Radhanath Maharaja

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.

ISKCON Chowpatty, Mumbai, 30 January 2001

Radhanath Maharaja’s quarters were at the end of a prefabricated metal corridor, paved with what appeared to be shower tiles.  My hands carried a photocopied ‘Letter Of Recommendation For First Initiation’  from my Temple President, Sikhi Mahiti prabhu.  The letter was for Maharaja.

The narrow corridor opened into a small seating area outside Maharaja’s room.  I sat on one of the chairs next an older devotee in white.  Trai prabhu.  He was seated next to his wife.  We could see into the room from where we were sitting.  The room was covered with straw mats.   Maharaja was sitting on an asana on one side of a low, wooden desk.  Malati Mataji, a very senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada, was also seated on an asana on the other side of the table.  She wore a saffron sari.  They were both laughing.

Trai prabhu was looking at some photographs.  He also had a copy of the Bhagavad-gita in his hands.  While waiting to meet with Maharaja we spoke about Harinamas, devotees we both knew, Prabhupada’s books and what we would be doing in India.  After some time, Maharaja stood up, and walked Malati out of the room.  Trai went inside.  After an hour or so, Maharaja bade me enter.  I sat down.  ‘Who are you?’ Maharaja asked.  ‘Bhakta Michael, from Cape Town’, I replied.  I was nervous.  He asked, ‘How can I serve you?’  The question threw me.  Maharaja was the senior devotee.  Maharaja was the guru.  Shouldn’t it be the other way around.  So I said, ‘I should be asking you that question.  How can I serve you?’  Sitting with straight back and legs crossed Maharaja spoke in a deep voice, ‘Surrender to Krishna!’  Maharaja said, ‘I don’t take visitors after 6:30pm’.  It was 8:15pm.  I said, ‘Should I go?’  He said, ‘Stay.’  I felt privileged that he was letting me stay in his room.

Maharaja asked me what I did before I met the devotees.  I told him I had studied Law and a Master’s degree in History at the University of Cape Town.  He asked me, ‘What kind of History you studied?’  I explained to him that I had written a thesis on the abolition of the Slave Trade to the Cape at the turn of the 18th Century.  I further explained how unhappy I was studying Law.  My academic pursuit of History was an escape from Law, a subject which I had never really been interested in anyway.  He then asked specifically how I met devotees.  I explained that I had met a devotee at a book-stall near the University and shortly after had visited the Temple.  ‘How did you like Pune Yatra? What was the thing you liked the most?’  I liked the Harinam.  I asked Maharaja if he had received my letters.  He said that he hadn’t received any.  I mentioned to Maharaja that I had distributed books 108 Bhagavad-gitas as a Vyasa Puja (birthday of the guru) offering to Maharaja.  He smiled.

Maharaja carefully perused Sikhi Mahiti’s letter.  One of the notable things about this darshan with Maharaja was the feeling that he was listening to me with great attention and sympathy.  He asked me if I had his lecture tapes.  I said I had about fifty.  I explained why I wanted to take shelter from him.  He asked me what I planned to do in India.  It was my intention to follow Maharaja to Mayapur and then spend some time in Chowpatty.  I also mentioned that His Holiness Mahavishnu Swami had invited me to serve him in Bangladesh.  Maharaja intimated to me that it would be better if I stayed in Chowpatty.  Words came out from my heart to my mouth, ‘I am fallen compared to the brahmacaris here, Maharaja.  I often find myself in compromising situations in Cape Town.’  Maharaja consoled me, ‘Stay here some time.  It will be good for your brahmacharya.’

I offered Maharaja pictures of our Deities and a maha mangala sweet (a sweet offered to the Temple Deities in South Africa).  Maharaja gently dissuaded me from this action by saying, ‘Just wait.’  He gave me a sweetball, then accepted my gifts.  The mercy comes from above – not from below.

I have never felt a sense of inner happiness as I did after my meeting with Maharaja.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  I felt emotions I had never felt before.  Radhanath Maharaja was very gentle, understanding and patient.  Maharaja was very positive.  I never, for one moment, felt any negativity from Maharaja during that conversation.

ISKCON Juhu, Andheri, Mumbai, March 2007

Radhanath Maharaja greeted me after Radha-Rasabihari’s Morning Darshan.  I was talking to his godbrother, Narottama prabhu, whom I had met a couple of days before.  While talking to Narottama, Maharaja looked at me and said, ‘He’s a very nice devotee from South Africa’.

Later that morning, I was sitting in the foyer of the Juhu Temple browsing through photos of the previous night’s Rama Navami Festival on my digital camera.  Radhanath Maharaja was making his way towards the elevator to the guest-house.  Damodar Dulall prabhu, Maharaja’s personal servant, was a few meters ahead of Maharaja, danda in hand.  I got up, offered my gurumaharaja dandavats on the cool, marble floor and went back to my chair.

Damodar Dulall exclaimed, ‘Maharaja wants to see you!’  Maharaja beckoned me from the lift with his hand.  Startled, I put my camera away and went to the lift.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  Maharaja was calling for me!  Amiya Vilas Swami was also in the lift.  He informed Maharaja that he had a hernia.  Maharaja said, ‘I had the same five years ago.  It is very painful’.  Maharaja instructed Damodar Dulall prabhu to find him another room since the newly painted walls were aggravating his asthma.  Damodar Dulall prabhu scurried off, and Maharaja ushered me into his room.

I said, ‘Shall I close the door?’  Maharaja replied, ‘Yes’.  Then Maharaja said, ‘Come, sit on the bed’.  ‘Do you mind if I lie down?’ He said, ‘My health hasn’t been so good lately’.  Maharaja then spoke to me about second initiation.  (Second or brahminical initiation is awarded to Hare Krishna devotees when they demonstrate steadiness in Krishna consciousness or brahminical/priestly qualities).  Maharaja said he would give me second initiation before he left for Europe in May.

‘How long do you plan to stay in India?’ he asked.  I said that I had a return-ticket to South Africa in November.  I told him that I was having a sabbatical.  Maharaja asked, ‘And your authorities don’t mind?’  I said, ‘No’.  I told him that my uncle had given me an advance inheritance and it was my intention to travel.  He ascertained that it was my great uncle, Vernon, who had given me the money.  I said that I wanted to pay my last respects to him.  He said, ‘You should see your uncle’.  I mentioned to him that I would also like to visit the United States.  I wanted to see the places of Prabhupada’s pastimes in New York City.  Maharaja said I should have some service, that I should join up with Yajna Purusha prabhu when I was there.  I mentioned to Maharaja that I would like to join the Festival Of India programme (which goes all over the USA).  He replied, ‘I am a little familiar with things  in America.  Rather stay with Yajna Purusha’.  I added that I was not so much into physical activity.  Maharaja said, ‘Yes. Yajna Purusha’s programme is more suited to you’.

Maharaja also said that there were some nice brahmacaris (celibate monks) in New Vrindavan.  I said, ‘Of course I would like to go there.  And Los Angeles too.  Maharaja, I come from Cape Town.  They have their own interpretation of brahmacharya there’.  We then discussed Gopiparanhadana prabhu’s Brihad-Bhagavatamrita, my involvement in a production on Mayapur which had been screened on SA National TV and my role in the management of the Cape Town Temple.  I mentioned to Maharaja that I had just completed the Bhakti Sastri Degree (which covers some of the key scriptures of the Hare Krishna Movement).  Maharaja laughed as he said, ‘I never got it in thirty-seven years!’  I replied, ‘But, Maharaja, you are super-learned!  I had to do the course in order to study the books!’

Maharaja then asked me if I had developed any friendships with the boys at Radha-Gopinath Temple.  I replied, ‘Yes’.

I then mentioned to Maharaja some of the problems I had been having with some of the devotees in Cape Town.  He told me that I should submit to the Temple President, and support him; or carry on with something else…with the blessings of Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja and Partha Sarathi Goswami Maharaja.  I appreciated his openness.  I apologised to him, ‘I am sorry if I have disappointed you’.  He said that change is part of developing in Krishna Consciousness and that he was not disappointed.  It was natural.

I mentioned that on my return to South Africa I would like to take up the challenge of starting something new.  He said, ‘That is very difficult’.  I said that I felt as though I was ready for it.  It was not so much my problem with my President.  That had dissipated.  I was frustrated by the ethos in Cape Town.  I was struggling with brahmacharya there because the couple who were managing the Temple had no previous understanding of ashrama (monastic) life.

Maharaja said he was tired and that he was going to take rest.  ‘Maharaja, will you tell me when you are going to give me second’.  He replied, ‘Of course’.