In the brāhmaṇa (priestly caste) village of Tiwārīpur, situated in the Buxar district of Bihar, India, near the banks of the holy Gaṅgā, the liberated soul, Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja, renowned as Śrīla Gurudeva and Bhaktabāndhava (the friend of all devotees), appeared on this Earth in the Vaiṣṇava brāhmaṇa family of Paṇḍita Bāleśvaranātha Tiwārī and Śrīyuta Lakṣmī-devī.
The Tiwaris were initiated in the Rāmānuja-sampradāya and are descendants of the śāṇḍilya-gotra (a brāhmaṇa lineage). They faithfully engaged in bhakti-yoga (devotional service which connects one to God) and, as religious householders, regularly hosted traveling sādhus (holy men). Many such sādhus visit Tiwārīpur in the months of January and February, where they dwell on the banks of the Gaṅgā to worship God and practice austerities. In the early morning these saintly people bathe in the Gaṅgā and absorb themselves in meditation, kīrtana (devotional songs), hearing hari-kathā (holy discourses), and, on occasion, perform fire ceremonies.
Since devotees experience profound elation during discourses on the glories of God, every evening the sādhus, local brāhmaṇas, and devout people of nearby villages gathered to perform kīrtana and to hear scriptural discourses at the home of Paṇḍita Bāleśvaranātha and Gurudeva’s grandfather, Śrīman Dhyānacandra Tiwari, who were respected Vaiṣṇava scholars. When prominent Vaiṣṇavas or sādhus were present, Paṇḍa Tāiwrī requested them to speak to the assembled guests.
On the evening of the new moon in the late winter of 1920, on the holy day of mauni-amāvāsya [when Lord Śiva awoke from his meditation], a revered Vaiṣṇava sādhu arrived at the Tāiwrīs’ home, where hundreds of people were assembled to hear hari-kathā. Śrīman Dhyānacandra invited the sādhu to address the crowd.
“I will speak hari-kathā,” the sādhu announced, “on the condition that, after hearing my words, everyone will endeavor to follow my advice.”
Eager to hear his discourse, the guests agreed, and the sādhu began by glorifying the devotees of the Lord:
“Whenever one glorifies Lord Rāma, Hanumān comes to listen; when one praises Kṛṣṇa, great souls like Prahlāda, Bhīṣma, and Janaka are present. Wherever Rāma’s pastimes are narrated, Hanumān sits in the back of the audience and leaves last.
One day, Tulasī dāsa went to hear rāma-kathā and to receive Hanumān’s audience. He desired to see Lord Rāmacandra and was informed this would only be possible by first attaining the shelter of Hanumān. Gradually, as everyone began to leave, he recognized Hanumān who was sitting in the back, disguised as an old man. Catching hold of Hanumān’s feet, Tulasī dāsa took Hanumān’s foot dust and begged for mercy. By Hanumān’s blessings, Tulasī dāsa later saw Lord Rāma and received His mercy.”
The sādhu continued, “In this life is not possible to directly meet Bhagavān, but He is very kind and sends His dear associates to this world. One must pray like this: ‘Lord, how may I develop a relation with Your associates? How will they become my dear friends and guardians?’ Relations with saintly devotees will connect us with God; but how can one understand who is truly God’s devotee? If one sincerely prays, God will grant the spiritual vision and knowledge to be able to recognize saintly personalities.”
Just as Śrīla Śukadeva Gosvāmī tirelessly recited the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the sādhu spoke the glories of saintly devotees throughout the evening and late into night. Meanwhile, the congregation listened with rapt attention, just as Parīkṣit Mahārāja and the assembled sages once had. The sādhu told the story of the origin and importance of mauni-amāvāsya.
The sādhu said, “In ancient times, after Satī-devī burned herself at the sacrificial arena of her father, Dakṣa, because her husband Śiva was disrespected, Lord Śiva thought that there was no longer anyone qualified and eager to hear the glories of Lord Hari. Only Satī-devī had been eager to hear such hari-kathā; therefore Lord Śiva considered her his dear friend. After Satī-devī left her body, Siva absorbed himself fully in samādhi (a profound state of meditative trance).
“Śiva’s duty is to relieve the burden of the universe by purifying the wicked desires and sins of living entities immersed in the darkness of ignorance. This task can only be accomplied by hari-kathā and hari–kīrtana, but Śiva was left to himself and thus sat in trance. Without the ambrosial near of hari-kathā, the entire universe became covered in darkness. Inauspiciousness filled the world, and all religious ceremonies subsided. No one performed bhakti-yoga, nor would anyone even speak the name of Viṣṇu. Eventually, Satī reincarnated as Pārvatī in the Himālayas. The demigods prayed to Lord Śiva to accept Pārvatī as his wife and return to his universal duties, but he remained deep in trance. Finally, Śrī Viṣṇu and Brahmā arrived to break Śiva’s trance. They requested him, ‘O Bholānātha, someone has come to hear hari-kathā. Accept Pārvatī as your companion and renew your universal responsibilies.’”
The sādhu concluded, “Mauni-amāvāsya” is the day Lord Śiva awoke from his trance by the intervention of Lord Viṣṇu and Brahmā. Lord Śiva broke his silence to recite the glories of God. Taking Tulasī leaves and Gaṅgā water, he promised, ‘I will accept Pārvatī after one month.’
One month later, when the fourteenth day of the dark moon arrived, Lord Śiva accepted Pārvatī as his wife. That day is known as Śiva-rātrī.”
When the sādhu finished speaking, Paṇḍita Tiwārī invited him to stay at his home. Paṇḍita Tāiwrī and Lakṣmī-devī were apprehensive to beget offspring. Their first child had died in infancy, causing them great sadness, and they knew that their spiritual lives would be disturbed if an ordinary soul entered their lives. Paṇḍita Tāiwrī and Lakṣmī-devī humbly asked the sādhu, “What should we do? Our relatives are pressuring us to have children. But we fear that if an ordinary soul comes to our home, we’ll become entangled in worldly life.”
The sādhu advised them, “When Śiva-rātrī comes, bathe before sunrise in the Gaṅgā, then return and worship Lord Śiva. Śiva is the greatest devotee of Viṣṇu and has excellent relations with the Supreme Lord. If he is satisfied with your worship and prayer, he will petition God to have a pure devotee born in your home.”
The sādhu continued, “You should pray daily to Śrī Kṛṣṇa while reciting the holy Gītā, which is the treasure chest of Kṛṣṇa’s merciful advice and teachings. Kṛṣṇa is present wherever the Gītā is honored; and wherever Kṛṣṇa is present, so are His devotees, just as a king is never without his entourage. You should also serve all devotees who visit your village, for it is the easiest means to please Kṛṣṇa.”
Paṇḍta Tāiwrī and Lakṣmī-devī faithfully accepted the sādhu’s instructions and they vowed to serve the devotees and to regularly recite the holy Gītā. They prayed to Śrī Kṛṣṇa for the association of His pure devotees while meditating daily on a particular verse that especially attracted their hearts:
man-manā bhava mad-bhakto mad-yājī mam namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi satyaṁ te pratijāne priyo ‘si me
Offer your mind to Me; become My devotee; worship Me and offer obeisance to Me. In this way, you will certainly come to Me. I promise you this truthfully because you are very dear to Me.
Śrīla Gurudeva’s parents went to the Gaṅgā everyday with a saṅkīrtana (congregational singing) party. After bathing, they returned home, applied tīlaka (sacred clay) on their bodies and worshipped the Lord. On the day of Śiva-rātrī in the early spring, Paṇḍita Tiwārī and Lakṣmī-devī served Bhagavān throughout the day and stayed awake all night to worship Śiva. They prayed to Śiva that they would be blessed with a son who was a great devotee of Kṛṣṇa. On Śiva-rātrī, the custom is to stay awake and perform worship four times: from six to nine in the evening, nine to twelve, twelve to three and, finally, three to six in the morning. Pleased by such worship, Śiva will fulfill all desires of the worshiper. Paṇḍita Tāiwrī and Lakṣmī-devī sat in the Śiva temple and recited the Bhagavad-gītā and Rāmāyaṇa. Next, they performed a fire ceremony and then bathed the Śiva-liṅga. They prayed to Śiva, “By your mercy, may the nativity of a great devotee of Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa take place in our family.” They thought, “Many devotees of Śrī Rāma are in our family, now would be a great blessing upon us if a devotee of Śrī Kṛṣṇa appears. Having a son who has pure love for Kṛṣṇa would enable us to always hear Kṛṣṇa’s glories in his saintly company.”
After Paṇḍita Tiwārī and Lakṣmī-devī concluded their prayers and worship in the early morning, they dozed off and had a vision. Thousands of effulgent devotees were singing the holy names of the Lord while dancing in ecstasy. They had glowing golden complexions and long arms, which they held high in the air as they danced along. As they approached the Tiwārīs’ home, Paṇḍajī and Lakṣmī-devī gazed at the divine personalities and thought, “We usually have kīrtana here in the evening. How is it that this kīrtana is happening in the morning?” As the congregation approached the house, the dancing and singing increased in fervor. One of the divine beings came forward and, with a sweet smile on his face, entered the hearts of Paṇḍita Tāiwrī and Lakṣmī-devī. They awoke suddenly, imbued with joy and attraction towards the divine being they had just envisioned. From that day onward, Paṇḍita Tāiwrī and Lakṣmī-devī always remembered the personality in their dream.
In due course, Lakṣmī-devī prepared a suitable maternity room in preparation of childbirth. On February 6, 1921, the Tiwārī’s family guru, a brāhmaṇa named Paṇḍita Miśra, who was initiated in the Rāmānuja-sampradāya, visited their home from his village of Majariya-gaon. Paṇḍita Tāiwrī welcomed his guru, offered obeisance, gave him a seat, and washed his feet. After speaking together for some time, Paṇḍajī offered his guru some prasāda (pure foodstuffs offered to God) and a place to rest for the night. In the early morning, Lakṣmī-devī went into labor. She rushed to the household maternity room and, with little pain or difficulty, gave birth to a beautiful boy. It was a few minutes past four in the morning, on maunī-amāvasyā, February 7, on the junction between the auspicious Vedic months of Puṣyā and Māgha.
The family guru had already awoken and gone to the Gaṅgā. Upon returning, he heard a boy had just been born and went immediately to bless the infant. Many sādhus were residing at the Tāiwrīs’ household, observing vows of silence on the day Lord Śiva was petitioned to arise from his meditation. But when they caught sight of the effulgent baby boy, they gathered and began to spontaneously sing in loud voices, “Śrīman Nārāyaṇa Nārāyaṇa Hari Hari, Śrīman Nārāyaṇa Nārāyaṇa Hari Hari!” The sweet sound of the holy names filled the atmosphere in affectionate welcome of Śrī Hari’s beloved devotee.
The family guru, Paṇḍa Miśra, examined the infant and saw he had remarkable blue eyes, a golden complexion, and a wide forehead adorned with a distinct mark of tīlaka, the sign of a devotee of Lord Viṣṇu. The auspicious signs of a jug, lotus, flag, and urdhvā-rekhā
(a line signifying an exalted soul) were on the boy’s feet, and there were ten cakras (auspicious lines forming the ape of a disc) on his fingertips. Observing all these markings, Paṇḍita Miśra told Paṇḍita Tiwārī, “You are extremely fortunate! This boy is not from your small village. He is a great devotee of God. I will draw up his birth
Upon the birth of the boy, Paṇḍajī and Lakṣmī-devī realized their son must be the same personality who had previously visited their dream. They rejoiced, “Now a saint has appeared in our home!” All the guests were pleased and said they had never seen such an amazing boy.
After compiling the chart, Paṇḍita Miśra discussed with the Tiwārīs what to name their child. They decided to give him the name Śrīman Nārāyaṇa. Since their son was born on maunī-amāvasyā, the Tiwārīs felt that Śiva had blessed them with a special child. His grandmother Dulāri-devī said, “He is peaceful and does not cry. So we will give him the nickname Bholānātha.” Bholānātha is a name of Śiva meaning
“the simple-hearted Lord.”
Paṇḍita Miśra then explained to Paṇḍajī and Lakṣmī-devī, “Your son has an auspicious chart. It shows that he will be a Cakravartī Mahārāja.” “Cakra” denotes a wheel, and “varta” its hub. Therefore, Cakravartī is one whom society will revolve around and, since he has conquered all directions, he is uncommonly distinguished. Paṇḍita Miśra concluded to Paṇḍita Tiwārī and Lakṣmī-devī, “Your son will travel the world to liberate souls from the bondage of māyā by leading them on the path of bhakti.”
It is said in the Rāma-carita-mānasa by Tulasī dāsa: honahāra vīravān ke hote haiṅ cikne paṭ—as the leaves of a sapling indicate how tall and powerful a tree will become, one’s character in childhood sheds light upon his future.
Before he could even roll over, Śrīman Nārāyaṇa (henceforward referred to as Śrīla Gurudeva or Gurudeva) would lie in his mother’s arms and listen to recitations of Rāmāyaṇa. When he was six months old, he would merrily ride on the shoulders of his father or grandfather to religious discourses. If they tried to leave before the lectures had finished, he cried loudly until they decided to stay. As a child, Śrīla Gurudeva sat in rapt attention for the entire duration of hari-kathā and never showed signs of hunger or thirst. When he appeared amongst the congregation, the atmosphere became surcharged by his presence, and anyone who caught sight of him was immediately filled with jubilation.
When Śrīla Gurudeva was about seven months, his parents noticed that if they tried to bathe him with ordinary water the gentle child would whimper and refuse to touch it. However, when they bathed him in water collected from the nearby Gaṅgā, he would be satisfied and joyous. He was exceedingly stubborn and would not eat a morsel, no matter how tempting, unless was prasāda and only after the family gave him caraṇāmṛta (water that has bathed the Diety), from their morning worship of Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa and Śālagrāma.
As soon as his son learned to talk, Paṇḍita Tiwārī would place him on his lap and teach him verses of the Bhagavad-gītā, just as a young boy learns the alphabet from a teacher. He lovingly advised his son, “By memorizing the Gītā, Kṛṣṇa will be seated within your heart. Kṛṣṇa’s advice is His mahā–prasāda (great mercy). One who wants to make his life successful will read the Bhagavad-gītā and preserve the verses in his mind. Wherever there is respect for Kṛṣṇa and His holy speech, there will be no place for misery, sickness, or illusion. Carefully keep these verses in your heart and thus protect our family line.”
Under the tutelage of his father, Śrīla Gurudeva easily memorized verses of the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. After studying the Gītā at dawn, Gurudeva walked with his father to the Gaṅgā, where they worshipped her with incense, a ghee-wick lamp, and flowers; they then bathed and offered oblations to their forefathers. While walking to and fro, they recited the Bhagavad-gītā. At home, Gurudeva’s mother gave him caraṇāmṛta and fed him prasāda from the family Deities, Śrī Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa.
Śrīla Gurudeva began school when he was five. The local children were naturally drawn to him and they eagerly assembled at his house to accompany him to school. Even boys of neighboring villages came and joined him. Gurudeva’s parents gave the boys caranamrta and prasāda, and then Gurudeva led them to school in the neighboring village of Dalsāgara—about nine kilometers from his home. The pathway went through a wooded area scattered with fields that became flooded and difficult to cross in the rainy season. The simple elementary school in Dalsāgara had one room as the teacher’s office and a small shed where equipment was kept. Students gathered for their classes under a large tree. Gurudeva’s father gave him a peacock feather quill and homemade ink to write with. Pens were rare in those days and if a child had one indicated he was from an affluent family.
When the teacher arrived he would notice that Gurudeva had been leading the boys in recitation of scripture. “Why aren’t you properly studying your actual lessons?” the teacher said. “What will you learn merely by reciting the Rāmāyaṇa?”
“Rāma will give us good intelligence,” Gurudeva replied, “and then the lessons will be easy to remember. How can we learn anything from you? You are for or fifty years old, and we are mere five-year-old boys; how can we understand your lectures? We cannot equal you. But with the help of Rāma, we will understand your lessons.”
“Yes, Rāma will help you,” the teacher replied in surprise, and then, a few moments later, he said, “I will recite the verses together with you and then perhaps you will understand what I teach.” From then on, every morning before lessons began, the teacher and students recited a chapter of the Rāmāyaṇa and then a chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā. During recess Gurudeva recited verses by heart, naturally inspiring the other children to join along. The school was transformed by Gurudeva’s influence. The boys respected and followed him as a leader, and he was soon made class monitor. When school was finished for the day, the boys buoyantly accompanied Gurudeva home. Once home, Gurudeva watched his father and mother serve their Deities and attended evening ārati (an offering to Deities of incense, ghee-wick lamp, water, cloth, flowers, and fan). Brahminical custom designates that no one is allowed to worship or cook for the Deity without formal initiation. Hence, Śrīla Gurudeva watched his parents worship the Lord. Afterwards, he listened to his father speak hari-kathā to the villagers. He then partook of the Deities’ prasāda and rested for the night.
As time went by, the Tiwārīs’ home was visited by an increasing number of people. It was often noted, “This house has mystic power. By doing kīrtana here, one experiences profound sweetness.” Without invitation many people would visit, bearing gifts like rice, wheat, fruits, or flowers; all the while feeling they had entered a temple of God.
“We are householders,” Gurudeva’s parents said. “Taking donations from others is not appropriate for us.”
Śrīla Gurudeva said to his parents, “It is good everyone desires to serve Bhagavān. Please accept their gifts and offer bhoga (unoffered foodstuffs) to Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa. Then give everyone mahā–prasāda.” His father and grandfather began arranging the daily distribution of mahā–prasāda to many people. Gurudeva was pleased to see that sādhus were given prasāda and a place to stay at his home.
In the morning, he observed that many deer, parrots, squirrels, pigeons, and other animals would gather outside his house, eat some grass or grains, and then leave. Intrigued, he ran behind them, asking, “Where are you going? Why are you leaving?”
He asked his grandfather, “Why do the animals come for such a short time and then leave?”
“They go wherever they are loved and stay there with their friends and family,” Dhyānacandra Tiwari replied.
In the evenings, when the villagers and guests would gather at the Tiwārī household to hear Paṇḍajī’s discourses, Gurudeva would also sit and listen. He was taught from a young age to offer respect to all Vaiṣṇavas and brāhmaṇas; in reciprocation they affectionately blessed him to be successful in life. Being attracted to Gurudeva, villagers would congregate around him, and became good-natured and devout in his company; such is the power of saintly persons.
The villagers returned to their homes at the conclusion of the evening program. One day, Śrīla Gurudeva asked his grandfather, “Why don’t people stay here with us?”
“It is not possible for them to always stay,” his grandfather patiently explained.
“Where do they go?” Gurudeva asked.
“They return to their families at home,” his grandfather said,
“where their hearts are bound by love.”
“But don’t they like us?”
“They do, but this is the nature of God’s creation. People have the most affection for those whom they have dire relations with.”
“Who is God?” Gurudeva asked.
“Rāma is God.”
“If we have love for Rāma, will He ever leave us? Will we ever leave Him?”
“Hanumānjī had so much love for Rāma; therefore, Rāma never left him and he never left Rāma.”
“I want to have love for Rāma like Hanumān,” Gurudeva said. “If I have real love for Rāma, then He will come and never leave me. Everyone else who comes eventually leaves.”
“All your family is here with you,” his grandfather said, “why are you worrying about others?”
“But everyone leaves and lives separately.”
From a young age, Śrīla Gurudeva’s attachment for God was quite apparent. He asked his parents questions like, “How can we develop a loving relationship with Bhagavān, so that He will never leave us?”
Understanding the fleeting nature of worldly relationships, Gurudeva vowed, “One day I will teach everyone the meaning of real love. Pure love is unavailable in this world. People search for love in all beings and objects, but they cannot find lasting love because everything here is temporary; therefore they remain unsatisfied.”
He heard from his father that those who have love for God naturally love all beings, yet those who have no love for God are cruel and hard-hearted. With this barometer, he examined the character of whomever he met, thinking, “When will I find a pure devotee
In search of such devotees, Gurudeva attended discourses on the Rāmāyaṇa, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and other scriptures. Lord Rāma is adored by the residents of Tāiwrīpura, and day-long recitations of His pastimes would often take place in the local temple, where Deities of Rāma, Sītā, and Lakṣmaṇa, as well as Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and Bāla Gopāla, are worshiped on the main altar. A deity of Hanumān and a Śiva-liṅga are also worshiped in the temple compound. Gurudeva sometimes went to this temple in the morning and listened to the brāhmaṇa priests recite Vedic mantras, and then stayed for recitations of the Rāmāyaṇa. Other notable places where religious programs are held in Tiwārīpura are Vāmanadeva’s temple and the āśramas of Nārada Ṛṣi, Vaśiṣṭha, and Gautama Ṛṣi.
During Rāma Navamī, the residents of Tiwārīpura would recite Tulasī Dāsa’s account of Lord Rāma all day and night—all the while fasting without a drop of water. Gurudeva wept incessantly upon hearing the woeful pastimes of Lord Rāma, such as when King Daśaratha was separated from his beloved exiled son and cried, “Hā Rāma! Hā Rāma! Hā Rāma!” before giving up his life. When hearing how Bharata came to the forest to bring back his elder brother, Gurudeva exclaimed, “How great is the love of Bharata!”
Śrīla Gurudeva later asked his grandfather, Dhyānacandra Tiwārī, “Tell me, why do we fast and recite the entire Rāmāyaṇa on Rāma’s birthday?”
“If we do so,” his grandfather replied, “Rāma will come and be pleased with us. This is His puja (worship). Physical articles are not the only means to serve Bhagavān. If one doesn’t remember and embrace Rāma’s glories in his heart, Rāma Himself will not enter the heart; thus, one’s consciousness will remain impure.”
“Why don’t we read this daily then?” Gurudeva asked. “If we do, Rāma will always stay with us.”
“It is good to read every day, but it is so long—there is no time.”
“Why is there no time?” Gurudeva asked. “Isn’t all one’s time and life meant for Rāma?”
“This is correct,” his grandfather said, “but twenty-four hours are required to recite the entire epic. You should memorize Tulasī dāsa’s Sundara-kāṇḍa. This is good for you and will not take such a long me.” Śrīla Gurudeva quickly memorized the Sundara-kāṇḍa and recited it along with the verses of the Bhagavad-gītā.
Śrīla Gurudeva remembered the heroic tales of Lord Rāma throughout the day and at night he dreamt of pastimes such as Rāma battling Rāvaṇa. Early one morning he had a vision of Lord Rāma, along with Sītā-devī, Lakṣmaṇa, and Hanumān, descending from the sky seated upon a divine swan. He ran forward and prostrated himself before Rāma’s feet. After Lord Rāma and Sītā-devī blessed Their beloved devotee They ascended, leaving Gurudeva trembling with a sense of separation. (to be continued)
Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! (Excerpted from the Bhaktabandhav book publication, “Sri Guru Darshan”. Available from: [email protected] )