Remembering Uttama Caitanya Das
Posted July 26, 2009
His Grace Uttama Caitanya das Brahmacari, a dear disciple of H.H. Srila Jayapataka Swami, departed from this world suddenly but peacefully on Gaurabdha 523, Sridhara Masa, Krsna Paksa (Kamika Ekadasi, July 18, 2009) around 5 pm, aged 42. On the day of his sudden heart failure, he had observed a full fast, refraining even from water, and had been actively involved in the Congregational Development Ministry's two-day seminar at Klang Valley in Malaysia.
He had served as the Temple President of Sri Jagannath Mandir, ISKCON Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 2001 until his departure. During his tenure, the temple grew in leaps and bounds, and is now a leading temple in Malaysia. He was an eloquent speaker of Hari Katha and very learned in Gaudiya Vaishnava siddhanta. He was a Bhaktishastri and a Bhaktivaibhava. An avid reader, he had a wonderful collection of literatures which he treasured.
Early Years in ISKCON
Uttama Caitanya prabhu was born as Umakanthan to Ramasamy and Rajeswary Ammal on October 30, 1966 in Batu Gajah, a small town in the state of Perak, Malaysia. Having completed his primary and secondary education in the neighbouring town of Tapah, he proceeded to Kuala Lumpur to pursue pre-university education in the famous TAR College. Here he came in contact with ISKCON devotees and began to attend programs whenever possible. He often quoted how Tyaga Caitanya das greeted him nicely in 1986 when he first visited the ISKCON temple in Kuala Lumpur. He always spoke fondly of Siddhi Sadhana das, who was then managing the ISKCON Govinda's Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Siddhi Sadhana prabhu carefully preached to him and taught him to chant japa. He then pursued a four-year degree in Business Management at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, where he continued to attend more ISKCON programs.
After completing his university degree, Umakanthan enrolled with Singapore International Airways for a pilot training course. Here, his involvement in Krsna consciousness became deeper. He would often travel the long distance to Kuala Lumpur to attend important festival celebrations and regular programs. Having passed the theoretical part of the training course, he refrained from pursuing the practical portion. We assume that the reason for this was his ardent desire to become more affiliated with Krsna consciousness. From being a casual visitor at Govinda's, Umakanthan quickly rose to the extent of giving regular classes during the weekly satsangs held in the restaurant. Many were drawn to his preaching and seriously took up Krsna consciousness after attending his classes.
His writing skills earned him a coveted position as the sub-editor of the Business Times section in Malaysia's leading daily newspaper, The New Straits Times Press. Here, he would often use his advantageous position to circulate announcements on Vaishnava festivals and releases of the latest Bhaktivedanta Book Trust publications. He also wrote and published several Krsna-conscious articles, one such article was the "Reforestation of Vrndavana", which appeared in the Life & Times section of the same paper in 1995. It was also during the same year, while being stationed in Kuala Lumpur, that he became even more deeply involved in Krsna Consciousness and spent most of his time in the temple, reading and studying Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy.
Having delved deeply into Srila Prabhupada's writings, he was fully convinced of the Krsna consciousness philosophy. When Jayapataka Swami Maharaj visited Kuala Lumpur in 1995, a young Umakanthan shaved his head and received harinam diksha, accepting the name Uttama Caitanya das. Just eleven days later on December 31, 1995, during the launch of Srila Prabhupada's 100th anniversary, he pledged to become a full-time devotee as an offering to our great founder. At the time he was 29 and in the midst of a very materially lucrative career. This move was truly a story of atma-nivedana, and it demonstrated his deep attachment and profound feelings for Srila Prabhupada's teachings.
Donning saffron robes, Uttama Caitanya dasa joined Sri Jagannath Mandir, Kuala Lumpur as a full-time devotee in 1996. Simhesvar dasa, then Temple President, immediately made him Temple Commander and began grooming him to become President. Uttama Caitanya prabhu was not interested in the position and politely declined, stating that there were more qualified senior devotees. However, when his dear Guru Maharaj personally ordered him to take on the position, he silently accepted. Uttama Caitanya prabhu was never attached to the superiority of his position. Senior congregation members noted that within months of becoming the Temple President, he took an extremely bold step by renovating the current premises, starting with zero finances. He managed to put up a remarkable structure, even amidst criticism from his peers.
Until he left his body, Uttama Caitanya prabhu's life was an offering of love to his Guru Maharaj; he did everything possible to please Jayapataka Maharaj, and this led to his tremendous success in leading the Kuala Lumpur yatra to great heights. He always picked the best of what the ISKCON world had to offer and implemented them in Sri Jagannath Mandir Kuala Lumpur, almost always very successfully. Even during a severe testing period in his life when he was on the verge of giving up the brahmacari ashram, he fled from the thought as advised by his spiritual master and emerged with even stronger commitment to carry on his services as a brahmacari. This and many other incidents exhibited his stong guru-nista. He also successfully organised an unforgettable and most impressive sisya samuh for the disciples of Jayapataka Maharaj, increasing tremendously the guru-nista of each and every devotee who attended this festival.
He was a visionary leader who wanted to serve Srila Prabhupada's movement in the best ways possible. Congregational development, the heart and soul of his spiritual master, was also very dear to his heart. He was keen on building up the Congregation Development Ministry, and with the help of his team made significant progress in systematically organizing this department in the Klang Valley. He also made considerable effort to extend help to other centers across Malaysia and nearby countries to come together to develop this area in their respective yatras. He organised regular regional congregational development meetings which attracted participants from across Malaysia and neighbouring countries. It was during such a seminar on July 18, 2009 that Prabhu breathed his last.
Uttama Caitanya das also encouraged the implementation of the Spiritual Counsellor system in Sri Jagannath Mandir, Kuala Lumpur. He was confident that this system, which has been incredibly successful in Sri Sri Radha Gopinath Mandir, Chowpatty, India, would accelerate the spiritual growth of every yatra member. As he predicted, the congregation of Kuala Lumpur has made much spiritual progress since the system was introduced there.
The internationally famous Damodara project was born and nourished under the leadership of Uttama Caitanya prabhu. During one of the annual launches of the Damodara program, H.H. Jayapataka Swami was so pleased that at the end of the program, Maharaj tightly embraced him, bringing tears to Uttama Caitanya's eyes as well as to the eyes of many who witnessed this loving exchange . Understanding the desire of his spiritual master, he attempted to educate the worldwide ISKCON community on how to conduct the Damodar home and public programs. He sent his team members far and wide — to Delhi, Tirupati and Vadohara in India, and personally visited Mauritius, South Africa and Indonesia, among other places.
Uttama Caitanya prabhu was through and through a devotee in the mood of Prabhupada. He constantly emphasized sticking to the basics — good sadhana, humble seva, inoffensive japa and sad-achar. He strongly believed that mass distribution of Krsna consciousness should be carried on using Srila Prabhupada's formula — book distribution, prasadam distribution, and harinama sankirtana. With this firm faith he worked very hard to develop these three areas. Just a few days before his departure, he formally registered ISKCON Kuala Lumpur's Food For Life program with the Registrar of Societies — a remarkable milestone in the history of SJMKL. The harinama sankirtana division has skyrocketed too, organizing over 100 harinamas each year. Book distribution has also escalated to the point that SJMKL is now the top book distributor in ISKCON Malaysia.
Uttama Caitanya das had a special attachment for deity worship, for Sri Vrindavan Dham and for Sri Sri Radhe Shyam. He loved to cook for the deities and serve the devotees. During his tenure as Temple President he brought about tremendous changes in the deity worship department and effortlessly organised grand festivals for the pleasure of Their Lordships. He was also an excellent actor and always emphasised dramas as a good medium to preach. In 2001, his Jagannatha Priya Nataka won rave reviews in many leading local newspapers.
He was a warm host to all those who visited Sri Jagannath Mandir. He always ensured that guests were nicely received and were served Lord Jagannath's prasadam. He extended these warm welcomes even to regular devotees, constantly greeting us with a smile and folded hands, also ensuring that we honoured sufficient prasadam. He always insisted that in Jagannath's home no one should ever leave without prasadam.
Uttama Caitanya prabhu was zealous in implementing programs to train and care for devotees. He also strongly encouraged the development of Vaishnava training programs such as the the Gokul Garden for children, Pandava Sena for teenagers, and many seasonal courses on philosophical topics. He lent undivided support to the university preaching program (VOICE), which has been expanding very rapidly.
Inspiration for All
For most of us, he came across as a character straight out of the Caitanya Caritamrita; following as closely as possible in the footsteps of the Gaura bhakta-vrindas. His aura was that of a learned saintly person, always detached, calm and composed. His tall and lean form was full of grace; his movements regal yet humble. His big eyes extended like lotus petals; and his face was always adorned with a smile. His nature was soft, compassionate and mellow. He was always mild and gentle in his dealings.
Uttama prabhu drew inspiration from many of the previous acharyas. He would often shed tears of love while speaking of them in lectures. Apart from his spiritual master, his most recent sources of inspiration were H.H. Gour Govinda Maharaj and H.G. Jayananda prabhu. Devotees have noted the similarities between Uttama Caitanya prabhu and Jayananda prabhu in terms of touching the lives of many devotees and non-devotees alike. Uttama Caitanya prabhu constantly tried to follow in Jayananda prabhu's footsteps and instil his service mood in the hearts of all SJMKL members.
His personal necessities were minimal; he wore simple, worn-out dhotis. His eating habits were frugal; and his main delights were speaking Hari Katha and serving the Vaishnavas. He was always detached from bodily needs. On fasting days he would lead ecstatic kirtans until very late, forgetting the needs of the body. He would then serve prasadam to all the devotees and only honour some himself when all had left. He was a wonderful example of a strict devotee and dedicated follower of Srila Prabhupada. Despite opposition and criticism from many outsiders Uttama Caitanya das remained steadfast in Krsna consciousness. He remained humble and unassuming even in immense success.
His life has been a wonderful source of inspiration for all of us in the Congregation of Sri Jagannath Mandir Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.