Ananda Sambada

A Brief Life Story

Here is a summary biography of Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja (compiled using material from the Tattva Vichar Publications official biography, “Krsnalingita Vigraha”, and from the websites and 

‘Krishna Sent Him’

- Srila Prabhupada’s comment on his disciple, Srila Gour Govinda Swami.

Early life

Bauri Giri’s daughter Pata Devi was very devoted to Gopal. From her early childhood, she would come to see Gopal every day. Every morning she would sweep Gopal’s temple, make garlands, and cook for Him. Pata Devi married Ishwara Manik from the nearby village of Jagannathpur. Like the Giri family, Ishwara Manik was also in the business of selling bell metal. Ishwara and Pata had two sons, named Braja Bandhu and Kripa Sindhu, and one daughter named Swadhuri Devi. Their eldest son, Braja Bandhu, born on the 2nd of September, 1929, was later to be known as Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja.

Being married did not detract from Pata Devi’s devotion to Gopal. Although living 14 kilometres away in Jagannathpur, she always managed to come during festival times to serve Gopal. Pata Devi was always quiet and absorbed in serving her husband and children – every Saturday she would fast as an offering for their well-being. Each morning she would worship Lord Jagannatha and recite from the Purana and Bhagavad-gita. Every evening, she chanted hare krsna and performed tulasi-parikrama, with her husband and her son, Braja Bandhu. After parikrama, she would recite from the Srimad Bhagavatam. Any beggar or sadhu that came to her house never went away, empty-handed.

His mother and father were very fond of studying and reading the scriptures. They would regularly read to their son. Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja recalls, “I would regularly listen to Krishna-katha from my parents, they would read different Puranas to me and other Vedic literature: Srimad Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, etc. Such an opportunity I received at such an early age! From then I was singing, dancing, doing kirtana and listening to Srimad Bhagavatam.” His father would read to him from Srimad Bhagavatam, completing all twelve cantos once a year. He was completely absorbed in pure love for Sri Sri Radha Gopal Jiu.

Once, a famous blind astrologer named Nityananda Khadiratna travelled from Dhenkanal and stayed two days, in Gadeigiri. At that time, Braja Bandhu was a small child and he and his mother were staying at his uncle’s house. Pata Devi took her son to the astrologer, desiring to know something about his future. The astrologer said, “This boy is very intelligent and is full of devotion. He will be married and get government service. In his middle age he will give up family life and become a sadhu. He will acquire high knowledge and an important place on the map of sadhus. He will build temples. He will make Gopal’s place bright. Lastly the astrologer said that God Himself has sent this child from His abode to the material world for preaching His message and for the deliverance of the conditioned souls.

Attachment to the Bhagavatam

Pata Devi was eager that her Braja Bandhu would become a devotee of Srimad Bhagavatam, and she became very happy seeing that by her influence her eldest son was developing such attachment. By the age of eight Braja Bandhu had read the entire Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya-Caritamrta, and he could also explain their meanings. At night many villagers would come to hear his recitation of the Oriya Bhagavata, Ramayana and Mahabharata. However, young Braja Bandhu was particularly attached to the Srimad Bhagavatam. His old friend, Fakir Charan Das, recounts:

Srila Gurudeva once told me that whenever as a young boy he would become naughty and not stop crying, his mother would simply put the Srimad Bhagavatam in his hands and he would stop. He as so much inclined to read the Bhagavatam that if he were reading he would forget to take his meal. The family was too poor to afford candles or a lamp for reading, so in the evening he would sit close to his mother’s cooing fire and read Srimad Bhagavatam. At night he would go to sleep clutching the Bhagavatam to his chest. 

From 1942 to 1945 Braja Bandhu stayed in Gadei Giri with his maternal uncles Gopinath and Jagannatha Giri and he attended high school in nearby Balikuda.

Although Braja Bandhu often engaged in kirtana with his uncles, still he did not neglect his school studies. During the day Braja Bandhu would engage in study, in the evening he would join the kirtana with his uncles. Young Braja Bandhu was a quiet and serious boy. He did not engage in play with the other children and he showed no interest in cinema or mundane theatre. Whatever free time he had, after completing his studies, he would spend doing kirtana with his uncles or in rendering various services to Gopal. Braja Bandhu would clean Gopal’s temple, pick flowers for His worship, make garlands, and recite verses and songs for Gopal’s pleasure. He would never take any food that was not offered to Gopal. As a child he was not interested in sleep and would only rest for three or four hours a night, a habit he maintained his whole life.

Ghanashyam Giri was taking care of Gopal’s worship. Braja Bandhu would come and together they would perform kirtana and render service to Gopal. Damodara Giri was a good singer and was expert in kirtana. He was working in Bengal, but whenever he got the opportunity he would come to Gopal to perform kirtana. These three, Ghanashyam Giri, Damodar Giri and Braja Bandhu often sat together and performed kirtana

Household Life

In 1952, on the request of his mother, Braja Bandhu entered household life. He first met his wife, Srimati Vasanti Devi, during their marriage ceremony. Family members recall how during the wedding ceremony while everyone was enjoying the festivities Braja Bandhu was sitting sadly by himself quietly chanting Hare Krsna. He considered family life a material entanglement and an impediment to his service to Gopal. He never wanted to marry.

Braja Bandhu’s father passed away in 1955, and – as the eldest son – he was responsible for maintaining the family. Owing to financial constraints he could not enrol formally in a University course, but he studied privately at night to attend the examinations, obtaining a B.A. degree from Utkal University with overall second highest marks on the exam. He later obtained a B.Ed. degree in a similar way and obtained government service as a schoolteacher.

During the course of the next nineteen years Braja Bandhu and Vasanti Devi had four sons and three daughters. Despite many family responsibilities, Braja Bandhu’s devotion to Gopal never slackened. He would rise daily at 3.30 am, chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, worship Tulasi, and speak to his family from the Bhagavad-gita. In school, he took every opportunity to speak to his students about Krishna and devotional principles. Thirty years later, some of those same students would become his disciples. During school breaks he would take his wife and travel to the Himalayan Mountains, visiting different tirthas (holy places) and ashrams, and he would sometimes engage in philosophical debates with the Mayavadis (impersonalists) he found there.

Throughout his life he wrote daily entries in his diary. For the most part these were in the form of letters to Gopal. Each entry would begin, prabhu gopala krparu, kaunasi mate dinoti koti gale – “By the mercy of Prabhu Gopal, this day was spent thus. . . ” The diary entries would end with a prayer to Gopal, “Please give me prema-bhakti, ecstatic love of God.”

His whole life prior to meeting his spiritual master His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, was one of purity, preparation and devotion.

Leaving Home – Gour Gopal

Out of respect to his mother, he spent twenty-two years in household life. At the age of forty-five, on the 10th of April, 1974, he completed his routine teaching duties and then gave a letter of resignation to Prahlad Mohanty, the headmaster of the Bunbihari High School in Kujanga.

Leaving the school, he went home. He did not say anything to his family, but he packed his Bhagavad-gita, two gamchas, a pen, a pencil, and one notebook. That night, while his family was sleeping, he quietly got up at midnight and walked a half-mile away to a nearby temple known as Kakudia Math. He had decided to become a sannyasi, a wandering mendicant, entrusting the care of his family to his eldest son Vijay, aged 19.

Leaving his old life behind, Braja Bandhu took on a new name, “Gour Gopalananda”. “Gour” for Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is also known as Lord Gouranga, and “Gopal” after his beloved childhood deity.

Receiving Gopal’s blessings, Gour Gopalananda left Gadei Giri and travelled to Cuttack, where he spent the night. The next morning he set off by train to the Himalayas where he wandered in search of his eternal spiritual master. He completely depended on Krishna for everything. Walking from place to place and talking about Krishna to the sadhus he met, eating whatever Krishna would provide and sleeping under any tree at night.

He was looking for someone who perfectly understood Bhagavata, Krsna and Mahaprabhu. However in his Himalayan travels he was unsuccessful in his search for Sri Guru, so deciding that in Lord Krishna’s own Dhama, Mathura Vrndavana, the Lord must surely fulfil his desires.

Not having any money for the train ticket, Gour Gopalananda convinced the ticket collector to allow him free passage to Mathura. This was in the August and September of 1974. For some time, he moved from place to place, staying at different ashrams for one night at a time. At one Gaudiya Vaishnava temple, seeing that he didn’t have a sikha, the devotees mistook him for a Mayavadi sannyasi and kicked him out.

After some days, he came to The International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Arriving at their property in Ramana Reti, Vrindavan, one devotee gave him a copy of the society’s magazine, Back to Godhead. Seeing the photo in the magazine of the Founder-Acharya, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, he immediately felt attracted to him. He decided that he must go to see Srila Prabhupada. However, when Srila Prabhupada’s secretary saw his matted hair, beard, and torn cloth he was reluctant to allow him in.

The first meeting with Srila Prabhupada in Sri Vrndavan Dham can best be told in his own words:

“It was noon time and Srila Prabhupada had already taken his lunch. He was alone in his room, sitting in a chair. So Brahmananda went in and said ‘one sadhu has come, he wants to meet you’. I was putting on that saffron dress, gamcha so I was looking like a wandering sadhu, looking like!

It was paramatma’s prompting, Krsna’s arrangement. Prabhupada said, “Yes, call him, call him.” So I went in and paid dandavat, he looked at me and enquired, “Who are you? What is your name?” “Gour Gopalananda dasa.” He looked at me and said, “O, have you taken sannyasa?” He asked me from his side. I said, “No.” “Then I’ll give you sannyasa!” I immediately knew, “Oh, it’s paramatma; what I am looking for now, it is here. Yes, I have gotten now. I have gotten now.” You see this is Krishna’s arrangement. How we can find our Guru? What is your inside, he’ll speak, you see. Only two or three questions he asked. I immediately surrendered! I immediately said, yes!"

Hearing about Gour Gopal’s academic ability, Srila Prabhupada requested him to translate one of his articles from the Back to Godhead magazine into Hindi. Srila Prabhupada appreciated the work and ordered him to translate more. Gour Gopal then translated Srila Prabhupada’s first book, Easy Journey to Other Planets, into Hindi. Aside from translating, Gour Gopal engaged in whatever service was requested of him. He cooked, washed pots, and cleaned the temple. A few months later in Bombay he received first initiation from Srila Prabhupada. At that time his name became Gour Govinda Das. A few months after that in Mayapur, West Bengal, Srila Prabhupada gave him second initiation and sent him to preach in Orissa. Then, a short while later, on Sri Ramnavami (20th of April, 1975) – the occasion of the grand opening of Sri Sri Krsna Balaram Mandir, in Sri Vrndavan Dham – Srila Prabhupada awarded sannyasa to Gour Govinda Swami. 

Srila Gour Govinda Swami takes sannyasa in Vrindavan, 1975

Srila Gour Govinda Swami takes sannyasa in Vrindavan, 1975 

Srila Gour Govinda Swami’s first initiation in Mayapur, 1974, Srila Prabhupada had told him, “You will take me to Orissa!” Orissa is the Holy place where Lord Chaitanya performed His most confidential pastimes. Bhubaneswar is also the gateway to Sri Jagannatha Puri Dhama. Under Srila Prabhupada’s order, Srila Gour Govinda Swami single-handedly underwent extreme hardships to begin a magnificent temple in Bhubaneswar.

In February, 1977, the year of Srila Prabhupada’s physical disappearance pastime, Srila Prabhupada came to stay in Bhubaneswar to lay the corner foundation stone of the new temple. At his own insistence, Srila Prabhupada refused to stay in a government guesthouse and spent seventeen days in the mud hut personally built for him by Srila Gour Govinda Swami, on the newly donated land in Bhubaneswar. It was an out of the way place during that time with no facility except electricity brought to the hut just for Srila Prabhupada’s dictaphone machine.

Srila Prabhupada was giving lecture every day and meeting so many people. He insisted, whoever comes must be fed prasadam. “I had no money and thousands of people were coming every day, ‘how can it be done?’ Miraculously, all were fed. So much cooking was there. Where the money came from I couldn’t think of. Every morning devotees were coming, “Gour Govinda, give money! This purchase will be there!” “Alright, wait, wait, let me go out and see somewhere for donation. So many miricles, all miracles. How it was done I cannot think of!”

Srila Prabhupada in Bhubaneswar January 1977

Srila Prabhupada in Bhubaneswar January 1977 

Srila Gour Govinda Swami remembers; Srila Prabhupada would go out every day for morning walks and we would go with him. So many talks come up.

Some devotees said, “No, we won’t construct temple here, Prabhupada, nobody will come here! It is out of the way place; a jungle. Why shall we construct a temple and spend money here; we will do it in Puri.” Prabhupada insisted, “No, we want to construct a temple here!.” Then he called me and drove everybody else out ( of his room) , because every word of Prabhupada was being taped, a tape recorder was always on!

In a whispering voice he said, “Gour Govind, they are objecting to build the temple here. They want it in Puri, but I said, ‘No! I will do it here. This shall be one of the best ISKCON temples in the world, yes! You have to stay here and do this thing, yes! You should have your own men and train them. You should accept disciples, otherwise how can you manage.'” I said, “I don’t want to be head, I went to be tail.” Srila Prabhupada replied, “I want!” “Alright!” I know that to become head means so many beatings will come. Prabhupada said, “I want!” When you want, I should accept all these head beatings. Alright very good. It is pleasing to my Guru. 

According to certain witnesses, before he entered nitya-lila in Vrndavana later that same year, Srila Prabhupada himself named Gour Govinda Swami as one of the two of his disciples who should give initiations within his Iskcon society after his physical departure.

The next year in Sri Mayapur Dhama during a temple festival, Srila Gour Govinda Swami exhibited the symptoms of bhava, love of Krishna. This was confirmed at the time by Srila Prabhupada’s godbrother and associate, Sri Akincana Krsnadas Babaji. After some time Srila Gour Govinda Swami bought his symptoms under control, returning to Bhubaneswar to take up the service that his beloved Srila Prabhupada had given him.

Srila Prabhupada actually gave Srila Gour Govinda Swami three principal instructions, to translate his books from English into Oriya, to build a temple in Bhubaneswar, and to preach in Orissa State, and all over the world. Srila Gour Govinda Swami moulded his life around these instructions. It was his policy to not eat anything until he had completed his quota of translation for the day. Even after undergoing long international flights he would always insist upon first doing the translation work given to him by his spiritual master before he would eat or sleep. He maintained this practice up to his last day.

Following Srila Prabhupada’s order, Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja inspired and headed up many preaching programs in the State of Orissa. He established simple Padayatra festivals and Nama-hatta programs that have helped thousands of people in this ancient land discover their spiritual roots and take up the chanting of the maha-mantra: 

hare krsna hare krsna krsna krsna hare hare,

hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare 

The devotees at Bhubaneswar Temple in 1979

Acting on the instruction of his spiritual master, Srila Gour Govinda Swami began going overseas for preaching in 1985. Despite a crippling leg injury, he continued this service for the following eleven years. Srila Gour Govinda Swami was famous for his strong preaching and knowledge of the scriptures. He would substantiate everything he said with evidence from the Vedic literature.

Sri Sri Krishna Balarama Temple

In 1991 – on Nityananda Trayodasi, the auspicious appearance day of Lord Nityananda – after sixteen years of determined endeavour, Srila Prabhupada’s last founded project, Bhubaneswar’s Sri Sri Krishna Balarama Mandir, was completed. This magnificent Temple and guest house was built solely with the determined efforts of Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja. However, he himself, with complete humility and simplicity, continued to stay in a portion of the mud hut that he had built for Srila Prabhupada in 1977.

Srila Prabhupada is worshipped in his bhajan-kutir with full dedication and devotion. Srila Prabhupada had said, “This shall be one of the best ISKCON temples in the world,” and that “I will build a temple like Jagannatha Temple because Jagannatha will come, the western devotees are not allowed there. That type of temple I will build there in Bhubaneswar.

In the beginning, the Temple property was located in such a remote area of Bhubaneswar with wild animals and dacoits, that rickshaw-wallas would not even go out to the area; but now it has become the centre of Bhubaneswar city, just as Srila Prabhupada had predicted, with many thousands of people visiting the temple and it’s wonderful festivals (including Ratha yatra) every year.

During the festival for the auspicious day of Lord Nityananda’s Appearance day in 1991, the deities of Sri Sri Krishna Balarama, Sri Sri Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhudra Ma and Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai were installed on the three alters in the magnificent temple. Thousands of devotees from Orissa and around the world attended this great festival.

Srila Prabhupada had said that he would come for the opening of the Sri Sri Krishna Balaram Mandir. He appeared during the festival installed in his murti form in the main temple to be present for the auspicious opening. Srila Gour Govinda Swami mentioned many times that Srila Prabhupada had deposited all his mercy here in this his last founded project.

In 1995, a beautiful lotus temple was built next to Sri Sri Krishna Balaram Mandir and deities of Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha were installed. Many more projects were underway at the time including a beautiful temple for Srila Gour Govinda Swami’s beloved ista-devata Sri Sri Radha Gopaljiu in Gadei Giri. A large temple and farm project in the city of Berhampur, Orissa. The renovation of the famous Sri Alarnath Temple in Brahmagiri near Puri and the reforestation project for Lord Jagannatha in Puri to name a few. Srila Prabhupada’s books were being translated into Oriya and printed now on site at the Bhubaneswar BBT printing press.

Radha Gopaljiu Temple

Ghanashyam Giri’s father, Gopinath Giri, departed this world in 1964. From 1964 until 1992 Ghanashyam Giri was entrusted with serving Gopaljiu. He worked very hard to make Gopal happy, but after some time he found that there was very little help.

Concerned about how Gopaljiu’s service could be maintained, he remembered his cousin-brother Braja Bandhu Manik who had become a sannyasi-guru in ISKCON and was now known as Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja. Ghanashyam Giri thought that since Srila Gour Govinda Swami had so much devotion for Gopal he would be the appropriate person to whom to pass on the service of Gopal.

In the meantime, Srila Gour Govinda Swami was regularly coming to Gadei Giri for darsana. Before and after travelling abroad for his preaching tours he would always go to seek the blessings of Gopal. In 1989 Srila Gour Govinda Swami began bringing devotees from the ISKCON temple in Bhubaneswar to Gadei Giri to celebrate Radhastami, the appearance festival of Srimati Radharani. This developed into a grand festival of kirtana, lectures and prasadam, and many of the local villagers would enthusiastically participate.

Again, Ghanashyam Giri decided to give Gopal to Srila Gour Govinda Swami. They discussed the matter and Srila Gour Govinda Swami immediately accepted Gopal and the property, and on 15 November 1993 he recorded everything in the name of ISKCON, the institution of his spiritual master. Srila Gour Govinda Swami then sent two disciples to Gadei Giri. They arranged to fix the broken temple building and made nice arrangements for Gopal’s worship. The existing temple for Gopal was very small and simple. Now that Gopal was under his care, Srila Gour Govinda Swami wanted to build something nice for Gopal. He was very eager to see the work begin. On January 17, 1994 Srila Gour Govinda Swami laid the foundation stone for Gopal’s new temple and he installed a deity of Ananta Sesha.

Disappearance of Sri Srimad Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja

Love of Godhead, devoid of cheating propensities, is not possible, within this material world. If there is such a love, there cannot be separation, for if there is separation, how can one live?

Lord Caitanya to Srila Ramananda Raya and Svarupa Damodara Goswami

Cc. Madhya, 2.42

In January 1996, Srila Gour Govinda Swami delayed on his annual trip to Sri Mayapur Dham for Iskcon’s annual GBC meetings, due to the Srila Prabhupada Centennial celebrations in Orissa. He commented at the time that, “Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupadji Maharaja said that this material world is not a fit place for any gentleman. Therefore, because he was disgusted, he left this world prematurely. I may also leave. I don’t know. Let me ask Gopal. I will do whatever He wants.”

The next day he went to Gadei Giri to see his beloved Gopaljiu. After returning, for the next four days he lectured before thousands of people at the Prahupada Centennial festival (Hare Krishna Utsava) in Bhubaneswar. Then he left for the annual ISKCON management meetings in Sridham Mayapur.

In Mayapur on the 9th February 1996 (Govinda Krsna Pancami), the holy appearance day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, two senior ISKCON devotees requested an appointment in the early evening to see Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja. They inquired, “Why did Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stay in Jagannatha Puri?”

He enthusiastically began to explain the confidential significance of Mahaprabhu’s pastimes in Puri. He described the pains of separation felt by Radha and Krishna when Krishna was away from Vrindavan. He gradually unfolded the pastime to the point where Radha and Krishna were finally united after Their long separation. He described how Krishna became so ecstatic upon seeing Radharani that He manifested a form with big round eyes and shrunken limbs (Lord Jagannatha).

At that time the devotees noticed that tears had come to his eyes and his voice had become choked up. Barely audible, he said, “…after a long separation Krsna came back to Vrajabhumi and then the eyes of Krsna fell on the eyes of Srimati Radharani – Eye to Eye union.” Unable to continue, he apologized with folded hands, “Please excuse me. I cannot speak.” Overwhelmed with ecstatic love and unbearable separation from Srimati Radhika and Syamasundara, he could speak no more and gave his final instruction:

“Nama koro! Nama koro!”