His Divine Grace Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Deva Goswāmī Mahārāja appeared in this world at midnight, Saturday 10th October, 1895 A.D, (1817 Śaka era) on the Navamī tithi (lunar day) under the same sign as Lord Rāmacandra. Kṛṣṇa-pakṣa (dark moon fortnight).
This occurred in an adherently religious scholarly smārtta-brāhmaṇa family of the radhiya class to Śrīyukta Upendra Chandra Deva Sharmmā Bhaṭṭāchāryya Vidyāratna and Śrīmatī Gaurī Bālā Devī. They named their son Śrī Rāmendra Chandra Deva Sharmmā Bhaṭṭāchāryya. He appeared in the small village named Hāpāniyā, in the district of Burdwan, West Bengal, close to Śrīdhām Navadwīp, India.
The illustrious family line of Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Deva Goswāmī Mahārāja who became known affectionately as Śrīla Guru Mahārāja, can be traced back to the sage called Rajaṣi Vātsya, and is known as the Rajaṣi Vātsya Gotra. On his father's side of the family, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's grandfather's name was Śrīyukta Rām Gopāl Deva Sharmmā. His great grandfather's name was Śrīyukta Rāmdhan Deva Sharmmā, his father was Śrīyukta Rājīva Lochan Deva Sharmmā, his father was Śrīyukta Mṛtyuṣjay Deva Sharmmā, his father was Śrīyukta Dhanaṣjay Deva Sharmmā and his father was Śrīyukta Govinda Rām Deva Sharmmā.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was aware that Śrīyukta Rāmdhan was a particularly outstanding scholar. The title 'Bhaṭṭāchāryya' was peculiar to the line when they predominantly performed and taught religious sacrifices and worship (paurohitya). Sanskrit scholarship was predominant all through. In the line, many were also Brahminical spiritual masters with thousands of disciples. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's mother's family lineage was also Bhaṭṭāchāryya brāhmaṇa. Her father's name was Śrīyukta Rādhā Vallabha Bhaṭṭāchāryya, from a place called Khaithan. There were a number of professions adopted in the line, including farming and land-ownership.
By the arrangement of the free will of fortune, the first child, a daughter, of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's parents did not live. So Rāma Kavach (a protective mantram and amulet), was given to his mother for the protection of the next child, that is, himself. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was the first son, then after him the second son was Śrīyukta Maṇīndra Chandra, after whom came the first daughter Śrīyuktā Jagadhātrī Devī. After her were two sons, Śrīyukta Satyendra Chandra, then Śrīyukta Amarendra Chandra. The last two children were the daughters Śrīyuktā Uṣā Rāṇī Devī and Śrīyuktā Ramā Rāṇī Devī. Śrīyuktā Ramā Rāṇī Devī was a disciple of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, as also were Śrīyuktā Jagadhātrī Devī, Śrīyukta Satyendra Chandra, and Śrīyukta Amarendra Chandra.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja recalls: “I had a very good memory, especially in Sanskrit. I was taught a śloka in praise of Lord Śiva, and I could chant that by memory. When I was one year and eight months old, my grandfather died, but I can't remember him. My earliest recollection is an earthquake. I was born in 1302, Mohammeda era, and 1304 in the month of Vaiśākh there was an earthquake. I was only a child then of one year and eight months old or so, but I remember that. I remember the shaking of the earth, so many cows gathered, and so on - this is my first recollection. I remember, when I was a boy being carried on the shoulder of my father, there was going in the distance one Sankīrtana party; crying, I asked him to take me there. Anyhow, to console me he took me there for some time and then came back. Then, my first brother was born when I was three. I remember the scene of the birth of my brother, around August, 1898. I can also remember when I reached the age of five and was engaged in studying writing, and I was given to my maternal uncle's house. Many things before that I can remember as well.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja stayed at his maternal uncle's house at Khaithan Grām for three years to attend the local Pāṭhśālā (primary school). His intelligence was brilliant and his character most exalted. At school he twice got double promotions, and was always top of the class.
During this period, one of his aunts taught him Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, as his tendency was always showing partiality with the orthodox section of Veda, Upaniṣad, etc. From childhood, he had an in-born aptitude for the Sanskrit language. Every year in Kārttik month, his father used to read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in the Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple at Jagadānanda Pur, near Kāṭwā, and at nine or ten he used to sometimes go with him and the atmosphere in that temple seemed very mystical to him.
Following the current system in India, at nine years he attended high school at Okarsā, about two miles west of Hāpāniyā. As a student there in the debating club, he always sided with the ancient śāstric culture, and even the teachers could not defeat him.
When he was a youth, Śrīmatī Gaurī Bālā Devī would cook many tasteful vegetable dishes for the family. But when Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja ate, his mother wept, because he would only accept one vegetable, the bitter Neem leaf prepared as a wet vegetable with rice.
He got his sacred thread in the family tradition when he was fourteen years old. He received one book where it was mentioned that if we can go on with the chanting of Gāyatrī 432 times daily, we can achieve a very good spiritual improvement. He practised that for some time with the understanding that Gāyatrī is conscious, spiritual, not dead words, and so tried his best to understand the revealed truth, without consulting any dictionary or grammar and used to feel some light coming from the words of Gāyatrī itself.
As a young lad, he unfailingly bathed every day in the Ganges at Dāmpāl. Rising early before sunrise, he would walk there daily, three miles and back. He would also pick some lotus flowers from a natural reservoir and offer them every day to the Ganges and Lord Śiva. Once when walking to Jāmāpur with a lotus flower in his hand for offering to the Deity Burarāj (Lord Śiva), he had a sudden revelation of Viśva-Rūpa, the Universal Form.
He passed matriculation (second division) and passed I.A. (Intermediate Arts) in the first division from high school when he was fifteen years old. (He suffered a very dangerous bout of malaria for a whole year at this time). He could write Sanskrit verse before that, with more affinity for Lord Rāmacandra than for Lord Kṛṣṇa.
When studying at the Krishnanātha College at Baharampur in the district of Mushīrabād, he met an astrologer at the Baharampur railway station who requested to see his hand, and upon seeing he remarked that (1) he would be fully realised, (2) he would become a famous preacher of Hari-kathā far and wide, and (3) he would depart the world at ninety-three years of age. All three predictions came true. The name of the astrologer was Yogī Bīr Śrī Baradā Majumdār, he was the headmaster of Lālgolā high school, seven stations down the line, about a two-hour train-ride from Baharampur. That school was founded by King Rājā Yogendra Nārāyaṇa Rāo. The astrologer was also Guru to the famous general of Bengal, Subhash Chandra Bose.
Then he was again admitted in that same college at Baharampur, and as a fourth year student associated with a first year student known as Suresh Bhaṭṭāchāryya. Suresh came from a brāhmaṇa family in the village of Bājepratāp-pur in the district of Faridpur. The founder of Bhārat-Sevāshram, Śrī Praṇavānanda was also from this village, as was Śrīpād Madhusūdan Mahārāja. One day, while on a morning walk with Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja to collect twigs from the jungle to cleanse their teeth, Suresh Bhaṭṭāchāryya referred to his own father with the expression, 'that gentleman.' Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja protested that it was disrespectful for Suresh to use such a term for his respectful father, “You say that gentleman? What is this!” Suresh said, “Yes, I have committed wrong, I should not have mentioned in that way in your presence, but ultimately it is really so. Where was I in my previous lives? But really it is like that. He was a `gentleman,' and it is only in this life that I have come in this house and he has protected me for some time, and in the next life I shall go to some other place; and in this way we are moving hither and thither, coming to some gentleman and from there to another gentleman...” Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja says, “Although I gave opposition, that point hit me very hard, that touched a fine chord in me and I began to think, “Yes it is true. We are in the midst of father, mother, brother, or, as he said, 'that gentleman.' What real connection have I with them, or they with me? We are almost like strangers! Nobody can stay here, not the father, the mother, the brothers or even this house. Everything is temporarily connected and I am wandering in eternity.
That sort of impression came in me in a very, very intense form, and the whole world became as vacant, as if it was just empty - fully empty. I felt a furious atmosphere, with no shelter to take anywhere. A chaotic position, and I have no position of stability. Where-from am I coming, where to go, how long am I to stay here - this is a point in the infinite. I am an uncertain point in the whole of the infinite. A great shock came to me in this way, and that was the great turn in my life.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's friends were seeing he was indifferent to his books of study, seeing that worldly achievement has no lasting value, and so couldn't concentrate on those books. So his friends would read to him the necessary literature, and with his acute hearing and very good memory he was able to pass the exams and obtained a degree (BA). He would read only Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta and Śrī Caitanya-Bhāgavata, and found that his life, his future hope, everything, was fully converted to the Life and Teachings of Śrī Caitanyadeva. Some of his classmates said this was a wholesale massacre, very few could pass, but he did. Also that, he did not study but by the process of worshipping God he has passed.
His mother's family had some recognition of Śrī Caitanyadeva, but his paternal family were orthodox smārtta brāhmaṇas, worshippers of the Śakti, or Goddess, and logicians of the nyāya school, and hated the followers of Śrī Caitanyadeva. When he saw the wholesale conversion in his son, his father died shortly after dejected and disappointed. His father had told him to marry and to 'fulfil his request' he remained in married life for six years.
For one year Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja led a life of abnegation, he never used an umbrella or shoes, and used nothing but one piece of cloth and a sheet, and used to do agricultural work and service to the cows.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja later studied law, but before completing those studies he joined Mahatma Gandhi's non-co-operation movement in 1921, due to Gandhi's promise that 'within one year I shall give svarāj (independence) to you.' He joined temporarily because he wanted to become a sannyāsī, but the countrymen wanted one year, so he thought he must sacrifice this for them. He considered his fate was already tied with Mahāprabhu and therefore could not give anyone his whole life's energy. He was posted as a secretary of the movement in Kālnā, staying for about two or three years and then later was wanted for service in Calcutta. After six years the movement allowed him temporary leave.
One day, while returning from the office he found a placard in Chittaranjan Avenue, near the Pareśnātha temple, “Gauḍīya Maṭh Mahotsav (Grand Festival) for one month.” The founder of Bhārat-Sevā Āśram, Śrī Praṇavānanda, was known to Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and he tried his best to take him into his mission, but he flatly refused, saying, “No, my head is already sold to Gaurāṅga Mahāprabhu.” He said, “Yes, I also recognise Gaurāṅga Mahāprabhu to be the highest, but first it is necessary to follow the vairāgya, the indifference and renunciation of Buddha, then the discussion of the Vedānta of Śaṅkara, and after that the highest is the Prema of Śrī Caitanyadeva. Without following each step, that Prema would be misunderstood by the ordinary section.” Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was pleased to hear him give such a position to Mahāprabhu, but put to him, “Śrī Caitanyadeva did not say, “If you want to come to Me, come through Buddha and Śaṅkara and then to Me.” Rather He said, “Wherever you are you can take the Name with the company of the sādhu and in that way you will come to Me.” Śrī Praṇavānanda became silent, and was asked by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja that if he had any supernatural power, he would be grateful if he would tell him where his Gurudeva is. Śrī Praṇavānanda gave him the name of one gentleman, Haranāth. He searched for him but could not find him.
It was then he found that placard and went to Gauḍīya Maṭh. He found only one gentleman manning the outside hall, because the rest had all gone on procession of Nagar-saṅkīrttan (congregational chanting in the town). After a little talk with that gentleman, he found that these people representing the Maṭh had a deeper and more sound knowledge than he had about Caitanyadeva and other scriptures. Then, the party came back from Nagar-saṅkīrttan and he saw Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura in front with his daṇḍa (mendicant's staff). As soon as he reached the front of the Maṭh some disciple came and took the daṇḍa from him and gradually he was received there. At first sight he found that Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī's attitude was that of complete indifference to the ordinary world, not caring for anyone, being self-sufficient.
He then began visiting regularly and he was invited to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu's Appearance Ceremony at Māyāpur. At that time his mother was also inviting him to the village of Gumo where she was staying with his second brother. She wanted to see him before going to Haridwār, and the Gauḍīya Maṭh people were also inviting him to Māyāpur. He was in a dilemma. What to do?
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja recalls, “It was my mother's call - and maybe the last. She might not live, her health is not good. This was the call. And I thought, I want to take this side in my life, so this side must be given preference. That is, I avoided the call of my mother to see her, and I went to the Gauḍīya Maṭh instead.”
While he was visiting regularly, he gradually came to realise that he wanted to stay in such gentlemanly and educated company. But new thought's came to him as to why he couldn't. He cast his glance homeward, his father had gone, his mother and three younger brothers were still living, they wouldn't be affected much, but his wife would be affected. Suddenly a thought came in his mind that if she dies, he'd be free. That very day, when he returned home that night, he found that his wife was ill, and after three days she passed away. His mother tried her best to have him married again, but she could not do so. Then, within six months, one of his brothers, Satyen, his mother, her sisters, and other pilgrims attended the Kumbha Melā in Haridwār and at that time his mother also disappeared from the world.
Then, thinking he was free to visit the Maṭh, he wanted to know as much as possible about the mission, and the leader of the mission. He tried to go upstairs to where Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura stayed, but one Kīrtanānanda brahmacārī stopped him a little harshly, “No, never. You must stay here in the waiting room, and when you find anyone you will inform him who you want to meet. He will check, and when he returns with the answer you can go. Otherwise you must stay here. Never cross this threshold.”
Then Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja thought, “What should be the considerate nature of the sādhus ? Why should there be any difference outwardly and inwardly?” So he thought that he need not visit there again. But at that very moment the position of Śukadeva appeared in his mind. He had read in Mahābhārata that Śrīla Vyāsadeva sent Śrīla Śukadeva Goswāmī to Rajarṣi Janak to finish his education or sādhana. Śrīla Śukadeva came, and he was detained for seven days at the outer gate. Then information went to Janak, who sanctioned him to pass. The next gate, he was again detained. In this way, there were seven boundaries of the capital, and at each of the seven gates he was detained for seven days. So for forty-nine days he was detained, before he could meet Janak.
And so with this thought Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja concluded that “If there is anything bad here, and they take me and put me onto a throne to worship me, I should not come here; and if there is real good, and they beat me with a broom-stick, I must not leave!” And he kept visiting.
Then one day, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī was strolling on the roof after his afternoon Prasādam, and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja approached and stood at a distance in the corner. After Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta enquired through his attendant if he had anything to say, if he had something to ask, if he had some purpose in mind for visiting the Maṭh, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja replied that his only purpose was to “gain the grace of you all, nothing else but that.” Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī then approached him and enquired who he was, what he did, where was his home and so on, saying how fortunate he was to be born in the area of Gauḍa-maṇḍal. Then one booklet they had printed was offered to Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, but he told the attendant he already had a copy of it. But was told, “That does not matter; with his good will he is giving this to you, so it is something else.” He then took that on his head and accepted that book. That was his first talk with Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura.
Before Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's mother died she had some apprehension that her 'eldest son' would become a sannyasī without completing her śrāddha ceremony (last rites); So when she passed away he went home and completed her śrāddha, and then, in the last part of April, went to join the Maṭh. He first wanted his two younger brothers to finish their studies and take to their vocations, and then he would join the Maṭh. But Śrīpād Bhāratī Mahārāja and others said, “No, no, Kṛṣṇa has taken your wife, and your mother. He has done enough for you. If you neglect to avail yourself of this chance, perhaps some other obstacle will come and this life will be spoiled with no hope. Come immediately.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja recalls, “When I first came to the Gauḍīya Maṭh, I mixed very carefully with the devotees. I thought, 'The transcendental truths that I hear from these devotees don't come within the clutches of worldly intelligence. But still, when I want to throw myself into that association, I shall use my reason and intellect as far as possible, understanding that I am going to jump into something which will be beyond my calculation.
From their talks in general, I found that they do not care for the opinion of anyone else; with abhorrence they summarily reject all the stalwarts of the then society, they don't care for anyone. But when anything is quoted from the Scripture, they are all-in-all, they give a patient hearing, they soberly consider and evaluate. This was their nature, they care only for Scriptural truth. They say that what they teach is the only truth and that all else is false, they say, 'Everyone is suffering from ignorance. And what we say is the right thing.'
I thought, “What is this! A sane person cannot easily swallow such a bitter pill.” I also could not digest it so easily at first, but I had an attraction, a taste for them and I could identify with them. But what they were saying was confirmed by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Bhagavad-gītā, and the Upaniṣads. All these authorities say, “Yes, it is so. If you know Him, everything is known. If you get Him, everything is gotten.”
yathā taror mula niṣecanena, tṛpyanti tat-skandha bhujopaśākhāḥ prānopahārāc ca yathendriyānāṁ, tathaiva sarvārhaṇam acyutejyā
“When you pour water onto the root of a tree, the whole tree is automatically fed, Similarly, when you supply food to the stomach, the whole body is fed, In the same way, if you can gain knowledge of the prime cause, Brahman, then you can know anything and everything. Similarly, if we do service to the Centre to satisfy the central conception of the Supreme Absolute, everything is served and all our obligations are automatically fulfilled.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: 4.31.14)
Still, there was some sort of objection. One was that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Prabhupāda comes from a Kāyastha family, that is considered śūdra, and I come from a brāhmaṇa paṇḍits family of great honour in the society. Ostensibly, any brāhmaṇa should have been suitable; in this way some sort of objection was felt in me. Then, when I went to Māyāpur I again saw many things that touched me.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Prabhupāda was delivering a lecture to so many gentlemen who had come from Kṛṣṇanagar - educated persons. In another place the elderly Śrīpād Bhakti Pradīp Tīrtha Mahārāja was giving a lecture. Somewhere else Śrīpād Bhakti Svarūpa Parvvat Mahārāja was found writings receipts, collecting funds from the people. It was a hive of activity. I felt a transcendental happy atmosphere there.”
When the celebration was over, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda was sitting in a canvas chair on the veranda of his room, and many people were offering him obeisances and going home. At that time, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura was giving a lecture and some of the things he was saying was: “Don't cheat me. You all came with the understanding that you will engage yourself in the service of Kṛṣṇa, and so I have entered into some relationship with you. And now, only as a fashion you have attended this ceremony and you are going home to engage yourselves in worldly affairs; but your assurance to me was that you would all serve Kṛṣṇa. You may say 'Oh, I have got some important business and after finishing this I shall come and join you as soon as possible' but no, no! If you tell me there is just a little fire and after extinguishing the fire you will return, then I say that is also not necessary. If fire burns the whole world you do not lose anything. Rather you are spared if you can disconnect from those things that are burnt. All your positive engagement, your inner hankering, has corresponding things in Kṛṣṇa. All your necessities and hankering will be satisfied in the service of the Holy Lotus Feet of Kṛṣṇa, and nowhere else.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was wonder-struck with such forceful speaking, and thought he would never hear anywhere in this world such intense necessity for Kṛṣṇa-bhajana - and took the decision then to be a disciple there and remained in the Maṭh. In 1923 he was attracted by the Grace of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura and at Gauḍīya Maṭh in Calcutta, he heard Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta's Holy Talks of the Supreme Lord.
Not long after that, in December of 1926, with full surrender he joined Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭh. He left home and joined the Mission and became a disciple of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura in 1927. His Gurudeva was overjoyed, and he quoted this famous śloka in appreciation:
yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas, tad tad evetaro janaḥ sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute, lokas tad anuvartate
“The general masses imitate the ways of great men. They follow whatever the great personality accepts as the right conclusion.” (Bhagavad-gītā, 3.21)
He was requested to stay at the Calcutta Maṭh to do some service in the press there, but he was not inspired by the work of proof-reading, etc. He had been in the Mission perhaps only a year or so, and on the Day of Appearance of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura there was a festival. A pandal had been erected in the street, at #1 Ulṭāḍiṅgi Junction Road, and meetings were going on there. One respectable zamīndār (landlord) was invited by his Godbrother, Goswāmī Mahārāja, and he asked Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda, “I want to have a very private talk with you.”
It was on a dark night, and a meeting was arranged. Two chairs were placed together. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Prabhupāda came there and that gentleman sat close to him. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was thinking that Prabhupāda should not be left alone, and so managed to take a position a little distance away in the darkness. He was also very curious: “What does he have to say?” Then that man, very close to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda's ear, whispered, “Have you seen God?” Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda's answer was, “What is the good of saying that, 'I have seen,' or, 'I have not seen'? As long as you don't know how to see or know what is necessary to see God, you cannot get any benefit by my mere statement that, 'I have seen,' or, 'I have not seen.' You are blind to both things. The first thing is that you should learn how to see God. You must get that sort of 'eye' to see God. Without that, any man may say, 'I have seen' - but what is that to you? You may be deceived! If I say, 'No, I have not seen your 'God' - what you have concocted within you as God - that will also just misguide you.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja wanted to preach and was sent on a preaching tour. The first stop was at the Dumurkondā Maṭh in Bengal, and from there to Benares, then to Vṛndāvana, where there was nagar-kīrttana for some time. Then to Delhi where there was door-to-door collection for some time. Then Kurukṣetra Maṭh was established and he was made Maṭh commander there, alone, doing collection for two or three years. The small village-town and the place of Kurukṣetra is a solitary place except for during the solar eclipse when there is a great rush of hundreds of thousands of people. Then the Delhi Maṭh was founded and he was in charge there. He then visited Simla and other places for preaching.
Every year in August the disciples of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta had to go back to the Calcutta Maṭh celebration for one month. From here Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was taken by Śrīpād Bhakti Hṛday Bon Mahārāja and Śrī Hayagrīva Prabhu (later Śrīpād Bhakti Dayita Mādhav Mahārāja) in a party towards Madras side, installing the footprints of Mahāprabhu.
Then again upon returning, the Bagh Bazaar Maṭh was opened, and from the original rented house in Ulṭā Ḍāṅgā the Deities were moved in procession in a chariot to Bagh Bazaar Maṭh, and a one month festival was held there. After that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda went on that year establishing and installing those Pāda-pīṭha (footprints of Mahāprabhu) up to Maṅgalgiri, near Bejoydā, Kobhur, and so on.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda then went to Madras and declared the opening of Madras Gauḍīya Maṭh and put Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, Bon Mahārāja and Śrī Hayagrīva Prabhu there and they rented a house and began preaching for three years or so. Śrīpād Bon Mahārāja was the leader, and the senior sannyāsī.
At that time Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was still known as Śrī Rāmendra Sundara Bhaṭṭāchāryya B.A., and it was his duty to approach the people and introduce the sannyāsīs, and more or less do the work of a canvasser. Śrīpād Bon Mahārāja at that time, said about, Śrī Rāmendra Sundara Bhaṭṭāchāryya B.A., “He can preach well; he's a good preacher rather than a good canvasser. He can speak Hari-kathā very well.”
Śrī Rāmendra Sundara collected funds from the Rājā of Jeipur (Orissa) for the cost of the construction of the Madras Gauḍīya Maṭh. That is also a history. Their new Indian Civil Service officer was Mr. O. Pulla Reddy. He was appointed 'Dewān' (government official) of Jeipur. Because that is an ādivāsī (indigenous peoples) area, a special sort of rule was introduced there by the British. The Dewān is more powerful than the King.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja recalls, “We came from Madras with some recommendation from the officiating Chief Justice, Mr. Rameshan, to meet the Rājā of Jeipur. Then, the Rājā promised to pay the cost of the Madras Temple, but he kept requesting us, “Approach the Dewān, and he, and not I, will give you the money. So go and consult the higher. I am only giving my sign of approval, but the money will be paid by him. So meet him.”
I had heard he was a half-atheistic man, so I was hesitant to approach him. I said, “No, you are King, you are master, so it is better that you will give the money,” and so on, but he insisted again and again. “No. You will have to meet the Dewān.” But when I met the Dewān, it was just the opposite. The Dewān said, “Oh, I'm the last man to pay you this amount, ten thousand, to build the temple at Madras. If you would be building it here, then I could have some consideration; people here would have some recreation in the temple. But these poor people, half-fed and half-clad - if we get any money in excess, I must give an order for their help. Funds must be used for that cause, not for this luxury of constructing a temple; and that, too, is in Madras town. Go there and collect funds to construct your temple.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja says, “Then I thought this is a hopeless case, so drastic medicine must be applied. So I came out with this śloka:
vikrīḍitaṁ vraja-vadhūbhir idaṁ ca viṣṇoḥ śraddhānvito 'nuśṛṇuyād atha varṇayed yaḥ bhaktiṁ parām bhagavati pratilabhya kāmaṁ hṛd-rogam āśv apahinoty acireṇa dhīraḥ
"One who hears with firm faith the supramundane amorous affairs of Lord Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs, as described by a pure devotee of the Lord, soon becomes freed from mundane lust and achieves divine love of Kṛṣṇa." (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, 10.33.39)
“I said to him, “You want to help the ādivāsīs, and I also want to help them. But your help is in a particular way, and my help is in another way. It has been told in the Scriptures that to hanker for something in this world is a heart-disease. It is mentioned in Bhāgavatam by Śukadeva Goswāmī, kāmaṁ hṛd-rogam - “ 'I want this, I want that, I want thousands, I want millions - that is heart-disease, and not real. When I was a hog, I devoured a hillock of stools, but hunger is not appeased. When I was an elephant I finished a whole forest, but hunger is not finished.' So hunger can never be finished in this way. “There are so many who have amassed millions, still they say, 'No, this is very little, I want more, more.' So this is heart-disease, and in the Bhāgavatam Śukadeva Goswāmī has given the medicine for this. Vikrīḍitaṁ - when you can accommodate the Absolute to have His full, unrestricted play, and use His ownership with everything, every atom in the creation - if you can accommodate such a conception of the Absolute with the environment, then you can get out of this heart-disease. There's no other way.' ” The man was impressed. Tears fell from his eyes. “Swāmījī, I believe in God.” “Your eyes bear testimony to that.” “I shall pay your money. But not just now; go to Madras, I shall pay.” He sent the money, and the Madras Temple was constructed.
“The King of Jeipur gave some money for the construction of a temple. The money was sent to our head office in Calcutta. Out of 5,000 rupees, the first instalment was 1,000 rupees, and the construction work was begun by sending a worker from our main centre. Then, Śrīla Mādhava Mahārāja and I were sent to Madras, where we heard that the king would soon come. In order to show him that some work had been done we raised the construction to some extent, so the king could be told, “Your money has been spent, and now the next instalment is necessary.” In order to do this, we incurred a debt. We took a loan for bricks and other things and raised the construction to a higher level. When we wrote this to our Guru Mahārāja, we had some apprehension that he would chastise us: “Why have you taken this loan?” Instead of that, he gave us his appreciation: “You have risked your future in the service of Kṛṣṇa. You have taken a loan, and that means you have to pay off that loan, so you have engaged your future energy in the service of Kṛṣṇa. You will have to collect money and pay off the loan, so there is service with risk of the future.” The gopīs consciously risked their future.
“My preaching was not that of the false canvasser, but straight dealing; dealing with the plain truth. Not any coaxing or indirect way, flattering, or by sweet words to somehow rob the man. Straight talk, straight dealing representation. My guide was, 'why have I come here? What fascination brought me here? I tried my best to represent that fascination to them. 'This is the cause for preaching - you must appreciate such cause. I have got appreciation in this line, and I don't think that I did wrong.' Every moment I think I'm justified to accept this principle and to march on, in this line.”
At one time in Madras some people came and said, “Oh, you do not help the diseased people and the poor. You do not attend any hospital or any death-bed, but if they die, to whom will you preach? What is your answer?”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja answered, “Suppose there is a famine and some food is given by the government. If I am distributing that to so many people all around who are begging food but one man runs away, should I stop my distribution and run after him? Or, because there are so many people here, shall I continue distributing? There is no want of people to receive the distribution - there is a whole throng, so should I stop distributing?”
His original name was Rāmendra Candra and after he was given initiation, he was given the name Rāmendra Sundara. When he asked the meaning of Rāmendra, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda told him, “In our consideration, Rāma does not mean Dāsarāthi Rāma or Lord Rāmacandra, the son of King Dāsarātha. It means Rādhā-rāmana-Rāma - Kṛṣṇa, the lover of Rādhārāṇī.”
Before he was called from Uttar Pradesh to join the Madras party, his name was still Śrī Rāmendra Sundara Bhaṭṭāchāryya. But now his name was converted to Śrī Rāmānanda Dāsa, and with this name he was sent with a group to find out the place of the conversation between Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya, (Rāmānanda-saṁvāda), and to install the Pāda-pīṭha (footprints of Mahāprabhu) there.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja recalls, “During our time the Deities were installed by Prabhupāda, but there was only that Pāda-pīṭha mandira. A separate mandira was established after Prabhupāda, perhaps by Śrīpād Bhakti Vilās Tīrtha Mahārāja. Later, myself as a sannyāsī and Śrī Hāyagrīva Prabhu as a white-clad brahmacārī, who was later Śrīpād Mādhava Mahārāja, worked together.
In October 1930 Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was ordained by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura as a tridaṇḍa-sannyāsa at the original Ulṭā Ḍāṅgā Gauḍīya Maṭh, receiving the title Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara, meaning “The Illustrious Guardian of Devotion;” echoing the statement of Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī who referred in his Sanskrit writings to the original Bhāgavatam commentator, Śrīla Śrīdhara Swāmīpāda, as bhakti-eka-rakṣaka, “Supreme Guardian of Devotion.”
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura also adorned him with the accolade “Śāstra-nipuṇa Śrīdhara Mahārāja,” meaning “Scriptural Genius Śrīdhara Mahārāja.” Because of his formidable encyclopaedic command of the revealed scriptures, and further for his unique and unprecedented style of casting newer and newer light upon the most internal philosophical and revelatory purports of pure Śrī Gauḍīya-Vaiṣṇava-Siddhānta.
Even before taking sannyāsa he was a very exalted and firm preacher in the Mission of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Śrīla Prabhupāda was most satisfied with him. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda had wanted Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja to go to London for preaching, but he said, 'he was not fit for it, he couldn't follow their accent, and he didn't have the tendency to mix with them very closely. So money would be spent to sent him, but he wouldn't be able to show any satisfactory result. Of course, if he ordered him he must go.' Then, Śrīyukta A.B. Goswāmī Prabhu (later Śrīpād Bhakti Sāraṅga Goswāmī Mahārāja) was sent instead.
Then there was Vṛndāvana parikramā, circumambulation of the whole of Vṛndāvana, which they joined. Once, after conducting parikramā of the whole of Vraja-maṇḍala (the perimeter of Śrī Vṛndāvana), Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura asked his disciples, “Which pastimes attracted you the most? Which location in Vṛndāvana has attracted you most?” Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja told, “When he asked me this question, I replied that Kadamkhāṇḍi, the place of Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī Prabhu's bhajana, attracted me most of all. Midway between Nandagrām and Yāvaṭ there was an āśrama where Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī settled and used to write his book Śrī-Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. That place attracted me most. Again, after a year or two, when we were at Rādhā-kuṇḍa in the company of Śrīla Prabhupāda, he very suddenly remarked, “Your place. That place of yours.” I was astounded. “What, where is my place?” He said, “Your place is Kadamkhāṇḍi, the place of Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī.” I thought, “Oh, he had some purpose when he enquired a year or two ago which location was attractive to who; he kept these things on his mind, and accordingly today he is saying, 'Your place.'”
So he was very particular about ruci-parīkṣā, or to examine the taste of a particular person for a particular līlā and a particular group of service. It is necessary for the Ācāryya to examine his disciples and determine the place where they are to be located. He must determine where his disciple stands and accordingly in harmony with that innate taste help them in their march towards that land of their aspiration. The destination has been settled, but how shall I reach it? When shall I reach it?
Those who come to my aid to take me there, they are my masters, my Gurus: Śikṣā-gurus and Dīkṣā-guru. Whoever helps me to go there is my Guru. He is my guide who will help me to reach my located destination, the station of my innermost hankering. (rādhikā-mādhavāśāṁ prāpto yasya prathitaḥ kṛpayā śrī-guruṁ taṁ nato 'smi ).
Then Śrīpād Bon Mahārāja went to England for preaching and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was in charge of Madras Gauḍīya Maṭh. Later, Bombay Maṭh was opened, and again he was taken there and lived there for some time. Later, he was taken with the general party with Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda and staying most of the time with him, they preached in different places in Bengal.
Just one day prior to departing this world at 5.30 a.m., 1st January, 1937, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura, from his sickbed, especially selected and requested Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja to sing Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī pada for him, his most beloved song of the deepest divine service. This is well-known as the most venerated and adored Prayer of the entire Gauḍīya Sampradāya.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja recalls, “At that time I was not accustomed to leading the kīrtana. I was hesitating - Śrīyukta Kuñja Bābu, later Śrīpād Bhakti Vilās Tīrtha Mahārāja, asked one brahmacārī, “Prabhu, you go on singing.” Then he began singing, but Prabhupāda felt dissatisfaction. He said, “I don't want to hear the tone or sweet sound.” Then that brahmacārī Prabhu stopped and I had to sing Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī pada. The other devotees present said then that, “Śrīla Prabhupāda had thereby given him admission to the rasa-sevā section.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja says, “When I entered Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭh, I received Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura's small Bengali book, Śaraṇāgati, for the very first time. It was so sweet to me that I purchased several copies and distributed them amongst my friends. Its price was only four paise. It is so sweet, it touched my heart. I thought, “Here is Kṛṣṇa - Kṛṣṇa-kathā is Kṛṣṇa Himself. Here is talk about Kṛṣṇa, the adhokṣaja, the transcendental.” I later composed a short commentary when I was in Nandagrām, and it is published along with Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura's commentary in Bengali. I wrote an introductory poem to the commentary of Śaraṇāgati:
svairācārābdhi-saṁmagnān, jīvān gaurāṅghri-paṅkaje uddhṛtya śaraṇāpatter, māhātmyaṁ samabodhayat
"All the conditioned souls are saṁmagnān - they are diving or struggling in the ocean of svairācāra or pleasure seeking - anyābhilāṣa - immoral or whimsical activities, energising there. gaurāṅghri-paṅkaje uddhṛtya: taking them out of that ocean, you put them in the lotus - you took them to the lotus feet of Śrī Gaurāṅga. You collected them from the wide, troubled ocean, and gave them to the lotus feet of Gaurāṅga. uddhṛtya śaraṇāpatter, māhātmyaṁ samabodhayat: and so, having placed them there, you began to instruct them about the great nobility of and high value of śaraṇāgati, exclusive surrender. samabodhayat: you tried to make them understand and realise the efficacy of śaraṇāgati proper. You, my Gurudeva, Śrīla Bhakti Siddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda did so, so I bow down unto you first."
Then also he wrote a Sanskrit verse offering obeisances unto the writer of Śaraṇāgati, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.
śrī-gaurānumataṁ svarūpa-viditaṁ rūpāgrajenādṛtaṁ rūpādyaiḥ pariveśitaṁ raghu-gaṇair-āsvāditaṁ sevitam jīvādyair abhirakṣitaṁ śuka-śiva-brahmādi sammānitaṁ śrī-rādhā-pada-sevanāmṛtam aho tad dātum īśo bhavān
"What was sanctioned by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu by His descent was intimately known only to Śrī Svarūpa Dāmodara Goswāmī. It was adored by Sanātana Goswāmī and served by Rūpa Goswāmī and his followers. Raghunātha Dāsa Goswāmī tasted that wonderful thing fully and enhanced it with his own realisation. And Jīva Goswāmī supported and protected it by quoting the scriptures from different places. The taste of that divine truth is aspired for by Brahmā, Śiva, and Uddhava, who respect it as the supreme goal of life. What is this wonderful truth? Śrī-rādhā-pada-sevanā: that the highest nectar of our life is the service of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. This is most wonderful. O Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, you are our master. It is within your power to allow them to bestow their grace upon us. You are in a position to bestow the highest gift ever known to the world upon us all. It is at your disposal. O Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, please be kind to us and grant us your mercy."
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura remarked, “A very happy style.” And next he said to Śrīpād Śrauti Mahārāja, “This poem is so fine, it is not written by him, it is written by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura himself, and has come out through him. It is so appreciable.”
Once, he said to Śrīyukta Aprākṛta Prabhu, “I'm satisfied that what I came to say will remain after me, I find in this śloka (verse) the siddhānta (perfect theological conclusion).”
Before this also, he wrote an article for the spiritual newspaper Nadiyā Prakāsh, and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta remarked to Śrīpād Śramaṇ Mahārāja, who was the editor, “If you can gather this type of article to publish in your paper, the standard of your paper will be raised. Such articles are desirable to be published.” There are many other instances.
After the disappearance of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda and the break-up of the Gauḍīya Maṭh, there were trustees appointed by him and he had said to make a governing body, but unfortunately there were many discrepancies and the mission could not be kept together. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja stayed for perhaps a year while some of his Godbrothers were quarrelling and fighting, some were even sent to jail. He tried his best to purify the movement, according to his conscience, but it was not to be so and so he left silently.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was not very enthusiastic to preach at that time and did not want to make another mission and therefore went alone to Vṛndāvana, staying at Govardhana for a month, and completed the Ūrjjā vrata there. The devotees then lost track of him, but they were very enthusiastic to take him preaching, so they repeatedly searched in many places to try to locate him.
Śrīla Govinda Mahārāja recalls, “After the disappearance of Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, the Gauḍīya Maṭh started to go in an unexpected way, therefore many of the prominent personalities left. When Śrīla Guru Mahārāja came out from the Gauḍīya Maṭh then about fifty percent of the senior devotees also left. Everyone in the mission had much respect for Śrīla Guru Mahārāja, therefore when he left, they also left.
Some of the devotees who withdrew from the Gauḍīya Maṭh at that time were: Hayagrīva Brahmachārī (Mādhava Mahārāja's former name); Goswāmī Mahārāja, who was in charge of preaching in the West; Keśava Mahārāja, who was then Vinod Bihari Brahmachārī - he was the estate manager in charge of commanding Śrīla Prabhupāda's central Maṭh, Caitanya Maṭh, Māyāpur; Narahari Prabhu, the advisory manager of Caitanya Maṭh, Narasiṁha Mahārāja; Jājāvar Mahārāja; Vaikhānas Mahārāja, as well as many others.
Most of the stalwarts left the Mission. Only three stayed: Niśikānta Sānyāl; Bhakti Sudakash Prabhu, he was a man of great personality; and Sundarānanda Vidyāvinod, the editor and publisher of the Gauḍīya magazine as well as of many of the books of the Gauḍīya Maṭh. By the mercy of Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta he did much sevā at that time.
When Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja went to stay alone he was fully aware that his Gurudeva, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda, did not like nirjjana-bhajana, the separate practising life. He liked that devotees would associate together and engage in kīrtana. But to live in an association would mean there must be preaching and many newcomers will join, but who will give them initiation? Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was asked by some leading members to take the position of Ācārya; but from the beginning he had no impression or inspiration to do so.
He thought, “I am going to take my shelter in Navadwīp Dhām permanently. But Dhāmeśvara, the Master of the Dhām, is Nityānanda Prabhu, therefore before going to Mahāprabhu's birthplace I must visit Nityānanda Prabhu's birthplace at Ekacākra and beg His permission. If He is propitiated then I may live in Navadwīp Dhām safely, otherwise it will be impossible.”
heno nitāi vine bhāi rādhā kṛṣṇa pāite nāi
"By the grace of Nityānanda we shall receive the grace of Gaurāṅga and by the grace Gaurāṅga we shall receive the grace of Rādhā-Govinda." (Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura's Manaḥ-śikṣā ).
Anyhow, he took Giridhārī, his Govardhana Śilā, from Vṛndāvana to the banks of the Ganges at Kolerganj, Navadwīp, West Bengal. He stayed alone and did not go out even to beg. Mani Bābu, his next younger brother, was a divisional superintendent in the Eastern Railway. Every month he gave ten rupees to Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja with which he maintained himself, thus he did not go out to beg.
He lived in a house named Mager Bāḍī near to what is now Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh and he paid two rupees per month rent. He kept Giridhārī on a small throne in that rented room and stayed there. During the daytime he read the śāstra and would cook something just once in a day, offer to Giridhārī and then take some Prasādam. In the evening he would also take a little Prasādam. And from evening he used to take the Holy Name, and after finishing the chanting of one lakh (100,000) Names he would go to bed.
At that time when going through the books of Jīva Goswāmī he found he had written that those who have money but do not spend it for the Lord, they commit vitta-śāṭhya. Similarly those who have some knowledge and experience about bhakti, about Kṛṣṇa and the devotees, but do not like to help others, they commit jñāna-śāṭhya.
At the same time he had in his memory from his early days a story from the Purāṇas where it is mentioned that a particular brāhmaṇa was a big scholar but he gave no education or help to anyone. As a result, in his next life he received the body of a mango tree which bore many beautiful fruits, but not even a single bird would touch them. Then one day Anantadeva noticed the tree while on his way to see God. When he enquired about it, the Lord replied, “He was a great paṇḍit but he did not instruct or give his share of learning to anybody. He was so miserly in his scholarship that in his next birth he was put in such a position as this tree.
Another thing also came to his mind, that a doctor is not omniscient, but should s/he not try her/his best to cure a patient? As much as s/he has capacity s/he must try to help, otherwise the world will be at a stand still. It is not that everyone will say, “Only if I have complete and full knowledge will I approach to help another,” for that is not possible in this world. Everyone has some relative position.
With this also coming to his mind, he began in a mild way to help. He decided not to engage on a broader scale to preach and make disciples, but that if anyone would come then he would try to educate them in this spiritual line in the minimum way, or to initiate. With this spirit he took his position remembering the inspiration from patita-pāvana Nityānanda Prabhu that came to him: “You must try your best to help those that in your consideration are fallen.”
Unknown to anyone he went to Navadwīpa, but gradually his Godbrothers searched for him, and finding him, they began to visit now and then and would bring some gift or so, with some Godbrothers staying. Again they tried to make another mission with his association. While staying at that Mager Bāḍī two of his Godbrothers were enthusiastic to stay with him. It later turned out that their thinking was that if they could help him start another mission, then in due course of time they would inherit it. It was their understanding from his horoscope that he would not live for more than 58 years, furthermore his health was not very strong and three or four times each month he would be very sick with severe headaches. That house has since been demolished.
Anyhow, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja again engaged himself in preaching, but in a limited way, and on one occasion he engaged in Bhāgavata-pāṭ (lecturing on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam) for one month in the Temple at the King of Manipur's Palace.
Then Śrīla Bhakti Prajñān Keśava Mahārāja, Śrīla Bhakti Sāraṅga Goswāmī Mahārāja, and Śrīla Naṛasiṁha Mahārāja all took sannyāsa. They were the first three sannyāsa disciples of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, and with them the Gauḍīya Vedānta Samitti was started there at the Devānanda Gauḍīya Maṭh. But again some differences came between the devotees. It was Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's nature to stay alone, so when again some differences came, he gave everything to Śrīla Keśava Mahārāja, who became head of the Devānanda Gauḍīya Maṭh. By their requests Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja also conferred the holy order of sannyāsa upon many of his other exalted, eminent Godbrothers, including Śrīla Bhakti Āloka Paramahaṁsa Mahārāja, Śrīla Bhakti Kamal Madhusūdan Mahārāja, Śrīla Bhāgavat Mahārāja, Śrīla Ācāryya Mahārāja, etc.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja lived for some time with Śrīpād Keśava Mahārāja in that rented house, and sometimes in Midnapore Maṭh with high people like Śrīpād Yāyāvar Mahārāja, Śrīpād Mādhava Mahārāja and others.
At that time Śrīyukta Sakhī Charaṇ Rāy Bābu, a Godbrother of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, offered to buy him some land. Sakhī Bābu was a great disciple of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Prabhupāda, who had done much service in Caitanya Maṭh. He did many things for Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Prabhupāda including the building of the Yogapīṭha Mandir, and also the Bhaktivijay Bhavan. He brought there electricity, a generator, and a road also. It was this Sakhī Bābu who told Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, “If you choose a piece of land I shall give the money to purchase it.” And he did.
Before he went to Vṛndāvana, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja had it in mind not to stay there, feeling that Vṛndāvana was for the higher devotees, considering himself of lower order. The fallen should take shelter under Mahāprabhu at aparādha-bhañjan-pāṭ (the place where all offences are forgiven) in Navadwīpa, and so it was a foregone conclusion that he would take his shelter in Navadwīpa, and not in Vṛndāvana.
Other reasons why he chose the land where Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh now stands for his bhajana āśrama are possibly because he knew this area is known as Gupta Govardhana - the Hidden Govardhana Hill of Vṛndāvana - concealed in Śrī Navadvīpa Dhāma. Close to Govardhana Hill in Vṛndāvana is Mānasa Gaṅgā and in Navadvīpa is the Ganges. Govinda-kuṇḍa in Navadvīpa is also there in remembrance of Govinda-kuṇḍa by Govardhana. In Govardhana the līlā of Kṛṣṇa goes on in many ways, and in Navadvīpa also the līlā of Gāndharvvā-Govindasundar takes place: the Pastimes of the Lord near Govinda-kuṇḍa of Vṛndāvana are happening in Navadvīpa. He also saw Koladwīp as the kśetra, the land, of Lakṣmī-Varāhadeva. Kola means Varāhadeva.
In 1941, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja made a thatched house measuring about twenty feet long by twelve feet wide. In the very early days of Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh, Satish Prabhu was the very first person to happily stay on the land and he helped Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja make the thatched house. Satish Prabhu also helped much with the cultivation in Siṁhajuli (the land used to cultivate rice for the Maṭh).
At first there was not even a bed, but with some bamboo Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja presently constructed two. It was perhaps a year later that the brahmacārīs came and built a house out of bamboo with a corrugated tin roof. Giridhārī was in a thatched room measuring about six feet by ten feet made by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja beside his own room. Its picture is on the front of his Gauḍīya Gītāñjali book of bhajans. After maybe two years Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's present building was constructed.
On Rathayātra of 1942 he founded his own Temple, known as Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh. On the very first day, after he personally chose and purchased a very long and strong bamboo pole, he hoisted a white flag on that tall bamboo flag-staff on the spot where the Temple now stands. In 1945 Mahāprabhu was installed, and joined Giridhārī on the altar. The morning, noon and evening aratis along with the other programmes were going on, just as at present. The programmes were held on the veranda. Even when Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh was just two thatched houses, there would be many people coming to attend the festivals and to take Prasādam.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's nature was always to compose something, and he composed many ślokas. When he started Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh he immediately composed the following śloka :
śrīmac-caitanya-sārasvata-maṭhavara-udgīta-kīrtir jaya-śrīm bibhrat sambhāti gaṅgā-taṭa-nikaṭa-navadvīpa-kolādri-rāje yatra śrī-gaura-sārasvata-mata-niratā-gaura-gāthā gṛnanti śrīmad-rūpānuga śrī-kṛtamati-guru-gaurāṅga-rādhā-jitāśā
“On the banks of the Ganges in Koladwīpa, Nabadwipa, Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh stands resplendent. The flag flies high, singing its glories around the world. There, the residents chant the glories of Lord Gaurāṅga and aspire to serve Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Govinda in the line of Śrī Rūpa.”
One day his Godbrother Sakhī Bābu, after hearing this verse, jokingly told his other Godbrothers, “Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja has nothing except a thatched house, but he has erected a very long bamboo pole with a flag on top, and has then composed this grand śloka.”
But Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja said to him, “You will see in future what will be here.”
Construction began on the Temple in 1955, after the first group of brahmacārīs left to start their own mission. At one Gaura-Pūrṇimā time, one big donor visited Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh: Kiśorī Mohan Dās Vairāgya - his name is on the first of the marble plaques beside the Mandir. With his promise to give ten or twelve thousand rupees - a lot of money at that time - Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja started the construction. A little later when Kiśorī Bābu left his body, only the ground floor of the Temple had been completed. At this time, the Koladwīp-adhipati, the Master of Koladwīp, Lakṣmī Varāhadeva, in the form of a Śālagrām-śilā Deity came there gradually, by His wish. He was living like a king in a brāhmaṇas house, from where He came here through Jājāvar Mahārāja and Goswāmī Mahārāja. When He first arrived there, it was uncertain what type of Śālagrām-śilā had come, but under instruction from Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, Śrīla Govinda Mahārāja searched the Garuḍa Purāṇa to identify the name of the Śālagrām-śilā according to His markings. From that he considered Him to be Lakṣmī-Varāhadeva. In order to double check Śrīla Govinda Mahārāja's conclusion, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja wrote a letter to the brāhmaṇa who had been caring for Him. He replied confirming the Śālagrām to indeed be Lakṣmī-Varāhadeva. He also mentioned in his reply that if a brāhmaṇa brahmacārī will serve Him then He will be very happy. Hearing this, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja told his disciples “Arrange for Lakṣmī-Varāhadeva to have special sweet-rice - paramānna - every day. In that way He will be happy and the Maṭh will be very peaceful.” Since that day a brāhmaṇa brahmacārī has always been doing His worship and daily offering paramānna.
The Temple took about twenty years to build, and when it was completed in 1973 there was still no Nāṭ Mandir. Around 1975 another donation came from a lady devotee of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja who promised five thousand rupees towards the construction of the Nāṭ Mandir. Another devotee, Banoyārīlāl Siṁhāniyā, wanted to fulfil the wish of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja to make a double-story kitchen building. The houses where Srimati Kṛṣṇamayī Didī and Śaṅkara Didī used to live were constructed about 1963, as was a third house where Dharmma Didī used to stay. After her son and daughter became self sufficient Kṛṣṇamayī Didī had donated her property and land, the proceeds of which were used to build these houses and to buy agricultural land which was used to grow rice and vegetables for the Math
At first the Maṭh's land area was one acre with only a few trees: three mango trees, two guava trees, and one more. One of the three original mango trees left its body on the very same day as Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's disappearance, within twenty-four hours all its leaves fell off. Gradually the Maṭh's land area increased during the time the Temple was being built. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja himself planted the compound hedge and he did much other physical labouring work around the Maṭh.
A new group of brahmacārīs came to stay after the first group of brahmacārīs left, which was mainly made up of the direct disciples of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. That new group consisted of Kṛṣṇa Sharan Prabhu, who was the first initiated disciple, later to become Bhakti Prasun Aranya Maharaj, Hari Charan Prabhu, the young boy Śrī Gaurendu brahmacārī, later Sripad Govinda Maharaj, as well as another two or three devotees. They would stay there and also go preaching house to house to tell people about Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, and to beg alms. This was first begun by Jājāvar Mahārāja, Goswāmī Mahārāja, and Madhusūdan Mahārāja who all helped Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja after the first group of brahmacārīs left Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh.
Every year Madhusūdan Mahārāja would go to collect for the festivals, and sometimes Jājāvar Mahārāja would also go with them. Each of these sannyāsīs had their own mission but they collected funds for Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. Madhusūdan Mahārāja's mission is in Burdwan, Jājāvar Mahārāja has two or three, and also Goswāmī Mahārāja has many Maṭhs.
The first party from Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh to go on Navadwīp Dhām Parikramā was started by Śrīla Govinda Mahārāja. At that time only two other parties did Navadwīp Dhām Parikramā: Śrīla Keśava Mahārāja and the Māyāpur Maṭh. Śrīla Goswāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla Jājāvar Mahārāja, and Śrīla Madhusūdan Mahārāja joined with the Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh parikramā party along with their many disciples and followers. Their parties were big and temporary tents were put up for their accommodation. Śrīla Goswāmī Mahārāja's party consisted of about two hundred followers; mainly gṛhastha villagers. Śrīla Jājāvar Mahārāja's party was about a hundred persons. Śrīla Madhusūdan Mahārāja's party would have about fifty and Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh's party would be maybe about two hundred persons.
Things continued in that way for a few years. After that, Śrīla Mādhava Mahārāja also started to make Navadwīp Dhām Parikramā. Then, by the will of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, Śrīla Goswāmī Mahārāja made his Maṭh in Māyāpur - the Nandan Ācārya Bhavan Temple - and he too started Navadwīp Dhām Parikramā. Śrīla Jājāvar Mahārāja's party joined with Śrīla Mādhava Mahārāja, and every year since that time Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh's Parikramā party continued independently.
Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh also arranged Parikramās to other holy places including yearly visits to Kedārnāth, Badarikāśram, and Tuṅganāth. The first party of pilgrims were about fifty-four persons. In charge of the party was the 24 year old Govinda Mahārāja, and Paramahaṁsa Mahārāja. After that they started various Parikramā tours to the holy places of Southern India, Western India, Purī, Vṛndāvana, Dvārakā, etc.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja also travelled with them on three or four occasions. He went on the train tours and also on the pilgrimage by foot to Badarikāśram. By that time the bus ran into the Himalayas all the way up to Rudra Prayāg or maybe Chāmauli. When they first started, the whole journey by foot was about 286 kilometres and it took one month to complete.
The Gauḍīya Maṭh was founded by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura and later Śrīla Jājāvar Mahārāja and other Godbrothers of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja incorporated the word Gauḍīya in the name of their Missions such as: Samanda Gauḍīya Maṭh, Devānanda Gauḍīya Maṭh, etc.
But Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja thought in another way. Our sampradāya was actually started by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and it is running under His divine direction. Although we are Brahmā Mādhava Gauḍīya sampradāya, the real conception of rāgānugā-bhakti is that first it was shown by Śrīla Mādhavendra Purī, the “Grand Guru” of Śrī Caitanyadeva. There the conception was in seed form, but it manifest in the form of a tree in Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Therefore, bearing in mind the main identification of our sampradāya, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja included the name of Śrī Caitanya in the name of his Maṭh. Therefore to cover from beginning to end the identification of the whole sampradāya Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja used the name Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh for his Temple and Mission.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura preached over the whole of India, but still was not able to preach successfully in this area of Koladwīp. Here there were many great paṇḍits who heavily opposed Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda and his preaching programme; therefore Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja wanted to convert that section.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja started to preach in the house of his own aunt, Sarojabāsinī Devī. She was a very popular lady, very famous, and everybody respected her, and her name is also included on a plaque on the side of Mahāprabhu's Temple at Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh. When he started preaching in her house many members of the opposing group also came to hear - and were converted by him and his disciple Srimati Krishnamayi didi. That party was headed by Tripathanāth Paṇḍit, who was the head of the area of Tegharipara. The Tegharipara area of Navadvipa used to be famous for its abundant supply of followers of Tantric yoga. They were very entrenched in their tantric way of life but, despite this, Krsna Mayi didi preached to them and converted them to Vaisnavism. Sridhara Maharaja greatly appreciated this. He proclaimed that she was a Suddha Bhakta - a pure devotee of the Lord.
While he was the agent of Kārttik Bose Laboratories of Bengal Chemicals, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Mahārāja met with Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Deva Goswāmī Mahārāja for the first time in Allahabad. This was probably just before 1930, before Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja accepted sannyāsa. Śrīla Swami Mahārāja was taken to the Maṭh but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura was not there then. In 1933 or so after Vraja-maṇḍal parikramā Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī came back to Allahabad for laying the foundation stone, and at that time Śrīla Swami Mahārāja met him on a few visits and took initiation. Then in the Bombay Maṭh they also had each others company for a long time. But their main association with each other was in Calcutta after Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura's departure.
Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Mahārāja was always very affectionate with Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja and he would come to meet him from time to time. He requested Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, “I have two houses, one of which I am living in with my family, and the other has a laboratory downstairs. I shall give you the free use of two rooms above the laboratory for the purpose of preaching. In order to have your association I can spare these two rooms. If you will kindly go there and stay, I shall be very happy.” This is how the 7 Sitakanta Banerjee Lane Branch of Śrī Caitanya Sāraswat Maṭh was begun.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja recalls how, “I opened a centre there in the house next to his, which was also owned by him. Downstairs there was a laboratory and on the first floor there were four rooms that I took on sublease from him. I stayed there for some time. He used to come almost every day and we had discussions about the inner meanings and teachings of Bhagavad-gītā. Briefly we discussed other things also, but mainly our discussions were based on the Bhagavad-gītā.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja always wanted to stay in the background. He did not want to take a prominent role to recruit others, make disciples, etc., but Śrīla Swami Mahārāja often requested Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja to start another Gauḍīya Mission.
During their stay at Sitakanta Banerjee Lane some very prominent people came to see Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja through Śrīla Swami Mahārāja, and in that way some gṛhastha devotees joined. Bhutabrit Prabhu and Nṛsiṁhānanda Prabhu were big brahmacārīs and they also stayed in Śrīla Swami Mahārāja's house and preached in Calcutta. From time to time Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja would go there, and he would sometimes stay for two or three months during which time the other brahmacārīs would run the Maṭh in Navadwīpa.
History has it recorded that Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's most famous Godbrother, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swāmī Mahārāja, the magnificent Divine Phenomenon, who single-handedly inundated the Western world between 1965-1977 with the original teachings of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, only had about ten days of association with his Gurudeva, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura. But he had long and intimate association from his time of initiation all through, with the most intimate of all his Godbrothers, Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja.
When returning to India from his Western preaching, Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swāmī Mahārāja often reunited and stayed with Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. He told his disciples, “I consider Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja my śīkṣa-guru (instructing guru), what to speak of the benefit you can have from his association, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja lived in my house for many years, so naturally we had very intimate talks. He has such high realisations of Kṛṣṇa that one would faint to hear them. Kṛṣṇa and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura liked him to prepare me.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja has told, “I consider Swāmī Mahārāja to be Śaktyāveśa- Avatāra (a Divine Personality especially empowered directly by the Supreme Lord). Kṛṣṇa came down to help him - Divine Power came down to help him, otherwise it is impossible. It is not a thing of the ordinary level that anyone will do, but the highest thing has been carried down to the lowest position, distributed so extensively by him. It cannot but be the Divine Power embodied and in a great intensity and magnitude. So, Śaktyāveśa-Avatāra - I cannot but take him to be so.”
Throughout the whole of his life Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja had travelled extensively throughout the whole of India preaching fluently in Bengali, Hindi, Sanskrit, and English. He successfully spread Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu's Message on mass levels in various colleges, universities, public seminars and Saṅkīrtana Festivals.
Once when he went to Giriḍi at Bihār, he delivered a lecture at the Barristers' Library there. After the lecture a gentleman came forward, and weeping, he said, “We used to think that our ancestors were fools, and that we have now become civilised by the association of the British. But now, Mahārāja, hearing your talk, we cannot but feel how great we were, and how low we have fallen! Our ancestors were so, so great, and now we have fallen into such filthy garbage!”
On another occassion at Giriḍi, at a conference, the president of the conference, a learned scholar, one Mr Basāk, remarked after hearing Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's speech, “We thought for so long now that Vaiṣṇava-dharma was a branch of Hindu religion. But today, Mahārāja, after what I have heard from you, with your sound argument and Scriptural evidence, we now know that Vaiṣṇava-dharma is the Original Religion - the Jaiva-dharma or Religion of all souls - and all others are only the misconceived portions of the original.”
Now he did not go out in the previous style for preaching very often, but began his 'heart-service.' Having deeply assimilated the teachings of Śrī Caitanya, he began composing original texts. His first work, Śrī Śrī Prapanna-jīvanāmṛtam, is a comprehensive scriptural study of śaraṇāgati, surrender. Śrīla A.C Bhaktivedanta Swāmī Mahārāja said to his own sister, “This Prapanna-jīvanāmṛtam is a very important and nice book. You have money so please you spend some money for the printing of this Prapanna-jīvanāmṛtam.” Her name was Bhāvinī Didi. We called her Pishima or 'Madan's Mother,'' and it was she who subsequently gave the money for the first printing of this book of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's.
He composed numerous songs, prayers and commentaries, including a commentary on Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura's Śaraṇagati, Bengali translations of Bhagavad-gītā, and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, and his own original Sanskrit poem summarising Caitanya-līlā - Prema-dhāma-deva-stotram. An outstanding contribution to the Rūpānuga Gauḍīya sampradāya is his commentary on the brahma-gāyatrī mantra in the line of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja recalls, “I do not go for preaching very often. I'm almost always sitting here, and I very rarely go out in the previous style. Śrīpād Mādhava Mahārāja was always very affectionately accusing me, “You are denying the educated section of the people. Sitting here idle, you are denying the people. You have quality and capacity to preach Mahāprabhu's Teachings, especially to the educated section, but you do not do so.” Whenever he came he would always charge me. Almost every year, after completing the Gaura-pūrṇimā celebrations he used to visit me, and he would charge me! And also, every year for his Calcutta Maṭh celebration I used to go and deliver lectures there. In this way, days have passed.
When Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was over 80 years old, hundreds of people who had been introduced to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism by his close associate and intimate Godbrother Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swāmī Mahārāja Prabhupāda, came to him from all over the world to his Maṭh. He accepted new Western disciples who transcribed his recorded informal talks on Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy into many different languages and distributed those books throughout the world.
Some of those original works are: The Hidden Treasure of the Sweet Absolute (Bhagavad-gītā). Life-Nectar of the Surrendered Souls: Positive and Progressive Immortality (Śrī Śrī Prapanna-jīvanāmṛtam). The Search for Śrī Kṛṣṇa: Reality the Beautiful. Śrī Guru and His Grace. Sermons of the Guardian of Devotion (vols 1-5). The Golden Volcano of Divine Love. Loving Search for the Lost Servant, and Subjective Evolution of Consciousness.
His Divine Grace Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Deva Goswāmī Mahārāja disappeared from our sight on the Amāvasyā (dark-moon day) of 12th of August, 1988 A.D, (1910 Śaka era), having conferred the Holy Order of Tridaṇḍa-sannyāsa upon Śrīla Bhakti Sundar Govinda Mahārāja three years previously and appointing him as his successor Ācārya.