Misogyny and Hypocrisy by Example
Standing: Radharani, Abhay Charan’s nephew Tulasi, Krishna Charan.
Sitting: Abhay Charan with Prayag Raj, Gour Mohan, Rajesvari with Sulakshmana.
Everyone’s viewpoints are colored by their own past and upbringing. Taking Bhaktivedanta Swami’s cultural and family background into consideration may help put some of his attitudes towards women into perspective. Bhaktivedanta Swami came from a middle class family that lived on a property given to his maternal grandparents by a wealthy family of the gold merchant caste (Suvarna Vanik) — all claiming descent from Udaram Datta Thakur, an alleged companion of Chaitanya.
Mutty Lall Seal’s Free School
127 Chittaranjan Avenue, Kolkata, India
He led a sheltered life and enjoyed a decent education at Mutty Lall Seal’s Free School and College, followed by the Scottish Church College, from which he graduated in 1920 with majors in English, philosophy and economics. As a young man he was an idealist and avid follower of Gandhi’s freedom movement. Based on the experience gained by his employment in a pharmaceutical company, he later started one himself to maintain his family.
Scottish Church College
Urquhart Square, Kolkata, India
It deserves to be noted here that contrary to what he came to expect of his disciples later on, Bhaktivedanta Swami himself was never sent away from his parents at age 5 or younger to attend a gurukula and never did so with any of his own children. As a married man he also never lived under the direct control of his guru.
Gour Mohan De (1849-1930) and his wife Rajani had six (known) children. Most ISKCON devotees only know of two — Abhay Charan (Bhaktivedanta Swami) and Bhavatarini (Pisima) — while some also know of an older sister who was sometimes used as an example of good Vedic submission because of sticking it out with a fish-eating husband. In order of oldest to youngest:
- Rajesvari, daughter
- Unknown daughter
- Unknown son
- Abhay Charan (Bhaktivedanta Swami), son (1896 – 1977)
- Krishna Charan, son (? – before 1970)
- Bhavatarini (Pisima), daughter (? – 1980)
In 1919, at age 22, Abhay Charan entered an arranged marriage with Radharani (1908-1984), who was only 11 years old at the time. True to local Bengali custom, early marriage was taken seriously in the family:
Allahabad 1930 (after Gour Mohan De’s death)
Top: Abhay Charan, Gour Mohan’s portrait, Krishna Charan.
Front: Prayag Raj, Mathura Mohan, Sulakshmana
SB 1.8.51, Los Angeles, May 13, 1973
Morning Walk, Mayapur, February 9, 1976
Yet, at the same time:
Letter to: Gargamuni, Allston, May 5, 1968
Room Conversation, Seattle, September 24, 1968
Letter to: Gopala Krishna, Honolulu 11 May, 1972
SB 1.3.17, Los Angeles, September 22, 1972
Dr. Patel: And you had not bad days all your life. Or you were quarreling? I am sorry to intrude.
Dr. Patel: Were you?
Dr. Patel: So you are quarrelsome even now. (laughter)
Prabhupada: My wife… I admit she’s very nice lady. But I did not like her.
Morning Walk, Bombay, March 27, 1974
Morning Walk, Mayapur, January 22-23, 1976
Despite the dislike, the couple produced at least five living children (Vrindavan Chandra De confirmed that there were several other children prior to these, but that they had all died either before or shortly after birth). Radharani first became pregnant at age 13 by 24 year old Abhay Charan and gave birth to their first child at age 14. In order of oldest to youngest:
- Prayag Raj, son (ca 1921 – 1950)
Became mentally ill and died on the streets of Calcutta around the age of 30.
- Sulaksmana, daughter (ca 1924 – ?)
Was married with children and remained in Calcutta. Has died.
- Mathura Mohan, son (ca 1932 – mid 2000s)
Resented his father for taking sannyasa and leaving him with the responsibility for the family. Never married. Unsuccessfully sued ISKCON in the mid-1980s.
- Bhaktilata, daughter (ca 1942 – ?)
Resented her father for taking sannyasa before she got married. Lives with her younger brother as of this writing.
- Vrindavana Chandra, son
His daughter married an ISKCON devotee. She and one of her daughters died in a boating accident in 2006 in Mayapur.
None of his own children, safe for his youngest (barely), turned out vaishnavas and Bhaktivedanta Swami lays the blame for this squarely on his wife (Room Conversation, February 20, 1977, Mayapura):
Prabhupada: Because she was always against Krishna… My father said like that, that “You are so fortunate that you don’t like your wife. Don’t try to marry again.”
Tamala Krishna: You were thinking like that.
Prabhupada: “You are fortunate.” I took it seriously. “People try to give up the company of wife with great difficulty. You have natural tendency.”
Tamala Krishna: It doesn’t seem like your sons are very…, except for Vrindavana. None of the others come.
Prabhupada: They are like mother.
Tamala Krishna: I met that Madan-Mohan.
Tamala Krishna: Mathura-Mohan. Whew! Smoking.
Prabhupada: All spoiled. Mother has spoiled. Everyone.
Tamala Krishna: What about this Vrindavana? He’s…
Prabhupada: He’s half-spoiled.
Tamala Krishna: Is he the oldest son?
Prabhupada: He was little crazy [the oldest son, Prayag Raj]. Might have gone away from home. Very intelligent boy he was. His mother made him crazy. Very… He was standing first in school. Very intelligent. She spoiled the whole family life. It was good for… For my youngest daughter I selected one very nice boy, rich man. She did not give. She wanted to keep her as her assistant, and she’s not married.
Tamala Krishna: Even now. How old? She must be forty-five years old.
Prabhupada: Not so much. Older than Vrindavana.
Tamala Krishna: So she must be thirty-five.
Prabhupada: Yes. Thirty-five. Most irresponsible and lethargetic.
And although he made clear on many occasions that the sannyasa ashram excludes connections with former family and that he had nothing to do with his former wife, children and grandchildren, several letters (like Bombay, June 8, 1971), conversations (like Vrindavana, May 20-22 and October 28-30, 1977), and the will he left, prove that Bhaktivedanta Swami himself continued to both support his family financially with proceeds of ISKCON and the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and made business arrangements with and for his sons Vrindavana De and Mathura Mohan De to ensure their sustenance as early as 1971.
Interview, Los Angeles, February 1, 1968
Prabhupada: Oh yes, I have got grown-up boys.
Journalist: You just left them?
Prabhupada: Yes. I have got my wife, my grandchildren, everyone, but I have no connection with them. They are doing their own way. My wife is entrusted to the elderly boys.
Press Interview, Los Angeles, December 30, 1968
Prabhupada: Yes. I have got my sons, grandsons, my wife, all living, but I have no connection with them. I am a sannyasi, renounced order. I have got elderly sons.
Reporter: You say you have no connection with your family?
Prabhupada: Because I have taken sannyasa. I have dedicated my life for Krsna. That is the Vedic system, that certain portion of your life should simply dedicate for God. That is called sannyasa.
Reporter: To do this, did you have to divorce?
Prabhupada: No. There is no question of. We do not know what is divorce. In our country there is no divorce, at least in Hindu law. Yes. Wife and husband, once combined, that is for life. There is no question of separation, in all circumstances. Either in distress or in happiness, there is no question of separation. Now our modern politicians, they have introduced this divorce law. Otherwise, according to Hindu, Manu-samhita, there is no divorce law.
Reporter: When did you renounce your family?
Prabhupada: In 1959.
Reporter: How are they managing without you?
Prabhupada: They are managing. My sons are grown up; they are earning. My wife is also rich man’s daughter. She has got some property. So they have no problem.
Reporter: Do you ever see them at all?
Prabhupada: No. I cannot see. I cannot see at least my wife. But if my sons and daughters come to see me, they can see. But my wife cannot see me. That is stopped. That is the system of sannyasa. A sannyasi cannot meet his wife again. That is renouncement. Renouncement means renouncing connection with woman, or renouncing sex life. That is renouncement.
Arrival Address, London, September 11, 1969
Talk with Bob Cohen, Mayapur, February 27-29, 1972
Prabhupada: Not very much. Therefore I had to leave them and create another family. (laughter)
Interviewer: How many children do you have.
Prabhupada: I have got two daughters and two sons. My wife is also still living.
Interviewer: Is she Krishna conscious?
Prabhupada: Not very much. Naturally women are after worldly opulence.
Interviewer: Was it difficult for you to give up what you had been doing in order to devote full time.
Prabhupada: No, it is the Vedic system that at a certain age they should give up family connection and completely devote for God consciousness. In the beginning, twenty-five years, he should learn from guru about Krishna consciousness. Then, if he is able, he does not become a family man, but if he is unable or circumstantially, he may become a family man. So he can remain a family man up to fiftieth year and then he retires from family life. He travels in holy places with his wife, and sometimes he comes home and sometimes he goes home. In this way, when he’s practiced to give up family attachment, then the wife goes back home to the care of her elderly children, and the man takes sannyasa, and he remains alone simply for spreading Krishna consciousness. This is Vedic system.
Interview with Newsday Newspaper, New York, July 14, 1976
Morning Walk and Room Conversation, Bombay, December 26, 1976
Despite these statements Bhaktivedanta Swami arranged that from 1971 onwards his former wife would receive Rs500 per month during his life, totaling Rs36,000 in cash before his death in 1977 (about $20,000 in 2010 dollars and Rs420,000 in 2010 Rupees, considering inflation and conversion rates for each of the 6 years). In addition, the codicil to his will states that she would receive Rs1,000 per month for life and each of his four living children Rs1,000 a month for seven years, of which Rs250 would be paid out in cash and Rs750 would be reinvested in fixed deposits for a seven year duration — to be used for reinvestment or real estate acquisition. To achieve this, five interest bearing accounts were set up containing Rs120,000 each (totaling almost $280,000 in 2010 dollars). If this has indeed been followed, then from 1977 until her death in 1984 Radharani De received a total of Rs84,000 (about $24,000 in 2010 dollars and almost Rs600,000 in 2010 Rupees, considering inflation and conversion rates for each of the 7 years). Bhaktivedanta Swami’s children will have received a quarter of that amount each in cash and more than three quarters in compounding interest for reinvestment or real estate.
Some may say that the dollar value was minimal back then and that even the amount of converted Rupees was inadequate, but these arguments are very simplistic and do not take in account the socio-economic circumstances of urban Calcutta life from 1971 to 1984. Back in 1977 about 63% of people living in the Calcutta metropolitan district earned less than Rs300 per month and more than 40% earned less than Rs200 per month (Urban Problems and Urban Perspectives, by Gopal Bhargava, 1981). It wasn’t much better in the decade before and after 1977.
The point here is not the fact that Bhaktivedanta Swami sent some money to his former family in itself, but that he went out of his way to use the modern day equivalent of $350,000 (Rs1,620,000) to do so, with provisions for future investments or acquisition of real estate, and monthly payments that were considerably above (in his wife’s case more than double) the average Calcutta income. If any current ISKCON sannyasi would make similar provisions for his former family with funds provided by unremunerated book distributors, disciples, and donors, it would be considered unconscionable.
SB 7.12.1, Vrindavana, April 12, 1976: “Just like in our society, even grhastha, he is also under restriction, and what to speak of brahmacari.”