I first heard Srila Bhakti Vigyan Bharati Maharaja’s voice on some recordings. The first Vaishnava to bestow mercy on me in this life was Sri BV Bhagavat Maharaja, Srila Bharati Maharaja’s siksa disciple. Sri Bhagavat Maharaj gave me the service to transcribe many recordings he made of spiritual discourses he had with Maharaj. Even though I could not understand most of it, I had the faith that offering service to Vaishnavas would help me reach my soul destination.
By the mercy of Srila Gurudeva and the Vaishnavas, I reached Srila Bharati Maharaja’s feet in 2011. I first had his darshan in Puri dham. I was wearing pants and t shirts and I refused to wear tilak. I was reserved, too rebellious to “join” something and identify with it unless I was absolutely sure, and I was not yet sure. (That’s when I still thought I was in control of everything.) But Maharaj broke my wall down the very first time he spoke to me.
He said, ‘Everyone else here is wearing tilak. Why aren’t you?” I was shocked that he was speaking to me. I told him, “I don’t have Harinam. I don’t want to misrepresent you people. I am afraid I will do something bad and embarrass you.” He smiled and it melted my heart. “Put it on anyway.,” he said. By wearing it, you will become purified of your anarthas.”
The next thing I knew I was mixing my finger in the sacred paste daily and applying it even though I wasn’t even sure what it meant or why. I did it just because I wanted to please him. That is how he “tricked” me into taking my first instructions and following the orders of a pure devotee. He was in Puri that whole month. I went there twice every day on a rented bicycle from Chakra tirtha road.
At the end of that month, I asked Vaijayanti Mala didi if I could ask Maharaj for Harinam. She told me I could try, but he probably wouldn’t give it. She asked Madhava Priya prabhu to ask Maharaj. She delivered the reply to me that Maharaja said I should go to Kolkata and meet Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Goswami Maharaja and get Harinam from Him. So that’s what I did. I followed Maharaja there after Puri.
I met my Gurudeva then and my whole life changed after I took Harinam. I stayed there in Kolkata with him up until his departure last year. During the majority of those years, I was also given the good fortune of continuing to meet Srila Bharati Maharaj at Kolkata math. He would come there and stay a few times a year and deliver Harikatha in the evenings.
Within the first year of my stay at the math, many impurities were rising up within me, often resulting in tears of pain and frustration. I found it especially difficult to not have a chance for time alone. I had to share a room with so many others and they were always coming and going. One day in such a condition, I was trying to run up the stairs to the roof before the tears bursted out. Then I heard the voice of Maharaja’s sevak who was later named Sri Tapasvi Maharaj call behind me. I didn’t want to turn around but it seemed I had to. He said, “Are you OK, Mahalakshmi? Maharaj asked me to see if you are OK.” I was completely astounded. It was like someone rubbed a healing balm on gaping wound of my heart.
One of my favorite memories of him during those times was when I was on Tulasi parikram during Mangal Arati time. For some reason I looked up and at that moment I met Maharaja’s eyes directly. He was looking down upon the devotees from the verandah by his room. It was like the heavens opened and showed flower petals on me. Even today that moment is so present with me and I often remember it when I am on parikram of the mandir at Kolkata math and I miss him a lot.
One time in his room in Kolkata he handed me prasadam and I started to respectfully back away from him to leave his room. Then he said, “Wait. Taste it.” I felt embarrassed to eat in front of him, but I did it because that is what he asked. As I was chewing he smiled so much, then he said, “Do you like it? Is it sweet?” His face was so innocent when he spoke, like a beautiful baby. Without thinking I said, ‘Yes, but not as sweet as you are.”
Another time, I think it was on the day after Janmastami as I recall, Nandamahotsav, I was carrying a huge garbage can up the stairs after having emptied it. That day I had a lot of pep in my step and I was running up the stairs. I suddenly came to a halt when I had a gorgeous surprise darshan of Maharaj who was chanting alone at the landing of the stairs. I felt ashamed because I was carrying something filthy. I immediately turned around and ran away. Then he called me back. He motioned me forward and indicated that I should pass before him with this big dirty vessel. I hesitated and smiled but turned around again. Yet, he completely insisted once again.
He respectfully backed up as if I was carrying something important even though it was only a garbage can. I gave him pranams and I got a huge wave of bliss that took over my entire body but also my mind and feeling in the heart was so sublime. What just happened to me? I thought. I got the answer inside my heart. Oh! He lets me near him even though I am filthy like this garbage can! He is not disgusted by the contaminated vessel I am trapped in (material body). I have always heard pure devotees do not see defects and their vision is at the soul level, but now I had the experience of this. He gave me the mercy to experience the glance he put on the real me—the soul, and to call it forward to him even though I was carrying dirty things. He will never reject me or let me go away due to this dirty vessel I am carrying.
I was in Jagannath Puri dham when Maharaja left his body. I was staying at the same place I was in when I met him. As soon as I heard he was gone, I got a really moving “replay” of all these wonderful pastimes I had with him and I felt deep, deep gratitude. I booked a train immediately to Mayapur dham to try to have his darshan before entry into the samadhi. At the moment I reached, I entered the line to go inside his samadhi room and I had darshan only of the top of his dear head. Sri Madhusudan Maharaj took some mahaprasad flower decoration that I was carrying and offered that on top of Srila Maharaja’s dear head and went into the samadhi place with him.
I felt strongly that Lord Jagannath Himself used me as the courier to deliver that to Maharaj. It was a divine arrangement. HIs devotee Anjali didi put me into contact with a Panditji who hurried from the temple to give it to me just moments before I got on that train. I am still astounded to remember that the Lord himself made his prasad reach just in time to offer to Maharaja. I shook my head in disbelief knowing that I had the great fortune to encounter one of the Lord’s own beloved persons.