On Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at approximately 8:10 PM, Srila Bhakti Vaibhav Puri Goswami Maharaj left this world at Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, to join the Lord’s eternal pastimes.
Two hours later, his “fully spiritualized body” was taken by road to Jagannath Puri in the Mission’s van, all the while kept in an ice pack.
HH Radhanath Swami, accompanied by his disciples Gauranga Das and Govinda Das; Sriman Jagjivan Das, President of ISKCON Mira Road, Bombay, accompanied by his wife, Radharani Devi Dasi, and his cook, who is a disciple of Puri Maharaj, two disciples of Puri Maharaj from Chennai (Madras); and I all took the flight to Bhubaneshwar from Bombay, to attend the “Samadhi Vidhi” (burial ceremony) that was to be held at Puri.
Our group was met at the airport by around twenty devotees from ISKCON Bhubaneshwar headed by Atmaram Das, and temple General Manager Gokulananda Das.
Sriman Vanamali Das (JPS), a successful businessman, took Jagjivan Prabhu, his wife, Gokulananda Das and me in his car directly to the Sri Chaitanya Chandra Ashram of the Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mission, located next to the Gundicha temple, at Puri. Atmaram Das and the Bhubaneshwar devotees arrived shortly thereafter.
When we arrived, we saw that Maharaj’s transcendental body had been placed on a palki [palanquin] and was decorated with flowers.
The pit for the Samadhi, located in front of the temple room, in what was a “tulasi garden”, was being dug out.
Shortly after our arrival, Maharaj’s transcendental body was taken in a procession around the Gundicha Mandir, and also the Chaitanya Chandra Ashram, entering the Puri Bus Stand, and returning to the ashram.
Almost immediately after being returned to the temple, Maharaj’s body was brought to the pit for placement in the samadhi. A seat was prepared by placing cloths on the ground. Maharaj’s body was seated on the cloths, and then slowly his body was surrounded by salt, as per ancient tradition.
All the while, continuous harinam sankirtan was performed by various devotees, in a crowd of almost one thousand disciples and devotees who gathered from mostly nearby towns and villages of Orissa. Several of Maharaj’s leading sannyasi disciples had arrived from Vrindavan, Mayapur, Rajahmundry, Kharagpur and other places.
When Maharaj’s body had been covered up to the neck, HH Radhanath Maharaj arrived at the ashram. He had been delayed en route . Puri Maharaj’s head, which had been wrapped in a red cloth, was uncovered so that Radhanath Maharaj could have his “antim darshan” (”last view”).
Thereafter the samadhi vidhi was concluded.
In the night, all the devotees were served with Jagannath Prasad - rice, dalma and two vegetable preparations (from the Jagannath temple). The next day, a very nice feast was cooked by H. H. Damodar Maharaj, the president of the SKCM’s Sambalpur (Orissa), ashram.
At Sri Chaitanya Chandra ashram, most of Maharaj’s sannyasis and leading disciples are camped and arranged various daily programs, including sankirtan, pravachans, Srimad Bhagavat Paath, Sri Chaitanya Charitamrta Paath, etc., are in progress on a daily basis.
From Monday March 14 until Wednesday March 16, 2009, a grand “smaraka” (remembrance/memorial) program is being arranged, as per tradition. There will be lectures on the life of Maharaj, remembrances of Maharaj by various devotees, nagar sankirtan, and massive prasad distribution as well.
Some remembrances of Puri Maharaj.
H. H. Bhakti Vaibhav Puri Maharaj established the Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mission at Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, in 1966. His institution grew with the establishment of many branches in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Mayapur, Vrindavan and abroad, most notably in Italy and Spain. Maharaj visited these European countries several times.
My association with Puri Maharaj spanned almost thirty-five years. It was at Rajahmundry, (in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh) during July of 1974 that I first met Maharaj. A few months later, a public lecture program, with lectures by Puri Maharaj, and Achyutananda (ex-) Swami were arranged by ISKCON Hyderabad devotees at Rajahmundry, during November 1974.
Later on, Maharaj visited us at ISKCON Hyderabad. Upon our request, Maharaj arranged prasad for one hundred fifty (150) ISKCON devotees traveling from Mayapur to Hyderabad for Srila Prabhupada’s “pandal” (public lecture) program, during March of 1975. This prasad was brought to the Rajahmundry train station, and back in those days, it was not a simple job to bring so much prasad to two train cars full of devotees, most of whom were probably very hungry youth!
During February/March of 1977, Puri Maharaj joined me and Kapilashva Prabhu (our “sarathi”/driver) in one of Hansadutta (ex-) Swami’s Mercedes vans, (which had been driven overland from Germany to India) from Rajahmundry to Mayapur.
We stopped along the way at Vishakhapatnam for darshan of Varaha Lakhsmi Nrsimha Swami at Simhachalam, and the late B. V. P. Tirtha Maharaj (Puri Maharaj’s right-hand man for years, before his passing at age 65 around 1993) joined us from the Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mission’s “Srikrishna Nagar” Math, located just walking distance from the sea.
From there we stopped for darshan at “Sri Kurma” [”Kurmakshetra”], in the Andhra Pradesh - Orissa border area (in the Srikalkulam district of Andhra Pradesh), and then proceeded to Berhampur (now “Brahmapur” in the Ganjam district of), Orissa, where the late Nityananda Prabhu (later on “Maharaj”) joined us onwards to Mayapur.
It was at Berhampur that Ananda Prabhu, a godbrother of Srila Prabhupada’s who had earlier stayed at ISKCON Vrindavan, who alone cooked us a fifteen- course lunch within what seemed like only an hour!
From there we all went to Jagannath Puri, then onto Kharagpur, West Bengal, where another godbrother of Srila Prabhupada’s, the late Sripad B. J. Janardan Maharaj, who had his own Math at “Subhashpalli”, joined our now large party. All were, however, comfortably situated in the van.
From Kharagpur we went to our “final destination”, Mayapur, where I remember sitting with Prabhupada and Puri Maharaj, alone, for an hour, observing, but not understanding, their Bengali conversation. The mood that I observed was one of deep friendship, and jovial intimacy!
Later on Prabhupada fell ill, and requested Puri Maharaj to install, on his behalf, the Deity of Ananta Shesha, below what was to become the “Grand temple” (now renamed the “Temple of the Vedic Planetarium”). Puri Maharaj and his party were received with all due respect and regard and were accommodated at ISKCON Mayapur.
Later on, during 1977, Puri Maharaj again visited ISKCON Hyderabad and gave some lectures there.
A few years later, Puri Maharaj attended, upon my invitation, the ISKCON Jagannath Rathayatra festival at Surat, circa 1981. It became a habit for me to stop either at Rajahmundry, Vishakhapatnam or Berhampur and spend a few days - or even a week — with Puri Maharaj on the way to the annual ISKCON Mayapur festivals, back during the 1980s.
During Jagannath Rathayatra of 1982, Puri Maharaj inaugurated the Sri Chaitanya Chandra ashram at Puri, just behind the Gundicha temple at Jagannath Puri. Several godbrothers and sannyasis attended the function, including Shrauti Maharaj, who had taken sannyas from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur.
In fact, it was two years earlier that I had met him first, at the “Sadhu Sammilani” (”Festival of Sadhus”) arranged by Puri Maharaj at Berhampur. Shrauti Maharaj was then in his late 80’s, and he only spoke in Bengali - no Hindi or English (so I couldn’t communicate with him much. In any case, he was very elderly, and in “so-so” health).
Also I attended the inaugural functions of Puri Maharaj’s temples at Bhadrak and Bhubaneshwar, and much later on at Sambalpur, all in Orissa. When Puri Maharaj purchased the Radha Vrindavan Chandra temple at Seva Kunj, Vrindavan, I offered some small help in constructing the first ashram rooms there.
Similarly, along with H. H. Bhakti Vishrambha Madhav Maharaj (earlier “Mahamantra brahmachari ACBSP”), I attended the opening of Maharaj’s second ashram at Radha Nagar, Peda Waltair, Vishakhapatnam during 1989.
Puri Maharaj attended the opening functions of ISKCON Ahmedabad (1998), Baroda (1999 Janmashtami) and Surat (2001). After the inaugural function of ISKCON Ahmedabad, in a car loaned by a donor, I drove Maharaj to Dwaraka dham, and after returning to Ahmedabad, we drove to Vrindavan, via Srinathadwara, Beawar (where we halted for the night), and Jaipur. As we approached Vrindavan, we visited Govardhan, and did “parikrama” with the car! Puri Maharaj was already 85 years old by this time!
It was my “duty” for many, many years - I guess more than 20-25 years - to bring Puri Maharaj to the ISKCON Krishna Balaram Mandir on the annual date of the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada, where he would always give a much- awaited lecture, wherein he would glorify Prabhupada and admonish ISKCON devotees to follow Prabhupada’s teachings and remain loyal to his institution! His talks were always very much appreciated by the assembled ISKCON devotees.
Srila Bhakti Vaibhav Puri Maharaj was, to the end, a friend and well-wisher of Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, his disciples and the ISKCON institution. It pained him that ISKCON had it’s “ups and downs” in the years after Prabhupada’s disappearance from this world. He showed much affection to both Prabhupada’s disciples and grand disciples
Pictures of the samadhi vidhi can be viewed on the internet by clicking here.