by Sri Sidhanatha Tiwari
Fond of discipline
My most worshipable Gurudeva, nitya-lila-pravista om visnupada astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Goswami Maharaja, appeared in this world as my elder brother. He was nearly nine years older than me. I remember some incidents from my childhood, when I was five or six years old. There was a study room in our home that was set aside for the children, and Srila Gurudeva used to sit there and study. When the rest of us seven kids started going to school, we would all study together in that same room with Srila Gurudeva, who would act as our teacher.
After completing his studies at the medium school (eighth class), Srila Gurudeva attended high school in Buxar, which was about seven kilometers from our home. He worked very hard and daily walked this distance back and forth. The holy Ganges was about three kilometers away from our home. Srila Gurudeva would walk to the Ganga everyday for bath immediately after finishing his morning ablutions. Upon returning from the Ganges he would sit outside and listen very attentively to Ramayana, Gita or Bhagavatam from our father’s lips. When he would return home from school in the afternoon, he would complete his homework and then teach the seven younger kids in the family. He would also enthusiastically help father in various household chores. Srila Gurudeva was quite expert in nearly everything. He lived his life in accordance with father’s discipline and assured that the rest of us kids did also, instructing us in so many ways. Srila Gurudeva was very good in his studies – in history, math and English he would score 100 percent.
Natural inclination to serve his elders right from an early age
Our father was Pandit Sri Valeswara Natha Tiwari and our mother was Srimati Laksmi Devi. They had seven children – three sons and four daughters. According to seniority they were Sriman Narayana (Bhola), Srimati Matarniya Devi, Sri Visvanatha Tiwari, Sri Sidhanatha Tiwari, Srimati Saraswati Devi, Srimati Phoolkeshari and Srimati Anoopi. Our father’s brothers and their wives lived with us, and our extended family consisted of around thirty members. All our uncles, their wives and children were dependent on our father.
Father was a farmer and his income was very meager. He would spend most of his time worshiping Bhagavan and reading the scriptures, and remained indifferent regarding his income. One day after some deep thought Srila Gurudeva said to our father, “I am grown up now and wish to help you. It is better that I drop my studies and give you a helping hand.” Father desired that Gurudeva further his education but due to compelling circumstances he agreed to his son’s proposal.
Gifted with all material qualities
Our elder sister’s father-in-law was a police inspector. He said to our father, “Send Sriman Narayana to me. He is handsome to look at, as well as tall and strong. I will try to get him a job with the police.” Father sent him to our relative’s village which was about twenty kilometers from our home. For some time Srila Gurudeva stayed in their home where the inspector of police made him even stronger with proper diet and excercises. Later he secured a job for Srila Gurudeva in the police department. Srila Gurudeva finished his police training successfully within a short time and he was posted at the border of Bihar and Bengal. This was the period before India’s independence; therefore his officer was a Britisher. Once the officer organized a sports camp. Srila Gurudeva approached him and said, “Sir, I also want to take part in the sports meet.” “No, no, Mr. Tiwari, this event is only for junior and senior officers.” Srila Gurudeva responded, “Sir, I can not force you, but I am a sportsman. If possible, please allow me to participate.” The officer agreed and Srila Gurudeva justified their allowing him to participate by attaining first positions in long jump, high jump, jogging and swimming. The Superintendent of Police (S.P) was very impressed to see Srila Gurudeva’s extraordinary qualities and appointed him to the post of inspector on his very first promotion. Now Srila Gurudeva was posted at the police station in Rajmahal, Bihar [near Rama-keli grama].
From time to time Srila Gurudeva would come home, and whatever he earned he would place in the hands of our father. If our mother would say, “Sriman Narayana, now and then give something to the kids too,” Srila Gurudeva would respond, “Mother, our father is taking good care of everyone. Therefore I feel it is better to put everything in his hands. These children are young, and they can be spoiled easily if they get money in their hands. Therefore I will do no such thing which will give them an opportunity to get spoiled.”
Once a few preachers from the Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti came to Rajmahal near the police station, to perform kirtana and present spiritual discourses. It was here that Srila Gurudeva met Sri Narottamananda Brahmacari (Sri Srimad Bhakti Kamala Madhusudana Goswami Maharaja), Sri Radhanatha Vanacari (Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Trivikrama Goswami Maharaja) and a few other devotees for the first time. Some time later by their association, he started going back and forth to meet with nitya-lila-pravista om visnupada astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhakti Prajnana Keshava Goswami Maharaja, although he was still serving in the police. After a few days he came home with a japa mala in his hand. Everyone saw him chanting but no one paid much attention to it, as we were used to seeing him perform devotional activities right from childhood – the only difference now was that he was using a japa. This continued for a couple of years. He would come home to give his salary, stay about six hours and go back.
Search for the Supreme
One day we received a letter from Srila Gurudeva. I was in the fifth grade at that time. I gathered all the family members together and read them his letter. Everyone listened carefully. It said, “My honorable father, my respectful pranamas at your feet. I have given up my job and gone in search of Bhagavan. I am not sure when I will be able to meet you again. You have a heavy burden of the family on your shoulders and no one to help you. I was working because I desired to assist you, but do not know what plans Bhagavan has. By inspiration of Providence my views have changed and I can no longer serve you in this way, and on top of that I have given you an additional burden of taking care of my family also. For this I ask forgiveness again and again.” Hearing these words all the family members burst out crying loudly; everyone felt as if a mountain of troubles had crushed them to the ground.
A humble reunion with father
Our father started searching for Srila Gurudeva – he searched the entire length and breadth of India for about a year and a half, but got no clue to his whereabouts. A person from our village, Sri Kedaranatha Tiwari, was working as a guard in Baidyanath Dhama. One day he saw Srila Gurudeva along with Param-gurudeva Srila Bhakti Prajnana Keshava Goswami Maharaja in that very town. Immediately he sent a telegram to our home, saying, “Your son Sriman Narayana has become a sadhu and is here.” The moment our father received the telegram he left for Baidyanath Dhama. The day father reached there Srila Gurudeva was suffering from fever and he was sleeping under a bed sheet. Father called out, “Sriman Narayana!” Hearing his voice Srila Gurudeva lifted the sheet instantly and got down from the bed to touch his father’s feet in respect. He offered him a place to sit and inquired for news about all the family. With great honor he reminded our father, “Right from childhood I heard all about bhakti from your lips. As a result I have desired to perform bhakti in the manner I am now doing.” In this way he pacified father; he fortified his argument with many quotations from the scriptures and requested him to return home. He also assured father that after some time he would certainly come to see everyone.
A firm determination to perform bhajan
Shortly thereafter, with the intention of meeting Srila Gurudeva, father and mother, along with a number of our relatives, visited Devananda Gaudiya Matha in Navadvipa Dhama. Hearing so many people cry and lament, Srila Param-gurudeva called for Srila Gurudeva; it is difficult to ascertain what exactly transpired between them, but Srila Gurudeva returned to his home along with all the relatives. He behaved exactly as before, getting up at four in the morning, going to bathe in the Ganges, chanting on his beads, and later he would accompany father to the fields. He created such an atmosphere that everyone became convinced that he would never leave again. Twenty-eight days passed in this fashion. But on the twenty-ninth day he did not come out of his room. Father inquired, “What is wrong today? Sriman Narayana did not wake up?” We replied, “He is not in his room!” Father himself went to look for him in the room, and he noticed a letter on the bed. It said, “Father, my respecful obeisances to you. I am going away to immerse myself in bhajana of Bhagavan. What to speak about the lives of my wife and children, even if millions of people were to leave their bodies, I would neither be able to give up the service to my Gurudeva nor my bhajana. Please do not make any further attempts to bring me back home.” What time he left home, no one had any idea.
Giving inspiration to take sadhu sanga and serve the saints
After some years we came to know that Srila Gurudeva was living in Mathura. By now father had given up all desire to bring him back home. He would say to everyone, “If Sriman Narayana wants to perform bhajana, then we should not partake in sin by creating obstacles on his path.” From time to time mother, father and other family members used to visit him in Mathura, and upon returning they would praise his devotional activities and his conduct.
As I grew up I started working in Jamshedpur Tatanagar. I was keeping regular contact with Srila Gurudeva through the post. In response to one of my letters in 1962, he wrote, “Listen, whenever you find some time, come to Navadvipa. Many exalted Vaisnavas visit there from all over India. You will get an opportunity to associate with the sadhus and a chance to hear hari-katha.” After receiving this letter I took leave and went to Sri Navadvipa Dhama.
The whole journey I kept wondering if my brother would recognize me or if I would be able to recognize him. We had not seen each other for a long time. Anyhow, I reached Devananda Gaudiya Matha, and the very moment I arrived, hari-katha was being spoken. I inquired about Srila Gurudeva and was told that he was sitting on the dais along with the other sannyasis. Param-gurudeva was also present there. I became completely bewildered; after all, I was seeing my brother after a long time. But upon careful observation I ascertained one particular sannyasi to be my brother. I went forward and touched his feet and offered him my obeisances. In response Srila Gurudeva said, “Sidhanatha, you came! Now your life will be successful. Do not touch my feet, touch the feet of my Gurudeva and the other exalted saints. I too beg for their mercy all the time.” I did as he instructed and Srila Gurudeva introduced me to everyone. Later he advised me, “Listen, this is a holy place. Do not wear a loongi* here, only a dhoti. Do not accept any service from anyone here; as far as possible serve everyone else.”
*Loongi- A particular style of wearing a casual, mostly check pattern wrap-around sheet.
Everyone’s affectionate behavior towards me in Devananda Gaudiya Matha
I stayed for about ten days in Devananda Gaudiya Matha. During this period I had the opportunity to observe very closely the sweet affectionate behavior, the hari-katha and the ideals of Srila Param-gurudeva, Srila Bhaktivedanta Vamana Goswami Maharaja and Srila Bhaktivedanta Trivikrama Goswami Maharaja. Srila Trivikama Maharaja arranged a room, mosquito net and other necessities for me. Whenever it was time for prasad, Srila Bhaktivedanta Vamana Goswami Maharaja would call me, “Sidhanathaji, let’s go, it’s time for prasad. Rotis have been made for you, hot rotis. Come, come.” He spoke these words with such affection and sweetness that they are still fresh in my memory.
Ten days later I said to Srila Gurudeva, “I must leave now. Please give me permission. But I have one request.” Srila Gurudeva replied, “What is that?” I answered, “The family members have not seen you in quite some time, and many of them have not seen you at all since you left, so at least try to go home just once.” Srila Gurudeva replied, “I no longer lead an independent life. I follow my Gurudeva’s orders regarding all my activities. Whatever you are telling me, say it in front of my Gurudeva, and whatever he decides I will follow.” Srila Gurudeva took me to Param-gurudeva. The moment Param-gurudeva saw me he inquired, “Dear Sidhanatha, do you have something to say?” I offered my obeisances and said, “I have a request. Please give my brother permission to visit our home just once.” Srila Param-gurudeva replied, “What are you saying? Now, why does he need my permission? If one is not to be trusted, he will be kept under check, but we have complete faith in him.” That very moment Srila Param-gurudeva fixed a date for his visit, and said, “On the way to Mathura Narayana Maharaja will stop in Buxar and he will be accompanied by a few brahmacaris.” Then I said, “Now please give me permission to leave.” Srila Param-gurudeva responded, “No, no, you remain here. Narayana Maharaja will live in Mathura and I will put you in charge of this Matha.” At first I replied, “Maharajaji, do you also have some other Mathas? Shall I call for my third brother to take charge too?” On hearing this Param-gurudeva burst out laughing. Then I pointed to all the devotees standing there and said, “Maharajaji, please select any one of these to be responsible for the temple, and give me permission to leave.” This way we had a very light-hearted exchange before my departure.
Making his life successful by always staying in high class association
Before departing I inquired from Srila Gurudeva, “Why did you decide to leave home?” Srila Gurudeva replied, “In fact, I was not able to leave home despite my desire to do so. Firstly, the S.P. would not accept my letter of resignation. Three or four times he refused to accept it and only with great difficulty he finally did so. Secondly, I attempted to leave home nine times. I would go a few kilometers and then turn back each time. I even cried at times, but still remained indecisive. Then I heard an aerial voice say to me, ‘This is your last chance to pass this examination. If you fail this time, you will never get another chance this life.’ So then I took a firm stand and left. Our domestic condition was not such that I could leave, but whatever transpired was by the will of Guru-Vaisnavas and Bhagavan, and I feel it was a blessing in disguise for all concerned.”
On my way back home I thought to myself again and again, “Oh, Srila Gurudeva is serving Bhagavan in such esoteric association. He has dedicated his life to following in the footsteps of Guru and Vaisnavas. Indeed, his life is successful.” I felt so proud to be his younger brother.
Instructing us to serve the devotees
After some time Srila Gurudeva came to Tiwaripur accompanied by four brahmacaris. According to prior arrangements Srila Gurudeva led programs with hari-katha and kirtana for three days. Before arriving Srila Gurudeva informed us that he desired to stay outside somewhere, so we had arranged for everyone to stay in a nearby school. Srila Gurudeva reminded us again and again, “Do not consider these brahmacaris accompanying me to be ordinary people. Even the demigods desire to serve them. Please make the best arrangements you can for their accommodations, prasada and donations. And you should especially try to adopt in your life whatever pertinent instructions you hear from them in their hari-katha.” After three days Srila Gurudeva left for Mathura.
Whenever some devotees would pass through Buxar from Navadvipa to Mathura or vice versa, Srila Gurudeva would inform us by letter: “On such and such train, on such and such date, so many devotees are coming. Prepare rice, dal, kacauri, kheer, etc., and take it to them.” In the summers we would try to serve the devotees as per Srila Gurudeva’s instructions. By doing this service we gradually started to develop affection for Srila Gurudeva and the other devotees, and in fact a deep desire to live the life of a Vaisnava awakened in the heart.
Keeping his promise to father
In the summer of 1975 our father became quite ill and it became obvious that he would not remain with us much longer. As Srila Gurudeva had promised our father that he would be at his side in his last moments, we sent a letter to Srila Gurudeva informing him of our father’s condition. But we got no reply. Then we sent a telegram and Srila Gurudeva came to the village within a short time along with two brahmacaris. As usual he stayed somewhere outside and not in the home. He remained with us for three days.
All the village came to have his darsana and the atmosphere became completely spiritual with kirtana in the morning and in the evening. He would often speak from Bhagavad Gita to our father, and advised him, “Chant harinama. If you are unable to chant loudly then keep chanting Lord Rama’s name in your mind. Externally it seems like I could not serve you, but indeed I have tended to you from the spiritual viewpoint. If I have performed even a little bit of pure bhakti, then you will not have to take birth again.”
The third day Srila Gurudev desired to take leave, and the entire village walked along with him. Srila Gurudeva requested everyone to return back as they reached the border of the village. When we came to the highway, we saw another few hundred people waiting there too!
In this way he left for Mathura while continuing to give instructions on bhakti to everyone non-stop. That very night father gave up his body. Srila Gurudeva had already left a clear-cut guideline to follow upon his passing away. He had said, “You perform his funeral rites, and I will do my duty – I will make sure that father reaches the top most spiritual abode.”
Impartiality and staunch adherence to proper Vaisnava etiquette
Once my brother and I begged for diksa from Srila Gurudeva. He explained, “Listen, I do not give diksa initiation. My Gurudeva and many other senior Vaisnavas have bestowed the responsibility for diksa upon Srila Bhaktivedanta Vamana Maharaja. So you will have to approach him and pray for diksa.” Then Srila Gurudeva gave us many instructions regarding the duties of an initiated disciple and also spoke at length about the relationship between disciple and guru. When we received the good fortune of having Srila Bhaktivedanta Vamana Maharaja’s darsana, we expressed our desire to accept diska from him. He also refused to initiate us, saying, “Right from birth Bhagavan has given you the relationship as younger brother of Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja. That is why you should take diksa from him only.” This discussion continued for many years. In the end Srila Gurudeva gave me harinama just seven or eight years back and instructed me to chant harinama continuously.
I had the good fortune to get Srila Gurudeva’s darsana in Delhi as well as in Govardhana just before his departure from this mortal world. Externally Srila Gurudeva is not present in front of our eyes now. I have only one prayer at Srila Gurudeva’s lotus feet – may I be given the opportunity to serve and associate with him life after life.
Translated from Bhagavat Patrika
into English by Akhilesh das
Year 8, Issues 11-12, 2012