Excerpt from the first chapter of a new book about the life of Srila Gour Govinda Swami
By Madhavananda Das
In honor of his appearance day (today the 29th of August), we are posting the following excerpt from chapter one of a new book coming soon from Gopal Jiu Publications, called, “When Good Fortune Arises”. The bracketed matter will be endnotes.
Early Days (1929 to 1974)
A Family of Kirtaniyas
Sri Srimad Gour Govinda Swami was born as Braja Bandhu Manik 2nd September 1929in Jagannathpur, a small village in what is now the Jagatsinghpur District of Orissa. His parents were Pata Devi and Iswara Manik, strict Gaudiya Vaishnavas that never engaged in meat-eating, illicit sex, gambling, or intoxication. His mother came from the Giri family of the village of Gadeigiri. The Giris are Gaudiya Vaishnavas and well known for their expertise inkīrtana and for their worship of the deities Sri Sri Radha Gopal Jiu that had been passed down in their family for over 350 years [Gopal Jiu, the Beloved Deity of Srila Gour Govinda Swami from Gopal Jiu Publications describes the eventful history of these deities.]. Braja Bandhu’s maternal grandfather, Bauri Giri, was famous in the local area as aparamahaṁsa-vaiṣṇava. He was constantly chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and worshiping Gopal.
Bauri Giri’s daughter, Pata Devi, was similarly devoted to Gopal. From her early childhood she would come to see Gopal every day. Every morning she would sweep Gopal’s temple, make garlands, and cook for him. Like the Giri family, Iswara Manik was also in the business of selling items made of bell metal. Aside from Braja Bandhu, Ishwara and Pata Devi had a younger son named Kripa Sindhu and a daughter named Swadhuri Devi. Although after her marriage Pata Devi lived 14 kilometers away from Gadeigiri in Jagannathpur, it did not detract from her devotion to Gopal. She always managed to come during festival times to serve her beloved Lord. Pata Devi was always quiet and absorbed in serving her husband and children. Every Saturday she would fast as an offering for their well-being. Each morning she would worship Lord Jagannath and recite from the Purāṇas and the Bhagavad-gītā. Every evening she would chant hare kṛṣṇa and circumambulate a tulasī plant with her husband and Braja Bandhu, then recite Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Any beggar orsādhu that came to her house never went away empty-handed.
Once when Braja Bandhu was a small child and he and his mother were staying at his uncle’s house in Gadeigiri, a famous blind astrologer from Dhenkanal named Nityananda Khadiratna stayed two days at Gadeigiri. Pata Devi took her son to the astrologer, desiring to know something about his future. The astrologer said, “This boy is very intelligent and is full of devotion. He will be married and get government service. In his middle age he will give up family life and become a sādhu. He will acquire high knowledge and an important place on the map of sādhus. He will build temples. He will make Gopal’s place bright. Lastly, the astrologer said that God himself has sent this child from his abode to the material world for preaching his message and for the deliverance of the conditioned souls.
Attachment to the Bhagavatam
Pata Devi was eager that her Braja Bandhu would become a devotee of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, and she became very happy seeing that he was developing such attachment. By the age of eight, Braja Bandhu had read the entire Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, and Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, and he could explain their meanings. At night many villagers would come to hear his recitation of the Oriya Bhāgavata, Rāmāyaṇa andMahābhārata. However, young Braja Bandhu was particularly attached to the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.
His old friend Fakir Charan Das recounts: Srila Gurudeva once told me that whenever as a young boy he would become naughty and would not stop crying, his mother would simply put the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam [kdd1] in his hands and he would stop. He was so much inclined to read the Bhāgavatam that if he was 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 cooking fire and read Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. At night he would go to sleep clutching the Bhāgavatam to his chest.
From 1942 to 1945, Braja Bandhu stayed in Gadeigiri with his maternal uncles Gopinath and Jagannath Giri, and he attended high school in nearby Balikuda. Gopinath and Jagannath Giri were both fond of performing kīrtana. They would regularly go out to chant in the neighboring area, and it was not uncommon for them to travel to distant villages for chanting. Often they would perform nonstop kīrtana for one or two days at a time. They were very fond of singing traditional Orissan songs of Krishna’s pastimes as well as the songs of Srila Narottam Das Thakur. Whenever possible, young Braja Bandhu would chant with them, and by their association he became deeply attached to performing kīrtana.
Although Braja Bandhu would often engage in kīrtana with his uncles, he did not neglect his studies. During the day he would engage in study, in the evening he would join the kīrtana, and then in the early morning he would come back to Gopal’s temple to render service. Young Braja Bandhu was a quiet and serious child. He did not engage in play with the other children and he showed no interest in cinema or other such pursuits. Whatever free time he had after completing his studies he would spend doing kīrtana with his uncles or in rendering various services to Gopal. Braja Bandhu would clean Gopal’s temple, pick flowers for the 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 throughout his whole life.
From the time that Braja Bandhu was about a year old, his older cousin Dhobani Devi helped to take care of him. Years later she recalled that he was always a very sober, innocent child, who never spoke to anyone, and who had a great attraction for Gopal Jiu.
Dhobani Devi spoke of an incident when Braja Bandhu was four or five years old: From his childhood Braja Bandhu was very absorbed in Gopal consciousness. Most afternoons, Braja Bandhu would play near Gopal’s temple. Next to the little thatched temple was a paddy field that was used for cultivating mung dal. The village boys used to enjoy picking and eating the fresh raw beans called muga chuiñ in Orissa. Late one afternoon, Braja Bandhu was picking some of these bean pods. He would take whatever he could hold in his small hands, put it on Gopal’s veranda, and then go back to collect more. One time, when Braja Bandhu returned from the field, he found that his original pile of chuiñ had vanished. Surprised, he looked around wondering who had taken them, but no one was to be seen. So he put that handful of bean pods down and returned to the field to pick more.
Carrying all that he could in his tiny hands, Braja Bandhu went back to Gopal’s veranda and found that once again his pile of green dal was gone. This time he was determined to see who was taking it. So when he returned to the field to collect more, he kept a careful watch, regularly looking up at his pile of muga chuiñ on the veranda of Gopal’s temple.
Suddenly Braja Bandhu saw a small dark boy grabbing all his bean pods. He ran towards the boy, shouting, “Gopal is taking my chuiñ”. Gopal fled, running around the temple, hotly pursued by Braja Bandhu.
By this time it was getting dark, and Gopinath Giri, Braja Bandhu’s maternal uncle, was going to Gopal’s temple for his evening prayers. He was most surprised to see young Braja Bandhu running around and around the temple shouting that Gopal had taken his chuiñ. His uncle called to him, asking why he was running around the temple by himself in the dark. Braja Bandhu said that Gopal had taken his chuiñ. Gopinath Giri told him that he should go home as it was getting late, but then he suddenly saw a boy’s shadow rush through the temple doorway. Seeing this, Gopinath Giri became amazed and ecstatic. His hair stood on end, and tears came to his eyes. With a trembling body he embraced young Braja Bandhu, understanding that Gopal was playing games with his nephew! [Ananda Sambada, issue 28, pp. 38-39. From an interview conducted by Bhakta Pradosh.]
In his childhood, when Braja Bandhu was studying in upper primary school, he was staying in his uncle’s home in Gadei Giri. Ghanashyam Giri was responsible for Gopal’s worship. Braja Bandhu would come and together they would perform kīrtana and render service to Gopal. Damodar Giri was a good singer and was expert in kīrtana. These three, Ghanashyam Giri, Damodar Giri, and Braja Bandhu, often sat together and performedkīrtana.
Later in his life, Gour Govinda Maharaja commented: The first thing I remember as a child are the songs of Narottam Das Thakur sung by my uncles from.Gadeigiri. My uncles knew kīrtana. They were great kīrtaniyās…. I would regularly listen to kṛṣṇa-kathāfrom my parents. They would read different Purāṇas and other Vedic literatures to me, such as Śrīmad-bhāgavatam, Mahābharata , etc. From my youth I was singing, dancing, doing kīrtana, and listening to Śrīmad-bhāgavatam. [Kṛṣṇālingita-vigraha, p. 25. Interview with Gour Govinda Swami.]
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