Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Maharaja, the President-Acharya of the international Gaudiya Vaishnava group Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, passed away at 4:30am on March 27th, 2010, at the age of 81.
His passing, at the Math’s Dum Dum Park temple in Kolkata, West Bengal, was extremely auspicious, as it occurred during the sacred “Brahma-Muhurta” period of the morning, and while Maharaja was surrounded by disciples chanting the Lord’s names.
After being bathed, garlanded, and brought before the temple’s deities, Srila Govinda Maharaja’s body was taken with a convoy of vehicles to his society’s headquarters in Navadvipa, where he will be placed in a Samadhi (mausoleum) near that of his beloved guru, Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Maharaja.
Born in Brahmanpura, West Bengal, in 1929, Govinda Maharaja joined Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s then brand-new mission in 1947 at the very young age of 17. He soon became the most intimate and faithful servant of Sridhar Maharaja, who expressed his wish that Govinda be his successor and lead his spiritual movement when he was gone.
When he was 19 years old, the young Govinda, who was always by his guru’s side, stayed with Srila Sridhar Maharaja for some time at the Calcutta home of ISKCON’s founder Srila Prabhupada. During this period before starting his worldwide movement, Srila Prabhupada had already begun publishing his Back to Godhead magazine, and encouraged Govinda to distribute copies of it on the streets.
In the evenings, Govinda would return and tell stories of his efforts, and Srila Prabhupada would advise him on how to approach and talk to people.
Over the following years, the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math grew to establish many branches across India and internationally, owing much of its expansion to Govinda Maharaja’s dedicated service.
Finally in 1985, fulfilling a wish he had cherished for forty years, Srila Sridhar Maharaja conferred the renounced order of sannyasa upon Govinda Maharaja and made him his successor President-Acharya of all branches of the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math. This was just three years before Sridhar Maharaja passed away at 93 years of age.
Taking his new service to heart, Govinda Maharaja guided and consoled the Math’s members in the wake of Sridhar Maharaja’s departure, and continued to spread his beloved guru’s teachings throughout the Gaudiya community.
Highly learned in Sanskrit and Bengali, he wrote many prayers and songs intended to inspire cultivation of spiritual life. He was also famous for his delivery of Hari Katha, or talks about the Lord and his pastimes, and for his tireless efforts in nurturing his guru’s mission, such as his supervision of the building of the current Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math headquarters in Navadvipa.
In the early 1990s, he travelled to the west and has since circled the world many times, visiting the U.S.A., Mexico, South America, Europe, Africa, Mauritius, Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia.
“When Srila Govinda Maharaja first came to the west, he arrived in Santa Cruz where I lived with my family,” says Prabhupada disciple Pusta Krishna Dasa. “I got to know him very well and can say without any doubt that he had no envy of Srila Prabhupada or his ISKCON, and that he was a very perfect disciple of his gurudeva, Srila Sridhara Maharaja. We all could learn how to become better disciples of our respective gurus by observing his very perfect example. His affectionate nature and encouragement was able to thaw the hearts of many an aspiring devotee.”
Srila Govinda Maharaja’s departure is a great loss to the Gaudiya Vaishnava community, Pusta Krishna feels. “He unceasingly highlighted Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s formula for success in practicing Krishna consciousness, ‘trinadapi sunicena’: humility, tolerance, and giving honor to others,” he says. “We will miss his simple and pure-hearted presence.”
Pusta Krishna concludes, “I know that our Srila Prabhupada had much fondness for Srila Govinda Maharaja, and in that mood, I always felt that I was serving Srila Prabhupada while befriending and assisting Srila Govinda Maharaja when appropriate. I hope that devotees of all persuasions will reach out to Srila Govinda Maharaja’s disciples and friends to express their sincere sympathy and also hope for their future in Krishna consciousness.”