Over the years, Śrīla Gurudeva inspired many locals in Mathurā to follow the moods of the Vrajavāsīs. They regularly came to the temple and sang Vrajavāsī kirtans. Gurudeva knew that if he could change the mood of the residents of Mathurā, then everyone in the world could be changed. He taught that if anyone resides in Mathurā but has spiritual greed and prays for vraja-bhāva and vraja-sevā, Kṛṣṇa will certainly accept that person and bring them close to Him.

Janmāṣṭamī is the largest festival of the year in Keśavajī Gauḍīya Maṭha. Śrīla Gurudeva sent the brahmacārīs all over Mathurā to collect supplies for the event.

“Should we also invite Muslims and accept donations from them?”

“Yes,” Śrīla Gurudeva acquiesced. The brahmacārīs went shop to shop, including those owned by Muslims, begging fruits, vegetables, grains, ghee, oil, and sundries for the large celebrations. To the brahmacārīs’ surprise, many Muslims gave donations, and many also attended the Janmāṣṭamī festival and listened to Śrīla Gurudeva’s hari-kathā.

“Muslim, Hindu—these designations are not the soul’s true identity,” Śrīla Gurudeva said in his public lecture. “The soul is not a brāhmaṇa or śūdra, or a Muslim, Christian, or Hindu. All souls are parts of the Supreme Whole, Kṛṣṇa, and they are all connected to Him by love. Do not think that you are of one group and we are another. Then you will not be able to experience Kṛṣṇa’s love.”

By Śrīla Gurudeva’s sweet words and conduct, many Muslims’ hearts changed. They gave up eating meat and began to follow Ekādaśī and the practices of bhakti.

Śrīla Gurudeva annually arranged a three-day festival on this most auspicious occasion.  There would be a large parade the evening before Janmastami. Expert kīrtanīyas, invited by Gurudeva, would sing bhajanas about Kṛṣṇa from the afternoon until midnight, when Kṛṣṇa’s Deity is bathed (subsequent to the time of His birth).

Śrīla Gurudeva was a guardian to the sādhus of Vraja. They all received him and often came to hear from him. Gurudeva sometimes went to meet with elderly disciples of Prabhupāda Sarasvatī Ṭhākura such as Akiñcana Kṛṣṇadāsa Bābājī Mahārāja and other senior Vaiṣṇavas who resided in Vraja. Gurudeva would offer obeisance to them, give them a gift, and speak hari-kathā with them. Different Vaiṣṇavas also came to stay at Keśavajī Gauḍīya Maṭha, where Gurudeva would accommodate and serve them.

Śrīla Nimāi dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja, a disciple of Prabhupāda Sarasvati Thakur, who performed bhajana near Viśākhā-devī’s birthplace, Kamai Karehla, once instructed his sevaka, Rāma Kṛṣṇa dāsa, to bring him to Mathurā to meet with Gurudeva just prior to Janmāṣṭamī. He was over one hundred years old and could barely walk or see. They arrived a few days before the Janmāṣṭamī festival and Nimāi dāsa Bābājī requested Śrīla Gurudeva if he could stay for the celebration. Gurudeva respectfully gave him a room and spoke warmly with him.

At midnight on Janmāṣṭamī, the Mathurāvāsīs began to sing, “Nanda ke ānanda bayo, jaya kanhaiyā lal ki—(Nanda’s son has been born; all glories to baby Kanhaiyā!)” Hearing this kīrtana joyously sung by the thousands of faithful assembled in Keśavajī Gauḍīya Maṭha, Nimāi dāsa Bābājī got up and began to dance in ecstasy. Śrīla Gurudeva quickly came over to make sure the Bābājī didn’t fall and get hurt.

“Mahārāja,” Nimāi dāsa Bābājī told Gurudeva, “you have been victorious over the Mathurā wallas! I am happily surprised to hear everyone sing—Nanda ke ānanda bayo, jai kanhaiyā lal ki! In Mathurā they chant, ‘Jaya Vasudeva-nandana, Jaya Devakī-nandana!’ They don’t normally glorify Kṛṣṇa as the son of Nanda and Yaśodā. But now I see you have engendered love for Nanda-nandana and have brought Vraja to Mathurā!”

Nimāi dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja again sat down; then he loudly recited the verse—jayati jana-nivāso devakī-janma-vādo—He is not really Devakī’s son (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.90.48). Nimāi dāsa Bābājī cried gleefully, “Devakī janma vado—this is only a theory. Kṛṣṇa is Nanda and Yaśodā’s son!”

Nimāi dāsa Bābājī embraced Gurudeva. “Mahārāja,” he said, “I have been living in Vraja-maṇḍala since Prabhupāda’s disappearance and have been trying to convince people that Kṛṣṇa is not Devakī-nandana but Yaśodā-nandana and Nanda-nandana—but no one believed me. But I see that you have changed the hearts of thousands. This brings me boundless joy!”

The next day was Nandotsava, the festival in which Nanda Mahārāja celebrated the birth of his son. Over ten thousand people honored prasāda during the celebration at Keśavajī Gauḍīya Maṭha, and dried prasādam was packaged and sent to devotees around India. Throughout the day, throngs of faithful moving through the temple sang the glories of Nanda-nandana Kṛṣṇa.

Witnessing this scene, Nimāi dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja declared to Gurudeva, “My life is successful! No one is announcing the birth of Vasudeva’s son. Now, even in Mathurā, everyone is celebrating the birth of Nanda-nandana!”

Śrīla Gurudeva annually invited the paṇḍitas of Mathurā for a discussion on kṛṣṇa-tattva, and whether or not Kṛṣṇa is Vasudeva-nandana or Nanda-nandana. In India, the opinion of the vox populi is that Kṛṣṇa was born in Mathurā; Vasudeva Mahārāja took Him to Gokula and returned with the daughter of Nanda Mahārāja. While Śrīla Gurudeva changed the nature and conceptions of the simple-hearted residents of Mathurā, the mindsets of those who consider themselves great scholars are harder to transform. The Mathurā paṇḍitas spoke in favor of Vasudeva Kṛṣṇa or Dvārakādīśa Kṛṣṇa, and then Gurudeva, with numerous quotations from śāstra, firmly established that Kṛṣṇa is the dear son of Nanda and Yaśodā. Defeated, the paṇḍitas hung their heads, unable to respond. After the debate, Śrīla Gurudeva gave all the discussants boxes of sweets, fine shawls, and donations, and he spoke kind words with them. Gurudeva’s gracious conduct won over their hearts and, although they had difficulty embracing it, they accepted Śrīla Gurudeva’s proven conclusion. “You are a Vrajavāsī,” they said, “and we are Mathurāvāsīs. What can we do? It is difficult to change our nature.”

Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! (Excerpted from the Bhaktabandhav book publication, “Sri Guru Darshan”. Available from [email protected] )

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