ISKCON in Tirupati – The Beginning days

When ISKCON’s founder-acarya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, visited Tirumala and Tirupati in 1974, he spoke with administrators of the Venkateswara temple. He encouraged them to join with ISKCON for the glorification of Lord Venkateswara (Krsna) throughout the world. Indian-born Sankha-bhrt dasa heard these discussions and took heart. Over the years Sankha-bhrt dasa served in nearby Bangalore and Hyderabad. As a natural result of his preaching activities, he developed good relations with the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), the board of trustees in charge of the management and development in the region. In 1981 Sankha-bhrt decided to preach in Tirupati. Mr. P.V.K. Prasad, the executive officer of the TTD at that time, provided an apartment for Sankha-bhrt and his family. Sankha-bhrt dasa and his wife began to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books and Back to Godhead magazine door to door and at the bus and train stations. Sankha-bhrt: “My idea was to have a big book distribution program, taking the help of TTD for printing books in the South Indian languages. Later on, Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja visited, and he was very impressed with the potential here for preaching. He thought we should build here, so he advised me to request Mr. Prasad to donate a hundred acres of land. Our proposal was rejected. Mr. Prasad, seeing that I was alone, felt we couldn’t make use of so much land.” At every opportunity Sankha-bhrt reminded Mr. Prasad of Srila Prabhupada’s vision: TTD and ISKCON working together in the service of Lord Venkateswara. Gradually other devotees joined, and Sankha-bhrt expanded his preaching programs. In 1982-83, Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja, director of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, the scientific preaching arm of ISKCON, arranged a “number of conferences and seminars in the local schools and colleges. This greatly impressed the people of Tirupati with the’ scope and purity of ISKCON’s programs for presenting Krsna consciousness on all levels and to all people.

In 1983 Mr. Prasad paid a visit to Sridhama Mayapur, the birthplace of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the site of ISKCON’s largest project in India. Sankha-bhrt: “When Mr. Prasad returned from Mayapur, he was very enthusiastic to do something to help us. It was a crucial time, because his term as executive officer was coming to an end. I had no idea if the next officer would be as favorable as Mr. Prasad, so I said, ‘Forget about one hundred acres. I humbly beg you to give me a piece of land—whatever you can manage—and we will develop something on it.’ He said, ‘O.K. Tomorrow morning come early to my office. I have a place in mind.’

“The next morning I went to Mr. Prasad’s office, but they told me he had gone to my apartment. I rushed back and found him with a crew of about twenty workers marking off some property and clearing the land. It was about fifty acres covered with thorns and bushes, and it was very uneven. Mr. Prasad said, ‘I am allotting you this piece of land, and these people will clear it for you.’ He could see I was a little disappointed because the land looked so rough and so out of the way, but he said to me, ‘Don’t worry. You don’t know the future of this place. It will be one of the best locations in Tirupati, considering the plans for development of this city. It will be a good place for your preaching work.’ He also gave seventy thousand rupees for us to build an asrama and bhajana hall.” Soon a small temple was constructed to temporarily house the Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Govinda, who had been installed in the summer of 1984. At present, Sankha-bhrt is busily raising funds for developing the property. Plans include an ornate temple, a three-hundred-room modern guesthouse, a gurukula school, and landscaped gardens.

Sankha-bhrt: “From here we will be able to preach to people all over the world—just by preaching in Tirupati. Everyone comes here on their way to Tirumala. I prayed very hard to Srila Prabhupada to make this happen, and now it is all coming to pass. In the future the bus station will be moved near here, and all the buses will go past our project on the way to Tirumala. We’ve hardly started our work, yet already we get several busloads of people a day. We will be able to distribute Krsna conscious books in every Indian language. “It is significant that the TTD has given us this land. Every religious group, yoga organization, and what-have-you in India has tried to get a place here. Some have been trying for years. They want to come because to be in Tirupati is prestigious. And Tirupati is the wealthiest temple in all of India. If TTD, which controls a lot of wealth, decides to back some project, that project will flourish. “But TTD hasn’t allowed any of these groups to come in. ISKCON is the exception. That’s because we are preaching the scriptural conclusions without deviating, without concocting anything. We follow the prescribed dharma for the age, chanting the holy names of the Lord, and we are convincing people to live a spiritual life. The TTD trustees like us. They want us to work with them to give people real religion. Srila Prabhupada’s vision is coming true.”