Final Darśana with Śrī Śrīmad Gour Govinda Swami Mahārāja
A personal account told by Vaijayantī-mālā dāsī, slightly edited.
I offer unlimited heartfelt praṇāmas at the lotus feet of my beloved gurudeva, oṁ viṣṇupāda Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja. By his causeless mercy, I am increasingly appreciating the astonishing glories of oṁ viṣṇupāda Śrī Śrīmad Gour Govinda Mahārāja, to whom I also offer my innumerable heartfelt praṇāmas.
I offer praṇāma eternally to my ever well-wishers, oṁ viṣṇupāda Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda, to oṁ viṣṇupāda Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja, and to all pure Vaiṣṇavas in the line of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda.
I also offer my humble praṇāma to the respected sannyāsī-gaṇa and to all Vaiṣṇavas and Vaiṣṇavīs.
I have been feeling for a while that I should share my final darśana with Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja, and today, just days before his 25th tirobhāva-tithi, I am inspired to actually do this. It is a personal account, more like a diary entry. I wrote of this experience on 14th February 1996, just days after he left this world, but I never shared it because I never completed it to my satisfaction. This account is based on that.
Before I begin, I want to beg forgiveness if I incorrectly depict any of the events in that final darśana. There were others in the room. I am simply sharing my own memory of it. In re-reading my memoir of 14th February, I see there have been some slight inaccuracies in my recent narrations of Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja’s pastime of disappearance.
I met my beloved Gurudeva in 1991 and in 1996, I received permission from him to attend the annual GBC meetings, for gurukula related matters. I journeyed there with Candrikā dāsī, a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda, a śikṣā disciple of my Gurudeva, and my dear friend. When we arrived in Māyāpura, we stayed in the long building.
The Iskcon GBC meetings were on the fourth floor of the Conch building, and Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja’s room was also on the fourth floor. They arranged this especially for him, as he could not easily walk up and down stairs.
Candrikā had never met Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja and really wanted to. It was our great fortune that he was in the same meetings we were.
On that February 9, the meeting began at 10.00 a.m. Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja’s disciple helped him into the room. As he entered, he kindly smiled at us.
I could not help but notice during the meeting that while some of the devotees present did not seem to be aware of Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja’s spiritual stature, whenever they turned to him to ask for his opinion, they respectfully folded their palms before addressing him. They did not do that with anyone else.
He had been a controversial person, famous for fearlessly stating, with irrefutable evidence from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books and other śāstras, that it is not possible for the jīva to fall from Vaikuṇṭha. He emphasized again and again the importance of pure sādhu-saṅga and of accepting a pure guru, one that is fully conversant with śāstra, realized in the Absolute Truth, and totally devoid of material attachment (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 11.3.21). Like any bona fide representative of the Truth, he never hesitated to speak the truth, caring not if it resulted in his being bereft of followers, position or wealth. In this way, by his single-pointed attachment to Kṛṣṇa and his utter detachment from anything material, he was a true shelter for all.
So, on the afternoon of February 9, Candrikā excitedly told me that Bhakta-rūpa prabhu was going to try to arrange for us to meet with Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja that evening. “Candrikā, do you have a question for Mahārāja?” I asked her. “We can’t visit such a sādhu without asking him a question.” She said she would write some down.
Candrikā popped in to the room to tell me that Śrīla Mahārāja had agreed to see us and to come now. I joined her on the ground floor of the Conch building. Candrikā has largeish handwriting and she had written pages of questions. We read over them together and considered which one we thought he would like the most. We numbered which to ask first, second, third. I think we selected four questions.
We walked up the four flights of stairs. It was dusk. About ten to fifteen devotees stood along the railing of the balcony outside the room. My first thought was, “Oh! It’s going to be a group darśana,” but those devotees did not come inside. It was just Candrikā, Bhakta-rūpa prabhu and me. A servant and four other disciples sat behind one of the two beds in the room. They did not speak the entire time. Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja was sitting cross-legged on the other bed.
The mood in the room was peaceful and soft, a stark contrast to the mood of efficiency that pervaded the building at that time. Devotees from around the world convened to discuss the Society’s matters, and computer screens were seen glowing in every room.
In this room, however, a different energy permeated. It glowed saffron, it was very soft and gentle, and computers were conspicuous by their absence.
We offered our obeisances to Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja and sat before him.
Bhakta-rūpa prabhu: “Mahārāja, this is Candrikā dāsī, our godsister. She has always wanted to meet you. And this is Vaijayantī-mālā dāsī from Australia. Nārada-muni prabhu’s wife. They are teachers in the Vṛndāvana gurukula.”
I had met Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja on his first visit to Australia in 1990. I was not qualified to be aware of his glories then, but that did not stop him from bestowing great mercy upon my husband and me, my husband directly and me, indirectly. But that is another story.
Candrikā said that she was happy to be able to meet him and had been waiting to do so for many years. I asked, “Mahārāja, I have been in Vṛndāvana for five years, but in that time, you have not come there. Will you come?”
Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja explained that he had had an operation on his foot and because of that, he had to use a kamod (sic). He said that the bathrooms in the Vṛndāvana guesthouse were not suitable. He then picked up his foot and showed us the scar from the operation on its sole. I can only think that by this, he bestowed more mercy upon us than we will ever be able to understand.
“Aren’t your disciples building you a house?” I asked. “Mañjubhāṣiṇī and her husband?” Nodding gently, he said, “Kṛṣṇānanda.” Candrikā then asked him her first question: “How can we relate the intensity of separation Kṛṣṇa felt in Dvārakā to the intensity of separation Mahāprabhu felt in the Gambhīra?”
Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja proceeded to tell us about Kṛṣṇa’s feelings of separation from Vraja while He was in Dvārakā, and he became lost in that pastime – how, while lying on His bed, Kṛṣṇa would cry, “Rādhe, Rādhe, Rādhe, Rādhe! Gopī, gopī, gopī, gopī!” Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja loudly called out these names, which really amazed me.
(Mataji notes that, Most would certainly not cry it out amidst the GBC meetings. But Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja was calling it out loudly, which conveyed his absorption. It was not an act of defiance but a glimpse of what was dear to his heart. I had learned from my Gurudeva that a Vaiṣṇava is the same inside and out. He is simple; the concept of duplicity is totally foreign to him. So Śrīla Gour Govinda Maharaja’s rendition of this pastime was like that. It was obvious that these talks were simply his life.)
For the most part, though, he spoke very softly, and at the same time, was so animated. He talked of Rohinī speaking Vraja pastimes to the inhabitants of Dvārakā and how Subhadra guarded the door. He acted out Kṛṣṇa’s, Baladeva’s and Subhadrā’s ecstatic manifestations a few times – their arms contracting, their eyes getting larger and wider. He was clearly deeply absorbed.
Bhakta-rūpa prabhu sat before him, eyes wide and a big smile on his face. Time and again, Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja would look at him with much affection.
Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja then asked his servant to bring him something, and a large bundle of granthas wrapped in a saffron cloth was placed before him on the bed. Again, I was touched by a wave of softness. Śāstra was so dear to his heart that certain books went where he went. It struck me as so simple and pure.
He selected a notebook from the pile and proceeded to read a pastime that he had copied into it. It was of Kṛṣṇa leaving Dvārakā, staggering out of His palace to ascend His chariot, swaying back and forth, His eyes rolling.
Candrikā whispered to me, “You’ve seen it.” Seven months before I had attended my first Purī Ratha-yātrā and had become charmed by the scene being described.
Occasionally, Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja would become quiet and half close the book as if to conclude, but then Candrikā’s eager “What happened next?” and his own obvious love for the pastime inspired him to continue. This happened a few times. He would then re-open the book and speak more of the confidential reason for Ratha-yātrā.
Later, one of the four devotees sitting behind the other bed told me that he had heard Śrīla Mahārāja tell that pastime several times, but never had he heard him tell it the way he did that night.
Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja intertwined līla and tattva as he softly and animatedly spoke, regularly looking at us and asking the question he, a perfect teacher, was well-known for asking: “Do you understand?”
It was enthralling, but my lower back was giving me much pain. It was almost distracting. I knew that if I could rest my elbow at the very end of the other bed, the one parallel to his, it would relieve the pressure. I thought, “If this were my Gurudeva, he would not mind, as he would know that I intend no disrespect,” but I did not know Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja so well and I knew that he appreciated the observance of proper etiquette. I did not want to transgress that before him.
But the mood in the room was so extremely soft and sweet and everything felt so natural that I decided to take a chance, keeping my eyes keenly on him as my elbow slowly found a resting place at the very end of the other bed. I thought if I saw him flinch ever so slightly, or frown, raise an eyebrow or look displeased, I would immediately remove my elbow, but he seemed to not notice at all. Not even slightly.
I am not satisfied, by the way, with how I tell this pastime, which shows the Gauḍīya conception – the most esoteric conception – of Ratha-yātrā, but I don’t want to pretend that I remember more than I do. Nor do I want to copy and paste snippets from the versions published and distributed widely by his disciples, who heard him narrate it several times. The first time I heard this līlā was on that evening of February 9th, and I will share what I honestly remember and/or wrote in my notes.
Eventually Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja narrated how the three chariots arrived in Vṛndāvana. Again he closed the book. Candrikā, who had been eagerly hanging on every word, asked, “But Mahārāja, did Kṛṣṇa enter Vṛndāvana? What happened next?”
Śrīla Mahārāja smiled, happy with this question, and proceeded to describe Kṛṣṇa’s entering Nidhuvana and how Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī was lying there in intense separation. The only way her gopī friends could tell that She was alive was by holding a cotton swab under Her nose and seeing the thin threads of cotton move. Lalitā went to Her and whispered in Her ear, “Kṛṣṇa has come,” and Viśākhā went to bring Kṛṣṇa, who had become stunned as He stood outside the kuñja.”
“And then,” Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja said, “there was eye-to-eye union.”
I had noticed that Śrīla Mahārāja was making a wheezing sound as he breathed. It was like when someone has asthma. His servant had turned the fan on, and I felt a bit cross with him, thinking the fan was the cause of Mahārāja’s discomfort. I had no idea that it was Mahārāja’s absorption in the pastime that was manifesting in this way. Candrikā did not notice his breathing, but she did notice tears in Mahārāja’s eyes, which I did not.
I then asked, “But Mahārāja, why Purī? This is a Vṛndāvana-Dvārakā pastime. Why Purī?”
He began to answer but would have only spoken for about thirty to forty seconds.
My eternal regret is that I cannot remember what he said. He then folded his palms, looked at us softly and said, “I am very sorry, I cannot speak.”
A commanding silence pervaded the room, that beautiful room with flowers and an altar between the two beds, and I knew that this time, we really had to leave.
We thanked him, offered our respectful praṇāma, and left.
Bhakta-rūpa prabhu came out with us and we walked down the stairs. Candrikā commented that it seemed that Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja was experiencing deep feelings of separation.
As we came to the lobby of the Conch building, two men, who I have just come to learn were Gokula dāsa prabhu from Australia and Rasikānanda prabhu (whom I don’t know) hurriedly came down the stairs and flew past us.
“Mahārāja needs a doctor!” one of them said as they ran off.
I was bewildered and wondered what on earth could have made Mahārāja so ill so quickly. I never imagined he was leaving this world. It was moving too fast and seemed surreal.
“But we were only just talking to him,” I thought. “They are disciples, so their extreme concern is natural. I’m sure he will be fine.”
I sat down on the stone seats in the quadrangle outside the temple and talked with Australian Dharā, who was in Māyāpura at the time.
After about ten minutes, two girls I did not know came over to us and informed us that Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja had just left this world.
I ran over to Candrikā, who was talking with some other people, and told her. Without waiting a second, we flew up the stairs.
The closer we came to the fourth floor, the louder we heard the unified voices chanting the mahā-mantra in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Tompkin’s Square Park tune.
Many devotees had gathered outside the room. Entrance was only given to sannyāsīs, GBCs and other senior devotees, although some male disciples of Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja were also there at his side.
We were in total disbelief. As I said, it seemed surreal. I don’t use that word lightly, but no other word describes how I felt.
I saw Bhakta-rūpa prabhu inside the room, sitting cross-legged on the floor at the other bed, his face down and palms folded in prayer.
Candrikā and I asked Aniruddha prabhu from Melbourne to call Bhakta-rūpa prabhu outside.
“I don’t know what is happening,” he said. “Just pray.” And he returned to his position on the floor.
Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja’s servant saw us outside the room and expressed some intense anger at Candrikā. I suggested that she immediately return to our room in the long building, which she did. Concerned she was safe, I soon returned also, to find her weeping.
We were in shock and tried to recall everything about the darśana. Candrikā wrote many notes, which we now cannot trace.
After a few hours of hearing the continuous chanting coming from the top of the Conch building, we decided to go there again, thinking that if we didn’t, we would never really believe what had happened.
This time we were able to go inside. Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja had been placed in a sitting position. He was bedecked with many, many garlands. Male disciples were massaging his legs and female disciples were putting their head at his feet.
He looked incredibly beautiful and an indescribable auspiciousness pervaded the room, which had a tangible effect on my heart.
After twenty minutes, someone asked the male disciples to remain in the room and the ladies to leave.
We went downstairs and waited in the lobby.
I will never forget the sight of Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja on a vyāsāsana appearing at the top of the last stretch of stairs. His skin glowed pinkish and looked like porcelain. His beauty was breathtaking. Even though it was now late evening, hundreds of devotees were present, waiting to offer him obeisances.
He was taken to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s samādhi and placed before his beloved Gurudeva.
A devotee sang “Ohe Vaiṣṇava Ṭhākura” and “Jaya Gour Govinda Svāmī patita pāvana”.
After doing parikramā of Śrīla Prabhupāda three times, the procession went to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s bhajana kuṭīra for darśana of Śrī-Śrī Gour Nitāi, then to the main mandira for darśana of Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrī Nṛsiṁhadeva. Finally, Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja was placed on the platform before Śrī Rādhā-Mādhava.
The conch blew, the bell rang, and at 11 p.m. or so, hundreds of devotees were singing Govindam prayers.
Someone led Śrī Gurvaṣṭakam as senior Vaiṣṇavas offered Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja flowers, gently sprayed him with scented water, and placed Śrī Mādhava’s massive garland upon him.
Śrīpāda Jayapatākā Mahārāja offered him ārati and the devotees sang his praṇāma-mantra.
But then, just as we were so absorbed, Māyāpura-candra prabhu drew our attention by bursting into the temple room and running on to the stage, trying to get the attention of the senior devotees.
Jayapatākā Mahārāja turned and walked with him off the stage. We heard sirens. “Close the doors!” someone cried. “It’s a raid!”
Śrīpāda Lokanātha Mahārāja told the women to stay behind Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja, who was taken off the stage and around the deities in parikramā.
Candrikā and I linked arms and did as we were told. Somehow or other, in that crowd of people, we got to walk directly behind Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja’s vyāsāsana. This is a clear picture in my mind.
Śrīla Mahārāja was carried out of the temple room, but for some inexplicable reason, Candrikā and I did not go to the car but stayed inside.
Śrīmān Bhurijana prabhu was also in the temple. We could hear gunshots. The temple doors were locked and the three of us and one or two pujārīs were the only ones inside. We had no idea that the land raid was not serious and actually thought this may be our own final minutes.
Later, we found out that the gunshots we heard were by devotees scaring off the attackers, who just had sticks.
When we finally unlatched the temple doors and came outside, we saw many devotees. Everything seemed normal, a complete contrast to what we had thought was going on from inside the temple room.
When Candrikā and I came out of the temple, Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja’s car was still there. By Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja’s transcendental kindness, we were able to offer him praṇāma a mere few minutes before the car drove off, bringing to a perfect conclusion, for us, his mercifully including us in this pastime.
It takes time to assimilate such events, and honestly, I don’t know if I have ever actually done so. The day had started powerfully, with an extraordinary darśana of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. The effect of that darśana stayed with me throughout the day, fortunately. We do not understand the mercy we received from Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja, but we certainly know it was sweet, abundant and causeless. And although I am ever-grateful, I know that I can never be grateful enough.
All glories to oṁ viṣṇupāda Śrīla Gour Govinda Swami Mahārāja!
He not only understood and imparted the deepest import of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings but embodied them and expertly guided others into them. I have learned from my Gurudeva and our ācāryas that a bona fide guru has no guru-abhimāna (conception of oneself as guru). Rather, he is exclusively fixed in the abhimāna of being a disciple. This is more than extremely rare in this world, and this was Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja.
Our greatest fortune is to associate with such persons, hear from them, and possibly serve them in any way, in the hope of receiving their merciful glance, which makes bhakti blossom in the heart.
Aspiring to serve Śrī Guru and the Vaiṣṇavas