By Niranajan And Jayapataka Swami
Memories of His Holiness Sridhar Swami.
Today being the Disappearance day of our most beloved HH Sridhar Swami Maharaj we thought of remembering one of Srila Prabhupada’s favorite sons, his Samadhi is in Mayapur next to the Samadhi of HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami Maharaj, and Srila Prabhupadas Pusya Samadhi.
HH Niranajan Swami Maharaj remembers the Jolly Swami:
There are many things more we could say about Sridhar Maharaja. He was a very wonderful devotee and the world is going to experience a great loss. He was a Vaisnava through and through. He had only one attachment. He just wanted to be Prabhupada’s dog.
Of course as we know there is really no cause for lamentation. “He reasons ill who say that Vaisnavas die when thou are living still in sound. Vaisnavas die to live and in living try to spread the holy name around.” (Some difficulty translating and it was taking some time)
Vaisnavas don’t die! That’s the point. They may simply disappear from our vision. But Vaisnavas will always go on, continuing to do what they’ve done in this world, which is serving the Lord. Of course, we lament for the loss of the association of Vaisnavas. But for the Vaisnavas, themselves, there is no cause for lamentation. So in that sense, that’s why we celebrate the disappearance day of great Vaisnavas. Someone might ask, “How is it a cause for celebration?” But it’s a celebration because when a Vaisnava departs from our vision they are simply going on to continue their service for the Lord. When Sridhar Maharaja departed he was fully conscious. Devotees were chanting and he was hearing the holy name. He was completely absorbed in meditation on a picture of Prabhupada. Prabhupada’s dog. That’s all he wanted to see, was Prabhupada. And he departed very peacefully. Devotees who were present with him said that it was a very auspicious departure.
So actually, in a sense, we do lament for the departure of a Vaisnava. Just like Srivas Thakur. Right. Today is his appearance day. There is a very wonderful pastime of Srivasa Thakur. Srivas Thakur as we know, he would conduct kirtans every night in his home with Lord Caitanya and His associates.
Lord Caitanya would appear in four places. He would appear wherever Lord Nityananda was dancing in ecstacy. He would appear in the altar room of Sacimata. He would appear in the home of Raghava Pandit. And He would always appear when there was kirtan in the house of Srivas Pandit. The Lord would appear in different ways. One way is called “saksat”, when he would directly appear. Another was called “avirbhava”. He would manifest due to the strong love of His devotees. They would attract him to come. Not everybody would see His presence. But those whose eyes were deeply imbued with love and who had attracted the Lord could see the Lord’s presence in His “avirbhava” form. And He would also appear in the form called “avesa.” Avesa form is when He would appear in an empowered person. So Lord Caitanya would appear in the house of Srivasa Thakur.
Of course, at this particular time about which we are speaking, He was directly present. And Lord Caitanya would regularly conduct all-night kirtans. He would experience great ecstasy during these kirtans. Only the most confidential associates of the Lord were allowed to participate in these kirtans. Present were Haridas Thakur, Lord Nityananda, Advaita Acarya, Srivasa Pandit, Srivas Pandit’s brothers, Srirama Pandit, Srinidhi, Sripati and so many other associates of the Lord were there. And the Lord, in the presence of these intimate associates would experience such great ecstatic love.
But one night, during one of these kirtans, the son of Srivasa Pandit left his body. Present at the time of the son’s departure were Srivas Pandit’s wife, his brothers and their wives. And when the son of Srivasa Pandit had departed, many of them felt great lamentation within their hearts. They were crying, very distressed at the disappearance of their close son. Srivasa understood that something had taken place in the other room, so Srivasa walked into the other room and saw that his son had returned to the spirtual world. He then turned around and saw that everyone was lamenting, and immediately chastised them, “Why are you lamenting? Why are you crying like this? Don’t you understand? The Supreme Personality of Godhead is here in our home, dancing in kirtan. Anyone who sees His face receives the highest benediction. Anyone who hears His name receives the highest benediction. Why are you lamenting in this way? The Lord is omniscient. He knows everyone’s heart. Please give up your lamentation. Otherwise you will disturb the kirtan of the Lord.” Srivasa Thakur was thinking that the Lord was experiencing so much ecstasy, but if He saw everybody crying and lamenting then His ecstacy would break. He said, “If you do not give up your lamentation right at this minute, I will immediately tie a rope around my neck and I will drown myself in the Ganges.”
So Srivasa Thakur preached very strongly to all of his family members to give up their lamentation and go back in the kirtan and smile. And he threatened them, “If you don’t, I’ll drown myself.” So he returned to the kirtan and he was ecstatic, dancing in ecstasy. And everybody else was also dancing, but within their hearts they were lamenting. But all Srivasa could think of was that he did not want to disturb the ecstasy of the Lord. And so the kirtan continued for many hours.
Then at one moment, all of a sudden Lord Caitanya stopped, and He came to external consciousness. Because usually when He was in such ecstasy, He would lose external consciousness and would go completely into internal consciousness. So He came to external consciousness and said, “I think that something has happened here in this house,” because the Lord could understand what was going on in their hearts. Then Srivasa Thakur immediately spoke up. “Oh Lord, how can there be anything lamentable in my house? You are present. I am seeing Your face! You are dancing in such bliss! Everyone here is so blissful. What could be the cause for lamentation?! Nobody can be lamenting.” And Srivasa Thakur was trying to convince Lord Caitanya that, “Nothing is going on here. Please continue. Chant! Dance! Ecstacy! Ecstacy!” But gradually Lord Caitanya could understand and others began speaking.
They said, “Oh Lord, Srivasa’s son has departed from this world. And Lord Caitanya said, “What? Tell me, when did it happen? How long ago?” The devotees said, “It happened about seven and a half hours ago. But Srivasa, not wanting to disturb your ecstasy, told us all to keep it within our hearts.” When Lord Caitanya heard this he began to cry. He understood how much love Srivasa had for Him. And He said to Srivasa, “How is it possible that you have so much love for Me that you don’t even know grief for your departed son?” So Lord Caitanya then went into the other room and He saw that Srivasa’s son had departed. He approached the son, and He asked, “Tell me, why did you leave?” And everyone was gathered around. Srivasa was gathered there, all his family members were gathered there. So the Lord arranged for the living entity to appear back in the body of Srivasa’s departed son. And then the son began speaking.
He said, “Oh, my Lord. The destined time for my life span in this world is now exhausted. Now it is time to depart from this world and go on to my next destination. Who is anyone’s son? Who is anyone’s father? We are all living beings meant to go on in our journey from one body to the next. Oh my Lord, I simply pray to Your lotus feet. Please forgive me for any offenses I may have committed in your presence, and please allow me to continue to my next destination.” And then he stopped speaking. Everyone that was standing there were overwhelmed. Through the mouth of this young boy, they were all given appropriate instructions and they could all understand that the living entity that was in the body of Srivasa Thakur’s son was simply returning back to the spiritual world. Lord Caitanya arranged this simply to remove everyone’s lamentation. The Lord does not like to see lamentation within the heart of His devotee. So He instructed everyone through the mouth of the departed son of Srivasa Thakur. And when they heard all of these instructions, all of them, folded their hands, they bowed down, touched the lotus feet of the Lord and began offering prayers. “Oh Lord, You are our father, You are our son, You are everything to us! Simply by Your presence we are feeling such great happiness and they began many wonderful prayers in gratitude to the Lord. Then all all the proper rites were performed for the departed son of Srivasa Thakur, and everyone’s lamentation was completely dispelled.
Then Lord Caitanya turned to Srivasa Thakur, and He said again, “Srivas, how can I ever give up the association of one who has so much love for Me? One who does not even know grief for the loss of his own son? From this day, both Nityananda and Myself, We will become your sons. You will never know suffering. Anybody who ever sees you will also never know suffering. Simply by seeing you all their suffering will go away.”
In this way, Lord Caitanya gave the benediction to Srivasa. Because Srivasa was so devoted to the Lord, the Lord benedicted him.
Now Sridhar Maharaja likes prasadam. He’s always been known as somebody who likes prasadam. He was called the “Jolly Swami” also because he had a jolly appearance. So the doctor gave him a very restricted diet and something like that was not easy for Sridhar Maharaja. But the doctor said that, “You should follow this diet and take this medicine for three weeks.” It was a very bland diet. So after a few days of following the treatment, Sivarama called from Vrndavana. And he was asking Sridhar Maharaja how he was feeling. Maharaja replied, “Well my lungs are working all right.” Because he was having some problems with his lungs, too at that time. He said “My liver seems to be working.” Then he said, “But I’m afraid that this diet is going to kill me.”
Prabhupada was like that also, actually. When Prabhupada was very ill the devotees were trying to restrict his intake of food. And they were giving him very bland food. And Prabhupada said, “Get rid of this. Let us die eating prasadam.” Prabhupada also had a similar mood. He did’t like this strict diet.
But still Sridhar Maharaja followed it. So, because the doctor felt so confident, Sridhar Maharaja started to feel more confident. So all the godbrothers who were there in Mayapura started to think, “Well Sridhar Maharaja is feeling so confident.” Then it gradually became the time for most of the devotees to leave because the festival was ending. So Sridhar Maharaja was telling everybody, “Hey, don’t come in here and say good-by to me.” I’m not going anywhere. Get out of here. You should just go do your preaching. Prabhupada wouldn’t want you to stay here.” To many godbrothers who came in, he said, “Don’t say good-by.” To me he said, “I’ll see you in Moscow.” So his disposition completely changed.
And before that many of us were thinking, “How can we leave Mayapura?” In fact, earlier I was thinking that, too. I had changed my ticket to stay a few days longer, because I didn’t know what was going to happen. Many devotees would ask me, “When are you leaving?” and I said, “Well to tell you the truth, I can’t imagine going into the room and saying good-by to Sridhar Maharaja and I can’t imagine leaving and not saying good-by to Sridhar Maharaja. So how can I go anywhere?” So I was also thinking that, “Maybe I’ll stay a little bit longer to see how Maharaja’s health develops.” But Maharaja was getting so positive, that he was telling everybody, “Go, Go. Don’t come in here and say good-by to me.” He wanted everybody to go out and preach.
Even when I called him yesterday. Maharaja said, “Why are you wasting your money calling me?” He said you have more important things to do with your money. So I said, “Maharaja, it’s not my money, it’s Prabhupada’s money and you’re Prabhupada’s dog.” So I said, “Don’t try to get me off the phone. Let’s talk for awhile.” So after some talk, he said, “Call me back in a couple of weeks.” I said, “Maharaja, I’ll call you back in a couple of days.” And even yesterday, Maharaja’s spirits were good. Although he did say to me, “Please, preach to me to keep the faith to stay here, because my faith to stay is getting a little weak right now.”
So, of course, it was very difficult for me. I actually wanted to stay in Mayapura, but because he was feeling so positive, and so was I, I decided to leave. And the irony is that I had left Mayapura, and then flew from Calcutta to Bombay. Two days later I got a phone call in Bombay at about 11:15 at night. I was leaving for the airport to fly to Kiev at 11:30. Vraja Kumara dasa called me and told me, “I just spoke to Mayapura dasa, Sridhar Maharaja’s servant and Mayapura says that Sridhar Maharaja is feeling distressed right now because his godbrothers have left, and he feels that it is a rough night for him tonight. He’s having difficulty breathing and not many of his godbrothers are there right now. So at that particular point, I had to choose to either cancel the flight and go back to Mayapura, although I was leaving to catch my flight literally in 15 minutes, or to leave for Ukraine. I left for Ukraine. And I guess that’s why it was a little extra painful for me this morning when I found out that Sridhar Maharaja had left his body at 6:15 this morning in Mayapura.
Some Memories of HH Srila Sridhar Swami by Jayapataka Swami
When I met HH Srila Sridhar Swami to seek his blessings just prior to going on the South Indian Safari Maharaja was very emphatic! His time was not yet up! He had many things to still do or Srila Prabhupada. I mentioned to him that the Temple of Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur was one such work. Sridhar Swami confirmed. He said he wanted to encourage and help Ambarish Prabhu in building the main Panca Tattva Mandir at Mayapur. Srila Sridhar Swami said many things at that time. How he felt better. His diet was difficult, but it seemed the medicines were working. Tridandi Prabhu, from Italy, had brought an Ayurvedic Doctor (who treated and had cured many hopeless cases in the past) to Mayapur. It was his cure that Srila Sridhar Swami was taking. In fact it was visible that Srila Sridhar Swami was improving. Even his dear brothers had gone on a pilgrimage seeing his improvement.
When Srila Sridhar Swami had arrived in Mayapur his mood was almost resigned to die very soon. But now Srila Sridhar Swami was in a fighting mood! He told me he was planning to fight to stay alive and do some more devotional service for Srila Prabhupada. He was concerned that with his illness it was quite common to go into a coma and then pass away. He said he didn’t want to leave like that in a coma. He wanted to be conscious and hear the holy names and remember Lord Sri Krishna in full consciousness. He said the cure was working and he was feeling better so he was going to fully follow the treatment and hoped to survive this terminal disease if Lord Sri Krishna so desired. That was the last mood I saw Srila Sridhar Swami in when I left Sri Mayapur just over a week ago. On the wall he had a poem which wrote about leaving the world in a fighting spirit to live. Considering that I come to the conclusion that it was only the divine desire of Lord Sri Krishna that has taken our beloved Srila Sridhar Swami from us at this time.
Srila Sridhar Swami was so loving with me during his last period in Mayapur. He always addressed me as “Big Brother” or “older Brother”. He would treat me like a loving Brother. He thanked me for having him do the Arotik to Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu on the Maha Installation day, for giving my frequent flyer miles to bring him first class to India now, for so many even insignificant things. He would love to reminisce about times we were together and things we did with Srila Prabhupada or together. I didn’t spend so much time in the room with Srila Sridhar Swami, but would just sneak in now and again or otherwise consult with Mayapur Das, his secretary, if he needed anything. We arranged a hospital bed from Kolkatta, for instance. Still whenever I would come in he was always so friendly and loving. I cannot help but cry to think I won’t be able to see and associate with Srila Sridhar Swami anymore in this lifetime.
Srila Sridhar Swami was a very jolly devotee most of the time. He liked to joke and had his own unique sense of humor. He could surprise devotees with some of his statements. He was not an overly diplomatic person, but would rather speak as he saw things. Sometimes his statements would embarrass the listeners they would be so blunt. Srila Sridhar Swami liked to have a personal relationship with all his god brothers and god sisters. Many can tell about personal dealings received from Srila Sridhar Swami. He sometimes addressed god brothers by nicknames. Often he would say something humorous to a god brother. Sometimes he was very serious and would request some devotional service to be performed for Srila Prabhupada. Sometimes he was impatient and encourage people who were not doing enough or their spiritual life to get active. Srila Sridhar Swami had in the past years given a lot of time to the Balkans and surely the devotees there have much to say about his contributions and association. I have close relationships with many of Srila Sridhar Swami Disciples. Srila Sridhar Swami authorized some to be siksa disciples. He was open and caring, wanting always the best for his disciples and for everyone, for that matter. I don’t think it is possible to explain all the good qualities of Srila Sridhar Swami. So instead I would just share some experiences I had together with him.
I can’t remember even when the first time I met Srila Sridhar Swami was. I also can hardly remember a time since I came to India when he wasn’t somehow involved at one point or another.
One thing happened when we were living in Mayapur in the grass hut in the early 1970’s. Srila Prabhupada was in the grass hut and behind it was a tent which was being used as a kitchen. Srila Sridhar Swami came with a new “high tech” invention which had just hit the market—an automatic puri roller! He was asked to give a demonstration. So we were all sitting around him and he rolled some puris. Whether they would cook properly or not? So someone heated up some ghee and cooked the puris. Seemed they came out quite okay. Let’s try how they tasted! There was nothing to eat any hot puris with. I suggested we take some of the liquid date gur and that was poured on everyone’s leave plate. Maybe we were making some commotion. Like children trying out a new toy. Well Srila Prabhupada was looking out from his window seeing what we were doing. He instructed that it wasn’t proper for people in the renounced order to sit around and eat hot puris like we were doing. Later we explained what was happening, but we always will remember the instruction. Srila Prabhupada also tried some puri rolled on the puri rolling machine.
Like that Srila Sridhar Swami was a player in so many activities. At that time he was a Brahmacari. I don’t know how, but I was present in the room with Srila Prabhupada in Bombay when Srila Sridhar Swami asked Srila Prabhupada or Sannyasa initiation. What I remember was Srila Prabhupada asked him I he was 100% sure he wouldn’t fall down. Srila Sridhar Swami was very humble and straightforward. He said he wasn’t 100% sure he wouldn’t fall down. Then Srila Prabhupada asked him if he was 75% sure he would maintain sannyasa. Sridhara Brahmacari said he wasn’t 75% sure either. Then Srila Prabhupada asked Sridhara Brahmacari if he was 50% sure that he would maintain Sannyasa strictly. Sridhara Brahmacari confirmed that he was 50% sure that he could maintain Sannyasa. Then Srila Prabhupada said it was okay. Srila Prabhupada said he would grant Sannyasa order of life to him in Vrindavana were an initiation ceremony was being planned in the near future. Srila Prabhupada obviously knew the nature of Srila Sridhar Swami perfectly. Srila Sridhar Swami observed his Sannyasa vows very strictly.
Srila Sridhar Swami was a totally Srila Prabhupada man. He was sold out to Srila Prabhupada! He wanted to do whatever he could to fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s desires. Srila Sridhar Swami was very active in the Srila Prabhupada Centennial campaign, for instance. Srila Sridhar Swami was also always involved in the Mayapur Project, mainly in the field of fund raising. Talking about fund raising, Srila Sridhar Swami was ISKCON’s Minister in that field for some years. I don’t remember the official title off hand, but I remember attending his seminars. He would use white boards, black boards, flip charts and sometimes computer projections. His presentations inspired me very much. He became my presentation guru. I learned from him how to make presentations. He inspired me to attend the VTE trainers course. Srila Sridhar Swami also inspired me to take up the Monitor-ship and Minister-ship of Congregational Development. We used to work together with the different aspects of cultivating the Congregation. I would do the spiritual side of their development and he would do the devotional service engagement through contributions. Srila Sridhar Swami created direct mail campaign program Bhisma in Mumbai which was very successful in many campaigns. I remember Srila Sridhar Swami having some technical books on the topic of direct mail campaigns. Whatever Srila Sridhar Swami got into he became a real expert on the concerned topic. In this regard I found him a real role model to emulate.
Sometimes I would meet Srila Sridhar Swami at the Croatian Summer camp. He was his jolly self. He would be preaching according to the schedule and then he would also be giving guidance to whoever came up to see him. Like all of us it was a time when many devotees would come and take association. Sometimes I would take prasadam with Srila Sridhar Swami. Other times we would see him taking care of his health by jogging with a walkman on his ears hearing Srila Prabhupada lecture or some spiritual vibrations. He had a saffron colored jog suit and with the big black earphones he was something to see. He didn’t seem to care what people thought about how he looked. Srila Sridhar Swami did what he had to do. His nature was like that.
Some years ago when his liver was suffering from cirrhosis due to having Hepatitis C infection and he was in the Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Mera Road, a suburb of Mumbai. He had been to other Hospitals as well. We were all worried about him. It was very serious and his body had filled up with fluid. His liver wasn’t functioning properly. I went to see him in the hospital. Srila Sridhar Swami was happy to see me. He asked me to give him some quality association. He asked me to read some sastra to him. So I read some pastimes of the Lord to Srila Sridhar Swami for over almost an hour. I tried to dramatize it. I was feeling very ecstatic in his association reading sastra. At the same time to see a beloved god brother ill with a life threatening disease was also very heavy. After the reading Srila Sridhar Swami embraced me and thanked me for reading to him. I felt our relationship had grown closer from that simple service.
Srila Sridhar Swami went to some healer in Brazil and it seemed that he was helped by him. He told me the healer would have Srila Sridhar Swami sit and chant japa as he could see Srila Sridhar Swami was a very spiritual person so his prayers would help the healer to heal others. So this healer could also recognize the spiritual strength of Srila Sridhar Swami.
Anuttama das, a god brother and friend of Srila Sridhar Swami, reminded us last night how Srila Sridhar Swami got his famous Narasimha Saligram Sila. Srila Sridhar Swami was visiting Nepal and saw a man with a basket of saligrama Sila’s. Srila Sridhar Swami looked through the basket and found the unique sila of Narasimha with open mouth and crown. He asked the man how to get that one. The man asked for $1000! Srila Sridhar Swami said he was a Sannyasi and didn’t have any money. But the business man said he couldn’t give it free since he was a business man and needed money. Then they began bargaining, as is done in India and Nepal. Finally, miraculously, Srila Sridhar Swami got the man to give him the Saligram Sila free. I was present in the room when Srila Sridhar Swami asked Srila Sivaram Swami to agree to take charge of his sila after his departure.
Sometimes Srila Sridhar Swami would preach very heavy. Generally he could surprise one as to what he would say. Sometimes he would be gentle as well, but generally he would be very straightforward and tell things as he saw them. I remember once we were together a couple of years at the Woodstock Festival in Poland at the camp organized by Srila Indradyumna Swami. Giving lectures to that crowd was the most difficult thing to do as they were mainly tuned to entertainment mode. They wanted to be entertained and were not in a patient mood. It was a music festival so the young people wanted to hear music or see some drama or something. I found it difficult so when it was my turn I tried to present things in a colorful way with a Bharat Natyam dancer demonstrating my points. Srila Sridhar Swami was asked to give a lecture at around 9-10 in the night. That is the most difficult time as many of the young people are already very much under the influence of different intoxicants and become a bit rowdy. For big bands heavy security is put in place at that time. Somehow Srila Sridhar Swami was speaking to them, but then he became impatient with their Maya. He took a heavy tone in his voice and chastised them for wasting their time imitating hippies. I can’t remember all the things he said but he was simultaneously humorous and heavy. Someone through a full beer can on the stage and barely missed Maharaja. He took it lightly and after looking at the beer he told the crown it wasn’t his brand. He was stomping back and forth on the stage and admonishing the crowd to not misuse this valuable human form of life. Sri Prahlad das was a bit anxious as the usual tone of talks is in the mode of “love and peace” and this could get out of control. Then Srila Sridhar Swami closed his speech. I asked him with a smile why he got so heavy in his preaching. He smiled at me and said, “I got in the mood.” Like that Srila Sridhar Swami could sometimes preach very bluntly and very directly. Not everyone could immediately digest everything he said, but I you could it would certainly do you good!
Like that there are so many pastimes with Srila Sridhar Swami. He was a vibrant person. Maybe because I settled down in Canada and he was from Canada, or maybe because we were always brought together for different devotional services, or maybe because we looked similar, he always called me as Brother and I would address him in the same way. Somehow he was always an action person wanting to do something for Srila Prabhupada.
We are all very thankful for how Srila Indradyumna Swami accompanied Srila Sridhar Swami to India and to Mayapur. That was really a wonderful expression of affection. When Srila Sridhar Swami arrived in Mayapur everyone came to receive him in natural affection and love for this great Krsna conscious Warrior and General who had returned home from valiant battles in the War against Maya. He was received with conch shell blowing and a Sannyasi Maharaja reception. When Srila Sridhar Swami got out of the bus he put his arm around me and addressed me as Brother. I was able to accompany him to the temple and to all the Deities. It was a very moving moment.
Although it would have been more wonderful for all of us if Srila Sridhar Swami had been given a miraculous recovery and still been here with us, it is truly wonderful that Srila Sridhar Swami had such a glorious departure from this world. Leaving surrounded by devotees chanting the holy names, in the Holy Dhama of Mayapur, at the Sri Mayapur Candrodaya Mandir, after having performed abhisheka
and arotika of Panca Tattva, after having met with his disciples and god brothers and sisters, leaving in a positive frame of mind as a great spiritual warrior was truly a wonderful and blessed event. It makes one feel proud of Srila Sridhar Swami in some ways blissful, but then I think, “When will I see my dear brother again?” The tears flow again. Like this I am feeling happy for him and sad for us who are deprived of his transcendental association.
I tried to reach in time to help with the Samadhi ceremony, but there was no way from Rajamundhry, Andhra Pradesh, India that I could have reached prior to late at night long after the program would be finished. So everyone advised me it was no use in my coming. So I advised Mayapur Das over the phone of all the things to be done and he assured me also he had expert guidance there for the details. Last night in Vijayawada we observed and today in Tirupati we are also observing Smriti Sabha’s or remembrance festivals in the memory and glory of Srila Sridhar Swami.