Bound by affection
My coming to the Math — Sri Nrsimha Chaturdasi 1947
His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj reflects on the events that surrounded his first days at Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math at the lotus feet of His Divine Master, Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj. This talk was given 50 years after the event, here at the Math.
My birth place was Bamunpara, known in former times as Brahmanpara, as you have seen when you visited there recently. I studied at the village school, and later went to school at Putsuri. Presently my father sold the property at Bamunpara and bought a new house in Rangpur, so we left this district to move there. My maternal uncle and his family lived in Rangpur. They were very wealthy and they invited my mother and father to settle there. At the time the political tension was building up to the inevitable division between India and Pakistan which eventually came in 1947. Then my father died in Rangpur and my family and I returned to my native Bamunpara.
The responsibility then came to me to support my family. In order to do so it was necessary for me to receive training and learn some kind of profession. So I went to train in a small charitable dispensary cum hospital. If it still exists I do not know. Doctors and nurses were in very short supply there – there was only one doctor and one nurse in attendance and then myself. At that time it was unwritten law that if you took training from a doctor for between five and ten years you would be accepted as a doctor in your own right. So, to this purpose I would go daily to two separate dispensaries, two kilometres apart from each other. In each place I would open the dispensary, whereupon someone would come and clean and prepare everything for the days work.
After the doctor came and was attending the patients I would take that opportunity for recreation and go to play football. This was my regular daily routine. Afterwards, sometimes I would go back to the hospital and sometimes back to the village of Nadanghat where I would stay at a big zamindar’s house. He was a big landlord and consequently also very rich. He and his family liked me. It is my good fortune that everywhere people liked me. Nadanghat is situated 12 km from Nabadwip and about 15 km from Bamunpara.
After playing football in the evenings I would relax with my friends and eat some supper, which often included channa (fried curd) and sak (spinach). Then together we would go back to that big zamindar’s house to read. In those days I would read novels, and at night I would often sleep in the reading room.
Drawn to the sadhus
One day a group of sadhus came from this Math, four or five of them. I first saw them at about 7.30 in the evening. They sang kirttans and then gave a discourse on Srimad-Bhagavatam. I was drawn to them. One of the sadhus appeared to be especially exalted. He had a very saintly body.
As he was giving a lecture about Srimad-Bhagavatam he reminded me of Srinivas Acharyya lecturing in the assembly of King Birhambir. Previously I had read much Vaisnava literature, and was familiar with the story of Raja Birhambir. He was a dacoit chief prior to becoming a disciple of Srinivas Acharyya. Have you heard of these events? Anyhow, that exalted sadhu appeared to be exactly like Srinivas Acharyya giving his discourse.
There were so many people there, maybe a hundred listening to his lecture. Sitting amongst them were three or four zamindars who were known to me, all of them dacoits. Although they were dacoits, nonetheless they were like grandfathers to me. I would constantly joke with them and tease them, and sometimes even chastise them very much, and they liked me for it. Somehow they relished my chastisement.
After hearing the very revolutionary lecture delivered beautifully by this brahmachari I was very impressed. It was not like the usual lectures given by roaming ‘goswamis’ and after hearing it, I was so attracted. So the next day I returned.
I had played mrdanga drums from a very early age, and I was well able to sing songs, so I had some capacity in this way. When I arrived they were singing “Vande guroh sri charanaravindam” and I asked if I could join them and play the mrdanga. They were surprised at my request as I was just a village boy, but they gave the mrdanga and I played. They were very impressed.
At that time I held the position of a professional singer, but that’s another story. My father was a very famous professional singer of Vaisnava songs, kirttans, etc. He was very famous in that district and other districts also, and through him I inherited many songs. He died when I was fourteen years old. Not everybody knew that my father, being a professional singer leading a large sankirttan group, had to be paid in order to maintain it. He would ask 200-250 Rs, which was quite a lot at that time.
My uncle’s sadness
One day I saw my uncle sitting on the veranda crying. He was very strong and a stick fighter. Indeed he was a famous stick fighter, so it was very unusual for him to be in such a state. After seeing this I asked my uncle why he was crying. He then told me a call had just come for my father to sing at a particular function, but the caller did not know that my father had already passed away. That had touched my uncle’s heart and caused his sadness.
My Uncle said that the person would call back but he had no one to sing in my father’s place. I told my uncle that there was a solution and he could take the call. He seemed surprised. “Who will sing these songs?” he asked me. I told him, “I can sing them.” My uncle had never heard me sing before and he asked me how I had come to know these songs, because at that time I was too young to hear the songs about the Madhura-Rasa pastimes of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna. My father would not permit me to sing such kirttans because my father thought me, at such a young age, to be unqualified. I was not even allowed to listen to songs of such a high type. Nonetheless, I was very much attracted. So, whenever my father would go to sing, I would follow him and hide in a nearby rice paddy field where I was able to hear him sing these songs. Sometimes it would take him a whole month to fulfil all the invitations in a particular village.
I was very much addicted to the songs of Radha-Krishna, and at that time my memory was very fresh and I was able to memorise every song he sang. Also, every day my father would give lessons to some students, while I pretended to read a little distance away. Instead of reading I would listen to him teaching. In this way I became qualified.
I explained this to my uncle. Although he was very surprised he called me to his house to sing a ‘heavy’ song. I sang it fully, and he cried again and embraced me. He now knew that he would be able to take the phone call and tell them, “Yes, my brother is not here, but my brother’s son will fulfil your appointment.”
It was so far away from here – about 30 km. In this way my first assignment as a professional singer began. After that I travelled to so many villages and sang so many songs. In this way also I was able to gain more experience and knowledge.
My first association
After having seen and heard the sadhus singing, I was naturally attracted and joined with them. They were very pleased with me. They told some Hari-katha and asked me why I was playing football. “Instead you should come with us and we will talk with you.” Until this time I had not mixed with sadhus, but I felt strongly their affection and became very attached to them. In this way I stopped playing football and instead began mixing with these devotees. This was the beginning of my association with sadhus.
They began to teach me that this body is nothing, the mind is nothing, this world is nothing, your father is nothing, mother is nothing – all is nothing, only Krishna is reality, and everything else is material and temporary. One day you will die, and you must be prepared for this moment. When you take birth, death must follow. After death what will you do? You do not know when death will come or where you will go. In the next life your father and mother may be a dog and a bitch – you do not know who will become your next father and mother. They preached like that.
As a young boy I was very simple hearted, so I believed everything the sadhus told me. They had such a big influence on me. I jokingly asked them if they would take me with them. They said, “Yes, we will take you, but will you go with us?” And I answered, “Yes!”
Having already promised the sadhu, “Yes, I shall go with you,” I tried to avoid so they would not take me. But they were eager to take me. They immediately accepted what I told them.
After my sudden, “Yes,” and agreeing to go with them I became very disturbed. I had not lied in my life. Sometimes I think that my only good quality was that I never lied. Whatever promise I made I must keep, and I had made a promise in front of the sadhus.
Coming from a Vaisnava family and having read many Vaisnava books, I was well aware of the story of Nityananda Prabhu. His father, on the strength of a promise, had given his son to Madhavendra Puri. I knew this story but still I tried to find some way to avoid the promise I had made to the sadhus. I considered that if the sadhus would tell me it was not necessary to go with them, then I would get relief. But they did not say “No, it is not necessary to come with us.” Instead the sadhus were always washing my brain. Everyday I would come to the sadhus and they would brainwash me more. I would return to the dispensary, then the hospital and cry thinking, “Oh, how will I leave everything here? But I promised the sadhu so I must go with them. How can I avoid it?”
I considered in many ways, but again when coming to the sadhus I received more strength in the other direction: “Yes, I must go!” But each time on returning to the hospital I would try to think how to manage this burden. I had many commitments.
Plan for relief
Anyhow, finally I decided on a plan which would give me one last chance to avoid going with the sadhus. I considered that if I modified my promise and tell the sadhus, “Yes, I shall go with you if you take me today, but not later,” then they would not be able to take me because the next day they were holding a big festival in that village. In this way I would be relieved of any commitment. I was expecting they would reply, “Tomorrow we shall take you.” I would then say, “No, tomorrow I cannot go, today I must go.” This was my plan.
In this way I was very simple and approached the sadhus with my statement. When I told them, their response was quite unexpected. They were very happy with my words and said, “Very good. This very night we will take you!” So that night they stole me.
Stolen for Krishna
It was 2 o’clock in the morning and our journey began by having to cross the river at Nadanghat. At that time of night there was no boat to cross the river, so, being taken by the sadhu, Jayadwaita Brahmachari, I had to swim the river with him. He was a disciple of Prabhupada Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur and he lived with Srila Guru Maharaj. Srila Guru Maharaj had sent him and the other sadhus to preach there in Nadanghat.
After some hours of walking we arrived on the outskirts of Nabadwip town and stopped. I asked that sadhu, Jayadwaita Prabhu, “Where is your ashram?” and he showed me a simple building. At that time here was only a small, three roomed building. I was a little disappointed.
From my childhood I had read the Mahabharat and Ramayan and the descriptions of Vaisistha’s ashram, Visvamitra’s ashram and many others. I knew these descriptions, but this ashram did not appear like those. Here was just a building, and I was a little disappointed. The brahmachari explained, “It is a small building, but a big, big sadhu is living within that building.” Seeing the building I did not get hearty happy feelings. But already I had come out from my village and I could not go back. I had committed myself, so I must stay.
At that time Srila Guru Maharaj was walking on the veranda chanting upon his beads. Then Jayadwaita Brahmachari Prabhu showed me: “He is our Guru. Come!” Then I went up to the veranda and Jayadwaita Prabhu gave full dandavat pranams and told me to offer full dandavats also. Then Srila Guru Maharaj asked, “Where did you find this boy?”
Jayadwaita Prabhu gave a little description, and finally said, “In this way this boy has joined your ashram today.” Srila Maharaj said, “Ah, this is a nice, intelligent boy.” He thought, “If I can prepare him, this boy can be a good weapon for our Society.”
He asked me, “Can you stay in ashram life?” I was surprised and thought, “Why is this sadhu asking me, ‘Can you stay?’ I have come to stay so it is already final, then why is this sadhu asking me, ‘Can you stay or not?’” At that time I had no idea, but I replied, “Yes, I can stay.”
That was on Nrsimha Chaturdasi, a day of complete fasting. I had never fasted before. Ever since formally receiving the traditional Brahmin thread I had followed Ekadasi and never took grains on that day, but I had never fasted. Instead we would eat alu-dham (plain potato subji), and take some milk preparations on Ekadasi days. In this way we followed Ekadasi with very nice preparations which had a different taste. But here I was being told, “It is Nrsimha Chaturdasi, you will not be given anything at all to eat.”
At that time I knew nothing about Nrsimha Chaturdasi and having walked since the middle of the night I was very hungry, so I asked Jayadwaita Prabhu, “Oh Prabhu, I am very hungry.” To which he replied, “Today is a day of full fasting.”
I asked, “I cannot eat anything?” He told me that I could eat some fruit. But where could I get some?
I pointed out a papaya tree nearby. Jayadwaita Prabhu then said to me, “Yes, you can take one papaya. But you must give half to the Deity and the remainder you can eat yourself.”
That evening after Nrsimha-puja they gave me so much alu-dam, and the next day there was a very nice festival and much Prasadam. Especially the paramanna (sweet-rice) was really tasty.
After two days the rest of the preaching party returned from Nadanghat, and it seemed I had already many friends here by now.
Srila Guru Maharaj had seen me, and it was my good fortune that he was very much attracted to me. He was searching for some boy who in the future could be like a guru. He had a formula. The particular boy would need to be a Brahmin, intelligent, etc. with that potential to be like a guru. At that time Srila Guru Maharaj was searching for someone to groom to continue his disciplic succession. When he saw me he tested me. He called Srila Krishna das Babaji Maharaj and other of his friends, and asked them to also test me.
They each gave Srila Guru Maharaj a very good report about me. Amongst those was Srila Guru Maharaj’s sister, Rama Didi, who is still residing here at the Math [this was spoken in 1998 - Ed.]. She remembers everything. Rama Didi said to Guru Maharaj, “Yes, I think this boy is very good.” Srila Guru Maharaj also asked her, “Rama Didi, you see this boy; will he be good or bad in the future?” Rama Didi said, “The future, I cannot say, but now he is looking good.”
In the beginning I was a little bit suspicious as to whether I had done wrong or right. I was a young boy and already I had made the step to leave home and join the Math, but that was done really by emotion, not devotion. At first I was very unhappy, but later when I got the mercy of Srila Guru Maharaj, I became very happy.
Anyhow, after about one month, we went with Srila Guru Maharaj to Midnapore District. Midnapore is where Sripad Jajavar Maharaj’s Math is. At that time Srila Guru Maharaj came close to declaring that if he can train this boy, he will become his successor. Then some friction came from our Math’s brahmacharis, even with that brahmachari who read Bhagavatam to me and who previously liked me very much and took me with him many times. Hearing Srila Guru Maharaj’s expression everyone became very envious and my fighting life started from that day.
From Midnapore we presently went to Puri with Srila Guru Maharaj for the Ratha Yatra programme. We had fifteen days in hand and Srila Guru Maharaj sent us to a district called Ganjam for preaching.
After that preaching programme, a particular brahmachari did not want to take me on to Puri for Ratha Yatra. Srila Guru Maharaj was very angry. He sent a telegram to him to bring me immediately. Actually, we only arrived on the Ratha Yatra day and Srila Guru Maharaj chastised that brahmachari: “He is a new boy and has not seen Ratha Yatra before. Why did you not want to give him a chance to see the Ratha Yatra?” In this way he heavily chastised him.
At that time the rule of the Math was such that a new man must stay at the Math for a minimum of six months before being considered for initiation. But Srila Guru Maharaj broke that rule and gave me initiation on that Ratha Yatra day. He called for me, then told me, “Now I shall initiate you.” There came some objection from the other side – not directly, but indirectly – but Srila Guru Maharaj did not care. He gave me first initiation on that occasion in Puri Dham. Srila Guru Maharaj told me, “When you will chant, chant attentively and not to think about checking about the time.”
Active days in the Math
The whole day I would be working. I was very restless by nature, and always felt that I must always be doing something. Without work I could not stay anywhere. So, the whole day I would work. I felt that I always needed to be doing something.
Here at the Math, if there was nothing to do, I would climb up the long bamboo flagpole. I would go up the flagpole, then come down, then again go up. I would do this in the afternoons while the others rested or slept. I would not rest at that time. On other occasions I would climb a big mango tree.
During the first year that I joined there were so many mangoes, and I would eagerly climb the trees and eat them while sitting on the branches. Everyone complained about me, but I had no fear, that is I was a village boy – fearless. And still I am fearless. I always feel that Lord Shiva is with me, giving me protection.
As a youth I went into the forests where there were tigers, bears and many other dangerous animals, but I would pass through those forests happily. When I was living in the villages I always felt that I had Lord Shiva’s protection like that.
Still now I always feel the protection of Lord Shiva; that he is always looking after his own son. I was born by a boon from Lord Shiva, and because of this special opportunity I am a fearless person. Such is the beginning of my life history.
Srila Guru Maharaj’s personal servitor
Srila Guru Maharaj took me and gave me his own personal seva. I did all the personal seva of Guru Maharaj, and he constantly taught me many things. After about six months, a little less maybe, Srila Guru Maharaj arranged for me to study Sanskrit with a pandit who was living in the town of Nabadwip, and I would go there every day. Then suddenly one day I saw my uncle on the road. He recognised me. Even though at that time I was a brahmachari in saffron cloth, he immediately recognised me. “Oh, here you are, we have been searching for you in many places but could not find you, and here you are in Nabadwip.” I said, “Yes, yes, I am here. I am living in the Math. Please come to the Math. Please, please come! I am there.” But he asked me, “Where is your Math?” and I told the truth.
That was my mistake. If I had told a lie then they could not have traced me, but I told the truth: “I am living in Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.”
The next day at about 10.30 a.m. they came, twelve giants and my uncle, accompanied by some pandits also. They were staying in Nabadwip at that time. When they came I was putting up a fence in front of the Math, and they took hold of me and tried to take me away by force saying, “Oh, here is our boy.” They were trying to take me and I was shouting loudly, “Oh, they are taking me! They are taking me!” Thankfully at that time one big goala (milkman caste) was there who had much respect for Srila Guru Maharaj and used to serve him also. His name was Ashwini Ghosh. I appealed to him, “Ashwini, they are taking me from here!” And Ashwini came and tackled them: “Why are you taking this boy?”
They responded, “This is our boy, why can we not take him?” Then Ashwini replied, “If this is the truth, you must first go to Maharaj and tell him, then take your boy.” They noted that the goala was very strong and quite probably a dacoit. Many of the goalas here at that time were dacoits. Especially in this area there were many famous dacoit families, and everyone knew it. So my uncle and his friends could not apply force but had to go to Guru Maharaj and talk with him.
Srila Guru Maharaj said, “If you can defeat me then you can take your boy, but if you cannot defeat me then you must leave your boy. All right?”
There were perhaps three Vedanta pandits, and they were each thinking themselves to be great pandits. They thought: “Yes, it will be no problem,” and agreed. They returned the next day, and were easily defeated by Srila Guru Maharaj. They again tried for two more days but each time they were defeated. So they could not take me and had to give this news to my mother. Then my mother came here, and in this way many things happened.
“This boy will be my successor”
At that time at the Math four or five of the brahmacharis were very powerful. Three of them were particularly qualified and expected that one of them would be chosen to be the Acharya of this Math after Guru Maharaj. But when Srila Guru Maharaj declared that “This boy will be my successor,” they all began to fight with me.
At that time we had a branch in Calcutta at Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj’s house. Srila Swami Maharaj had given two rooms to Guru Maharaj for preaching. He was the only one who was able to inspire Srila Guru Maharaj to leave Nabadwip and come to Calcutta. Arrangements were also made there with two pandits for me to study grammar, the Kavya, Vedanta, etc. Every day Swami Maharaj would also directly teach me many things. Actually Srila Guru Maharaj was my teacher, and his learning was beyond compare.
That year we stayed there for three months, then Vrindavan for three months and somewhere else for another three months, thus always travelling to different places. All the time my main teacher was Srila Guru Maharaj, and wherever we went Srila Guru Maharaj would always engage a further teacher for me. In Vrindavan my teacher was Visvambar Babaji Maharaj. He was a good, a very good, babaji. I cannot believe how good he was. Twenty years later I happened to be in Mathura and heard that he was still alive, so I went to see him. That Babaji Maharaj after seeing me gave full dandavats to me. What more can I say? I was so surprised and astonished when I saw that great, great babaji.
Everyone respected him as a highly qualified pandit babaji. I had given brahmachari dandavats to him through courtesy, but he gave full dandavats to me in return, to which I was surprised and said to him, “Babaji, I am your student, you are my master. Why have you done this? I feel it an offence to take such respect from you.” Babaji Maharaj replied, “Je, Baba! Seeing you I am feeling that it is Mahaprabhu in front of me and I paid dandavats to Mahaprabhu. You may be my student, but seeing you brought such remembrance to me of Mahaprabhu that I could offer nothing less. It was not to make offence to you.”
I have seen how humble and tolerant all the people are in Vraja-Dham. They tolerate so much, but this babaji had an exceptionally renounced mentality. Even though he was a sahajiya babaji my feeling was to give him dandavats. At that moment the customary etiquette had been temporarily lifted.
Anyhow, we are followers of Srila Saraswati Thakura. That babaji’s path was a little different, no doubt, but I did not know how qualified he was, so I must pay dandavats to him. In this way I gave respect to that babaji, but I was very much surprised to see his behaviour. He was my teacher and he recognised me as his boy student from twenty years before.
Bound by affection
As time went by Srila Guru Maharaj gave more and more affection to me. Actually I was bound by his affection, not at first by Krishna consciousness. It was only his affection and attention to me that gave me the super-opportunity to stay in this line of Krishna consciousness.
Previously I knew so many things about Krishna, Mahaprabhu, Nityananda Prabhu and Pancha-tattva because I was born in a Brahmin Vaisnava family where such discussions were always taking place. I had some good background, but that was not the cause of my staying at the Math. The cause was the affection of my Guru Maharaj. After entering into the Krishna conscious environment it was Srila Guru Maharaj who gave me inspiration, and since then it has always grown, not decreased.
I also received much help, too, from his Godbrothers. They were very nice and they always gave me some substantial ‘food’ of the Krishna conception. Through that I have the opportunity not to criticise or abuse anyone. Today I see so much criticism and abuse of others, but Srila Guru Maharaj always praised other Vaisnavas and never criticised. For our protection and guidance he would sometimes give some information about them, but in a very honourable way. So the chance for me to make offence to the Vaisnavas was very much reduced.
I received so much help from his Godbrothers and Godsisters, and from time to time Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur’s sister would also come to meet Srila Guru Maharaj, and she would also give her blessings.
It was very helpful for me that the merciful glance of so many gentleman and lady Vaisnavas came to me from the very beginning of my life under the lotus feet of Srila Guru Maharaj here at Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.