Srila Maharaj is a Gentle Giant
I offer my humble obeisances at the Lotus feet of Srila Bharati Maharaja, who is an ideal example and representative of our Gaudiya-Vaishnava guru-varga. He always emphasised the importance of glorifying great Vaishnavas on the days of their appearance and disappearance, and I pray for his mercy, and for the mercy of his devotees, that I may glorify him in such a way that he will kindly continue to nourish my bhakti.
My shiksha- and sannyasa-guru, Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja, from our first meeting always emphasised the importance of associating with very elevated devotees. After he left this world, I wanted to find out with whom I should associate, and I found out that he had recommended his disciples to associate with Srila Bharati Maharaja. Meeting and associating with Srila Bharati Maharaja was an adventure, because there were some subtle barriers that had to be crossed in order to associate with him for any length of time. This was especially true at the time of Kartik. For 15 years, I had spent Kartik with our Srila Gurudeva and his devotees in Vraja. However, Srila Bharati Maharaja spent Kartik in Chandigarh, which was apparently far from Vraja. However, Srila Maharaja made it clear that associating with a Vraja-rasika devotee was the same as being in Vraja, and it was clear – although he never said so – that he was such a devotee. Compared to our Srila Gurudeva’s hari-katha, Srila Bharati Maharaja’s appeared quite conservative. However, his occasional references and statements made it clear that he was indeed one of Sri Radha's very close group: "What tune does Sri Krishna play on his flute? Only Sri Radha's name." "Who could see Krishna at Paithagaon with two arms, rather than four? Only those who were following Sri Radha."
The phrase comes to me when I remember Srila Bharati Maharaja is "gentle giant." He was very strongly built, and he once related an incident that showed how very strong he had been previously. At the end, he added, "And now, I'm walking with a stick." Now, he expressed that great stature in his gentle, mild, and humorous affection. When I met him, his goal in life was to complete his translation of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita into Hindi. After he had completed that, his one mission appeared to be to give hari-katha. Indeed, he said that he would continue to give hari-katha as long as old age did not weaken his tongue, as it had weakened his other senses and faculties.
Apart from giving hari-katha, his nature was to give affection to the devotees. He loved to distribute prasad whenever possible, and even when he hardly had the strength to lift his hands. And, of course, the devotees loved to receive it from his loving hands.
Srila Bharati Maharaja was extremely humble in his dealings. On one occasion, he praised Ananta Prabhu (now Tapasvi Maharaja): "He has served me so much. You are also serving so much, giving hari-katha and kirtan. Unfortunately, I'm completely unable to perform any service." His humility was touching and painful, for we had all come simply to hear his hari-katha.
Srila Maharaja had an astonishing memory from detail. On one occasion, when Madhava-priya related an incident that had taken place some 50 years before, but he could not remember the particular year. Srila Maharaja stopped him and corrected him, giving not only the exact year, but the exact date also. Srila Bharati Maharaja gave us extraordinary insights into the characters and personalities of Srila Saraswati Prabhupada's disciples. He had served many of them, and earned their deep blessings. He related their character and pastimes with deep appreciation, and emphasised the importance of glorifying them on their days of appearance and disappearance. Madhava-priya related how Srila Maharaja would anticipate these days with greatly transcendental glee two or three days in advance: "Soon we will have an opportunity to glorify this personality."
Srila Maharaja deeply and frequently emphasised the importance of serving Vaishnavas. When we serve them, their hearts melt, and their mercy naturally flows towards us. This is the only way of advancing in devotional service. I wanted to offer some service to him, but it was difficult. I asked Narottama Prabhu, and he replied, "With your status, it is very difficult." The apparent meaning of this was, "Since you are a sannyasi, it will be difficult for you to perform simple service like peeling vegetables." Another meaning might have been, "You might think that this service is very simple, but actually, even peeling the vegetables for Maharaja is very confidential service, and you are hardly qualified for it." Anyway, the best I could do was to turn up as much as possible, and hear from Maharaja.
Another feature of Srila Bharati Maharaja’s character that struck me deeply was his extraordinary insight into what appeared to be simple (yet essential and very basic) aspects of Vaishnava philosophy and practice. He had evidently spent much time quite undistracted by outward dealings, deeply meditating on the pastimes and the qualities of the Lord and his devotees. I regarded what we have heard from Srila Narayana Maharaja to be quite esoteric, but Srila Bharati Maharaja in a very simple way gave detailed insights that I had never heard from anybody else.
I remember how, at one assembly of Gaudiya Vaishnavas in Vrindavana, all present – both young and old new and experienced Vaishnavas – stood in respect when Srila Bharati Maharaja entered. I remember another assembly, in which the spokesperson introduced Srila Maharaja very simply: "Now Srila Bhakti-vijnana Bharati Maharaja will speak. He is the crest jewel of our Gaudiya Vaishnava community.” That was all, and that was everything.
I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to associate with Srila Bhakti-vijnana Bharati Maharaja for some time, and received his sweet and tender affection and mercy. I offer my prostrated obeisance at his lotus feet, and pray that he will continue to enliven and inspire and empower me to serve our Gaudiya Vaishnava acaryas, and to progress in bhakti.