All glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga
(English translation from Russian, by Kundalata Devi Dasi.)
Please kindly forgive me for the delay with this letter that you have been waiting for so much.
Undoubtedly, the news of Srila Gurudev's disappearance is like a lightening striking the heart of all our international Vaishnava family. In a unique way I was able to be present at the time of Srila Gurudev's departure. I shall relate the dramatic circumstance of the events happened in the last few month in the order of their occurrence:
A delegation of Russian devotees -- Vijay Raman Prabhu, Sahadev Prabhu, Indian devotees who joined the Mission in Russia (Dr. Jay Kumar, Dr.Ram Sundar and Dr. Amit Krishna Goswami), Premananda Prabhu and Anukrishna Didi -- and I were present at the Vyasa Puja ceremony in Navadwip. At that ceremony Srila Gurudev declared Sripad Acharya Maharaj his successor and Acharya of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.
Of course for those who knew Gurudev closely it was not a surprise because the peculiar position of Acharya Maharaj as an exclusive servitor was obvious for all of Gurudev's entourage. When Gurudev stated his divine will, all senior Western devotees (sannyasis, leaders of the Mission in many countries, the heads of the regional centers) happily accepted Guru's decision. But just as there is no light without a shadow, immediately there appeared an envious anti-party of the newly proclaimed acharya. The opposition was headed by Ranjit and Paramahamsa Maharaj who wrote to Srila Gurudev an insulting petition wherein they tried to appeal against the decision of Gurudev regarding the assignment of the acharya. Their main argument was the fact that Acharya Maharaj had always been engaged in building temples and management only, therefore he cannot be the head of an international Mission. It happened so that even their petty petition turned out to be a glorification of Acharya Maharaj as a perfect servitor of Gurudev. Per se, they could not give any significant argument, and besides their ego and material ambitions emerged onto the surface.
After Srila Gurudev has got this petition, he left Navadwip the same day as the stress and the sinking health condition could not let him stay there any more. Srila Gurudev along with his entourage moved to Kolkata.
A drama started developing; Srila Gurudev was extremely upset, but the anti-party actively and aggressively continued their opposition. Acharya Maharaj had to turn to the help of the police. Srila Gurudev disconnected Paramahamsa Maharaj and Ranjit from the Mission and created an international council of Acharyas to secure the position of Navadwip as the international center and protect it from any usurpation. So by the will of Gurudev and the providence, Goswami Maharaj, Janardan Maharaj, Ashram Maharaj and other senior devotees of the Mission remained with Gurudev to ensure his peace and take part in the transmission of the affairs to Sripad Acharya Maharaj.
None of us expected that these were our last days with Gurudev. Although his health was undermined, Gurudev mercifully didn't show he was preparing to leave. He still continued receiving devotees and even gave initiations -- the last ones were those of Ram Ranjan from Moscow and Mirra from Mexico. Initiating Ram Ranjan, Srila Gurudev gave him a biscuit from his table, but when he saw that Ram Ranjan was eating it without anything to drink, he poured half a cup of tea from his own cup. Dear devotees, when I saw that I wanted to cry, but my heart was joyous... Only now I realize that never again in our life will be able to be with such a merciful personality.
As the days passed Srila Gurudev felt worse as the lung infection did not let him breathe freely; but despite the physical sufferings he continued bestowing upon us his precious association.
His personal servitors stayed with him 24 hours a day, having lost any sense of time. Sometimes Gurudev would feel a little better for some time and would sing, joke and recite slokas, but the last three days he was very peaceful.
Once Deva Bandhu Prabhu (his cook and the husband of Nanda Priya Devi Dasi from Brazil) told me that it had been a few days since Gurudev started refusing to take steroids (his main life-giving medicine). Then, returning to Sevak Bhavan from the temple, I saw Nanda Priya Devi Dasi sitting at the temple with a big plate of prasadam. I asked her, "What are you doing here?" She replied, "I'm treating the invisible guest..." I asked, "What guest?" Nanda Priya intimated that Gurudev told her that a very old and important sadhu came to him, and they had some important conversation, and then Gurudev asked her to give the guest prasadam. Knowing Gurudev's mystic nature, we weren't too surprised because his connection with the transcendental world has always been more than obvious.
I thought that if there would be a good moment and Gurudev would be joking, I would ask him the name of that sadhu. But that wasn't meant to happen. We can only guess now -- maybe that guest was Srila Sridhar Maharaj himself or somebody from our Guru-varga.
Next day was Ekadashi. For some reason I decided to fast. Aravinda Lochan Prabhu and I went for a walk around the temple -- it was an incredibly nice evening, a gentle breeze was blowing, we were happy it was an Ekadashi and that the wonderful fresh breeze chased away Kolkata's stifling air.
In the evening we went in to see Gurudev: there were unusually many people around him. He was sitting and smiling enigmatically. Everybody wanted to do something nice for him. Jamuna Devi Dasi was showing him pictures of devotees, then we remembered that he hadn't watched the Dance Of the Heart (a preaching film about Grushinskiy Festival where we were dancing and singing the kirtan in the crowd) for quite a while. Srila Gurudev liked that video very much, and Jamuna Devi Dasi played it for him again. After we have watched the video, he felt a little tired, and then Jamuna Devi Dasi played one more short video for him -- the one of the Chinese Spring Festival. There were acrobats of the Chinese ballet performing on a spheric stage, dressed in yellow costumes of the gods, they were performing the Arrival Of The Spring dance. From beneath the dome, the goddess of the spring was descending onto the stage, the acrobats were flying in the air resembling butterflies -- it was all like some incredible festival in the spiritual world. Gurudev pensively looked at the screen... and us... Nobody knew he was saying goodbye to us. Srila Gurudev didn't want to disturb anybody... We paid our obeisances and went to our rooms.
Dr. Jay Kumar arrived from Delhi -- out of a sheer coincidence he couldn't take the train and had to go by plane. We talked till late and decided that in the morning as early as possible we will go to see Gurudev.
I anticipated that Gurudev was going to leave, but hoped he would still be with us for some months. Dr. Kumar left and I couldn't fall asleep for a long time, other devotees as well. I took out my notebook, and for some reason started drafting Srila Gurudev's monument. I remembered samadhi of Srila Rupa Goswami, and I couldn't even imagine that Rupa Goswami and Raghunath Das Goswami left that very day, Gaura Dvadasi. Then I fell asleep.
I was awaken by Jamuna's cry, "Avadhut, get up!" I realized that something had happened -- I quickly got dressed, run into the room of Gurudev and saw that his close devotees were standing around his bed and Kishori Devi Dasi was doing artificial respiration... The scene shocked me.
I told Kishori, "Quickly, try to make the massage of the heart," but Jamuna looked at me and said, "He's already left..."
I couldn't believe it and ask Kishori to carry on doing the artificial respiration. Next moment I saw Srila Gurudev moved his finger a few times as if bidding us goodbye, for the last time.
Kishori Devi Dasi told me that when we all went to our rooms after the videos, Gurudev was peaceful, and at midnight he had a mild fit. Then Srila Gurudev fell asleep and slept almost four hours. But when he woke up, everything happened very quickly. The devotees continuously tried to give him steroids, but he would ward it off showing that we were disturbing him. Everybody was so shocked and panic-stricken that they didn't know what to do. Then they woke everybody up and kirtan begun.
Srila Gurudev was lying peacefully as if he just fell asleep.
The news spread at once. A line of people appeared in Srila Gurudev's room. They were crying and bidding goodbye -- his body was covered with a shower of flowers and garlands. The devotees were singing kirtan, and people kept coming. Close relatives came too, and we had to quickly decide on the transport and our actions. I was completely shaken, but realized that we had to be strong and not indulge in sentiments. I ran to Goswami Maharaj's room. Maharaj was pale and was intensely rummaging for something in his computer. I knew there had to be some divine confirmation of what had happened. I asked him, "Maharaj, what part of the temple will be given for the samadhi? Maharaj replied, "The devotees will feel the place, it will be revealed." After those words, he burst out crying, and I left his room.
I was as if swimming along the halls, realizing that I had to be strong and do tactic actions. Everybody also knew it, although from time to time, floods of tears would stream down our cheeks. Devotees' actions were very quick and synchronized. It seemed that Gurudev was leading every one of us.
Acharya Maharaj came, then the car, and the bus; the body of Gurudev was taken into the ambulance, and Jay Kumar, a few other devotees and I went by this car with sirens, another three cars followed us.
The road seemed unusually empty, as if some invisible force was clearing out all obstacles; three hours later we were already in Navadwip.
By this time, people from all Navadwip and the surrounding areas were gathering at the temple. Anukrishna Devi Dasi and Subhal Sakha Prabhu could miraculously get there from Puri just in five hours: they were carrying the equipment for video recording and the broadcasting.
At some moment I thought everybody went mad.
Gurudev's body was presented before the Deities and then hundreds of people rushed to his body to touch his feet -- some were wailing, some just went crazy. It took us much effort to build a human barrier around Gurudev's body and let everybody in by two-three people, a queue was built up.
Flowers poured like rain. Gurudev bestowed onto all who were present his last blessings. His auspicious peaceful face was as if saying, "Everything is all right; if you can't do something, don't worry."
When the farewell ceremony was over, Gurudev's body was taken to the samadhi mandir of Srila Sridhar Maharaj, and the abhishekh ceremony began. The body of Gurudev was washed with water, covered with sandal wood paste, ghee, and dressed in new clothes... Then I realized I was drained of strength... just stood there, devastated.
Sripad Acharya Maharaj moved about the territory like Sudarshana chakra -- I saw him at some moment washing Gurudev's body, another moment digging the hole for the samadhi, and yet another moment somewhere else giving directions.
Then the arati began. At some point I just moved into the background and looked at it from aside... Gurudev was sitting in samadhi, as if alive. He was surrounded and supported by close devotees... He was accepting the worship and getting ready to leave. When the arati finished, the burial ceremony began. It was very hard to reach the place of the samadhi -- people were jostling around in tight circles, the devotees were lying on the floor, clinging to the bed of Gurudev... We had to literally throw people aside, but that didn't cause any anger. We carried Gurudev and it seemed the bed was moving on its own over the road of hundreds of hands... In the tomb there was made a special altar, older sannyasis from other Gaudia Maths were bustling next to it. The ceremony was guided by Giri Maharaj, who was towering above with his staff in his hands as if sitting on a throne; from time to time he would give instructions. According to the rules, the earth should not touch the body of the acharya. In the depth, a yajna kunda was built and it was later covered with salt. Gurudev was seated with his danda and beads, the worship was carried out and prasadam was offered. On his chest they wrote "Sri Rupa Manjari Pada," and then the ceremony of committing to samadhi began. In turns, Acharya Maharaj and others were throwing handfuls of salt, reciting special mantra. Then salt showered like a snowfall, and when Gurudev's body could no longer be seen beneath the salty snow, everybody started dropping earth -- by hands, spades, and baskets. Jagadananda Prabhu was almost buried with Gurudev, he looked like Lord Siva covered with ashes. Close servitors of Gurudev, along with Ashram Maharaj, were doing their last personal service. Unable to bear what had happened, Jamuna Devi Dasi stayed in Kolkata, but when the devotees phoned and invited her saying that Gurudev would like her to be there, she arrived by the end of the ceremony. Jamuna Devi Dasi spent her best years with Gurudev and the fact she won't see him again this lifetime broke her heart.
I watched it all from the roof and saw hundreds of people surround the building of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math -- they were virtually hanging in bunches and standing at the parapets, and nobody was afraid to fall down and crush. Everybody was so much absorbed in what was going on that the thought of safety didn't occur to anybody. What I saw was perhaps the deepest impression in my life. For some reason or other, I remembered the story about Mahaprabhu coming to Katwa to take sannyas, and how thousands of people were running and crying behind him; they were grabbing the soil Mahaprabhu stepped on, and the road was covered with ruts. Suddenly I heard the song "Sri Gaura Mangala Bhumi Avichintya-chintamani": "The land of Gaura Mandal, every dust particle of it is a precious gem capable of fulfilling any desire." Gurudev was leaving resembling the sun setting behind the Himalayan mountains... Shortly a small hill grew up at the place of his samadhi, at the peak of which Tulasi Devi was planted. Then quickly the fence was built; it was a very hot day, but by that time the heat was waning and it was getting dark, and we finished just in time -- according to he rules, samadhi must be finished by sunset time. As soon as the sun set, the same gentle breeze blew, and shortly the thunder roared, the lightening stoke, and it began to rain. Goswami Maharaj was standing next to me and was reciting the sloka, "The gods showered the flowers of rain drops onto the blessed land of Navadwip, and all transcendental world was rejoicing." As the silence fell, everybody as if plunged into the ocean of separation from Gurudev.
We remembered that here in Navadwip Gurudev built the temple of Union in Separation for his Guru -- the fire of separation will purify, melt our cold hearts covered with ice of self-interest and self-love.
More than 16 hours passed in the 40'C heat, and I returned to my room and fell on bed as though dead. Despite the deathly tiredness, I suddenly felt striking easiness and purity. I could not imagine that such an event as disappearance of a Vaishnava can bring such deep satisfaction. It was inconceivable, but it was true. So, I fell asleep and slept through the arati. It was first arati for Srila Gurudev after his disappearance, and the devotees said that they made it with special affection. Then time came for the morning gathering -- Sripad Goswami Maharaj spoke of very deep spiritual truths about Gurudev and glorified Acharya Maharaj, consolidating his position in the spiritual succession. Some of those who were against Acharya Maharaj were present at the programme and were shocked. One by one, the leaders from different countries made some speech, glorifying Gurudev and his living succession. The turn came to me too. I also said something, don't remember exactly what, but devotees mercifully took it approvingly... Acharya Maharaj blossomed like a bud of a pink lotus -- opposition and hard work had been his company for many years, but he felt that Gurudev showered his mercy through his devotees, and was extremely happy to accept their blessings. He said, "Please forgive me, I am not perfect," and it sounded home-like, very affectionate. The opposition went away with their heads discouraged, it became obvious for everybody that their battle was lost: the devotees want to fulfill Gurudev's will.
I heard that the festival dedicated to Gurudev's disappearance that will take place in ten days is going to be attended by more than 200 devotees from all over the world. I realized that I had to quickly write a letter for the web-site. I know that the devotees have many questions, but I will probably be able to address them in my next letter, closer to the festival of Gurudev's disappearance. For now, everything should remain the same because we know that Srila Gurudev is with us in his transcendental form and instructions. The changes will happen in a natural and harmonious way. The most important thing is that Gurudev is happy and we will see him off together as one family.
On the sixth of April the festival dedicated to Srila Gurudev's disappearance will take place in Navadwip and all over the world. I hope that you will all gather together and give your respects to Srila Gurudev. May his mercy touch your hearts and may you spend these days remembering him in a sad delight. In Ramananad-samvad, the legendary talk between Mahaprabhu and Ramananda Ray that disclosed the real depth of theism and that was brought into this world by Sri Chaitanyadev, Mahaprabhu asks Ramananda, "What is the highest form of separation?" Ramananda Ray replies that there is no deeper feeling of separation than the separation from the devotees.
-Swami B.B. Avadhut