Gold, Guns and God: Vol. 8—The City of God

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

Rupa Vilasa dasa plays the role of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the musical by Hrishikesh dasa. In this picture: Herapanchami on doublebass, Hrishikesh on Kurzweil keyboard, Dhruva and Dutiful Rama on accordions, Gaura Shakti on Euphonium, Vishvatamukha on cornet, and Rupa Vilasa playing Prabhupada (November 14, 1990).

Prabhupada’s Journey to America, the Musical

Encouraged by the success of Journey to the City of God, I wrote a second musical, The Journey to America, which received only one performance at the New Vrindaban temple on the thirteenth anniversary of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s disappearance: November 14, 1990. The story was adapted from Satsvarupa dasa Goswami’s Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta and depicted Prabhupada’s crossing of the Atlantic ocean by steamer ship in 1965.

The song lyrics were written by True Peace, and the play was directed and narrated by Sankirtan. The cast consisted of Rupa Vilasa, who portrayed the only character in the play, Bhaktivedanta Swami. Rupa Vilasa sang three songs: (1) What a Saintly Person, a reminiscence about Prabhupada’s spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur Prabhupada, (2) My Only Solace, a song about Prabhupada’s appreciation of Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes, and (3) Make Me Dance, a setting of Prabhupada’s prayer to Lord Krishna which he wrote while en route to America on the S. S. Jaladuta.

The tune for My Only Solace Is Chaitanya’s Pastimes and Make Me Dance, Lord, Make Me Dance is based on the Roman Catholic chant, Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium, a Medieval Latin Eucharistic hymn attributed to Saint Thomas Aquinas, which I remember hearing as a boy on Holy Thursday at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Milltown, New Jersey. It is often sung during the procession from the church to the place where the Blessed Sacrament is kept until Good Friday.

Journey to America was orchestrated for piano (me), accordions (Dhruva and Dutiful Rama), a brass section consisting of cornet (Vishvatamukha), baritone horn (Gaura Shakti) and trombone (Kripamaya), and double bass (Herapanchami). The musicians could have had more rehearsal. As it was, they received their parts at nine o’clock on the morning of the premiere performance. As usual, the recording engineer made many mistakes, but I think the listener can get a good idea of the musical from this cassette tape. Special thanks to Adwaitacharya dasa, who can be heard at the end of the recording encouraging the audience to applaud the music director, “who wrote all the music. Haribol!”

In conclusion, this musical is about faith. Faith in the spiritual master and faith in God, and the demonstration of that unshakable faith by Bhaktivedanta Swami before, during and after his monumental journey to America.

To listen to Journey to America, go to YouTube.

Photo courtesy of the Keith Gordon Ham/Swami Bhaktipada Archive at the West Virginia Regional and History Center, University of West Virginia, Morgantown.

My godbrother Rupa Vilasa (Ronald Dewayne Hayes) left New Vrindaban around 1992 and I lost track of him. Recently, I discovered that after leaving West Virginia, he served as the director of the Sanctuary Choir for the Hill Street Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky. He also sang in the James McCray Chorale Ensemble of Cincinnati, Ohio. He passed away at the age of 49 on June 13, 2009. See: Louisville Courier-Journal

For more about music at New Vrindaban, see Henry Doktorski’s book, Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 8.


Narration by Sankirtan dasa. Song lyrics by True Peace. Music by Hrishikesh dasa.

Narrator: [Text missing] Prabhupada was first requested to preach this message . . . [text missing] many years, and he wrote three volumes of the Srimad-bhagavatam to prepare himself to come to the West. And finally, with great effort, he made the final preparations: getting his passport and visa and P-Form. He was given free passage on the Jaladuta, leaving from Calcutta.

A few days before the departure of the boat, Prabhupada came to Calcutta. He stayed with a man, Mr. Bhattacharya. He was only a brief acquaintance. And the very day before Prabhupada left [for America], he went to visit Sri Dhama Mayapur, to visit the samadhi, the tomb of his spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur.

Such a Saintly Person

    Bhaktivedanta Swami:
    (1) It must have been forty-three years ago
    I met a man who changed my life.
    You told me, “Preach Chaitanya’s word,” although
    I was only twenty-two with wife.

    I tested you; contested you,
    But no! You cut my Maya like a knife.
    What a saintly person! What a saintly person!
    What a saintly person: Your Grace Divine!

    (2) I listened to you speak about the Lord
    And my heart melted on the spot.
    You told me to go out as with a sword
    And give God’s message all I’ve got.

    But I could not devote myself fulltime
    [text unintelligible]
    What a saintly person! What a saintly person!
    What a saintly person: Your Grace Divine.

    (3) In 1936 I wrote to ask
    “How can I serve you?” You replied,
    “To preach God’s word in English is your task.”
    Then within one month’s time he died.

    Alas, I knew a Vaishnava does not die.
    Yet full of pain and grief was I.
    What a saintly person! What a saintly person!
    What a saintly person: Your Grace Divine!

    (4) Forty-three years have passed, they came and went.
    Closer to you I feel somehow.
    Now I have surrendered all cent-per-cent.
    We are one in the spirit now.

    There is no question of separation
    On the stage of liberation.
    What a saintly person! What a saintly person!
    What a saintly person: Your Grace Divine!

    Bhaktivedanta Swami (spoken): O Prabhupada. Everything is now arranged. It has been your desire that I would go to the West and spread this Krishna consciousness movement.

Narrator: The next day, back in Calcutta, he was ready to make the journey. The man he was staying with, Mr. Bhattacharya, accompanied him to the piers. Mr. Bhattacharya explained it in this way: “He was alone. A lone fighter. No one was there to bid him goodbye. No supporters, no followers, no friends. Nobody. And me? I was a disciple of, not him, but of someone else. But due to a shared love, I had great respect for him. So I was there to say goodbye. But still, I did not know the great meaning; how important this journey was. I could not understand how important this was.”

Prabhupada left with a suitcase, an umbrella. He had a volume of Caitanya-caritamrita, he had a bag, a lot of cereal, dried cereal that he prepared. He didn’t know what he would find to eat in the United States. He thought, “Maybe they only serve meat.” Then he was prepared to live on dried cereal and potatoes.

Prabhupada boarded the ship and the next day, in the Bay of Bengal, they encountered a storm, and Prabhupada became very sick. He felt dizzy. He started to vomit. He grew very ill. A couple of days later, even though he was still ill, he celebrated Janmastami. He called the captain and his wife and all the crew together, and he spoke to them about the importance of the appearance of Lord Krishna. The next day he celebrated his own 69th birthday at sea.

And a few days later, when they were crossing the Red Sea, there was another great storm. It was a very violent storm and Prabhupada became very sick. Sicker than he had ever been before. He became very nauseous, and vomiting, felt a great pain in his chest. This sickness turned into heart attack. He suffered two heart attacks in two days.

What a Saintly Person, Reprise

    Bhaktivedanta Swami (spoken): Lord Krishna, let me not forget the purpose of my mission, let me die to please my spiritual master. Let me die to please you, my Lord. If you want me to die, make me die. But please do not send me away. After two days of violent attacks, [text unintelligible]

    Sung: What a saintly person! What a saintly person! What a saintly person: His Grace Divine.

Narrator: That night, Prabhupada had a dream. Krishna appeared to him, and in his dream, Krishna and his many incarnations and forms, they were all rowing the boat and guiding the ship that he was on. And Krishna said to Prabhupada, “My dear Abhay, please don’t worry. I’m here to protect you. Don’t be afraid.” And from that moment on, all the pains and sufferings, they were alleviated, and he was on his way to recovery.

My Only Solace is Chaitanya’s Pastimes

    Bhaktivedanta Swami:
    (1) Today the ship is plying very smoothly.
    Today I feel much better than before.
    But I am feeling sad for Sri Vrindaban.
    Sri Govinda, Gopal and Damodar.

    (Refrain:) My only solace is Chaitanya’s pastimes.
    The life of the Lord brings me release.
    Just thinking of him makes my effort so sublime.
    All my fears I surrender to his peace.

    (2) I have left Bharata Bhumi on his order.
    I do not know what challenge lies ahead.
    In New York shall I find a friendly welcome?
    Or should I have remained at home instead?


    (3) I am not qualified for this great mission.
    O Lord, why choose an aged pharmacist?
    So far from Vrindaban, I feel so lonely.
    But for you, Lord, I will take any risk.


Narrator: The ship captain’s wife was clairvoyant, and she predicted that if Prabhupada survived the heart attacks, that meant that this was Krishna. Krishna wanted Prabhupada to succeed in his mission. And even the captain commented that, “This has been the most calmest voyage that I’ve ever had crossing the Atlantic Ocean.” And Prabhupada said that actually, if the Atlantic had shown its usual face, he surely would have died. So it was by the mercy of Lord Krishna, that Prabhupada made this passage to America and he arrived at Boston Harbor on his way to New York City on September 17th, 5:30 am in the morning. And there he composed this prayer:

Make Me Dance, Lord, Make Me Dance

    Bhaktivedanta Swami:
    (1) Krishna, you’re kind to me, but I am so useless.
    I do not know why you have brought me here.
    I guess that you Lord, you must have some business.
    But I am so inadequate I fear.

    Refrain: O Lord, I’m just a puppet in your hands.
    Just make me dance, Lord. Make me dance.
    Myself, nothing I am. I follow your commands.
    So come on, make me dance Lord, make me dance.

    (2) The population here is lost in Maya,
    With modes of passion and ignorance wrought.
    They do not want to hear of Vasudeva.
    Will they listen to me or just be distraught?


    (3) But I know that you, in your causeless mercy,
    Make all things possible to those who serve.
    How will they understand the path of bhakti?
    Lord, I don’t know if I can find the nerve.


    (4) Lord, by your will great illusion covers them,
    And by your will all people shall be free.
    I wish that you dear Lord may deliver them.
    Then only Lord, will these blind creatures see.


    (5) O spiritual master of the Universe!
    Your message is all that I have to give.
    So if you like, Lord, you can make me converse
    That these people may know you Lord and live.


Curtain Call Music

Back to: Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 8