The Story The History and the Facts.
About H.G. SUNDAR GOPAL PRABHU
Disciple of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. (1977)
The Story The History and the Facts
About H.G. SUNDAR GOPAL PRABHU
Disciple of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. (1977)
he received a letter from a devotee named Nalinīkānta Prabhu asking him if he would like to take initiation from Śrīla Prabhupāda. He along with his younger brother replied in the affirmative and in the January of 1977, they were initiated by Śrīla Prabhupāda who was in India at that time. The beads and initiated name were sent by post to Sundar Gopāl Prabhu. He never met Śrīla Prabhupāda but was initiated by him.
“PRELUDE” ( an action or event serving as an introduction to something more important. )
One of the chief principles of honesty is that credit should be given where it is due. This page is in no way a bio of a false, self-acclaimed guru.
Sometimes we notice it among Prabhupādānugas that they are afraid to give credit to any Vaiṣṇava who is sincerely following Śrīla Prabhupāda. They think that to mention someone else besides Śrīla Prabhupāda is a sin. Consequently, they try to hide the names of all the sincere Vaiṣṇavas who have no other desire than to be particles of dust at the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda. At other times, they criticize someone who is glorified for their exceptional service to Śrīla Prabhupāda and Kṛṣṇa.
They portray the whole Ṛtvik or Prabhupādānuga movement as if it were impersonalism. This comes from an understandable fear that comes with the possibility of facing criticism from others who think that such a person is trying to become prominent just like a guru. Well, as a matter of fact, there will always be somebody who will criticise you no matter what you do and we don’t need to succumb to that.
Quite contrary to the above opinion, there are at least five valid reasons for identifying and glorifying sincere devotees who display sincere devotion to Śrīla Prabhupāda.
- The word “Prabhupādānuga” means a person who is following Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions. And the word ṛtvik means a priest, who is also a person. It cannot be impersonal.
- When an example of a sincere devotee serving Śrīla Prabhupāda is presented, it inspires others to see the possibility and tread the same path.
- It provides a contact point for devotees who want to reach out to some proper devotee association. Many devotees who are disgruntled with the deviated ISKCON are on the lookout for positive association with Prabhupādānugas who are actively preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness. By hiding such dedicated Prabhupādānugas, we are doing a disservice to those devotees and ultimately to the movement of Śrīla Prabhupāda itself as we cannot grow if we don’t connect and eventually cooperate with one another.
- Appreciating or glorifying the sincere service of other Vaiṣṇavas is the very backbone of Vaiṣṇava culture.
Especially when it comes to senior devotees, it is an expression of gratitude for all that they have given us. At least in the ISKM conglomerate of temples, we owe a lot to His Grace Sundar Gopāl Prabhu. He has been playing a significant part in, first of all, offering us the opportunity to serve Śrīla Prabhupāda and Lord Kṛṣṇa in a variety of services in the temples, and has also been traveling to many countries almost entirely at the expense of the Singapore ISKM temple to encourage, inspire, support and nurture the devotees. He also plays the role of ṛtvik representative of Śrīla Prabhupāda in performing initiations on behalf of Śrīla Prabhupāda.
A BRIEF LIFE SKETCH
His Grace Sundar Gopāl Prabhu took birth on the 12th of September, 1955 in Singapore in a lower middle-class Indian family. His family had its ancestral roots in Tamil Nadu, India, but the last three generations of both maternal and paternal sides have been residing in Singapore. With seven other siblings and his father being the sole bread-winner for the family, it had been quite humble beginnings for him.
Sundar Gopāl Prabhu’s first brief contact with the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement was in the year 1971 when some American devotees were doing street saṅkīrtana in Singapore during a Hindu festival called Thaipusam. In fact, he laughed with his friend at their “funny hairstyle.” After that there was no contact for some time.
Although the following incident did not involve Sundar Gopāl Prabhu, it is worthy to mention it for the record. Śrīla Prabhupāda attempted to come to Singapore in 1971 and when he landed, he was not allowed by the immigration department to enter the country due to some unknown prejudice against him. Ever since then it has always been rough for the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement in Singapore.
In 1974, Sundar Gopāl Prabhu, then known by the name Govindasamy Sundar, joined the Singapore Armed Forces for a compulsary National Service for two-and-a-half years. Thus, until 1977, he was in the army. It was while in the army that he joined Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In the year 1975, Sundar Gopāl Prabhu’s elder brother returned from Sweden with some books of Śrīla Prabhupāda and Sundar Gopāl Prabhu started reading them in the October of that year. In the October of 1976, after a year of reading, he decided to give his life to this person (Śrīla Prabhupāda.) He was also in touch with some ISKCON devotees.
Very soon, he received a letter from a devotee named Nalinīkānta Prabhu asking him if he would like to take initiation from Śrīla Prabhupāda. He along with his younger brother replied in the affirmative and in the January of 1977, they were initiated by Śrīla Prabhupāda who was in India at that time. The beads and initiated name were sent by post to Sundar Gopāl Prabhu. He never met Śrīla Prabhupāda but was initiated by him.
Then the shocking news came in November that Śrīla Prabhupāda ended his earthly pastimes. Sundar Gopāl Prabhu continued to preach by holding Sunday Feast programs and conducting book distribution with very little help. In 1979, he attempted to register ISKCON here in Singapore. He was told by the authorities that ISKCON was officially banned and cannot be registered. No reasons explained. Just some prejudice. Thus, the challenge just became even bigger.
He continued preaching by spreading the message to whomever he could. His Holiness Haṁsadutta Svāmī became the GBC representative of Singapore. Sundar Gopāl Prabhu was working under him and received his second initiation from him. But it was very painful working under him. Anyone in the zonal ācārya era would relate to this.
So in 1982, he decided to leave Singapore and the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement for good, being frustrated at working with Haṁsadutta Svāmī. He visited Bangkok enroute to India. Fortunately, there he met devotees and then was led to the temple. As his luck would have it, during his flight to India from Bangkok, the person seated beside him was a devotee and he was again led to the temple in Calcutta (now Kolkata).
For the next year and a half, he traveled to many places in India making life members and participating in many other preaching engagements. From late 1983, for the next year and a half, he went to the USA. He became the Temple President in Houston, Texas and worked under His Holiness Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmī. He learnt many aspects of management of our spiritual institution under him but it was also one big roller-coaster ride working with him.
In 1985, he returned to Singapore and started propagating Kṛṣṇa consciousness here. In 1989, he got married and in the same year he took a big step in legalising the movement. Kṛṣṇa consciousness had to be spread on a larger scale to the suffering society. As there was no way he could register a new society, he took up an old defunct society by the name Shiv Mandir and started operating Kṛṣṇa’s temple and preached Kṛṣṇa consciousness from there.
In 1990, his only son was born and was named Madanamohan dās. The years 1991 to 1996 were really rough years in the preaching scene in Singapore. But there were also some bright points to it as well. In 1991, he acquired a land with a bungalow in an upscale neighborhood and was holding Sunday programs and festivals in grandeur. The presiding deities Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Madanamohana were installed duly in this year.
A lot of devotees joined up full-time during this period. There were about a dozen brahmacārīs. Many congregation members also joined. Many ISKCON gurus swarmed in and initiated devotees by batches. Soon the initiated devotees would be manipulated by the gurus to cause much trouble to the temple management. We would not go into much detail on this one. Undercurrents in the management began.
In 1996, Sundar Gopāl Prabhu was informed by the government authorities that he had to move out as the temple land was originally zoned for residential use and not for worship. Yes, land in Singapore has to be zoned properly for appropriate use. So Sundar Gopāl Prabhu, along with the temple management, decided to redevelop the land into three bungalows and sell it. The profit made out of that sale was thought to fund a new premises if possible.
But as ill luck would have it, real estate prices crashed and instead of the projected profit of $7 million, the temple went into a debt of $4 million. To add salt to the wound, a so-called well-wisher who was actually just a cheater ran away with $2 million clean. It is a long story actually but it was clearly the lowest point in the preaching scene in Singapore. The good news was that Sundar Gopāl Prabhu came out of the debt to the bank by paying them a token amount.
The preaching moved on. In 1997, the book The Final Order came in and created a revolution. The book was actually a compilation of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s unequivocal instructions to the effect that all disciples of ISKCON for all of ISKCON’s future were going to be his disciples and there was no order that there would be anyone else to succeed him.
Sundar Gopāl Prabhu was one of the first ISKCON Temple Presidents in the world, if not the very first, to announce that he is going to implement Śrīla Prabhupāda’s ṛtvik system of initiations.
When the truth of the matter of initiations was put forward to the local devotees in Singapore, very few of them understood it and stood by it. But many others felt that the ISKCON gurus were being blasphemed and out of fanaticism, they left the temple never to return.
In the same year, the Singapore government finally granted a new society to operate. Sundar Gopāl Prabhu was asked to close that Shiv Mandir Society and start a new Society under the condition that he could not have the name ISKCON and that he could not be affiliated in any way with the worldwide ISKCON. Sundar Gopāl Prabhu agreed to that proposal and thus the Society Sri Krishna Mandir was born.
In the year 1998, he worked along with His Grace Madhu Paṇḍita Prabhu of ISKCON Bangalore, His Grace Adridharaṇa Prabhu of ISKCON Kolkata and Krishna Kant of The Final Order fame in attempting to convince ISKCON to take up the ṛtvik system of initiations as per Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions and reform the whole of ISKCON. This led him to Alachua, Mumbai and also Malaysia for some high-profile meetings. But unfortunately, the management at ISKCON were too obstinate to concede.
In the year 2000, Sri Krishna Mandir won a public land tender for building a temple but as soon as we won it, the government mysteriously withdrew the tender.
In the year 2005, his wife passed away and in 2006, his mother. In the year 2006, he also started giving ṛtvik initiations on behalf of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Along with three others, his son was initiated by this process and he joined up as a brahmacārī at the age of 15. How Sundar Gopāl Prabhu began to accept the post of being a ṛtvik representative is explained in a separate section in this page as that is what many people especially seem to ask about him and understandably so.
After he made this decision, for the first time in his entire preaching tenure, we felt absolute unity among devotees in the temple with absolutely no management undercurrents. This was a real game-changer and such a great relief as compared to a decade ago when he was still following ISKCON’s guidelines. The preaching in the local scene grew tremendously after this.
He greatly felt the need for somehow or other spreading the original movement of Śrīla Prabhupāda across the globe. But addressing the issue with the ISKCON management proved futile. The best way this could be done is through grassroots efforts. It was going to be tough but it had to be done. Somebody had to stand up to make the move. He took the demise of his very cooperative devotee wife as a great blessing of Kṛṣṇa as he can now be free to travel and preach. He greatly longed to help other devotees in other parts of the world who were frustrated by the power-hungry and insensitive ISKCON management so that they can come together and cooperate to form a viable alternative to ISKCON.
But the breakthrough did not happen until 2011. Prabhupādānuga devotees from New Zealand first visited Sri Krishna Mandir in the May of 2011. Then in late 2011, an Indian congregation devotee in Singapore, His Grace Prahlāda Bhakta Prabhu returned to India to become a full-time devotee and started preaching in Puducherry. In January 2012, Sundar Gopāl Prabhu made a visit to New Zealand along with some of the devotees from the Singapore temple. In the same year, he also made contact with the Chinese devotees in China. Solid bonds were being fostered. In 2013, Philippines and Bangladesh opened up. In 2015, Australia opened up. In 2016, Russia and Hungary opened up. It has been a very inspiring journey indeed!
Apart from regularly traveling entirely at the cost of the Singapore temple to encourage, inspire, support and nurture the devotees in all these countries, he also conducts few-times-weekly lectures over the Internet and all the devotees in the ISKM conglomerate are very satisfied with his selfless leadership.
HOW DID HE BECOME A ṚTVIK REPRESENTATIVE OF ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA?
In 1996, a book called The Final Order was published by Krishna Kant, a bhakta from London who worked with other devotees to produce it. It was a compilation of citations of Śrīla Prabhupāda regarding how intiations of new devotees should be conducted after his physical departure from this world.
It became crystal clear from those quotes that Śrīla Prabhupāda is the sole dīkṣā-guru of ISKCON. None of his so-called successors were actually qualified or authorized to become dīkṣā-gurus by Śrīla Prabhupāda. So, in 1997, His Grace Sundar Gopāl Prabhu teamed up with Krishna Kant who was heading the IRM (ISKCON Revival Movement).
The sagacious intention of the IRM was to convince ISKCON to change the deviant ways of the Governing Body Commission (GBC) of ISKCON and restore the sanctity of the institution by reinstating Śrīla Prabhupāda as the sole dīkṣā-guru. To achieve this end, some high-profile meetings were arranged in India, USA, Malaysia and other countries with the upper echelons of ISKCON management.
The hope was that if ISKCON’s GBC mended their ways, then everyone can follow the system of ṛtvik initiations exactly as per Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions. But ISKCON did not concede to this proposal. In fact, they labeled the ṛtvik advocates as demons. That ideal situation seemed like utopia.
There was a long wait till 2006 not knowing what to do. Sundar Gopāl Prabhu has been the Temple President in Singapore and he just expanded his preaching into Malaysia. By now, there were few devotees ready to take initiation both in Singapore and in Malaysia. But there was no way they could take initiation by the process of IRM. The only way was to wait for ISKCON to change. And that was not going to happen. Nobody had an answer to relieve this pressure of managing temples.
Temples always need pūjārīs for Deity worship, cooks, preachers, etc. All these services cannot go on if initiations did not take place. Moreover, initiations are absolutely necessary to solidify and formalize the process of surrender to Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself initiated all his disciples through initiation ceremonies.
So, it became very clear that to stick 100% to the original instruction of Śrīla Prabhupāda was not going to be possible when there was no cooperation from ISKCON’s GBC. An interim arrangement had to be made until such a time when ISKCON changes its stance and adheres to the ṛtvik system of initiations. So he broke away from IRM for obvious reasons.
Here we would like to quote from a letter by Śrīla Prabhupāda to Haṁsadutta Prabhu on the 11th of April, 1972:
“What will happen when I am not here, shall everything be spoiled by GBC? So for the time being, let the GBC activities be suspended until I thoroughly revise the whole procedure. In the meantime, you do your duty as president of Hamburg Temple, and try to improve spiritually.”
Here is precedence of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instruction that in the absence of a functional GBC, the Temple Presidents should not be left paralyzed. They should continue their duties as Temple Presidents and continue to expand the preaching work. And initiations are a must for that. So initiations had to be conducted at all costs.
In early 2006, a small group of four Temple Presidents from Singapore and Malaysia elected His Grace Sundar Gopāl Prabhu as the ṛtvik representative of Śrīla Prabhupāda for conducting initiations on behalf of Śrīla Prabhupāda. He was elected based on the following considerations:
- He was the senior-most having been directly initiated by Śrīla Prabhupāda and also by his length of service — since 1975.
- He has an unbroken track record of unfailing sādhana (spiritual practice). For example, he has never missed a maṅgala-ārati in the last 40 years. Same with his chanting of 16 rounds and the 4 regulative principles, etc. He is a senior Vaiṣṇava in very good standing.
- He is a natural leader who cares for the devotees he trains and has the ability to inspire, nurture and support the devotees.
- His down-to-earth lifestyle. (For example, he sleeps on the temple office floor without any bedding just as any new bhakta or brahmacārī does in the brahmacārī āśrama.)
- He was the only one who could accept the role of traveling and encouraging devotees in all the temples, now that he is a vānaprastha and is free from household obligations (his very cooperative devotee wife passed away in the year 2005).
- He is a great scholar of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books.
Basically, he is the most qualified and he was naturally selected. Since then he has been performing initiations on behalf of Śrīla Prabhupāda and as the jurisdiction of ISKM grew, he conducted initiations for devotees in all the ISKM temples.
We, at ISKM, receive great inspiration and guidance from His Grace Sundar Gopāl Prabhu and we accept him as our śikṣā-guru or a spiritual mentor who has made it possible for us to directly take shelter of the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda by his able guidance.
He actually does the real work of not only a ṛtvik representative of Śrīla Prabhupāda in giving initiations but also of a much more responsible role of guiding the devotees in Kṛṣṇa consciousness across all the ISKM temples like an affectionate father.
You can get in touch with him by writing to his secretary Tattvavit dāsa (firstname.lastname@example.org.)
APPENDIX: SUNDAR GOPĀL PRABHU’S INITIATION LETTER