chowpatty temple


A Ukrainian devotee, Lokesvara prabhu, accompanied me from Grant Road Station to Victoria Station.  We blissfully spoke about Krishna consciousness on the local train and as we arrived at Victoria Station, I wondered if I would make it in time for the 8:15pm train to Howrah?  We stumbled through the crowds looking for the Howrah train.  I scanned the list at the side of the coach, looking for my name and seat number.  I gave Lokesvara a rushed hug and stepped onto my coach.  I browsed the section marked ‘1-72’, looking for number 50.

I was pleasantly surprised to find an Indian brahmacari and an elderly South American couple in my compartment.    The Indian monk, Padmanabha, offered me capatis and a piece of cake – maha-prasada from Radha-Rasabihari. I told my devotee travelling companions that I was most grateful to be travelling in their association.  Padmanabha said, ‘No! No, prabhu! We are happy to be travelling with you!  It is a blessing to travel with devotees’.  I humbly requested they pray I might have the association of devotees at the time of death.

Padmanabha squeezed onto his bunk – to accomodate a steel vanity-case containing mataji’s Gaura-Nitai Deities.  He very kindly offered the elderly mataji his bunk.  Even though he looked very uncomfortable, he never complained.  That night I dreamt of Maharaja.  I was at the Ayurvedic Chemist by the Jain Temple in Mira Road.  Maharaja was there with his personal servants, Stoka Krishna and Siksastakam prabhus.  I hid because I did not want Maharaja to be bothered by seeing me again. Maharaja did, however, notice me. I said, ‘I am sorry for any offences I might have made’.  Maharaja replied, ‘That’s good’.  In my second I was walking through some dark streets with a group of friends.  The night was filled with a sense of expectation.  We walked past a school hall lit by a scattering of electric lamps.  In my last dream, I was on an Indian train which had bunks going up six or seven levels.  I was on one of the top bunks.  The South American devotees, Advaita Charan prabhu and his wife, were there.  I had a conversation with a sulky twelve-year old American gurukuli.  I said to him, ‘You were in Maya during the school holidays, weren’t you?’  The boy just sat there, pouting.  I think he was unhappy his holidays were over.  Then Savya Saci, my friend from the Bhaktivedanta Hospital, entered the compartment.  Savya Saci was grinning in his characteristic way.  I was happy.  At least we could say goodbye to each other properly.

The next day I woke up and reflected on my good fortune – I am so happy to have such a kind and beautiful spiritual master.  Krishna has been most kind to me.  

It wouldn’t be long before the train arrived at Howrah Station.

March 15 2001, Mumbai, India

Maharaja had accepted me as his aspiring disciple.  He asked what my plans were.  I told him that I was planning to go to Mayapur.  I left the Bhaktivedanta Hospital and took the train to Grant Road Station.  Looking out the train window at the dirty tracks and buildings, I realized that it is only by the mercy of the Vaishnavas that we can make any spiritual progress.

Gaura-Nitai looked very life-like during the next morning’s darsana.  I couldn’t stay for Bhagavatam class, however, because I had to buy my train ticket to Howrah.  The morning sunlight dazzled like liquid gold.  I saw a calf sucking on it’s mother’s udders from the bus window and remembered reading in Krsna Book that this was auspicious. This good omen must, in some way or other, be connected to my being accepted by my Spiritual Master.

I jumped off the bus at Churchgate Station, bought my ticket and danced through the crowd singing Hare Krishna.  Moving in this carefree spirit, I walked – or, rather, danced – into a young German couple leaning on their luggage at the foot of a large column.  The girl, Trinity, was about 25; and her companion, Kai, 35.  They were what you could call ‘techno-hippies’.  It was their first visit to India.  They asked me if I knew of any good guesthouses in Mumbai.  I made some suggestions.  I somehow ended up talking about ISKCON Chowpatty.  Trinity and Kai were so intrigued by my descriptions of this special place that they asked me to take them there.

The three of us bundled into a cab.  The cabe wove its way through the Mumbai traffic to Radha-Gopinath Mandir.  I took them to the Gift Shop and  Kai bought an Introduction To Bhagavad-gita As It Is.   Kai was mesmerized by the Temple.  He took me aside and whispered:  ‘I have definitely been to India before’.  Gopijanavallabha prabhu, from the guest department, showed the couple the Temple Room.  Trinity gazed at Radha-Gopinath while Kai walked around the Temple Room looking at pictures of Krishna’s pastimes.  Trinity covered her head with her scarf.  Gopijanavallabha looked at me and at her and said, ‘She respects the Temple etiquette’.  When I looked again, I noticed that tears were streaming down her cheeks.  Gopijanavallabha offered them some prasada.  I chatted some more with them before they left.

I washed my cloth, shaved and showered.  It was difficult saying goodbye to my friends.  I met Sankirtan prabhu in the passage and said, ‘Yes, absence makes the heart grow fonder.  I am going to miss you’.  He gently smiled and moved his head from side to side.  Dauji prabhu packed some prashadam for me.  I was now in a state.  I took darsana of Radha-Gopinatha, and packed my bags.  I felt hollow inside.  Had I really accomplished, as my Gurumaharaja had asked, what I had set out to achieve here in India?  I suddenly felt detached from everything.  Was this how a rich person feels towards the objects of wealth?  I suddenly felt very removed, in spirit, from Chowpatty.  I was leaving.  Being transported.  And feelings of separation were beginning to take hold.

I rushed downstairs to fetch my prasada.  I placed my luggage near the front of the Temple and began to say goodbye to my friends from the asrama.  It suddenly dawned on me that I had forgotten to offer my obeisances to Maharaja. I wanted to run upstairs but the devotees said, ‘There he is!’  Maharaja was walking by the Laxmi-Narayana Temple.  I offered my obeisances to him.  Maharaja asked, in a somewhat tentative manner, ‘So, are you going now?’  ‘Yes.  I am taking the train to Howrah’.  Maharaja looked at Krishna-Balarama and the small group and said, ‘This is not the first time we are saying goodbye’. ‘Maharaja, please pray that I can always be steady’, I entreated.  Maharaja said, ‘Yes.  Always’.  Maharaja looked at Krishna Balarama and said, ‘Give him your blessings’.  He began to ascend the metal staircase.

Krishna Balarama faced me and said, ‘Blessings!  Blessings!  Blessings’.  I retorted light-heartedly, ‘You are an empowered devotee.  Maharaja has empowered you to give me your blessings’.  We both laughed.  I watched Maharaja, for what seemed an eternity, walk up the staircase.  I was leaving Chowpatty once again.

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.