Gold, Guns and God: Vol. 3—Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold

A Biography of Swami Bhaktipada and a History of the West Virginia New Vrindaban Hare Krishna Community in Ten Volumes, by Henry Doktorski

Purchase Gold, Guns and God: Vol. 3

Henry Doktorski’s landmark 480-page non-fiction book about the building of the gold and marble palace—billed as “America’s Taj Mahal”—for the Founder/Acharya of the Hare Krishna movement, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, at the West Virginia Hare Krishna commune called New Vrindaban, can be purchased in several ways:

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October 7, 2020:

Henry, I’m enjoying reading this first volume (or rather Vol. 3) of Gold, Guns, and God on my Kindle reader. Your work is tremendously relevant and the historical value is immeasurable. I appreciate you so much and all the hard work that you are putting into this project. I’m looking forward to writing another stellar review for Amazon when finished.

In gratitude,

Pedro Ramos
Atlanta, Georgia

December 13, 2020:

I have just finished reading Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 3: Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold. You have presented so much valuable history about New Vrindaban! Others will also think it valuable too. More valuable as time goes on. The people immediately involved rarely see the value. It’s future generations, who have no direct connection with the history, that will value your books more than the current generations.

Chaitanya Mangala dasa
Former Kirtanananda disciple, resident and board member of New Vrindaban

January 10, 2021:

Hrish, I have just finished reading Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 3: Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold. This is a good service you are doing. Eventually many people will read these books. Except, of course, those who are desperate to forget the past. Enclosed is $40. Please send me volumes 1 and 5.

Former disciple of Kirtanananda Swami
New Vrindaban, West Virginia

SUMMARY: Volume 3—Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold

Volume 3 of Gold, Guns and God covers a ten-year span from 1973 until 1983. During this period, due to the construction and completion of Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, the New Vrindaban community was dramatically transformed from a primitive, often unsanitary, rural farm village of a few dozen people who used horses and oxen for plowing and hauling firewood, into a bustling, wealthy and popular center of Hindu pilgrimage inhabited by several hundred devotees who used automobiles, tractors, bulldozers, dump trucks and computers. Hundreds of thousands of tourists reportedly visited the Palace each year, and this helped bring about an increase in revenue and renown.

Despite the inexorable progress of the community during this decade-long period, there were several unfortunate and serious setbacks. In June 1973, the temple was attacked by a small posse of men armed with a shotgun (some claimed the men also carried pistols and automatic weapons) who stormed the temple, wounded four residents with buckshot, and desecrated the deities in an effort to frighten the devotees into revealing the whereabouts of their leader’s underage runaway daughter who, they believed, had been hidden on the property. Two men were soon apprehended by law enforcement agents, but they never went to trial. The reason why justice was never served may be a surprise to many. After this incident, New Vrindaban management established a Ksatriya-training program to teach able-bodied residents the arts of fighting and shooting guns.

Another complication occurred when fifteen Marshall County residents sued New Vrindaban for $500,000 on charges ranging from trespassing on private property, to other “unlawful and despicable acts, including cutting trees, destroying fences, making threats of bodily harm, littering, urinating and defecating in full view of the plaintiffs.” The community was found guilty on one charge.

The community was inconvenienced also in 1976, when a West Virginia college professor died from a virolent strain of hepatitis contracted at the community, and the state governor ordered the community quarantined to contain the spread of the infection. State police set up roadblocks which prevented travel to and from the community. In addition, when a dozen cows died after a severe winter snowstorm in February 1977, Kirtanananda Swami was arrested by Marshall County sheriff’s deputies on a charge of cruelty to animals and he spent some time in jail.

High points, on the other hand, during this period include the third and fourth visits of the ISKCON Founder/Acharya His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to the community, in 1974 and 1976 respectively. These visits were a source of great inspiration and pleasure for the Brijabasis (residents, or inmates) of New Vrindaban. During these visits Prabhupada encouraged the New Vrindaban inmates and expressed his approval regarding the progress of the construction of his Palace. He also bestowed liberal praise on his first sannyasi disciple, Kirtanananda Swami, saying “Just follow Kirtanananda Swami. He will take you back to Godhead.” Especially surprising during Prabhupada’s fourth visit were his instructions regarding eating meat and making wine from grapes. In addition, he claimed that a potent Ayurvedic medicine to cure tuberculosis could be made by putting a live goat into a vat of boiling ghee with other ingredients. The goat is boiled alive, he explained, in order to cure hundreds of people.

A very sad and depressing time for all ISKCON devotees was the terminal illness during the summer of 1977 and the death in Vrindaban, India, on November 14th, of their beloved spiritual master, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Kirtanananda Swami played an especially important role in the final pastimes of the ISKCON Founder/Acharya, during which his affection and love for his spiritual mater was revealed to all. After Prabhupada’s passing, the pace of Palace construction increased. For eight consecutive months, beginning in January 1979, the Brijabasis performed great austerities and sacrifices in order to more quickly complete Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold in time for the opening festival in September. Some residents willingly suffered the austerities, while others, such as the children and cows, suffered unwillingly.

The September 2nd dedication of Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, an incredibly joyous event for all the Brijabasis, is described in detail, and the remainder of this volume delineates the rapid growth of the community and the establishment of a veritable Hindu place of pilgrimage complete with a guest house, restaurant, gift store, rose garden, and parks. The community hosted cultural events for Hindu pilgrims, such as theater, Indian classical music and traditional bhajans, bharat-nayyam dance, and film.

The coronation of the statue of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada at his Palace of Gold as a king is discussed in Vol. 3, as well as the pressure from Bhaktipada’s ISKCON godbrothers who criticized the crown and successfully lobbied to have the crown removed three years later. The preaching activities of the “Glory Days” of New Vrindaban are described, including Bhaktipada’s weekly radio show, Vrindaban Village estates (the timeshare cabin rental program for pilgrims), the summer camp for Indian children, Palace Press and the various publications (New Vrindaban Newsletter, Cintamani, Brijabasi Spirit, etc.) which promoted the community, and the Palace Charities food distribution program which delivered vegetarian meals to Marshall and Ohio County senior citizens.

The hasty departure from the community in 1983 of New Vrindaban’s preeminent architect, designer and sculptor, Bhagavatananda (Joseph Cappelletti), because of Bhaktipada’s refusal to discipline a former school headmaster who had sexually molested Bhagavatananda’s young son is also noted, with great regret. Finally, the posthumous revision of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is by the editors of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) is discussed, Bhaktipada’s condemnation of same, and his thundering (yet in retrospect, ironic) admonition, “I want to become known as the acharya who didn’t change anything!”

On the surface, Swami Bhaktipada’s leadership at New Vrindaban seemed remarkably successful, but underneath something was eating at its roots, and this would be exposed in due course.


Chapter 25: The Shooting Affair

    Five fire sacrifices in one weekend
    Devotees meet a runaway Kentucky girl
    The girl asks to come to New Vrindaban
    The girl’s father comes to New Vrindaban in search of his daughter
    The girl’s father searches the community with State Police
    Did the girl come to New Vrindaban?
    The girl’s father comes to New Vrindaban a third time
    The attack
    A shotgun discharges
    Devotees terrorized
    Kirtanananda and Dharmatma ordered to climb the hill and dig their own graves
    Deities desecrated
    The gunmen depart
    Wounded devotees taken to hospital
    Police arrive
    Kirtanananda Swami television interview
    Devotees’ reports inconsistent

Chapter 26: Our Men Should Be Trained to Kill

    Arsenal, shooting range established
    Devotees depressed
    Deities repaired and returned to the altar
    Brijabasis rejoice
    Two men arrested, jailed for five months and released
    Demons vs. devotees
    Why the men were relased: Kirtanananda refused to cooperate
    The “Cult of Kirtanananda” deepens
    Who were the“demons” and who were the “devotees”
    Devotees: above the law
    Kirtanananda propagates “self-serving baloney”
    Kirtanananda accidentally reveals the truth?

Chapter 27: These Devotees Are My Jewels

    Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s house evolves into a palace
    Palace construction begins
    New Vrindaban residents celebrate Kirtanananda’s birthday
    New Vrindaban sued for 1/2 million dollars
    The case is closed
    Vrindaban farm property transferred to New Vrindaban, Inc.
    Make New Vrindaban like Tirupati, India
    Palace construction grinds on
    First Palace lotus arch cast
    Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s third visit: “These devotees are my jewels”
    Kirtanananda stuns devotees with electric cattle prod
    Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada displays confidence in Kirtanananda
    Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada becomes ill
    1974 Janmastami festival
    A turning point
    GBC members criticize “Kirtanananda’s Folly”

Chapter 28: A Labor of Love

    Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada inquires about his Palace-under-construction
    The first Christmas marathon
    Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada chastises Kirtanananda Swami
    Only a “great fool” would not like the Palace
    Pace of Palace construction quickens
    Maharaja orders Radhanath dasa Brahmachari to never leave the Vrindaban farm
    Marble cutting machine
    Prabhupada’s Palace: a labor of love
    Accidents happen
    The Vrindaban farm
    Kirtanananda visits Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in India

Chapter 29: New Vrindaban Under Lockdown

    College professor dies from hepatitis contracted at New Vrindaban
    Kirtanananda minimizes the seriousness of the situation
    State police enforce the quarantine
    Disobedient devotee severely beaten
    Kirtanananda protests “religious persecution”
    New Vrindaban daily life little changed by quarantine

Chapter 30: I Am Already Living Here

    Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s fourth visit to New Vrindaban
    Animal eating
    Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada visits the Vrindaban farm
    Palace construction continues
    Pace of construction increases
    The first community-wide Christmas marathon
    Kirtanananda arrested and jailed
    Shalagram-Shilas appear at New Vrindaban

Chapter 31: The Passing of Prabhupada

    Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada becomes seriously ill
    Kirtanananda offers his youth to his master
    Who will carry on when Prabhupada passes away?
    Disunity in ISKCON widespread
    United we stand; divided we fall
    Disciples discuss future initations with Prabhupada
    Prabhupada appoints eleven ritvik priests to initiate on his behalf
    Prabhupada enjoys reading the Brijabasi Spirit
    Prabhupada decides to depart; Kirtanananda begs his master to stay
    Prabhupada leaves the planet
    Prabhupada’s Palace becomes a memorial shrine

Chapter 32: The Palace Marathon

    Mexican laborers arrive
    Talented artists arrive
    Nectar from Maharaja
    The author arrives at New Vrindaban
    Gopashtami festival
    Kirtanananda Maharaja becomes “Bhaktipada”
    Unconventional sources of funding for Prabhupada’s Palace
    Passing counterfeit notes
    Burglary of “Moonie” van
    Recreational drug sales
    Quaalude manufacturing laboratory established
    Other smugglers for New Vrindaban
    “We may take money for Krishna using any method of beg, borrow and steal”
    Cheating on the concrete
    Devotees sacrificed to build the Palace
    Working conditions unsafe
    Children and cows also sacrificed to build the Palace

Chapter 33: We Had Been Waiting For Such a Long, Long Time

    Building Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s throne
    The Palace dedication
    Ten prominent people who built the Palace
    Palace publicity
    Funding for the Palace: the official explanation
    Legacy of Prabhupada’s Palace

Chapter 34: The “Spiritual Master”

    Representative of Vyasa
    Bhaktipada praised daily in song at temple services
    The Bhaktipadastakam Prayers

Chapter 35: A Tourist Magnet

    Palace rose garden
    Guest lodge, Palace restaurant, gift store open
    Palace marketing
    Palace book distribution
    Dignitaries visit Palace
    “They’re always talking about the Krishnas”
    Fine arts at New Vrindaban
    Classical Indian dance
    Bhagavatananda leaves New Vrindaban

Chapter 36: Prabhupada Rex

    “There is no restriction in worship”
    The Royal Prabhupada
    Bhaktipada visits Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja
    The crown is removed

Chapter 37: Spend Your Summer In Heaven

    Bhaktipada’s radio show
    New Vrindaban: Mecca for Indians
    Vrindaban Village Estates
    Camp Gopal
    The Brijabasi Spirit
    Palace Charities
    The BBT revises Bhagavad-gita


U. S. Geological Survey topographic map of McCreary Ridge showing location of principle sites of New Vrindaban.

Map of the Bahulaban farm, showing location of the temple, the old barn, the new barn, Kirtanananda Swami’s cabin, and the site of the proposed Govindaji temple.

The presiding deities of New Vrindaban: Radha-Vrindaban Chandra, on their altar at Bahulaban.

The presiding deities of the Madhuban farm: Radha-Madhava.

The presiding deities of the Vrindaban farm: Radha-Vrindaban Nath.

Weatherbeaten wooden sign outside the Bahulaban temple welcoming visitors: “New Vrindaban, Ashram of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Founder-Acharya: His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada” (June 1973).

Shoulder patch used by members of the Sons of Silence motorcycle club.

Marshall County Sheriff Department cruiser parked below Bahulaban temple on the day of the “Shooting Affair“ (June 5, 1973).

Sergeant Thomas Westfall at the Sheriff’s office conducting a briefing with officers prior to serving a search warrant at a farm in Marshall County a couple ridges over from McCreary Ridge (1973-1974). Photo courtesy Thomas Westfall.

Kirtanananda Swami speaking to a news reporter at New Vrindaban several hours after the “Shooting Affair.” At times during the interview he appeared on the verge of breaking into tears (June 5, 1973).

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, with his secretary Brahmananda Swami, Kirtanananda Swami, and other disciples outside the Bahulaban temple at New Vrindaban (July 1974). Bhakta Alfred Tarantino (later known as Ajeya dasa), at Prabhupada's right, carries a billy club and a revolver in a holster supported by a belt around his waist, to protect his spiritual master, if the need should arise.

Early drawing of the proposed palace for Prabhupada by Mahabuddhi dasa (Donald Ferry) (August 1974).

A more detailed drawing of the proposed Palace at a later date.

Karusha (Kerry Roth) in the marble shop.

Prabhupada’s Palace under construction.

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada—with his servant Hari-Sari and Kirtanananda Swami, and other disciples—visits his Palace-under-construction (June 1976).

Newspaper cartoon poking fun at the New Vrindaban Santas fundraising on the streets and in the subways of New York City (December 1976).

Hare Krishna Santas being booked at a police station (newspaper photo, December 1976).

Shalagram Shila, known as Hiranyagarbha, seated on his throne, wearing crown and flower garland (c. 1980s).

Kirtanananda Swami, Brihat-Shloka, Jalakolahali and Atmabhu at the Palace-under-construction (undated).

Bhagavatananda and Kirtanananda Swami (undated).

Prshadhra (Phil Gere) polishing marble at the Palace.

Kirtanananda Swami and New Vrindaban temple president Kuladri (Arthur Villa), at Bahulaban (c. 1977).

Kirtanananda Swami dressing as Krishna’s father, Nanda-Maharaja, at the New Vrindaban Gopashtami festival at the Bahulaban barn (undated).

Bhaktipada and Shyamakunda (Gregory Detamore), who figured prominently in raising funds for Palace construction by unconventional means (photo c. 1988).

Bhaktipada and Advaitacharya (Emil “Eddie” Sofsky), who figured prominently in raising funds for Palace construction by unconventional means.

Dharmatma (Dennis Gorrick) figured prominently in the “Shooting Affair,” as well as fundraising by unconventional means to help build Prabhupada’s Palace. Image from Brijabasi Spirit (January-February 1977).

The author working on the Palace domes (Spring 1979).

Kuladri applying gold leaf to the main dome (Spring 1979).

Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada (on crutches, flanked by ISKCON zonal acharya Jayatirtha dasa Tirthapada and GBC representative Brahmananda Maharaja) offering a yak-tail whisk to the murti of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada during the outdoor aroti after Prabhupada’s arrival in procession at the Palace (September 2, 1979).

ISKCON zonal acharya Jayatirtha dasa Tirthapada offers flowers to the murti of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada while Radhanath dasa Brahmachari and Kirtanananda Swami look on (September 2, 1979).

Four ISKCON zonal acharyas sit on vyasasanas, along with godbrothers and disciples, behind Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold during the Palace Dedication Festival (September 2, 1979).

Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada (on crutches) speaking to newspaper and television reporters at the dedication of Prabhupada’s Palace (September 2, 1979).

Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada (on crutches) speaking to newspaper and television reporters at the dedication of Prabhupada’s Palace (September 2, 1979).

The Palace main dome, framed by roses in the Garden of Time (undated).

Prabhupada’s Palace illuminated at night (undated).

Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, detail (undated).

The Palace dome, flag of Hanuman, and upper portion of gold-leaf tilak (undated).

Prabhupada’s Garden of Time (undated).

Palace hallway (undated).

Bedspread on Prabhupada’s bed.

One of four peacock stained-glass windows at Prabhupada’s Palace (undated).

Palace exterior, elephant-head waterspout (undated).

Ceiling of the kirtan hall (undated).

Kirtan hall, from the main entrance, looking towards the murti of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the altar room (undated).

Section of the ceiling which circles around the kirtan hall outside the interior columns. Creating this was the author’s service at Prabhupada’s Palace from October 1978 until March 1979

The murti of Prabhupada on his altar (c. 1980).

The murti of Prabhupada in his study. Many tourists, upon entering this room, stop talking because, upon first glance, they think the murti is a living Hindu monk, and they don’t want to disturb his writing.

Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada enjoying a palanquin ride on his 41st birthday (September 1978). Front row: The author (Bhakta Hank), Kasyapa dasa Adhikari (Jack Mowen), unidentified devotee, and Vrindapati (Walt Parry). In the background can be seen Advaitacharya, Gopinath and Taru.

Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada enjoying a palanquin ride on his 43rd appearance day (September 1980). Pictured: Lilamrita devi dasi (Louisa Kay Mathers), Kalpavriksha dasa (Keith Weber), Buddhi-Yoga dasa (Brook Brody), unidentified, Jaya-Rishi dasa (Jonathan Rhodes), Marudeva dasa (Jeffrey Forster), unidentified devotee, Rupa-Ramesvari dasi (Rebecca Strowger), Damayanti devi dasi (D. A. Cunningham, wife of Kanina from Canada)

Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, publicity photo, sitting on his backyard deck at his house across from the Palace (1982).

Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada and his buddy Hayagriva sit at Bhaktipada’s breakfast table while personal servant Jambu watches from the kitchen (c. 1982). At this time the two were neighbors; Bhaktipada lived in a house across the street from Prabhupada’s Palace, and Hayagriva lived in a tiny house on the same driveway.

Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, surrounded by disciples and followers chanting the Holy Names (c. Summer 1982).

The Palace from the ridge to the south.

The Palace became a success partly due to the marketing efforts of Palace Manager Mahabuddhi dasa (Randy Stein) (undated).

Tour buses at the Palace (undated).

Tourists visiting the Palace (undated).

Three members of the Brijabasi Players, Lokamangala (Leonard Jones), Sankirtan (Andy Frankel), Ganendra (Gerald Monge).

Bhajan quartet at the Palace: Ajamila (Ajit Kumar Dey), Sri-Bhajan (Shappean), Brihan-Naradiya-Purana (Bernice Nieto-Roberto), and Maheshvara (Manuel Roberto).

Visiting ISKCON kirtan singer Vaiyasaki dasa leads the gurukula boys—Garbhodaksayi, Bhakti, Kumar, Jayananda, Parthasarati and Svargaloka—in chanting the Hare Krishna mahamantra at Prabhupada’s Palace, along with teachers Manihar and Haridhama.

Crowned Prabhupada at his Palace (c. December 1980).

Crowned Prabhupada at his Palace (c. December 1981).

Crowned Prabhupada at his Palace (c. December 1981).

Crowned Prabhupada at his Palace (c. December 1981).

At Prabhupada’s Palace. From left to right: The author, Marudeva, Ambarish, Bhaktipada, Ramachandra, Tapahpunja, Rishi-Kumar, Jagannath-Mishra, Ajeya, Shikshastaka (undated).

Kumar (Scott Hebel) and Tapahpunja (Terry Sheldon) (c. February 1983).

Sundarakar (Stephen Fitzpatrick) at Palace Press (undated).

Devotees at Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold (c. summer 1982)

The author holds a copy of Gold, Guns and God, by his marble Radha-Krishna deities. (November 2020)

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