About ISKCON Boston
In 1967 there were only a few U.S. ISKCON centers, but ISKCON was soon to explode into dozens. Scores were later opened and maintained by Prabhupāda and his followers all over the world. Yet even by 1967, his work was outstanding. Gathering a core group of new devotees in New York, Srila Prabhupada sent devotees to new cities to replicate the success of Krsna Consciousness at New York's 26 Second Avenue, and in San Francisco. Srila Prabhupada sent Satsvarupa das to start a center in Boston. He found a job in there and stayed at an apartment for a short time at 103 East Brookline St, Boston, eventually followed by a few more devotees.
SDG: "I used to take the elevated train a good distance - a half hour or so - to the welfare office, and I would chant on my beads while commuting. I was still a stranger to the city. I didn’t know anybody, and people in the office didn’t know much of my activities. Each day I would give the Bhāgavatam class in my apartment before I left for work. When I came back at night, I'd give another class or read again from the Bhāgavatam. During the day, while at work, I would prepare for the morning class whenever I had spare time...I used to get many calls from the temple. I would try to conduct temple affairs from my office. Once the supervisors rebuked me. The workers around me would wonder what work I was doing when I would speak on the phone, preaching to the devotees with problems and giving directions for management and sankirtan."
ISKCON was incorportated on September 10, 1968, established as the "Radha Krishna Temple", located at the new storefront at 95 Glenville Ave in Allston Ma., aquired by 1968. The devotees kept in regular contact t with their guru in New York through letters back and forth with Prabhupada, in New York, who encouraged them devotionally and gave practical advice about setting up a Krishna temple from scratch. Prabhupāda visited the tiny 95 Glenville Avenue storefront, the first Boston Temple, on two occasions. The first time Prabhupada visited Boston was in 1968, when he stayed for a full month in a house on Chester Street. He visited the temple three times a week for lectures, walking 9 blocks to get there. Because the neighborhood children chanted "Hare Krishna!" at them, he recommended changing the street name to "Chant Hare Krishna St". It was at this location that Srila Prabhupada, known then affectionately only as "Swamiji", accepted the title of "Prabhupada" from his young students. It was here that Prabhupāda also gave the first Brahmin initiations in ISKCON in May, 1968, followed by early Krishna kirtan recordings, an initiation, the first Vedic wedding ceremony in ISKCON, and an address for Nrsimha Chaturdasi in 1969.
When Prabhupada visited in 1969, he stayed for about a week and a half in a room in the student apartment buildings across the street from the storefront. During that second visit, he married three couples in one ceremony. This is another indication of how the place was full of life. Devotees were so happy to be with Prabhupāda that they hardly noticed the run down neighborhood all around them. They were effusive young devotees who told anyone they met, “Chant Hare Krishna, come see our spiritual master. They were becoming bright-faced and beautiful. They distributed lots of prasādam.
If Glenville Avenue could speak, it would tell us how Prabhupāda walked from Chester Street. It would tell how a dumpy garage-sized storefront was transformed into a Krsna temple. It would tell how the walls became decorated with homemade paintings of Krsna's pastimes and depicting scriptural lessons, done by inspired students under the careful direction of Srila Prabhupada. He certainly liked that the storefront was chock full of paintings of Krsna-lilā. Glenville Avenue would say that those were extraordinary days, better than anything that has occurred before or after. It all started with Prabhupāda’s Aerogram coming from India, placed in the mail slot here: “I am glad that you have a storefront in Boston to preach to the students.”
If Glenville Avenue could speak, it would say that a few devotees of Prabhupāda moved here and painted the insides and tried to make it into a temple. By their chanting, it became the Spiritual World for a while. It was opened as a temple, but later closed. If the storefront could speak, it would remember SrilaPrabhupāda coming here for a month of evening lectures and chanting.
Winter was always cold in Boston, and we served Prabupada in separation. There was two feet of snow on the ground; more snow was coming down and long icicles were hanging from the eaves. On Sunday, the storefront filled with students, who chanted, danced, and feasted. At other times, hardly anyone came to our programs. Devotees wrote to Prabhupāda, and he wrote back. He said that we were “noble” and “prophets.” By the second time Prabhupāda visited, the neighborhood vandals had attacked. Prabhupāda told us that if it wasn’t a nice place, we ought to move. During that second visit, he married three couples in one ceremony. This is another indication of how the place was full of life.
We were on Glenville Avenue for two years and the landlord was increasing the rent and pressing us for a new two year lease...Just before the old lease ran out, we found it, a Victorian style ‘mansion’ of the day. It was located on 40 North Beacon Street. It cost $70,000 dollars and we took a mortgage by dedicating ourselves to increasing our sales of Back to Godhead magazines. Prabhupāda was proud of our daring and advised other temples to “do as they are doing in Boston.”
As one approaches the house, the first thing you see is the peak of the Victorian tower. The same Twin Doughnut shop is still on the corner, where a van full of devotees would pass every day, bringing a chanting party down to the Boston Common and Park Street Station for daily public kirtan (devotional singing). When we lived there, we were attacked one night by a gang who broke windows and entered the building.
ISKCON Press, the movement's first publishing group, was created during this period for the printing and distribution of transcendental literature. Inspired to support Srila Prabhupada's book distribution, this group of devotees, mostly all in their early twenties, purchased a printing press. They learned how to it properly to make books, and coordinated dictaphone transcriptions of Srila Prabhupada's translations, purports, conversations and lectures from all around the United States, pre-internet. These books could then be distributed by the Boston devotees, and others around the world. This location also saw the development of an Art Department, where authorized descriptions of Krsna-lila and themes in the books were brought to life. These prolific devotional pieces filled the books being printed and decorated the temple. Srila Prabhupada referred to this book distribution mission as “the heart of the Krishna Consciousness Movement.” For a short time, it was the biggest temple in the world of ISKCON.
This is also where the installation of our very own Sri-Sri Radha-Gopivallabha were personally installed by Srila Prabhupada in 1971. This was done after devotees began begging Srila Prabhupada to install Deities there, because they felt they were ready to receive Them.
The North Beacon Street temple was populated with sixty rambunctious devotees from the basement up to the third floor. Many devotees were recruited here, including Mathuresha, Sureshvara, Suhotra, ādi-keshava, Ananga-manjari, just to mention a few. Prabhupāda visited here on his triumphant return from London in 1969, just after opening the Rādhā-Krsna temple with the assistance of George Harrison and the Beatles. The Boston temple received Prabhupāda with a house full of devotees and ISKCON Press machines. Prabhupāda saw his books being put together here by his own spiritual children and he was surely pleased. Only a few years before, he arrived in Boston with nothing but the first of his English-to-Sanskrit translations and a desire to share that knowledge, kirtan and prasadam with others. Now Srila Prabhupada was seeing the fruition of this seemingly impossible vision, having written in Boston Harbor in 1965, "I am sure that when this transcendental message penetrates their hearts they will certainly feel engladdened and thus become liberated from all unhappy conditions of life."
Now this place has merged back into the material world with no sign of what once went on at 40 North Beacon Street. There are new businesses next to the old temple, yet the impact of that yajna (sacrifice) is still felt today, as the area has grown to be known as Boston's "Vegetarian Corner", after its concentration of vegetarian fare.
In 1974, the community moved to its present location at 72 Commonwealth Avenue. Disciples of Srila Prabhupada renovated the existing brownstone building to create a Temple and monastic community. Additionally, the neighboring 70 Commonwealth Avenue was being used for a short time for the new ISKCON Press, and was also home to the first Bhaktivedanta Institute, the scientific branch of ISKCON. Although #70 and neither branch are based in Boston today, 72 Commonwealth Ave. has been the hub of Krsna activities in New England for almost forty-two years. The Temple community has continued to grow, putting a focus on encouraging the spiritual growth within the community at large, on training students and priests in traditional methods, and on providing a space for peacefulness, families and worship. It maintains a tradition of being able to offer fresh sanctified vegetarian food to all those who come through its doors, daily.
The "Comm Ave" Temple building is located amongst residential brownstone buildings in Boston. The first floor of the Temple consists of a large central space where devotees meet for services. This room also contains the Temple’s main altar housing the Deities, art work, and a statue of Srila Prabhupada. There is also a smaller room on the first floor which serves as the Sacristy, or Pujari Room, where clothing and other devotional items used in the Temple throughout the year are stored. The second floor of the Temple includes a lounge, a bathroom, a conference room, office spaces, and a devotional supply boutique. The third and fourth floors are residential quarters for the Temple’s monastics. Throughout the entire Temple, original ISKCON Press artwork is features prominently. The basement holds a licensed kitchen, which is used to prepare food for Deity offerings and for the Temple community. A second, smaller room in the basement stores the books that the Temple distributes throughout New England.
Currently the Boston Temple continues with its tradition of over forty years of free Sunday Vegetarian Feasts, and has had a weekly Wednesday dinner for 20 years. There are regular Friday night Kirtans in neighboring parks. It currently functions as a full-service temple, with a schedule of seven aratis (traditional worship ceremonies), darshans (viewing of deities) and three full food services, all beginning at 4:15 a.m., and closing at 9:00 p.m. every day. Its central Back Bay location allows us to offer regular mantra meditations and scriptural study programs with the residing monastics, who observe a daily morning service, attend regular lessons and share their meals with guests.
Additionally, the Temple encourages its members with regular in-home satsangs (religious get-togethers) throughout the New England region. During the year, we are fortunately able to host a full range of celebrations and major Vaishnava festivals for all, like the advent days of Radha and Krishna, Diwali, and a Jagannatha Ratha Yatra street procession. By hosting indoor and outdoor festivals throughout the year, the Temple community is able to spread singing and dancing, and to produce and serve thousands of plates of free, sanctified vegetarian food!
Srila Prabhupāda’s movement in Boston has flourished. We now have a much better location, one which we could have never dreamed of attaining in the "Old Days" - at 72 Commonwealth Avenue! Srila Prabhupāda didn’t get a chance to visit the present building but today it is his success story. He is pleased to know that the devotees have continued to expand the program and have gone on to far better facilities for serving Krsna!