In 1975, India faced national crises as the government declared a state of emergency, suspended democracy, arrested thousands of dissidents and officials, and censored the press. The emergency period lasted from June 25, 1975, until January 23, 1977. In September 1976, the ruling party initiated a widespread compulsory sterilization program to control population growth in India. Certain groups were targeted. Over eight million men were sterilized in one year alone. Being antipathetic toward sādhus, the government mandated that all red-cloth bābājīs must be emasculated. Government leaders announced, “Sādhus are like red monkeys, only eating, sleeping, and causing mischief. They are a heavy burden and a disturbance to our country. Rather than doing work to help our society, they beg in the towns and villages and have illicit affairs with women; hence, we will force vasectomies to prevent them from creating unwanted population growth.”
Mathurā and Vraja-maṇḍala were heavily targeted areas.
Every year thousands of sādhus from different parts of India like Haridvāra and Citrakūṭa assembled in Mathurā to celebrate Janmāṣṭamī. During the Janmāṣṭamī of 1976 the government announced a one-lakh cash incentive for every 100 sādhus that a police officer processed. Policemen would attend temples incognito and invite sādhus for a feast. The sādhus were told they would be taken to a program where they would perform kīrtana, partake of mahā-prasāda, and then brought back. They were then escorted in buses to a local hospital where they were systematically processed with crude surgery and then thrown out on the streets bleeding. Many sādhus died because of infections or complications resulting from unsanitary surgeries and lack of medical attention. After these atrocities continued for several months, many of the remaining sādhus adopted ordinary dress or went into hiding, while others gathered together to protest.
Śrīla Gurudeva instructed all red-cloth brahmacārīs to remain in the temple and only those in white would bring vegetables or water for the Maṭha. Because some of the local officials and policeman were favorably disposed to Śrīla Gurudeva and would come regularly to hear from him, there were no problems inside Keśavajī Gauḍīya Maṭha. But going outside always posed a threat.
Eventually a group of influential sādhus approached Śrīla Gurudeva and requested, “Please protect us, only you can stop these atrocities.”
Śrīla Gurudeva became furious because of this diabolical government policy and summoned secluded conclaves with all the sādhus in Vṛndāvana. There, Gurudeva advised the sādhus to practice their sādhana in āśrāmas rather than roaming about as destitute beggars; and he instructed them on how to properly follow the etiquette of spiritual life.
Gurudeva said, “These atrocities to sādhus cannot last for long. In the beginning of Rāma’s līlā, Rāvaṇa sent many cannibalistic demons and rākṣasas to Daṇḍakāraṇya where thousands of sages practiced austerities. Khara, Duśaṇa, Tāḍakā, Mārīca, and many other rākṣasas harassed the ṛṣis—ruthlessly killing and eating them. So many sages were killed that hills formed from their bones.
“Rāvaṇa sent his rākṣasas to the sages with the message, ‘You are staying in our King’s territory, therefore, you must pay tax.’
‘We don’t have any business or agriculture,’ the sages responded, ‘how can we give tax?’ ‘You eat our fruit and drink our water, and from this your body has made a lot of blood. You can give us your blood as tax.’ ‘What will you do with our blood?’ ‘Our king will drink your blood and become more powerful.’ ‘If the sādhus are weak and not doing bhajana,’ the demons thought, ‘then our king will never be defeated, thus, we must kill them or take their blood as tax.’
“Rāvaṇa had conquered heaven, and was controlling the world, but he wanted more power and so he thought, ‘If I drink the blood of the sages, I will acquire the strength of their austerities.’
“The rākṣasas brought a gold pot, and the sages cut open their thighs and gave blood, saying, ‘Take this blood to Rāvaṇa and tell him it will destroy his dynasty!’ The rākṣasas took the pot to Laṅkā, but Rāvaṇa was not present at the time. Hearing of the curse, his wife Mandodari said, ‘Take this pot and bury it at once under the Himālayas! I will give Rāvaṇa animal blood in its place.’
“The pot was buried in the mountainous region of Mithilā where Janaka Mahārāja ruled. Henceforth, Mithilā became devastated by drought, and the women and animals became barren. Desperate to save his kingdom and people, Janaka Mahārāja consulted his brāhmaṇa advisors and planned to begin a sacrifice. While plowing the ground to clean the ceremonial area, they dug up a golden pot and, upon opening it, found a beautiful baby girl inside—Sītā-devī. Sītā was the embodiment of the sādhu’s curse on Rāvaṇa, and in due course she was the cause of the destruction of Rāvaṇa and his dynasty.”
Śrīla Gurudeva continued, “Rāma went to the forest for 14 years. There He killed the demons that attacked the sādhus. And when He met the ascetics, He instructed them, ‘Your tapa-bala, strength from austerities, is lost when you become angry. At that me demons can easily devour you.’
“Sādhus that stayed in the āśramas of Gautama, Yājñavalkya, Viśvāmrita, and other great ṛṣis, were not tortured by the demons. Demonic people will torment sādhus that do not surrender to a pure guru and instead try to practice bhajana alone, without kīrtana or hari-kathā. Only those sādhus that were not under the shelter of powerful ṛṣis could be attacked by the rākṣasas. Some think, ‘If I’m alone then I can do bhajana without disturbance.’
Gurudeva concluded, “The sheltered soul who sincerely practices sādhana-bhajana, following the instruction of his Guru-pāda-padma, never falters in his spiritual practice, even if he is subjected to trial upon trial. However, one who gratifies his senses on the pretense of bhajana will surely suffer many tribulations.”
The sādhus arranged a large procession to the government offices in Delhi in protest but their calls for justice were ignored. Later, a law was passed stating that sādhus must register with the government, only then would they be left in peace. The government leaders stated, “Rickshaw drivers, thieves, and rogues dress in saffron, either don dreadlocks or completely shave, and beg house-to-house. Posing as saints, they spoil ingenuous women, and thus many illegitimate children are spawned—causing a nuisance to society.”
The government also began to charge a toll to enter Vṛndāvana and Govardhana. Checkpoints were set up on the roads and visors entering Vṛndāvana had to incur levies. The penniless sādhus were also expected to pay before they could enter Vṛndāvana. Violators were arrested and ordered to pay the fee.
The sādhus became irate. Where were they supposed to get money for paying taxes? They complained to Śrīla Gurudeva about the situation and as a result he met with many high-ranking officials. Eventually, he registered a lawsuit with the magistrate, and by his influence this unjust regulation was terminated and the tax checkpoints shut down.
Sādhus had to tolerate immense hardship in those years. Once there was an elderly disciple of Prabhupāda Sarasvatī Ṭhākura named Govardhana dāsa Bābājī who came to Vraja to practice bhajana. He lived in an old stone tower at an obscure Ghāṭa of the Yamunā in Mathurā. One evening he was severely beaten by a rough bunch of local thieves, who stole his few belongings and then threw him in the river, assuming him dead. The dacoits of Vraja would accost sādhus in this way, thinking that they stockpiled donations from the public.
Somehow the Bābā remained alive. He had been thrown face up in a shallow part of the Yamunā, and lay there unable to move because of his injuries. It was more than a day before Govardhana dāsa Bābājī was found and taken out of the water in a precarious condition. His wounds and bruises were infected and oozing pus, and his body was covered with worms and insects. Śrīla Gurudeva was called to the site, and he arranged for him to be taken to the hospital. His whole body appeared rotten, and no one wanted to take care of him.
Śrīla Gurudeva called for one of his dear brahmacārīs. When he came, Śrīla Gurudeva said, “Care for this sādhu, he is a disciple of Prabhupāda Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. Help him.”
The Bābā was senseless. His body was pale and worms were clinging to his sores. The brahmacārī removed the worms and washed his wounds with disinfectants. The doctors gave him medicine and many injections, while the brahmacārī regularly cleaned his wounds and body. Soon he regained consciousness and eventually was completely cured.
As soon as he was well again he came to see Śrīla Gurudeva in Keśavajī Gauḍīya Maṭha. “By your mercy I have received new life,” he said. “I have some money in my bank account, please take it.
“I did not serve you for selfish reasons,” Śrīla Gurudeva said. “Just promise that you will not go back to that tower.”
“I will go back,” the Bābā said boldly. “If Kṛṣṇa wants, He may kill me.”
“Please stay here in the temple,” Śrīla Gurudeva requested.
Despite Gurudeva’s requests, Govardhana dāsa Bābājī returned to his previous residence after staying for some time in the temple.
In those days it was difficult for sādhus. People thought, “Why should we give money to sādhus? They are very rich.”
Hence Śrīla Gurudeva never accepted money from people disinclined to bhakti. Most people doubted sādhus at the time and only a few people came to the temple.
One time, a sādhu named Gopāla dāsa Bābājī, who did bhajana in a simple residence at Govardhana, was visited by some people who offered praṇāma and tried to give him many gifts. He did not accept their presentations, but that night some dacoits came and accosted him, saying, “You bogus old man! We saw those rich people come earlier today. How mu did they give you?”
“I did not accept anything,” said the bābā. “I never do. Sometimes I accept incense and ghee-wicks to worship Girirāja, but only this.”
The dacoits did not believe the poor bābā. “No!” they said, “you are lying! We know you have amassed a lot of wealth by your pretense of saintliness.”
They beat the Bābā so brutally that he died and then threw his body in an old well. Afterwards, they trashed his hut in search of the presumed wealth, but found nothing. Realizing their sin, some of the group turned themselves in to the police. “We killed an innocent bābā,” they confessed. “Put us in jail. We are ready to suffer for this sin.” The police did not arrest them, and instead they left their case in God’s judgement. Later, the offenders suffered greatly as a result of their sin. People like this are great offenders to Vraja.
Śrīla Gurudeva went from village to village meeting with the people of Vṛndāvana and Mathurā. He warned them, “Don’t disturb the bābājīs, they have come for bhajana. You should support them. They only need a small amount of flour and vegetables for their sustenance.” Gurudeva changed the minds of many doubtful people who assumed that all bābājīs and sādhus were imposters, cheaters, and thieves. He thus protected Vraja-maṇḍala and the real Vrajavāsīs. Śrīla Gurudeva began to print many books and as these books were distributed, people began to have more respect for sādhus. In this way, Gurudeva’s influence transformed the nature of the people living in Vraja-maṇḍala.
Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! (Excerpted from the Bhaktabandhav book publication, “Sri Guru Darshan”. Available from firstname.lastname@example.org )