His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami, a beloved disciple of Srila Prabhupada, GBC member, ISKCON initiating spiritual master, and Gaudiya Vaishnava sannyasi, passed away the morning of July 4th due to complications related to COVID-19. He was 74 years old.
His passing coincides with the auspicious day of the disappearance day of Srila Sanatana Goswami, the first month of Caturmasya, and the observance of Guru Purnima.
In a statement, the GBC Executive Committee of Ramai Swami, Bhakti Caitanya Swami and Bhanu Swami wrote that, “It is with overwhelming heartache that we announce to you the departure of our beloved godbrother and a dearmost servant of Srila Prabhupada, His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami.
“There are no words that provide solace when facing separation from such a glorious Vaisnava, but we can take some comfort in the fact that His Holiness Bhakti Charu Maharaja lived constantly in meditation on how to serve Srila Prabhupada and his mission. Undoubtedly, he now continues that service under the direction of His Divine Grace.”
Anuttama dasa, who served with Bhakti Charu Swami on the GBC and the Mayapur Executive Committee reflected, “Bhakti Charu Swami was one of the most dear disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Although he came to ISKCON in the later years of Prabhupada’s physical presence, he became connected personally with Srila Prabhupada very quickly, and he had much of Prabhupada’s association during Prabhupada’s last months. He has always been one of the most beloved members and leaders of our movement. He was dearly loved and will be greatly missed.”
Bhakti Charu Swami had recently flown from his homebase in Ujjain, India, to Florida, USA. He became ill soon after, tested positive for COVID-19, and was taken to a hospital in the US, where according to his Medical Care Team, he was placed on a ventilator on June 17th. He remained under careful monitoring since, while devotees around the world prayed intensely and held online kirtan events for his benefit.
On June 29th, the Health Care team reported that Maharaj had become critically unwell, and had suffered a heart attack. On the morning of July 4th the team wrote, “HH Bhakti Charu Swami's health condition has deteriorated and doctors have given notice that they are exhausting all medical options.”
Later in the morning, Bhakti Charu Swami departed this world.
Although no devotees could be physically with him due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, he was surrounded with auspicious items. When entering the hospital, Maharaj took three volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which remained with him along with the Bhagavad-gita. He also kept his neckbeads and brahmana thread along with Vrindavan dust, Tulasi leaves and Ganga water. Srila Prabhupada’s japa and kirtan played constantly, broadcast from ISKCON Ujjain, the temple project Maharaj lovingly established for Srila Prabhupada’s pleasure, while devotees worldwide performed a kirtan mahayajna for him.
Ramai Swami, Bhakti Caitanya Swami and Bhanu Swami concluded their EC statement with these words:
“Let us offer true homage to Maharaja by continuing his legacy of service in our own lives. Let us commit ourselves, mind, body, and soul, to the service of Srila Prabhupada, following in the footsteps of his beloved servant, His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami.
One of Maharaja's most cherished instructions from His Divine Grace was, "Your love for me will be show by how you cooperate together after I am gone." Now, in Maharaja's absence, we are reminded to take that instruction to heart and reaffirm our dedication to ISKCON, and to each other.
We also commit ourselves, as Maharaja's servants, to assist and care for his loving disciples in his absence. It was very important to Maharaja that we operate as one family in Srila Prabhupada's service and we remind you today that although Maharaja is no longer physically present, you are protected by the shelter of many devotees who are ready to offer you the support you may require at this difficult time and in the future.”
Born in Bengal in 1945, Bhakti Charu Swami spent most of his early life in the city of Calcutta. In 1970, he left India to study chemistry in Germany. Coming across Vedic literatures while in Germany, he discovered the richness of India’s spiritual heritage. In 1975, he returned to India to wholeheartedly pursue spiritual life.
After thoroughly studying the Vedic scriptures, Maharaj became aware of the need to find a spiritual master who could lead him on a sound spiritual course. After travelling to the Himalayas and searching for one year without coming across a spiritual master to whom he could fully surrender, he felt despondent and disappointed. When he had almost given up hope, he came across a book called The Nectar of Devotion by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Becoming engrossed in the book, he realized that he had found his spiritual master, and the path he had been searching for. As he continued to read Srila Prabhupada’s works, his conviction grew stronger, as did his desire to meet Srila Prabhupada, who was then preaching in the United States.
In late 1976, Bhakti Charu Swami joined the ISKCON temple in Mayapur, West Bengal and became more involved in devotional service to the Lord, all the while awaiting Srila Prabhupada’s return to India.
When Srila Prabhupada returned to India, the first direct meeting between guru and aspiring disciple finally took place in January 1977. During that meeting, Srila Prabhupada gave Bhakti Charu Swami the assignment of translating his books into Bengali and then made him his Secretary for Indian Affairs. Srila Prabhupada gave Maharaj first and second initiation simultaneously in Mayapur on Gaura Purnima 1977. Three months later, Srila Prabhupada awarded him the renounced order of Sannyasa. All of this demonstrates a remarkable investment of authority and blessings from Srila Prabhupada to have occurred in such a short period of time.
Maharaj travelled with and personally served Srila Prabhupada for the final year of Prabhupada’s life. After Srila Prabhupada’s departure from this world in 1977, Maharaj served in Mayapur for several years while the society was going through a critical phase.
In 1987, Bhakti Charu Swami became an initiating guru in ISKCON and joined the society’s Governing Body Commission, serving as its chairman in 1988 and again in 2017.
By 1995, Maharaj had translated into Bengali all of Srila Prabhupada’s works on major Vedic literatures, consisting of more than fifty volumes of books including Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Chaitanya Charitamrita and Nectar of Devotion – just as Srila Prabhupada had instructed him in their very first meeting.
In 1996, Maharaj took on the mammoth task of making a biographical video epic on the life of his spiritual master, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada. Entitled Abhay Charan, this video series was broadcast on national television in India, and distributed globally on DVD.
In 2004, at the invitation of the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Bhakti Charu Swami built a magnificent new ISKCON temple in just ten months in Ujjain – the ancient and holy city also known as Avantika, and the place where Krishna and Balarama went to school. The extraordinary marble temple features three large altars for the worship of Sri Sri Radha Madanmohan, Sri Sri Krishna Balarama and Sri Sri Gaura Nitai; a goshala for cow protection; a midday meals facility for schoolchildren; a rural program; to spread Vedic culture to village people; and several outreach centres in Bhopal and Indore.
Bhakti Charu Swami also served as the ISKCON governor for France and South Africa at a time when these zones were facing immense difficulties. Through perseverance, he was able to turn the situations in these locations around.
In 2007, Maharaj began an altar production facility in Ujjain. The facility manufactures beautiful deity altars of all shapes and sizes for temples and devotees globally.
In 2013, Maharaj began development of a new ISKCON temple in Panihati, a very holy place in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition where Raghav Pandit had his home and Lord Nityananda held His Chipped Rice (Chida Dadhi) Festival.
In 2014, Maharaj established Arogya Niketan, a traditional and authentic Ayurvedic clinic in Ujjain. He also joined Artha Forum and begin delivering keynote speeches globally on spirituality to large audiences of business leaders.
Under his direction, the Ujjain ISKCON temple feeds more than 23,000 school children per day from its 6,000 sq ft industrial kitchen. At one point Maharaj also served as the Chairman of Annamrita Foundation, ISKCON’s midday meals programme, which feeds over 1 million children across India every day.
Bhakti Charu Swami has also served twice as the Chairman of the GBC Executive Committee, and was the GBC Zonal Secretary for ISKCON in Mayapur, Kolkata, Ujjain, Bhubaneswar, Bangladesh and Seattle. For decades he traveled across India, US, UK, South Africa, the Middle East and Australia, holding spiritual retreats and seminars, and fulfilling Srila Prabhupada’s instruction to him to spread the teachings of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Maharaj was also known for his beautifully melodic kirtans and his insightful classes on the Vedic scriptures.
In 2016, Bhakti Charu Swami released his memoir, “Ocean of Mercy – A Search Fulfilled,” in which he recollects his intimate interactions with Srila Prabhupada. The book describes how he developed a genuine love and dedication for Srila Prabhupada who gave him a life of Krishna Bhakti.
On November 17th 2016, the Institute of International Social Development – New York, an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations, awarded an accolade to Bhakti Charu Swami as a display of their gratitude for all the support he gave them on behalf of ISKCON, in spreading the message of spirituality for World Peace and Understanding between Nations and Civilizations.
In 2018, Bhakti Charu Swami served his last term as Chairman of the GBC, reminding all the senior leaders who served with him of his caring mood, and selfless devotion to Srila Prabhupada and the ISKCON society.
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