February 6 – March 1, 2006
By Indradyumna Swami
After regaining my health in Mauritius, I began to wonder about taking precautions for my flight to India. I wanted to avoid situations like the group of drunken tourists who had harassed me during my last flight. One option was to travel with a servant, but that would prove too expensive.
Another was to travel in ordinary clothes, but that would be too much of an austerity.
I’d simply have to depend on the mercy of the Lord, who is the protector of His devotees. So, as I boarded my flight to Mumbai, I chanted a prayer I had memorized after the incident with the tourists:
udaya ravi sahasra dyotitam ruksa viksam pralaya jaladhi nadam
kalpa krd vahni vaktram sura
pati ripu vaksah ksoda rakta ksitangam pranata bhaya haram tam
“Lord Nrsimhadeva’s countenance is as brilliantly illuminated as thousands of suns rising together. He vibrates a roaring sound like that of the waters of the ocean of universal devastation, as if He Himself is prepared to create a new era by destroying the universe. His face is like fire, and His body is spattered with drops of blood as He pulverizes the chest of the enemy of Indra. Unto that Lord Nrsimhadeva, who removes the fear of the surrendered, I offer my obeisances.”
[Sri Nrsimha Stuti, Verse 1]
On the flight I read a new edition of Narottam-vilasa, by Sri Narahari Chakravarti Thakura, who lived not long after the disappearance of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The book is about the great saint Srila Narottam das Thakur, and the translation was edited by my Godbrother, Purnaprajna dasa.
The life and teachings of Narottam das Thakur have been a constant source of inspiration throughout my devotional career, and I planned to celebrate his appearance day in Vrindavan.
I had read several other editions of the book, but like all activities in spiritual life, reading the book again was new and fresh, as if I were reading it for the first time. I was particularly attracted by the pastimes of Narottam das Thakur’s foremost disciple, Ganga Narayana Chakravarti.
On the order of Narottam das Thakur he had gone to Manipur, a wild and undeveloped region of India at the time, and converted the king, who was a worshipper of the demigoddess Kali, into a Vaisnava, a devotee of Krishna.
The king in turn made the entire population into Vaisnavas. In January 2005, I had visited the ancestral home of Ganga
Narayana Chakravarti in Bengal, where I took darshan of a Deity of Lord Caitanya worshiped by Narottam das Thakur, and of Ganga Narayana Chakravarti’s own Deities, Sri Radha-Gopinatha and his 18 salagrama-silas.
Narottam-vilasa goes into detail about the life of Ganga Narayana Chakravarti, and I was just finishing the book as my flight landed in Mumbai. One of the last verses reads as follows:
“Ganga Narayana received the title Chakravarti. Even today everyone in Vrindavan sings his glories. He has many branches and sub-branches of disciples.”
I gathered my hand luggage. “By serving the movement of Lord Caitanya, I am also assisting great souls like Ganga Narayana Chakravarti,” I thought. “I pray that one day he will bestow his mercy on me, so I can be fearless, as he was, in serving the orders of my own spiritual master.”
A disciple whom I had affectionately named Narottam das Thakur das picked me up at the airport. I planned to spend two days at his home before proceeding to a big festival in Ujjain.
“Guru Maharaja,” said Narottam as soon as he saw me, “I read the last diary entry, and I’m concerned about your safety. I’m angry with those drunken tourists who treated you so improperly on the flight to Mauritius. It’s not good for you to travel alone.”
“For now, there is no other option,” I said.
“Well,” said Narottam, “I’m going to pray to Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krsna to arrange something.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “The prayers of a sincere Vaisnava never go in vain.”
As we drove to Narottam’s apartment we discussed the celebrations for the appearance day of Narottam das Thakur.
“What will you speak about this year on his appearance day in Vrindavan?” Narottam asked.
“I think I’ll speak about the disciples of Narottam das Thakur,” I replied, “in particular, Ganga Narayana Chakravarti.”
Early the next morning, as I was preparing to do my Deity worship, there was a knock on the door.
“Guru Maharaja,” Narottam called, “there is someone here to see you.”
“It’s too early,” I replied. “Can he come back later? I have to do my puja.”
“It’s a special guest, Guru Maharaja, a very special guest.” “I’ll be there in two minutes,” I said.
When I walked into the living room, I was surprised to see a small, elderly man dressed in dhoti and kurta, sitting quietly in a chair.
“Guru Maharaja,” said Narottam, “I’d like you to meet Goswamiji, a descendent of Ganga Narayana Chakravarti, the foremost disciple of Narottam das Thakur. Actually, he called me several times during the year. I forgot to tell you.”
“Really?” I said. “A descendent of Ganga Narayana Chakravarti?
Here in Mumbai? In your living room?”
I stood speechless for a few moments, my eyes fixed on the sadhu.
“Guru Maharaja,” said Narottam, “are you okay?” “Yes,” I said, “I’m fine. It’s just that . . .”
“He’s come to meet you,” Narottam said. “Me?” I said.
The sadhu sat looking at me. “Yes, Indradyumna Swami,” he said. “I’ve wanted to meet you for some time. You visited my home last year, but I was away on pilgrimage. My brother and aunt told me everything about your visit, how you took darshan of our Deities as well as the samadhis of Narottam das Thakur and Ganga Narayana Chakravarti.”
“Yes, of course,” I replied. “It’s an honor to meet you, Goswamiji.”
He looked down. “There is no honor in meeting me,” he said. “I am but a simple servant of the Lord.”
He looked up. “I’ve come with a request,” he continued. “How can I serve you, sir?” I said.
He looked me straight in the eye. “I’d like to give you my temple,” he said.
“Give me your temple?” I said.
“Yes,” said Goswamiji. “The residence of Ganga Narayana Cakravarti. If you take possession, I know you’ll fix up the dilapidated building and send your foreign disciples to do the puja.”
I was speechless again.
“The standard of worship has decreased drastically through the years,” he continued, “and I fear that after I am gone it will decline even more. My own son is no longer interested in the worship. He has left home to pursue an education and eventually get a job in Kolkata. What’s more, even the villagers have lost interest in the worship. As a result, we get few donations and have run into debt.”
“Debt?” I said.
“Yes,” he replied, “serious debt.”
I thought for a moment. “Does your offer imply that I would pay off the debts?” I said.
“Unfortunately, yes,” he said lowering his eyes. “But that’s not why I’m here. I’m most concerned about . . .”
“The Deities,” I said. “I understand. You’re concerned about the Deities and maintaining the sanctity of such a holy place. Nevertheless, I’m not sure I could afford to pay off those debts.”
He raised his eyes. “It’s not only the debts,” he said. “We have to convince some of my relatives to give the temple to you.
His voice became angry. “They’re eating better than the Deities,” he said.
“It sounds quite complicated,” I said.
“It is,” he replied, “but we have to try. We’re talking about the beloved Deities of Narottam das Thakur and Ganga Narayana Chakravarti. During the past six months thieves have tried to steal Them on four occasions.”
“How is that possible?” I said
“I can’t afford security,” Goswamiji said, his eyes welling with tears.
“They’ve stolen the wooden sandals of Ganga Narayana Chakravarti, many of his manuscripts, and all of the Deities’ paraphernalia.”
I hesitated to ask why the Deities weren’t stolen.
Goswamiji seemed to read my mind. “The only reason they didn’t take the Deities,” he said, “is because of the king cobra.”
“The king cobra?” I said.
“Yes,” he replied. “My great-grandfather said that the cobra lived under the house even when he was a child. Every time a thief comes to steal the Deities, the cobra appears and wraps himself around the Deity of Lord Caitanya, threatening to bite anyone who comes near. I’ve seen him myself.”
“You’ve seen the cobra?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “He’s very large. Last month a thief entered the house at night and soon came running out of the Deity room. When I went into the room, I saw the cobra wrapped around the Deity of Lord Caitanya. His body covered the entire Deity. His head was swaying about and he was making a horrible hissing sound. I also ran away. Nevertheless, if someone is very determined, I can’t imagine what would happen.”
“I see,” I said.
He stood up. “Please come to Bengal with me and speak to my relatives,” he said.
I hesitated. I was on a tight schedule.
“I’m sure it will help,” he said. “Let’s solve the problem of my relatives first. Later Krsna will help us find the money for the debts.”
Narottam turned to Goswamiji. “Guru Maharaja has a very busy itinerary,” he said. “We’re expected in Ujjain the day after tomorrow. But after the Ujjain festival, I can go to Bengal with you.”
“That’s a better idea,” I said. “Narottam can deal more effectively with your family.”
A week later, after the festivities in Ujjain, Narottam and Goswamiji left for Bengal. I went on to Vrindavan and waited anxiously for Narottam’s call.
Early one morning my cell phone rang.
“Guru Maharaja,” he began, “the situation is even more complicated than we thought. The villagers became suspicious when I arrived with Goswamiji.
Somehow, they learned of his intention to give his property away. One man in particular became very belligerent. He’s part of a gang of local criminals.
They call him the black sadhu because he wears black tantric dress. If the temple changes hands, he stands to lose the money he takes from the donations.”
“You must be very careful,” I said.
“Yes, Guru Maharaja,” he said. “I’m being careful. Today the black sadhu called all the villagers together and made a speech on the steps of the temple. He said that for many years there has been no disease or famine in the village, no one has died untimely, and ‘except for this foolish Goswami in charge of the temple,’ no one is in debt. He said if the Goswami gives the temple property away, the Lord will condemn the entire village. The people are very agitated. Groups of them are going around saying, ‘No one shall get the temple.’”
“I think you should leave immediately,” I said.
Suddenly Narottam gasped. “My God!” he exclaimed. “Two police vans have arrived! I have to hang up.”
Three hours later he called again. “Guru Maharaja,” he said, “the police came and were looking for me. I had to hide in the jungle. Probably the black sadhu bribed them. Goswamiji is so upset. He’s lamenting that the local criminals have so much influence on the temple and the Deities.”
As he was speaking, I was also lamenting. “It’s to be expected,” I said.
I remembered a verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam.
“The Deities seem to be crying in the temple, lamenting and perspiring. They seem about to leave. All the cities, villages, towns, gardens, mines and hermitages are now devoid of beauty and bereft of all happiness. I do not know what sort of calamities are now awaiting us.”
Narottam continued. “Rumor has it that the black sadhu is going to try to stop us from leaving tonight,” He said. “He plans to bring us before all the villagers tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I said. “Leave now. Do you have a taxi?”
“Yes,” Narottam said. “We’ll leave in a few minutes. Goswamiji wants to take me to have a personal darshan of the Deities. After that we’ll leave.”
I will be forever indebted to the great saint Ganga Narayana Chakravarti and his descendant Goswamiji for what happened next.
At dusk Narottam and Goswamiji went to the temple and entered the inner chambers. With Goswamiji present, Narottam was able to go right up to the Deities. He stood before the beautiful form of Lord Caitanya and prayed for His mercy. He also beheld the ancient Radha-Krsna Deities of Ganga Narayana Chakravarti.
Goswamiji’s eyes filled with tears. “They receive only one offering of food a day,” he said. “And just see how simply They are dressed.”
Narottam prayed that somehow the Deities would remain safe and that someday Their worship would be reestablished in its original glory.
Narottam looked at the 18 salagrama-silas and thought about how wonderfully they must have been worshiped by Ganga Narayana Chakravarti.
Goswamiji spoke in a hushed voice. “We have to go now before it gets dark,” he said. “But before we leave, I want to give you something for Indradyumna Maharaja. At least let proper care be taken of one of these precious Deities.”
He reached onto the altar and picked up one of the ancient salagrama-silas.
“This was the salagrama that my forefather, Ganga Narayana Chakravati took with him to Manipur when ordered by Narottam das Thakur to go and convert the King to Vaisnavism. Please give it to your spiritual master.”
Narottam was stunned. Because it was getting dark, he couldn’t see the Deity clearly. “Who is He?” Narottam asked. “Which incarnation?”
Goswamiji brought the salagrama closer. “He’s a ferocious form of Varaha-Nrsimha,” he said.
Narottam was amazed to see the tawny-colored salagrama-sila, with His huge gaping mouth and two large uneven cakras inside – sure signs that He was a Nrsimha-salagrama. A protruding tusk on the left side indicated He was also Lord Varaha.
“Your spiritual master can take care of the Deity from now on,” said Goswamiji. “And rest assured, the Deity will take care of your spiritual master.”
“Will there be any problem with the villagers if the Deity . . .” Narottam started to say.
“I am a blood descendent of Ganga Narayana Chakravarti,” Goswamiji said firmly. “It is my responsibility to ensure that these Deities are properly worshiped.”
Goswamji looked wistfully at the other Deities. “Let us go quickly,” he said, “before the black sadhu and his friends come.” As darkness descended, they left in the taxi, and arrived six hours later at the Kolkata airport without incident. Narottam called me.
“Guru Maharaja,” he began, “The most amazing thing happened. You won’t believe it.”
“What is it Narottam?” I asked. “Did the relatives of Goswamiji agree to give us the temple?”
“No,” he replied, “not yet. We’ll keep trying. But the Lord answered my prayers, Guru Maharaja.”
“What prayers?” I asked.
“For your protection,” he said. “Remember you said my prayers wouldn’t go in vain?”
I was silent for a moment. “So, what happened?” I said.
“Guru Maharaja,” he said, “Goswamiji gave Ganga Narayana Chakravarti’s personal Varaha-Nrsimha salagrama to you.”
“What?” I said, “He did?”
“Yes!” Narottam said, almost shouting. “When you return to Mumbai in a few days He’ll be waiting for you. From now you’ll have the best of traveling companions, and nothing more to fear.”
The next day, I received an e-mail from Narottama. “Dear Guru Maharaja,” he wrote. “I would like to inform you that the salagrama belonging to Ganga Narayana Chakravarti Thakur was given to you on 13 Feb 2006, Srila Narottam das Thakur’s Appearance Day.”
“Regarding your questions, are the Spiritual Master and the Grand Spiritual Master consciously aware of the prayers of a sincere devotee who prays in love to Them? The answer is that no conscious prayers go in vain. They are transmitted positively. Any prayer you offer to your Spiritual Master and Superior Spiritual Master is conveyed to Krishna. No sincere prayers go in vain.”
“Your ever well-wisher, “A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami”
[Letter to Mahananda, Los Angeles, April 26, 1970]