In February of 1944, on the occasion of the appearance day of his spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada launched the first issue of Back to Godhead magazine. The title ran: “Back-to-Godhead, An instrument for training the mind and educating human nature to rise up to the plane of the soul spirit, First appearance on the Vyas Puja Day 1944—edited and founded under direct order of His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupada, by Abhay Charan De.” That was 60 years ago. This information is available from the book Back to Godhead: 1944 — 1960, The Pioneer Years.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta encouraged Srila Prabhupada to write a magazine in English. One year on Janmastami, in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s room, Srila Prabhupada, then known as Abhay, was sitting near his guru maharaja, who told him to start a magazine, giving him the idea ‘Back To Godhead’ as a title. He also quoted a verse from the Bhagavad-gita: na tad bhasayate suryo, na sasanko na pavakah, yad gatva nanuvartante, tad dhama paramam mama: That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world. (Gita 15.6)
Srila Prabhupada remembers fondly: “At our first meeting, he ordered me to preach Krishna consciousness in the West. I was then twenty-five years old, a married man with two children. I tried my best to carry out his orders and started Back to Godhead magazine in 1944, when I was still in household life.”
Working at home in Calcutta on his first issue, Srila Prabhupada wrote, edited, and typed the manuscript for a magazine. The first issues of the magazine offered translations and explanations of ancient Vedic texts, alongside political and sociological commentaries and spiritual views on current events. Srila Prabhupada wrote about subjects ranging from the war to theosophy to life on other planets.
Between 1944 and 1960 Srila Prabhupada struggled to publish most of the issues almost single-handedly. The magazine then was a tabloid—one sheet folded in half, making four pages of type. Srila Prabhupada wrote nearly all the articles, oversaw the printing, and sold or gave out every copy (one thousand per issue), mostly by approaching people on the street.
Prabhakar Misra, one of the first to help Srila Prabhupada publish Back to Godhead, became his first disciple, receiving the name Hari Dasa.
In 1965, Srila Prabhupada traveled to the United States to fully realize the mission of his spiritual master. In October of 1966, soon after opening his first center in New York City, Prabhupada re-launched Back to Godhead. He gave the job of writing and publishing BTG to his first American disciples. The early issues were printed on a mimeograph machine Prabhupada bought secondhand from a country club in Queens.
Today, the magazine is a beautiful 68-page color publication, appearing six times a year out of BTG’s Alachua, Florida office. Each issue includes a Srila Prabhupada lecture and conversation, as well as several pages of Bhagavatam verses and purports—a feature Prabhupada himself requested. Every year, articles by at least twenty authors appear in the magazine, with titles like “A Personal Look at the Nature of God” and “Early Miracles of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.”
The first tool Srila Prabhupada used to spread Krishna consciousness to the English-speaking world is still going strong 60 years later. This marks a tremendous milestone for ISKCON?certainly one of the society’s oldest achievements. Many members of the Krishna consciousness movement point to Back to Godhead as the initial inspiration for their spiritual life. This trend will continue?last year, over 93,000 BTGs were distributed all over the world.
We ask for your blessings on BTG’s 60th birthday. Please give your prayers that BTG will continue to grow for another 60 years and more. With your help, we can reach the goal Srila Prabhupada gave his disciples – to make BTG as popular as Time, Life, or Reader’s Digest.
Join BTG’s growing family. Subscribe yourself or a loved one to Back to Godhead.