Day 1, Tuesday, 16/10/07
Asha and I got to the airport well on time. Guru Maharaja had made sure that I got the time right, phoning many times and making sure that I made the necessary arrangements. Guru Maharaja even called me as we were driving back from Gauteng, where the first-ever Soweto Ratha Yatra had just been held. As I stood at the domestic arrivals doors, Ashika ( a devotee who works at the airport) walked up to me. “Who are you waiting for?” “My Guru Maharaja.”, I replied. “Come with me”, she said, and lead me through the sliding doors into the “inner sanctum” of the airport, the baggage claim area. Relieved that I would be able to welcome Guru Maharaja properly and help Him with His luggage, I thanked her profusely. She asked me to please walk past her desk so she could greet Guru Maharaja when we were leaving.
After a wait of about 5 minutes, I caught a glimpse of Guru Maharaja as He walked into the terminal. I walked briskly towards Guru Maharaja and garlanded Him, offering my obeisances at His lotus feet. As we waited at the luggage carousel for Guru Maharaja’s bigger luggage, Ashika came along to greet Guru Maharaja. She is a very well-travelled person, and Guru Maharaja inquired about her recent trip to Ujjain. As they spoke, I noted that Guru Maharaja’s face looked well-rested, refreshed and effulgent. After a short wait, I caught sight of Guru Maharaja’s big, orange suitcase and loaded it onto the trolley. In my passionate nature, I was about to wheel the trolley away, when Ashika said that there was another bag coming. Guru Maharaja pointed out His large, soft sports bag, which I also loaded onto the trolley before very carefully balancing the computer bag on top of this pile. As we walked away, Guru Maharaja thanked Ashika for her help.
Asha had been waiting all this while at the sliding doors and had been joined by Nitai and Bhaktin Narushni. She garlanded Guru Maharaja and we all offered our obeisances to Him. Guru Maharaja raised both His arms in a gesture of giving us His blessings. As we walked through the terminal, Guru Maharaja inquired from Narushni about her welfare, since she had been in an accident during Guru Maharaja’s last visit. During the drive to Sri Sri Radha Radhanath, Guru Maharaja asked about Asha’s family. She said because her son was writing matric, it was as if the whole family was, and everyone’s schedule had to be moulded around his study program. Guru Maharaja turned to me and asked if I had an alternate number for Nityananda Prana Prabhu. I searched my phone, but only came up with numbers that Guru Maharaja already had. Asha tried the numbers on her phone, but to no avail. Guru Maharaja had heard that he was sick and wanted to check on him. I was touched deeply by Guru Maharaja’s genuine care for His disciples. As I was thinking like this, Nityananda Pran phoned. I handed the phone to Guru Maharaja and the two spoke for a few minutes. Guru Maharaja also asked me to get a hold of the travel agent and verify His tickets, but she was unavailable. Asha, it turns out knew the travel agent well, and kindly volunteered to follow up about the tickets.
When we arrived at the temple, whoever we drove past on the way to Guru Maharaja’s room greeted Him with obeisances and big smiles. It was so obvious how much He was loved. I unloaded the luggage and told Asha that Guru Maharaja wanted to see her. He gave her a maha garland, which she graciously accepted. Offering her obeisances, she left. I then began unpacking Guru Maharaja’s bags. Very little was spoken between us, and this made me worried that Guru Maharaja was upset with me. Of course, this wasn’t true. Rather, He was very busy settling in. He proceeded to set up His internet connection and His computer, whilst I unpacked. I packed away into His cupboards whatever I could recognize and made a pile of things I was unsure of. As soon as an opportunity presented itself, I asked Guru Maharaja what things went where. When I asked Guru Maharaja about lunch, He said that He would be taking Prasad with His Godbrothers, H.H. Devamrta Swami Maharaj and H.G. Ramanujacarya Prabhu. Both of them were celebrating their appearance day today and the lunch was in their honour. Upon Guru Maharaja’s request, I went to check if the organizers were ready to serve. They were not. Guru Maharaja remained as focused as ever, concentrating as He worked on the next of His DVD’s, on the Soweto Ratha Yatra. This event was a very historically significant one.
Soweto is a traditional township in South Africa, and is populated predominantly by Black-bodied people. Thus, to have a massive Ratha Yatra there was a significant stride forward in the preaching efforts of the South African Yatra, of which Guru Maharaja was such an integral part, being the co-GBC. When I checked again if the servers were ready, the answer was in the affirmative. Guru Maharaja and I walked up to the president’s office, where Ramanujacarya and Sri Hari Prabhus were already seated. Guru Maharaja was welcomed by the devotees. A few moments later, Devamrta Maharaj arrived, and the Godbrothers all offered their obeisances to each other, as did we. As they started taking Prasad, the Godbrothers spoke with great affection for one another. They ate well, and I was thanking Krsna for being given such a
wonderful opportunity to serve these exalted souls. As they ate, they discussed the “early days” and how they had joined ISKCON. One drop of the many drops of nectar produced from this “churning”, was when Devamrta Maharaj gave an account of how Guru Maharaja joined.
Guru Maharaja then spoke about the event Himself. Guru Maharaja had first contacted SP in April 1972, whilst at Auckland University. Guru Maharaja saw SP walking through the campus and was very struck by the kirtan that followed him and the effulgence that emanated from his form. Guru Maharaja joined the audience that had gathered around SP’s raised dais. Guru Maharaja remembered that SP lead a kirtan from this foot-high dais, which He enjoyed very much.
Ramanujacarya Prabhu is a very jovial person and was enjoying the association of his Godbrothers. He made several witty jokes. He asked if the ice-cream was low-fat and low-cholesterol. Guru Maharaja quipped that it was “cholesterol-reducing.” Everybody laughed. When the servers offered Guru Maharaja vanilla ice-cream, He said, “When you’ve got rum-and-raisin who needs vanilla?” It must have been pretty good.
Further proof was that Devamrta Swami initially declined the offer of ice-cream , but when he discovered that it was relatively low fat, he had two servings! Guru Maharaja then asked what the program would be like tonight, when we would be honouring the two devotees at a more formal Vyasapuja. After He was informed, Guru Maharaja washed His hands and mouth and left the room, bidding His Godbrothers a “See you later.”
The servants were then left with a substantial amount of Prasad to “deal with”. Whilst dishing myself a plate of Prasad, and preparing to perform this most auspicious yajna, I heard Guru Maharaja calling for me from outside. I looked out of a window and saw Him standing there, asking for me to come down to His room to open the door since He didn’t have His keys. I literally dropped everything and ran to Him, not even caring to put on my shoes!
After Guru Maharaja was let in and had settled into His armchair, I decided to beg for a darshan. There were some serious issues bothering me ever since Guru Maharaja’s last visit, and I poured out my heart to Him. Guru Maharaja gave me His full attention, then advised me accordingly. His words were concise, well-chosen and completely objective. He didn’t hesitate to say what had to be said, even though a portion of what He said was really scathing, and dented my false ego
substantially. Still, I was most grateful for His guidance, and left the room feeling light-hearted and content.
When I returned for prasadam, I saw that most of the other prasadam-relishers had wound up their pastimes. I took my quota, then helped clear up the room. Guru Maharaja had selected some gifts for His Godbrothers, which He asked me to gift-wrap. After buying the gift-wrap and wrapping up the presents, I showed them to Guru Maharaja. He seemed happy.
At about 7pm Guru Maharaja and I went up for Gaura Arati which was accompanied by kirtan lead by Devamrta Swami.
The devotees were relishing the chanting, and were dancing in great joy. When the kirtan eventually ended, the senior devotees took their seats. A foot-bathing ceremony was held for Devamrta Swami and Ramanujacarya simultaneously. Guru Maharaja also participated in the ceremony by washing His Godbrothers feet.
Then the senior devotees were asked to speak some glorifications. Guru Maharaja was requested to speak first, and He spoke some appreciations of these glorious devotees. Since He knew Ramanujacarya Prabhu better, He spoke about him
more. One funny pastime happened when Guru Maharaja and Ramanuja were collecting Laxmi for the construction of Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Mandir in the early 1980’s. Once, whilst on collection in the conservative province of the Orange Free State, Guru Maharaja and Ramanuja were visiting an Afrikaner gentleman who had a big dog. To encourage the man and to make him favourable, Ramanuja petted the dog. Then, when leaving, Ramanuja asked the man if he could wash his hands since he had touched the dog. Everybody laughed very loudly, especially Guru Maharaja.
Guru Maharaja said that He saw this as proof of Ramauja being so fixed in his Krsna Consciousness, that he wouldn’t abandon the Vasinava culture of cleanliness no matter what! Then Guru Maharaja turned to Ramanuja and asked him if he
remembered, to which Ramanuja playfully said, “No!”
Next, Partha Sarathi das Goswami Maharaj spoke some glorification. Then Shyamlal Prabhu spoke. Mother Prashuti was then given a chance. Devamrta Swami and Ramanuja were then requested to speak. Then there was a Gurupuja, offered simultaneously to Devamrta Swami and Ramanuja. Then there was a cake-cutting ceremony, during which time Guru Maharaja relished a piece of cake and passed it on to the eagerly waiting devotees. It was quite late by now, but I noticed that nobody seemed to be in any particular hurry to leave. Guru Maharaja then granted darshans to many people. Guru Maharaja retired at about 22h30, after I’d made His bed.
Day 2, Wednesday, 24/10/07
After the exertions of last night, it was undertstandable that everbody would be tired. During the morning pogram, I informed Guru Maharaja that He would be giving the SB class and also asked Him what He would take for breakfast. Guru Maharaja asked for the SB and said that He would just have tea. After cleaning Guru Maharaja’s room, and attending greetings, I set up for class. A vyasasana had to be taken to SP’s room since they had all been brought up for program last night.
The pastime of the interaction of Usa and Aniruddha was described by Guru Maharaja. The theme of dreams came up so I took the opportunity to ask about it. Guru Maharaja replied, quoting SP, that dreams are not to be taken seriously because they are a function of the mind. Today was meant to be the mid-week program at the temple, and Guru Maharaja suggested that He could show us a slide show instead. Our temple president had no objections, so it was definitely on. Guru Maharaja took tea for breakfast. I spent the remainder of the morning chanting my rounds. At 12h55, I went to the kitchen to check up on the status of Guru Maharaja’s lunch. Hemalata and Narushni had just finished the offering and were packing the prasadam into dishes for serving. Whilst they did this, I went to Guru Maharaja’s room and set up His eating place. There were several preps to carry, and I was grateful that the girls helped with some dishes. Guru Maharaja ate well, and
enjoyed the mint-and-peanut chutney in particular. After Guru Maharaja had taken to His full satisfaction, I cleared up and then took some prasadam myself. I spent the afternoon arranging for a projector screen and power supply for the slide
After Gaura Arati, Guru Maharaja came up to the temple-room and began setting up His projector and laptop. Soon afterwards, Devamrta Swami came up and I offered Maharaj a seat next to Guru Maharaja. The video was of harinam in
Sochi, South Russia. It was a wonderful exposition of Krsna Consciousness, which everyone enjoyed. I was very inspired by it indeed. The devotees enjoyed the clip so much that they requested to see another! Guru Maharaja obliged, and we
concluded the program by about 20h30. We left for Guru Maharaja’s room soon afterwards, and Guru Maharaja retired by 21h00.
Day 3, Thursday, 25/10/07
During mangal arati, Guru Maharaja had probably been sitting on the bench behind me in the temple-room for some time when I turned around and saw Him. I immediately offered my dandavats. Later, I asked Guru Maharaja whether He
would take fruit for beakfast. Guru Maharaja asked what was available, and when I said there was not such a variety, He opted for some maha-prasadam. There was some confusion over who would give SB class, and eventually I was requested to ask Guru Maharaja by our temple president, Svarupa Damodara Prabhu . He told me to offer Guru Maharaja an option to give or not. Guru Maharaja chose not to, and Svarupa gave the class himself. I had left some containers with the cook before class, and fetched the maha immediately after class.
As I served Guru Maharaja His breakfast, I opened all the containers to reveal their contents. Guru Maharaja immediately asked me to close the lid on the halava, so it did not get cool. Guru Maharaja said that I had some banking to do and gave me a choice of today or the next day to do it. Since I knew that today would be a very busy one, I opted for Friday.
Our first program was at the University of Kwazulu Natal, Howard College. Guru Maharaja started off by showing them the video clip of the harinam in Sochi. The students liked it very much. Guru Maharaja then spoke about the real goal of life, in
keeping with the topic “A Perfect World.” As Guru Maharaja spoke, I looked at the students’ reactions. They seemed interested and I prayed to Krsna that they would accept the process wholeheartedly. It would save them from SO much of
As I drove Guru Maharaja back to the temple, He chanted incessantly. When we arrived, Guru Maharaja told me that He preferred to leave for our next program, in Phoenix, at 15h30 so that He could visit the bank en route. This was an hour before we had previously planned. He asked me to check if that was okay with our driver, and after doing this I excused myself and chanted my japa. Our driver, Bhakta Rakesh, arrived well on time in his new Jetta. Guru Maharaja was accompanied by Govinda Caran, Bhaktin Desiree and myself. As we drove, Guru Maharaja spoke to Rakesh, asking about his family. Our first stop was at the international bank. As we pulled into the parking, Guru Maharaja asked Desiree about which “dorpie” she was from in Cape Town. He recalled doing sankirtana in that area (called Paarrow) in 1985. He
jokingly asked her if she had been born by then. Guru Maharaja and I went into the bank together.
Our next stop was at Prabhanu’s home, where Guru Maharaja was to take lunch. Prabhanu is the temple president of New Jaganath Puri, and is doing a wonderful job of leading that congregation. Prabhanu first gave Guru Maharaja a tour of his newly-renovated home. Then he requested to bath Guru Maharaja’s lotus feet. After a short chat, the devotees were ready to serve prasadam. Prabhanu requested that we take prasadam at the same time as Guru Maharaja so that we could save time. The prasadam was well-prepared and Guru Maharaja voiced His approval, “What excellent prasadam!” After taking prasadam, Guru Maharaja sat down and spoke to the family. Guru Maharaja inquired about how things were going at
New Jaganath Puri. Prabhanu said that everybody was “pulling their weight”. He specifically mentioned the efforts of Deva Deva Prabhu. This boy was doing great service in the pujari department. He was even being considered for a leadership
position in the future. Both Guru Maharaja and Prabhanu concurred, however, that he was still immature and there was still a long time to go and much training before he took on more responsibility. Prabhanu mentioned that Deva Deva was very good in sewing outfits and had even been responsible for the outfit Jaganath used for Soweto Ratha Yatra. Guru Maharaja was pleased to hear this.
We were about to leave, when Prabhanu reminded me about the breyani he had kindly arranged for tonight’s program. Guru Maharaja excused Himself, and said that we were running late. As we drove off, Guru Maharaja said, “In British culture, it is considered rude to be on time.” I chipped in, “We at ISKCON must be very British.” Guru Maharaja said, “Very.” Our next program was a house program in Ntuzuma, an African township North of Phoenix. The program was facilitated by Abigail Dlamini, who is an aspiring disciple of Guru Maharaja. Guru Maharaja started off with a kirtan, which the audience comprising of mainly young children enjoyed very much. They were dancing and jumping in great jubilation.
Guru Maharaja then chose a verse from Bhagavad Gita from the 10th chapter. He selected BG 10.10, and requested that Govinda Caran Prabhu read the verse, and translate into Zulu as he spoke. Guru Maharaja then spoke in English first from BG and then gave His discourse. He requested Govinda to translate as He spoke. Guru Maharaja spoke on the basics of Krsna Consciousness, the nature of the body and the soul, our soul provider and gave the pastime from Mahabharat of Durvasa Muni visiting Draupadi with his 60 000 disciples when she couldn’t cook for them, and she eventually called for Krsna’s help. The audience was very appreciative and attentive.
After Guru Maharaja had given His presentation, He asked for questions. After a long wait, Bhaktin Desiree ventured to ask a question about improving our chanting. Guru Maharaja’s answer was very thought-provoking and instructive: “To chant properly, we must try and chant as many rounds as we can as early in the morning as we can. It is very helpful to chant in the association of the devotees. Also, if possible, we can have a tape of SP chanting japa playing softly in the background. We must also make a concerted effort to avoid the ten offences.”
It was then time to serve prasadam. Although the breyani was spicy, they seemed to be relishing it thoroughly. Whilst the devotees were honouring prasadam, Guru Maharaja spoke to the family elders about their impressions of Krsna Consciousness, with the translation help of Govinda Caran. It turns out that they were quite excited about Krsna Consciousness. I encouraged Abigail to approach Guru Maharaja for a darshan and she did so very shyly and humbly. She communicated her desire to resurrect the floundering preaching in KwaMashu and Ntuzuma. Guru Maharaja listened to Govinda Caran explain and then promised that He would help.
We left soon afterwards for the temple. The drive in and out of Ntuzuma took a long time and I apologized to Rakesh for keeping him out so late. I then asked him how old his car was. He said that it was under six months old. I was astonished that he was so surrendered to risk the use of his new vehicle in this somewhat rural area, where the roads were not particularly decent at all. He assured me, with his characteristic humility, that it was his privilege to serve Guru Maharaja. We were all quite tired from the busy day, but Guru Maharaja was fresh and alert, chanting japa without cessation.It
was amazing to watch.
When we arrived at the temple, Guru Maharaja took time to thank Rakesh very much for his driving and apologized for keeping him out so late. After setting up Guru Maharaja’s bed and checking if everything was in order, I retired for the night. It was well past 22h00.
Day 4, Friday, 19/10/07
During the morning program, I asked Guru Maharaja about my services for the day. Guru Maharaja said that He’d have tea for breakfast today. There was an amendment to the morning program because it was the anniversary of the installation of Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha Radhanath and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu 22 years ago. It was planned that there would be a Boat Festival that evening, but there was intermittent rain, and the possibility of an outdoor program became even more remote. After SP Gurupuja, there was greetings of the Deities in a new outfit.
Devamrta Swami was meant to give SB class, so I downloaded files from my digital recorder to make space for the nectar which he is famous for delivering. As I walked to class, I was met by Ramananda Raya. He told me that Guru Maharaja was giving class instead and was requesting the SB and His glasses! I shifted into top gear immediately. I raced down to Guru
Maharaja’s room to borrow His copy of the SB from His library and took His glasses from His table. When I got to SP’s room Guru Maharaja was just concluding the singing of Jaya Radha Madhava.
I regained my breath and set up the recorder, then offered Guru Maharaja His water. Then Guru Maharaja gave SB class, speaking specifically about devotees visiting Vrndavan on pilgrimage. He quoted SP as having said many times, “You can’t
go to Vrndavan simply by buying a plane ticket.”
I served Guru Maharaja His tea after class. When I asked Guru Maharaja if I could do the banking today. Guru Maharaja said, “It has to be done today.” So, after I had taken prasadam, I went to do this service. At the bank, after I had finished the banking, I requested to speak to the teller I had had an altercation with during my last visit. I apologized to her profusely and explained what had happened. She was very understanding and kind, and accepted my humble plea for forgiveness. I left the bank with a light heart and in high spirits. When I returned to Guru Maharaja’s room, He was in a
meeting with Bhakta Bongani. I showed Guru Maharaja the bank slips and filed them.
Asha was cooking lunch for Guru Maharaja today, and at 12h50 she phoned me to say that she had arrived. I set up Guru Maharaja’s eating-table then went to assist Asha in re-heating the prasadam. Guru Maharaja likes His prasadam to be served piping hot, so I was present to oversee that this standard was followed properly. As Asha continued warming up more preps, I shuttled them to Guru Maharaja’s room. It was Italian cuisine, compromising of soup, pasta, oven-baked veggies, two kinds of pesto and a salad. Guru Maharaja was relishing the prasadam, and I willingly and happily served Him more.
Whilst He ate, Guru Maharaja expressed His concern to Asha about the mix-up with the travel agent regarding His tickets. Asha went to her car and fetched the ticket she had been given. When she returned and showed Guru Maharaja the ticket and itinerary. This was all she had received from the travel agency and Guru Maharaja was not fully satisfied. He wanted somebody to phone and check what was going on. Asha promised to follow up on this.
After Guru Maharaja had finished, I cleared up and took prasadam myself. There were no programs during the afternoon so I left Guru Maharaja to continue with His editing whilst I chanted. By the way, as I had noticed Guru Maharaja working on two separate sets of footage, I asked Him if He was working on two DVD’s to which He replied, “Yes.” I was amazed!
Still, you all can look forward to Soweto Ratha Yatra and Preaching in Russia, coming soon to a screen near you! During the afternoon, Prana Priya came to take darshan of Guru Maharaja. She had brought her itinerary, and showed this to Guru Maharaja, who nodded in approval. She was very keen to meet Guru Maharaja in Vrndavan, and would probably join Him on parikrama. She also had made a beautiful rose garland, which she presented to Guru Maharaja together with some daksina. Prostrating before Guru Maharaja, she bade Him farewell, having obtained His kind glance and blessings.
Guru Maharaja asked if I could come back at 5pm to shave His head. I agreed unhesitatingly. When I arrived a few minutes early, Guru Maharaja showed me that He had completed shaving, even around His sikha. He apologized, saying
that “It was going so quickly that I just carried on.” I took it as a lesson. I thought, “My spiritual master is not dependant on me. He can function perfectly well without my assistance. Better, in fact. Any service that is given to me is simply by His mercy, having compassion on a foolish disciple.”
The Gaura Arati kirtan was being lead by Devamrta Swami, and the devotees were relishing his sweet chanting. I went down to see Guru Maharaja, and He asked what sort of crowd there was. I said that it was steadily growing. Guru Maharaja
wound up what He was doing on the computer and we walked up to the temple-room together. When Guru Maharaja joined the kirtan, dancing with raised arms, the mood picked up substantially.
After the kirtan, the senior devotees viz. Guru Maharaja, Devamrta Swami, Partha Sarathi Maharaj, Shyamlal Prabhu and Ramanujacarya Prabhu took their respective seats for the evening’s program. The devotees took turns churning the nectar of their pastimes collecting for the building of the Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Mandir. Guru Maharaja spoke first, talking about the austerities they endured, and how the darshan of the as yet uninstalled Deities were a source of inspiration for Him whilst He was out on sankirtana. He especially recalled remembering Radhanath’s self-manifest brahman thread. Devamrta Swami then spoke, more out of appreciation for his Godbrothers efforts, since he was not directly involved in the collection or construction of the temple. Whilst he was speaking,
Guru Maharaja asked me to go and get the garland that Prana Priya had made, from His room. When I brought it to Him, He asked me to put it on. He repeatedly smelled that rose garland as the other devotees spoke. I was moved by how much He valued the gift given by His disciple. I was sitting next to our temple president, Svarupa Damodara Prabhu and he asked me who that garland was from. When I said that it was from my mum, he raised his eyebrows and smiled in appreciation of Guru Maharaja’s kind gesture. Partha Sarathi das Goswami then spoke followed by Ramanuja and Shyamlal Prabhus.
Asha contacted me, saying that she had Guru Maharaja’s tickets. When I went to fetch them, I thanked her profusely. It must have taken some endeavour for her to get those tickets, especially since her son was in matric and needed most of her attention. I appreciated the fact that she was willing to stretch herself to serve Guru Maharaja.
After the talks, there was a Jhulan Yatra Festival for the utsava Deities. Guru Maharaja started a kirtan that started off quite mellow. It then built up in pace and intensity until the devotees were dancing with great enthusiasm. I was enjoying this kirtan very much, and felt extremely blissful. Guru Maharaja is certainly one of the best kirtan-leaders in our society! I wish that that kirtan would never end.
The program concluded after 22h00, and the devoees were served a big feast. As Guru Maharaja walked down to His room, He handed out His garlands to a few fortunate souls. Whilst making Guru Maharaja’s bed, I occasionally glanced up at Him, feeling exceptionally grateful to be His disciple.
Day 5, Saturday, 20/10/07
Whilst I was offering arati to tulasi, Guru Maharaja entered the temple-room. I paused after offering the incense and offered my dandavats to Him, then proceeded.
During japa, the fatigue of the late night caught up with me, and I dozed off. Guru Maharaja walked past me as He circumambulated tulasi, which roused me from my slumber. I approached Guru Maharaja and asked if He would take tea or fruit. He told me that there was going to be a joint breakfast with the national council members, so He would take His breakfast with them. Guru Maharaja left the temple-room after Guru puja and I followed Him.
Krsna Candra Prabhu was co-ordinating the serve-out, and asked me to bring Guru Maharajas plates. I did so immediately. I then excused myself, telling him that I had other service. I knew that Guru Maharaja would want to pack
as soon as possible, so I decided to take advantage of the sunny weather and wash His cloth that had accumulated because of the rainy weather. When the time came for the serve-out, I went to call Guru Maharaja. He said that I should check if everything was ready. It was not, so I told them to phone me when they were, and that I would be waiting with Guru Maharaja.
About ten minutes later, Krsna Candra phoned to say that everything was set and that Devamrta Swami was already there. I informed Guru Maharaja and we went up to Govinda’s Restaurant, where the devotees were waiting. Guru
Maharaja was ushered to His seat, which was facing Maharaj. The devotees offered Guru Maharaja a variety of preps but in the end He settled for buttered muffins, yoghurt and spice tea.
As the Godbrothers ate, they spoke about the situation in the South African Yatra. Devamrta Swami had recently been offered and had accepted the position of co-GBC and was thus involved in this meeting. After the senior devotees had taken Prasad, I washed Guru Maharaja’s plates and cutlery. I then took some Prasad myself. The Gurus were then taken to the national council meeting, which was being held at a conference facility nearby, by Syamasundar, our Godbrother.
I spent the remainder of the morning chanting my rounds. I also contacted Bhakta Dashen to confirm that he would be on time to pick up Guru Maharaja at 14h00 to go to Pietermaritzburg. Then, during the course of the day, Guru Maharaja
called me. He said that I should ask Dashen if he could come earlier, maybe at 12h30. Dashen agreed. Also he was meant to take Guru Maharaja from Pietermaritzburg to New Jaganath Puri in Phoenix for Lokanath Prabhu’s wedding. I inquired if he would be able to wait until the conclusion of the wedding then also bring Guru Maharaja back to Sri Sri Radha Radhanath. After confirming with his family he agreed to do this also.
When Dashen came to fetch to fetch me, I noticed that his father and grandfather were also in the vehicle. Athough he was driving a large vehicle, a Chrysler Voyager, perceived that the devotees who had requested to accompany Guru Maharaja would not be able to fit. I asked that somebody should stay behind. Nobody volunteered. Bhakti Nilaya was so “eager for Guru Maharaja’s association” that he even shared a seat with Dashen’s elderly father. The fact that the situation was a little awkward and cramped annoyed me, and when I mentioned to Bhakta Bongani to change places with me because my legs would cramp up during the hour-long journey, he refused. My frustration level was escalatingi
When we arrived at the venue for the meeting, I got off to check up on the status of the proceedings. After ten minutes, Guru Maharaja appeared and I offered my obeisances. Bhakti Nilaya also came along and started voicing his regret that he was causing an inconvenience. I told him that if he really meant it he should stay behind. He looked crest-fallen. Guru Maharaja, who was walking close by must have heard the whole conversation, because when we got to the car, He turned around and asked Bhakti Nilaya if he was coming or not.
Nilaya showed some hesitation, but Guru Maharaja indicated that he should stay in the car. I took this as an important lesson for me. I MUST tolerate, and serve the needs of others before my owni As if in confirmation of this fact, the devotees had adjusted the seats so that I had more space and wouldn’t get cramps during the long journey. I felt touched and humbled. Krsna had made an arrangement, all I had to do was trust Him.
During the hour-long trip, Guru Maharaja spoke with Dashen periodically, inquiring about his chanting and general sadhana. We arrived at the Sewlalls residence at 3pm, on schedule. After speaking to the family for some time, Guru
Maharaja was ushered into the dining room, where we served prasadam. There were many people serving – too many actually.
Bhakta Bongani also wanted to render some devotional service to his spiritual master, and I facilitated his desire. I’ve had my share of friction with not having facilitated certain devotees in the past and suffered greatly so I am wiser from the experience. Then, after a while Guru Maharaja requested that everybody who traveled with Him also take prasadam at the same time as Him to avoid us being late for our next program. I continued to serve and co-ordinate things for a while, until the time Guru Maharaja started with His sweets. At time I sat down and honoured prasadam.
Guru Maharaja remained seated for a while chatting to the managers of Pietermaritzburg Yatra for a while we finished taking prasadam. We were then off to do a memorial service program at Bhaktin Natasha’s house. Guru Maharaja was ushered into the home and seated in the lounge. He was then garlanded by what seemed like almost all the family members! Then Guru Maharaja entered the marquee set up for the program, and performed an arati for the beautiful Gaura Nitai Deities set up on the altar.
One of the first things that Guru Maharaja did was to instruct the family to re-arrange the pictures of the parampara, which was in the wrong order. I marveled at Guru Maharaja’s attention to detail. Before Guru Maharaja spoke, He was introduced by Lokabandhu Prabhu, who glorified Him extensively. As Lokabandhu continued to extol Guru Maharaja’s innumerable glories, He sat on His vyasasana, unmoved and equipoised, completely indifferent to the praise being heaped upon Him. By way of introduction, Guru Maharaja said, “The late devotee was 57. A year older than Me. Still a young man.” Everyone smiled at Guru Maharaja’s wit.
Guru Maharaja then spoke from BG. 8.5-6. Guru Maharaja spoke about Bharat Maharaj’s last thoughts as well as the pastime of Puranjana. It was a very enjoyable lecture and everybody loved it. During the class, Guru Maharaja had asked me to keep in touch with the devotees in Phoenix to see if the wedding had started. I was relieved to hear that they were running late. After the class, I reported to Guru Maharaja and He said that we would leave shortly, because we had to make the hour-long trip to Durban, and then a further 30 minutes to Phoenix. Although, Guru Maharaja was running late, He didn’t just bolt out of the program in a big flourish, but gave His association very liberally.
We left for Phoenix at about 18h15. The wedding ceremony was already in progress when Guru Maharaja arrived. Although sitting in the yajna, both Lokanath andPrema acknowledged Guru Maharaja’s presence. Guru Maharaja was
ushered to a table reserved for Him, whilst the priest concluded the ceremony. Guru Maharaja was then requested to give His address. He firstly apologized for being late, which I felt was a great display of His humility. He gave a brief description of the importance of maintaining proper householder life, then glorified both devotees as being very sincere and then gave them His blessings. Guru Maharaja then resumed His seat.
After only a few moments, H.H. Partha Sarathi das Goswami Maharaj arrived. He was immediately requested to deliver his address. Maharaj also asked for forgiveness for being late, then gave the couple his blessings. The newly-weds were then ushered offstage, where they were congratulated by everybody, starting with the swamis. Guru Maharaja and Partha Sarathi das Goswami Maharaj sat together at their table and talked for about an hour. During this time, Naren approached me saying that they had prepared a snack for Guru Maharaja. When I informed Guru Maharaja, He said that He’d honour
very little. Thus, I served Him some katchoris with a sour cream dip. Partha Maharaj was on a fruit diet, and the only fruit I could get my hands on were those from the yajna.
He didn’t eat any though. Guru Maharaja spoke for another half an hour before indicating to me that we should leave. I gathered all of our passengers, and we left New Jaganath Puri for Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Mandir. We arrived at about 10pm, and Guru Maharaja apologized profusely to Dashen and his wife for having kept them so late. (These devotees live in
Pietermaritzburg and would only reach their home after 11pm!) They were very understanding though, and told Guru Maharaja not to apologize and that they were very grateful for the service. I must admit, I was very impressed by this display of surrender from Dashen, who was willing to sacrifice his own comfort to serve Guru Maharaja as required without hesitation.
Guru Maharaja thanked Dashen again and bade him farewell. Bhakta Bongani and Bhakti Nilaya helped me carry the many gifts Guru Maharaja had received. After packing some of the things away, I made Guru Maharaja’s bed. I asked Guru Maharaja if there was anything I could do for Him before bidding Him “Goodnight”, and retiring for the night.
Day 6, Sunday, 21/10/07
Guru Maharaja arrived in the temple-room after tulasi-puja, and I offered my pranams to Him. During japa, I approached Guru Maharaja and discussed His plans for the day. Guru Maharaja was due to meet with the council members again today, so there was going to be a joint breakfast again this morning. After Deity greetings, I went down to Guru Maharaja’s room to prepare for serving Him breakfast. Guru Maharaja said that He would not be taking breakfast with the others, and would have tea instead. He asked me to convey this message to the devotees upstairs in Govinda’s. I brewed the tea in the
restaurant kitchen, using artificial sweetener since Guru Maharaja had questioned if I had used white sugar the last time, and I imagined He was unhappy with this option. The devotees accepted Guru Maharaja’s choice to remain in His
room and chant.
I then approached Devamrta Swami and forwarded an apology on behalf of Guru Maharaja. Maharaj graciously accepted and appreciated the etiquette displayed. When I returned to Guru Maharaja’s room, I explained that I had used artificial sweetener. Guru Maharaja didn’t seem impressed. “Anyway, I’ll try it. Pour out a little in the cup.” I did so. Guru Maharaja tasted the tea, and promptly concluded that it needed more sugar. I ran up to get some, added some to the tea, and looked at Guru Maharaja’s face as He drank to check His expression. He seemed content. One very important lesson that I gained from this incident is that I should never hesitate to ask Guru Maharaja about anything if ever I was in doubt.
Actually, this was one of the first instructions I had received from my predecessor, Lokanath Prabhu, and this pastime consolidated the lesson most effectively. Whilst I was with Guru Maharaja, He asked me to look for a flask which Avaduta Candra Prabhu, our Finnish Godbrother had given Him. I searched high and low but couldn’t find that flask. Guru Maharaja then asked me to take out whatever flasks He owned so that He could examine them. He wasn’t particularly pleased with any one of them, and eventually told me to do a “heat-retention” test ie. put boiling water in each of them and check which one stayed hot the longest. When Guru Maharaja had taken His tea, He asked me if transport arrangements to the meeting venue were confirmed. I assured Guru Maharaja that Vibhu Caitanya Prabhu, the vice-president at our temple, would drive both Him and Devamrta Swami. When they were ready to go, I accompanied Guru Maharaja to the car and saw Him off. I then took some prasadam myself before getting stuck into my rounds. An arrangement had been made with Krsnaprema to cook Guru Maharaja’s lunch, and I confirmed that they would be on time so I could serve Him at 13h00. I also requested her to buy some toiletries Guru Maharaja said He needed, which she kindly agreed to do.
In the interim, Guru Maharaja had called me to say that the meetings were still going on, and He had another meeting with Devamrta Swami and the Cape Town temple president at 13h00, so Prasad could be served at 13h30. I went to Guru Maharaja’s room and set up a chair for Maharaj. As he settled into the chair, he looked around at all Guru Maharaja’s DVD’s, computers, cameras and editing equipment saying, “Spiritual Bollywood!”
Everybody, including Guru Maharaja laughed in appreciation. When I went down to see Guru Maharaja at 13h30, the meeting had just ended. I asked if I could start heating up the prasadam, and He said that He would be taking His lunch in Srila Prabhupada’s room with Maharaj. I knew that Guru Maharaja liked His prasadam hot, so I had refrained from heating up the preps prematurely. Still, I felt that I should have been more in readinessi
It was a scramble to get those preps really hot really quickly, and then transport them to where Guru Maharaja was! Somehow I managed. Guru Maharaja ate very well and the Godbrothers talked in a very relaxed way. During lunch, Devamrta Swami was appreciating very much how positive the mood at the national council meetings was, and that so much enthusiasm was shown by all the managers to help the South African Yatra progress. Guru Maharaja concurred. The Godbrothers then spoke about Guru Maharaja’s earlier days in New Zealand as a youth.
The subject of surfing, in particular, came up. Guru Maharaja confessed that He surfed all year round, even in winter. Devamrta Swami asked, “With a wetsuit?” Guru Maharaja confirmed that He did use a wetsuit in the colder periods. Guru Maharaja then asked Maharaj’s servant,Bhakta Dwayne, about his place of origin, since he was a New Zealander. Guru Maharaja asked him whether he’d had any experience of a place called Gisbon. Dwayne said that he hadn’t. Guru Maharaja said that He had once worked for the Gisbon Herald as a sub-editor. Guru Maharaja then requested for some cheesecake, and I hastily served Him a slice. Guru Maharaja ate half of it and then continued to talk to Maharaj.
When Guru Maharaja had finished, I fetched a jug of water and a dish for Him to wash His hands and mouth. Guru Maharaja then departed for His room. I busied myself clearing up and then washing Guru Maharaja’s plate. There wasn’t really much time to take prasadam since the Sunday Program would be starting soon, so I decided to snack on something. After I had relished the remnants of the cheesecake, I polished off the remaining drink Guru Maharaja had left. I gave Guru Maharaja the report of the “heat-retention test”. He chose the one which retained heat the longest, although it had a capacity of only 250ml. I respected His choice, and kept the flask aside to be packed into His bag later that afternoon.
As if in confirmation to this thought, Guru Maharaja said that He wanted to pack immediately after the Boat Festival. This Festival was meant to be held on Friday, but due to inclement weather was postponed to this afternoon.
Guru Maharaja and I entered the temple-room after the Gurupuja to SP. Guru Maharaja sang the Nrsingadev prayers and then took His place on the vyasasana. He spoke on BG 13.31, emphasizing that we should not be so concerned about peoples’ external appearance and focus rather on respecting everybody. He gave a very funny story of the potato that made it back to Godhead! After class, Guru Maharaja led kirtan as the utsava Deities of Sri Sri Radha Radhanath were taken on Their palanquin out of the temple.
Guru Maharaja switched to singing on our portable harinam sound system, carried by Bhakta Bongani as He lead us down to the moat. Those of you who have never seen Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Mandir may be informed at this point that the temple is so designed that it is surrounded by a moat, which holds a capacity of about one million litres of water.
The temple itself is shaped like a lotus, symbolically rising out of the moat, divides the moat into two exactly symmetrical halves . Incidentally, during last year’s Boat Festival Guru Maharaja named the two bodies of water Radha Kunda and Syama Kunda! Guru Maharaja continued with the kirtan until the Deities were placed onto Their swan-shaped boat. He then handed the microphone to me and I took over the kirtan.
Guru Maharaja picked up and tied His dhoti and entered the moat Himself. This year’s Festival was special in that the children of our congregation were allowed to join in the boating pastimesof the Lord and help push the Divine Couple’s Transcendental Boat around the moat. They did so with great relish, as you can imagine. Seeing them splash about in gay abandon made me wonder what Krsna and His associates could possibly have done in His lila!
Devamrta Swami arrived a short while later, having given the talk at New Jaganath Puri. Maharaj was requested to lead kirtan, and although he sang exactly the same melody as I was singing, he did so with so much more love and attention that the devotees were soon all feeling very blissful. By this time, Guru Maharaja had climbed out of the moat and was watching the children frolic in the waist-deep water. He raised His arms in a salute to their exuberance,as they practically danced all around the moat! Then the Deities were taken off the swan-carrier and placed back on the palanquin.
Guru Maharaja asked me to fetch His danda from the temple-room, and then He left for His room. I went down soon afterwards. When I asked Guru Maharaja when He wanted me to pack, He said I could do so as soon as I was ready. I
asked if it was alright if I took the Sunday Feast Prasad first, and Guru Maharaja consented. After honouring Prasad, I returned to Guru Maharaja’s room and we began packing. It took more than an hour, but at the end Guru Maharaja announced, “Well, I think that’s basically it. It looks like we are 95 – 99% done.”
That statement made all the endeavour worthwhile. Bhaktin Sheena came in to see Guru Maharaja and presented Him with several hand-made counters. He was grateful, and pointed out that one counter that she had made before was opening up. He suggested that she use a flame to fuse the threads together, which she busied herself doing without delay. Guru Maharaja told her not to work directly over her clothing, as she may be burned if some drops of melted nylon fell. He told her that that had happened to Him once, when He was younger, and indicated a scar on His right hand.
Sheena was also applying for entry into Bhaktivedanta College at Radhadesh and showed Guru Maharaja the application forms. He advised her with great care and fatherly attention. When she left, I made Guru Maharaja’s bed. I suggested that Guru Maharaja wear a brighter set of cloth the next morning. I could iron a freshly-dyed set of cloth, which had just arrived from Johannesburg from our Godbrother Namacarya. I thought that Guru Maharaja could wear this tomorrow morning for His flight to Mauritius. Guru Maharaja thought that that was a good plan.
As I ironed, I spoke to Ashim Krsna Prabhu about my sadness and growing feelings of separation from Guru Maharaja, since He was leaving the next day. His reply was very striking. He said, “The real test is the final separation. Actually that is our process, service in separation.” I pondered on his words. “The final separation.” They kept ringing in my ears. Whatever would I do without Guru Maharaja? My life revolves around Him. Service to Him sustains my miserable existence on this planet. I must learn to maintain this faith and dedication regardless of Guru Maharaja’s physical presence.
And thus I will pass the test of “the final separation”.
I returned to Guru Maharaja’s room after about fifteen minutes and after leaving the ironed cloth on a chair, remained sitting in front of Him, gazing into His eyes. Guru Maharaja said, “That’s all for now, thanks.” I offered my obeisances and left very quietly. Tomorrow I would bid my spiritual master farewelli
Day 7, Monday, 22/10/07
I was in deep mediation on the meaning of the Guruvastakam as it was being sung. Reflecting on Ashim’s words the night before, I became overwhelmed with a feeling of deep-seated sorrow and apprehension. H.H. Partha Sarathi das Goswami Maharaj explained once that this was actually a great type of ecstasy felt by the gopis ie being overwhelmed by a feeling of separation even whilst in the presence of the great personality who is the object of one’s love. To dare compare my feelings with those of the exalted gopis is ludicrous, but still I can appreciate their mood and aspire to follow in their glorious footsteps.
As I was thinking in this way, I went forward to take the flowers offered to Sri Sri Radha Radhanath to SP. At this very moment, Guru Maharaja entered the temple-room. I immediately offered my dandavat pranams, understanding that my eternal spiritual master had once again verified the existence of an eternal, imperceivable connection between us.
The devotees were already dancing in bliss, and Guru Maharaja’s presence seemed to lift them to another level of ecstasy. During the japa period, Guru Maharaja chanted His japa in His usual spot whilst I took my seat next to Ramananda Raya Prabhu. We both faced Guru Maharaja as we chanted, which intensified the experience so much more. Guru Maharaja had told me that He would come down to the room after SP Gurupuja, and I left to clean at 06h30. After greetings and Gurupuja, I had to set up the SP lecture for the morning’s SB class. After doing so I raced down to Guru Maharaja’s room.
Guru Maharaja rounded up the last bit of packing and we were ready to go at 08h00. Guru Maharaja asked me to weigh His luggage. He used a very smart system. He first got me to get onto the scale and take my weight. Then I had to weigh myself whilst carrying the bag. This second weight minus the first gave us the weight of the bag! Ramananda Raya had brought a maha-garland for Guru Maharaja. Judging from it’s length, I could see that it had been worn by Radhanath. Guru Maharaja looked most regal with it on.
At 08h25 He asked me to check where Asha was, and requested that Ramananda Raya and I move the bags outside. Asha had just dropped off her son, who was writing his matric exams that morning, and she was running late because the highway was busy with rush-hour traffic. I reported all of this to Guru Maharaja.
Whilst we waited, Hari Vallabha came to see Guru Maharaja with some of His laundry. He thanked her profusely, displaying His very personal touch in His dealings with everybody He contacts, that has endeared Him to all of us. Guru Maharaja did a final check of His things then went outside Himself to wait. Whilst waiting, Guru Maharaja chatted to Rancor Prabhu in French and Creole, perhaps in preparation for His visit to Mauritius in a few hours! Asha arrived a few moments later, very apologetic and asking for Guru Maharaja’s forgiveness. We packed the car and were off to the airport.
At the airport, Guru Maharaja checked in His luggage and then walked towards the boarding gates. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to accept it. Guru Maharaja was leaving us. Even a moment away from Him after relishing His sweet association for 7 glorious days seemed unbearable.
We were almost at the gates now. This was it. Guru Maharaja stopped. Turning around, He gave us a big, fatherly smile. He then garlanded both Ramananda Raya and me with that big garland, now maha maha Prasad. It was a display of genuine love for His disciples and I cherished that moment in the core of my heart. Then He passed through the security check-point and, giving a final wave, disappeared from our sight.
We all offered our obeisances to Him before making our way back to Sri Sri Radha Radhanath. Thank You, Guru Maharaja for allowing me to bath in the ocean of nectar that is Your association…
Hoping this meets you well.
Caitanya Carana das