By HH Niranjana Swami
Below is an edited transcription of the talk I gave on October 18, 2020 on the occasion of the online memorial held for Nitai Chaitanya Goswami.
In a previous blog, I had requested devotees to send some of their favorite photos to share. However, just a few photos were submitted unfortunately. You will find those photos below the transcription. In addition, there are a few photos I had from 1989 and 1990, where Nitai Chaitanya Goswami can be seen. The photos of him taking part in harinama were in Kishinev in 1990, which was the time I mentioned in this talk.
Some last minute video clips are also appearing. You can find the clips by scrolling to the end of the photos. Just click on the media arrows and the videos will play. The last video is a kirtan in Kursk. Towards the end of the video Nitai Chaitanya Maharaja is dancing very enthusiastically calling out the name of Nitai.
I’m going to read something first from Srila Prabhupada.
“People should not expect that even in the Krishna Consciousness Society there will be Utopia. Because devotees are persons, therefore there will always be some lacking — but the difference is that their lacking, because they have given up everything to serve Krishna — money, jobs, reputation, wealth, big educations, everything — their lackings have become transcendental because, despite everything they may do, their topmost intention is to serve Krishna. “One who is engaged in devotional service, despite the most abominable action, is to be considered saintly because he is rightly situated.” The devotees of Krishna are the most exalted persons on this planet, better than kings, all of them, so we should always remember that and, like the bumblebee, always look for the nectar or the best qualities of a person.”
When I thought of this quote this morning, I was thinking it would very appropriate to read this first. If there’s one quality about Nitai Chaitanya Goswami that perfectly fits his character, it’s that he is someone who gave up all of these things in order to give his whole life in service to Srila Prabhupada’s mission.
According to Srila Prabhupada in this quote, “Such devotees are the most exalted persons on this planet.”
So we’re gathering online today to take this opportunity today to speak a little about our memories of Nitai Caitanya Goswami.
A few days ago my godbrother, Guru Gauranga Prabhu, called me. The first thing he asked when we connected was, “Can you tell me something about Nitai Chaitanya Goswami?” He said, “The reason why I’m asking is because I’ve heard he’s recently departed and to me, he’s just a name and I want to know more about him than just a name.”
So he asked if I could just summarize a little something about Maharaja, based on my personal relationship with him so he can know more of him than just his name.
I told him that for me Nitai Chaitanya Goswami was just like a huggable teddy bear. Just as a child sometimes holds a teddy bear close to them, to hug and snuggle, for me, he was like a huggable teddy bear.
Although he was a senior devotee, he was a sannyasi, and he was even older in age than I am, for some reason, he liked to be hugged by me. We had that kind of a relationship.
Although he’s not my disciple, he called me “Guru Maharaja.” Whenever he would arrive from afar to visit me or I would arrive to be with him, he would pay his dandavats and then he would just stand there looking down at the floor, waiting for his hug.
Over the years I learned many wonderful things about Nitai Chaitanya Goswami. Our relationship goes back to 1990, the time I had my first exchange with him.
I was giving a class in Kishinev. He was present for the class. At that time he was, I guess you could say, a fanatic book distributor. Either that, or he was fanatic about book distribution.
We were having a discussion during class and he asked a question about book distribution. He wanted to make sure that he understood properly from me that book distribution was the most important service.
He was a bit challenging because he was not accustomed to hearing anything that would put book distribution, even on an equal platform with other services. He could only accept that it was the most important service.
I answered by explaining, “Yes, it is most important but we should be careful to not think that other services are not important. In Krsna’s eyes and Srila Prabhupada’s eyes, all these services are important to Them.” He didn’t like that answer.
I asked Acyuta Priya yesterday or the day before, if he remembered this exchange. His response was, “Yes, it was a classic.” Although he didn’t remember the details, he definitely remembered the exchange because Nitai Chaitanya Goswami visibly had a hard time accepting the answer. He therefore continued to challenge my answer.
However, the reason why I’m bringing this up is because at the end of class, he accepted. And for the last thirty years, he’s reminded me at least ten times of how important that exchange in Kishinev was to him.
He would often say to me, “Thank you Guru Maharaja, you smashed me.”
Although we had the kind of relationship that I would hug him, sometimes, though in a joking way, I felt a need to chastise him. When corrected, he would make this distinct gesture when he would be chastised. He would raise his arm and abruptly push his hand down as if to say, “It’s not important,” and then he would look at me with a smile as if to say, “I surrender.” He would affectionately accept my corrections, even though it wasn’t easy for him to do so.
One of the times I remember chastising him was in the early years around the time I had requested Nitai Chaitanya Goswami to take responsibility for the central Moscow region.
I had many encounters with him before then, when he was in the Kiev brahmacari asrama and when he was the Kiev temple president. But I believe other devotees will speak about their experiences with him during that time. Nitai Chaitanya Maharaja was like a fatherly figure for many of the brahmacaris then because he was so much older than they were.
But when he began traveling in the Moscow region, he used to travel to so many different cities alone. There were no temples at that time in his region.
I know what it’s like to have a preaching region where this is no temple. But I had a car at my disposal and my body was thirty years old at the time. But Maharaja didn’t have a car, and he was approaching fifty years at the time.
He always insisted on traveling with his harmonium and he was always traveling by train. He would refuse to take an assistant with him because he didn’t want to spend the money.
So I remember the time. We were in Sucherovo when I chastised him. “You can’t go on doing this again and again constantly. Your body’s getting older, you’re carrying a harmonium, you’re carrying all your personal belongings, you’re traveling to so many cities. Please take an assistant with you!”
It was quite austere for him during those days because he had no fixed place to stay. He was just staying in small householder flats. Sometimes there wasn’t even a place for him to stay.
I used to observe him during those years when he was traveling alone and noticed the kind of hardships he was undergoing. So I had to speak strongly to him. He gradually surrendered.
One other memory I have about Nitai Chaitanya Goswami. He was very attached to speaking and hearing about Lord Nityananda. He would would loudly express this on many occasions with such great enthusiasm. It didn’t take much to trigger a loud, “Jaya Nitai! Jaya Nitai!” from his mouth.
I remember one time when we were in Voronezh together. I chanted “boro sukher kabor gai,” the bhajan about Lord Nityananda at a program there. I seem to recall it was the first time he was introduced to that bhajan. Nitai Chaitanya Goswami was just so enlivened from chanting that bhajan that continuously for the next two days, everywhere we went in the car, he was shouting “Jaya Nitai! Jaya Nitai! Jaya Nitai!”
Sometimes I would hear him sit down to give a class on a Bhagavatam verse that had nothing to do with Lord Nityananda and the whole class would be about Lord Nityananda. This is another speciality I remember about Nitai Chaitanya Goswami. He was very attached to hearing and chanting about Lord Nityananda.
One other memory I’d like to just mention briefly. This happened last year during a visit to Kursk when there was a large weekend gathering for discussing devotee care. Devotees came from all over the region for this event. So there was a lot of devotees there at the temple, the building which he personally took responsibility to oversee the construction himself.
But that’s another story. I don’t have time to tell about the kind of austerities he had to undergo to build that temple.
During this devotee care event at the temple, probably about one hundred fifty devotees had gathered. Unknown to me, it just so happened that the event was scheduled at the same time it was Nitai Chaitanya Goswami’s birthday. So when I sat down in the temple room, I had no idea they were having a surprise event for him.
All of a sudden one devotee began speaking that this would be a surprise event for observing Nitai Chaitanya Goswami’s birthday and then Maharaja was asked to sit down on the asana. He was given a special garland that devotees prepared for him although he gradually sank down to the floor.
One by one, different devotees spoke, expressing such wonderful appreciation for Nitai Chaitanya Goswami on how much his service to them meant to them.
After everyone else spoke I was asked if I had something to say. I gave a short account of a recent experience I had with my godbrother, Pyari Mohan Prabhu. Just around that time there was a surprise party for my godbrother who had been the president of the Hartford, CT temple for more than thirty-five years. It was his 70th birthday. The event was a complete surprise for Pyari Mohan Prabhu also.
Pyari Mohan Prabhu generally doesn’t like things like that at all. But from overseas, I had requested his wife through another devotee to hold the event anyways even though he doesn’t like it and said that I would make a special trip just so that I could be there for the event.
In a similar way, many devotees expressed to Pyari Mohan how much his service to them meant to them.
After the event, as we were leaving, I turned to Pyari Mohan and asked, “What did you think about it?” Pyari Mohan Prabhu turned to me and said, “I think it was the happiest day of my life.” For Pyari Mohan Prabhu to make a statement like that was quite out of character. He’s generally not moved by these things.
So when I saw all these devotees in the Kursk temple room, expressing their gratitude and appreciation to Nitai Caitanya Goswami, knowing how much it was not easy for him to continue with that service, my reaction to all that was said was, “I think this one of the most happiest days of my life.”
I was moved by all the love, affection and gratitude, for Nitai Caitanya Goswami that I was witnessing on that day. He was just like a father for so many devotees.
So I’ll end here and will let the other devotees speak.