Devotees Remember the Divine Life of Srila Puri Maharaja
What follows are remembrances of devotees that were blessed with the personal association of His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Vaibhav Puri Maharaja, his personal qualities, activities, and pastimes.
The Glories of Srila Bhakti Vaibhav Puri Maharaja
by Sriman Bhakta das prabhu
In the month of Kartik 1992 I was blessed to meet and hear from the lotus mouth of His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Baibhava Puri Goswami Maharaja for the first time. During that month I attended his morning and evening darsan and listened with an open heart to the words emanating from his lotus mouth. At that time my personal sadhana had virtually ceased and I had practically given up all hope of ever practicing the regulations of sadhana bhakti again in this lifetime. However, by hearing submissively something magic happened to me. I felt like my Eternal Father His Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was coming to drag me via the agency of his divine and eternal brother. Really, from that time my life was wholly transformed and for the 17 years since then, His Divine Grace has been the most dear friend, and guide for me. He graciously initiated by son Bhishma deva in 1996 in Vrindaban and my wife Yashoda devi in December 2003 in Puri.
For nearly four years I was held prisoner in Orissa from 2000 until 2004, and most of this time I was staying in a state hospital in Cuttack. His Divine Grace would regularly come to visit and give some words of inspiration, some Jagannatha Mahaprasadam, and garlands. I would get a phone call from his servant Brajendra saying, "Maharaja is coming! He will be there in 20 minutes!" My wife and I would hurriedly run to get some garlands, fruits and juice and prepare a seat for this most exalted soul. He would come and we would wash his lotus feet, and we would have a wonderful kirtan, and he would say a few words to give us hope and inspiration. Always when he'd depart he would place his hands on my head and give his blessings.
In the last week of 1992 I went to stay in Puri at his headquarters next to the Gundica Temple, Sri Chaitanya Chandra Ashram. There were just a few sannyasis and brahmacaris there at this time. Daily I would sit for 5 to 8 hours with Maharaja and he would constantly speak Hari Katha. Every morning
after breakfast prasadam, he would sit on the steps of the temple in the nice winter sun and read the Srimad Bhagavatam. He showed me the inside back cover of his personal Bhagavatam where he has written the dates where he would begin reading and complete the reading of the entire Bhagavatam for
the past 65 years! Just imagine, for more than 65 years he read all 18,000 verses every single year!
Always while he was reading his eyes would be decorated with tears. Once I had a sudden realization that he was not just reading, but he was actually seeing, tasting, and smelling the leela as he read. I asked him, Maharaja, when a pure devotee hears the Bhagavatam does he actually see the leela and taste, smell it, etc?" He jumped up and with great excitement, waving his arms in the air, said, "Yes, Yes! Now you are understanding! Now you understand!"
Another time he told me that for 70 years he never missed the morning and evening program in the temple. Every morning he was there for mangala aratik and after aratik circumnavigation of the deity, Tulasi, then 2-3 hours of bhajans non-stop! The same every evening without fail. He would also attend the noon time aratik! At that time in 1992 the pump was stolen from the temple, so everyone was taking bath from a hand pump well. His Divine Grace was also. He was also hand washing his own cloth. I was so inspired by his total absorption in Krsna and his total simplicity of life in all respects. He forbid anyone to ask for money and he never asked for money from anyone. In 1994 a small parcel of land was donated to him in Mayapur. This was land that was right next to Iskcon's land, and apparently Iskcon for many years was trying to purchase this property, but the owner was not inclined to sell it because they wanted a temple to remain on this land. So, Maharaja had a temple next to the Gundica Mandir in Puri, (Gupta Vrindaban), at Seva Kunj in Vrindaban, just a stone's toss from Radha Damodar, and at last a temple in Mayapur! He said this was the last temple he wanted build.
His Divine Grace has so many tens of thousands of disciples, mostly village people from all over Orissa. He has many sannyasi disciples, brahmacaris,and even some babajis. Still His Divine Grace was always accessible to everyone. He was never too busy to not give personal attention. When you were with him, you knew that this is a person who is free from the influence of Maya, who is living with Lord Krsna, although still manifest to our senses.
What more can I say except I am crying feeling the separation pain, yet feeling happiness because he is now running in the forest of eternal Vrindaban with Srila Prabhupada and they are both dragging this helplessly fallen soul out of this place of misery, in spite of my unwillingness to leave.
I offer my dandabats again and again to his lotus feet and thank him eternally for being the most perfect uncle any devotee can ever dream of having. Thank you very much.
Your humble servant,
Sriman Basu Ghosh prabhu remembers Srila Puri Maharaja
Srila Bhakti Vaibhav Puri Maharaj established the Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mission at Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, in 1966. His institution grew with the establishment of many branches in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Mayapur, Vrindavan and abroad, most notably in Italy and Spain. Maharaj also visited these European countries and countries in North America as well several times.
My association with Srila Puri Maharaj spanned almost thirty-five years. It was at Rajahmundry, (in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh) during July of 1974 that I first met Maharaj. A few months later, a public lecture program, with lectures by Srila Puri Maharaj, and Achyutananda (then) Swami were arranged by ISKCON Hyderabad devotees at Rajahmundry, during November 1974. Later on, Maharaj visited us at ISKCON Hyderabad. Upon our request, Maharaj arranged prasad for one hundred fifty (150) ISKCON devotees traveling from Mayapur to Hyderabad for Srila Prabhupada’s “pandal” (public lecture) program, during March of 1975. This prasad was brought to the Rajahmundry train station, and back in those days, it was not a simple job to bring so much prasad to two train cars full of devotees, most of whom were probably very hungry youth!
During February/March of 1977, Srila Puri Maharaj joined me and Kapilashva Prabhu (our “sarathi”/driver) in one of Hansadutta (former) Swami’s Mercedes vans, (which had been driven overland from Germany to India) from Rajahmundry to Mayapur. We stopped along the way at Vishakhapatnam for darshan of Varaha Lakhsmi Nrsimha Swami at Simhachalam, and
the late B. V. P. Tirtha Maharaj (Puri Maharaj’s right-hand man for years, before his passing at age 65 around 1993) joined us from the Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mission’s “Sri Krishna Nagar” Math, located just walking distance from the sea.From there we stopped for darshan at Sri Kurmakshetra, in Andhra Pradesh - Orissa border area (in the Srikalkulam district of Andhra Pradesh), and then proceeded to Berhampur (now “Brahmapur” in the Ganjam district of), Orissa, where the late Nityananda Prabhu (later on “Maharaj”) joined us onwards to Mayapur. It was at Berhampur that Ananda Prabhu, a godbrother of Srila Prabhupada’s who had earlier stayed at ISKCON Vrindavan, who alone cooked us a fifteen- course lunch within what seemed like only an hour!
From there we all went to Jagannath Puri, then onto Kharagpur, West Bengal, where anothergodbrother of Srila Prabhupada’s, the late Sripad B. J. Janardan Maharaj, who had his own Math at “Subhashpalli”, joined our now large party. All were, however, comfortably situated in the van. From Kharagpur we went to our “final destination”, Mayapur, where I remember sitting with Prabhupada and Srila Puri Maharaj, alone, for an hour, observing, but not understanding, their Bengali conversation. The mood that I observed was one of deep friendship, and jovial intimacy!
Later on Srila Prabhupada fell ill, and requested Srila Puri Maharaj to install, on his behalf, the Deit y of Ananta Shesha, below what was to become the, “Grand Temple” (now renamed the “Temple of the Vedic Planetarium”). Srila Puri Maharaj and his party were received with all due respect and regard and were accommodated at ISKCON Mayapur. Later on, during 1977, Srila Puri Maharaj again visited ISKCON Hyderabad and gave some lectures there.
A few years later, Srila Puri Maharaj attended, upon my invitation, the ISKCON Jagannath Rathayatra festival at Surat, circa 1981. It became a habit for me to stop either at Rajahmundry, Vishakhapatnam or Berhampur and spend a few days - or even a week — with Srila Puri Maharaj on the way to the annual ISKCON Mayapur festivals, back during the 1980s.
During Jagannath Rathayatra of 1982, Srila Puri Maharaj inaugurated the Sri Chaitanya Chandra ashram at Puri, just behind the Gundicha temple at Jagannath Puri. Several godbrothers and sannyasis attended the function, including Shrauti Maharaj, who had taken sannyas from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. In fact, it was two years earlier that I had met him first, at the “Sadhu Sammilani” (”Festival of Sadhus”) arranged by Srila Puri Maharaj at Berhampur. Shrauti Maharaj was then in his late 80’s, and he only spoke in Bengali - no Hindi or English (so I couldn’t communicate with him much. In any case, he was very elderly, and in “so-so” health).
I also attended the inaugural functions of Puri Maharaj’s temples at Bhadrak and Bhubaneshwar, and much later on at Sambalpur, all in Orissa. When Puri Maharaj purchased the Radha Vrindavan Chandra temple at Seva Kunj, Vrindavan, I offered some small help in constructing the first ashram rooms there. Similarly, along with H. H. Bhakti Vishrambha Madhav Maharaj (earlier “Mahamantra brahmachari ACBSP”), I attended the opening of Maharaj’s second ashram at Radha Nagar, Peda Waltair, Vishakhapatnam during 1989.
Srila Puri Maharaj attended the opening functions of ISKCON Ahmedabad (1998), Baroda (1999 Janmashtami) and Surat (2001). After the inaugural function of ISKCON Ahmedabad, in a car loaned by a donor, I drove Maharaj to Dwaraka dham, and after returning to Ahmedabad, we drove to Vrindavan, via Sri Nathadwara, Beawar (where we halted for the night), and Jaipur. As we approached Vrindavan, we visited Govardhan, and did “parikrama” with the car! Srila Puri Maharaj was already 85 years old by this time!
It was my “duty” for many, many years - I guess more than 20-25 years, to bring Srila Puri Maharaj to the ISKCON Krishna Balaram Mandir on the annual date of the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada, where he would always give a much awaited lecture, wherein he would glorify Srila Prabhupada and admonish ISKCON devotees to follow Prabhupada’s teachings and remain loyal to his institution! His talks were always very much appreciated by the assembled ISKCON devotees.
Srila Bhakti Vaibhav Puri Maharaj was, to the end, a friend and well-wisher of Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, his disciples and the ISKCON institution. It pained him that ISKCON had it’s “ups and downs” in the years after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance from this world. He showed much affection to both Prabhupada’s disciples and grand disciples.
A Short Tribute to Shrila Shri B. V. Puri Goswami Maharaja
By Patita Pavana das Adhikary
The departure of a Vaishnava saint is a time of mixed feelings. As devotees, we are joyous that the pure devotee has returned back to home back to Godhead, joining the eternal lila of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as He spreads His sankirtan throughout the Universe. But we also find ourselves drowned in sorrow that the sacred darshan of a monumental soul and pure devotee can no longer be experienced by us–fallen souls who are dependent upon sadhu sangha for our own well-being.
It was my great good fortune to have the close association of Shrila Bhakti Vaibhava Puri Mahraja, the dearest Godbrother of Shrila Prabhupada, for only a rare few minutes in 1977, as I recall. I happened to be stranded in Calcutta, so I grabbed a train to Mayapur, and, lo and behold, I arrived at the sacred janma bhumi on the day that the Deity of Lord Kurma was being lowered into the ground as part of the foundation ceremony of Shridham Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir. The officiator of the divine ceremony was none other than His Divine Grace Shrila Shri B.V. Puri Maharaja, whose lotus hands our Shrila Prabhupada had entrusted with this task. I can say with certainty that Shrila Prabhupada would have trusted no one else from among his Godbrothers with this small but significant deed of chanting the foundation mantras. For it was nothing less than the watering of a seed for a future spiritual city to rise and unite all peoples of the world.
I watched the puja ceremony with bug-eyed wonder, understanding little. Shrila Puri Maharaja appeared to be a man in his late forties, though I found out later he was approaching mid-sixties. Though I looked up to him, a senior sadhu and lifelong brahmachary, he joined in with us very comfortably, putting each one in the assembly at ease with his absolute lack of ostentation. One could tell from his darshan that he was in no way a “party man” but rather a staunchly principled individual. Maharaja was nothing less than the epitome of a genuine holy personage of the highest order of Gaudiyas.
I watched his expert fingers flicking the flower petals, incense and sacred items upon the back of Lord Kurma deep in the earth. Suddenly he stopped chanting the mantras and almost mystically looked me in the eye. “Gold.” he said. “We need to offer gold. Does anyone have gold?” Suddenly my memory was jarred. I had bought some gold earrings from a London life member’s jewelry shop some years before, thinking I would look like a pandit when I preached to the Indian community. I had put them on and, seeing how ridiculous I looked, immediately removed them and placed them in my pouch, forgetting all about them. I had been carrying these solid gold earrings around for some years along with my papers. Suddenly the twinkle in the eye of Shrila Prabhupada’s Godbrother jarred an old memory. Smiling I pulled out the ear rings and handed the booty over to him. With a detached and casual flick of the wrist, Shrila Puri Maharaja cast the gold–and my maya–into the pit and continued the mantras. My foolish, impulsive purchase had found a purpose that day in Mayapur.
Today, we “foreign devotees” of Shrila Prabhupada join with the Indian Gaudiya disciples of His Divine Grace Shrila Shri Bhakti Vaibhava Puri Maharaja. You are all presently drowned in a sea of sorrow at the disappearance of your eternal friend, your guide, your guru who is your divine passageway to Mahaprabhu. We take shelter of the words of Shri Krishna at such a difficult moment, agnir jyotir ahah shuklah san-masa uttarayanam. (BG 8.24) Shrila Puri Maharaja was called unto the holy feet of Lord Gauranga during the devayana passage of the Sun, while the bright waxing Moon of Phalguna was just a few tithis from the holy celebration of Gaur Purnima. Even more than this holy astronomical calculation, as the best of the disciples of Om Vishnupda Paramhamsa Parivrajacarya Shri Shrimad Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaja, he was ever immersed in chanting the mahamantra:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
A true mahatma has returned back to home back to Godhead in the footprints of Shrila Haridas Thakur, leaving behind an example of pure devotional service in unalloyed Krishna consciousness for all devotees of the Supreme Lord to follow.
Sriman Annirudha prabhu remembers
His Divine Grace Srila Puri Maharaja
When a devotee that had been successfully preaching in Latin America introduced several new converted Vaisnavas and Vaisnavis to Srila Puri Maharaja from Germany, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, Puri Maharaja turned to me and with eyes moist with tears, and told me in a broken but sweet voice: "You see… He's making true Lord's Caitanya's prophecy!" Then Maharaja signaled to each one of them by making facial gestures: "He is from Germany! Oh, she comes from Colombia. …And she is from Peru!" Maharaja was overwhelmed with a feeling of joy after witnessing how people from all corners of the world were embracing the chanting of the Holy Names of Krishna as predicted by Mahajana, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, and materialized by Yuga-acarya, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Just by hearing and seeing Srila Puri Maharaja, my heart also melted.
Srila Puri Maharaja always had great respect, admiration and even reverence towards Srila Prabhupada. In the nineties, at the end of a gathering of Vaisnavas attending from different sangas and institutions, Maharaja said to everybody in the audience: "Now you just go all over the world and continue pushing forward Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja Prabhupada's mission. This is the only thing needed to please Guru and Gouranga…" I must say that Srila Puri Maharaja would always refer to him as "Srila Prabhupada," even during the time of His Divine Grace's physical presence.
On an early, chilly morning in December of 1995, I and my family paid a visit to Puri Maharaja in his beautiful asrama in Jagannath Puri Dham, just next to the famous Gundicha temple. He was basking in the morning sun rays and had his back leaned against one of the main pillars of the mandira's hall. He was wearing spectacles and translating some sacred text into Oriya. I was just getting up after offering him my dandavats when he asked me: "Any questions?" I then submitted my first question, and his answer evolved into a long, non-stop Hari-katha which lasted almost five hours. As soon as I came in front of him I noticed his eyes were watery, brimming with tears. I mistakenly thought that due to the cold season, Mahajara had caught a cold. But afterwards every single time he would illustrate a philosophical point by referring either to one of Krishna's or one of Lord Caitanya's pastimes, his voice would crack and profuse tears would gush forth from the inside corners of his eyes. "Oh, this is ecstatic emotion"—I finally realized.
On the exchange related in the first paragraph (1998), Maharaja was already traveling to Europe following the footsteps of Srila Prabhupada. He had a good number of disciples, mostly in Italy and Spain. And he continued traveling thereafter every year, eventually completing worldwide tours which took him to far away places such as California and even Mexico.
In 2004 I was in Los Angeles during the welcoming ceremony of Srila Puri Maharaja. I managed to push my way ahead and somehow or other one devotee gave me the stainless steel bowl which would receive the water from Maharaja's feet. After Maharaja's attendants helped him to sit in an improvised vyasasana, I proceed very jubilantly to wash his holy feet: bhakta-pada-dhuli ara bhakta-pada-jala / bhakta-bhukta-avasesa—tina maha-bala, "The dust of the feet of a [pure] devotee, the water that has washed the feet of a devotee, and the remnants of food left by a devotee are three very powerful substances." [C.c. Antya 16.60]
When the ceremony was over, a microphone was given to Maharaja and he started his speech with this words: "First of all I want to offer my most humble, postrated pranams at the feet of all Vaisnavas and Vaisnavis present in this function…" He stoically and dutifully delivered a short but enlivening Krishna conscious allocution. After all, Maharaja was well into his eighties and was exhausted after traveling more than 24 hours—checking at the airport, waiting at lounges, clearing immigration, and customs.
At the beginning of the millennium Maharaja was taken for sightseeing inside the monumental Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. While strolling the wide aisles in between the humongous naves of the basilica, and looking up at the statues of departed Popes, he stopped to take a close look of Alexander VII (sculpted circa1678) who is prayerfully kneeling and has a representation of vanquished Death below. Suddenly, an educated Italian also touring the basilica along with his wife approached Maharaja and in spontaneous outburst of mixed of wonder and joy, exclaimed: "Che bellezza!" [What a beauty!] Yes, Italians are very pious people. Mostly they become staunch, serious devotees.
A couple of years later Puri Maharaja again visited Rome. After welcoming him at the airport, his disciples drove him to the temple they have in the city. During this particular trip, Maharaja entered his room after delivering a lecture. He was alone. Devotes remained outside the roomcheerfully talking about Maharaja's glories. An innocent young mataji took advantage of the situation and boldly ventured inside his room. Noticing her, Maharaja started to call aloud: "Aaaaahh, Aaaaahh, Aaaaahh". When nobody noticed his voice, Maharaja raised his voice: "AAAAAHH! AAAAAHH! AAAAHH!" Finally, to convince all that he was disturbed, he literally started to scream at the top of his voice: "AAAAHH!!! AAAAAHH!!! AAAAAHH!!! This time everyone ran inside the room to see what was happening. With a pale face due to the effort, Maharaja stared intensely at the lady who was respectfully but frightened, standing in front of him with folded hands. Then all understood: Maharaja was crying for help! Although a perfect self-realized soul, Maharaja wanted to impart to his disciples a memorable lesson: a sannyasi or brahmacari should never stay alone with a woman. What to speak of talking intimately with her. By age calculation he was old enough to be the great-grandfather of this particular lady, nevertheless he showed by his personal example that a serious practitioner of Krishna consciousness must abide the rules and sadacara of the sannyasa asrama. As our Srila Prabhupada commented of Govinda dasi after forcefully sending her to Hawaii: "She can perfectly be my grand-daughter... I have no problem at all keeping her engaged in Krishna consciousness. But I'm a sannyasi…‘Ceasar's wife must be above any suspicion.'
Editors note: Once in the presence of Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada a similar incident occurred, as related by him. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur was requested by a young female disciple to answer some questions in a private room. The girl, the wife of a disciple, was young enough to be Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswai Thakur's granddaughter, but he adamantly refused to speak to a woman in a private place.