In 1968, the New Vrindaban Community was founded in West Virginia to fulfill the dream of Srila Prabhupada (the founder of ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consiousness or commonly called the Hare Krishna movement), a dream of an ideal society based on Krishna Consciousness, or love of God. When Prabhupada set down the first guidelines for such a community, the idea seemed out of reach to the small band of devotees struggling through a hard winter on a small, rundown farm. There was no electricity and no running water in their only building, a battered pioneer shack. But when Srila Prabhupada expressed his vision of “seven temples on the seven hills,” suddenly all obstacles seemed insignificant to his followers.
A Labor of Love
After telling his followers in New Vrindaban his vision, Srila Prabhupada traveled extensively all over the world, and in 1972 returned to New Vrindaban. By then the community had expanded from the original 100 acres to 500 acres. In 1973, his disciples decided to build a home for Srila Prabhupada, where he could write all his books and enjoy the clean country air. The location was chosen for its potential beauty, hardly apparent at the time because the land was being used as a dump. The debris was removed, the land was cleared, and construction was started on a simple house. The plan was a rough sketch drawn on a scrap of paper.
For the next seven years, through cold, bitter winters, tedious months on scaffolds, and long grueling hours in the craft shops, his followers pitched in with whatever talents and energy they had. The unpaid workers were often untrained and learned on the job. Truly, the Palace was becoming a gift of love from his disciples to Srila Prabhupada.
But In November 1977, Srila Prabhupada left this mortal world. His disciples carried on building his simple home in West Virginia. Somehow or other, at each step, the trial-and-error construction produced something grander than what his disciples could have ever imagined. Bit by bit, cemented, forged, and chiseled with loving labor, Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold emerged. How it came about may seem hard to understand: after all, how could these inexperienced disciples build something that surpassed their own expectations? A spiritual force was certainly involved, and those who worked on it were but instruments in the Lord’s hands. That spiritual force is inexplicable, beyond words, but is evident in the love that is infused in the Palace.
The most sacred flowers that adorned Prabhupada when he left this mortal world were placed under the altar at the Palace before it opened in 1979, establishing the Palace as Srila Prabhupada’s divine samadhi or tomb. In India, Srila Prabhupada’s main tomb is in Vrindaban, and the second most spiritually-charged samadhi is in Mayapur. In the Western world, the Palace of Gold is his special samadhi tomb attracting millions of followers to receive his full blessings of love of Krishna. Thus, the devotees remembered Srila Prabhupada’s eternal words spoken in 1976, while he had been visiting the Palace, “I’m already living here and always will be.”
The Palace of Gold opened to the public in 1979 to positive reviews. CBS PM Magazine reported, “The magnificence of the Palace of Gold would be hard to exaggerate.” Life magazine called the Palace “a place where tourists can come and be amazed.” The New York Times proclaimed “Welcome to Heaven.” The Washington Post called the Palace “Almost Heaven.” The Courier-Journal of Louisville stated, “It’s hard to believe that Prabhupada’s Palace is in West Virginia. In fact, it’s hard to believe it’s on this planet.” Most noteworthy is that the Palace was also called “America’s Taj Mahal”. As one of the main architects of the Palace expressed: “The Palace is a monument to the Lord’s pure devotee,” “It is not a mere memorial to someone no longer present. It is a place of daily worship, and proof that Prabhupada’s mission is being fulfilled.