Sridhar was fearless and straightforward
Posted March 18, 2004
Today (03/14/04), Sridhar Swami Maharaja departed this mortal world to enter into the eternal pastimes of Srila Prabhupada. Actually he is always involved in those eternal pastimes, but we can know that Srila Prabhupada has called him to assist on another level. Sridhar Maharaja is noted by all as one of the most faithful, dedicated associates of Prabhupada. He came to our movement in the 1960s and from that time without break or hesitation he was immersed in service of Guru and Krishna.
At Radha Kunda, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur told Prabhupada to print books and distribute them. Prabhupada took that order as his life and soul. Sridhar Maharaja, because of his love and great enthusiasm to serve and please his Guru Maharaja, was on the first travelling book distribution party in the history of ISKCON.
Srila Prabhupada in the late1960s had already established Krishna consciousness in many countries of the world but wanted to remind the people of India of the essence of their lost culture. Sridhar Maharaja, wanting to do what Prabhupada wanted most, volunteered to come. There was the nectar of being close to Prabhupada, but there was a very heavy, difficult price to pay -- poverty, disease and opposition. Along with Giriraj Maharaja and others, he performed tremendous austerities undeviatingly.
In the mid-70s Prabhupada awarded him sannyasa; he was then only in his twenties, and he has maintained his vows in a wonderful way until the day he departed from this world. He not only preached dynamically and fearlessly all over India but also travelled around the world.
May I share with you the first meeting I had with Sridhar Maharaja? I was a brahmachari serving as a pujari at New Vrindavan. It was up a 3- or 4-kilometer road of mud through a jungle. I would dress the Deities seven days a week and there were sliding wooden doors, without carvings; it was very old wood. By the time of greeting the Deities, everyone had already finished Bhagavatam class, Guru puja, japa and breakfast, and were already walking down the road to do their service.
I never got to see the class; there was no microphone; I would just hear it through the doors. It was very difficult to hear through those doors, but one day I heard this powerful voice with such volume. He really wanted to teach what brahmacharya is and he was roaring like a lion; I was wondering who is that, and I remember looking at Radharani and Vrindavan-nath and my hands were trembling as I was trying to dress Them while listening. It was humorous and powerful; I came out to serve him prasadam and he was just so enthusiastic to preach, so enthusiastic to give everything of himself to inspire devotees. It was a very deep impression that I will not forget. He became, later on, president of Juhu, Radhara-vihari temple, a very dynamic and fearless preacher.
Sridhar Maharaja was thinking globally because that is how Prabhupada trained him. He understood there were many talented, confident preachers within our movement, but the progress of our society was stifled for lack of funds. It was in this spirit of the servant of the servant of his godbrothers and godsisters that he put his energy and time into fund-raising. It wasn't that he was concerned with money; he was happy preaching to prisoners, he was happy living in the swamp of Juhu with mosquitoes, snakes and rats, but he understood that, if there were more resources, everyone would be more empowered to preach.
Sridhar Maharaja had a very deep affection for the devotees of Radha Gopinath temple. He was very proud of this temple, and of Bhaktivedanta Hospital; when he would travel around the world, he would talk about what you are doing at the temple and at the hospital. He really saw something very special in the devotees here and was very eager to come and enthuse us, chastise us and give us ultimatums; he did not do that everywhere. He did that because he really loved and trusted the devotees here.
At one time Sridhar Maharaja convinced me that I must learn Hindi to increase my preaching. I had never learnt a second language other than English. And when you are old, learning a second language is not easy. "No, no, you come, just give me your association." He took me up the Himalayas, a place called Musoorie. There Sridhar Maharaja, Mahanidhi Maharaja and myself were Hindi students. We would practice on each other. The only difference was he remembered everything, and I forgot. We spent a month together living in a little shack. Anything he did was exclusively with the aim of pleasing Srila Prabhupada and assisting the Vaishnavas in their preaching. Right after I learned and actually was speaking a little Hindi, I had to go back to America, to deal with five months of serious problems. They told me that if you don't speak immediately after you leave, every day, you will forget, and what they said was very true.
Sridhar Maharaja told me, "You should come to London with me." I said, "I have no business in London; I have my service in America." He said, "No, no, you come to spend two, three days with me," so we went together and he told all the devotees to set up all kinds of preaching programs for me. I spend almost a month a year in London helping with preaching and it was Sridhar Maharaja who pushed me into that situation and connected me.
Sridhar Maharaja, when he contracted his disease, actually established a wonderful example. He fought to maintain his body and health by whatever means possible because he yearned to be an instrument of Prabhupada's compassion to preach. Simultaneously, he was utterly detached as to whether he lived or died. He had no fear of death, but he wanted to serve as long as Krishna allowed him. He was going for treatment but, wherever he went, he would leave a trail of people who are Krishna conscious. He went for Prabhupada's mission, so enthusiastic, so convinced of the conclusion of the Bhagavad-gita, so convinced of the mercy of Srila Prabhupada that, any situation he was in, he was always preaching. One day he told me about how he was diagnosed with liver cancer, and he said, "I pray to Krishna to live long enough to see the installation of Panca Tattva in Mayapur," because he knew what a monumental historical event this would be.
Prabhupada's one unfulfilled personal project was the building of the Mayapura temple. Prabhupada explained there should be Radha-Madhava with eight sakhis, he gave their sizes and said how Nrsimhadeva and Panca Tattva should be made. Lord Chaitanya, Prabhupada said, should be made out of eight metals, seven feet tall. Jananivas prabhu, Pankajanghri prabhu, Bhakti Purshottama Maharaja and Jayapataka Maharaja struggled so much to make those Deities.
Sridhar Maharaja had faith that, when these Deities were installed, it would really be the beginning of building the Temple of Understanding in Mayapura, and he wanted to be there. It was a struggle because he was advised by doctors to go to Vancouver, on the west coast of Canada, where he could possibly get treated for liver cancer. He called me during the Pune yatra. He was grateful to Krishna Chandra's paying for his ticket. But, he said, he had mixed feelings of going. "Although I am going, I want to see Panca tattva installation." Krishna fulfilled that desire. He was the honoured Vaishnava in the festival. He bathed the Deities; he offered the first maha arati to Lord Chaitanya in an honorary role. He was there during the prana pratistha festival.
Sridhar Maharaja really loved his godbrothers and godsisters; he loved their association. He always asked them to talk of Krishna. He always told them to sing kirtans and bhajans. He genuinely lived as a servant of servant. His sense of humor was incredible, although he could die any moment. He had this service attitude; he wanted to make everybody happy. The devotees couldn't believe it.
One of the most difficult things was that everyone had to go back to their preaching. No one knew how long he would live. For his dear friends and well-wishers, it was very difficult. Some devotees told me with tears in their eyes, "I have to leave tomorrow. How can I say goodbye to him for the last time? How could I say goodbye?" Some of them decided not to go because it was too painful. Maharaj knew it, though nobody told him. I spent an hour with him. He was so happy. He said, "Don't say goodbye to me. Just say we will meet again. I am not going anywhere. We will always be together."
Actually, that's the way he dealt with all of us. That last parting was a blissful, happy experience. He didn't want people to lament. Sridhar Maharaja really was a personification of 100 percent wholesale, exclusive dedication to ISKCON, which Prabhupada said was his body. Maharaja was completely surrendered to serving ISKCON. How many times in our many intimate talks, whether he was travelling all over or in good or bad health, he always said, "I am Prabhupada's man. I am an ISKCON man and I will live for ISKCON and die for ISKCON. Nothing will ever change it." He earnestly gave his life for Prabhupada, cent per cent and never in 35 years, did he ever consider any alternative. We can know for sure that Srila Prabhupada has called his beloved, intimate and dear associate to wherever he is performing his lila. There is no doubt.
Every devotee has his personality, nature. And Sridhar Maharaj really had a personality. He was boisterous, jolly and straightforward. Srila Sridhar Maharaja taught us the essence of what is a disciple by his life, by his passing away from this world. In our last meeting, with tears in his eyes, he said to me, "There is no one in this entire planet that I love more than Giriraj Swami Maharaja because, when I first came to India, I saw his complete surrender to Prabhupada. I wanted to be like him; I wanted to learn from him how to be a disciple." At that time, the phone rang and when he picked up, it was Giriraj Maharaja from California. They spoke for some time, and Sridhar Maharaja gave the phone to me. I told Giriraj what Sridhar Maharaj had said. There was complete silence. I could hear Giriraj Maharaja's voice choking. That was the love the two of them shared.
In the last few years, the stalwart disciple of Srila Prabhupada, Gaur
Govinda Swami Maharaj departed from this world in Sri Mayapura dham on
the appearance day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati amidst kirtan.
Two years ago, Tamal Krishna Maharaj left in Nadia, in Phuliya-gram on
the disappearance day of Jagannath das Babaji. This morning that great
loving associate, who was bold and fearless but with a loving heart,
soft, humble and caring, that surrendered, dedicated mahatma, His
Holiness Sridhar Swami Maharaja, left in Mayapur dham, on the holy
appearance day of Srivas Pandita, surrounded by devotees chanting the
holy names. Gazing at the form of Prabhupada and Radha Shyamsundar,
Prabhupada took him. It is a day of rejoicing, the life and departure
of a true saint, a true Vaishnava, and it is a day of great sorrow.
Although he is enjoying a higher lila with guru and Gauranga, we must
suffer the absence of his personal association. "He reasons ill who
says Vaishnavas die, for thou are living still in sound. Vaishnavas die
to live and, living, try to spread the holy name around." This
beautiful poem by Thakur Bhaktivinoda is perfectly applicable for
Sridhar Maharaja. Let us pray that his inspiration, example, words and
mercy forever live in our hearts and inspire us to follow in his
footprints the path of perfection. Sridhar Swami Maharaja ki jai!