By Ananda Tirtha das
The following is my impression of the events of March 15.
March 15 began as any other day during the Festival in Mayapur: a sweet and crowded mangala-arati spent wriggling and weaving through crowds of devotees, especially around Nrsimahadeva’s altar and during Tulasi-puja. Little did anyone know what was to come.
During the announcements I noticed BB Govinda Maharaja standing near the microphone. One of the announcements was that six devotees in Mauritius had died in a car accident.
Once the regular announcements were over, Govinda Maharaja took the mike and made the following announcement: “Hare Krishna, we’ve just received news that His Holiness Tamal Krishna Goswami has been involved in a car accident and is unconscious. So we request the devotees to observe a one-minute silence and pray for his well-being.”
My heart sank again at this news and I think I swore mentally. The minute of deep prayer passed quickly, and Maharaja and other senior devotees left the temple quickly to go to the accident site.
That morning a special energy seized everyone in the temple room. The japa period was unusually intense as the devotees stayed put in the temple and took shelter of the holy names, praying for Maharaja’s well-being. Looking back, it reminds me of how when Aristasura entered Vrindavan, the frightened gopis immediately took shelter of Krsna by hugging Tamal trees (no pun intended), which reminded them of Krsna. In the same way we took shelter of the holy name in that time of crisis.
At 6:30 am, Sridhar Swami began a loud, prayerful kirtana in front of Lord Nrsimhadeva’s altar. He sang the Nrsimha prayers at least three times. By darsana-arati at 7:00, about 100 devotees were participating in the kirtana.
At 7:30, just before Radha Madhava darshan, Sridhar Maharaja took the microphone. He spoke in a sad, emotion-laden voice. “Hare Krishna, I have a very sad announcement to make. His Holiness. . . His Divine Grace, Tamal Krishna Maharaja has gone back to Krsna”.
Immediately several ladies began wailing and the hearts of hundreds of devotees dropped simultaneously. Narasimha Maharaja then made the announcement in Chinese for the ‘benefit’ of the Taiwanese devotees visiting Mayapur.
The darshan arati, parikrama and guru-puja passed by in a blur as our emotions flew in different directions digesting this shocking news with all its ramifications. The Taiwanese devotees sat around the temple in small groups, chanting tearfully. Sitaram Laksman Prabhu from Perth caught my arm and asked if he should phone Perth to inform the devotees there. He was sobbing so much I had to ask him to repeat himself several times before I understood what he was saying. I too was crying.
Gone was the usual frivolous eating and shopping scene in the courtyard, the lax socialising and easygoing mood. Everyone realized this was a momentous occasion.
Once again the only shelter was the holy names–”Nama bina ache nahiko aro, chauda bhuvana mage”–”There is nothing but the holy names in all the fourteen worlds.” The kirtan never stopped that day. Prahlad Nrsimha Prabhu led the parikrama kirtan, then HH Prabhavisnu Maharaja led the gurupuja and kirtana all the way till 10:30. Then HH Mahavisnu Maharaja continued, and later Deena Bandhu Prabhu and others kept the kirtan going till the temple closed at 1 pm. Devotees chanted, danced, and cried in front of Sri Sri Radha Madhava.
During the gurupuja I called Narasimha Maharaja aside and took down a brief message from him about the events to be announced on e-mail. I sent it immediately so as many devotees as possible worldwide could be informed promptly and join in the mood of remembrance and glorification of Tamal Krishna Maharaja.
At one point someone announced that all disciples of Tamal Krishna Maharaja should go to Bhakti Caru Swami’s rooms for a meeting. Bhakti Caru Maharaja himself was sitting in the temple room and seemed totally distraught. I followed the devotees up and attended the first of the many sessions of glorification of Maharaja. This one was unofficial, and not so well-attended, but was still charged with glorification of Maharaja in the mood of separation from a great Vaisnava.
I was inspired to try and type the speeches but it was a bit too hard to keep up with the speakers so what came out was a bit messy. I continued doing it the next day and managed to send out quite a large document to Maharaja’s disciples. I felt it was the least I could do to help them in their hour of need.
After a couple of hours, Sridhar Maharaja announced that Maharaja’s body was going to arrive at the main gate at about 2:30 pm. In preparation for the samadhi ceremony, Bhaktividya Purna Maharaja and crew had readied two rooms at the back of the Conch building for preparing Maharaja’s and Vrindavanesvari’s bodies. She had also left her body in the accident, and several other devotees had been injured. Once again, hundreds of devotees gathered in anticipation at the main gate. The kirtan was again raging. Finally a white temple bus, full of weary-looking devotees, pulled in the gate and drove slowly down the road to the temple, parking in front of the Conch Building.
I went upstairs to get a better view. It was sickening to see Maharaja’s pale, lifeless body being stretchered out of the van and carried to the room through the jostling crowds. Mataji’s body was also taken into another room for cleaning. About an hour passed, during which time the kirtana continued outside the room. Blank-faced devotees milled around in all directions like lost sheep. The wails of lamentation of a Bengali girl hardly 14 years old and just initiated by Maharaja a few days previously, were particulary heart-rending.
Then Maharaja was carried into the temple for his final darshan of Sri Sri Radha Madhava, and for the devotees’ final darshan of His Divine Grace. Navigating the crowds with the palanquin was a real challenge. Maharaja’s body was kept for some time on the altar in front of Panca Tattva to give everyone a chance to touch his feet for the last time. At this point I spied in the crowd my friend Radha Krishna Prabhu, a disciple of Maharaja whom I hadn’t seen for several years. He had just arrived in Mayapur and heard the news of his Guru Maharaja’s departure. I couldn’t look at his shocked and sickened face.
At this point I slipped away from the temple to see what was happening with Vrindavanesvari Mataji. I knew her quite well as she was a close friend of my mother’s. She was always cheerful, and very Krsna conscious. I felt I ought to attend her last rites.
Her body was just being brought out of the room, and was carried by stretcher to the bank of the Ganga via the Big Kitchen gate. A small group of about 25 friends and well-wishers accompanied her, singing softly. Several were crying.
Some devotees had already prepared wood for her pyre. More onlookers gathered as Gaura Hari Prabhu and company dug a shallow hole in the soft Ganga mud and stacked the wood for burning. Ramai Swami and Prabhavisnu Swami, GBC’s for her native New Zealand, were also in attendance.
The time came to place her body on top and I helped move it from the stretcher to the pyre. I stepped on the mattress on which she had been lying and was dismayed to find the sole of my foot covered in blood. Her body had just been cleaned and had only been on the mattress for a short time, which reveals the extent of her injuries.
Her husband, Kalasamvara Prabhu, who had been injured in the accident, was there to peform her last rites. He was bandaged in several places and using crutches. He struggled bravely to circumambulate the pyre and nearly tripped over in the soft mud a couple of times. That he had to carry a burning stick at the same time made it even more difficult. In the presence of a crowd of about 100 devotees and onlookers, he lit her pyre.
We all watched as the flames rose quickly and consumed the body of a great Vaisnavi. It was the most auspicious of places and the most auspicious of situtions, with so many devotees chanting the holy names of the Lord and praying for her. We all trust Her Grace Vrindavanesvari Devi Dasi attained the supreme destination.
There was no time for further reflection, however. Maharaja’s samadhi ceremony was still to be performed. Evening was already approaching, and lights had been put up near the samadhi pit. Hundreds of devotees accompanied the palanquin carrying his body from the temple to Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi for a last darshan. In retrospect it would seem that he is now having eternal darshan of Srila Prabhupada; but we who are left here are bereft of his darshan.
The procession slowly descended the Samadhi steps and pushed through the crowds to the freshly-dug pit. It was a chaotic scene with hundreds of people clustered around trying to peer into the pit to see the last rites. Many were looking on from the top of the Samadhi. I couldn’t get near and don’t know exactly what happened. The kirtana was still raging, as it had been since 6:30 am–about twelve hours now, with only an hour’s break in between. Maha Vishnu Swami looked like he could go on all night.
Once the samadhi ceremony was over, everyone respectfully circumambulated the mound of dirt marking Maharaja’s resting place. Then, slowly, everyone began to disperse, at least in body. In spirit, I think everyone was elevated to the transcendental platform for days afterwards.
By now it was already dark, and, as the rules go, the devotees involved in handling the bodies went to bathe in the Ganga with all their clothes. I hadn’t eaten a bite all day, and neither had many others. After bathing I managed to scrounge a bit of prasadam at the deflated Gurukuli get-together being held that evening. Several times I passed by the samadhi site and saw devotees still gathered, chanting and praying there till maybe 10 pm.
The next day was another one surcharged with super-spiritual emotions. The whole morning, and the next day’s too, was reserved for glorification of Maharaja and Vrindavanesvari Mataji. The pitiful, teary speeches of his disciples and Godbrothers, the soul-stirring bhajans in the mood of separation, and the sombre mood of reflection and contemplation all created an atmosphere unlike any I have ever experienced. It was the most spiritual experience I have ever had.
Even today, whenever I look back on those days, petty troubles and desires seem to melt away into insignificance. And whenever I pass by Maharaja’s rapidly-evolving Samadhi I am struck by pangs of sadness and sobriety, and my dull consciousness is immediately elevated, at least for a short time. I know that many devotees have similar feelings after having attended Maharaja’s disappearance festival. Who can estimate his potency, that even after his passing he is changing the hearts and lives of even those who hardly knew him? I pray that my mind has been permanently turned away from its wicked tendencies at least a fraction after witnessing the glorious departure of Srila Tamal Krishna Maharaja. . . .
There are so many lessons to be learned from the devotees’ remembrances of Maharaja. Rather than futilely trying to describe them, I recommend all readers to directly listen to the homages and eulogies given by Maharaja’s Godbrothers, Godsisters, and disciples. They are all available for free downloading at the following website:
I guarantee you an unforgettably purifying experience. . . .
I’ll end this description with a verse describing the greatness of the Vaisnava:
aksnoh phalam tvadrsa-darsanam hi tanoh phalam tvadrsa-gatra-sangah jihva-phalam tvadrsa-kirtanam hi su-durlabha bhagavata hi loke
“O devotee of the Lord, to see you is the perfection of the eyes, to touch your body is the perfection of bodily activities, and to glorify your qualities is the perfection of the tongue, for it is very rare to find a pure devotee like you.” [Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (13.2), quoted in CC Madhya 20.61]
I hope that you have gained something from my attempt to describe Maharaja’s glorious departure.
In service to the Vaisnavas,
Ananda Tirtha Das