by Jayadvaita Swami

A friend of ours who’s a wiz in marketing advised us we should ditch our logo. Too naive! Too fervent! Too evangelical!

But somehow we didn’t listen. The same logo is still around. Here’s the story.

When Srila Prabhupada started Back to Godhead, in 1944, as a one-man effort on newsprint, it was he who conceived and designed the logo—black and white, and crudely drawn, but giving the idea that he wanted.

He populated the lower right of his logo with a sample of the people of this world, people in darkness, lost in forgetfulness. (If the Christian missionaries who had descended on India during British rule came with a similar idea—that man was in darkness, lost without God—Srila Prabhupada didn’t seem to mind. For him truth was not a sectarian affair.)

In the upper left of the logo, Srila Prabhupada placed Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, effulgent, shining light upon the souls of this world. It was Lord Chaitanya who five hundred years before had taught that one can be freed of all illusions, all the dust on the mind, freed of the endless cycle of birth and death, simply by chanting of the holy names of God. And along with this simple method, Lord Chaitanya had given deep philosophical teachings, and shown the way toward joyful personal intimacy with God Himself. These teachings, and this method, were what Srila Prabhupada wanted to present. No matter that the figure was crudely drawn, no matter that Lord Chaitanya might be taken for a Christian saint or angel. Lord Chaitanya was Krishna, Godhead Himself. And this was to be a magazine about Godhead.

Back to Godhead—the words appeared in chunky letters, arranged in the style of a banner. Back to what? Why such a strange and technical word? Why not just God? Why not just Krishna? Or why not a friendlier, more congenial title altogether?

Again it seems that Srila Prabhupada had something particular to say. This was to be not a magazine just about God, the Supreme Lord on high, but about Godhead: the Absolute Truth, the supreme reality, the ultimate source of everything. That ultimate truth was God, all right, but God understood both personally and philosophically. It was God as Krishna—but Krishna not as a hero, or a symbol, or a myth, but Krishna understood deeply, in truth.

Back to Godhead was to deal with what Srila Prabhupada called the science of Krishna, a science he had learned from his spiritual master. And so Srila Prabhupada placed a picture of his spiritual master in the logo too, at the lower right-hand corner.

And finally a slogan: “Godhead is light. Nescience is darkness. Where there is Godhead there is no nescience.” Nescience—not the commonest of words either. But that was it. Nescience—darkness, ignorance, not knowing—as to be dispelled by knowledge, by light, by Godhead.

After Back to Godhead came to the West and Srila Prabhupada put his disciples in charge of it, we made some changes: New artwork of Lord Chaitanya and the people facing him replaced the original crude silhouettes. A picture of Srila Prabhupada replaced that of his spiritual master. But we’ve always kept the original idea.

It’s not what anyone would come up with at a New York graphic design shop. It doesn’t get the nod from our friend the marketing wiz. It may look too naive, too fervent, too evangelical. But it’s the logo Srila Prabhupada gave us, a logo with a lot to say.

And you’ll never mistake us for Time or Reader’s Digest.