A Brief Life Story
‘Krishna Sent Him’
Attachment to the Bhagavatam
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.
Leaving Home – Gour Gopal
“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’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
Instructions of Srila Prabhupada
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: