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AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada was born in Calcutta, India in 1896. In 1922 he became a disciple of Srila Saraswati, a Prophet of the Indian Lord Krishna movement. This religious sect worships Krishna, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Twenty years later he founded the English magazine Back to Godhead. this was a pure one-man-business, for he wrote it, printed it, and distributed it completely on his own.
In 1960, at the age of sixty-four, he started with what would become his life's work, an English translation of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. This was an episode from the ancient book of Mahabharata (400 BC), an encyclopaedia of God, that was written in Sanskrit. He literally begged to raise the money for the first three volumes !
In 1965, he received a free trip to New York. By now, he was sixty-nine years old. He made the trip with his books, some clothes and exactly seven dollars in his pocket ! Getting through the first year was very tough, but he stubbornly continued writing, and now and then sold a copy of his writings. Fairly soon, however, the news spread about the lifestyle and the preaching of the new Swami, who had developed "a new and far-out Yoga" !
Prabhupada lived an ascetic life, and he preached a strict doctrine of respect for animals, no meat, no extra-marital intercourse, no intoxicating drinks, no tobacco, and no gambling. Such a lifestyle seemed way out of place, for remember, this took place during the times of Woodstock, Flower Power and Peace on Earth !
In 1966, Prabhupada founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. With only a few followers, he went to Tompkins Square Park, for the first public singing of Hare Krishna in the Western world. After that, the movement knew an extraordinary success and a phenomenal growth, with tens of thousands of supporters flocking in from all over the western world. Famous and familiar figures such as George Harrison and John Lennon stoked up the fire, and donations simply poured in !
In 1968, Srila Prabhupada, by then 72 years old, received an old farm in West Virginia, with some 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of land, for the creation of a religious center. He gave one of his first followers, Swami Bhaktipada, the mission to build a temple, and a workshop for himself. The construction took place between 1972 and 1979. Every single thing was built by neophytes and non-professional volunteers, who often first had to look up in books and ask others how they were supposed to work !
Initially, the concept of the temple and the workshop was rather limited, but as more money became available, Prabhupada's residence became ever more opulent, and the original plan of a simple workplace instead grew into a fabulous palace !
Meanwhile, the Krishna movement expanded very rapidly over the whole world. Between 1967 and 1977, and despite his advanced age, Prabhupada undertook fourteen trips around the world. All the time he continued writing his translations, until his death in 1977. Prabhupada wrote a stunning total of eighty books, and more than one hundred million copies were distributed !
The present day Krishna is a worldwide movement of more than four hundred centers, including sixty farm communities, fifty schools and ninety restaurants. In more recent years, the most new memberships have been in Eastern Europe and India.