in-snuff-lated….
14 September 2008

September 14 2008 – On Snuffing it

I just got this question from Yadunandan prabhu of the Bhaktivedanta College in Belgium:

“While visiting some devotees in the UK, one of them asked me a question about Srila Prabhupada’s snuff box. This devotee was somewhat puzzled thinking that Srila Prabhupada’s snuff was made of tobacco. I did a little research on the folio and looked into the dictionary to answer accurately.

 ”There are two options I see from my little research:

1. Srila Prabhupada was using some type of medicine as snuff.

2. Srila Prabhupada was using tobacco snuff as medicine for his blood pressure and to keep him able to perform his translation work at night.

As you were and are so close to Srila Prabhupada, can you please give some light on this matter so that my answer can be more accurate?”

Answer : Snuff is a tobacco derivative in fine powder form. This is the type that Srila Prabhupada was using.

snuff  Here’s a general definition and history that I got from the internet:

snuff, preparation of pulverized tobacco used by sniffing it into the nostrils, chewing it, or placing it between the gums and the cheek. The blended tobacco from which it is made is often aged for two or three years, fermented at least twice, ground, and usually flavored and scented.

In pre-Columbian times, snuff was used in the West Indies, in Mexico, and in parts of South America. Adoption of the practice in Europe was encouraged by belief in its medicinal virtue.

From Europe the custom was carried to the Middle East and Asia. The highest status of snuff taking was attained in the 18th cent., when it was practiced by both men and women.

 monk and gentleman exchange snuff

The Monk of Calais (1780) by Angelica Kauffman, depicting Pastor Yorick exchanging snuffboxes with Father Lorenzo “..having a horn snuff box in his hand, he presented it open to me.–You shall taste mine–said I, pulling out my box and putting it into his hand.” From Laurence Sterne‘s A Sentimental Journey. 

 The richly ornamented snuffboxes of the time are now esteemed by collectors. A ritual of taking snuff developed, with prescribed ways of tapping and opening the box and offering it to others. Later the practice of dipping snuff into the mouth with a stick or brush, or of inserting it between the cheek and gums, largely replaced sniffing it into the nostrils.”

[end quote]

I remember my paternal grandfather was a big fan of snuff. He was never without either a cigarette in his mouth or a pouch of snuff in his pocket and I would watch fascinated and slightly repulsed as he put a few pinches on the back of his had, stuck his nose over the top and insufflated. The brown powder would cling to his nostrils and top lip and sometimes he would absent-mindedly forget to wipe it off. My grandmother would have to give him nudge (he was stone deaf from the age of five) and wordlessly point at his nose. He would give a grunt and swab it off with his handkerchief. For him I guess it was a question of feeding his nicotine addiction. Nowadays its out of style. Too messy I guess.

I never personally asked Srila Prabhupada why he used snuff, although we carried a couple of small tins with us at all times:

[TD 2]  On June 16 1976 Srila Prabhupada arrived in Toronto:

We arrived in Toronto at 6:30 P.M. and had our most disagreeable encounter with customs officials yet. I accompanied Srila Prabhupada, who carried his soft, red vinyl hand bag, while Pusta Krsna Maharaja remained behind to bring the luggage through. On the other side of a glass wall next to the customs counter a large number of devotees, many from the Indian community,  expectantly gathered. As soon they saw Srila Prabhupada they cheered, “Jaya Prabhupada! Haribol!” There were two customs officers. One of them, tall, with an unpleasant demeanor and a slight sneer on his face, asked Prabhupada to open his bag. Then, slowly, with exaggerated attention, he searched every single item. Before leaving Bombay I had sealed several new tins of snuff with hot wax. Prabhupada uses it to gain relief from high blood pressure. The official insisted on breaking each seal to check inside.

At the end of his fruitless search he turned to his fellow officer, looked askance at Srila Prabhupada, and in a most demeaning way said, “So this is what all the noise is about.” I flushed with anger, but bit my lip.

Srila Prabhupada seemed utterly indifferent, appearing not to have noticed their obnoxious attitude at all. He quietly shut his bag and proceeded on with a bright smile and a wave to all the assembled devotees. They received him joyously and presented him with many garlands including ones from GBC representative Jagadisa dasa, the Toronto temple president Visvakarma dasa, the Montreal president Nandikesvara dasa, and leading members of the Indian community.

Although he had seemed indifferent, the next Srila Prabhupada mentioned the incident in a conversation in his room with Pusta Krsna Swami, Jagadisa and myself:

Everyone in government service, at least it is to be supposed they are all nasty men. Here also, why not? The other day the custom officer, unnecessary. Unnecessarily. He is opening the snuff box, this box, that box. Unnecessarily. Not a gentleman. It is stated there, “snuff,” and he is bringing knife to open.”

Srila Prabhupada did use it on occasion, usually in the night time, and I remember particularly coming into his room sometimes in the early morning when he was resident in Vrndavan from September–November 1976 and seeing snuff residue on his lungi or handkerchief where he had wiped the excess off his nose after sniffing it. At that time he was suffering very high blood pressure.

The only reference I can find in Folio is this postscript from a letter to Revatinandana Swami sent from Los Angeles 9 January, 1974:

“N.B. Regarding taking snuff, I myself take it sometimes at night because I am working at night on my books, and sometimes I become dizzy. But it is not for you to take. You should not imitate this, neither you work like me at night.”

So I assume from this that the dizziness he referred to was caused either by too much mucus in his sinus, or by very high blood pressure, and the snuff relieved this.

Sruta Kirti prabhu or another servant or secretary may be able to add more.



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