'Entering Rasa Lila' - The Glorious Departure of Srila Sripada Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami
Posted October 13, 2006
Vijaya Dasami, 2006
Srila Sripada Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja, beloved spiritual son of Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, disappeared from this mortal world during the Ratrilila period of Lord Sri Krishna’s Astakaliya lila on Vijaya Dasami, which according to this year’s Panchangam, is the most auspicious day of this calendar year, 2006. Sripada Maharaja’s disappearance took place in Calcutta, the holy appearance place (Janmasthan) of his divine master Srila Prabhupada. Calcutta is also the holy site from which His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur chose to disappear. Due to Sripada Maharaja’s deep and intense love for his divine master Srila Prabhupada, he not only chose Calcutta as his place of work but also as his place of disappearance.
Sripada Maharaja’s unwillingness to compromise on Srila Prabhupada’s instructions is well known and we hope that his dedication to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions will serve as an illustrious example for the world-wide devotee community, now and for all times to come.
As most of you may have heard, there was a serious bomb blast inside of ISKCON Manipur’s temple complex on August 16, 2006, Sri Janmastami day. Six devotees including two children left this world and over forty devotees were seriously injured. Sripada Maharaja’s body was also injured during this blast. He had a deep cut and a fractured bone in his left forearm, a small puncture in his left eardrum and a tiny shrapnel burn on his back. After preliminary treatment in Manipur and performing the sraddha ceremonies for the departed devotees, Sripada Maharaja came to Calcutta on August 25, 2006 where he was admitted into the Apollo Hospital. There, he underwent successful operations on his forearm and ear. He was discharged from the hospital on September 9, 2006. On September 19, 2006 Maharaja visited the hospital for a routine checkup. At that time the burn on his back had almost healed and the doctors were surprised by how quickly the fractured bone in his forearm was setting. The cut on his forearm was also healing well.
While returning from the hospital to his flat Sripada Maharaja asked us to search his room and find his Manipur Nat Sankirtan (Rasa Lila) audio cassettes. From September 10, 2006, until the day of his disappearance, Sripada Maharaja’s mood and behavior was different from what we had previously experienced. Everyday, he would listen to and sing along with these cassettes for the entire day except for when he was taking his medicine, prasadam or a little rest. We thought that Maharaja was taking it easy during his recovery, as his normal schedule was very active and he never previously took the time to listen to Kirtan cassettes. The Manipuri Nat Sankirtan cassettes that he was listening to are Kirtans sung in the Manipuri language, which describe the pastimes of Lord Sri Krishna and Srimati Radharani. Since we do not understand the Manipur language, Sripada Maharaja, during his lunchtime, would sometimes explain to us what was being sung on the tapes. He said that the songs describing the Rasa Lila are so absorbing that one can completely forget this world. He said, “This world is on one side and that world is on another side.” He was always in an extremely happy mood and said he was feeling more enthusiastic than ever.
One afternoon, Sripada Maharaja explained to us that one of the Manipuri songs described Srimati Radhika’s walking to be like that of a graceful female elephant. Sripada Maharaja expressed many other details about the pastimes of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna, however, due to our unfortunate lack of qualification we could not understand them nor did we make any recordings of Sripada Maharaja during this time. Sripada Maharaja described how the Rasa Lila is performed according to the ancient Manipuri tradition. He also told us that once he discussed the Manipuri Rasa Lila with Srila Prabhupada and said that Srila Prabhupada was very pleased with the profound Manipuri Vaishnava culture.
We asked Sripada Maharaja how the Gaudiya Vaishnava culture and these peculiar Manipuri tunes originally came to Manipur. Sripada Maharaja said that the songs and devotional culture are from Narottam Das Thakur whose disciples came to Manipur and initiated King Bhagyachandra Maharaja. The tunes were developed by Bhagyachandra Maharaja himself and some subsequent Manipuri kings. While explaining more, Sripada Maharaja described how the performance of Rasa Lila is done in the Manipuri tradition. It first begins with the glorification of Gaura Lila wherein Lord Gauranga is requested to come and be the principal witness of the Rasa Lila. The glories of the Yuga Dharma Hari Nam Sankirtan are extolled, and prayers are sung to Lord Nityananda. Then only does the Rasa Lila begin.
A week before his disappearance, Sripada Maharaja, in a deep mood, wrote down a wonderful transcendental song in the Manipuri language. He then sang and recorded it for all of the devotees. Many devotees now have a recording of this wonderful transcendental song. It was sung in what we, his disciples, call “his gopi voice”. Sripada Maharaja’s written words for the song and translation by him are as follows:
Translation: Immersed in the loving thoughts of Vrajaprema, Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu is searching for Srimati Radhika like a mad man.
“Where is Vrindavana
Where is Kunjavan
Where are Sakhis?”
Crying again and again uttering these words Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu is searching for Srimati Radhika like a mad man.
HARE KRISHNA HARE KRISHNA
KRISHNA KRISHNA HARE HARE
HARE RAMA HARE RAMA
RAMA RAMA HARE HARE
On October 1st, 2006, Sripada Maharaja discussed with some of his disciples from IIT Kharagpur about the upcoming conference in Jagannath Puri entitled: ‘All India Students’ Conference on Science and Spiritual Quest’. The speakers and session topics for the conference were finalized during this discussion. That day, he also wrote a letter inviting the President of India to the conference. Around 8:30 - 9:00 PM Sripada Maharaja took a little soup as his dinner and after that he went to take rest, as did we. About an hour later Sripada Maharaja got up from his bed and walked to his connected office room where some of his assistants where sleeping. He woke one of them and asked him to come to his room. He was extremely jolly. He asked, ‘What is the time now?’ His assistant said it was 10:35pm. Sripada Maharaja then requested to have some ice put on his left fingers as they were feeling a little hot and on his left shoulder where he felt some pain. Sripada Maharaja then called in Manipuri language for his elderly Manipuri assistant, who was also resting nearby, to come and massage his shoulder. We were surprised that although Sripada Maharaja stated he was experiencing some pain, he was simultaneously exceedingly blissful and joyous. It was just a moment later that Sripada Maharaja tilted his head back slightly and disappeared from this world. One of assistants cried out ‘No Sripada! You can’t do this!’ We were shocked by what was happening. We immediately called two assistants who were in the next room. We all started rubbing Sripada Maharaja’s feet and hands hoping our most beloved Guru Maharaja would awaken from his Samadhi. But Sripada Maharaja had already entered Lord Sri Krishna’s divine Rasa Lila.
The following day, Sripada Maharaja’s transcendental body was brought to Sri Sri Krishna Balaram temple in Sri Vrindavan Dham for one night. There, many devotees had his darshan before the Samadhi ceremony that took place the next day, October 4th, 2006. As per Sripada Maharaja’s desire, he was placed in Samadhi at the Gopaldeva Mandir just on the bank of Sri Radhakunda, on the auspicious disappearance day of Srila Raghunathadas Goswami (our Prayojan Acharya), Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami and Srila Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami.
For the disciples and friends of Sripada Maharaja we feel his desire to enter Samadhi in Sri Radhakunda has now opened an eternal residence for us in Sri Radhakunda. For the disciples, the Guru’s Samadhi is the place to meditate on the pastimes of their Guru Maharaja and their respective personal association with him. During Sripada Maharaja’s pastimes in this manifest body, he arranged for us to have many wonderful pastimes with him at his Sri Gopaldeva Mandir in Sri Nabadwip Dham. Now as we begin his un-manifest lila, he has brought us all to Sri Radhakunda and we cannot express our gratitude in words. Sripada Maharaja used to say that it is not about how much money you have collected, how many temples you have built or how many men you have, it is about how pure you have become.
Sripada Maharaja’s Manifest Lila Overview
Sripada Maharaja appeared in a Gaudiya Vaishnava family in Manipur, India. He was a naishtika bramachari and was always absorbed in the Rasa Lila performances that he grew up with in Manipur. From the first day Sripada Maharaja met Srila Prabhupada in Los Angeles in 1970 to his last manifest days on Vijay Dasami 2006, every minute of his life was dedicated to carry out Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. Srila Prabhupada gave more personal instructions to Sripada Maharaja than to any other disciple.
Srila Prabhupada personally made Sripada Maharaja the GBC and International Director of the Bhaktivedanta Institute. The Bhaktivedanta Institute is a preaching institute for making scientific presentations of Krishna Consciousness. As International Director of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, Sripada Maharaja organized four major International conferences (Mumbai, San Francisco, Calcutta & Rome), exposing leaders of the scientific community to the Bhagavata viewpoint. He organized hundreds of seminars and symposiums and personally met with and interviewed several Nobel Laureates, statesmen and leading thinkers of the world. Sripada Maharaja opened what is now the ISKCON Tirupati temple as the first Bhaktivedanta Institute center. Sripada Maharaja published dozens of books on science and spirituality. This year, in order to satisfy Srila Prabhupada who asked him, ‘You are a scientist, prove scientifically that God is a Person’, he published a book entitled, ‘God is a Person’ containing his dialogue with two of the world’s most prominent Nobel Laureates. Today, Sripada Maharaja is recognized in all the major scientific and religious circles of the world and is considered to be one of the leading authorities on ‘Science and Spirituality’. Sripada Maharaja also wrote a scientific commentary on the first four verses of the Vedanta Sutra, which are the summary of the whole Vedanta Sutra. He also edited and published ‘Savijnanam’, the journal of the Bhaktivedanta Institute.
Sripada Maharaja inaugurated and is constructing the marvelous jewel-like temple in Manipur, which he named ‘The University of Bhagavata Culture’. He also established the Ranganiketan Manipuri Cultural Arts Troupe, for the purpose of cultural preaching. Through Ranganiketan, the Bhagavata culture has been presented throughout the world in venues not generally accessible by traditional preaching methods. Sripada Maharaja is the founder and director of Bhaktivedanta Institute Mission Schools as well as the Sri Krishna Mission School in North-Eastern India that have over 3,000 students. He also opened a Nature Cure Hospital in Manipur for devotees.
Sripada Maharaja gave some of his time to the important subject of inter-religious dialogue. In this line, he participated in hundreds of scientific and religious, peace-making and inter-religious conferences around the world. He is a global council member (Trustee) of the United Religions Initiative (URI), one of the largest inter-religious organizations in the world.
Once when Sripada Maharaja was asked by one of his God-brothers, ‘Could you please tell us one thing about Srila Prabhupada that you remember most prominently?’ Sripada Maharaja responded that when anyone was in the presence of Srila Prabhupada, they always felt Srila Prabhupada’s overwhelming sense of concern for them. Sripada Maharaja had numerous disciples throughout the world and he was always equally concerned for all of them. He had an open door policy with his disciples and friends. Tirelessly and mercifully he was and will always be giving himself to those who seek his shelter.
Sripada Maharaja was constantly traveling in order to fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to him. He has left with his disciples many instructions, both general and personal to facilitate the Seva to Srila Prabhupada. Sripada Maharaja will continue to guide his sincere disciples in serving Srila Prabhupada.
Sripada Maharaja’s disappearance has been as glorious as his life. It is not possible for us to properly glorify him in this brief account, nor would it be possible for us to list the numerous instructions he has left with his followers. We pray that what we have written will remove any misconceptions or misinformation that has been recently published on the internet, by providing a first hand account of Sripada Maharaja’s transcendental disappearance. We have also included a brief overview of his Seva to Srila Prabhupada for the pleasure of the devotees.
A couple of years ago his disciples published a book called ‘Bhagavata Sevarpanam’ which depicts in greater detail the ways Sripada Maharaja is fulfilling Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to him. If devotees are interested they may contact the Bhaktivedanta Institute, Kolkata, to acquire a copy.
Sripada Maharaja has said that all of his Seva, whether it was the Bhaktivedanta Institute, cultural preaching, inter-religious dialogue, the Manipur temple, or traveling and preaching, they were all equal and simply his offering to Srila Prabhupada. We see all these activities as different petals of the lotus flower that Sripada Maharaja is offering to his divine master Srila Prabhupada.
We beg the mercy of the Vaishnavas that we can continue our service of assisting our beloved Guru Maharaja, Srila Sripada Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami, in his service to Srila Prabhupada. For us he has not left, but has simply decided to now give guidance to his sincere followers in a different manner than before.
All glories to Sripada Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami!
All glories to His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada!