trnad api sunicena, taror api sahisnuna
amanina manadena, kirtaniyah sada harih
“One should chant the Holy Name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street. One should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and should be ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the Holy Name of the Lord constantly.” [Sri Sri Siksastaka, vs. 3]
Sri Srimad Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja lived his life based on this verse. He often said, “This is the most important teaching of Sriman Mahaprabhu. Srila Kaviraja Gosvami has said, “Make a garland of this verse and put it around your neck, then do hari-bhajan.” This is Mahaprabhu’s most important teaching. Mahaprabhu is an ideal acarya. As an ideal acarya, He is teaching practically. He Himself practiced in His own life; He never spoke theoretically.”
Sri Srimad Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja appeared on September 2nd, 1929 in a small mud hut in the village of Jagannathapur, Orissa, India, in a family of pure vaisnavas. The families on both his mother and father’s sides have been vaisnavas for centuries dating back to the time of Sri Syamananda Pandit Thakura and prior to that in Bengal for many generations. His grandfather, Bauri Giri is known as a paramahamsa-vaisnava who constantly chanted Hare Krsna and worshiped the family ista-devata, Sri Sri Radha Gopal Jiu.
His divine appearance in this world was not ordinary. All the symptoms of a maha-bhagavata were present through his childhood and entire life. Srila Prabhupada has said: “The life history of many such devotees is almost the same because there is always symmetry between the early lives of all great devotees of the Lord.” [SB 2.3.15, purport]
By the age of eight he had read Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-Gita and the Ramayana, and was able to explain their meanings to others. He regularly went on padayatra from village to village chanting Hare Krsna and singing the songs of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura and other Vaisnava Acaryas from his very childhood.
His love for the Srimad Bhagavatam was profound from a young age. Whenever, as a young boy, he would cry, his mother would put the Bhagavatam in his hands and he would be pacified. He was so much inclined to read the Bhagavatam, that he would forget to take his meals. The family was too poor to afford candles or a lamp for reading, so in the evening he would sit close to the cooking fire and read the Bhagavatam. At night he would go to sleep holding the Bhagavatam to his chest. His mother and father were very fond of studying and reading the scriptures. They would regularly read to their son. His father would read to him from Srimad Bhagavatam, completing all twelve cantos once a year. Srila Gour Govinda Swami recalls:
“I would regularly listen to Krsna-katha from my parents, they would read different Puranas to me and other Vedic literature: Srimad Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, etc. Such an opportunity I received at such an early age! From then I was singing, dancing, doing kirtana and listening to Srimad Bhagavatam.”
He was absorbed in loving service to Sri Sri Radha Gopal Jiu. Whatever free time he had from his studies, he spent with Sri Sri Radha Gopal Jiu doing seva, and kirtana. Even he neglected his studies in favor of service.
A Life of Purity
His whole life prior to meeting his spiritual master His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, was one of purity, preparation and devotion. In search of his eternal spiritual master he left home with only two gamchas [short dhoti], a bamboo stick, a begging bowl and no money. He completely depended on Krsna for everything. He would eat whatever Krsna would provide and sleep under any tree at night. As a mendicant, walking everywhere, he visited many holy tirthas, from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin in South India in search of his spiritual master.
Meeting Srila Prabhupada
Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja met His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada by the order of the transcendental system in Sri Vrndavana dham in 1974. During his first meeting, Srila Prabhupada asked him, “Have you taken sannyasa?” He said, “No.” Then Srila Prabhupada said immediately, “I will give you sannyasa.” Thereafter, Srila Prabhupada gave him first initiation in Sridham Mayapur, second initiation in Bombay, and sannyasa in Sri Vrndavana dham, on 20th April 1975. All were in quick succession.
Srila Prabhupada had said in regards to Srila Gour Govinda Swami that, “He is a devotee from birth...” and “Krsna has sent him...”
Instructions of Srila Prabhupada
During this time, Srila Prabhupada had not established any ISKCON temples in the spiritually important area of Orissa. He told Srila Gour Govinda Swami at his harinam-diksa in Sridham Mayapur, “You will take me to Orissa.” Orissa is the Holy place where Lord Caitanya performed His most confidential pastimes. Bhubaneswar is also the gateway to Sri Jagannatha Puri dhama. Srila Prabhupada had given Srila Gour Govinda Swami three instructions:
1. To build a temple like the Sri Jagannatha Puri temple in Bhubaneswar.
2. Translate Srila Prabhupada’s books into Oriya.
3. Accept disciples, train them and preach all over the world.
Under Srila Prabhupada’s order, Srila Gour Govinda Swami single-handedly underwent much hardship to begin the building of a magnificent temple envisioned by Srila Prabhupada. He stayed by himself on this plot of land with no money or facilities. There was nothing there but a jungle full of snakes, scorpions and ant-hills and it was known as an isolated area where only dacoits frequented.
In February, 1977, the year of Srila Prabhupada’s physical disappearance, Srila Prabhupada arrived in Bhubaneswar and waited seventeen days to lay the foundation stone for the ISKCON, Sri Sri Krsna Balarama Mandir Temple Project. This would be the 108th temple and the last founded project of Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada said, “This temple will be one of the best ISKCON temples in the world and will be the heart of the city.”
The translating of Srila Prabhupada’s books into Oriya was a daily and sacred duty. It was his policy to not sleep or eat until he had completed his quota of translation for the day. Even after long international flights he would insist upon first completing his translation work. He maintained this practice throughout his entire life. Today, these books are printed on the temple grounds at the local BBT press and distributed all over Orissa and India.
In regards to accepting disciples Srila Gour Govinda Swami, with humility, disclosed to Srila Prabhupada that he did not desire to be a guru. Srila Prabhupada said:
“You should have your own men and train them. You should accept disciples, otherwise how can you manage.” I said, “I don’t want to be the head, I want to be the tail, [follower].” Srila Prabhupada replied, “I want!” “Alright.” I know that to become head means so many beatings will come. Prabhupada said, “I want!” When “you want” then I should accept all these head beatings. Alright, very good, it is pleasing to my Guru.”
Srila Gour Govinda Swami would accept formal guruship on 28th February 1985 and in 1987 became the Governing Body Commissioner for ISKCON Orissa.
As a daily routine Srila Gour Govinda Swami would sleep 2-3 hours a day, eat only once a day and go door-to-door preaching the message of Lord Caitanya selling books and collecting donations for the temple project. He walked everywhere, as he did not know how to ride a bicycle.
In 1991, on Lord Nityananda’s appearance day, after sixteen years, Srila Prabhupada’s last founded project, Sri Sri Krsna Balarama Mandir was magnificently inaugurated. With humble devotion to Srila Prabhupada, Srila Gour Govinda Swami remained in a portion of the mud hut that he had built by hand for Srila Prabhupada. Srila Gour Govinda Swami would say that he often hears Srila Prabhupada on his dictaphone translating and chanting during the night in Srila Prabhupada’s room adjacent.
The Perfect Example
In the summer of 1985 Srila Gour Govinda Swami went to Europe to preach for the first time outside of India. For the next eleven years he traveled all over the world. This included North and South America, Canada, Africa, Europe, Asia, Mauritius, Australia, and India, especially to the rural villages of Orissa.
Of the many contributions Srila Gour Govinda Swami made, by far the most significant contribution is his preaching of nectarean Krsna-katha. Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja preached Krsna-katha very dynamically all over the world inspiring thousands of devotees. The most striking aspect of his preaching was the ability to expand on the Sri Bhaktivedanta purports with profound depth and detail and extensively supported with conclusive sastric evidences. Sometimes taking just one word or one sentence from the purport he would speak on it for days. A lecture would quite often continue for three-four hours, as the flow of Krsna-katha could not be checked. Each lecture was followed in the traditional vaisnava way of singing bhajans and reciting verses then pausing for explanation.
A Fearless Preacher
He would fearlessly preach and never compromise the conclusions of sastra in the name of being practical. During his powerfully devotional lectures, he inspired devotees to surrender, inquire deeper and empty their hearts of unwanted things to obtain the ultimate goal of life, Krsna-prema. He spoke of opening a “Crying School” where “Crying for Krsna” would be ‘taught.’ The chanting of Hare Kåñëa is the crying of the soul, thereby one can obtain the Lord’s mercy.
Although very meek and humble in his personal dealings, when seated on the vyasasana, a transformation would take place. He would roar like a lion, crushing ones pride and cutting the misconceptions from the hearts and minds of his disciples and followers. Interacting with the audience, he captured the devotee’s hearts. What was inside each devotee’s heart he expressed during the class. Devotees attested to this experience often while hearing from Srila Gour Govinda Swami.
“Srila Prabhupada says, “Everything is in my books.” Manifested and unmanifested: vyakta—avyakta, both are there, and all will become manifested. They say, “Only ABC and no higher things are here.” Yes, they say so, isn’t it? They are fools, great offenders who says like that. You cannot understand Bhaktivedanta Swami, you cannot understand him, what he has said. Such dull-headed fellows!”
Hearing from Srila Gour Govinda Swami was to realise Srila Prabhupada personally revealing his own Sri Bhaktivedanta purports and witness an unchecked flow from Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself.
Srila Gour Govinda Swami speaking to devotees in a darsan summarised his mission:
“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 Srila Prabhupada’s books. Devotees who say that Srila Prabhupada only gave ABC, cause so much pain in my heart. I want to make them maun [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.”
Srila Gour Govinda Swami’s disappearance pastime exemplifies the highest level of surrender and separation from Sri Krsna as explained by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. It was the ‘Centennial Year’ for Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada as well as the divine appearance day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, in Sri Mayapur dhama. At an auspicious moment, he went into divine trance while narrating the ecstatic mahabhava condition of Sri Krsna’s reunion with Srimati Radharani in Vrndavan. He described how, “...After a long separation, Krsna came back to Vrajabhumi, the eyes of Krsna fell on the eyes of Srimati Radharani, eye to eye union...” Overwhelmed with ecstatic love for Srimati Radhika and Syamasundara, he could speak no more and gave his final instruction: “Nama koro! Nama koro!” and called out, “Gopal!” and returned to His beloved Lordships Sri Sri Radha Gopal Jiu in Sri Vrndavan Dham.
The legacy and devotion of Srila Gour Govinda Swami is continuing today: through his exemplary standard of sri-krsna-bhakti that he preached, demonstrated and established; His exclusive dedication to his spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada; the ISKCON Sri Sri Krsna Balaram Mandir [and related projects] and his wonderful Krsna-katha; [publication of books, audio lectures and videos]. All of these contributions are serving to broaden and strengthen the society of ISKCON, uphold the prestige of Srila Prabhupada and pursue the founding acarya, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada’s mission to “Create an ideal society of vaisnavas.”
For a more indepth account of Srila Gour Govinda Swami’s life and teachings please read Krsnalingita-vigraha, "One Who is Always Embraced by Krsna." Please also visit www.SrilaGourGovindaSwami.org for more information.