Kadamba Kanana Swami shocked me today, telling me just after I finished japa, that Aindra Prabhu had just left his body in Vrindavana. How unexpected! How sad for the devotees who love his kirtanas and his association!
I had just been thinking of my association with him this week when I was in Zurich. I met one harinama enthusiast there, who aspired to become his disciple, and so I was recalling my brief exchanges with him.
In 2005, I was part of Aindra Prabhu’s 24-hour kirtana party in Vrindavana for three weeks of Karttika. I am not a musician, and unfortunately I have little desire to become a musician, so I am of little value on such a party, but Aindra Prabhu was kind enough to let me join anyway. He was affectionate to his kirtana men, always making sure they had what they needed, including all the maha-prasadam they wanted from his many salagrama-silas.
While in his association, Aindra Prabhu explained to me how he got involved in the 24-hour kirtana. Once one of his godbrothers came up to Aindra saying he had a dream of Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada, in the dream, had tears in his eyes and was expressing dismay at the inability of his disciples to organize a 24-hour kirtana in Vrindavan. When Aindra Prabhu heard that, then and there, he decided to make the establishment of the 24-hour kirtana his personal mission.
Aindra Prabhu explained that Srila Prabhupada stressed both book distribution and harinama sankirtana, but that while many people remember the importance of book distribution, there is less awareness of the importance of harinama sankirtana, and therefore, he wanted to focus on that.
During my three-week stay in Vrindavana, Indradyumna Swami invited me to Jaipur on pilgrimage for a couple days, but I told him I did not want to break my promise to Aindra Prabhu to do kirtana for these three weeks. Indradyumna Swami, knowing that Aindra Prabhu likes salagrama-silas very much, decided to give Aindra two silas in exchange for permission for me to go to Jaipur for two days. When Aindra Prabhu received Them from the small cloth bag I carried, he smiled, and after observing Them, he told me, “There is nothing equal to a salagrama-sila. Nothing except the maha-prasadam tulasi leaves offered to a salagrama-sila.” And so he carefully put some maha-tulasi leaves in the cloth bag for me to give to Indradyumna Swami in exchange, and I got to go to Jaipur on parikrama.
One year I came to Vrindavana during Karttika without having made a prior arrangement for accommodation. I knew some people there and was hoping I could stay with them, at least until I found a place. Instead, they teased me for coming to Vrindavana without prearranging a place to stay, and so I had to look for shelter. I knew Aindra Prabhu from previously being part of the kirtana party, so I talked to him, and he let me stay for the night. I gratefully appreciated his compassion as a divine quality. Similarly Umapati Swami gave me a place to stay the next night.
It addition to Aindra Prabhu’s kirtana for which he is famous, Aindra would also do practical services like repairing and remodeling the brahmacari bathroom for the service of the Vaishnavas, which I saw both as an expression of his humility and his love for the devotees.
When I was thanking him for letting me stay the night with his kirtana party, he was reminding me of how Srila Prabhupada considered Vrindavana to be his home, and said that we should consider it our home also. For me, Vrindavana has always been austere. It is the place where the monkeys stole my glasses, the people stole my shoes, where it is too cold in the winter, and where I could not find a place to say. Thus I told Aindra Prabhu, “I appreciate what you are saying, but I feel more at home in Mayapur.” He looked at me and smiled, and said, assuming a countenance of reverence, “Srila Prabhupada said, ‘Mayapur is our place of worship.’” Then, leaning back as if to relax, he continued, “But in Vrindavana, you can just kick back.” I smiled and thought, but did not say, “Maybe for him it is that way, but not for me.” Perhaps someday, by the mercy of Mayapur dhama and by Aindra Prabhu’s good wishes, I too will realize Vrindavana to be my home.
So inexplicably, Krishna decided it was time to take Aindra back his home in the original Vrindavana, to give us impetus to glorify and remember him, and to remind us that our stay in this body can end in a moment, and therefore, we have to remember Krishna at every moment from now on, in order to be prepared.
I pleaded with Kadamba Kanana Swami to speak about Aindra Prabhu in the morning lecture. “The people here in Prague,” I said, “are unlikely to meet anyone who had as much association with Aindra Prabhu as you did, living in Vrindavana for so many years.” And perhaps for this and reasons of his own, he did. What follows are my notes on his class. I shall try to someday include a link to the lecture itself, if it becomes available.
Notes on Morning Class by Kadamba Kanana Swami, Prague, July 17
We received news Aindra Prabhu unexpected suddenly left his body in Vrindavana.
In Vrindavana, what happens is Krishna’s plan. Of course, the ideal way to leave one’s body is surrounded by loving devotees chanting the holy name, but that is not always the case. I was thinking of Lord Rsabhadeva, the divine incarnation who appeared to establish religious principles. After he became a mendicant, his body burned in a forest fire. It is not our Vaishnava practice to enter into the cause of death so much. Sometimes people speculate, like when Tamal Krishna Goswami left his body, that it must be some negative reaction. But that is not true, as with Rsabhadeva. Instead, we look at the positive. Aindra Prabhu was allowed to do service in Vrindavana. When Krishna-Balarama temple was started in Vrindavana, Srila Prabhupada expressed a desire that 24-hour kirtana be organized. He wrote to Hamsaduta Prabhu suggesting how it could be done. I was part of the management from 1978 to 1984. We tried many times to establish it but did not have enough people. Practically from his first days in Krishna consciousness, Aindra was doing kirtana as his service. In New York City he would chant with other devotees on a flatbed truck. In 1986 he started the akhandita [uninterrupted] kirtana in Vrindavana. Before that, in ISKCON, we did not have a culture of just sitting down and chanting Hare Krishna for hours. It was not a particular kirtana style so much as a kirtana culture that he inspired. [Later Maharaja elaborated: Madhava Prabhu, from Switzerland, was inspired, then Sivarama Swami, B. B. Govinda Swami, and Sacinandana Swami. You can trace it all back to Aindra Prabhu.]
As many with musicians, Aindra was eccentric. His room had Vrindavana clay on the floor, 108 silas, Gaura-Nitai, depiction of rasa-lila, tamala tree remnants, etc. Every two months I would come from Mayapur to Vrindavana, and I would see him. At 1990 I became temple president in Vrindavana. The GBC asked me to ask him what his asrama is, and when I did, he looked at me with his piercing eyes, and said, “I am a brahmastha vannyasi.” His dress was also eccentric and some people complained. Many artists are eccentric, and I took it like that.
But there was a very serious side to Aindra Prabhu, chanting many rounds of the holy name and studying Prabhupada’s books and the books of the Goswamis. He would ask questions after Srimad-Bhagavatam class that were penetrating. He had a lot of inner strength and could live a life of great austerity. Although people complained about his personal dress, he excelled at dressing the Deities. Especially for the festivals, he would dress Them. He had a deep connection, which was a real thing. Imagine Aindra would have come to Prague. He would draw huge crowds. Wherever he would go, he would attract many people. But he did not want to leave Vrindavana. He was disturbed by once having to go to Nepal for visa issues. Thus he applied for citizenship, which was hard to get for one from the Vrindavana area. But he got it. The Deities were pleased with him because he sang for Them, and so They let him become a resident.
Once I was chanting my remaining rounds in the temple, and one Bengali devotee was making a lot of noise, so I advised him to be quiet, saying “The deities are resting.” Aindra Prabhu, who was also there, said, “No, He is not. That is what Mother Yasoda thinks.”
As a temple president, sometimes it gets tough. Sometimes you are on top of the elephant, and sometimes the elephant is on top of you. Once I had one of those intense days. I took rest, only to be awakened at 11:00 p.m. at night by Aindra, who said, “Come on. It is rasa purnima. Come let’s celebrate.” I came to his room, and in addition to other festivities, they had this incredible feast served at 11:00 p.m. at night.
Because he was serious about serious things, we took him seriously. He was serious about his chanting, japa and kirtana, and about his renunciation. He was not after fame. His dedication to the Deities was transcendental, day in, day out, year after year. That is perseverance. Srila Prabhupada says perseverance is source of faith. There is no doubt that Aindra sang for the pleasure of the Personality of Godhead, and there he stands out. Some imitated him, the same dress, the same style of bhajana, etc., but few showed the seriousness he showed in his dedication to Krishna consciousness.
His contribution to ISKCON is a lasting one. Before, kirtana was something wild. Ayodhya-pati Prabhu used to play the whompers on the ground and grab devotees by the kurta and swing them around. Srila Prabhupada had started with sitting and doing the swami step. But when one saintly lady from Vrindavana led kirtana, and Srila Prabhupada began jumping in the kirtana, from that day, kirtana was wild and full of enthusiasm, and that spread all over the world. And even when it was sitting down with the harmonium, it still had the rocking nature. But from Aindra Prabhu we learn to deeply meditate and an element of peaceful chanting. I say “an element” because he could also get wild. We learned something from Aindra about chanting the holy name and meditating on Krishna, and he has greatly contributed to the maturing process, because he taught so many along the way.
His leaving us was unexpected, but it is also a manifestation of grace, because he left this world in Vrindavana. It is not an ordinary departure but one earned by devotional service. The externals are insignificant. We are looking at how he pleased Radha-Shyamasundara.
When such news reaches us, there is shock, and for those who know him, there is sadness. But from the spiritual point of a view, it is a success story—that someone from New York took the devotional service seriously, and he fulfilled Srila Prabhupada’s desire to establish 24-hour kirtana in Vrindavana.
“He reasons ill that Vaishnavas die when thou art living still in sound. The Vaishnava dies to live, and living spreads the holy name around.” Through his recordings, he will remain with us.
Srila Prabhupada explained that if one lives the life of devotee in Vrindavana, he will go back to Godhead. However, if one lives a materialistic life in Vrindavana, he will become an animal in Vrindavana for one life, and then go back to Godhead.
Q: How can one be fixed like Aindra, disregarding external circumstances?
A: That one is so different as Aindra, but yet so fixed, indicates a benediction from the previous life. Those who can fix themselves on the eternal platform are highly advanced, and we take shelter of them. One may show great enthusiasm in service, but when it gets difficult, things change. That means the connection with Krishna is not so strong.
I have one young doctor disciple in South Africa. She has to see people dying every day. In this world, when things get serious, we say it is a matter of life or death. But for us, it is Krishna or maya. That is more important than life or death. Those who have fully accepted this are leaders, regardless of their position, because of their firm faith. We see that these people found some service for Krishna, and they did it. We may not be so advanced. But by their association, we can gain strength to do some service seriously for Krishna.
Aindra Prabhu’s most significant contribution is that he took a desire of Srila Prabhupada [to have 24-hour kirtana in Vrindavana] and he really developed it.