Srila Gour Govinda Swami


Srila Prabhupada

Early Life

Srila Gour Govinda Swami was born as Braja Bandhu Manik on the second of September 1929 in Jagannathpur, a small village near Jagannatha Puri, Orissa. During his youth, he mostly lived with his maternal family, the Giris, in the village of Gadeigiri. The Giris were Gaudiya Vaishnavas and were well-known for their expertise in kirtana. Braja Bandhu's maternal grandfather, Bauri Giri, was famous in the local area as a paramahamsa Vaishnava. He was constantly chanting the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra and worshiping the family deity, Gopal Jiu.

In 1952, his mother arranged for him to get married, and in 1955, when his father passed away, the financial responsibility of supporting the family fell on his shoulders. After obtaining B.A. and B.Ed. degrees from Utkal University, he took up government service as a school teacher.

As a boy, Braja Bandhu was very quiet and serious. Whatever free time he had from his studies, he spent rendering services to Gopal and accompanying his grandfather and uncles in going from village to village, chanting hari-nama and singing songs of the Vaisnava acaryas. He was deeply attached to the Srimad Bhagavatam. As a young boy, his mother found that whenever he would cry, she only needed to place the Bhagavatam in his hands, and he would stop. At night, Braja Bandhu would go to sleep with the book clutched to his chest.

Renouncing Family Life and Meeting Srila Prabhupada

Although busy with his family and teaching responsibilities, he maintained a strict daily sadhana. He would rise before 4:00 AM, chant Hare Krishna, worship Tulasi Maharani, and engage in discussions on the Bhagavad-gita. Throughout his life, Braja Bandhu made entries in his diary in the form of prayers to Gopal. His entries from 1973 often expressed his desire to renounce family life. Here is an excerpt from 10 October:

"O Prabhu Gopal, please make me a yogi sannyasi! I do not desire anything, Prabhu. I am not asking for material wealth, respect, glory, or anything else. You may bestow those things upon my younger brother, Kripa-sindhu. Let him take care of our family. Instead, make me a samsara-vairagi-yogi, a renunciate of family life. Let me beg for that prema-dhana, that treasure of love for Godhead! Let me distribute prema and ananda! Let me serve You! I humbly request You to shower Your mercy upon me, Prabhu! Bless me with prema-bhakti, the ecstatic love for You!"

In April of 1974, he left his family life, taking only a Bhagavad-gita, two gamchas, and a notebook with him. At that time, he adopted the name "Gour Gopal" — "Gour" for Gauranga Mahaprabhu and "Gopal" after his beloved childhood deity. Embracing the lifestyle of a mendicant sadhu, Gour Gopal embarked on a quest to find a spiritual master who could guide him in the teachings of the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. His search took him all across India, from Kanya Kumari in the South to the Himalayas in the North.

Eventually, in September of the same year, he decided to go to Vrindavan, the sacred land of Krishna, believing that his longing would surely be fulfilled there. Securing free passage from a compassionate train conductor, he arrived in Mathura. He stayed at various temples until he eventually made his way to Vrindavan, where he encountered a sign that read, "International Society for Krishna Consciousness." Upon reaching there, a devotee gave him a copy of the society's magazine, Back to Godhead. As he perused the articles about Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Srimad Bhagavatam, and the Maha-mantra in the magazine, Gour Gopal knew he had found what he had been searching for.

With a fervent desire to meet the founder of the society, he requested an audience and was escorted to the quarters of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada at midday. After conversing with Gour Gopal for a while, Srila Prabhupada asked, "Have you taken sannyasa?" Gour Gopal replied, "No."

Srila Prabhupada replied, "Then I will give you sannyasa." Srila Gour Govinda Swami later remarked, "At that moment, I realized that he is a genuine guru because he understood the innermost desires of my heart. He is the caitya-guru, the guru within the heart. I had been searching for someone like him to take shelter of, and now I had found him. My heart was naturally drawn to him, and I had complete faith in Krishna and Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who guided me throughout this journey."

Guru Seva and Building of the ISKCON Bhubaneswar Temple

Upon hearing of Gour Gopal's scholarly abilities, Srila Prabhupada immediately engaged him in translating his small book, "Perfection of Yoga," into Hindi. A few weeks later, Srila Prabhupada initiated him and bestowed upon him the name Gour Govinda Dasa. Then, on 20 April 1975, during the inaugural ceremony of the ISKCON Sri Sri Krishna-Balarama temple in Vrindavan, Gour Govinda Das received sannyasa from Srila Prabhupada.

Following Srila Prabhupada's instructions, Srila Gour Govinda Swami embarked on opening a center in Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Orissa. Upon his arrival, he found himself without any money or resources. He resided alone on the newly donated property, which at that time was nothing more than a jungle inhabited by snakes, scorpions, and ant hills.

In late January 1977, Srila Prabhupada arrived in Bhubaneswar and stayed for seventeen days on the property in a small hut that Srila Gour Govinda Swami had arranged for him. On the auspicious occasion of Lord Nityananda's appearance day, Srila Prabhupada laid the foundation stone for the forthcoming temple. This project marked his final founding endeavor. Srila Prabhupada predicted that one day the temple on this secluded property would become one of the finest ISKCON centers in the world, situated in the heart of the city. He also instructed Srila Gour Govinda Swami to translate his books into Oriya and to travel and preach to devotees worldwide.

In early 1985, Srila Gour Govinda Swami began accepting disciples. Two years later, responding to the request of senior devotees, he agreed to join the ISKCON Governing Body Commission and was entrusted with shared responsibility for the society's projects in Orissa.

In the summer of 1985, following Srila Prabhupada's directive, Srila Gour Govinda Swami embarked on overseas preaching. Over the next eleven years, he traveled extensively around the world, delivering Krishna-katha (discourses on Krishna) to eager devotees. His lectures inspired thousands of devotees, and his followers are now compiling his teachings into books. Despite his busy schedule during this time, he diligently maintained a daily quota of translating Srila Prabhupada's books into Oriya.

In 1991, after sixteen years of dedicated efforts, Srila Gour Govinda Swami inaugurated the magnificent Sri Sri Krishna-Balarama temple in Bhubaneswar on the auspicious occasion of Lord Nityananda’s appearance day. Presently, the Sri Sri Krishna-Balarama Mandir ranks as the second most popular temple in Orissa, following the Jagannatha Mandir in Puri. The area surrounding the temple has also become the fastest-growing section of Bhubaneswar.

Leaving the Material World in an Extraordinary and Exceptional Way

In late January of 1996, Srila Gour Govinda Swami expressed, "Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati said that this material world is not a suitable place for any gentleman. Therefore, because he was disgusted, he left this world prematurely. I may also leave. I don't know. I will consult Gopal, and I will do whatever He desires." The following day, he visited Gadeigiri to see Gopal. While there, he spoke with his cousin Ghanashyam Giri, who recollects their conversation:

"We were discussing the construction of Gopal's new temple and the planned installation of large deities of Radha Gopal alongside the existing small ones. Suddenly, Maharaja told me, "I won't witness this deity installation. You will witness it, but I won't."

I asked, "How is that possible? You are ten years younger than me. If you won't witness it, how will I?" Maharaja replied, "No, no. You will witness the temple's inauguration and the installation of the deities because you have served Gopal so devotedly." That was the final conversation I had with Maharaja. Afterward, he went to Bhubaneswar for a few days and then proceeded to Mayapur, where he remained for eternity."

In Mayapur, on 9 February 1996, which marked the appearance day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, two senior devotees sought an appointment to meet with Srila Gour Govinda Swami and pose some inquiries. They asked, "Why did Caitanya Mahaprabhu stay in Jagannatha Puri?" Srila Gour Govinda Swami enthusiastically embarked on explaining the confidential significance of Mahaprabhu's pastimes in Puri. He delved into the profound emotions experienced by Srimati Radharani during Krishna's absence from Vrindavan. Gradually, he unfolded the pastime, leading up to the point where Radha and Krishna were finally reunited after their long separation. He described how Krishna, overwhelmed with ecstasy upon beholding Radharani, assumed the form of Lord Jagannatha, with wide eyes and shrunken limbs. As he narrated, the devotees noticed tears welling in his eyes, and his voice grew choked with emotion. In a soft voice, almost a whisper, he said, "Then the eyes of Krishna met the eyes of Radharani. Their eyes locked in union." Unable to continue, he folded his hands and, with a barely audible voice, apologized, saying, "Please forgive me, I cannot speak further." The devotees present began to chant while he calmly reclined on his bed, breathing slowly and deeply. As per his request, a servant placed a picture of Gopal Jiu in his hand. Srila Gour Govinda Swami gazed lovingly at the image of his worshipable Deity and softly uttered, "Gopal!" His eyes closed, he gradually entered a state of internal absorption, transcending external consciousness, and departed from this world.

His transcendental body was transported to the Sri Sri Krishna-Balarama Mandir in Bhubaneswar, where it was laid to rest in samadhi within the small mud hut that had served as his bhajana-kutira (meditation hut) for numerous years.

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