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A Life Sketch of His Divine Grace Jayapatākā Swami Ācāryapāda

Jayapatākā Swami was born John Gordon Erdman on April 9, 1949 (the Ekādaśī after Rāma navamī) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States of America, son of John Hubert and Lorraine Erdman. He was born into opulent surroundings, his father’s father being the founder of a large paint factory which was a multi-million dollar concern at the time of His Divine Grace’s birth. When he was eleven at the suggestion of his grandfather he cured himself of a skin disease by calling on the name of God.

At 14 he entered St. John’s academy, a college preparatory school from where he graduated almost effortlessly in the very top of his class and was offered full scholarships including tuition, books, fooding, lodging plus incidental expenses by several major universities around America. He accepted admission into Brown University. There, as a fresh enrolee, he was so much moved by a guest lecture on the life of Buddha, he lost all interest in his studies and began searching for a spiritual teacher. After some time of searching and austerity he concluded he would have to go to India to find his teacher, not finding any bonafide teacher in America.

As he was preparing to leave for India he met the disciples of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda and joined their association on Ratha-yātrā Day in San Francisco. Immediately thereafter he shifted to Montreal Temple to meet Śrīla Prabhupāda. He worked for the Temple there doing ordinary jobs including welding, offset print machine operator and stock boy to carry it.

Through a financial crisis. During this time he received Harināma and dīkṣā initiations. He served as pūjārī and temple president in Montreal and later opened temples in Toronto, Canada and Chicago, Illinois. In 1970 he came to India to join Acyutānanda Dāsa (now Acyutānanda Swami) and together they would do kīrtana, enroll Life Patron Members, lecture and have public and private programs in Calcutta. On Rādhāṣṭamī Day of that same year he took sannyāsa initiation from Śrīla Prabhupāda being one of the first eleven disciples of His Divine Grace to take sannyāsa. He became president of Calcutta Temple and it was during that time that two large pandal programs were held which were heavily attended and at which Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke nightly. Soon thereafter Śrīla Prabhupāda ordered Bhavānanda Goswami to come from Madras and take charge of Calcutta Yatra thus freeing Jayapatākā Swami to begin the development work at Śrī Māyāpur. Śrīla Prabhupāda gave Jayapatākā Mahārāja the life work of developing Śrī Māyāpur, “Jayapatākā Swami, I have given you the Kingdom of God, now you develop it”. During the period of initial development of Śrī Māyāpur Candrodaya Mandir the presiding deities of the Mandir, Śrī Śrī Rādhā-mādhava were brought to Māyāpur and Jayapatākā Mahārāja recognized them from a dream that he once had several years before.

On one occasion Śrīla Prabhupāda told Jayapatākā Mahārāja that he and two other devotees were formerly associates of Lord Caitanya and that they had taken their births in the West to assist in spreading the Kṛṣṇa Consciousness Movement there. Later the same day a visitor confirmed what Śrīla Prabhupāda had said calling Śrīla Prabhupāda's American disciples followers of Lord Caitanya, having taken their births in the West to facilitate spreading Kṛṣṇa Consciousness around the world.

Since then Jayapatākā Swami’s accomplishments have been numerous and manifold. He was appointed Governing Body Commissioner for Eastern India, Nepal and Bangladesh; he was appointed BBT Trustee for Eastern India and Vice-Chairman of All-India Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. He began book publication of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books in the languages of Eastern India and started the first Indian travelling book distribution programs. He is the all-India Co-ordinator for ISKCON Food Relief, a member of the Māyāpur/Vṛndāvana Trust, member on behalf of ISKCON on the West Bengal Council for Child Welfare and member of ISKCON’s Veṅkateśvara Kṛṣi Gorakṣa Trust in Hyderabad. In 1977 he was named by Śrīla Prabhupāda, to be one of eleven ṛtvik ācāryas to accept disciples on behalf of His Divine Grace in his long illness and when Śrīla Prabhupāda ended his manifest presence, Jayapatākā Swami became guru in his own right and accepted disciples as current Ācārya (one amongst thirteen ISKCON Ācāryas) in the Brahma-Gauḍīya-Vaiṣṇava Sampradāya.

In 1977 he single-handedly mobilized public opinion for a massive Jhūlan-pūrṇimā celebration and solidarity with ISKCON march in protest against the one-sided and distorted reporting of the violent attack on the Śrī Māyāpur Candradaya Mandir in July of that year.

In recent years Śrīla Ācāryapāda has extensively travelled around the world to initiate new disciples, enlivening the devotees and preaching Kṛṣṇa Consciousness, wherever he goes — in the temples, on programs and through the media. His main destinations are the major temples of Europe: the ISKCON centres in Bolivia, Columbia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru in South America and almost every temple in the U. S. A. and Canada. In Asia his major visits have been Tokyo and Hong Kong and of course the temples of his zone in Asia — Bangkok, Kathmandu, Dacca and the ISKCON temples in India.

Under his guidance ISKCON Thailand was established in December 1980 in Bangkok, since then 7 publications in Thai language have been printed. In Kathmandu/Nepal a new temple was secured in the best beighbourhood of town and Their Lordships Jagannātha, Subhadrā and Balarāma were installed by Śrīla Ācāryapāda. ISKCON in South India has made considerable progress under his directions. Under his inspiration the newcentre in Trivanandapuram has published 6 books in Malayalam and this is going on at the rate one new book every month. Due to his spiritual enthusiasm and force the Calcutta Ratha-yātrā has become one of the biggest festivals in the world. The BBT in Calcutta for East India has presented many new publications, including the “Prabhupāda Līlāmṛta” in Bengali in outstanding quality, especially considering the technical facilities of India.