On May 1, 1977, the day before the festival honoring the appearance of Lord Nrisimha, Srila Prabhupada’s dear disciple Jayananda Dasa passed from this world. Shortly thereafter, Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter, “Jayananda’s death is glorious. . . . He has left his body very wonderfully, and he has been transferred to Vaikuntha. . . . Everyone should follow the example of Jayananda. I am very proud that I had such a nice disciple. If possible Jayananda’s picture should be hung in the ratha [festival chariot] of Lord Jagannatha, and in all of our temples a day may be set aside for holding a festival in his honor, just as we do on the disappearance day of the other great Vaisnavas.”

Jayananda Prabhu was one of Prabhupada’s first disciples in San Francisco, the site of ISKCON’s second temple. During his years of dedicated service to Srila Prabhupada, he inspired many, many people, devotees and nondevotees alike. I am one of the souls blessed to have had his guidance early in my spiritual life. I took up Krishna consciousness after visiting the San Francisco temple in June 1974, just a few weeks before its annual Rathayatra festival, and my first service was to help prepare for the festival. That meant spending a lot of time with Jayananda Prabhu. Besides being part of his crew building the chariots, I also accompanied him as we drove around San Francisco procuring materials and supplies for the chariots and the festival.

My recollection of those early times with him, as well as the next few years before his passing, is that he loved to praise Srila Prabhupada, who had asked his early disciples to put on the first Jagannatha Rathayatra in the West. That was in San Francisco, 1967, and Jayananda Prabhu was a vital member of the festival crew. From then until his passing ten years later, he spent several months every year doing whatever was needed to make the festival a success, first in San Francisco, and later in New York and Los Angeles.

Jayananda exemplified the devotional qualities we read about in Vaishnava literature. During my early years in Krishna consciousness, I would hear how this or that senior devotee had called Jayananda “the most advanced devotee in the movement.” Though respected by all, he was always humble and unassuming. One characteristic of his that has always stuck in my mind was his obvious discomfort at hearing criticism of other devotees. If someone started speaking unfavorably about a devotee, Jayananda Prabhu would quickly change the subject, or politely leave to do some service.

It’s nearly impossible to list all the types of devotional service Jayananda performed to help Srila Prabhupada spread Krishna consciousness. Jayananda was the emblem of Prabhupada’s dictum that his disciples should be ready to “do the needful” in that regard. He was a cook, janitor, fundraiser, taxi driver, temple president, chariot builder, book distributor, incense salesman, street-kirtana┬áleader, and more.

And he was a natural preacher. His friendly, down-home manner endeared him to many, and he used every opportunity to engage people in Krishna consciousness.

As Srila Prabhupada often noted, to actually be a Vaishnava, a devotee, is not an easy thing. I hope to be one someday. In Jayananda Prabhu I saw the qualities of someone who is already “there.” Quite simply, he was a true Vaishnava, and to have been in his company was a blessing and a great honor.

You can learn more about him by visiting jayanandathakur.com.

– Nagaraja Dasa