A Little Known 1977 Srila Prabhupada Pastime
By Bhusaya dasa
(Tamal Krishna Goswami and Sura dasa witnessed this pastime. Sura dasa has confirmed the accuracy of this story from his diary and recollection. Sura noted that of the three reports that morning, this one brought a smile to Srila Prabhupada’s face.)
It was forty years ago, August, 1977, just three months before Srila Prabhupada was to leave our external vision. Srila Prabhupada was sitting in his room in Vrndavana, very ill and leaning up against the wall, showing little response as some sannyasi’s were giving reports about their preaching activities. Then a devotee arrived with a copy of that day’s Hindustan Times and Srila Prabhupada’s mood dramatically changed. The famous Indian newspaper featured an article about the recent Hare Krishna wedding in Detroit, which was receiving huge international favorable publicity for his movement.
Srila Prabhupada immediately sat up attentively and asked to have the story read to him. The article detailed how Lekhasravanti devi dasi (daughter of legendary labor leader, Walter Reuther) was getting married to fellow devotee Bhusaya dasa, and Ambarisa dasa (great grandson of world famous automotive genius, Henry Ford) was serving as best man. Mukunda Goswami had flown into Detroit a week earlier and had expertly arranged for the world’s top media to take notice.
At this time and for years prior, the Hare Krishna movement had been widely misrepresented through the media as a dangerous cult, accused of holding its members hostage through brainwashing. There had been numerous kidnappings and “deprogrammings” of devotees and even court cases trying to destroy ISKCON. But now, through the wedding’s publicity the world could receive the true accurate view that the Hare Krishna movement is an ancient and authentic spiritual culture, not to be lumped in with the many new cults springing up throughout the world. Quickly, the wedding became recognized by devotees as a major preaching opportunity.
The wedding was favorably covered by TIME, Newsweek, NBC Nightly News, Washington Post, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and reached most countries around the planet where the Hare Krishna movement was active.. The media’s interest was based upon the famous battles fought between Henry Ford and Walter Reuther, during the early days of unionizing Ford Motor Company. (Both Henry Ford and Walter Reuther were featured by TIME Magazine in their 1998 series “The 100 most Influential People of the 20th Century”). And now two of their descendants were working harmoniously together in Krishna Consciousness, first to jointly purchase the Fisher Mansion as Detroit’s Hare Krishna Temple in 1975, and now two years later, again serving together to display Vaisnava culture through this Vedic wedding.
As Srila Prabhupada listened to the article he heard how the newlyweds were maintaining themselves solely through the distribution of his books, to which he responded, “This is the perfection of householder life.” He was especially pleased to see the article photo and expressed satisfaction that his two disciples, Ambarisa and Lekhasravanti, from such different backgrounds were working together cooperatively to spread Krishna Consciousness.
The devotees had pulled out all the stops to present Krishna Conscious culture to the world. Baradraja Prabhu’s Bhajan Band was flown in from Los Angeles and chanted songs of our vaisnava acharya’s, filling the atmosphere with devotion. Ambarisa Prabhu ordered the most fragrant flowers from Hawaii that were offered to the Deities, and then distributed as flower garlands to each guest. Master Chef, Gopati Prabhu, headed up his team of devotees to create an international cultural display of sumptuous prasadam. Mukhya devi dasi, who had been friends with Lekhasravanti since their University of Michigan days, served as Maid of Honor. Yogesvara Prabhu requested his personal friend, the New York Times Fashion Editor, to cover the event, which she did with a grand photo-journalistic article.
Dozens more Detroit devotees were engaged in making this wedding a showcase for Vaisnava culture. When Srila Prabhupada had requested Ambarisa and Lekhasravanti to purchase the Temple in 1975, he detailed how it should be used for “cultural conquest” and his vision was now beginning to take shape. Srila Prabhupada smiled as he listened to and relished the article and when it was over, requested it to be read to him again!
Srila Prabhupada is a loving father to all his followers. In March, 1974, Lekhasravanti had flown to Bombay to personally meet Srila Prabhupada for the first time. When she arrived, Prabhupada was speaking to friends and followers on a dormitory rooftop. As he spoke about how we are not the body, but we are spirit souls, part and parcel of Krishna, that truth became alive for her. She cried with joy realizing she had finally met her spiritual father.
Lekhasravanti met with Prabhupada the next day and mentioned how her parents were both killed in a plane crash in 1970. Prabhupada immediately consoled her, quoting a Sanskrit verse that her parents were still alive somewhere, as the self (spirit soul) never dies. Srila Prabhupada then asked Lekhasravanti if she wanted to get married. Lekhasravanti tried to be philosophical and replied, “Oh Srila Prabhupada, whatever Krishna desires.” Prabhupada chuckled, “Every girl wants to get married.” Lekhasravanti explained her parent’s had a life insurance policy from which she had inherited a half million dollars and wished to use what she had left in Krishna’s service. At that time she wrote Srila Prabhupada a check for $50,000 which he happily accepted as Krishna’s mercy, and used for printing Srimad Bhagavatams.
Lekhasravanti had previously donated her house to become the first Hare Krishna Temple in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A year later when she co-purchased the Fisher Mansion with Ambarisa to become the new Detroit Temple, she gave the last of her inheritance. At that time Srila Prabhupada showed his concern for Lekhasravanti’s protection when he told Temple President Goverdhan prabhu, “Now make sure she is always taken care of.” And now Srila Prabhupada’s fatherly satisfaction was on display as Lekhasravanti became married in Krishna Consciousness. (And remains so today).
After hearing the Hindustan Times article read to him a second time, Srila Prabhupada asked, “How much money was spent on the wedding”? It was quite a lot at that time, around $10,000 and some thought Prabhupada might disapprove. When told, Srila Prabhupada approved the expenditure and that the wedding was done in a grand style. And that his Krishna Consciousness movement was being recognized by the media and society at large more and more, not as a new cult, but as an ancient, authorized and comprehensive spiritual culture.