[January 25, 2020 is the disappearance day of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Gaurava Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an article about his glories from 'My Beloved Masters' by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja.]
EXCEPTIONALLY BRILLIANT FROM CHILDHOOD
Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Gaurava Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja appeared in this world in Baḍagaḍa-grāma, a village in the Gañjām district of Orissa, on the day of Kṛṣṇa Pratipadā during the month of Kārtika. He was born in an elite brāhmaṇa family, and his parents gave him the name Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha. For generations, his forefathers had reverently carried out the momentous role of serving as royal priests for the king of Baḍagaḍa.
Since Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha was the son of a royal priest, the king had a special affinity for him. Noting the boy’s exceptional brilliance, he invited Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha to the royal assembly, where many dignitaries, like royal poets and scholars, were present. There, the king intended to showcase the boy’s scholarship by engaging him in discussions and debates on a variety of topics. Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha defeated all the assembled scholars through his intelligent arguments. The king was so impressed by Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha’s brilliance that he awarded him the title ‘Pāṭa-yośī,’ champion of studies. The king also recognized him as a śreṣṭha-sabhākavi, a great poet of the royal assembly, and appointed him rāja-guru, the royal spiritual advisor.
Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha studied both Sanskrit and English during his schooling, but when he noticed the gross disparity between the pronunciation of similarly spelled English words, like ‘put’ and ‘but,’ he concluded that English was unbefitting those who value logic. He therefore made excellence in Sanskrit his only aim and went on to achieve great proficiency in the language.
THE RARITY OF WELL-WISHING CRITICS
Around the time Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha assumed the role of rāja-guru, the king was planning to construct a new wing of the royal palace. After looking at the blueprints, Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha told the engineer, “Cracks will develop in the building if it is constructed in this way. My advice is that you should rethink your plans before moving ahead.”
The engineer paid no heed to his counsel, and sure enough, cracks began to appear soon after the building was completed. The engineer then recalled what Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha had previously told him and visited him.
When the engineer asked him on what basis he had made his prediction, Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha said, “Look, I am not an engineer; this is true. But because this place is so close to the flowing river, I was able to assess with all surety that things would go wrong by the way you planned the building’s foundation and structure.
“My parents have instilled in me that we must pay attention to the words of distinguished personalities. Sincere critics who can catch our flaws and point them out to us are indeed rare in this world. If you had given even the slightest bit of value to my words, you would not have wasted so much time and money. Just remember: you will benefit greatly if you resolve to acknowledge of the opinions of the wise and amend your mistakes accordingly.”
AS A RESULT OF HIS FEARLESS DETERMINATION, THE BLESSINGS OF A CORPSE
Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha, the rāja-guru of Baḍagaḍa, and Śrī Liṅgarāja Miśrā, the rāja-guru of Dharākoṭa, together started practicing the arts of tantra. As a part of that practice, they once went to a cremation ground on a dark moon night. There, they practiced their mantras while sitting on the chest of a corpse. When, by the power of the mantras, the corpse raised its hand, Śrī Liṅgarāja Miśra got up and ran away out of fear. Śrī Ujjvaleśvara, on the other hand, started shouting at the corpse, “Mṛṣā, mṛṣā—Whatever you are doing will go in vain,” and continued reciting his mantras.
He repeatedly pushed the corpse’s hand back down until the corpse, exasperated, finally asked him, “Why are you doing this?”
“To gain knowledge,” Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha replied.
“Then go,” said the corpse,“and you will attain the topmost knowledge. You need not worry at all.” And so it came to pass that Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha became a distinguished scholar.
A CONVERSATION WITH A GHOST
One time, rāja-guru Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha was returning home after selling the season’s harvest from the fields he leased to farmers, when he ran into a fierce typhoon-like storm. The torrential rain and punishing hail kept him from continuing on, and so he took shelter at a pān shop in the nearby village. There, he asked the shopkeeper if he could stay the night.
The shopkeeper asked, “Do you have your own bedding?”
“Yes, indeed I do,” he said.
“Then you can stay in the empty house out front.”
The shopkeeper showed him the house and left. A short while after Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha had fallen asleep, an evil spirit inhabiting the house began to cause a commotion. Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha woke up and found a gigantic ghost standing in front of him. He asked the ghost in Sanskrit, “Who are you?”
The ghost replied, “I am a brahma-daitya."
“Why have you come here?”
Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha asked.
“I live here. You are the one who has come here.”
“Well, what do you want?”
“I want to devour you.”
The ghost was taken aback. “What kind of question is this? I make a meal of whoever dares step into this house.”
Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha said, “But I am a brāhmaṇa. Are you not afraid of killing a brāhmaṇa? How is eating me going to benefit you? You will be stuck in this form of a ghost.”
“What is there to fear in killing a brāhmaṇa? I am a brahma-daitya; I was once a brāhmaṇa myself. I am destined to remain a ghost no matter what, so I may as well gain some satisfaction by eating you.”
“Why are you unconcerned with delivering yourself from your current state?”
“Where am I supposed to find someone qualified enough to deliver me?”
“I will deliver you,” Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha assured him.
“Look,” the ghost said, “not just anyone can deliver me. Only an exceptional person who observes Ekādaśī the way Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam has described Śrī Ambarīṣa Mahārāja observed it can deliver me by offering me the fruit of observing one such Ekādaśī.
But like I said, where will I find such an exalted person?”
Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha said, “I follow all Ekādaśīs in this manner. I will deliver you.” Saying this, he took water in his hand, vowed to offer the fruit of one of his Ekādaśī fasts, and threw the water on the ghost. The ghost was immediately delivered, and he disappeared with a sharp hissing sound like that of soda bottle being opened.
As this encounter was quite lengthy, Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha did not fall asleep until late in the night. The next morning, when the shopkeeper observed that the house was still bolted from inside, he gathered his fellow villagers to investigate what had happened inside the house. Hearing the noise of the villagers outside the door, Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha opened it. The villagers were awestruck. “Are you okay?” they asked. “Has nothing happened to you?”
“What was supposed to happen?” he asked.
The villagers said, “Some sort of monster lives here. No one survives a night in this house. That shopkeeper is a fool for telling you to stay here. We are extremely grateful to God that you are safe. Did the ghost say anything to you?”
“He said what he had to say, and I said what I had to say. I delivered him by giving him the fruit of observing just one Ekādaśī. Now he has left this place. From now on, no one will have any problem staying here.”
When the villagers found out that he was Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha, the king’s guru, they told the shopkeeper he was lucky nothing happened to Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha, otherwise who knows what punishment the king might have inflicted on not only him, but all the villagers as well.
RECOGNIZING A TANTRIC SPELL
While Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha was once staying the night in a village with a large group of people, a Tantric priest began distributing sweets to everyone. Because Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha had practiced tantra-yoga, he could tell that the sweets were actually animal excrement. He told everyone this, but one or two people doubted him. He then collected a particular type of grass and touched it to the sweets, where upon they transformed, revealing that they were indeed stool.
EXPOSING A FRAUDSTER
Once, a man announced that he would come to Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha’s village on a particular day to perform an incredible fire sacrifice. He claimed that he would offer oblations of chilies into the fire in such a magical way that the attendees would experience neither difficulty breathing nor irritation in their eyes. Almost all the villagers were intrigued. In the coming days, they spoke only of the mysterious man and eagerly anticipated the scheduled date.
When Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha came to hear of this, he resolved to expose the man as a fraud. He began experimenting with various methods of burning chilies in order to discover a way in which they would produce inoffensive smoke. Finally, he learned the process. After soaking chilies in ghee for some time, he burned them in a fire sacrifice he performed in front of the villagers. The villagers were astonished to breathe in the innocuous smoke. “How is this possible?” they asked. “What mantra did you use?”
Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha told them, “That man was trying to make fools of you. After much experimentation, I figured out that soaking chilies in ghee makes them harmless when burned. Many people use mantras as an aid to fool common men, but it is not that difficult to figure out the truth behind the trickery and ill intentions of such persons.”
When the fraudster heard that Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha had exposed him, he decided not to appear on the scheduled day.
HIS EXEMPLARY HONESTY
Because Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha was a rāja-guru, the employees of the royal kingdom would come to his house every now and then to give him raw goods like grains, beans and flour as gifts, sometimes on the king’s behalf and sometimes of their own accord. They would tell him not to save any of the provisions, but to finish them off.
Once when they came, he refused to accept their offerings. He said, “I still have so much left over from last time.”
The royal employees said, “Never before, for any reason, have the other rāja-gurus ever refused these offerings.”
Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha replied, “How anyone could use such a large quantity of items, I cannot say. Perhaps they bury them in the ground or do something else with them. But regarding myself, I can say this with all certainty: I am not an elephant. I cannot consume the large supply you send me, nor I am inclined to be dishonest. Please take your goods back.”
From this incident, we can conclude that Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja must have possessed such a staunchly exemplary character from his very childhood.
SERVICE MUST NOT INCONVENIENCE ONE'S WORSHIPFUL DEITY
Before Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha met Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura, he worshiped Sūrya, the sun god. He had taken a staunch vow to refrain from eating anything before first seeing and worshipping the sun.
Once while he was on his way to Śrīdhāma Vṛndāvana for pilgrimage, the wintertime fog obstructed his view of the sun from morning until almost evening, and so he fasted without accepting so much as a drop of water. When his train reached Delhi, he caught a glimpse of the sun from his window. He thought to get down at the station to get water and buy fruits, but before he could do that, the train’s air horn sounded, indicating that the train was preparing to leave the station.
At that very moment, a man carrying a large basket on his head rushed up to Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha’s window and asked him to help unload the basket at the door. Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha helped the man unload the basket, but when he turned around, no one was there and the train had left the station. When he looked back at the basket, he saw it was full of ripe, out-of-season fruits and first class sweets.
He understood that his worshipful deity, Sūrya-deva, had personally given him those items. He concluded, “It is the devotee’s duty to worship his worshipful deity. But to undertake a vow that inconveniences that worshipful deity is grossly inappropriate.” Instead of taking those fruits and sweets for himself, he distributed them among sādhus when he reached Vṛndāvana. Thereafter, he decided to give up the vow that caused his worshipful deity to serve him.
SIMPLICITY IS NECESSARY IN VISITING THE DHĀMA
During his travels, Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha went to Śrīdhāma Vṛndāvana and then to Navadvīpa, where he arrived in Śrīdhama Māyāpura. There, he received darśana of Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura. As fortune would have it, the annual Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā was about to commence, and so Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha decided to stay and set out his bedding under a jackfruit tree. In those days, parikramā prasāda consisted of locally harvested fat-grain brown rice, which Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha was unable to eat. He did not mention this to anyone. Instead, he filled up on broken biscuits stirred into water. Although Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha was a learned scholar, born to an elite family of brāhmaṇas, as well as an esteemed rājaguru, he had not the slightest sense of self-importance. We can infer from his example the mentality we should maintain when visiting the dhāma.
THE IMPACT OF A SINGLE STATEMENT FROM ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA
One day during Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā, Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha was crossing the Sarasvatī River by boat to go to Śrī Godrumadvīpa. Śrīla Prabhupāda was also in the boat, along with several sannyāsīs and brahmacārīs. Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha had a habit of chewing pān, and so, due to the force of habit, he spat into the Sarasvatī. Śrīla Prabhupāda saw this and immediately said, “We regard Sarasvatī to be identical to Gaṅgā.”
Srila Prabhupada’s statement was so powerful that Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha began to reproach himself. He thought, “People go through so much trouble and spend so much money just to catch a glimpse of the Gaṅgā and bathe in her sacred waters. She is venerated by demigods, sages, seers and great personalities. Because of my bad habit, I have made the offense of spitting into her waters. Moreover, I have made a sādhu unhappy by doing this.” As he thought this, he removed his box of pān from his pocket and threw it into the Sarasvatī. He vowed, “From this day forth, I shall never again take pān as long as I live.”
This anecdote teaches us the real way to listen to and sincerely follow the words of sādhus.
SURRENDERING HIS LIFE AT THE LOTUS FEET OF ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA
During a short, few-day visit to Śrīdhāma Māyāpura, Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha heard Śrīla Prabhupāda’s charismatic hari-kathā and the glories of all the places visited during Śrīdhāma Navadvīpa parikramā. Through this, he internalized Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism’s current of immaculate precepts, and thereby realized that his erudition and respectable position as a rāja-guru were worthless. Without further delay, he accepted the shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lotus feet and received harināma and dikṣā from him. My śikṣā-guru Śrī Kṛṣṇakeśava Brahmacārī also received dikṣā on that same day. Having observed Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha’s approach to performing bhajana, his service-oriented attitude and his boundless conviction, Śrīla Prabhupāda awarded him sannyāsa about two years after his dikṣā, and he personally chose his sannyāsa name: Śrī Bhakti Gaurava Vaikhānasa Mahārāja.
Many of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples were astonished to see Śrī Ujjvaleśvara Ratha receive sannyāsa within such a short span of time, especially because Śrīla Prabhupāda was known to withhold dikṣā from many devotees, even those who had been waiting several years.
ESTABLISHING THE SUPERIORITY OF VAIṢṆAVATĀ OVER BRĀHAMAṆATĀ
Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja preached in many places after accepting sannyāsa. Once, after a tour in Balasore, Orissa, he went to the city of Berhampura, where the rāja-gurus of three different states approached him and said, “Even though you are kulīna brāhmaṇa and were previously a rājaguru, when you joined the Gauḍīya Maṭha, you began accepting the company of people from all types of castes and races. This has greatly harmed the reputation of our respectable position as both rāja-gurus and brāhmaṇas.”
With all humility, Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja explained to them the glories of daiva-varṇāśrama, a principle revived by Śrīla Prabhupāda. He helped the rāja-gurus understand the difference between the soul’s constitutional and conditional positions. He explained that the true, inherent identity of the jīva (living entity) is that of an eternal servant of Bhagavān, but in the conditioned stage, that identity is covered by many temporary material designations, of which brāhmaṇa is but one.
Upon further discussion, the rāja-gurus developed faith in the Gauḍīya Maṭha and in Śrīla Prabhupāda. Although they previously spoke ill of Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja, they ultimately agreed that he had actually increased their honor and dignity exponentially.
THE REPOSITORY OF OTHERS’ FAITH
Once, Śrīla Prabhupāda expressed his desire to organize a month-long event at Śrī Puruṣottama Maṭha, his maṭha at Cāṭaka-parvata in Purī. When devotees asked him who should be responsible for organizing that event, he said, “Śrīpāda Vaikhānasa Mahārāja will be able to manage everything very nicely.”
Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja was preaching in another city when he received word of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s directive. On one hand he was extremely delighted, and on the other he was worried about how to arrange everything. At that time, a businessman told him, “Do not worry in the least. There is no need for you to trouble yourself with collecting the necessary items or transporting them to Purī. I will arrange everything without getting up from my seat.”
This instance conveys the significance of the faith people had in him. They were so devoted to him that they could not tolerate seeing him even momentarily worried about anything.
THE PROPER METHOD OF DEITY INSTALLATION
Before having darśana of any deity of Bhagavān, Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja would always ask, “Who installed these deities?” If he was informed that a genuine Vaiṣṇava had installed Them, then he would offer praṇāma. But if not, his next question would be, “Has a distinguished Vaiṣṇava ever had darśana of Them?” If affirmed, he would offer praṇāma. Otherwise, he would leave immediately.
He would often say, “The scriptures forbid one to offer praṇāma to deities that have not been installed by a realized Vaiṣṇava. Deities become direct, worshipful personifications of Bhagavān only when any of the senses of a mahā-bhāgavata comes in contact with Them. In other words, They become śrī vigraha when a Vaiṣṇava touches Them, has darśana of Them, names Them or offers praṇāma to Them by reciting mantras of glorification. Otherwise, they remain nothing but statues composed of material elements like wood or stone. What intelligent person would want to invoke misfortune by offering respects to deities installed by non-Vaiṣṇavas?
“Although a lawyer may have drafted an immaculately intelligible deed for a property’s transfer of ownership, the typist may have made no mistakes in finalizing it on stamped paper, and the prospective buyer’s name may have been explicitly mentioned, it is useless without the signature of the present owner, just as currency has no value without the governor’s signature. Similarly, no one can approach or serve Bhagavān unless a mahā-bhāgavata confers his prāṇa-dhana (life’s wealth)—the inconceivable and unapproachable Supreme Lord Himself—upon that person.
“This is the real process of deity installation. Why should I offer praṇāma to an idol and thereby support those who follow an unauthentic process?” The above is a teaching I learned through his direct instruction and by observing his conduct.
AN EXPERT RECITER OF MANTRAS
As long as Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja was physically present in this world, Guru Mahārāja had him install the deities in all of the branches of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha that were established at that time. I noticed that when he recited mantras during those installation ceremonies, he never referred to a book; an uninterrupted current of mantras would issue forth from his mouth. Although he would instruct his assistant in the installations, my godbrother Śrī Bhakti Suhṛt Dāmodara Mahārāja, to cross check his recitation against a book of reference and correct him when needed, he never made a mistake.
REMAINING CAREFUL TO ACCEPT ONLY WHAT IS REQUIRED
On the instruction of Guru Mahārāja, I once presented Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja with four sets of garments I had dyed and prepared according to his measurements. However, he returned one set to me, saying, “I only ever keep three sets of clothes at one time. If I keep four, I will become a sense enjoyer. Please think of my well-being and keep this fourth set for yourself.”
AN EXTRAORDINARY DISPLAY OF SIMPLE-HEARTEDNESS
Once, Guru Mahārāja took Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja by plane from Kolkata to preach in Guwāhaṭī. While in the air, Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja told Guru Mahārāja, “Mahārāja, I need to pass urine.”
“Then go to the bathroom and relieve yourself,” Guru Mahārāja replied.
Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja innocently said, “Mahārāja, our guruparamparā has instructed us ‘jīve sammāna dibe jāni kṛṣṇa-adhiṣṭhāna— respect all living entities, knowing that Kṛṣṇa is present in every one of them.’ Kṛṣṇa dwells as the Supersoul, paramātmā, in all living entities. How, then, could I possibly pass urine in this airplane?”
“What do you mean?” Guru Mahārāja asked.
“The urine I pass will end up on someone’s head when it falls from the hole in plane’s bathroom, and this will become a serious impediment to my spiritual progress.”
Guru Mahārāja clarified that this is not the way it works. Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja then got up and went to the bathroom without worry.
HIS CAREFUL DISCERNMENT
Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja would engage others in serving him prāsada or water only after assessing their state of consciousness by quizzing them. He would ask various questions, like “What is the supreme duty of those who have obtained human life?” “What is the purpose of living in the maṭha?” “Why should we perform hari-bhajana?” and so on. He would ask them for something only if their answers were satisfactory and appropriate for performing hari-bhajana. Otherwise, he would remain silent and not ask for anything.
One time, when Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja came to our Kolkata maṭha, he called one brahmacārī over and asked him, “Why have you become a resident of the maṭha?”
The brahmacārī replied, “It is easy to maintain celibacy in the maṭha; I have come to observe celibacy.”
Seeing me pass by as he was talking to the brahmacārī, Śrīla Mahārāja called me and told the brahmacārī to leave. When the brahmacārī left, Śrīla Mahārāja had a peculiar look on his face. He said to me in a low, endearing voice, “Narottama, that brahmacārī has come here to practice celibacy, not hari-bhajana. If I accept water from his hand, his tendencies will enter into me. I therefore want you alone to bring me some water to drink.”
I was always amazed to see how subtly and carefully he analyzed his every action.
HIS GENTLE YET FIRM MANNER OF POINTING OUT FAULTS
Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja once found an error regarding the date of an Ekādaśī listed in the Śrī Navadvīpa calendar published by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Kusuma Śramaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja. When he noticed the mistake, he first consulted with Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vicāra Yāyāvara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktyāloka Paramahaṁsa Mahārāja and Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja. When the error was unanimously confirmed, he proceeded to draft a letter, which he gave to my godbrother Śrī Bhakti Suhṛt Dāmodara Mahārāja and me to deliver to Śrīla Śramaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja.
When I read his letter, I appreciated his ability to be simultaneously firm and gentle while pointing out another’s honest mistake. He wrote, “Śrīpāda Śramaṇa Mahārāja, if you assign Ekādaśī to this particular date in your calendar, then how will the verse of Śrī Hari-bhakti-vilāsa that describes how one should properly calculate ekādaśī-tithis hold true?” Śrīla Śramaṇa Mahārāja later replied that he regretted the error and would rectify it by pasting a sticker that mentioned the correction on all the undistributed calendars.
In those days, devotees were not ashamed when others pointed out their shortcomings. Rather, they would accept their flaws with grace. The model nowadays, however, is quite different. Although many devotees present themselves as Vaiṣṇavas externally, they experience no shame in behaving in a manner unbefitting a Vaiṣṇava when their impropriety is exposed. They perceive it as a personal assault to their prestige and self-respect, even though they may internally concede their shortcomings after careful introspection. Even when the scriptures and the precedents set by exalted personalities do not substantiate their views, such persons continue to defend their transgressions. By maintaining a stubborn attitude, they simply inflict misfortune upon themselves.
SERVING VAIṢṆAVAS IN WHATEVER WAY POSSIBLE
We, the devotees of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, were under strict instructions from Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja to notify him whenever we would pass through Berhampura. He used to say, “Though I may be unable to do much service for the Vaisnavas, I can at least send prasāda from my maṭha in Gañjam to those traveling through Berhampura. Naturally, I will be angry if you deprive me of this service. Now that I have told you this, you will be at fault should I become angry; do not blame me for it.”
His maṭha in Gañjam was quite far from the Berhampur railway station, and we did not want to inconvenience him in any way. Still, we would always honor his instruction by notifying him of our travels and graciously accepting the prasāda he sent, understanding it to be a token of his true mercy. In this way, whenever anyone would travel through Berhampura, they would ask my godbrother Śrī Bhakti Lalita Giri Mahārāja or me to send a letter to Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja notifying him of their journey, because ours was the only Bengali handwriting he was able to read.
HONORING AN EXTREMELY JUNIOR DEVOTEE
In 1962, when Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja manifested illness pastimes and was admitted to a hospital in Berhampura, Guru Mahārāja sent me to serve him. Before I departed for Berhampura, he told me many stories about Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja that illustrated his service propensity. After reaching Berhampura, I served Śrīla Mahārāja as much as I possibly could.
After a few days, Guru Mahārāja sent me a letter in which he said, “Many of the services at the Māyāpura maṭha have been put on hold in your absence. I am sending Śrī Bhakti Śaraṇa Sādhu Mahārāja to Berhampura. When he arrives, return to Māyāpura after taking the permission of Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja.”
When Śrī Sādhu Mahārāja arrived and I asked Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja for permission to leave as per Guru Mahārāja’s instructions, Śrīla Mahārāja told me, “This is the first time you have come here, so have darśana of Śrī Śrī Kiśora-Kiśorī-jī in our Gañjam maṭha before you leave.”
“As you wish, Mahārāja,” I said. Śrīla Mahārāja then had one of his disciples arrange for my visit to the maṭha and travel with me to the maṭha in Gañjam.
When we reached the bus station in Gañjam, I was welcomed by a large party of devotees performing saṅkīrtana. As they escorted me to the matha, they continued the saṅkīrtana in a grand procession. To my amazement, they laid down four lengths of white fabric that they would cycle out as I walked. I was embarrassed and hesitant to walk on it. When I asked the devotee who accompanied me why they had gone to such considerable lengths to respectfully welcome someone like me, he said, “We are simply following Guru Mahārāja’s instructions on how to honor Vaiṣṇavas like you.”
I was speechless. I began weighing my own condition against that of Śrīla Mahārāja in the light of a verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.81.16):
kvāhaṁ daridraḥ pāpīyān
kva kṛṣṇaḥ śrī-niketanaḥ
brahma-bandhur iti smāhaṁ
[Sudāmā Brāḥmaṇa said:] I am a sinful, wretched and unqualified brāhmaṇa, and Kṛṣṇa is the shelter of the goddess of fortune. Still, He has embraced me in His arms.
Although this verse was spoken by Sudāmā in reference to Śrī Krsna, it perfectly captured how I felt about the honor shown to me by Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja, who was not only my guru-varga, but Guru Maharaja’s sannyāsa-guru as well.
REMAINING CHASTE IN HIS COOKING SERVICES
Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja was an exceptionally talented cook. He personally cooked for his deities, Śrī Śrī Kiśora-Kiśorī-jī, even though he was elderly and had many disciples. When he would offer us some of Śrī Śrī Kiśora-Kiśorī-jī’s prasāda, we were reluctant to accept the dishes he had prepared, considering him to be a Vaiṣṇava worthy of our service. I once asked him, “Why do you continue to cook in your advanced age?”
He replied, “Am I some sort of unchaste wife who stops cooking for her husband? Whom will I serve if not Them?”
The chutney he made from banana peels and his sweet rice were so delicious that I can remember their taste even today.
A HUMOROUS AND AFFECTIONATE COMMENT
Each time my godbrother Śrī Lalitā-caraṇa Prabhu would serve Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja a variety of prasāda preparations, Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja would joke, “Lalitā-caraṇa, today you have become the munificent Dātā Karṇa.”
This comment made such an impression on my heart that even today I repeat the same thing when someone gives me many things to eat.
TEACHING AT EVERY STEP
Wherever Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja would go, he would describe Śrīla Prabhupāda’s glories, exemplary character and teachings. Although Śrīla Mahārāja delivered all his lectures in Sanskrit, his use of the language was so simple that everyone was able to understand, whether Bengali, Oriya, Assamese or Hindustani. His lectures, his personal conduct and his interactions with others were chock-full of teachings; there was a lesson to be learned at every step.
THE AUSPICIOUSNESS OF THE VAIṢṆAVAS’ KĪRTANA
I once went to a saṅkīrtana program in Berhampura under the guidance of Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja at the home of one of his disciples. The many devotees that gathered there sang various Vaiṣṇava songs. Śrīla Vaikhānasa Gosvāmī Mahārāja delivered hari-kathā and, at the end, addressed the hosts: “Today, the Vaiṣṇavas performed kīrtana in your home. This has undoubtedly brought you great auspiciousness. Śrī Prahlāda Mahārāja has said that a home in which saintly persons do not assemble and perform hari-kathā and kīrtana is comparable to a fearsomely deep, dark well.”