Parasuram dasa: Plague has a long history on the European continent, with evidence of the disease dating back to the Stone Age. Plague epidemics in Europe during the First and Second Pandemics, including the Black Death, are infamous.
Yet, Europe still experienced plague outbreaks during the Third Pandemic, which began in China and spread to India and then globally at the end of the nineteenth century.
On 23 September 1896, the first “official” case of the bubonic plague in India was reported in Mumbai. The patient was suffering from high fever and large tumours. Other symptoms included swollen lymph glands and eventual gangrene in the extremities, such as toes, fingers, lips and nose. Without treatment, the patient would succumb within days.
This plague was to cause 12 million deaths in India, Srila Prabhupada recounts:
“So Calcutta became devastated. All people practically left Calcutta. Daily hundreds and hundreds of people were dying. I was one year old or one and a half year old. I have seen what was happening, but there was plague epidemic. That I did not know. I, later on, I heard from my parents. So one babaji, he organized sankirtana, Hare Krsna sankirtana. When there was no other way, so he organized sankirtana all over Calcutta. And in the, in sankirtana, all people, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi, everyone joined. And they were coming, they were going road to road, street to street, entering in every house. So that Mahatma Gandhi Road, 151, you have seen. The sankirtana party we received very nicely. There was light, and I was very small, I was also dancing, I can remember. Just like our small children sometimes dances. I remember. I could see only up to the knees of the persons who were joined. So the plague subsided. This is a fact. Everyone who knows history of Calcutta, the plague was subsided by sankirtana movement. Of course, we do not recommend that sankirtana should be used for some material purpose, that is nama-aparadha, nama-aparadha.” (SP lecture, 20 June 1973)
“That material happiness of which we hear, such as promotion to heavenly planets for celestial enjoyment, is just like that material happiness we have already experienced. Both are polluted by jealousy, envy, decay and death. Therefore, just as an attempt to raise crops becomes fruitless if there are many problems like crop disease, insect plague or drought, similarly, the attempt to attain material happiness, either on earth or on the heavenly planets, is always fruitless because of innumerable obstacles” SB 11.10.21
Allen Ginsberg: So what is the purpose of right now, a world increase…
Prabhupada: People will take advantage of this up to ten thousand years. Then they will…
Allen Ginsberg: So this is like the last rope, the last gasp.
Prabhupada: Yes. So the sooner we take to shelter, shelter of Krishna consciousness, is better.
(Srila Prabhupada Conversation, Columbia, May 13, 1969)