Srila AC Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja & Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaja “The Guardian of Devotion”

trio1973
His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaja and His Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja Prabhupada sharing the same Vyasasana at the opening ceremony of Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja’s Sri Mayapur Chandrodoy Mandir. At the lower left is His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaja, who is now the President Acharya of the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.

In this photograph, Srila Govinda Maharaja is seen leading the kirtan by singing the Sanskrit prayer, Sri Sri Prabhupadapadma Stavakah, a devotional prayer to His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupad [the guru of both Srila Sridhar Maharaja and Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja]. This prayer was written by Srila Sridhar Maharaja, and is venerated and sung in Gaudiya Vaishnava Temples throughout India and the world.

On this most memorable occasion, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja declared: “I consider Srila Sridhar Maharaja to be my Siksha Guru, and Sripad Govinda Maharaja to be my dear-most son.” He sang the glories of Srila Sridhar Maharaja by saying “Jai Om Vishnupad Paramahamsa Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaja ki jay!” — a glorification that is only ever offered to one’s guru.

The following is an extract from The Guardian of Devotion, a booklet printed in 1985 by the Guardian of Devotion Press in San Jose, California, as a chronicle of the transcendental relationship between Srila Sridhar Maharaja and Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja.Editor’s Note: His Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja is affectionately addressed by his disciples as “Srila Prabhupad,” and His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaja is known to his disciples as “Srila Guru Maharaja.” However, since they both refer to their spiritual master, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada, as “Guru Maharaja” and “Prabhupada” throughout the text, in order to avoid ambiguity we have referred to them by their sannyasa names.Srila A.C. Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja and Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaja first met sometime in the year 1930 in Allahabad, India. In a taped conversation recorded in a 1973 meeting at Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s Math at Nabadwip Dham, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja recalls: “So, we are very fortunate to hear His Divine Grace, Om Vishnupad Paramahamsa Parivrajkacarya Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaja. By age and by experience, in both ways, he is senior to me. I was fortunate to have his association since a very long time, perhaps in 1930, something like that. At that time, he did not accept sannyasa; he just left home, and as a vanaprastha, in his white dress, he went to Allahabad.

“Maharaja [To Srila Sridhar Maharaja] I think you remember the incident when you went to Allahabad? On that auspicious occasion, we were connected . There is a long story, it will take time, but I had the opportunity of associating with Sridhar Maharaja for several years. Krishna and Prabhupad liked him to prepare me.”

“Sridhar Maharaja lived in my house for many years, so naturally, we had very intimate talks and he was my good advisor. I took his advices, instructions, very seriously because from the very beginning I know that he is a pure Vaishnava, a pure devotee, and I wanted to associate with him and tried to help him also. Our relationship is very intimate.”

Herein, we find the history of a transcendental relationship between these two pure devotees of the Lord. Addressing Srila Sridhar Maharaja as “His Divine Grace” and Om Vishnupad — forms of address for one regarded as a spiritual master — Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja has transcended the norms of social etiquette and superficial formality. Intimately associating together for a concentrated period of over five years, often for five to seven hours daily, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja considered that “Krishna and Prabhupad liked him to prepare me” for his future expansive missionary activities in the Western world. While remembering their intimate talks, specifically in regard to Bhagavad Gita, Srila Sridhar Maharaja recalls the depth in penetration of their discussions. “Once while discussing the verse dadami buddhiyogam tam yena mam upayanti te [“I give them the understanding by which they can come to Me” Bhagavad Gita 10.10] I submitted to him that here, upayanti is indicative of parakiya rasa [paramour relationship] . On this point he agreed with me, saying, ‘Yes, at this point there cannot be anything but the parakiya rasa of Vraja. The conclusion of Bhagavad Gita must come to this.”

Recognizing Srila Sridhar Maharaja as “a pure Vaishnava, a pure devotee” since the beginning of their relationship, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja most highly valued his instructions and advice. He would often consult with him regarding the spiritual significance of his failing business and family relationships.

An example of how Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja tried to help Srila Sridhar Maharaja in his preaching work is seen in his appreciating Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s uncanny ability for extracting the essence of the scriptures. He helped to finance the publication of Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s original Sanskrit-Bengali work entitled Prapanna Jivanamrta: The Nectar of Surrender. The book, as well as containing original Sanskrit verses composed by Srila Sridhar Maharaja, is a compilation of verses from various Vaishnava scriptures such as Srimad Bhagavatam, and includes excerpts from the works of Rupa Goswami. It is divided according to the six divisions of surrender.

Constantly associating, whether in Allahabad, Calcutta, or other parts of India, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja and Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s relationship continually developed. Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja continues to recall their meeting:
“In my householder life I had opened an office in Bombay for our business. The Bombay Gaudiya Math was established by Sridhar Maharaja and myself. We made two parties for begging, collecting alms. Sridhar Maharaja, myself, and Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaja. So, I took them to my chemist friends and I collected about five hundred rupees. Sridhar Maharaja would speak, I would introduce, and Goswami Maharaja would canvass.”

In the Srila Prabhupad Lilamrta, Satsvarup Das Goswami writes: “Abhay would often accompany Sridhar Maharaja and his assistants at preaching programs, where he would play the mrdanga. And when Sridhar Maharaja fell ill, Abhay led the other devotees on preaching engagements, performing kirtan, playing mrdanga, and giving lectures on the Bhagavatam.”

While still in Bombay, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja and Sridhar Maharaja were the receiving party for a Gaudiya Math sannyasa upon his return from Europe. Although dismayed by his changed appearance which was missing the tridanda of a Gaudiya Sannyasi, the sikha of a Vaishnava, as well as the traditional robes, they still eagerly inquired in regard to the preaching field in the West. The sannyasi remarked, “They ask questions that cannot be answered.” Concerned, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja inquired further as to the nature of those questions. One after another Srila Sridhar Maharaja answered them all. At last, the sannyasi was left dumbfounded and Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami boldly declared, “Today, Europe has been defeated by Asia!”

During the lifetime of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada, Srila Sridhar Maharaja once composed a poem describing the ontological positions of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur and the line of disciplic succession stemming from Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada was so pleased with the poem’s ontological depth and its happy style that he remarked: “Bhaktivinoda Thakur has written this through him. Now I am satisfied that although I may go, at least one man remains behind who can represent my conclusions.” In further appreciation of Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s writings, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada informed the editors of the Gaudiya Math’s periodicals, “If you include articles written by Sridhar Maharaja, the quality of your publications will be greatly improved.”

After the disappearance of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada, the Gaudiya Math gradually diverged. With full knowledge of the events surrounding the disintegration of the Gaudiya Math, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami told his disciples in the same 1973 conversation, “Our relationship is very intimate. After the breakdown of the Gaudiya Math, I wanted to organize another organization, making Sridhar Maharaja the head.”

Reciprocating the appreciation, Srila Sridhar Maharaja advised the leaders of the Gaudiya Sangha to confer the title “Bhakti Vedanta” upon the then Abhay Charan. Later, his sannyas-guru, Sripad Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja, one of the senior-most disciples of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur, and the first sannyasa-disciple of Srila Sridhar Maharaja, gave sannyasa to Abhay Charan, retaining the title “Bhakti Vedanta,” and conferring the sannyasa name “Swami.”

Additionally, when Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja returned to India in October of 1967, after his successful preaching initiative in America, he stayed with Srila Sridhar Maharaja in Nabadwip, and observed his Vyasa Puja celebration. At that time, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja wrote a letter to a disciple saying, “Yesterday, we have all come to Nabadwip Dham. This place is an establishment of one of my Godbrothers. It is a very nice and extensive place, and my Godbrother B.R. Sridhar Maharaja has spared one entire house for our stay. He has also agreed to cooperate with our society. We shall observe his birthday celebration, and the brahmacaris shall learn how to celebrate the spiritual master’s birthday.” Shortly afterwards, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja asked Srila Sridhar Maharaja to be the president of his newly formed society — the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

During the Vyasa Puja celebration, one of Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja’s disciples saw Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja and Srila Sridhar Maharaja fully absorbed in a deep discussion in Bengali. The disciple inquired from Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja what was the nature of their talk, and he replied, “If I were to tell you, you would faint. Sridhar Maharaja has very high realizations.”

That Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja continually regarded Sridhar Maharaja as his advisor throughout his life is clear in the following letter written by him to one of Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s disciples, Sripad Govinda Maharaja. Concerned about his failing health, he had written Sridhar Maharaja asking whether he should continue living in the United States or return to India to live his last days in Vrindavan. After receiving Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s reply, he wrote: “What Sripad Sridhar Maharaja has directed, I take it on my head. He is my always well-wisher. After the departure of Prabhupada it is appropriate that I should accept his direction. I got direction from him that I shall live in this country forever.”

Sometimes it is said that one’s preaching contribution can be judged according to the number of temples established, devotees converted, and books published and distributed. Srila Sridhar Maharaja travelled and preached extensively all over India, personally accompanying Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur for many years. Nearly fifty years ago, he established the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math on the banks of the Ganges in Nabadwip Dham, which is now a thriving institution. His followers have established temples in major cities throughout the world. His Sanskrit and Bengali writings have been appreciated by both scholars and devotees for their originality, depth of realization, and happy poetic style. Published and widely distributed throughout the world, they are now available in English, Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese, German, French, and are being translated into other languages.

Throughout his life, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja always maintained the highest respect and confidence in Srila Sridhar Maharaja. He considered that whenever it was not possible for his disciples to proceed directly under his guidance, that they should take direction from Srila Sridhar Maharaja. He once wrote in a letter to one of his students: “Because you are my disciple, and I think, a sincere soul, it is my duty to refer you to someone who is competent to act as a Siksha Guru. For spiritual advancement of life, we must go to someone who is actually practicing spiritual life. So, if you are actually serious to take instructions from a Siksha Guru, I can refer you to the one who is the most highly competent of all my godbrothers. This is B.R. Sridhar Maharaja, whom I consider to be even my Siksha Guru, so what to speak of the benefit that you can have by his association. So, if you are serious about the advancement of your spiritual life, I will advise you to go to Sridhar Maharaja. It will be very good for your spiritual benefit, and I will feel that you are safe. When I was in India with the others, we lived with Sridhar Maharaja. You can also make arrangements for your other Godbrothers to go there in the future. So, live peacefully with Sridhar Maharaja, and thereby you will be spiritually enlightened.”

In this passage, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja describes Srila Sridhar Maharaja as “the most competent of all my Godbrothers,” “someone competent to act as Siksha Guru,” and in an astounding statement, he declares, “I consider Sridhar Maharaja to be my Siksha Guru, so what to speak of the benefit that you can have from his association”!

What Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja means by Siksha Guru is best explained in his own words. In his purports to the Adi-Lila of Chaitanya Charitamrta, he states: “One should know the instructing spiritual master to be the Personality of Krishna. Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami states that there are two kinds of instructing spiritual masters. One is the liberated person fully absorbed in meditation in devotional service and the other is he who invokes the disciple’s spiritual consciousness by means of relevant instructions. There is no difference between the shelter-giving Supreme Lord and the initiating and instructing spiritual masters. If one foolishly discriminates between them, he commits an offense in the discharge of devotional service.” [Chaitanya Charitamrta – Adi Lila 1.47]

Although it may be said that Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja encouraged his godbrothers in general, no one anywhere can produce a similar statement of endorsement. The fact is that Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja possessed the highest respect and appreciation for Sridhar Maharaja, and Srila Sridhar Maharaja is unparalleled in his understanding and admiration of Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja, as evinced in the following eulogy:

“So our Swami Maharaja has done a miracle! Thakur Bhaktivinoda conceived and Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur began to translate this conception into action. And we find that through Swami Maharaja, in his last days, it has been fulfilled to such a great extent. We are happy, we are glad, we are proud!”

In response to this, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja with great humility, his voice choked with emotion, tearfully replied, “So, by guru and Vaishnava, whatever position I have got it is by guru’s mercy and the blessings of the Vaishnavas. Otherwise, how I may have? So, I wish that Sridhar Maharaja may bestow his blessings as he was doing always, and may Guru Maharaja help me so I can do some service. By his grace it has become successful. I have no credit. I do not know how things are happening, because I am not at all qualified: chadiya vaisnava seva, nistara payeche keba. [Without serving an ideal Vaishnava, who can be delivered from the clutches of maya?]”

And after the disappearance of Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja, Srila Sridhar Maharaja declared: “I consider him to be saktyavesa avatara, and it is confirmed in his writings on his spiritual journey through the Atlantic. How he landed there in America, and the nature of his beginning the movement, his intense degree of dedication to Krishna and dependence, and how much he made himself empty of any other desire than the order of his Gurudeva, quite empty that Krishna came down to help him, and it is corroborated that Krishna worked on his behalf. In his poem, Prayer to the Lotus Feet of Krishna, we find him pleading with Krishna, “My dear Brother, Your good fortune will come to You only when Srimati Radharani be comes pleased with You.” Seeing his Gurudeva Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati as Radharani’s delegation and his order as Her divine service, he humbly submitted that he did not feel himself worthy or fit to discharge the divine service, so he enlisted Krishna in the service of his guru. He had completely dedicated himself to the purpose, he was so earnest in his prayer to Krishna that he may discharge the duty that he has been given by his Guru Maharaja, that divine force, power, came down to help him. Otherwise, it is impossible. It is not a thing of the ordinary level that anyone will do, but the highest thing has been taken down to the lowest position so extensively. It cannot but be the divine power, embodied and in a great intensity and magnitude! So, saktyavesa avatara, I cannot but take him to be so.”

With such appreciation, there should be little doubt why Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja had implicit faith in Srila Sridhar Maharaja. He had even heard directly from Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad of the exceptional qualifications of Srila Sridhar Maharaja. In their last known recorded meeting in 1977, just prior to Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami’s leaving this mortal world, we find him imploring Srila Sridhar Maharaja to take up residence at his temple in Sridham Mayapur.
The conversation that ensues is a transcript of their taped conversation of March 1977.

Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami: I do not know for how long I will be able to carry on. So, I came to see Sridhar Maharaja.

Devotee: If you all go away, then the world will become dark.

Srila Sridhar Maharaja: [to Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami] It is so wonderful that the will of the Lord becomes manifest through someone.

Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami: I want very much, Maharaja, that you come and stay at Mayapur. Because Prabhupad always desired that you preach. He told me quite a few times, “Why don’t you pull him out?” [They both laugh.] You know, I also tried to some extent before, but somehow or other it did not work out. Now, why don’t you come and stay at Mayapur? Srila Prabhupad told me also, “Sridhar Maharaja is one of the finest preachers.” I want to take you everywhere. At least at the place we have in Mayapur, people are coming from all over the world. Why don’t you come and stay there? If you just agree, then whatever kind of building you want, I will arrange it for you. They are trying to build a house for me. So both of us will stay there. And whenever you want, you can come here to your Math.

Srila Sridhar Maharaja: Yes, as long as I am alive to fulfill Prabhupada’s desire.

Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami: This is my earnest desire. Since you could not go around the world and preach, at least stay there and people will come to you. I shall make that arrangement. If you stay, then it will be helpful to me also. Sometimes I need to consult with someone but there is no one. There is no one that I can consult. I feel this deficiency very greatly.

Devotee: If he stays in Mayapur, then, all kinds of people will get to hear from him.

Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami: Yes, that’s right.

Srila Sridhar Maharaja: Yes, people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds will come there.

Bhakti Vedanta Swami: Yes, and they are already coming. And in that house I will make arrangements for an elevator so that you won’t have to go through the difficulty of walking up and down the stairs. You won’t even have to move a step yourself. I’ll make arrangements for a car and a lift. My disciples are telling me that they will build a house for me. So, both of us will stay in that house. Most of the time I am travelling around, so if you are there, then they can get some guidance. So, Maharaja, please, give me the order and I will make all the arrangements for you. That Planetarium [The “Temple of Understanding”] also will be built under your direction. My idea is to combine the Indian culture and the American money — the lame man and the blind man policy. I tell them also that this will be very beneficial for the world.

Here, in their final meeting, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja prophetically refers to his imminent disappearance and reveals that it is in this connection that he has come to see Sridhar Maharaja. In friendly jesting, they discuss Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s reticence regarding large-scale preaching work. Of himself, Srila Sridhar Maharaja has remarked, “I did not want to become a big person. That is not my nature. I did not want to move around with many people. I am just satisfied with whatever I have. My spiritual thinking is my life. The conclusions of the scriptures, the advices of the mahajanas, to relish them and practice them and to discuss them in a small confidential circle, that is the main goal of my life.” In the Ninth Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja, quoting Dhruva Maharaja, writes: “‘My dear Lord, I am fully satisfied with whatever you have given me. I have nothing else to ask from You, for I am fully satisfied to be engaged in Your service.’ This is the mentality of a pure devotee who does not want anything material or spiritual from the Personality of Godhead. Our Krishna Consciousness Movement is therefore called krsna bhavanamrta-sangha, the association of persons who are simply interested in thoughts of Krishna.”

Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja testifies to his having personally heard Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad mark the high qualifications of Srila Sridhar Maharaja, whom he had once requested to go to the West. In this regard, Srila Sridhar Maharaja once remarked, “My Guru Maharaja wanted me to go to the West for preaching, but I don’t consider myself a fit person to preach in the West. Because, you see, I can’t follow your intonation. So, [laughing] I must listen clearly, then I shall tell. So, in this way, I told that if you order, I must go, but I don’t think that I am fit to preach in the West. Anyhow, it was stopped, and Goswami Maharaja was sent to the West.” When Srila Sridhar Maharaja had been selected, one of his godbrothers came to him and revealed the reason why Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad had chosen him to preach in the West. This godbrother explained, “Do you know why Prabhupad wanted you to be sent to the West? He said, ‘Because he can’t be converted.'”

And just twenty-four hours before his departure from this mortal world, Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad called for his beloved disciple Srila Sridhar Maharaja, and asked him to sing the song of Narottama Das Thakur: Sri Rupa Manjari Pada [the lotus feet of Rupa Manjari are my treasure]. Srila Sridhar Maharaja recalls: “So I did, hesitatingly. My nature is always hesitating, pushing back. Then, Kunja Babu asked me to stop. I was not a good singer, so as soon as he suggested, I stopped. Then, Kunja Babu asked Puri Maharaja of Kalna, ‘You sing.’ So he began. Then, Srila Prabhupad was a little disturbed. ‘I don’t like to hear the sweet tune of the song,’ he said. Then, he stopped, and I had to begin again with sri rupa manjari pada, sei mora sampada. He wanted me to sing that song. That is the fulfillment of life of everyone of us, to be Rupanuga — followers of Sri Rupa.”

Senior godbrothers who witnessed this exchange have described it as a “mystic transmission” in which Srila Sridhar Maharaja was given admittance into the eternal entourage of Sri Rupa Manjari. Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s humble vision, however, is that he was posted as the gatekeeper, the guardian of devotion [bhakti-rakshak], to protect the storehouse of conclusive truths about the full-fledged theistic conception of Sri Krishna, as given by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Further expressing his appreciation for Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s “high realizations” in Krishna consciousness, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja says: “I want to take you everywhere. At least at the place we have in Mayapur, people are coming from all over the world. Why don’t you stay there?” Sometimes it is wondered why Srila Sridhar Maharaja apparently did not take up Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami’s offer. Srila Sridhar Maharaja explains: “I said, ‘Of course I shall try to help you. Sometimes I shall go and stay there with you.’ But I really did not think at the time that I shall survive him.”

Finally, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja refers to “that planetarium.” Srila Sridhar Maharaja is very fond of Sanatan Goswami’s most famous work, the Brhad Bhagavatamrtam, in which devotees, devotional service, and Krishna are described very scientifically. On the basis of this transcendental literature, Srila Sridhar Maharaja had contemplated an elaborate preaching exhibition, showing graphically, with the use of dioramas depicting the varieties of material and spiritual planetary systems, how the ultimate spiritual destination is Krishna’s own abode, Goloka Vrindavan. Due to insufficient funds, Srila Sridhar Maharaja humbly submitted his idea to Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja, who approved, saying, “It will be built under your direction.”

And just prior to his departure from this mortal world, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja advised his senior disciples that in his absence, when the necessity arose to consult higher authority, that they should consult Srila Sridhar Maharaja. In conclusion, we humbly submit that the transcendental relationship between Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja and Srila Sridhar Maharaja be viewed and respected in terms of their eternal spiritual positions, and long-standing appreciation and affection for one another.

Since the departure of His Divine Grace A.C. Srila Bhakti Vedanta Swami Prabhupad, the “Guardian of Devotion,” His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Dev Goswami Maharaja, has repeatedly protected the teachings of the disciplic succession from perversion and misrepresentation as he has done for more than half a century, and has come to be recognized as a jagad-guru, or World-Acharya.