Srila Prabhupada's father, Gour Mohan De, was a pure hearted Vaisnava. He often took young Abhay to the local Sri Radha-Govinda temple, were Abhay was seen to stand for many long hours, offering prayers before the Deity. Relating this story, Srila Prabhupada said, "The Deity was so beautiful, with His slanted eyes."
On September 1, 1896, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada made his appearance in this world in Calcutta, Bengal. Born on the day immediately after Krsna Janmastami, he was given the name Abhay Carana by his Vaisnava father, Gour Mohan De, and his mother Rajani. Gour Mohan's principle desire for his son's spiritual future was for him to become a pure devotee of Lord Sri Krsna, the ultimate goal of Vaisnavism.
Srila Prabhupada exhibited all the telltale symptoms of a nitya-siddha shaktavesa avatara. Such divine Personalities are sent/chosen by The Supreme Personality of Godhead to advent in a body so as to fulfill the mission of the Lord, namely, to impart the Absolute truth to the ignorant, forgetful embodied beings in human form. Abhay Carana's ultimate destiny and mission would remain unmanifest to the unenlightened until the last few years of his life. Twenty-five years after his disappearance there are still many who are confused over His true exalted spiritual identity, even amongst those who consider themselves to be His followers
In 1922, Srila Prabhupada's spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, naturally recognized the true shaktavesa identity of his new disciple. He indicated that Abhaya Carana's assigned mission was to be the vehicle by which the transcendental message of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu was to be taken to the western world. Today, Srila Prabhupada's success is evident not only in the West, but in nearly every place on the planet where the maha mantra, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare is chanted by the Vaisnavas who have taken up our Prabhupada's mission.
The yearly celebration of Srila Prabhupada's appearance day is called Vyasa Puja, and it is typically observed immediately after the Janmastami festival. On this day, a host of activities are engaged in by the devotees, who become absorbed in thinking about the Lord's mercy in the manifestation of His pure devotee. Vyasa Puja offerings are made by the devotees, who write and present very personal messages to the Spiritual Master. Guru Puja arotika is offered with an array of sumptuous foodstuffs, an abhisheka (bathing) ceremony of Srila Prabhupada's murti form, and the offering of flower petals (pushpanjali).
Our Vyasa Puja feast is inspired by the Sri Sri Gurv Astakam, an eight verse prayer written by Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura. The Gurv Astakam prayers glorify the transcendental activities of the Spiritual Master. By the Spiritual master's mercy, the fallen conditioned souls may take shelter of Lord Krsna. The feast preparations here are meant to reflect some of the glorious activities of Srila Prabhupada.
As sung in Gurvastkam, "Just as a cloud pours water on a forest fire to extinguish it, so the spiritual master delivers the materially afflicted world by extinguishing the blazing fire of material existence. I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of such a spiritual master, who is an ocean of auspicious qualities."
We offer a pale white Lotus Curd Bowl made of endive petals, and filled with a cool yoghurt curd raita that will help to extinguish the heat of the spicy dishes on the feast menu.
In remembrance of the Spiritual Master's ecstasy in thinking of Caitanya Mahaprabhu's sankirtana party, which brings quivering to the body and hairs standing on end, and in honor of Srila Prabhupada's fondness for dishes liberally dosed with camphor, we offer a Sweet Kolakattai rice dumpling infused with an eyebrow-raising pinch of camphor and aromatic spices.
The Spiritual Master engages his disciples in temple activities of Deity worship, cleaning the temple, and arranging for the devotees to get darshan of the Deities. Srila Prabhupada's pastimes in the temple are reminiscent of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's pastimes of cleaning the Gundica temple. In Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya lila 12:131, we read: "While Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was picking up the straws and grains of sand, He said, "I shall gather everyone's collection, and I shall ask whoever has collected less than all the others to pay a fine of sweet cakes and sweet rice."
We include an offering of sweet cakes and sweet rice for Vyasa Puja, with a delectable Chilled Banana & Pistachio Payesh, and a savoury Makai ka Dhokla sweet cake.
From Gurvastakam, "The spiritual master is always offering Krsna four kinds of delicious food [analyzed as that which is licked, chewed, drunk, and sucked]." Our feast includes a preparation called Catur Vida Kabab, an opulent arrangement of these four types of foodstuffs. The kababs feature skewered chunks of crispy eggplant (chewed) drenched in a thick, tangy tomato glaze (licked), along with a wedge of caramelized lime (sucked), washed down with a roasted pepper slurry (drunk).
The Spiritual Master is always thinking about the unlimited pastimes of Sri Sri Radha Krsna. The Vyasa Puja feast includes plump and juicy Laddu, which Krsna's boyhood friend, Madhumangala, would happily eat in huge quantities. Madhumangala promised Krsna that if he provided even more laddu, he would put in a good word on Krsna's behalf with the beautiful Radharani.
Gurvastakam sings, "The spiritual master is very dear, because he is expert in assisting the gopis..." We offer an opulent preparation of Varistha Dal for the eight topmost Gopis. This sweet dal is resplendent with eight types of peas, nuts, peppers, raisins, ginger and dates.
"The spiritual master is to be honored as much as the Supreme Lord", so the feast includes the most royal of dishes, Pushpanna Rice, which is made as opulently as possible in honor of Srila Prabhupada, whose devotional qualities are uncountable.
"By the mercy of the spiritual master one receives the benediction of Krsna." How to express, in a simple offering of bhoga, the mercy Srila Prabhupada freely gives to his devotees? We offer Pearl Nectar, a delightful beverage filled with shiny tapioca pearls that remind us of the nectar pearls of Krsna Conscious philosophy spoken by the Spiritual Master, who passes on the absolute truth in an unbroken chain of wisdom pearls.
A variety of preparations round out the feast, including a Maha Brinjal, a recipe Srila Prabhupada taught to his early disciples. A dry radish leaf sabji, Mooli Patta is joined by one of Srila Prabhupada's favorite bitters in the Crispy Karela Fry. A staple favorite, Chapatis go well with all the feast preparations.
Finally, in honor of Srila Prabhupada's parents, Rajani and Gour Mohan De, we offer a sour Bengali Mango Pickle. Srila Prabhupada said, "My mother was very much fond of pickles. After resting in the afternoon, she would take something very sour, pickle. We used to take with her also. (laughs) We were small children, my mother died when I was only 14 years old. (long pause)". Speaking of his father, Srila Prabhupada described how, as a child, there were plentiful mangoes to be eaten in the household, provided by his kind father.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada's Vyasa Puja!