“Our relationship is very intimate”
Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj and Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj first met sometime in the year 1930 in Allahabad, India. In a taped conversation recorded in a 1973 meeting at Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s Math at Nabadwip Dham, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj recalls: “So, we are very fortunate to hear His Divine Grace Om Visnupad Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharya Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Maharaj. 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 sannyas; he just left home, and as a vanaprastha in his white dress, he went to Allahabad.
“Maharaj [to Srila Sridhar Maharaj], 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 Maharaj for several years. Krishna and Prabhupad liked him to prepare me.
“Sridhar Maharaj 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 knew that he is a pure Vaisnava, 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 Maharaj as “His Divine Grace” and Om Visnupad—forms of address for one regarded as a spiritual master—Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj 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 Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj 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 Maharaj recalls the depth in penetration of their discussions. “Once while discussing the verse dadami buddhi-yogam tam yena Mam upayanti te (“I give them the understanding by which they can come to Me” (Bg: 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.’”
Recognising Srila Sridhar Maharaj as “a pure Vaisnava, a pure devotee” since the beginning of their relationship, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj 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 Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj tried to help Srila Sridhar Maharaj in his preaching work is seen in his appreciating Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s uncanny ability for extracting the essence of the scriptures. He helped to finance the publication of Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s original Sanskrit-Bengali work entitled Sri Sri Prapanna-jivanamrtam: Life-Nectar of the Surrendered Souls. The book, as well as containing original Sanskrit verses composed by Srila Sridhar Maharaj, is a compilation of verses from various Vaisnava 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 Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj and Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s relationship continually developed. Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj 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 Maharaj and myself. We made two parties for begging, collecting alms. Sridhar Maharaj, myself, and Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaj. So, I took them to my chemist friends, and I collected about five hundred rupees. Sridhar Maharaj would speak, I would introduce, and Goswami Maharaj would canvass.”
In the Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, Satsvarup Das Goswami writes: “Abhay would often accompany Sridhar Maharaj and his assistants at preaching programs, where he would play the mrdanga. And when Sridhar Maharaj 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 Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj and Srila Sridhar Maharaj were the receiving party for a Gaudiya Math sannyasi upon his return from Europe. Although dismayed by his changed appearance which was missing the tridanda of a Gaudiya sannyasi, the sikha of a Vaisnava, as well as the traditional robes, they still eagerly enquired in regard to the preaching field in the West. The sannyasi remarked, “They ask questions that cannot be answered.” Concerned, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj enquired further as to the nature of those questions. One after another, Srila Sridhar Maharaj answered them all. At last, the sannyasi was left dumbfounded, and Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami boldly declared, “Today, Europe has been defeated by Asia!”
During the lifetime of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad, Srila Sridhar Maharaj once composed a poem describing the ontological positions of Srila Bhakti Vinod Thakur and the line of disciplic succession stemming from Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad was so pleased with the poem’s ontological depth and its happy style that he remarked: “Bhakti Vinod 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 Maharaj’s writings, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad informed the editors of the Gaudiya Math’s periodicals, “If you include articles written by Sridhar Maharaj, the quality of your publications will be greatly improved.”
After the disappearance of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad, the Gaudiya Math gradually diverged. With full knowledge of the events surrounding the disintegration of the Gaudiya Math, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami told his disciples in the same 1973 conversation, “Our relationship is very intimate. After the breakdown of the Gaudiya Math, I wanted to organise another organisation, making Sridhar Maharaj the head.”
Reciprocating the appreciation, Srila Sridhar Maharaj advised the leaders of the Gaudiya Sangha to confer the title “Bhaktivedanta” upon the then Abhay Charan. Later, his sannyas-guru, Sripad Bhakti Prajnan Kesav Maharaj, one of the most senior disciples of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur and the first sannyas-disciple of Srila Sridhar Maharaj, gave sannyas to Abhay Charan, retaining the title “Bhaktivedanta” and conferring the sannyas name “Swami”.
Additionally, when Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj returned to India in October of 1967 after his successful preaching initiative in America, he stayed with Srila Sridhar Maharaj in Nabadwip and observed his Vyasa Puja celebration. At that time, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj 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 Maharaj 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 brahmacharis shall learn how to celebrate the spiritual master’s birthday.” Shortly afterwards, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj asked Srila Sridhar Maharaj to be the president of his newly formed society the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
During the Vyasa Puja celebration, one of Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj’s disciples saw Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj and Srila Sridhar Maharaj fully absorbed in a deep discussion in Bengali. The disciple inquired from Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj what was the nature of their talk, and he replied, “If I were to tell you, you would faint. Sridhar Maharaj has very high realisations.”
That Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj continually regarded Srila Sridhar Maharaj as his advisor throughout his life is clear in the following letter written by him to one of Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s disciples, Sripad Govinda Maharaj. Concerned about his failing health, he had written Srila Sridhar Maharaj asking whether he should continue living in the United States or return to India to live his last days in Vrndavan. After receiving Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s reply, he wrote: “What Sripad Sridhar Maharaj has directed, I take it on my head. He is my always well-wisher. After the departure of Prabhupad, 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 Maharaj 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 realisation, 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 Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj always maintained the highest respect and confidence in Srila Sridhar Maharaj. 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 Maharaj. 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 Siksa-guru. For spiritual advancement of life, we must go to someone who is actually practising spiritual life. So, if you are actually serious to take instructions from a Siksa-guru, I can refer you to the one who is the most highly competent of all my godbrothers. This is B. R. Sridhar Maharaj, whom I consider to be even my Siksa-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 Maharaj. 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 Maharaj. You can also make arrangements for your other godbrothers to go there in the future. So, live peacefully with Sridhar Maharaj, and thereby you will be spiritually enlightened.”
In this passage, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj describes Srila Sridhar Maharaj as “the most competent of all my godbrothers”, “someone competent to act as Siksa-guru”, and in an astounding statement, he declares, “I consider Sridhar Maharaj to be my Siksa-guru, so what to speak of the benefit that you can have from his association”!
What Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj means by Siksa-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 offence in the discharge of devotional service” (Cc: 1.1.47).
Although it may be said that Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj encouraged his godbrothers in general, no one anywhere can produce a similar statement of endorsement. The fact is that Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj possessed the highest respect and appreciation for Srila Sridhar Maharaj, and Srila Sridhar Maharaj is unparalleled in his understanding and admiration of Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj, as evinced in the following eulogy:
“So, our Swami Maharaj has done a miracle! Thakur Bhakti Vinod conceived and Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur began to translate this conception into action. And we find that through Swami Maharaj, 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 Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj with great humility, his voice choked with emotion, tearfully replied, “So, by Guru and Vaisnava, whatever position I have got it is by Guru’s mercy and the blessings of the Vaisnavas. Otherwise, how I may have? So, I wish that Sridhar Maharaj may bestow his blessings, as he was doing always, and may Guru Maharaj 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: chhadiya Vaisnava-seva, nistara payechhe keba (‘Without serving an ideal Vaisnava, who can be delivered from the clutches of maya?’)”
And after the disappearance of Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj, Srila Sridhar Maharaj declared: “I consider him to be saktyaves-avatar, 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 Gurudev—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 becomes pleased with You.” Seeing his Gurudev 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 Maharaj 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, saktyaves-avatar, I cannot but take him to be so.”
With such appreciation, there should be little doubt why Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj had implicit faith in Srila Sridhar Maharaj. He had even heard directly from Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad of the exceptional qualifications of Srila Sridhar Maharaj. In their last known recorded meeting in 1977, just prior to Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami’s leaving this mortal world, we find him imploring Srila Sridhar Maharaj to take up residence at his Temple in Sri Dham Mayapur.
The conversation that ensues is a transcript of their taped conversation of March 1977.
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami: I do not know for how long I will be able to carry on. So, I came to see Sridhar Maharaj.
Devotee: If you all go away, then the world will become dark.
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: [to Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami] It is so wonderful that the will of the Lord becomes manifest through someone.
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami: I want very much, Maharaj, 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 Maharaj 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 Maharaj: Yes, as long as I am alive to fulfil Prabhupad’s desire.
Srila Bhaktivedanta 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 Bhaktivedanta Swami: Yes, that’s right.
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Yes, people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds will come there.
Srila Bhaktivedanta 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, Maharaj, 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 Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj prophetically refers to his imminent disappearance and reveals that it is in this connection that he has come to see Sridhar Maharaj. In friendly jesting, they discuss Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s reticence regarding large-scale preaching work. Of himself, Srila Sridhar Maharaj 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 mahajans, to relish them and practise 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 Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj, quoting Dhruva Maharaj, 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 Krishna-bhavanamrta-sangha, the association of persons who are simply interested in thoughts of Krishna.”
Bhaktivedanta Swami testifies to his having personally heard Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad mark the high qualifications of Srila Sridhar Maharaj, whom he had once requested to go to the West. In this regard, Srila Sridhar Maharaj once remarked, “My Guru Maharaj 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 Maharaj was sent to the West.” When Srila Sridhar Maharaj 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 Maharaj and asked him to sing the song of Narottam Das Thakur, Sri Rupa-Manjari-pada (the lotus feet of Rupa Manjari are my treasure). Srila Sridhar Maharaj 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 Maharaj 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 fulfilment 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 Maharaj was given admittance into the eternal entourage of Sri Rupa Manjari. Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s humble vision, however, is that he was posted as the gatekeeper, the guardian of devotion (bhakti-raksak), 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 Maharaj’s high realisations in Krishna consciousness, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj 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 Maharaj apparently did not take up Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami’s offer. Srila Sridhar Maharaj 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 Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj refers to “that planetarium”. Srila Sridhar Maharaj is very fond of Sanatan Goswami’s most famous work the Brhad-bhagavatamrta, in which devotees, devotional service, and Krishna are described very scientifically. On the basis of this transcendental literature, Srila Sridhar Maharaj 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 Vrndavan. Due to insufficient funds, Srila Sridhar Maharaj humbly submitted his idea to Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj, who approved, saying, “It will be built under your direction.”
And just prior to his departure from this mortal world, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj advised his senior disciples that in his absence, when the necessity arose to consult higher authority, that they should consult Srila Sridhar Maharaj. In conclusion, we humbly submit that the transcendental relationship between Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj and Srila Sridhar Maharaj 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 Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad, the guardian of devotion His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj 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 recognised as a Jagad-guru, or world Acharya.