Vamana Maharaja embodied service, simplicity and scholarship
Posted November 16, 2004
Srila Bhaktivedanta Vamana Maharaja, a godbrother of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and an important preacher of Krishna consciousness in West Bengal and Assam, has passed away on November 15, 2004, at 12:37 a.m., having reached the age of 83.
His Holiness Vamana Maharaja took birth in the village of Piljanga in Khulna district, East Bengal (now Bangladesh) on December 23, 1921. His boyhood name was Santosa, and both his mother, Bhagavati Devi, and his paternal uncle, Bhaktikusala Nrsimha Maharaja, were disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. During his childhood he was educated in the local primary school, and was a very patient, peaceful, intelligent and religious boy from infancy. He was always first in his class. He had a remarkable memory and did not forget any verse or any particular subject he had heard only once.
Bhagavati Devi was very strict; she would regularly discipline her husband by not allowing him to enter the house on a day he had eaten prohibited food. Santosa was the second oldest of her four sons, and she was very concerned about him being influenced by his father, Satiscandra Ghosa. Therefore, in March, 1931, when he was only nine years old, she took him for instruction to Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur's temple in Mayapura where his uncle Nrsimha Maharaja was staying. After the Navadvipa dhama parikrama, Bhagavati Devi entrusted her dear son Santosa to the hands of the manager of the matha, Vinoda-vihari Brahmacari. From then on he lived in the matha under Sri Vinodabihari's care. Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja, later to be the sannyasa-guru of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, was then the temple commander.
In those early days, the toilets in the matha were mere pits in the earth with large clay pots inside. Santosa would daily take those pots on his head and carry them away, to empty them outside.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur established the Sri Bhaktivinoda Institute in Mayapura. Vinoda-vihari managed this school, and would daily give Santosa some verses from Sri Gaudiya Kanthahara, Bhagavad-gita and Bhagavatam to memorise. When he memorised one verse he would get a small candy. Every day he would repeat four or five new verses from memory. After a short time he knew all the verses of Gaudiya Kanthahara and many others besides. He was considered an encyclopaedia of verses in the Gaudiya Vaisnava society.
In 1936, Santosa received Harinama initiation from Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. His name now became Sajjanasevaka das brahmacari. He studied at school and also daily swept the temple and the bhajana-kutiras. He would cook for the Vaisnavas every day, and he could very quickly prepare first-class offerings. Having done this, he would clean the entire kitchen as well as where the Vaisnavas would respect prasada. He would sprinkle it with water, sweep it, lay out banana leaves along with pieces of lemon, salt and cups of water. He would then serve prasada to all the devotees, and, when they had finished, he would clean the whole area again and wash all the pots.
After Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati departed from this world, Kesava Maharaja established the Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti in 1943. Sajjanasevaka das served as the secretary and transcriber for Kesava Maharaja, who entrusted him with the responsibility of editing and publishing a Bengali magazine, Gaudiya Patrika.
From his boyhood he had studied Bhagavatam verses and their commentaries, and he could speak on Vaisnava philosophy for hours without stopping. Srila B.V. Narayan Maharaja, a disciple of Kesava Maharaja, writes,
"I joined the mission in 1946, and at that time I saw how Srila Vamana Maharaja was doing everything: writing letters, managing the temple, cooking, and traveling for preaching. Together with my godbrother Srila Trivikrama Maharaja [who passed away in November 2002], there we received sannyasa from Guru Maharaja on Gaura-purnima in 1954.
"Srila Vamana Maharaja is a great scholar just as our Gurudeva was. It has been said that he is like a dictionary of slokas because he knows so many verses from the scriptures. When, while lecturing, Gurudeva would sometimes forget a sloka, Srila Vamana Maharaja would always supply it from memory.
"Once, when we went to Assam for preaching, Gurudeva boldly declared that the mouths of the people there who eat meat and fish were like the drains of sewers. One of the sects there, who were virtually prepared to stone us, challenged us by saying, 'You say that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Bhagavan Himself, but what evidence is there of this?' Guru Maharaja turned to Srila Vamana Maharaja and said, 'Speak.' Then Srila Vamana Maharaja recited fifty slokas one after the other from different scriptures as evidence, and those people were silenced."
His Holiness Vamana Maharaja was scholarly, affectionate, tolerant, averse to fault-finding and extremely considerate. He was always very helpful to devotees, supplying them with prasadam, clothing and other needs, and remained a lifelong naistika-brahmacari. He established new preaching centres in Sridhama Puri (Sri Nilacala Gaudiya Matha), Tura (Meghalaya), Dhubadi (Assam), Gauhati (Assam), Silcar (Assam) and elsewhere.
Under the guidance of Kesava Maharaja, Vamana Maharaja republished Srimad Bhagavad-gita (with Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana's commentary), Jaiva Dharma, Premapradipa, Prabandhavali, Saranagati, Navadvipa Bhava Taranga, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu - His life and precepts, Sri Caitanya Siksamrta, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu ki Siksa, Sri Damodarastakam, Bhakti-tattva-viveka and other literature.
Bhaktivedanta Tirtha Maharaj says he considered Vamana Maharaja among the foremost of all Vaisnava scholars and philosophers in the world, "especially known for his vast knowledge and realisation of Vaisnava siddhanta," he writes. Praising his "pure mood and perfect example of devotional love and service," he says, the only desire of Vamana Maharaja was that "all people should become great persons, leaving all bad conditions, and chant the holy name without duplicity and attain pure Bhakti to Lord Sri Krsna. Then in this life they will be happy. His happiness is our happiness. This is pure love."
(Collated from information from Sri Prabandhavali of Srila Narayan
Maharaj and from two of his lectures given on the occasion of Srila Vamana
Maharaja's appearance day celebrations, as well as a posting to