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14 : A Holy Place in New York

What is the most sacred place? Well, Vṛndāvana of course. Or Māyāpur? Kurukṣetra? Others will say Prayāga, Naimiṣāraṅya, Puṣkāra, or elsewhere. There are hundreds and thousands of holy places, some well known, others less so, in the sacred land of Bhārata-varṣa.

Yet for the followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda, there is one extra-special holy place not found in any ordinary list of sacred sites, situated down among the dirt, bums, and sleaze of New York’s Lower East Side, where Prabhupāda first did the impossible: 26 Second Avenue, a hallowed spot among the bustle and fumes. Those momentously historic events of 1966 did not then startle the world, although the East Village Other and the Village Voice ran articles. The hippies took those events to be just one more among many new and far-out happenings. Otherwise life in New York went on as usual. The world did not know about Bhaktivedanta Swami, nor was it much interested. Śrīla Prabhupāda was the only person on the planet who had any inkling of the tremendous import of his ching-ching-ching in the converted storefront. The greatest “David and Goliath” story ever was unfolding: how Prabhupāda took on the materialistic civilization and won.

Kṛṣṇa-Kṣetra Prabhu writes about 26 Second Avenue:

I think that for all of us who are now trying to follow in your footsteps—disciples, grand-disciples, and friends—your first “temple” in America at 26 Second Avenue in New York City holds special significance. At least for me, this modest storefront is a symbol of your personal victory, a symbol of your undaunted commitment to the order of your spiritual master. It is a symbol of the victory of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement over the unmatched odds of Kali-yuga materialism, which has been gnawing away at human culture for the last five thousand years.

I never saw you personally at 26 Second Avenue, but I like to think of it as your permanent place of residence, a place of pilgrimage from where your mercy expands into my heart. Indeed, over the years, trying to serve you and become Kṛṣṇa conscious, I have come to feel your presence in that particular scene: My heart—a New York City, a concrete and plastic jungle, a vast morass of doubts, delusions, and depressions, contains a relief agency, a “26 Second Avenue,” your “preaching center,” where you are seated, patiently offering me the matchless gift of mercy. You are always there, always available to accept my humble obeisances and service and to preach to me, freely giving your inexhaustible inspiration. (Heidelberg temple offering, Vyāsa-pūjā book, 1993)