Sure, most of the yogis and renunciates appreciated the fact that we were doing our level best, but they were reticent about mingling; maybe rightfully so. There were the wild rumors that we were foreign spies, or that we had strange parties into the night, but I doubt any intelligent person took those seriously.
I think what really kept the genuine article at arm’s length from us was that we were neophyte students of an ancient culture. And–truth be told–in the length and breadth of India and the whole wide world, too, only Prabhupada possessed the bell-metal-into-gold savvy to tame the savage white man and create devotees from base mlecchas. Maybe the other so-called gurus who were preaching in the West had some following, but generally they wore their Western students the way Boy Scouts wear merit badges.*(1)
Though the number of our Hindu well-wishers in India was growing–especially among the vaishyas–the brahmanas and sadhus remained wary. And who could blame those pious sadhus and brahmanas anyway? When it came to preaching Vedic philosophy we Americans and Europeans were often overbold, sometimes even rude. For some of us, preaching did not go far beyond that all-purpose admonition, “You’re in Maya!” Hindus naturally wondered at the presumptuousness of foreigners telling them a thing or two about a culture they felt “flowed in their blood”, while we felt that they had compromised away the value of their Vedic heritage. Although we had learned something about prachar (preaching), what we lacked was achar–a standard of behavior acceptable to Indian sensibilities. We had seen a few sadhus join us, only to turn and leave within the week when asked to mop the ashram or clean the pots. So I might not have been blamed for being skeptical when told that a sadhu had approached Shrila Prabhupada for initiation. However, my Godbrother cautioned me to avoid snap judgments, “Not so fast, Prabhu, he seems very sincere. Somehow he’s different.”
As events would unfold, this sadhu who had approached Shrila Prabhupada–and who would soon become Shrila Gour Govinda Swami–was not at all like the others who had come and gone away. The wandering pilgrim who was signing on as one of Shrila Prabhupada’s men was neither a mayavadi yogi nor a dry renunciate given over to abstract meditation. He did not imagine that religious philosophies can be opportunistically manufactured by selecting wise-sounding homilies from professional gurus, then knitting them together into a patchwork doctrine of convenience. Neither had he approached the acharya like some profit-motivated broker with the baited offering of conditional service. He did not want a green card, nor was he looking to hang with a fraternity of foreigners. No boasting masked ulterior motives. Neither was he some New Age “guru collector” who imagines his spiritual advancement hinges upon meeting many yogis for bragging rights. He was not seeking respect, which in fact appeared to be the greatest obstacle of those who felt themselves superior by dint of some tapasya or high birth. I was humbled to discover that his motive was unconditional surrender and service at the lotus feet of the empowered representative of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
As I would learn many years later, Gour Govinda Maharaja sprang from a family of famous Orissan Gaudiya kirtan leaders, devotional mystics and Vaishnava renunciates. There in Vrindavana after a long, long search he had immediately recognized Shrila Prabhupada as the acharya, the very embodiment of Lord Chaitanya’s worldwide movement. Full surrender took only a moment. Devotees would see him ascend to the post of guru in his own right. He would rise from the ranks to become a victorious preacher and modern sampradaya link, proving his mettle over again in the fire of bhakti-yoga.
And by the time he would suddenly leave this world in Mayapur in January 1996 at the calling of Lord Shri Krishna, he would enhance the glory of ISKCON by founding two major centers of pilgrimage on behalf of his worshipable Guru Maharaja.
By the age of eight, Braja Bandhu was discoursing from the Gita and the Bhagavat. Married at twenty-three, he raised a large family, supporting them on a school teacher’s salary. Then in 1974 at forty-five he took the name of Gour Gopal and suddenly walked out of his house to search the length and breadth of India for a bona fide spiritual master. Penniless, he wandered as a pilgrim from India’s tip at Kanya Kumari where the waters of three great oceans mingle, to the Himalayas where he discoursed with countless yogis on the mysteries of life and its goal. Satisfaction eluded him, for he found in his journey that India’s so-called spiritual preceptors were ignoring the command of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself in His full avatara as Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The Lord’s sankirtan movement had been overlooked in favor of shadowy spiritual practices that are wholly unsuitable for the present age. Rejecting the many impersonalists he met along the way, Gour Gopal turned his footsteps toward the land for which he had been named. At last the seeker arrived in Vraja Mandala.
Ironically, at a Gaudiya Math temple in Mathura the brahmacharis mistook him for a mayavadi and abruptly showed him the door. Later, in Vrindavana he spotted a sign that led him to the construction site of ISKCON’s proposed Krishna Balarama Mandir. There a devotee handed him a Back to Godhead. Looking through the magazine, Gour Gopal was delighted to find the three things he was looking for in his prospective guru: Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the mahamantra and Shrimad Bhagavatam. As if by Providence, Shrila Prabhupada happened to be there as though waiting for him.
When Gour Gopal offered his obeisances, Shrila Prabhpada’s first words were, “Have you taken sannyasa? I will give you sannyasa.” In this way the World Guru immediately knew the mind of the sincere candidate and offered the pilgrim what he had left home for. Less than a year later, His Divine Grace would offer him cloth and danda, as Braja Bandhu, now Gour Gopal, became transformed into Shrila Gour Govinda Swami on the holy day of Rama Navami at the opening of the Shri Krishna Balarama Temple in Vrindavana.
Spiritual initiation from Shrila Prabhupada only deepened Gour Govinda Swami’s devotion to his beloved Deity of Shri Gopaljiu back in Gadeigiri. This village of Gadeigiri was founded in the late 1600’s by an ancestor of Shri Gour Govinda Maharaja named Shri Gadai Giri. Gadai Giri used to come down from Midnapur, today part of West Bengal, to sell door to door brass and metal items. While on one such trip, he heard coming from the jungle, the auspicious sounds of a flute, the tinkle of ankle bells and the blowing of a conch intermingling with the calls of various birds. A local sadhu whom Gadai Giri had befriended recommended that he make his home in that very spot, advising him that Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, must be present there. And wherever Krishna lives, there dwells Goddess Lakshmi.
Hence, all of Gadai Giri’s needs would be met if he were to simply remain there in adoration of the Supreme Lord. Thus Shri Gadai Giri made a clearing from the jungle and built a thatched-roof home. He gave up his business, constructed a small temple to Dadhi Baman*(2) and engaged full time in the glorification of the Supreme Lord through kirtan and study of the Shrimad Bhagavatam.
Gadai Giri’s only son was Gopal Giri, who became a great devotee of Lord Jagannath and a master of kirtan. Gopal Giri intensely desired to worship a Deity of Lord Krishna from Vrindavana, but in those days, long before trains and buses, he had no way to make the pilgrimage to Vrajabhumi. Hence he shifted from Gadeigiri to Puri thinking that somehow Lord Krishna would come to him there. At the temple of Lord Jagannath he was employed by the king as the poddar or cashier. At Puri he frequently met sadhus whom he used to request to bring him a Deity of Gopal from Vraja, but his wish remained unfulfilled.
At that time there was a Vaishnava mendicant in far away Vrajabhumi who was worshipping a Deity of Lord Gopal. While the sannyasi went for begging alms daily, the Deity would accompany him in a cloth bag. One night the sadhu had a vision in which Lord Gopal ordered the renunciate to take Him to Puri where He desired to accept the adoration of Gopal Giri. At first the sadhu disregarded the command of the Lord as a mere dream. So a few days later, the Lord appeared again, this time soundly beating the sadhu across the legs till they bled. The Vaishnava awoke in pain and fervently apologized to Lord Gopal for ignoring His order. He immediately began the 2½ month trek walking to Puri. Gopal Giri was well known in Puri and there the sadhu had no difficulty in locating him.
When they met, the sadhu handed over his Gopal Deity as per the divine instruction. When he showed the wounds on his legs, Gopal Giri healed them by his mere touch. Gopal Giri offered the sadhu as much money as he liked, but he declined, requesting instead that he remain with Lord Gopal as his pujari. Gopal Giri had a brass Deity of Shrimati Radharani made for the Deity’s pleasure, and resigned from his post, returning to Gadeigiri to engage in kirtan. The sadhu remained there in seva for twenty years and when he departed this world, a samadhi was built for him. Gopal Giri’s kirtan in the Odissi Gaudiya style of Shri Rasikananada and Shri Shyamanada Prabhus became so famous that it would be inscribed in the history book of the Jagannath Temple at Puri that the Gadeigiri kirtan group should always be allowed to perform in the temple.
The tradition of employing a sannyasi pujari for Shri Gopaljiu of Gadeigiri continued for generations. In the mid-1800’s a crooked sannyasi engaged in His seva kidnapped the Deities in the still of night. Meanwhile, Lord Gopal alerted Gadai Giri’s great-great grandson Bhagavat Charan in a dream that He was being stolen away. By the will of Providence, the fleeing sadhu was bitten on his way by a poisonous snake. Bhagavat Charan found the thievish pujari lying dead, and returned Lord Radha-Gopal to the temple. Afterwards, he only engaged married brahmanas in Thakur-seva.
In the early 1900’s, care of the temple fell to the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Gadai Giri, named Bauri Giri. Even government officers would come for the darshan of Bauri Giri, a paramhamsa bhakta said to have mystic powers to heal illness by the grace of Lord Gopajiu. One deputy magistrate named Bal Mukunda Kanungo used to come for his darshan, and it was his grand daughter who would hand over her property to Shrila Prabhupada for the future ISKCON Bhubaneshwara.
A few days later Gour Govinda Swami arrived at Gadeigiri for darshan, and Ghanashayam Giri, honoring the Lord’s request, donated Lord Gopaljiu, His paraphernalia and His property to our dear Godbrother. Shrila Gour Govinda Maharaja immediately put everything in the name of ISKCON for the pleasure of Shrila Prabhupada setting the example that everything in the disciple’s possession is the property of Shri Guru. Then during his conversation with Ghanashyam Giri, Gour Govinda Maharaja revealed that Lord Gopaljiu had spoken with him at the same time as He had ordered Ghanashyama to offer Him to ISKCON.
Our revered Godbrother left behind a notable legacy of service and accomplishments for the pleasure of his spiritual master, for the expansion of ISKCON and for benefit for the entire world. He is remembered primarily for the place of pilgrimage he developed at Bhubaneshwar, celebrated as ISKCON’s second Shri Krishna Balarama Mandir. By the wish of Shrila Prabhupada, the Deities of the Supreme Lord and His elder brother are of brass, and there is also a Deity of Lord Govinda in the same Divine Form as Shri Gopaljiu. Many had wondered at the remote spot Shrila Prabhupada chose for the temple. However, the all-knowing Shrila Prabhupada answered with a prediction that the area would become a major part of the city and an internationally-recognized tirtha-bhumi, which has now come to pass. Indeed, Shrila Prabhupada spent seventeen days in Bhubaneshwara with Gour Govinda Maharaja domiciling in a hut our Godbrother built for the pleasure of his Guru Maharaja. At that time Shrila Prabhupada encouraged him by telling of a prediction that Gaudiya Vaishnavism would spread all over the world from Orissa. Then, of course, there is the Deity Who guided his every step of his life and Who brought him to Shrila Prabhupada. Shri Gour Govinda Swami’s beautiful Radha-Gopaljiu Temple at Gadeigiri has also become a major ISKCON place of pilgrimage.
“It is a fact that if an elevated Vaishnava is there, then one should go and take his association. There is no harm in that. But in this case there is a danger that the discipline in our organization will be affected adversely. If the leaders are going outside of ISKCON, how will we be able to maintain discipline? Srila Prabhupada has formed this society, and this threat to his society will only cause him pain.”
Then in another letter he advised along the same lines:
“My opinion is that Srila Prabhupada will not be happy with these senior devotees going outside of ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada has said that everything is in his books. If you try to understand this, then by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada it will all be made clear to you.”His Holiness made the following statement in 1994:
“There are three things that are very important to me. One is that I want to preach to the preachers. It causes me so much pain to see the devotees falling down and going away. The second thing is that I want to show how everything is in Prabhupada’s books. Those persons who are saying that Srila Prabhupada only gave ABC, it causes me so much pain in my heart. I want to make them silent. And the third thing is that I want to show how everything is in ISKCON and that devotees do not have to go elsewhere for higher teachings.”Our remarkable Godbrother also left behind a grand legacy of noteworthy Vaishnava literary contributions of his own. To read Godbrothers’ reviews of his masterful The Embankment of Separation and Mathura Meets Vrindavana, click here.
Today from Bhubaneshwar his disciples continue to preach his unsullied parampara message of pure love of God through Krishna consciousness. Always emphasizing scripture, whatever he said he always backed up with shastric references, and he came down heavily on those who did not follow suit. His disciples emulate his example that utmost tolerance is realized when the mind is placed at feet of Shri Guru in an attitude of service. They never find fault with the overall organization in an understanding that the Society remains as strong as its weakest links, and strengthening that structure rests upon each disciple’s personal tolerance. The journal called Shri Krishna Kathamrita produced by his disciples from ISKCON Bhubaneshwar is celebrated as among the finest current Vaishnava periodicals in the world. And any devotee who reads the book Gopaljiu will find his heart transformed.
Today, some thirty-five years after the briefest of encounters, it has become this Godbrother’s ardent desire to someday visit the dual tirthas that HH Gour Govinda Maharaja established by the grace of Shrila Prabhupada and Lord Gopaljiu. By his example and activities, he is celebrated by his disciples as a modern-day acharya in his own right, a tireless preacher of Krishna consciousness, and a saint known for tolerance who never deviated from the order of Guru Maharaja. To learn more about the work of HH Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja, visit www.gopaljiu.org. While there, sign up for the free online fortnightly Shri Krishna Kathamrita Bindhu and thereby enhance your Krishna consciousness. For more on ISKCON Gadeigiri , visit www.gopaljiutempel.com. Lectures by His Holiness can be accessed via www.youtube.com.
*1. As evidence of this, even today many hundreds of thousands of pages of parampara literature have emerged from the pens of Prabhupada’s Western Vaishnavas, yet all the millions of Western fashion yogis world wide together have produced hardly a word of bona fide Vedic text whatsoever. That is the value of parampara disseminated via the bona fide spiritual master surcharged with the power and glory of the great Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradya.
*2. In Orissa, whenever Lord Jagannath is worshipped without the Deities of Goddess Subhadra and His brother Lord Balarama, He is called Dadhi Baman or Patita Pavana.
Srila Gour Govinda