Sharal Vaishnavata

Today a festival was held in Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math Nabadwip in honour of Sripad Bhakti Dayita Damodar Maharaj’s passing. For this occasion a short biography has been compiled from the memories of Srila Bhakti Nirmal Acharya Maharaj, Sripad Bhakti Prapanna Tirtha Maharaj, and Sripad Mahananda Prabhu Bhakti Ranjan.

Sripad Damodar Maharaj was born in the Nadia district of Bengal in the village of Betuwa Bahiri. He grew up there and eventually took up the profession of a cloth retailer. Devotees from a local Gaudiya Math would visit him once a week and he would enthusiastically donate money, fruits, and flowers to them each week. In the 1970s, as a middle aged unmarried businessman, he began to visit Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math. Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj became fond of him and initiated him, giving him the name Subal Sakha Prabhu. Srila Sridhar Maharaj gradually began encouraging him to leave his work and join the Temple. In the late ’70s he did so. Srila Sridhar Maharaj first gave Subal Sakha Brahmachari charge of the Temple storeroom, a position commonly known as the ‘bhandari’. His duty was to ensure that all the groceries and supplies within the Temple were properly cared for and used exclusively for the service of Hari, Guru, and Vaishnava. In time he proved to be a trustworthy and reliable servitor who faithfully carried out Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s directions.

Some years later, as Western devotees began to frequent Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math Nabadwip, Srila Sridhar Maharaj and Srila Govinda Maharaj decided it would be helpful to establish a centre in Kolkata to assist devotees travelling to and from the Math. They chose Subal Sakha Brahmachari to begin this service. Enthusiastically accepting the order of Sri Guru on his head, Subal Sakha Brahmachari brought everything necessary for the centre from Nabadwip and took up residence in a rented house behind a biscuit factory in the Ulta Danga neighbourhood of Kolkata. From there he searched throughout Kolkata to find a proper place to make Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math’s centre. In time a suitable place was found in Dum Dum Park and Srila Govinda Maharaj purchased this land in Subal Sakha Brahmachari’s name, showing the confidence he had in Subal Sakha. Later other members of the Math joined Subal Sakha in Kolkata and together they engaged in preaching, collection, and hosting pilgrims travelling to and from Nabadwip.

While he stayed in Dum Dum Park Srila Sridhar Maharaj would sometimes send Subal Sakha to bring Srila Govinda Maharaj from Kolkata to Nabadwip. Srila Govinda Maharaj recounted on a number of occasions that Subal Sakha would come to him, inform him that Srila Guru Maharaj was calling him to Nabadwip, and then wait at the gate for Srila Govinda Maharaj to depart. Srila Govinda Maharaj recalled, “Subal Sakha was so strong that I could not refuse him. He would not leave without me. He would wait until midnight if it was necessary to bring me. Whatever Guru Maharaj told him, he would do, by hook or by crook.”

Later Srila Sridhar Maharaj and Srila Govinda Maharaj decided to make an ashram in Puri. They again first sent Subal Sakha Brahmachari there to find a suitable place. He lived there for sometime in a rented house and worked to establish the ashram. Once it was developed and other devotees came to take over its maintenance, Subal Sakha Brahmachari was given charge of Srila Govinda Maharaj’s temple in Hapaniya. There Subal Sakha enthusiastically looked after the Temple, built walls around the Temple’s  ponds, and cultivated the Temple’s lands.

In 1990, a year and a half after Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s disappearance, on the anniversary of Sriman Mahaprabhu’s acceptance of sannyas, Srila Govinda Maharaj initiated Subal Sakha Brahmachari into the order of tridandi-sannyas and gave him the name Sripad Bhakti Dayita Damodar Maharaj. Sripad Bhakti Prapanna Tirtha Maharaj and Sripad Bhakti Svarup Tridandi Maharaj were initiated on the same day.

Thereafter Sripad Damodar Maharaj served as the cashier of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Nabadwip. He carefully protected the Math’s funds and by his own example showed that one can live a fulfilling life while strictly subsisting on only bare necessities. Sleeping on a straw mat with a brick for a pillow, he inspired others to leave behind their preoccupation with creature comforts.

After Srila Govinda Maharaj secured land in Kaikhali Sripad Damodar Maharaj enthusiastically took up the service of building a Temple there. Through his leadership, diligence, and enthusiasm the Temple was constructed. He commanded the Math there for many years and expertly looked after everything. He cooked well and would affectionately serve prasadam to devotees. He smoothly organised numerous festivals, and guests were often impressed by the devotional atmosphere they experienced at the festivals he arranged.

Srila Bhakti Nirmal Acharya Maharaj recalls once assisting Sripad Damodar Maharaj with arrangements for a festival in Kaikhali. As the cooking was going on it was discovered that there was not a sufficient supply of green chilis. Sripad Damodar Maharaj sent Srila Acharya Maharaj to the market to buy one rupee’s worth of chilis. When Srila Acharya Maharaj returned with the chilis Sripad Damodar Maharaj demanded, “Where is the receipt?” Srila Acharya Maharaj often laughingly tells this story to illustrate how exactingly Sripad Damodar Maharaj cared for the property of Hari, Guru, and Vaishnava.

When his age advanced and his health started to decline Srila Govinda Maharaj transferred Sripad Damodar Maharaj back to Nabadwip. When Sripad Damodar Maharaj returned he arrived with a large, heavy plastic bag. Srila Govinda Maharaj asked him what was in the bag and Sripad Damodar Maharaj opened it and said, “More than one hundred thousand rupees in coins.”

Srila Govinda Maharaj laughed and said, “Where did you get this money?”

Sripad Damodar Maharaj replied, “This is all the money that was put into the donation box during my duty as the manager of the Kaikhali Math.”

Around the time that Sripad Damodar Maharaj joined the Temple his brother gave him five thousand rupees for safekeeping in case he had a medical emergency. Sripad Damodar Maharaj deposited this money in a fixed deposit account that doubled the money in the account every few years. Sripad Damodar Maharaj kept this money in the bank for more than twenty years and lastly give a sum of more than one hundred thousand rupees to Srila Govinda Maharaj. Srila Govinda Maharaj was again surprised and said, “Where did you get this money?”

Sripad Damodar Maharaj explained how he had kept money in a savings account but never wanted to use it for himself. Even during his final days when he suffered from ailing health, Sripad Damodar Maharaj never kept any money for himself. Srila Acharya Maharaj recalls that just ten days before he departed Sripad Damodar Maharaj came to him and forcibly gave him a donation that he had just received. Srila Acharya Maharaj implored him to keep the money and use it for his medical needs but Sripad Damodar Maharaj refused.

During the last period of his life Sripad Damodar Maharaj resided in Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math Nabadwip and engaged in service as much as his health allowed. He attended the aratis, kirtans, and classes each morning and evening, and every afternoon he gave class on Srimad Bhagavatam. Although rhythm was never his strong suit, devotees observed that Srila Govinda Maharaj, being charmed by Sripad Damodar Maharaj’s mood of devotion, attended many aratis that Sripad Damodar Maharaj led. When his health did not allow him to participate in the seated kirtans and classes in the Temple, he observed a strict practice of chanting japa, circumambulating the Temples, and offering his obeisances to the Deities. On any given day devotees would see him spend hours simply chanting, circumambulating the Temples, and repeatedly offering his obeisances. He also maintained a Tulasi garden beside his quarters and took care of Tulasi throughout the Temple. Even during the last year of his life Sripad Damodar Maharaj participated each day in Sri Nabadwip Dham Parikrama and, as he did every year, walked briskly at the head of the party.

After Srila Govinda Maharaj departed Sripad Damodar Maharaj showed his allegiance and chastity to Srila Govinda Maharaj and Srila Sridhar Maharaj through his sincere and jovial admiration for Srila Acharya Maharaj. He was distressed to see disturbances within the Math and showed his heartfelt attachment for Srila Guru Maharaj’s Mission through his concern about the maintenance of the Math’s integrity and preceptorial line. When his health allowed Sripad Damodar Maharaj would come daily to offer his full dandavat pranams to Srila Acharya Maharaj. Referring to Srila Acharya Maharaj as his Guru, he would pray for Srila Acharya Maharaj’s blessings. In this way Sripad Damodar Maharaj showed himself to be a sincere follower of the Rupanuga-dhara and showed everyone how to follow Srila Saraswati Thakur’s conception that serving Guru and Vaishnava means serving them according to their instructions (not one’s own whims).

While during his earlier years he was sometimes stern, in his later years he became very soft and sweet, and also expressed a deep sense of Vaishnava humility. With tears in his eyes he would clasp devotees’ hands and beg them to forgive his offences and bless him to be able to serve Srila Guru Maharaj. He would sometimes cry sadly because he was no longer able to physically engage in service. He would candidly wonder aloud again and again, “Will my destiny be auspicious?” At the end of his life, after suffering from strokes and other mental difficulties, he would lament that he could not steadily chant the Holy Name. In this way he felt the longing of a surrendered soul that Srila Bhakti Vinod Thakur described in Sharanagati. During the last week of his life he was bedridden and unable to speak yet he firmly held his japa bag in his hand and would not allow anyone to remove it. He requested that a photo of Srila Guru Maharaj be placed next to his bed and lastly he passed away very early at 03:30 on 19 September 2012 (21 Padmanabha, Gaura Panchami, 527 Gaurabda) while chanting the Holy Name and gazing at Srila Guru Maharaj.

Any instance of Srila Sridhar Maharaj or Srila Govinda Maharaj ever expressing any dissatisfaction with Sripad Damodar Maharaj cannot be recalled. For as long as they knew him they accepted him as one of their sincere and faithful associates. Srila Sridhar Maharaj showed his confidence in Sripad Damodar Maharaj by making him one of the three executors of his will. Srila Govinda Maharaj was always observed to harbour special affection for Sripad Damodar Maharaj and showed this whenever they met.

Sripad Damodar Maharaj will be remembered for his reliability, trustworthiness, chastity, and sincerity. He had a small figure and a quiet nature, but a very strong personality. His simplicity and loyalty teach us that we need only to aspire for the slightest service. Even the slightest service done with affection and a simple heart can result in all perfection.

Most Western devotees met him in his later years when his physical capacity had diminished but those who knew him in his earlier years fondly remember his active nature and strong leadership. His life is a vivid example for everyone that wholesale surrender to Sri Guru and Vaishnava is not only possible but immediately practicable in our lives. His life proves Sri Krishna’s vow in Srimad Bhagavad-gita:

ananyāś chintay­anto māṁ ye janāḥ paryupāsate
teṣāṁ nityābhiy­uktānāṁ yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham
  (Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 9.22)

I sup­ply the neces­sit­ies of My steady devotees who med­it­ate exclus­ively on Me and serve Me in all respects.”

Sripad Damodar Maharaj never exploited the Math’s property. He only accepted from the Math what was fundamentally necessary for his service. His deep faith in our Guru-varga and the Lord’s protection are a lesson to everyone. He thought only for the Math’s service and his life is a testament to the guardianship that Hari, Guru, and Vaishnava maintain for the surrendered souls. Srila Bhakti Vinod Thakur described such a soul in Sharanagati:

nijera poṣana,kabhu nā bhāviba,
rahiba bhāvera bhare
bhakati-vinoda,tomāre pālaka,
baliyā varaṇa kare
(Sharanagati: 19.5)

He will never think about his own maintenance; he will always remain within the shelter of loving attachment for the Lord, having embraced the Lord as his maintainer.”

Sripad Damodar Maharaj has shown how to practise Rupanuga-bhakti in the line of Srila Saraswati Thakur and in his life exemplified one of Srila Saraswati Thakur’s most widely publicised teachings:

āsakti-rahita,’    ‘sambandha-sahita,’
  viṣaya-samūha sakali ‘mādhava’
(Vaishnava Ke?: 12)

Everything belongs to Madhava. One must be detached from everything but connect everything with the Lord.”

Sripad Damodar Maharaj is an exemplary member of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math and all devotees of the Math around the world humbly aspire for the chastity and sincerity with which he served our Guru-varga.

kṛpā kari’ kṛṣṇa more diyāchhilā saṅga
svatantra kṛṣṇera ichchhā,—kailā saṅga-bhaṅga
  (Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita: Antya-lila, 11.94) 

Kṛṣṇa mercifully gave us his association, but Kṛṣṇa’s independent will has now taken it away.”

While devotees are sad to lose his association they are also happy to see him relieved of his physical suffering and rejoice to think of the bright future that awaits him in the care of our divine Guardians. Seeing the love that Srila Guru Maharaj and Srila Gurudev had for him, seeing his simple, sincere heart, seeing his natural faith and affection, we are confident his spiritual future will be glorious, and we pray for such fortune in our own lives.

śrīmat-prabhu-padāmbhoja-madhupebhyo namo namaḥ
tṛpyantu kṛpayā te ’tra prapanna-jīvanāmṛte
  (Sri Sri Prapanna-jivanamrita: 1.4)

We repeatedly offer our obeisances unto the bees who drink the nectar of our Divine Master’s lotus feet. May they graciously be satisfied with the nectar relished in the life of a surrendered soul (the Prapanna-jivanamrita).”