Question: We have heard it said that Srila Prabhupada (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja) received the name "Bhaktivedanta" from his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Others have said that he received the name "Bhaktivedanta" from Srila Sridhara Maharaja and yet others are saying that he received the name "Bhaktivedanta" from Srila Kesava Maharaja. Can you please say something to clarify this issue?
Answer: When our Guru Maharaja (Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada) was initiated in 1933 he received both hari-nama and mantra-diksa at the same time. At his initiation Srila Bhaktisiddhanta named our Guru Maharaja, Abhaya Caranaravinda dasa, meaning one who is fearless, having taken shelter at the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta did not confer any other names or titles upon our Guru Maharaja during his lifetime.
In later years, after the disappearance of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, our Guru Maharaja was engaged in writing articles for a Bengali journal published by his Godbrother, Srila Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaja -- Goswami Maharaja and other leading Vaisnavas of the time were so impressed with the writing and preaching capabilities of our Guru Maharaja that Goswami Maharaja conferred upon our Guru Maharaja the name/title "Bhaktisiddhanta."* This was indeed the most honorific title a disciple could ever expect to receive -- the very title of his guru.
*Note: When registering the "League of Devotees" in Lucknow during the early 1950's our Guru Maharaja referred to himself in that document as "alias Abhaya Caranaravinda Bhaktisiddhanta Das Adhikary" and his signature can be seen on the original document [BBT Archives]. (reproduced here in part)
According to the practice of name giving and awarding titles to deserving disciples, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had never given the name of his gurus, Srila Gaur Kisora Dasa Babaji Maharaja or Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura to anyone. Accordingly, some of the senior disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta thought that the name/title "Bhaktisiddhanta" should not be given to any disciple, however deserving. This matter was discussed among the senior Vaisnavas with whom our Guru Maharaja was regularly associating and in a mood of deep respect and harmony it was decided that our Guru Maharaja would be given the name/title "Bhaktivedanta."
During those discussions it was recognized by all present that our Guru Maharaja was a fixed up preacher in the line of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and that the inspiration of Srila Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaja to bestow an honorific name/title upon our Guru Maharaja was directly inspired by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta.
In the days of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, certain senior disciples were often called upon when some particular point or issue was in need of clarification -- Srila Sridhara Maharaja was among those select few disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta who were able to clarify even the most difficult points of spiritual understanding.
Accordingly, in the discussion where the honorific name/title for our Guru Maharaja was being discussed, Srila Sridhara Maharaja suggested that our Guru Maharaja be given the name/title "Bhaktivedanta." The name "Bhakti-siddhanta" and Bhakti-vedanta" are synonymous in meaning. Thus the adjustment was made in keeping with the original inspiration felt by Srila Bhakti Saranga Goswami.
And thus it was and from that time on our Guru Maharaja became known amongst his Godbrothers as "Bhaktivedanta." This occurred in Calcutta in 1939.
Some persons may look upon this event in our contemporary Vaisnava history as being of little significance -- the simple act of bestowing an honorific title upon a Vaisnava. But apparently not so for everyone -- the event was so moving spiritually that Srila Bhaktiprajnana Kesava Maharaja decided for the future to name all his sannyasi disciples "Bhaktivedanta" -- a title synonymous with "Bhaktisiddhanta." This standard is still carried out among the disciples of Srila Kesava Maharaja even to this day more than half a century later.
So, in contemporary times our Guru Maharaja was the first person in the line of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta to receive the name/title "Bhaktivedanta" (1939).
In 1959 when our Guru Maharaja accepted sannyasa, Srila Kesava Maharaja retained our Guru Maharaja's title "Bhaktivedanta" given by Srila Sridhara Maharaja and then gave our Guru Maharaja the sannyasa name "Swami," which was chosen from the list of 108 names of sannyasis authorized by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta in "Gaudiya Kanthahara." Thus, our Guru Maharaja then became know as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja or simply "Swami Maharaja" amongst his Godbrothers.
Our Guru Maharaja retained the initials "A.C." for "Abhaya Caranaravinda" from his first initiation, but officially his sannyasa title and name was "Bhaktivedanta Swami."
In the Gaudiya tradition a sannyasi is called "Swami" and this is added as a prefix to the sannyasa title like "Bhaktivedanta" and the name of the particular sannyasi follows such as "Swami" in the case of our Guru Maharaja. However, if our Guru Maharaja had strictly kept this tradition then his name would have been written thus: "Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami." In a letter to his disciple Rayarama Dasa, our Guru Maharaja explained something of the complexities of his name as follows:
"So far the title "Swami" is concerned, although this word is used generally for sannyasins, this "Swami" is my particular name as a sannyasi. Therefore, it must be suffixed at the end of my real name, A.C. Bhaktivedanta. So far the prefix "Swami" is concerned, every sannyasi has got to do that, but two ways "Swami" (Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami) is not good looking. The end "Swami" is necessary because it is my sannyasa name. The first "Swami" may be transformed into "Goswami", which is on the same order of "Swami." Therefore, I use the prefix "Tridandi Goswami" and suffix "Swami, as I have printed on my card enclosed herewith.* That will be nice. In small lettering, it can be written above my name "Tridandi Goswami." Vaisnava sannyasins are known as "Tridandi Goswamis," and Mayavadi sannyasins are know as only "Swami."
*Note: The ‘card' of our Guru Maharaja, 1969, and his letterhead, 1960, are presented here for the devotees to see.
After the establishment of our Guru Maharaja's mission, the International Society for Krsna Consciousness, in the western world, our Guru Maharaja stated in a letter to a senior disciple that he wanted all his qualified disciples to continue the title "Bhaktivedanta." However, this has only been done by one of our Guru Maharaja's senior disciples and that is Sripada Bhaktivedanta Tripurari Maharaja.
Due to the successful preaching campaign of our Guru Maharaja, the name/title "Bhaktivedanta" has now become famous all over the world with special reference to the "Bhaktivedanta Purports" of Srimad Bhagavatam.
There are now many "Bhaktivedantas" in different parts of our sampradaya, but as for fulfilling the purport of "Bhaktivedanta" our Guru Maharaja has set the standard in all respects and it behooves other Vaisnavas with this honorific title to strive to live up to the standards that our Guru Maharaja has set as a world-class preacher. Certainly one should beware of being a "Bhaktivedanta" in name only.