Coined “America’s Taj Mahal,” this sight to behold has kept its majestic post amid the Appalachian Mountains since devotees of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (pronounced prab-boo-pah-duh), founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), began building the palace for their teacher in 1968. Prabhupada, who was born in 1896 in Calcutta, India, came to America in 1965 at nearly 70 years old and began his missionary work in New York City. When one of his disciples acquired a piece of land near Moundsville, Prabhupada began traveling to West Virginia, but all that sat on the 133 acres of land was an old, run-down farmhouse. So his followers decided to build him a home in the Appalachian countryside, and Prabhupada established New Vrindaban, the first ISKCON community. The original plan was simple, consisting of a cinder block foundation. But as members built, they kept coming up with ideas to expand and make the building more elaborate. When Prabhupada died in 1977, the palace still had not been completed, and he never had the fortune of living in the extravagant home. In honor of their teacher, the members decided to make the Palace of Gold a monument to him.
Today, tours of Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold are given to tens of thousands of visitors each year, from curious tourists to those who make pilgrimages from all around the world to honor the author, teacher, and saint who spread Krishna consciousness across the globe. The grounds consist of the palace, a pond featuring a magnificent fountain and lotus flowers that are at peak bloom in early July, a lake with an ornate boathouse housing a large swan boat and 30-foot-tall statues of deities, and a temple with intricately carved teakwood throughout, where New Vrindaban community members can worship. In the summer, usually around the second week of June, the award-winning rose gardens burst with nature’s glory as more than 1,000 bushes featuring nearly 100 varieties of roses flourish and bloom.
Despite a history clouded with controversy after a federal investigation in the 1980s put investigators on the trail of the then-leader of the New Vrindaban community, the Palace of Gold remains a majestic monument to Prabhupada and his community of followers, leading quiet lives of devotion in West Virginia’s hill country.
photographs by Rebecca Kiger