We have gathered on a most auspicious day, the appearance day of Srivasa Thakura, one of the members of the Pancha-tattva. He lived in Navadvipa-dhama in Mayapur, near the residence of Jagannatha Misra and Sacidevi, where Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared. Later, when Lord Chaitanya began the sankirtana movement in Navadvipa-dhama, He and His most confidential associates would meet at Srivasa-angana, the home of Srivasa Thakura, and have kirtan throughout the night. The kirtans at Srivasa-angana were most ecstatic, and only the most intimate devotees of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu were allowed to enter. In fact, the nocturnal kirtans at Srivasa-angana in gaura-lila are compared to the rasa dance in krsna-lila.
In his identity in krsna-lila, Srivasa Pandita is Narada Muni, the great preacher who travels throughout the universe chanting the holy names of Krishna and enlightening the fallen souls in Krishna consciousness. So it is most auspicious that His Holiness Sridhar Swami Maharaja has left on Srivasa Thakura’s appearance day—this most auspicious day—in Sri Mayapur-dhama—that most auspicious place.
We now have a special opportunity and responsibility to honor and glorify His Holiness Sridhar Swami Maharaja.
My own association with Sridhar Swami goes back to Bombay, over thirty years ago. Srila Prabhupada had requested disciples from America to come to India to help him there, and in particular with his three main projects—Bombay, Mayapur, and Vrindavan. From 1972, Maharaja served Srila Prabhupada in India, mainly in Bombay.
When we got permission from the municipality to build on Hare Krishna Land in Juhu, Bombay, Srila Prabhupada wanted Sridhar Maharaja to take charge of the construction materials. Maharaja had a hefty build, like a football player, so Srila Prabhupada thought he would be appropriate to keep track of the materials and make sure none of them were stolen. But Maharaja (then a brahmachari) said that he didn’t want to look after the materials; he wanted to preach. I was the temple president in Bombay, so I was going back and forth between him and Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada again said he should look after the construction materials, so I went back to deliver the message to him, but Maharaja insisted, “I want to preach!”
Maharaja had never really preached much in India before then, and we didn’t know how well he could preach to the aristocratic Indian gentlemen we were mainly approaching at that time. But he was so sincere in his desire to preach that he became one of the best preachers in India, and one of the best preachers in the world. This story illustrates Maharaja’s sincere desire to preach, and his strong determination to serve Srila Prabhupada and the mission—even in ways that may not have been easy for him.
In India, Srila Prabhupada had introduced the life-membership program. And he based the society’s progress there on the program. He said that making someone a life member was almost as good as making him into a devotee. He also said that he had introduced the life-membership program as a way to distribute his books, because if someone became a life member by paying a certain subscription, he would get a set of Prabhupada’s books and a subscription to Back to Godhead magazine.
Eventually, Sridhar Swami led one of the life-membership teams in Bombay. I was the membership director, and the other leaders of teams were Lokanath Swami, Jagat-purusa Prabhu, and Haridasa Prabhu (who since then has become a producer of Krishna conscious television programs). Those were our main teams. In the early 1980s, Sridhar Maharaja became the Juhu temple president, and so he increasingly joined me in cultivating the most important people in Bombay. And between 1984 and 1990, when I was unable to return to India because of visa problems, he deepened his relationship with many of our most important members, and they really came to love him deeply.
Later, in about 1991, Maharaja began Bhaktivedanta Information Services and Mailing (BHISMA), a fund-raising-by-mail program in Juhu. Many devotees criticized the program, saying it would never work. To prepare the letters and post them would cost more than two lakhs rupees (Rs. 2,00,000/-), and where was the guarantee that we would ever get the money back? Yet in spite of all the negativity, Maharaja took the risk. (Srila Prabhupada had said, “To preach means to take risks.”) And the experiment proved to be successful. The first effort itself made money, and subsequent mailings proved even more profitable. Soon, Maharaja received invitations from centers in India and abroad to help them organize fund-raising-by-mail campaigns, and the campaigns proved to be successful everywhere. They became one of the most reliable sources of income many temples had. Even today, the BHISMA office started by Maharaja raises funds for the Juhu temple by mail.
More recently, Maharaja started the Vedic Academy for Spiritual Technology (VAST). This pioneering program uses the latest multi-media methods to teach the corporate sector stress management and time management—all in relation to Krishna consciousness. Maharaja always tried to find innovative ways to present Krishna consciousness. He studied experts in various fields and applied what he learned to Krishna consciousness.
Many of my most vivid memories of Maharaja, and of his good influence on me and on others, are from the last few years. You may know that in 1977, some months before he left this world, Srila Prabhupada named eleven disciples to initiate devotees on his behalf while he was still here. Then, after he left, the same disciples continued to initiate. Later, slowly, a few more were given that responsibility, beginning with three others. Sridhar Maharaja was not one of the first to initiate, or even one of the early ones to be added later. The attitude of the movement then was quite restrictive. So, at one stage, he joked that he wanted only three disciples—one to cook, one to do his laundry, and one to collect for him.
Eventually, Maharaja was given the responsibility to initiate disciples, and he took his duty very seriously and was very sincere. He initiated one of his earliest disciples, a devotee from Croatia, in his first initiation ceremony at Juhu. Maharaja named him “Mayapur dasa” and instructed him to be a servant of Mayapur. Even up to the end, Maharaja was very sincere in his duties to his disciples and in his care and affection for them. He really cared for them, and he loved them very much. At the same time, he cared for devotees and people in general, and I think this is one of his most remarkable traits: his almost universal care for others. He really was like an ocean of love.
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