05 Jan Shyamlal Prabhu’s Glorious Departure Letter By Guru Mahārāja
Shyamlal Prabhu’s Glorious Departure
Our very dear Godbrother, Shyamlal Prabhu, left his body on the evening of 5th January in Durban, South Africa. I was in Pune, India, at that time. However, as soon as I received that news I decided to go to Durban to bid my farewell to him. I immediately made changes to my schedule and drove to Mumbai to catch a flight to South Africa.
The funeral took place on the morning of 7th of January 2014 and I was fortunate enough to be there in time to attend that ceremony. Thousands of Shyamlal Prabhu’s admirers and well-wishers participated in the ceremony and it turned out to be a grand and glorious occasion, befitting a Vaisnava of Shyamlal Prabhu’s stature.
Shyamlal Prabhu was born in Navadvip on 12 October 1953. When he was about 18 years old, he ran away from home and joined ISKCON in Kolkata. He decided not to join in Mayapur because it was too close to his hometown where his family members might have opposed his decision. Since then, Shyamlal Prabhu led a life of total dedication and service to Srila Prabhupada’s lotus feet. This was patently illustrated in September 1974 when his father left his body. Shyamlal Prabhu chose to go on sankirtan rather than attend the funeral of his father, putting Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission ahead of anything else in his life.
In Kolkata, Gargamuni Prabhu (a sannyasi at the time), who was the GBC of Kolkata, took Shyamlal Prabhu under his wing, training him to become an extremely expert Life Membership maker. Making Life Members was the only source of income in India at that time and very soon Shyamlal Prabhu became one of the best Life Membership makers. He was so good at preaching and cultivating people that Srila Prabhupada sent him to preach in East Africa with Brahmananda Prabhu, one of Srila Prabhupada’s first American disciples (also a sannyasi at that time). He followed Srila Prabhupada’s instructions impeccably, especially when asked to go into Africa to preach, into a continent that was completely barren of spiritual stimulation. At that time there was no cultural revolution in Africa as there was in the west, making the preaching endeavour even more difficult. This was compounded by the daunting language barrier that he had to face. Despite all of this history shows that he made a huge success of Srila Prabhupada’s wishes to grow ISKCON in Africa. His preaching took him to virtually every country on the continent.
Shyamlal Prabhu preached and made thousands of life members in East Africa, West Africa, the UK, and various other parts of Europe. Shyamlal Prabhu was especially empowered to engage anyone, child, adult sympathiser, critic or unfavourable person alike and consistently left a good impression with everyone that he interacted with. Then he got married to a very nice South African devotee, Sri Murti Devi Dasi, and went to South Africa to settle down there. In South Africa he helped our movement immensely by collecting huge amounts of money to build the temple in Durban. While other devotees were selling paintings to collect funds for building the temple, Shyamlal Prabhu was traveling all over the country vising the Indians and collecting donations for the temple. Whoever knows him remembers what an incredible fund-raiser he was. He did not just raise funds, but he actually raised friends and well-wishers. Hence he was instrumental in the inception of Krishna Consciousness in South Africa.
Although Shyamlal Prabhu collected enormous amounts of money for our movement, he did not save anything for himself – he did not even have a bank account. When he was a young boy serving in Kolkata, Srila Prabhupada once assured him that he would take care of him. Shyamlal Prabhu remembered that assurance his whole life and simply depended upon Srila Prabhupada’s mercy and indeed Srila Prabhupada took care of him in all respects. The people that Shyamlal Prabhu had befriended and cultivated so sincerely took care of all his needs. In fact, his three children (two daughters and one son) received very good educations and grew up to become very successful in life and wonderful assets of ISKCON.
About 18 months ago, the doctors detected that Shyamlal Prabhu had a brain tumour and as a result of that his memory started to get affected. Although brain tumours cause intense pain, so much so that one literally bangs his head against the wall trying to get rid of the pain. However, miraculously, Shyamlal Prabhu did not experience any pain at all. He became just like a child, oblivious of everything except Lord Krishna and Srila Prabhupada. He would speak about Lord Krishna’s glories and Srila Prabhupada’s mercy. Time and time again he would just repeat Srila Prabhupada’s assurance of taking care of him. When His Holiness BB Govinda Swami broke the news to him of his illness and its terminal nature, Shyamlal Prabhu simply smiled, showed no emotion and said “Whatever my Spiritual Master wants, Srila Prabhupada personally told me that he will look after me.”
When the doctors detected that he got brain cancer, they declared that he would not survive for more than three months. However Shyamlal Prabhu lived for another 18 months. The doctors also presented a distressing case scenario of what to expect over the preceding months before death, however, Shyamlal Prabhu did not experience, the severe pain, visual loss, speech defects or inappropriate behaviour that was predicted. The medical profession was completely baffled by this considering the type and the aggressiveness of the tumour that he had. In fact, his oncologist Dr Diana Pillay said that this can only be explained as Divine intervention.
In the last 6 weeks he was apparently in a coma. However, this was another display of Srila Prabhupada’s mercy because in this way he was able to withdraw his senses from the external world and become completely absorbed in Krishna’s pastimes. The doctors said that usually when one goes into a coma, all one’s senses become dead. However, this was not the case for Shyamlal Prabhu. From time to time, he would open his eyes and look around and, although he would not communicate with anyone, when he heard Srila Prabhupada’s singing “bhajahu re mana sri-nanda-nandana,” he would repeat very softly, “sri nanda nandana…..sri nanda nandana…..” Finally when the time came for him to leave his body, he audibly uttered “Hare Krsna” and left.
Although Shyamlal Prabhu’s body was in the morgue for two days, when I saw him, there was a beautiful glow around him. As his body was being prepared for cremation and all the garlands and flowers were taken off, I noticed that Shyamlal Prabhu had his beadbag on his hand but that his hand was stretched to the lower part of his body. I felt that it would be nice if his hand with his beads was on his chest. When I mentioned this to Jahnavi, Shyamlal Prabhu’s daughter, she requested that I do that myself. When I lifted Shyamlal Prabhu’s arm, I noticed that I could effortlessly bend his arm and place his hand with his beads to his chest. Generally after the soul’s departure from the body it becomes stiff due to rigor mortis, but Shyamlal Prabhu’s body was supple like a baby’s.
That reminded me of an incident after Srila Prabhupada’s departure. After His Divine Grace left this world, some leading devotees were considering putting him in samadhi that very night. However, the prominent Vaisnavas from different temples of Vrindavan requested that Srila Prabhupada should be taken to the temples of Vrindavan so that the deities could see Srila Prabhupada one last time. Tamal Krishna Maharaja expressed his concern that Srila Prabhupada’s body might become stiff due to rigor mortis. However, Damodar Prasad Shastri, the Ayurvedic doctor who was treating Srila Prabhupada during his last days, responded by saying, “A pure devotee’s body will never be affected by rigor mortis.”
The next morning we took Srila Prabhupada to all the prominent temples of Vrindavan. Afterwards, when Tamal Krishna Maharaja and I were lowering Srila Prabhupada into his samadhi, I noticed, true to the words of Damodar Prasad Shastri, that Srila Prabhupada’s body was absolutely soft and supple. Seeing Shyamlal Prabhu’s body, I remembered the words of Damodar Prasad Shastri: “A pure devotee’s body will never be affected by rigor mortis.”
Time and time again we are seeing the practical demonstration of Srila Prabhupada’s mercy. The final test is at the time of death. In Krishna consciousness, death is actually a glorious occasion for a devotee because at that time the door of the spiritual sky opens wide for him to enter there.
Srila Prabhupada used to say, “Service now, samadhi later.” Shyamlal Prabhu practically demonstrated the authenticity of that statement. His whole life was committed to uninterrupted and unmotivated devotional service. Finally, at the end Srila Prabhupada arranged for him to retire from his service with the pretext of his ailment of brain cancer. Then, for six weeks he was in a continuous state of samadhi, which less informed individuals thought to be a state of comatose, and then, when he left his body he was chanting the holy name audible enough for even the nurse to hear.
Anyone can well imagine what he has achieved and where he has gone.
All glories to Srila Shyamlal Prabhu’s glorious departure!
Bhakti Charu Swami