By Basu Ghosh Das
On October 27, approximately 1:15 PM, H.H. Narmada Swami, departed this world at Sri Vrindavan Dham, for the eternal pastimes of Lord Krishna. He was 79 years old and had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease during his last 3 years.
It was the day after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearence day, and Vrindavan was crowded with visiting devotees from around the world, as well as hoards of Diwali vacationers from all over India.
Who was Narmada Swami? Many devotees outside of ISKCON in India might not have known him. Narmada Swami joined ISKCON at Juhu, Bombay, during 1981, after having met Bombay devotees during the Rathayatra festival organized by ISKCON at Surat, Gujarat. The Rathayatras organized at Surat during 1980 and 1981 were grand events, which were attended by hundreds of thousands of members of the public!
Narmada Maharaj was then estranged from his family and was running his own business at Surat. Later on in life, his family members found out he had joined ISKCON, but he declined to communicate with them directly. Also he rarely discussed his life at Surat with other devotees. He became as detached as possible from his past.
Narmada Swami hailed from the Naidu community of Andhra Pradesh. He joined ISKCON in late middle age, at the age of 54, and served selflessly for 25 years. He accumulated no wealth, no disciples, and was not eager for any post or position in ISKCON. He took sannyas in the days when it was more easily available within ISKCON than at present, and remained true to the vows of renunciation until his last moment!
He is remembered mostly for the many years he served as the General Manager of the BBT at Bombay. There, he was well known to all ISKCON temple presidents throughout India for his thorough honesty, punctuality, devotion to duty, cleanliness, strictness, discipline as well as his friendly nature.
He also served as the temple president of important ISKCON temples in India such as Juhu, Bombay, New Delhi, and Hyderabad.
Maharaj’s attendance of the temple morning programs, classes and his sadhana were highly punctual and exemplary. It was also noted that he spent long hours studying Srimad Bhagavatam. He was also a loyal “Prabhupada man”, and did not leave ISKCON during the “troubled times” of 1986. He made several trips to Dwaraka Dham, so that he could study Srimad Bhagavatam and chant the Mahamantra in relative peace. But he would always return to his important services at the BBT at Juhu, refreshed from the experience.
His expert management of book publication was a major factor in helping to supply the huge requirements of books that ISKCON India distributes during the annual December marathon book distribution competitions. During his tenure, hundreds of thousands of Bhagavad-gitas and other BBT books print runs reached astonishing record levels, and the preparation for the marathon began months earlier. He was the “on the spot” and “on the job” devotee who oversaw the work on a daily basis. His contribution will be remembered for long.
During the last three years, Maharaj was residing in a flat owned by the BBT at Vrindavan, located just near Krishna Balaram Mandir. Devotees from Juhu temple served him and looked after all of his needs. He was totally bedridden due to his disease, but he was constantly chanting Hare Krishna, and was always in full control of his mental capacities.
Narmada Maharaj was put into samadhi behind the building being used by the VIHE on the Bhaktivedanta Swami Goshalla land of ISKCON Vrindavan, the very same day he disappeared. Devotees are welcome to visit the site and offer their respects and regards there.
The ISKCON Indian temple presidents passed the following resolution at their recent meeting at Vrindavan on October 28 and 29:
“The ICC hereby places on record it’s great feeling of separation from and deep gratitude for services rendered by His Holiness Narmada Swami Maharaj, who left this world the day after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance day, Kartik shukla panchami, at Sri Vrindavan dham. He was 79 years old.
Narmada Maharaj retired to Vrindavan 3 years ago, when ill health prevented him from continuing as the Manager of the BBT at Juhu, Bombay. He rendered very important and totally selfless service to the BBT there from 1982 onwards.
Narmada Maharaj joined ISKCON at an advanced age after attending the ISKCON Rathayatra at Surat during 1981. So practically he served the BBT from the time he joined ISKCON. He rose to the post of Manager and Trustee from the humble service of godown (warehouse) manager, which was his first service in BBT.
Over the years, Narmada Maharaj developed the reputation of being an absolutely honest, no-nonsense manager. He was an icon of devotion to duty. He was very strict in his dealings, but he also had his “soft-side” which was also well known to many leaders of ISKCON in India. He was liberal to the temples in giving them BBT books as long as they made regular payments to the BBT. Because of his honesty, integrity and kindness, he was respected and well liked by both ISKCON India’s senior leaders as well as the ISKCON India temple presidents. His management skills were highly respected by all. It is understood that his diligence, integrity and management skills were a major contribution that helped the Juhu BBT to prosper in no small way.
Narmada Maharaj also served as temple president of ISKCON New Delhi, Juhu Mumbai, and Hyderabad. After retiring to Vrindavan he was bedridden, but until the end he was in full control of his mental faculties. His dealings while during the final period of his life are a lesson in humility and in devotion to Sri Sri Radha Krishna. The example he set of a person who knows his departure from the material body is imminent and thus fixed his mind on the Lord reminds us of Maharaj Parikshit and Maharaj Khatvaanga. His life in the Krishna Consciousness movement was glorious and his departure from this material world was glorious. His life and the sterling example he set should be an inspiration to the younger generation of ISKCON devotees.”