Chapter 23 – The Arrival of the First Devotees

“…I met for the first time His Holiness Gour Govinda Maharaja. I could immediately appreciate that here is a true Vaisnava.
His whole appearance, his humility, his tone of voice, everything about him made me feel relieved and happy…”

—Devadharama dasa

The first devotee to arrive was Devadharma dasa, an Australian who was sent to Bhubaneswar by Gargamuni Swami in 1976 directly after the Ratha-yatra festival in Calcutta.

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja: Devadharma dasa was the first devotee to arrive. He was sent by the local GBC for Orissa and Bengal, Gargamuni Swami. He sent Devadharma to me. We were living in the cottage that I collected the money for.

Devadharma dasa: I was sent to Bhubaneswar because there were no devotees living there. I imagined Srila Prabhupada had told him (Gargamuni Swami) to send some devotees there but Gargamuni was not very co-operative with the Bhubaneswar project. He would never send any books there. Anyhow, Gargamuni Swami sent me down to Bhubaneswar just after the Ratha-yatra we had in Calcutta, it must have been around August 1976. It was a very nice experience going to Bhubaneswar, and especially when Gour Govinda Maharaja was very pleased to have some company at last.

After arriving in Bhubaneswar and finding a rickshaw wallah who pretended he knew the where the asrama was Devadharma journeyed out into the country. He was immediately impressed by the spiritual atmosphere of the whole region. He thought to himself, “Even the rickshaw wallahs seem to be devotees of sorts.” Most of them would yell out, “Nitai-Gaura”, “Radhe-Syama.”

It became obvious after a while that the rickshaw wallah did not know the whereabouts of the asrama. Devadharma ended up in the Nayapalli village, where some of the locals gave them proper directions. After going through a few fields and along some narrow tracks Devadharma finally arrived at the holy asrama.

He said of his first meeting with Gour Govinda Maharaja, “Then of course I met for the first time His Holiness Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja. I could immediately appreciate that here is a true Vaisnava. His whole appearance, his humility, his tone of voice, everything about him made me feel relieved and happy to be in his company.”

Devadharma dasa: Srila Prabhupada very much encouraged Gour Govinda Maharaja and said that this was the perfect sannyasa life, living alone, doing your own cooking, washing your own clothes—simply preaching and chanting, and the most important thing, depending on Krsna. Gour Govinda Maharaja was very appreciative and very personal; he had been alone until I arrived.

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja had been working steadily on the translating, and the number of books translated into Oriya was growing; steadily, small books were being printed. These were very useful for going out on sankirtana.

Devadharma dasa: This Maharaja was different from any previous sannyasis that I had met. He did not demand anything from me, not even to wash his clothes or cook for him. Simply I was encouraged to out and try to sell some magazines and books. Orissa is a very poor place and not knowing the language didn’t help either. But whatever little effort I made was always appreciated by him. I didn’t remember even once being chastised by the Maharaja for not doing enough service or not collecting enough money.

Shortly after Devadharma arrived, about two months later another brahmacari, Pundarika Vidyanidhi dasa, came to live there also. Together they would go out on sankirtana, selling the books of Srila Prabhupada which Srila Gour Govinda Swami had translated.

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja: The cottage was built with people that I hired, arranged for and paid for from the collections. And I oversaw the construction of the cottage. Devadharma dasa and myself lived their and then another devotee came, a brahmacari—his name was Pundarika Vidyanidhi dasa.

Devadharma was going out and collecting, and he was doing some cooking. I was cooking myself and he said, “All right I will cook,” and he began cooking. Devadharma and Pundarika Vidyanidhi would go out everyday and collect. Both were brahmacaris. There were only the three of us.

Devadharma dasa: Pundarika Vidyanidhi and myself, we used to go out together on sankirtana and quite often in the evening we would go to different nearby villages to have programs with Gour Govinda Maharaja. To get to these programs we would have to catch a rickshaw and I do not remember ever going by car. We didn’t go very far, it was just nearby places that we went to, but the village people were very much appreciative. It was certainly good for preaching having two foreigners there, and people are always impressed when they see foreign devotees. But what impressed me with Gour Govinda Maharaja was his humility and peacefulness. He was very tolerant, because us being westerners, we were pretty rough around the edges. We didn’t really understand about Vaisnava etiquette. He was never demanding anything of us except that we should go out on sankirtana. He always washed his own clothes and did most of the cooking himself. After sometime we started doing some of the cooking.

Living with Gour Govinda Maharaja, the two brahmacaris could greatly appreciate the value of simple living and high thinking in an atmosphere very conducive for spiritual life because they were surrounded by very few temptations—sense gratificatory distractions.
For prasada in the early days, breakfast was always the same; flat rice soaked in water or milk with a little gur. They would get some milk from the nearby village and a couple of bananas. For lunch they would have sabji, rice, dal and capatis, which most of the time Gour Govinda Maharaja cooked. There was never any evening prasada because Gour Govinda Maharaja would not eat after sunset.

Devadharma dasa: Whilst we two brahmacaris were out on sankirtana—distributing books and preaching—Gour Govinda Maharaja spent most of his spare time translating the books, because Srila Prabhupada had told him to translate the books into Oriya, so most of his time he was doing that.

Even though the Bhubaneswar land was very isolated, and even though they did not have many devotees around, living with Gour Govinda Swami, it was easy for the two brahmacaris to live a renounced life, as much as they could, by his exemplary association.

Devadharma dasa: Well it was very nice to have you know, to be able to deal with one another on a very personal level. So to live that kind of renounced life, you have to be very Krsna conscious, you have to be very surrendered and it is extremely difficult to be totally renounced, detached, to live just a simple life; you know, the bare necessities, eating just to maintain the body; it is perfect sannyasa life. Gour Govinda Swami he was doing this and we were taking his association. It was very good association, it was very conducive to Krsna consciousness; it was very conducive to spiritual life. I always considered that was the best time of my life really for developing pure desires and studying the sastra.

Now, in the interim, Subhash Biswal, the old associate of Gour Govinda Swami, was still trying to locate him. Subhash went to many places but he could not locate Gour Govinda Swami. Gour Govinda swami was nowhere to be found.

Then, one day, in the bus stand area in Bhubaneswar, he met a devotee who was selling books. This devotee was Pundarika Vidyanidhi dasa and Subhash asked him, “What is this book?” The devotee told him it was a book written by Gour Govinda Swami, an Oriya man. So Subhash understood that this was his old associate Brajabandhu who was now called Gour Govinda Swami and that he was in Orissa. The name of the book was Bhagavata-darsana, and it was about the movement of Krsna consciousness. The book was written by Gour Govinda Swami, in Oriya, using passages from the books of Srila Prabhupada, and other Vedic scriptural information.

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja: I had one small booklet when I was in Hyderabad and after some time, after taking sannyasa—from Hyderabad I came to Orissa. At that time I printed one booklet—Bhagavata-darsana, and the book we distributed in the Puri area. Some were translations from Srila Prabhupada’s books and some were my writings.

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