Srila Prabhupada's Sannyasa Initiation

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On the morning of September 17, 1959, in the fifty-by-twenty-five-foot Deity room on the second floor of the Keshavaji Math, a group of devotees sat before the Deities of Radha-Krishna and Lord Chaitanya. The Deities were colorfully dressed in royal clothing and silver crowns. Radharani's right hand faced palm-forward in benediction for the worshiper; at Her side, Her left hand held a flower for Krishna. Krishna stood like a dancer, placing His right leg in a casual tiptoe pose before His left, playing His long silver flute, which He held gracefully to His red lips. His long black hair reached down past His shoulders, and the garland of marigolds around His neck reached down to His knees. On His right stood the Deity of Lord Chaitanya, His right arm raised, left arm at His side, His body straight, feet together. He was a soft golden color, and He had large eyes, a well-formed red mouth, and straight black hair down to His shoulders. One level below the Deities were pictures of the spiritual masters in disciplic succession: Jagannatha dasa Babaji, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhakura, Gaurakishora dasa Babaji, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, Bhakti prajnana Keshava Maharaja.

Abhay sat on a mat of kusha grass beside ninety-year-old Sanatana, also to receive sannyasa that day. Sitting opposite the two candidates, Narayana Maharaja, Keshava Maharaja's disciple, prepared to conduct the ceremony of mantras and offerings of grains and ghee into the fire. Akincana Krishnadasa Babaji, Abhay's Godbrother, known for sweet singing, played mridanga and sang Vaishnava bhajanas. Sitting on a raised asana, His Holiness Keshava Maharaja presided. Since there had been no notices or invitations, only the maṭha's few residents attended.

Narayana Maharaja chanted the required mantras and then sat back silently while Keshava Maharaja lectured. Then, to everyone's surprise, Keshava Maharaja asked Abhay to speak. Abhay had not expected this. As he looked around at the gathering of devotees, he understood that the common language was Hindi; only Keshava Maharaja and a few others spoke English. Yet he knew he must speak in English.

After Abhay's speech, each initiate received his sannyasa-danda, the traditional head-high staff made of four bamboo rods bound together and completely enwrapped in saffron cloth. They were given their sannyasa garments: one piece of saffron cloth for a dhoti, one for a top piece, and two strips for underwear. They also received tulasi neck beads and the sannyasa-mantra. Keshava Maharaja said that Abhay would now be known as Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja and that Sanatana would be Muni Maharaja. After the ceremony, the two new sannyasis posed for a photo, standing on either side of their sannyasa-guru, who sat in a chair.

Keshava Maharaja didn't impose any strictures on Abhay; he simply encouraged him to go on preaching. Yet Abhay knew that to become A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami did not mean merely that he was giving up family, home comforts, and business. That he had done five years ago. Changing from white cloth to saffron cloth, from Abhay Babu to Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja, had a special significance: it was the mandate he had required, the irrevocable commitment. Now it was only a matter of time before Bhaktivedanta Swami would travel to the West as Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had ordained. This was Bhaktivedanta Swami's realization of his new sannyasa status.

The Gaudiya Patrika's account of the sannyasa initiation included a biographical sketch of Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja, listing the major events of his life. The article concluded:

"Seeing his enthusiasm and ability to write articles in Hindi, English, and Bengali, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Maharaja gave him the instruction to take tridandi-sannyasa. For nearly one year he had been ready to accept sannyasa. In the month of Bhadra, on the day on which Vishvarupa accepted sannyasa, Bhaktivedanta Swami at the Shri Keshavaji Gaudiya Math accepted sannyasa from the founder of the Vedanta Samiti, Bhaktiprajnana Keshava Maharaja. Seeing him accept his ashrama of renunciation, seeing this pastime for accepting the renounced order of life, we have attained great affection and enthusiasm."

- from the Prabhupada Lilamrita, by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami

Read more about Srila Prabhupada's taking sannyasa in the Prabhupada Lilamrita online.