I’ll Build You a Temple: A Good Fight and a Promise Fulfilled
An excerpt from Giriraj Swami’s forthcoming book about Srila Prabhupada and Juhu, entitled I’ll Build You a Temple: A Good Fight and a Promise Fulfilled. This event took place on May 5, 1974.
For Nrsimha-caturdasi, a troupe of devotees led by Jagat Purusa organized a drama depicting the appearance of Lord Nrsimha, to be performed in the temple room. There was an all-male cast, including the young and slender Nava-yogendra as Prahlada Maharaja; Bhagavata, who was quite large, as Nrsimhadeva; and Jagat Purusa, who was very thin, as Hiranyakasipu. The stage was set before anybody arrived, and Bhagavata, wearing a massive lion headdress, was hidden with a microphone in a papier-mâché pillar that had been built in the corner of the darshan area. He narrated the drama, but because his voice was broadcast by speakers, nobody knew where he was. Prabhupada sat on his vyasasana, and the play went on all around him, with the temple room itself as the stage, and everyone else in the audience outside on the grounds.
Hiranyakasipu was the most powerful man in the universe, so he was supposed to have a big, muscular physique, but the drama opened with him when he was performing his austerities—standing on the tip of his toes with outstretched hands, with all his ribs showing—and afterward Jagat Purusa put on shoulder pads and lots of wadding. Anirdesavapu had been in the pujari room washing pots, but when the person playing Lord Brahma didn’t show up, the devotees asked him to fill in. All he had to do was respond to Hiranyakasipu when he asked for his boons, they assured him, and they dressed him up with some ornaments and a crown and sent him to the temple room.
From his viewpoint on stage, Anirdesavapu could see how absorbed Prabhupada was in the drama. “When he saw me,” Anirdesavapu later recalled, “he was astonished and opened his eyes wide, as if he was actually seeing Lord Brahma. His eyes got big, his head tilted back, and he was smiling. He wasn’t just seeing some brahmacharis dressed up in makeshift costumes—he was seeing Lord Brahma and the other divine personalities.” At the climax, when Hiranyakasipu called for Prahlada’s lord and pounded the pillar, Bhagavata, as Lord Nrsimha, burst out with a roar, and Prabhupada opened his eyes wide and leaned so far back that his vyasasana almost toppled over.
Decades later, Jagat Purusa still remembered the day vividly: “Over the years, I had done dozens of dramas with various devotees, but I’d never had an experience like this. In one particular school of drama, the Stanislavski School, the actors meditate upon their roles and by doing so transform into the characters they are portraying. I wasn’t really trying to train the devotees in this way, but even without any conscious attempt, by Srila Prabhupada’s presence every devotee in the drama ceased being that devotee and became the part he was playing. It was just unbelievable! Srila Prabhupada was there from the opening scene to the very end, and he was showing all these amazing expressions: surprise, concern, happiness, delight. Some of the devotees could barely watch the drama, they were so transfixed watching Srila Prabhupada watch it unfold. Everything was flawless, because it was not a drama—it was a pastime.”
Afterwards, the actors, still in their costumes, sat down where they were for Prabhupada’s lecture. “Today is the appearance day of Lord Nrsimhadeva,” he began. “I am so pleased that within such a short time these boys have nicely learned how to play, and especially I have to thank Mr. Hiranyakasipu,” at which everyone laughed and applauded. “Mr. Hiranyakasipu has played his part very nicely.”
The devotees—especially the actors—were exuberant. “As every devotee knows,” Jagat Purusa recalled, “there is nothing—nothing—compared to getting the confirmation that Srila Prabhupada is pleased with something that you have done in his service. I was sitting there just two feet from his lotus feet, and I felt myself melting into the cracks between the tiles, and I thought, This is the best time for me to leave my body! It is so fulfilling to know that Srila Prabhupada is pleased.”