Who is Srila Gurudeva?
Recognized as a pure devotee of Lord Krsna in the line of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and as an authority on the philosophy, culture, and practices of bhakti-yoga in the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition, His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja (known affectionately around the world as “Srila Gurudeva”) was one of the foremost disciples of the eminent Gaudiya Vaisnava acarya, Srila Bhaktiprajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja, who was a leading disciple of the great proponent of Krsna-consciousness, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Prabhupada.
For over half a century, this bold spiritual leader and firm follower of the Vedic system of self-realization (sanatana-dharma) touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of spiritual aspirants around the globe through his engaging public lectures and compelling published writings. Although he was of an advanced age, to benefit the souls of the world, he circled the planet more than thirty times from 1996 to 2010, giving enlivening discourses to rapt and appreciative audiences everywhere. Internationally recognized by secular and religious leaders, Srila Narayana Maharaja was a recipient of the “World Peace Flame” for his selfless service to peace through the advancement of God-consciousness.
A genuinely enlightened personality and erudite scholar, he was a prolific translator and commentator of Vedic scriptures such as Srimad Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam as well as Gaudiya Vaisnava texts such as Sri Jaiva-dharma and Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu-bindu. He authored over 120 works, many of which have been translated into English, Bengali, Oriya, Spanish, French, Chinese, and more than two dozen other world languages.
Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja was born in a village named Tivaripur located near the bank of the sacred Ganges River in Bihar, India. The area was renowned for being the place where Lord Sri Ramacandra liberated Ahalya-devi from Gautama Rsi’s curse, where Visvamitra Muni’s residence was situated, and where Rama and Laksman killed the demoness Taraka. He took birth on the amavasya (new moon) day of February 16, 1921, into a devout Trivedi brahmana family. His parents were highly religious and fully conversant with Vaisnava principles. Throughout his childhood, he regularly accompanied his father to assemblies held to glorify the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In February 1947, he had his first meeting with his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktiprajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja, in Sri Navadvipa Dhama, West Bengal. He traveled there from his village after meeting a disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Prabhupada named Srila Narottamananda Brahmacari, who had been preaching the message of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the area. After initial discussions with this devotee, he was convinced of the paramount position of the philosophy given by the acaryas in the line of Srila Rupa Gosvami, and within days he left home to surrender his life and join the mission of his spiritual master.
When he arrived in Sri Navadvipa Dhama, the annual parikrama was under way and he joined the group. Upon its completion on Gaura Purnima, he was given both harinama and diksa initiations by Srila Kesava Gosvami Maharaja. His initiated name was Sri Gaura Narayana. Soon afterward, his spiritual master also bestowed upon him the title of Bhakta-bandhava, which means “friend of the devotees,” because he was always serving the Vaisnavas in a very pleasing manner.
Over the next five years, he traveled extensively with Srila Kesava Gosvami Maharaja on preaching tours throughout India. On Gaura Purnima in 1952, his beloved gurudeva awarded him initiation into the sacred order of sannyasa. In 1954, Srila Kesava Gosvami Maharaja also placed him in charge of the newly opened temple in Mathura named Sri Kesavaji Gaudiya Matha. He began to spend part of the year in Mathura and the other part in Bengal, carrying on extensive services in both areas. He was also appointed by Srila Kesava Gosvami Maharaja as Editor-in-Chief of the Hindi publications issued by his institution, Sri Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti, including the monthly magazine Sri Bhagavat Patrika.
After the departure of Srila Kesava Gosvami Maharaja in 1968, Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja assumed responsibility for his spiritual master’s mission in his capacity as Vice-President of Sri Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti, acting in concert with his esteemed god-brothers, Srila Bhaktivedanta Vamana Gosvami Maharaja and Srila Bhaktivedanta Trivikrama Gosvami Maharaja, President and Secretary of the Samiti respectively. Known as the “Three Pillars” of the Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti, the three acaryas were tireless and fearless in their efforts to spread the uplifting message of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to all the suffering souls of this world.
While the preaching efforts of Srila Vamana Gosvami Maharaja and Srila Trivikrama Gosvami Maharaja were concentrated within India, Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja began to travel abroad in 1996, thus reaching an immense Western audience. He encouraged his Western followers to faithfully practice bhakti-yoga in their respective countries but also to congregate twice a year in the holy dhama to perform parikrama of the pastime places of the Lord—in Navadvipa during the week preceding Sri Gaura Purnima as well as in Vrndavana during the month of Karttika. Over the years, these festivals grew to achieve an attendance of over 20,000 pilgrims for Sri Navadvipa Dhama Parikrama and over 2,000 pilgrims for Sri Vraja Mandala Parikrama.
In the midst of his worldwide travels, Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja maintained an exhaustive writing schedule. He had been given the responsibility by his gurudeva to translate the canon of Vedic and Gaudiya Vaisnava scriptures into Hindi, the national language of India, which heretofore had been bereft of these transcendental literatures. His illuminating commentary on sacred texts such as Sri Rasa-Pancadhyayi, Sri Bhakti-tattva-viveka, Sri Raga-varma-candrika, and more have been universally praised by scholars and devotees alike. By translating his works, his international followers have endeavored to make his unparalleled devotional wisdom available to the speakers of their respective languages.
Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja
A significant relationship in the life of Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja was his association with His Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja, the world-famous preacher of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness (ISKCON). Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja was a disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Prabhupada and thus a dear god-brother of Srila Bhaktiprajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja, with whom he co-founded the Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti in 1940. Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja and Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja, who was previously known as Sri Abhaya Carana Prabhu, first met in Calcutta in 1948 at the inauguration of a new branch of the Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti on Ghosh Para Lane. Their association continued a few years later when Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja accompanied Srila Kesava Gosvami Maharaja to Jhansi where Sri Abhaya Carana Prabhu had been endeavoring to start a Vaisnava society called The League of Devotees. In the early 1950s, Sri Abhaya Carana Prabhu came to reside in Sri Kesavaji Gaudiya Matha in Mathura by the invitation of his godbrother, Srila Kesava Gosvami Maharaja. Their regular devotional exchanges and deep discussions of Vaisnava philosophy led Srila Narayana Maharaja to develop a very intimate relationship with Sri Abhaya Carana Prabhu, regarding him both as his senior and superior, as well as his friend.
In 1959, Srila Kesava Gosvami Maharaja initiated Sri Abhaya Carana Prabhu into the sacred order of sannyasa, giving him the name and title Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja. The Vedic fire yajna ceremony and other rituals were performed by Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja. While Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja resided in Vrndavana—first at Sri Vamsi-Gopala Mandira and a few years later at the famous Sri Sri Radha-Damodara Mandira—Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja visited him often. They would cook together, honor prasada together, and have intimate discussions on Vaisnava philosophy together.
After Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja went to America and succeeded in starting the first Radha-Krsna temple there, Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja sent the first mrdanga drums and karatalas to him to be used for sankirtana. Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja maintained regular correspondence with Srila Kesava Gosvami Maharaja and Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja until 1968 when Srila Kesava Gosvami Maharaja departed this world and entered nitya-lila. Thereafter, he continued to write to Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja until his own divine departure.
Toward the end of his sojourn in this world, Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja personally requested Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja to kindly give his association to his Western disciples and help them to understand the deep truths of Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy in the line of Srila Rupa Gosvami. Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja humbly agreed to honor his request, considering Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja to be one of his worshipable siksa gurus. Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja also requested Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja to take complete charge of performing all the rituals for his samadhi ceremony after his departure. Both of these requests by Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja clearly demonstrated the firm and absolute confidence that he held in Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja. For the three-decade period following Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja’s departure in November 1977, Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja unwaveringly carried out the final request of his siksa-guru by providing loving shelter and insightful guidance to all the sincere souls who came to him.
Toward the conclusion of his manifest pastimes on this Earth, Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja went to Sri Ksetra Dhama, the transcendental residence of Sri Jagannatha Deva, Sri Baladeva, and Srimati Subhadra Devi, and the sacred place where Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu enacted His final pastimes of deep separation from the Lord. There, he remained in constant internal absorption upon the Divine Couple.
On Wednesday, December, 29, 2010, shortly before dawn on the auspicious krsna-navami-tithi of the month of Narayana (Pausa), which was also the occasion of the holy appearance day of his dear god-brother, Srila Bhaktivedanta Vamana Gosvami Maharaja, he who was best among the one-pointed followers of Srila Rupa Gosvami; he who was the crown jewel of the clan of rasika Vaisnavas in present times; and he who was acclaimed Yuga-acarya: om viṣṇupada paramahamsa astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja by his own sweet desire entered Sri Sri Radha-Ramana-Bihariji’s naisa-lila (night pastimes) in the Lord’s own eternal abode, thus submerging those servants who had taken shelter at his lotus feet in an ocean of intense separation from him.
His transcendental form is enshrined near the bank of the Ganges River within Sri Navadvipa Dhama, the sacred birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
In the illustrious life of Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja, one finds the archetype of pure devotion. He exemplified the authentic, unalloyed life of utter dedication and loving service to his spiritual master, to Sriman Mahaprabhu, and to the Divine Couple, Sri Sri Radha-Krsna. Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja, as Their intimate servitor, illuminates the path for those who wish to discover and dive deep into the ecstatic ocean of radha-dasyam, service to the radiantly beautiful lotus feet of Sri Krsna's dearly beloved, Srimati Radhika. Through the media of his books, recorded lectures, and personally trained preacher-scholars, he continues to give his purifying association and divine realizations to sincere seekers of truth all over the globe.