A Brief Life Sketch Of Srila Gour Govinda Swami
His Divine Grace Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja made his appearance as Braja-bandhu Manik in a vaishnava family on 2nd September 1929. He appeared in the village of Jagannathapura, not far from Jagannatha Puri Dhama, in Orissa, India, but as his mother was descended from the Giri family of the village Gadeigiri, Braja-bandhu spent his childhood there. His grandfather was a paramahamsa whose only business was to chant Hare Krishna and cry before the local Deity of Krishna known as Gopal Jiu. He taught Braja-bandhu how to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra by counting on his fingers. In the company of his uncles, Braja-bandhu would travel from village to village chanting Hare Krishna and singing the songs of Narottama Dasa Thakura. The Giri family have been known since the time of Syamananda Prabhu as famous kirtana performers in Orissa. Three hundred years ago, in the temple registers of Jagannatha Puri, the king of Orissa wrote that the kirtana party of Gadeigiri should come to perform kirtana for Lord Jagannatha whenever possible. In Orissa they are seen as kirtana-gurus.
From the age of six, Braja-bandhu worshiped the Deity of Gopal by making garlands, and sometimes, under the light of a candle, by singing hymns for Him from palm-leaf manuscripts. He would never take any food that was not offered to Gopal.
By the age of eight he had read the entire Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta and could also explain their meaning. At night many villagers would come to hear his recitation of the Bhagavata, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Thus from the very beginning of his life he was absorbed in chanting Krishna’s holy name, studying vaishnava literature, and worshipping his beloved Gopal. Friends and relatives remember him as always being very quiet and introspective. He was never interested in playing with other boys or in going to see cinema shows or theatre.
After the death of his father in 1955, as the eldest son he became responsible for maintaining the family, and on the request of his widowed mother he entered the grhastha-asrama. He first met his wife, Srimati Vasanti Devi, during their marriage ceremony. Because of financial constraints he could not enroll formally in University courses, but he studied privately at night to attend the examinations, obtaining a B.A. degree from Utkal University with overall second highest marks on the exam. He later also obtained a B.Ed. degree in a similar way and took up the profession of a school teacher. Despite many responsibilities, however, his devotion to Gopal never slackened. He would daily rise at 3.30 A.M., chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, worship tulasi-devi, and speak to his family from the Bhagavad-gita. In school he would take every opportunity to speak to his students about Krishna and devotional principles. Some of his students would become his disciples thirty years later. During school breaks he would take his wife and travel to the Himalayan mountains, visiting different tirthas and asramas, and he would sometimes engage in philosophical debates with the mayavadis he found there.
On 8 April 1974, at the age of forty-five, Braja-bandhu left his home and relatives in search of spiritual perfection. Giving himself the name “Gour-Gopalananda Dasa” and carrying only a Bhagavad-gita and a begging bowl, he wandered around India, visiting many sacred places along the banks of the Ganges River. He was looking for his spiritual master, that person who could help him develop an understanding of the maha-mantra. Although he had met many sadhus and gurus during his householder days-Orissa has many prominent sects of gaudiya-vaishnavas-he had not found any whose teachings sufficiently touched his heart. Still not finding his spiritual master after wandering in this way for one year, he eventually reached Vrindavana, thinking that his desire would certainly be fulfilled in Krishna’s dear abode.
Two weeks after arriving in Vrindavana he saw a huge signboard which read, “International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Founder-acarya His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada,” and he met a group of western devotees who gave him a copy of Back to Godhead magazine. When he read the contents describing the glory of divine love for Krishna, his heart became anxious to meet the magazine’s editor and the founder of the movement, Srila Prabhupada. Gaining entrance to Srila Prabhupada’s room, he introduced himself and the first question Srila Prabhupada asked was, “Have you taken sannyasa?” Gour-Gopalananda replied that he had not. “Then I will give you sannyasa!” exclaimed Srila Prabhupada. Understanding that Srila Prabhupada knew his heart, he surrendered himself at his lotus feet and soon became Prabhupada’s initiated disciple…
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