Discord and rancor in India over the holiest of Hindu sites, the birthplace of Lord Kṛṣṇa and that of Lord Rāma, has continued since the Moghul invasion in the sixteenth century. The conquering Moghuls destroyed Hindu temples commemorating these holy sites and built mosques in their place. Even after India gained independence from the British, these sites were a continual cause of conflict. Tens of millions of Hindus nationwide wanted to regain their holy lands for worship, but a Masjid was built at the birthplace of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa. To destroy mosques would escalate tension in Muslim and Hindu communities and could lead to an outbreak of widespread violence. Communal brutality did occasionally erupt and the temple except in emergencies. Miltitia intervened in extreme circumstances and applied strict curfews. One Kārka, brahmacārīs risked their lives to bring water from the Yamunā for the hundreds of pilgrims stranded in the temple, when fighting flared in the streets.
A court case lingered for decades over Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s birth site. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the area belonged to the Hindus. However, the mosque could not be demolished. The Muslims were forbidden to renovate the mosque, and once fell apart, the Hindus could fully regain the land. Unheeding, the Muslims repaired their mosque and acquired more land. Hindu groups established a committee to build a magnificent Kṛṣṇa temple adjacent to the mosque. Being renowned in Mathurā as a powerful sannyāsī with great devotion for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, Śrīla Gurudeva was invited on the committee. Gurudeva met with Hindu leaders of large construction companies, like the Dalmia, Birla, and Hinduja groups, and inspired them to help finance the project.
After a grand temple was constructed at the site in Mathurā where Kṛṣṇa appeared in King Kaṁsa’s dungeon, Śrīla Gurudeva was occasionally invited there to speak before large assemblies on the grounds of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Janmasthāna. The leaders of the temple management were deeply impressed when they heard Gurudeva’s discourses on sanātana-dharma and the glories of Kṛṣṇa and Caitanya Mahāprabhu. They came to him and offered leadership of the mandira, but being completely detached, Śrīla Gurudeva declined the offer in favor of his simple circumstances at Śrī Keśavajī Gauḍīya Maṭha.
Matters were not so straightforward in Ayodhyā. A mosque built in 1527 stood on top of the birth site of Lord Rāma. The government worried about the ramifications nationwide if the mosque were demolished and a temple built in its place. After the brutal violence witnessed post-Independence, ministers wanted tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities to subside. The case fossilized in the courts for over half a century. But the Hindus wanted their holy site available for worship. Millions of Hindus wanted to offer prayers to Lord Rāma at His birthplace, now covered by the Babri Masjid, but were unable because the site had been locked down in fear of conflict.
Finally, in February 1986, after intense pressure from the Hindus, Raj Gāndhī, the prime minister, ordered the locks to be opened on the Babri Masjid, and Hindus were allowed to come and worship there freely. For all purposes, it acted as a Hindu temple, but was still a mosque. Prior to being opened, a priest would come once yearly to offer ārati to Deities of Sita-Rāma that had been installed in 1949. On 14 February 1986, Muslims hoisted black flags in the city to protest the opening of the lock that sealed the Babri Masjid in Ayodhyā.
They murdered Hindus and set fire to Hindu shops, causing a riot that left hundreds from both communities dead and wounded. The ensuing savagery of the communal violence in retaliation throughout the cities, towns, and villages of India left an indelible impression on the people. Skirmishes and brutal spasms occurred periodically over the following years, especially over any development at the Rāma Jamna Bhūmi in Ayodhyā. On May 19, 1987, a curfew was imposed and the devotees in the Keśavajī Gauḍīya Maṭha had to remain inside on threat of death from the militia. In 1989, the foundation stone was laid for a Rāma temple. In 1990, there was a publicized scholarly debate on the history of the site, which established that the Moghuls had indeed demolished and built over a Hindu temple of Rāma in the 16th century. A government excavation confirmed this. Hindu activists canvassed for tearing down the Babri Masjid and constructing a grand Rāma temple in its place. Community fervor over the issue reached a fever pitch in the fall of 1992. On December 6, 1992, thousands of Kar Sevāks, adherents of the RSS, Rastriya Svayam-Sevāk Sāṅga, razed the Babri Masjid amid great tumult. As news of the demolition read, violence flared across India, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharastra, Karnataka, Assām, Rājasthāna, Bengal, and Madhya Prade. Within days, thousands of Hindus and Muslims mutually slaughtered each other.
Someone had to pay. In the second week of December, the government banned Hindu political organizations, including the RSS and VHP, and ordered arrests of Hindu leaders. In response, the Hindu organizations declared December 14 to 20 “Protest Week.” Śrīla Gurudeva had resigned from the VHP years prior, not wanting to be involved in politics. However, Gurudeva’s picture and name were printed in the newspaper along with a list of VHP members blamed as fomenters accountable for the demolition and resultant violence. The article advised arresting the leaders of Hindu organizations under present penal codes.
On the morning of December 11 Satsvarūpa Mahārāja came on a regular visit to see Śrīla Gurudeva. Aware of the growing tension, he invited Gurudeva to come to his simple private residence off the main road in Vṛndāvana, nearby the Krsna-Balarama temple, until matters settled. Gurudeva thanked Satsvarūpa Mahārāja and said he would soon apprise him of his decision. That afternoon, an official loyal to Gurudeva advised him to disappear into seclusion for his arrest was pending. Gurudeva thereupon asked Vegavati dāsī and Svarga dāsī, two ISKCON mātājīs present in the maṭha at the time, to covertly inform Satsvarūpa Mahārāja at once that he accepted his proposal and to kindly send his secretary to bring him to his residence. At ten past seven that evening, Gurudeva arrived with his sevaka Navīna-kṛṣṇa Prabhu at the Vṛndāvana cottage. Satsvarūpa Mahārāja cordially welcomed Gurudeva and led him in to the two-bedroom house through a worn gate.
“The house is a bit shabby, and its visible from the road through the front gate,” Satsvarūpa Mahārāja said. “But few people know about it and the area is unfrequented.”
He showed Gurudeva to a small tidy room with a chair, table, and bed, and said, “Unfortunately, there is only one bathroom in the building. Please excuse me.”
“It is more facility then I am accustomed to,” Gurudeva said kindly.
“Madhumaṅgala will prepare prasādam. It should be ready soon.”
“Navīna will help.”
During evening prasāda, Satsvarūpa Mahārāja asked, “Can I let the little group who was coming to your hari-kathā in Mathurā know that you are here? Will you be able to continue the Gopī-gīta classes?”
“If they are careful, I see no problem,” Gurudeva said.
Navīna-kṛṣṇa Prabhu entered from the kitchen with fresh rotis and said, “It is better no one knows for now. We will read the papers tomorrow and see what they report.”
“I am leaving India in a week,” Satsvarūpa Mahārāja said. “But if you need or like, you can remain here as long as you want.”
“I have come here to be with you because you warmly invited me.” Gurudeva smiled. “If you are not here, why would I stay?”
In his journal, Satsvarūpa Mahārāja recorded narrations of his interactions with Śrīla Gurudeva and expressed gratitude for Gurudeva’s presence. His sentiments towards Gurudeva as his siksa-guru are also eloquently expressed. He wrote, “Thank you, Śrīla Prabhupāda, for Śrīla Mahārāja’s visit. This place is a tīrtha now that my siksa-guru is staying here. May I take advantage of his association.” He later sent copies of his thirty-page journal of the week that he lived with Gurudeva to his friends and fellow GBC sannyāsīs. Despite efforts to destroy all copies once ISKCON policy towards Gurudeva changed, this journal, which provides valuable insights to this weeklong period, was preserved and later posted on VNN, the Vaiṣṇava News Network; extracts of which are integrated here.
During brāhma-muhūrta, Śrīla Gurudeva softly recited “Rādhā-kṛpā-kaṭākṣa-stotra” and other prayers. He then chanted harināma for hours in his room. Through the thin wall separating their rooms, Satsvarūpa Mahārāja sat and listened to Gurudeva’s chanting.
Then, every morning at around seven, Śrīla Gurudeva went on a japa walk with Satsvarūpa Mahārāja around the neighborhood. On the way, they occasionally spoke.
“You should not have difficulty with your bhajana,” Śrīla Gurudeva said as they walked, implying that his presence could be an inconvenience.
Satsvarūpa Mahārāja laughed and said, “My difficulty in bhajana is because of my mind. It should improve with you here.”
“How many rounds are you chanting,” Gurudeva asked.
“Today I have done sixteen, but I am doing extra.”
“I thought you were doing more.”
“Usually I do sixteen, but since you have come, I am doing more.”
“Why?” Gurudeva asked.
“Because you inspire me.”
“When I was younger, I would regularly chant one lākha before drinking water in the morning. Now I do one lākha a day—thirty-two rounds in the morning, sixteen at noon, and sixteen in the evening. I have a program to do that.”
“I am a slow chanter,” Satsvarūpa Mahārāja said. “It takes me two hours and forty-five minutes to chant sixteen rounds. Should I go faster?”
“Quality should not be sacrificed for quantity.”
Further on, Gurudeva asked, “Do you know what Kṛṣṇa and Rādhikā are doing at this time?”
Satsvarūpa Mahārāja checked his watch. It was 7:40. He conjectured and then listened as Gurudeva described how Kṛṣṇa is milking the cows with His friends in Nandagrāma. Śrīmatī Rādhikā dresses in Jāvaṭa and then departs for Nanda-bhavana. Kṛṣṇa meets Her at Ṭera-kadamba and He plays a trick to squirt Her with milk.
“You should add what we have read of the Gosvāmī’s prayers when you chant japa,” Gurudeva said. “Especially try to remember what Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are doing: rādhā-kṛṣṇa-guṇa-smṛter madhurimānandena sammohitau. Do you know the meaning?”
“It means to remember the qualities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.”
“What are Their qualities?”
“Their vilāsa, Their pastimes.”
“Add this when you chant,” Gurudeva said. “Then it will be very sweet. Otherwise in vaidhī-bhakti, when you chant, all worldly subjects and relations come in the mind. Instead, focus your mind on what Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa are doing at that time of the day, especially from the viewpoint of how the gopī-māñjarīs are serving Them. Especially think of the mañjarīs’ service to Rādhikā. You can add this to your chanting. At the time of death, you will then be able to think of these līlās and not worldly things. Then you will be able to go on to think of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa in the next life. We are not interested in salvation.”
On the morning walks, Śrīla Gurudeva would sometimes stop and look at the blossoming mustard flowers. “This yellow color reminds Kṛṣṇa of Śrīmatī Rādhikā,” Gurudeva said one day. “Kṛṣṇa wears these flowers behind His ears. Everything in Vṛndāvana reminds Kṛṣṇa of Rādhikā. We should strive to be like that.” Gurudeva laughed.
“Is it all right to try to think of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa in the West when we see yellow flowers or a forest or a river?”
“Yes,” Gurudeva said, “but actually Vṛndāvana is so helpful.” Looking down at the sand glowing in the morning sunlight, Gurudeva said, “This is all cintāmaṇi. The dust in Vṛndāvana is Baladeva Prabhu personified. Even if we don’t realize that the dirt is cintāmaṇi, still it is a fact. Therefore, there is always benefit in living here. And there is great benefit in going to Kṛṣṇa’s līlā places. Even the ants who live in Vṛndāvana are fortunate among all living entities.”
As they walked, passersby said, “Rādhe Rādhe,” and they replied, “Rādhe Rādhe.” A man passed chanting, “Jaya Rādhe Rādhe Radhe-Syāma, Jaya Rādhe Rādhe Radhe-Syāma.” Gurudeva repeated this chant and said, “Nowhere else in the world will you find that all the common people chant these names.”
Śrīla Gurudeva asked, “Sevon-mukhe hi jihvadau. Do you know this verse?”
ataḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāmādi na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ
Satsvarūpa Mahārāja quoted the verse and said, “It means that we cannot know Kṛṣṇa with our blunt senses, but when we serve Him, beginning with the tongue, Kṛṣṇa will be revealed to us in His holy name.”
“This is all right,” Śrīla Gurudeva said, “but there is something more. We have a body, mind, and words. Everything should be engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service. When we do this, we think of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa at all times. Nikhilāsv apy avasthāsu. We should chant to please Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā. When we say ‘Hare,’ Kṛṣṇa will be pleased, and by chanting ‘Kṛṣṇa,’ Rādhikā is pleased. So, we should chant softly and sweetly for Their pleasure.”
“Oh, should we be confident that They will hear our chanting and be pleased?”
“Yes, certainly They will be pleased. Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa are everywhere and if you chant, They will hear you and They will be pleased. Then you will make advancement and be successful.”
“This was a very good instruction in addition to what you told me yesterday morning.”
“Is this something new?”
“Yes, it is new.”
“Actually, we should be even more focused on Śrīmatī Rādhikā than on Kṛṣṇa. When She hears you say Kṛṣṇa and Rāma or Rādhā-ramaṇa, She will be so pleased.”
As they turned back to the house, Satsvarūpa Mahārāja said, “Last year I was actually enthused with the idea that I could reach the goal of rādhā-dāsyam, but now seems far away. It will take many lifetimes, but I am not going to be discouraged by that.”
Śrīla Gurudeva did not say anything at first, but after awhile he said, “We will consider our life successful if in this lifetime we can develop greed to become the pālya-dasi of Srimati Radhika.
“If we do that, then in the next life, we will be able to continue on the path,” Satsvarūpa Mahārāja said. “So, developing this greed is even more important than removing anarthas?
“Certainly,” Gurudeva said. “If some greed comes then the anarthas will quickly flee. But don’t be disappointed if success is not immediate. Rūpa Gosvāmī says, ‘It may take koṭi-janma, millions of lives, before this laulyaṁ comes.’ ”
“Should I understand that maintaining the temples and distributing books is secondary to attaining this laulyaṁ?”
“These are essential for ordinary people,” Gurudeva said.
“But those who want something higher must endeavor for this greed.”
As they headed around the last turn on the walk, Gurudeva said, “I have come to Vṛndāvana for you.” With a loving glance, Gurudeva said, “You asked me to come, so when there was an opportunity, I came.”
Back in the house, a devotee daily brought Śrīla Gurudeva the Indian Express newspaper. Gurudeva thanked the devotee and asked, “Do you know what Kṛṣṇa is doing now?” At no response, Gurudeva described Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes at that time of the day, and said, “You should add this to your chanting.” Then, after breakfast, Gurudeva sat in a wicker chair and briefly surveyed the news before continuing his chanting. It told of ongoing outbursts of violence, the mass arrest of RSS and VHP leaders, and that different states had dismissed certain political parties. On the second day in Vṛndāvana, Gurudeva requested one of the devotees to go inquire in the Mathurā Maṭha if there had been any incidents. Returning in the afternoon, the devotee said, “Mahārāja, yesterday policemen came to arrest you. They searched the temple and then interrogated the maṭhavāsīs. The brahmacārīs said you had gone on pracar to the villages of Bengal, as you normally do in the winter.”
“And the police?”
“They left, apparently satisfied the case was outside their district. An official came later and said you should stay low, but that the police are not hunting you.”
Śrīla Gurudeva then told Satsvarūpa Mahārāja, “You can invite the devotees to come at four p.m. for the Gopi-gīta class. I wish to finish the chapter before you leave.”
Devotees who heard Gurudeva’s whereabouts began to arrive for his darśana. Gurudeva attracted many loving followers. Although he was officially hiding, Gurudeva let everyone visit him. “The ants have found the sugar,” Gurudeva joked. “Just imagine, if you find some attraction to hari-kathā, how attractive Hari Himself must be!”
A score of devotees gathered on the roof for hari-kathā.
Śrīla Gurudeva gave everyone a piece of Jagannātha-khaja, the famed fried pastry of Purī. The devotees blissfully ate the sweet; however, they neglected to wash their hands afterwards. Gurudeva gently said, “I always wash my hands after eating, and before touching the scriptures or my japa-mālā. But cleanliness is for the ordinary sādhaka like myself. You are above that and are always clean.” The devotees sheepishly went and washed their hands and then quickly reassembled for the sweetest of sweets, Gurudeva’s hari-kathā.
Śrīla Gurudeva commented on two verses of the Gopi-gīta. “The gopīs asked Kṛṣṇa for just a little of the medicine to alleviate their kāma,” he said. “They are like beggars who ask for a little but want a lot.”
“We have learned something from the gopīs, then,” Satsvarūpa Mahārāja said, “for we say, ‘please tell us just a little about gopī-bhāva.’ ”
Smiling, Gurudeva said, “There are many hidden meanings I cannot speak of to you now. When you are qualified, I can speak higher, or you will realize when you are chanting and meditating on these verses.”
Gurudeva then described the moods of the different groups of gopīs as expressed in the present verses. Thereafter, he warned the devotees, “You must not think of the gopīs’ feelings or pastimes with Kṛṣṇa as worldly kāma. The gopīs’ love for Kṛṣṇa is spotless and pure. They love Kṛṣṇa even more than the other Vrajavāsīs. None feel the pain of separation from Kṛṣṇa as much as the gopīs. If we want to love Kṛṣṇa or His dear devotees, we have to be prepared to feel pain in separation from them. When someone dies, whoever loves that person the most experiences the most grief. We should not fear the grief of separation, but understand its value and purpose. First this mood comes towards the devotees. The day we feel the pangs of separation for Guru and Vaiṣṇavas, we can understand we are advancing.”
One day in Vṛndāvana, Śrīla Gurudeva brought attention to three verses in Bhajana-rahasya: (1) śṛṇvatāṁ sva-kathāḥ kṛṣṇaḥ, (2) naṣṭa-prāyeṣv abhadreṣu, and (3) tat te ‘nukampāṁ. He commented, “When we ant even nāmābhāsa, our prārabdha-karma is removed. And yet a person has to progress onward to remove further anarthas before he can reach the stage of ruci, āsakti, and beyond. But how will he be able to do that if he becomes liberated? Therefore, Kṛṣṇa kindly gives that devotee more prārabdha-karma so he can take another birth and continue on to prema. The mindful devotee understands that any suffering he receives is Kṛṣṇa’s mercy so that he can continue to execute his bhajana up to prema.”
Śrīla Gurudeva then explained the meaning of mukti-pade in the verse tat te ‘nukampam. “Mukti is within bhakti,” he said. “Mukti sits at the feet of bhakti. Mukti-pade also means that the devotee can go to the spiritual world and serve the feet, pada, of He who gives mukti, Mukunda, by putting Kṛṣṇa’s feet on her breasts.”
At nine a.m. on December 17, Śrīla Gurudeva departed with Navīna-kṛṣṇa Prabhu in a jeep. Satsvarūpa Mahārāja and his sevaka Madhumaṅgala Prabhu saw them off at the gate.
“I hope to have your darśana again soon,” Satsvarūpa Mahārāja said. “Please forgive any inconveniences you felt here.”
“There were none,” Gurudeva kindly said.
“I liked Navīna’s cooking so much, his sukta especially,” Satsvarūpa Mahārāja said.
From the jeep, Gurudeva smiled and said, “But I think Madhumaṅgala is more qualified.”
“Madhumaṅgala will have to learn from Navīna.” Satsvarūpa Mahārāja offered his respects as the jeep pulled out of the driveway. Later that day, Satsvarūpa Mahārāja left the country.
From the house of Satsvarūpa Mahārāja, Śrīla Gurudeva went and stayed elsewhere in Vṛndāvana for a week, continuing his seclusion. there, however, his health became fragile. One day catastrophe struck. Gurudeva had a heart attack. When he recovered enough to travel, Śrīla Gurudeva flew with Navīna-kṛṣṇa Prabhu from Delhi to Bombay, where he was admitted in a hospital.
Back in Mathurā, Śrīla Trikrama Mahārāja arrived at the maṭha and asked about Gurudeva’s whereabouts. The brahmacārīs said, “He went to a concealed place in Vṛndāvana to avoid the police.”
“When was the last you heard of him?” Śrīla Trikrama Mahārāja asked.
“A few days.”
“Do you have no love?” Śrīla Trikrama Mahārāja shouted. He then addressed the brahmacārī who managed the temple, “O Prema, go and inquire immediately at Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma. Find someone who knows Mahārāja’s whereabouts. I am worried. I feel some misfortune may have fallen.”
In shock, the devotees in Vṛndāvana had forgotten to inform Keśavajī Gauḍīya Maṭha of Gurudeva’s condition. When the brahmacārī searched for Śrīla Gurudeva, he heard he had flown to Bombay after a heart attack. He returned to Mathurā distraught and gave the news.
“You must go to Bombay at once and care for Gurudeva. Quickly collect some money for the treatment and then depart on the next train!”
The brahmacārī collected 240,000 rupees from the mathurāvāsīs and then went to Bombay. In Bombay, he stayed at the ISKCON temple in Juhu. He would cook three times a day and take by bus to
Śrīla Gurudeva and Navīna-kṛṣṇa Prabhu. He also gave what he cooked to Gopāla Kṛṣṇa Mahārāja. When Śrīla Gurudeva’s health recovered, he chastised the brahmacārī for coming to Bombay and sent him immediately back to Mathurā to care for the temple there. Back in Mathurā, the brahmacārī arranged for a bus to drive many devotees to visit Gurudeva in Bombay. When he was well enough to travel a month later, Śrīla Gurudeva returned to Mathurā. By that time, events had mellowed somewhat over the Rāma Janma Bhūmi case. Although communal violence did continue over the next years, especially between 1992 and 1994, the government no longer arrested sādhus.
Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! (excerpted from the Bhaktabandhav book publication “Sri Guru Darshan”; available from: [email protected] )