This booklet of short stories is a Vyasa-puja offering to a dear godbrother, His Holiness Giriraj Swami, who selflessly gave his every life breath to serving Srila Prabhupada’s instruction by building this grand Sri Sri Radha-Rasabihariji Temple complex, thereby helping Srila Prabhupada to save the spiritual lives of millions of persons from Bombay and abroad.
Recently I heard some devotees remarking that nowadays Giriraj Maharaja is manifesting symptoms of being very advanced, such as whatever he desires, whether it is for good of ISKCON, or for the good of his own disciples, or even for the good of humanity, Sri Krishna fulfills that desire. This remark made me reflect back over the years, and I considered whether there actually was ever a time that Giriraj Maharaja was not acting on the pure-devotee platform. With his mind cemented on the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada, he was always completely detached from worldly affairs and the bodily concept of life. Though detached from family and former friends, he was at the same time congenial to them and a genuine well-wisher. He was always completely surrendered to Srila Prabhupada and could understand, and thus execute, his innermost desires for managing the temple, the devotees, and for preaching in Bombay and around the world. He was always a humble servant of his senior sannyasi godbrothers, offering all respect and giving them assistance in so many ways whenever they came to Hare Krishna Land. He was always expert and a perfectionist in everything he did.
One of the symptoms of someone on the brahma-bhuta platform is that he is completely fearless. Giriraj Maharaja exhibited this many times, especially during the temple demolition and the famous Malhotra murder case—and other times as well. His manifestation of fearlessness is quite astounding to an ordinary individual.
As I recollect back over the years on my association with Giriraj Maharaja, I see that there are many experiences which can be instructive, and therefore I would like to share them with you. As I was his secretary for many years, we went through many pastimes together, though not exactly “together,” because I was always on the ground looking up at the lotus feet of a person totally in tune with Srila Prabhupada’s heart. Really I have no qualification to glorify such an exalted devotee, but I hope that these words of appreciation will inspire some of you to take shelter of His Holiness Giriraj Swami Maharaja.
The Boston Temple Commander
My first introduction to Giriraj Maharaja was even before I ever met him personally. When I was in the Boston temple in 1972, the devotees there told me about this wonderful brahmacari who had been the temple commander. He used to work so hard all day—personally doing much of the temple service plus going out on sankirtana, supervising temple activities, and engaging devotees in service—that even until late at night, sometimes at 11:00 p.m., he was just then trying to chant his Gayatri mantras.
Though he had left Boston in 1970 to join Srila Prabhupada in India, the Boston devotees could not stop talking about him and his wonderful qualities.
I came to India in 1973, during the time when Giriraj Maharaja was in America for a few months because of illness. When he finally returned to India, I was told that I would be his secretary. Really I just wanted to go back to America in those days, and I started begging Tamal Krishna Maharaja to allow me to return.
But he simply told me, “Just look at Giriraj! Look at his beautiful eyes! He has such beautiful eyes. He is so pure and innocent. If you just stay here and serve him, you will become purified.” So I thought, “Yes, that’s what I want! I really want to become purified.” So in this way Tamal Krishna Maharaja was able to convince me to stay in India and become Giriraj Maharaja’s secretary.
The Impossible Perfectionist
After becoming his secretary, I soon came to know of some of his high qualities, especially that he was a perfectionist in everything he did. But not just an ordinary perfectionist. He was so intense that one day I was analyzing that there must be different categories of perfectionist: (1) a perfectionist, (2) a super-perfectionist, and (3) an impossible perfectionist. It is almost impossible to please the “impossible” perfectionist. Only the topmost, highest Vaikuntha standard can satisfy such a person.
Just like the incident with the carpets in Srila Prabhupada’s quarters. One time Matsya Avatar Prabhu visited Hare Krishna Land, and Giriraj Maharaja took him on a tour of Srila Prabhupada’s quarters. Matsya Avatar, who was a professional interior decorator in Italy, gave some suggestions on how to make the quarters more attractive. After this, Giriraj Maharaja added some beautiful and costly carpets to the quarters. Then, looking down at the marble floor, he saw that the marble was laid down in pieces. So Giriraj Maharaja would line up the edge of the carpets with lines where the marble pieces would meet. If a carpet was even a 1/4th inch off from the line, he would not tolerate it, and I would have to immediately rectify it.
Another example was that whenever he would dictate his letters and reports, he would always choose each word so carefully. The sentence had to be so perfectly constructed that sometimes he would take as long as twenty minutes to dictate one letter. Everything he did was so perfect. In this way, I spent many years trying to serve him, constantly reminded of my lower position.
Do Your Scribbling!
One day, just after becoming his secretary, I told Giriraj Maharaja that “I know shorthand, so if you want to dictate some letters, I can take the dictation by hand.” He thought about it and later called me into his office.
As he watched me write in shorthand for the first time, he admitted that he had never seen anyone doing shorthand before. He said, “It looks like scribbling!” And thereafter, he used to call me and say, “Okay, Mother Aditya, come do your scribbling. I want to dictate some letters.”
The Hare Krishna Land Brahmans
When I first arrived in Juhu the local residents told me an amazing story about Hare Krishna Land. It seems that there had been a small temple of Sri Ganeshji and Hanumanji on this land some four hundred years back. Five brahmans lived on the land and took care of this temple. Then some foreign government authorities came and took over the property by force, and made the brahmans leave.
The brahmans cursed the land, saying that there would always be unrest there. And they said that after several hundred years they would take birth in foreign countries and return to this very land and take it back again and chant the holy names of God here.
When the digging started for ISKCON’s new temple complex, sure enough some stones were uncovered which proved that there had indeed been such a temple existing here. So we can see that this prediction has come true and that perhaps Giriraj Maharaja might have been one of those brahmans.
The Chatai Hut
The early days of Hare Krishna Land were unbearably austere. The brahmacaris had to live in a chatai hut located in the “Gandhi Garden” in the rear of the Land. This hut also housed six different species of rats and snakes, and there were red ants running all over the devotees’ bodies at night.
Prasada was also not always regular, and sometimes for weeks there was only rice and dal to eat. Thieves would boldly come inside the hut and steal the devotees’ clothes off the lines. One never knew when one hung his clothes up to dry whether they would still be there later.
But Giriraj Maharaja never seemed to be the least bit concerned about all these bodily difficulties. Being on another platform, he would go downtown for preaching every day and come back to manage the temple affairs in the evenings, maintaining his enthusiasm to serve in spite of all the austerities.
The Preaching Kit
In those early days we had nothing but promises to give to the people we preached to. Then after some time we got some photos of different temples, Deities, and activities of ISKCON around the world. Giriraj Maharaja got a beautiful album and arranged the photos in a certain order for preaching. He called this album the “preaching kit.”
When we got that first photo album, it was such a big thing. We were so pleased to show it, especially to prospective life members. Finally we could show people something of what Srila Prabhupada was doing around the world.
But even before having that preaching kit, Giriraj Maharaja’s qualities were so attractive that he could easily steal the hearts of everyone, thereby enrolling many leading citizens of Bombay in the life membership program.
Even in those early days when there was only the small temple of Sri Sri Radha- Rasabihariji, Giriraj Maharaja used to get up very early before mangala-arati and chant his rounds while walking around Hare Krishna Land. He used to chant so loud that we could all hear him in our rooms, and we would feel ashamed that he was already up and chanting while we were still sleeping. But we understood our good fortune because to hear a pure devotee chanting so early in the morning is very auspicious and purifying.
The Red Sweater
Giriraj Maharaja had an old red sweater that buttoned down the front, which he wore for many years on the morning japa walks with Srila Prabhupada on Juhu Beach.
It was his only sweater in those days, but he was so renounced and detached that that same sweater became famous, and it can be seen in many photos as he stood or walked with Srila Prabhupada on the beach.
Reporting to Srila Prabhupada
Giriraj Maharaja would sometimes send reports to Srila Prabhupada, but especially after the new temple construction started, he would regularly send reports to Prabhupada about what’s happening on Hare Krishna Land. One time, however, he had not written for a couple of weeks, so Srila Prabhupada wrote to him, “Where is my report? You should write every week.”
To prepare to write to Srila Prabhupada, he would walk around the land and chant many rounds—a minimum of two hours but sometimes for many hours—and then he would go to his office, calmly sit down, and dictate the letter, carefully selecting each word. In the beginning of the letter where pranams are given, he would add a special thought, which was always so poetic and beautiful. Tamal Krishna Maharaja once told me that Srila Prabhupada enjoyed getting Giriraj Maharaja’s letters and especially enjoyed those extra lines he would always write at the beginning.
The VIP Flat
Before the temple and guesthouse were built, Giriraj Maharaja renovated one flat in E Block on Hare Krishna Land and decorated it nicely to accommodate visiting VIPs.
A few months later, his parents came to visit him, and Giriraj Maharaja accommodated them in that flat. One day as Giriraj Maharaja was walking up the stairwell (I happened to be walking down), his mother came out of the flat, and when she saw him she immediately hugged him and kissed his cheek. He gave such a shocked look and said, “Oh, Mother!”
The Nectar of Devotion
One time Giriraj Maharaja made a policy that all the devotees must read The Nectar of Devotion. But because there were very few devotees in those days and so much service to do, no one really had the time. So he devised a plan that during the morning breakfast prasada someone would read a few pages from the book and then the next day after the prasada he would ask a few questions about the previous day’s readings. A prize was given to the person who could answer the questions best.
This was fine for a short period, but every day without fail the same devotee would answer all the questions better than anyone else, so all the devotees got discouraged, and gradually the program was discontinued.
The Transcendental Debates
Another time, Giriraj Maharaja devised a plan to present the philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita by staging a transcendental debate every Sunday for the benefit of the visitors to the Sunday program. There were two sides: the Mayavadis and the devotees, or sometimes the demons and the devotees. However, Giriraj Maharaja was so intelligent that if he played the role of the devotee he would without question defeat the philosophy of the Mayavadi. But if he played the role of the Mayavadi, he would again without question defeat the devotee. If he was the demon, he would defeat the devotee. Whatever role he played, no one could defeat him!
After some time this became embarrassing and frustrating to the other devotees, who would always be defeated by him, so this Sunday Feast Program debate had to be discontinued.
Don’t Mess with THAT Brahmacari!
Some years went by, and in 1979 I went to America for three weeks. At that time I met my godbrother Adi Keshava Prabhu. While telling the story of how he became a devotee, Adi Keshava said that he and his friends used to go to the Boston Commons (a large park in the middle of downtown Boston) after college every day and that sometimes they would see the sankirtana party there. They used to like to harass the devotees by calling them bad names, imitating them, throwing things at them, and doing so many things.
But there was one brahmacari they could not harass. Adi Keshava Prabhu said that he told his friends, “See that one brahmacari! Don’t try to harass him. He is too together. Don’t mess with him! You cannot harass him.” So if that particular brahmacari was there, they did not harass that day. That brahmacari, of course, was you-know-who.
Occasionally, in the mandap of the small temple, the devotees would enact dramas of Krishna lila, or stories such as “The Boatman and the Scholar,” “The Bird in the Cage,” or other dramas. Giriraj Maharaja was usually one of the actors.
Even in 1978 or 1979, just after the grand opening of the big complex, he and Amoghalila and others would do dramas in the new auditorium, which the visitors loved very much. Even if the same drama was performed two Sundays in a row, still the audience was delighted to see it again and again. They were also very impressed to see the leaders of the temple doing dramas.
Though he traveled to so many different countries, Srila Prabhupada always wore only devotee clothes, and so also did all his disciples. But some time after Srila Prabhupada left, some sannyasis started wearing karmi clothes for flying abroad.
On one occasion Giriraj Maharaja was flying out of India and needed a hat to hide his newly shaved head. One devotee went all over the whole city of Bombay looking for a suitable hat, but he couldn’t find anything, so Maharaja finally ended up wearing a cricket hat, which looked so funny with his other clothes (an American shirt and pants).
Another time Giriraj Maharaja had to go to Pakistan, so Mr. Asnani (a Bombay lawyer who helped Srila Prabhupada in the early days) helped him to get one or two safari suits stitched.
It was so funny for us to see Maharaja wear karmi clothes on those occasions. Maharaja would come out of his office, and all the devotees would stand around him, staring and trying not to laugh. We felt shy to see him in these different clothes.
No Lady Secretary
On one occasion when Kirtanananda Swami came to Bombay, he told Giriraj Maharaja that he should not have a lady secretary. Immediately Maharaja called for Mukul, a young man from Allahabad who was a professional typist. When Mukul arrived from Allahabad, Maharaja walked into my office and told me, “Mother Aditya, Mukul will now be my secretary, and he will come to the office to take over by 11:00 a.m.”
So with only a one-hour notice, I had to immediately shift my desk, almirah, and other office equipment to the lobby in front of Gopal Krishna Maharaja’s office, as I did not have any other place to go. Then after about five days, Maharaja called me into his office and said very sweetly and softly, “Mother Aditya, Mukul cannot do the work, so we would like you to just shift everything back into your office again.”
The Glycerin Case
One day shortly after the grand opening of the new temple, around 1979 or so, while I was typing in my new office, which was located directly across the hall from Giriraj Maharaja’s office, Maharaja came by and peeped in. Just at that moment I had been putting some lotion on my hands which contained rose water and glycerin (a common thing to do, because Bombay air gets very dry in the dry season).
He stood there in the office doorway and asked, “What are you putting on your hands?” When I told him, he simply slightly raised his eyebrows and walked away. To this day I never dare to use such a thing again.
Around the time that we were teenagers in America, one of the topmost worshipable qualities someone could have was to be “Mr. Cool” at all times, but especially in any tense or adverse situation. Giriraj Maharaja was certainly such a person who never got ruffled or emotional but could maintain his composure in all circumstances.
We especially saw this great quality of his in 1978 during the event of a murder that took place in front of the temple, in which some of the tenants tried to accuse the devotees of being involved. The police came and started arresting some of the devotees. They blocked the devotees from going out of the compound gate and took away passports. Two or three thousand angry people gathered outside the guesthouse entrance trying to break in. The crowd was shouting, “Giriraj go home! Yankee go home!” And they seemed really determined to remove Giriraj Maharaja from India altogether. But Maharaja very cool-headedly simply got on the phone and started calling some of his friends who were in high political positions. Finally, after several tense hours, the Chief Minister sent two hundred soldiers of the Indian Army, armed with rifles, to protect the devotees and Hare Krishna Land.
Another instance of his being “Mr. Cool” was that we had one godbrother who was the temple president of Calcutta temple and who had learned how to give curses. He also was of short temper, so on several occasions he cursed different devotees for doing something he didn’t like. One day, however, while visiting Hare Krishna Land, he got angry at Giriraj Maharaja and cursed him that his management would fail and the temple would go into great debt. Maharaja was not in the least concerned, though, and went on with his service and as usual remained “Mr. Cool.”
Then a couple of months later we got the news that this godbrother for some unknown reason was no longer able to collect any funds and his temple had become greatly in debt. Later on we heard that Srila Prabhupada had said that a devotee’s curses worked, but if he tried to curse a pure devotee it would come back on himself.
We could continue speaking about such a rare personality as Giriraj Maharaja for hours. In my concluding words, though, I would like to humbly express my gratitude and appreciation for the way he always took such good care of me and other devotees who were in his charge during those early days. He was extremely kind and generous, always caring, and selflessly going out of his way to serve the devotees’ needs, sometimes at the cost of his own comfort and health.
I hope that this little account of my days with Giriraj Maharaja will give some pleasure to him, and perhaps a few laughs too.