Sri Sri Radha-Gopinath Mandir, Mumbai

It was on a warm October morning ten years ago that I first visited Sri Sri Radha-Gopinath Temple in Chowpatty. ISKCON Chowpatty is now famous throughout the world for its warm Vaisnava hospitality and rich spiritual culture.

A disciple of His Holiness Giriraja Swami, Krishna-kirtan prabhu, had told me about this really simple temple about 45 minutes from the centre of Mumbai. He had also given me some audio tapes of classes by His Holiness Radhanath Maharaja’s (the project’s leader).

Yasomatinandan prabhu and I made our way by bus from St. Joseph’s College, around the corner from ISKCON Juhu, to Andrew Wilson College. That was our landmark. Somehow or other, we alighted near Babulnath Mandir, and took a right down a road unknown to us. That was my first taste of Indian street-life. Next thing we were in front of a run-down metal gate and a building that looked more like a school than a temple. Just as well I had learnt devanagari and could read the fading sign – ‘Sri Sri Radha-Gopinath Mandir.’ This was it! This was Chowpatty Temple!

As we climbed the stairs, we could hear the strains of the guru-puja prayers: sri guru carane rati, ei sei uttama gati (‘attachment to the lotus feet of the spiritual master is the perfection that fulfills all desires’). We offered obeisances and joined the kirtan. I can still see His Holiness Radhanath Maharaja standing on the edge of the kirtan with outstretched hands. There were about fifteen brahmacaris in the kirtan (nowadays there are about 100!). We also had the good fortune of hearing Bhagavatam from Radhanath Maharaja. After class, we chanted japa in the temple room (quiet meditation on the maha-mantra on prayer-beads), then took breakfast.

Navakishore prabhu (from Mauritius) was our host. He took us to a little guest room next to the brahmacari classroom. I remember the straw mats on the floor. The room was also spacious. Govinda prabhu gave Bhagavad-gita class. After Govinda spoke, Yaso spoke for about ten minutes. We took prasadam (a sanctified vegetarian meal meaning ‘mercy of God’) and rested. Most of the devotees I met that day are still around – Sankirtan prabhu, Sanat-Kumar prabhu, Govinda prabhu, Saci-Kumar prabhu and Govinda prabhu. The devotees were so friendly and blissful I thought to myself, ‘I want to be like them.’

Ten years have passed. There have been a lot of changes. The building, for one, is now exclusively owned by the Temple – no schools, no internet cafes, no offices. There is more room now – then, again, there are more devotees! The Temple room has been beautifully decorated and transformed under the personal supervision of Radhanath Maharaja. You can really feel the presence of Radha-Gopinath. Srila Prabhupada looks like he is beaming.

I remember inviting a hip young German couple to the Temple in 2001. The girl covered her head with a light cloth, sat on her knees, gazed out at the Deities and just cried for about ten minutes! Despite all the opulence, the devotees have maintained their culture of simplicity and humility. I am always very touched whenever I visit Chowpatty…it is a wonderful Temple.