A Tribute to His Grace Shyamlal Prabhu
By Rukmini Devi Dasi
On behalf of Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple
On October 12th 1953 our dear Shyamlal Prabhu was born in Navadwipa, the lap of Lord Caitanya. He was just 17 years old when the sight of Srila Prabhupada’s “dancing white elephants” captured his heart. He left home in the middle of the night and joined ISKCON in Kolkata. He was one of the first Bengali devotees to be initiated by Srila Prabhupada. Accepting the devotees as his family and Srila Prabhupada as his eternal father, he never looked back.
Throughout his life his main services were fundraising and cultivating life members. It was what Srila Prabhupada asked him to do, and he never stopped. Initially he served in India with Gargamuni Prabhu. Later Srila Prabhupada called on his young Bengali disciple to go to Africa and assist Brahmananda Prabhu in ISKCON projects there. Shyamlal Prabhu’s faith in his spiritual master’s words is deeply admirable. He didn’t hesitate. He would fondly recollect how Srila Prabhupada told him, “Serve these two brothers, Gargamumi and Brahmananda. That is as good as serving me directly.”
He later married Sri Murti Mataji and they settled in South Africa in the early 1980’s where they had three beautiful children, Jahnavi, Radhe and Abhay. In the words of Bhakti Brnga Govinda Swami, “Sri Murti, is a wonderful Vaishnavi who has always assisted her husband 10,000% in all of his preaching.” Entering and staying in South Africa was by no means an easy feat. Apartheid was in its prime and foreigners were unwelcome. He often remembered how his passport read, ‘Valid for all countries except South Africa”. Getting the required visas was nothing short of a miracle and he was gratefully aided by Devarata Prabhu, who would become a lifelong friend.
Once in South Africa his sankirtan services resumed with full gusto. He spent years traveling the length and breadth of this country raising funds. No doubt every brick of the majestic Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple, our shelter to this day, has his name on it. Yet that is not his only glory. He attracted thousands of people to the path of devotional service with his mood of “conscientious cultivation” of caring for others. It was not uncommon for him to drive for hours on Janmastami day just to deliver maha-prasadam to a distant donor. It is said that you know a great man by how he treats the little people. Shyamlal Prabhu was loved by all, giants or otherwise.
His love for Srila Prabhupada was truly something to witness. On Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasapujas hundreds of bhoga offerings would come streaming in to the temple. He would personally teach the devotees how the different preparation should be classified and the specific order in which they should be presented to Srila Prabhupada. Then he would sit and lovingly offer Srila Prabhupada the devotees’ culinary efforts. He embodied wisdom, culture and guru-bhakti. In the autumn of his life the love for Srila Prabhupada that he harboured in his heart was made evident for the world to see. He would cherish the memories of how he was Srila Prabhupada’s “dealer”. He would smuggle in Prabhupada’s favourite sweets like rasagula and rasamalai. It was their secret. He remained fully absorbed in remembrance of Srila Prabhupada at every moment, and seldom had anything else to say.
Day and night, Shyamlal Prabhu would recite the following verses:
vaisnavera kriya-mudra vijne na bujhaya
“A mental speculator cannot understand the mind of a Vaishnava.”
Who could understand the mind of Shyamlal Prabhu – a mind purified by years of selfless service and imbued with love.
tandera carana sevi bhakta-sane vasa / janame janame haya, ei abhilasa
“Birth after birth, I desire to serve the lotus feet of the acaryas and live in a society of devotees.”
On January 5th 2014 at 6:50 pm His Grace Shyamlal Prabhu left this material world. As a yatra we place our heads at the dust of his lotus feet in gratitude. He leaves behind a wonderful family and multitudes of devotees who will honour his passing with deep sadness.
“I was an atheist,” said Devarata Prabhu, “A proud law student. Shyamlal Prabhu taught be humility, tolerance and respect. And finally he taught me practically that I am not this body by using his own body as an example.”
We cherish the memory of his personal presence and are infinity blessed to have had him walk among us.Thank you Shyamlal Prabhu.