janmastami had been an intimate celebration for a few local devotees who would come after work, fasting till midnight. For no apparent reason we decided to make it a public event and invite everyone for the celebration. Many people came forward -- some just to attend, and some to do a performance for Krishna's pleasure. I felt that this would not be successful without Prabhupada being present to watch it all and everything being done as an offering to him. He had given me my life, so he simply had to be here. But how? Prabhupada was in Vrindavan, our new shipping friend was in Mumbai, and DHL would charge $1,000 to bring Prabhupada to our door. Absolutely impossible; no way.
Our friend in Mumbai said: "Let's bring Prabhupada to Mumbai first and then take it from there." Two days later the previous shipping agent offered to help with a $250 donation, and three days later two local Indian friends offered to give something to help get Prabhupada here. With Prabhupada now in Mumbai, our Mumbai shipping friend felt our sincere desire to get Prabhupada here and offered to donate the remaining laxmi needed for the shipping. I pushed my luck and said: "We simply have to have Prabhupada here for Janmastami; we cannot be without him." He coolly replied: "No way." I pleaded with him: "Okay, you just send as quickly as possible."
When you send a parcel, an Internet tracking system enables you to follow its movement. Every three hours we were checking the latest position -- absolutely excited, hearts in our mouths, paintbrushes in our hands and running around like crazy to get things ready. In fact, Prabhupada has sometimes asked: "Why is it that everywhere I go seems to smell of fresh paint?"
From the tracking data we learned that on August 31, 2007, the murti departed the DHL facility in Mumbai. Three days later he was in Heathrow Airport in Great Britain, and 11 hours later he departed another DHL facility in the East Midlands, U.K. (What was Prabhupada doing in England? Was he visiting Sri Sri Radha London-Isvara?) Two hours later, in the middle of the night, he was in Brussels, Belgium. It was the morning of Janmastami; we were expecting guests at 7 p.m. We hoped in vain that he might arrive for the evening festival.
The next day was a Wednesday, and Dharma and I were preparing to make an offering to Srila Prabhupada in his photo form. From the tracking data we learned that at 10:26 a.m. he had departed a DHL facility in Istanbul and by 12:11 he was already with a delivery courier. At 1:35 p.m., Srila Prabhupada's murti finally arrived at our temple -- exactly on his own Appearance Day, the Vyas-Puja date.
There was a knock at the door. We were shocked to see two men carrying a big box and saying: "This is for you." With jumping heartbeats we said: "Yes, bring it in." For what seemed to be a very long time but was really about 30 seconds, we just looked at each other and looked at the box, knowing that Srila Prabhupada was inside. Then we burst into joy: "Srila Prabhupada kii jayaaa!"
As layer by layer of protective covering was carefully removed, Srila Prabhupada revealed himself. In awe and reverence we brought our heads to the ground and with folded hands offered obeisances. Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna really had their own plans; Prabhupada showed so much mercy upon us. He mercifully kept us waiting to appear on his own birthday to increase our faith, to accept our service and to encourage us. We gently carried Prabhupada, gave him a shower, dressed him in new clothes and put on his neck beads, japa beads and japa bag. We placed him lovingly on his vyasasana and worshiped him with tears in our eyes.
These were the most beautifully intense three hours of my life, and we had the most sublime Vyasa-Puja I had ever experienced. Fully focused on Prabhupada, we sang as we do every morning: "Sri guru carana padma..." There was not even a second when the mind wandered elsewhere.
This is a historic part of our Krishna consciousness history: the arrival of Prabhupada in Istanbul to further his desire to give conditioned souls shelter, guidance and the chance to go back home. As Srila Prabhupada says: to the degree that you are with Krishna, He is with you. My realization: to the degree that you are with Srila Prabhupada, he is with you. My service to Srila Prabhupada is simple: to bring lost souls to Srila Prabhupada's sheltering lotus feet and guidance. As he says: "Kindly help me; this is my request. Print many books in many languages, and distribute throughout the whole world. Then the Krishna consciousness movement will automatically increase." (Srila Prabhupada arrival address, Los Angeles, June 20, 1975)
Now that Srila Prabhupada is seated here at the helm of his new temple, we would like to extend an invitation to all Vaisnavas to drop in on Istanbul, Turkey. You can contact me via: email@example.com. Any interested Turkish-speaking friends can be directed to www.harekrishnaturkey.com.
Let us all pray that we stay under the complete shelter and protection of our beloved Srila Prabhupada no matter what happens. If Krishna could give me one wish, it would be that no one should ever lose faith in Srila Prabhupada, to always remain faithful to him and his instructions. Of course, the only way to end this is with a quote from Srila Prabhupada:
Reporter: Who will succeed You when you die?
Srila Prabhupada: I will never die!
Devotees: Jaya! Haribol!
Srila Prabhupada: I will live forever from my books, and you will utilize.
(Srila Prabhupada interview, Berkeley, July 16, 1975)