Chapter 4 – Early Life

“…From the beginning of his childhood he had a great attraction for Gopala Jiu;
no strange incidents happened in his childhood, as Gopala Jiu was always present to protect him.
The Lord was always taking care of him. The child had great faith in the deity and Gopala Jiu protected His dear devotee.”

-Dhobani Dei, Cousin-sister of His Divine Grace

Brajabandhu and the Astrologer

A renowned, blind astrologer named Nityananda Khadiratna came to Gadai Giri from Dhenkanal and stayed there for two days. Whilst there he met Brajabandhu who was a small child at the time, and his mother; they were both staying at Brajabandhu’s uncle’s house at Gadai Giri. Pata Dei took her son to the astrologer, wanting to know about her son’s future. The astrologer said, “This boy is full devotion and he is very intelligent. He will marry and obtain government service. When he is in his middle age he will give up family life and become a sadhu. He will attain high knowledge and an important place in the line of sadhus. He will build temples. He will make Gopala’s place bright.” The astrologer then said, “Krsna (God) Himself has sent this child from His own abode—nitya dhama—to this material world for preaching His message and to deliver the fallen conditioned souls.”

Brajabandhu’s Spotless Character

From a very young age Brajabandhu had certain characteristics that young children don’t usually have. If he didn’t have anything sensible to say then he would not speak; he was always very sober, he never disturbed, provoked, annoyed or irritated anyone; mischief was not in his character. His older cousin, Dhobani Dei, felt that the boy was the incarnation Yudhisthira Maharaja*, as he was so honest and truthful. He was not your ordinary child. If the other children were mischievous he would keep his distance from them, and from a very young age he developed a very deep attachment for Gopala Jiu, the deity from Gadai Giri. According to his cousin Dhobani Dei, “I would hold him as a baby, from the age of one year old, because at that time his mother was bringing him here, to Gadai Giri, on a regular basis. He was very sober, very innocent, he did not speak anything to anyone, as a child he was very silent and he did not speak any nonsense! From the beginning of his childhood he had a great attraction for Gopala Jiu. No strange incidents happened in his childhood, as Gopala Jiu was always present to protect him. The Lord was always taking care of him. The child had great faith in the deity and Gopala Jiu protected His dear devotee.”

Not an Ordinary Child

Brajabandhu’s life was no means ordinary. His grandfather, Bauribandhu Giri, who was a great kirtaniya and a great devotee, taught him how to count on his fingers by chanting Hare Krsna. His grandfather would hold out his hand and Brajabandhu would make an attempt to hit the hand of his grandfather. But his grandfather would pull his hand away and Brajabandhu would miss and sometimes hit the floor. Recalling these events, Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja would become like a small child telling a story, breaking out in laughter.

In telling about his childhood His Divine Grace said, “The first thing that I could remember as a child were the songs of Narottama dasa Thakura sung by my uncles from Gadai Giri. My uncles knew kirtana, they were great kirtaniyas.” This was no ordinary childhood and no ordinary occurrence or birth.

Young Brajabandhu didn’t like to wrestle and play rough games with his cousins. Once his cousin brother forced him to play and wrestle but Brajabandhu said, “I will not play; my legs and hands may be broken.” On another occasion his cousin brothers tried to force Brajabandhu to steal guavas from next door neighbor’s orchard, but he refused and said, “Tell our mother and she will go to the neighbor’s house and ask for guavas but I will not steal them.” But his cousins didn’t agree, they forced him to climb the tree. Brajabandhu stayed on the lowest branch whilst his cousins were on the higher branches eating the stolen guavas. At that time Brajabandhu’s mother came out and she was worried about her son, but he said to her, “Mother, do not worry; I am not climbing the tree, I am here at the bottom of the tree on the lowest branch.” He would not steal the guavas nor would he eat the stolen guavas.

Bhajana-Kirtana From a Very Young Age

Brajabandhu’s mother and father were very fond of studying and reading the scriptures. They would regularly read to their son. Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja recalls, “I would regularly listen to Krsna-katha from my parents, they would read different puranas to me and other Vedic literature-Srimad-Bhagavatam, Mahabharata etc. such an opportunity I received at such an early age! From when I was young I was singing, dancing, doing kirtana and listening to Srimad-Bhagavatam.” His father would read to Brajabandhu from Srimad-Bhagavatam. Completing all twelve cantos once a year. By the age of eleven Brajabandhu had heard Srimad-Bhagavatam six times.

From about the age of five, Brajabandhu would travel in the company of his uncles, the stalwarts of kirtana from the village of Gadai Giri, and they would go from village performing kirtana and also singing the songs of the Vaisnava-acaryas. Young Brajabandhu would sing, play karatalas and sometimes dance ecstatically in the kirtana.

Karana-vedha-samskara

In Vedic culture, at the age of five, the ear piercing ceremony is performed for the boys and the girls. This was not done for fashion but a spiritual process, another of the samskaras. This also was performed for Brajabandhu by his parents.

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja: At the age of five or six, the young boys have their ears pierced, and once the piercing is done some wood—neem wood—is placed in the hole so that there is no infection. This is one of the samskaras—karana-vedha-samskara. If this is done at a very young age, then no material sound vibration will ever enter the ears, only the spiritual sound vibration will enter the ears. This my parents did for me. They pierced my ears with a needle and it hurt, but at that time my ears were very soft. As the ears pierced the priest performing the ceremony chants a mantra in the ear of the child and that transcendental sound vibration will stay with the child forever. Usually the piercing is done with a needle.

From the age of five, as a part of his education, Brajabandhu was reading the Oriya Bhagavatam written by Madhusudana Rama. It is a poetry book. Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja described it, “Some small sentences and some poetry. All spoke about the love of Godhead and spoke of Isvara, that everything came from Isvara the Supreme Lord, the Supreme controller.”

When Brajabandhu was five years of age Gopala Jiu came to him in a dream and said, “There are two men stealing Me. Please come and help Me. I will keep them here until you come.” Young Brajabandhu then went and woke up his grandfather and together they rushed to the temple. Gopala Jiu was not there; after some time they found Gopala Jiu in a nearby field. They also found the two men who tried to steal Gopala Jiu; they were both suffering from a serious case of diarrhea. From six years of age, Brajabandhu worshipped the deity of Gopala by making garlands and sometimes, under the light of candles, singing hymns of Him from palm-leaf manuscripts. Brajabandhu would never take any food (prasada) which had not first been offered to his beloved deities Sri Sri Radha-Gopala Jiu.**

Mother’s Chastity

He also remembered from when he was very young the chastity of his mother. “From when I was young I can remember that my mother was always carried in a palanquin, a covered palanquin. All ladies traveled like this, chaste ladies; nowadays it is not so common—not done at all. But when I was young I can remember this, even to go to the next door neighbors she would go in this covered palanquin, so that no would see her.” The reason for this was to protect the chastity of women. According to Vedic culture, if the women are chaste then this will give rise to pious children and this will in turn make society pious, chaste, religious and calm.

His older cousin, Ghanasyam Giri, also recalls young Brajabandhu’s earliest childhood. “In this temple [Gadai Giri] Brajabandhu would visit regularly with his parents; he would worship the deities, chant Hare Krsna and do bhajana from his earliest childhood. He had a natural attraction to the deities and the chanting of the holy name; Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. We could all see that he was not an ordinary baby nor an ordinary child.” The sister of Ghanasyam Giri, Dhobani Dei, also recollects Brajabandhu’s early days: “From when he was a baby I would look after him and bounce him on my knee. But from age of seven I had full contact with him. From that time I had seen him at Gadai Giri sometimes worshipping the deities with incense and a ghee lamp, and bringing flower garlands for the deities.”

By the age of eight, Brajabandhu had read the entire Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam and could explain their meanings, much to everyone’s surprise. At night he would sit next to the tulasi tree and recite from the Oriya Bhagavata, Ramayana and Mahabharata in a sweet and melodious voice. His father, mother, relatives and many villagers would come to hear the recitation. All who heard it, relished it with great pleasure.

Early School Years

In India at the time of Brajabandhu’s schooling, primary school classes were held from grades one to five, i.e. from the ages five to nine years. Secondary primary school classes began in grades six to seven, i.e. ages ten and eleven. This was middle school. High school classes were years eight to eleven, i.e. from twelve to fifteen years of age. University began in year twelve, at the age of sixteen.

Brajabandhu began his primary school years at Jagannathpur School and also his secondary primary schooling (middle English standard) at Jagannathpur school. Brajabandhu didn’t like school and he didn’t like the subjects he had to study; he accepted it only because he was directed by his parents to go to school. He respectfully obeyed the order of his parents, but he had higher ideals. His Divine Grace mentioned his school years only occasionally. This is one account:

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja: I could remember, when I was a student, in this secondary school, do you understand? Lower secondary school [primary secondary school], not higher secondary school; we had a headmaster, he had a big moustache, big tall fellow, yes he’s always with a cane, he would beat us, he was always beating us, only seeing him we would run away. Yes, he was a big fellow, tall fellow, big moustache. Ahh, beats us so, it would be very severe punishment, understand. And still I could remember that cane has had good results, we studied so much—beginning, grounding, was very strong; strong grounding, you understand.

So once we were all in a hostel, he would wake up; ah, let us wake up at 4:00 a.m. There is no electricity—we had light, castor oil lamp, no kerosene was available, we would read with a castor oil lamp. And this teacher would order us, ‘Get up! Wash your face! Sit down! And read now!’ Do you understand? He would order us to, “Read, read, read!” so we’ll open books and read what…? We had no sleep, so we were sleeping.

So he would hide there in the dormitory and see through the window and if he found somebody not studying, what he does, do you know? He…yes with black pepper, yes he would crush the black pepper, make it into a powder and put it in small piece of cloth bundle and soak it, and then he comes and puts that water in our eye—he did it like that, you see; then you cry, ‘Ohh ohhhhhh!’ if tears won’t come—let tears come in that way!

Developing Krsna Consciousness as a Youth

Brajabandhu’s parents did all the samskaras for him; he did not receive a brahmana thread, but had received hari-nama—Hare Krsna from a kula-guru (family priest); he did not give Brajabandhu a name, just the Hare Krsna mantra. The family names were all the names of Krsna, like Gopala, Govinda, Madhusudana, Hari, and were given by their fathers. When Brajabandhu was ten years old he received this Hare Krsna mantra (of course he had been chanting from a very early age); the whole family had acquired this mantra.

Every family has a family priest; that was the process in Orissa, it was part of the social etiquette; unless one received this mantra he could not be married. The social principle was that if you don’t get this mantra you could not be married, boy or girl! It is not so widespread now but then, before marriage, one had to take it. The reason behind it was that unless one takes this mantra, he is not purified and therefore cannot get married. The aristocratic families and some middle-class families—i.e. upper class and middle class—did it, but not the lower class families. And at the time of getting the mantra the candidate would put on kanthi-mala. So the upper class and middle class families were chanting Hare Krsna, wearing kanthi-mala and performing Vedic Marriages—this was all part of Brajabandhu’s childhood. Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja said, “… We had developed this Krsna consciousness in our childhood…”

At the age of ten, Brajabandhu had made a small temple for himself in the village. He had acquired a photograph of the Gopala deity in Gadai Giri and was worshipping this picture in his little temple. After taking his morning bath he would pick flowers and gather fruits and offer them to his picture of Gopala in his small temple at Jagannathpur. This was a regular habit with him before going to school in the morning. Brajabandhu’s village was little isolated; he lived ten miles from the bus station and it was not until he was ten years old that he first saw a bicycle.

He passed ME (Middle English) standard in 1942 from Jagannathpur ME School. There was no high school in the district of his family’s village of Jagannathpur, so he was sent to Gadai Giri for his high school training and attended the Balikuda High School.

* Yudhisthira Maharaja was the great devotee of Lord Krsna who was on the planet at the time of Lord Krsna’s pastimes 5,000 years ago. He never spoke a lie, and was the personification and honesty and truthfulness!

** Prasada: mercy; remnants of offering to the Lord

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