Volume-5 Chapter-16: The Jolly Swami

By Indradyumna Swami

December 1-12,2001

I was waiting for Sridhar Maharaja in the arrival hall at London’s Heathrow airport. Finally he appeared and started walking slowly toward me. He smiled as he came close. ‘What chapter of the diary are you up to?’ he asked.

I immediately hugged him. “I just sent out chapter 12,” I answered. He smiled again. “I guess I’ll be in the next chapter,” he said, “but I won’t be around to read it.”

I couldn’t answer. It was true, what he had said. He was in the terminal stage of liver cancer, and he was going to the holy dhama of Mayapura to spend his final days.

Two days earlier, in Durban, South Africa, I had received an email from Maharaja’s disciple Mayapura das. Maharaja was in Vancouver, Canada, and needed a liver transplant. Mayapur wanted to know if I could provide financial help.

I wrote back immediately saying that I would be happy to help in any way I could.

Mayapura wrote back just 10 minutes later. “The doctors have just said that Maharaja cannot receive a new liver,” he wrote. “Besides his hepatitis C and cirrhosis, they discovered three places where cancer has affected his liver, making him ineligible for the transplant because the cancer has spread elsewhere. There is nothing that can be done now. It’s only a matter of days or weeks before Maharaja leaves his body.”

Mayapura went on to say that Maharaja wanted to travel now and give some last association to his disciples.

I immediately phoned Maharaja in Vancouver.

‘Sridhar Maharaja,’ I began, “this is the last stage of your life. You only have a few days or weeks left. I think it is best you go to one of the holy dhamas in India and prepare for your departure. You have spent the better part of your life preaching. You have the right to spend the last few days in the holy dhama. The annual Mayapura festival is coming up soon. Your disciples can see you there.”

I insisted until Maharaja agreed.

“Will you help me get to Mayapur?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said.

Maharaja gave the phone to his sister Fiona. She walked a short distance away and spoke softly into the phone.

“The doctors say he won’t survive the flight to India,” she said, “but I think we should try anyway. I know India’s the best place for him now. I have already looked into a flight. One of his disciples here can accompany him, and you can meet them in London on their one-night stopover.”

Now I was with Maharaja at Heathrow Airport. We walked from the arrival lounge to the car waiting outside. Many of Maharaja’s European disciples crowded around him. He was groggy from the long flight and obviously in pain. Taking a role that I would hold for the next 10 days, I allowed Maharaja to speak to his disciples for a few minutes and then told everyone he had to go to the hotel to rest before his flight the next morning. A few disciples, obviously upset that they couldn’t spend a few more precious moments with him, glared at me. I didn’t take offense, but Sridhar Maharaja spoke up.

“From now on,” he said, “all of you do whatever Indradyumna Maharaja tells you. The nature of this illness is that certain gases accumulate in my stomach and go to my head, making me giddy. It is called encephalopathy. Sometimes they may even cause me to fall into a hepatic coma. Either way, I will be unable to decide what to do. So from now on Indradyumna Swami is your authority.”

But I had to give in, so I told the 20 disciples present to come to the hotel that evening for a short darsan.

At the hotel, I helped Maharaja take his kurta off. I was shocked to see that his entire abdomen was dark purple.

“The blood vessels are starting to break inside,” he said.

He started to smile. “When the big ones go, I go,” he said.

I was amazed at his composure, but it was only the beginning. In the 10 days that I would be with Maharaja, I would never detect even the slightest fear of death. In fact he often joked with us about it. Later on, Ambarisa prabhu would comment that ordinarily when someone is approaching death it is a great drama, but Sridhara Maharaja made it almost humorous. He was always jolly, up to the end.

I could see why he had the nickname Jolly Swami. Years ago in Bombay, two affluent life members’Mr. Brijratan Mohatta and Mr. M. P. Maheshwari’affectionately began calling him The Jolly Swami because he was always happy, and the name stuck. Even Maharaja’s website was called The Jolly Swami.

Maharaja bathed and rested briefly, and I allowed his disciples to come in. For most of them it would be the last darsan, and the atmosphere was intense.

Even before they sat down, Maharaja began to speak. ‘When I leave,’ he said, ‘you may cry for a few days, but then return to your services. I never had a family of my own. I took sannyasa when I was a young man, but when I accepted disciples I benefited tremendously. I felt emotions I had never thought I had. Surely such relationships will not end when I die.’

‘When I leave, we can be together in a more significant way,’ he continued. ‘Service in separation is the highest. I love all of you very much. The king is good for the people, and the people are good for the king.’

As Maharaja was speaking, I found myself writing down everything he said. I had heard such wisdom before, but somehow it carried more weight coming from the mouth of one who was about to die. I concluded that wisdom is not simply the words themselves but also who speaks them and when.

After offering words of gravity to his disciples, Maharaja returned to his more natural mode and lightened up the atmosphere. One disciple approached him with a rather simple painting of Radha and Krsna. At first Maharaja struggled to keep his eyes open. It was late, and he was heavily sedated. Looking at his swollen purple belly and bloated face I wondered how he had the strength to entertain so many people.

He opened his eyes and came to consciousness. Then he gazed at the painting of Radha and Krsna and smiled. He turned lovingly toward his disciple and then to the audience of devotees.

‘There’s talent in this picture,’ he said. ‘It’s unmanifested, but it’s there.’

Suddenly everyone burst out laughing. He had cut through the heavy atmosphere in his usual way with his humor. Some devotees continued laughing, but others quickly remembered the reality at hand and their faces became serious again.

As I was watching, I kept remembering Srila Prabhupada’s remarks to his disciples from his deathbed: ‘Don’t think this won’t happen to you.’

It was certainly sage advice, but seeing a Godbrother my age going through the same stage of death somehow made it all the more real. ‘I too will soon be on my deathbed with my disciples around me,’ I thought. I admired Maharaja’s ability to give eternal wisdom in such a condition, and I watched more closely, preparing my own self to give my final instructions.

Later on Maharaja began drifting off to sleep. Someone offered me a plate of prasadam, and I began to eat. Then I realized I hadn’t eaten or slept in over 32 hours, since leaving Africa to join Maharaja.

A few minutes later Maharaja came to and asked for prasadam. Somebody brought it to him. He looked at me. ‘Aren’t you going to eat?’ he asked.

‘I have already eaten,’ I said. ‘I assumed you would be fasting.’ ‘Eating is the one thing I’ll never give up,’ he said. The room lit up again with laughter.

It was nearing midnight, and I stood up and asked the devotees to leave. Suddenly one of Maharaja’s disciples handed me a letter of recommendation for brahminical initiation, from a temple in Slovenia.

I looked back at him incredulously. ‘It’s almost midnight,’ I said.

‘There was no opportunity before,’ he replied.

Maharaja stirred. ‘What’s happening?’ he asked.

‘There are five devotees here who want second initiation,’ I said. ‘I won’t be around to give you instruction,’ Maharaja said to the devotees. ‘It’s better you take second initiation from Indradyumna Swami.’

Some of the prospective initiates started to cry.

‘Maharaja,’ I said, ‘I’ll do it as a service to you, but I feel it’s better you give the initiation while you’re still living. I’ll help your disciples after you go.’

‘All right,’ Maharaja said.

I felt awkward instructing Maharaja because I considered him very much senior to me. We had traveled together for almost one year in 1986, and I was happy to take the subordinate position. He said at the time that we made a good team, but he always made the important decisions. I had no problem with that, as I respected the fact that Maharaja had had so much of Srila Prabhupada’s association. I have always considered it a rare privilege to associate with Godbrothers or Godsisters who actually served in Srila Prabhupada’s personal association. They often have a special love for him, and it is infectious.

A nearby clock sounded the stroke of midnight. ‘We will have to do the initiation now,’ I said. ‘All of the initiates can move forward, and Maharaja will speak the mantra out loud so you can hear.’

There was no question of Maharaja giving the gayatri mantra individually to each disciple. The darsan had proved too strenuous for him, and he was lapsing into moments of unconsciousness. I remembered his sister’s words to me over the phone’that the doctors said he probably wouldn’t survive the flight to India’so I expected he could die at any moment.

As the initiates moved forward I asked those who didn’t have second initiation to leave the room. Maharaja slowly opened his eyes, and then to my amazement gave a clear, concise, and Krsna-conscious talk on the importance of brahminical initiation. Towards the end he began to nod out again, so I asked him to give the mantra right away.

As his disciples listened attentively he began chanting the gayatri mantra, word by word, but I became anxious when he reached the third line and started slowing down. He was having difficulty concentrating’ again a combination of illness, exhaustion, and the powerful painkillers he had to take just to go through the journey he was on.

Suddenly he couldn’t remember the next line, but true to form, he smiled and looked over at me. ‘You say the mantra,’ he said, ‘and I’ll repeat it to them.’

I was surprised, but considering the time, place, and circumstances, I began saying the rest of the mantra word by word, and Maharaja repeated the same to his disciples.

But by this time, I was also fading from exhaustion. At one point I forgot where I was and hesitated for a moment. Maharaja looked at me and smiled. ‘We can’t make any mistakes here,’ he said.

He looked out at the devotees present. ‘One of you brahmanas say the mantra to Maharaja,’ he said, ‘Maharaja will say it to me, and I will then say it to the new initiates.’

And so it was that the five devotees received their mantra. Then with tears in their eyes, they stood up to say goodbye to their spiritual master for the last time in their lives. The departure of all the devotees from the hotel room that night was one of the most intense experiences I’ve had in my life as a devotee. They left slowly, trying to extend every moment for as long as possible. They inched their way backwards to the door, their tears running down their cheeks, focusing all their attention on their spiritual master. Maharaja had tears also, but he held back his feelings and gave final blessings to his disciples.

As soon as the door closed Maharaja collapsed in bed and fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning I woke him up with great difficulty. At first he didn’t know where he was or what was happening. ‘Maharaja,’ I told him, ‘you’re in London, on your way to India to prepare for leaving this world.’

He became more conscious and smiled. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I have three desires: to make it to Mayapura alive, to attend the installation of the Panca Tattva Deities, and to participate in the Gaura Purnima festival.’

‘Then we’d better get going Swami,’ I said. ‘Time is running out.’ Several devotees helped Maharaja pack his things while I went to my room to arrange mine. I carefully put the white plastic gloves and surgical masks I’d purchased into my hand luggage should the need arise. The doctors had told Maharaja that his disease would cause him to vomit a lot of blood when he died. In fact, the pressure in his body might well cause the blood to burst from his eyes, nose, and ears. They warned that because of his hepatitis C, the blood would be highly contagious for a number of hours. I considered the risk involved in traveling with Maharaja, but felt it would be minimized by careful handling of the situation when it arose.

In the car on the way to the airport, I asked Maharaja for his passport and ticket. I looked at them to make sure everything was in order, but I found what looked like an error. ‘Maharaja,’ I said, ‘your ticket is only to Calcutta. There’s no return section” My voice trailed off as I realized my mistake.

Maharaja smiled. ‘A one-way ticket home,’ he said. ‘Mam upetya tu kaunteya, punar janma na vidyate.’ [But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again. ‘ BG 8.18]

When we arrived at the airport, I asked Maharaja to stand back a little as I checked us in. Airlines don’t allow terminally ill patients to board flights, for obvious reasons. And Maharaja, with his bloated features, pale skin, and swooning posture, clearly looked like someone on the verge of death.

In fact, when the woman at the counter checked Maharaja’s passport photo and looked at him, she seemed to hesitate for a moment. I thought quickly. ‘Bad case of the flu, Ma’am,’ I said, ‘but he’s almost over it.’

‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I thought it was something serious.’

I thought about Maharaja first desire: to get to the holy dhama. ‘Oh no,’ I said, putting on an air of confidence, ‘not at all.’

After immigration we boarded the flight. Both our tickets to Calcutta had been sponsored, and by the grace of the devotees we were in business class. As soon as Maharaja sat down he went out, and I reclined his seat a little to make him more comfortable. He didn’t wake up until three hours into the flight.

He was groggy. He looked outside and told me we were going the wrong way.

‘Huh?’ I said. ‘What do you mean?’

‘You didn’t see the sign?’ he asked. ‘It pointed toward Vancouver.’ I had been warned that the gases in his abdomen could affect his reasoning, so I smiled. ‘It’s okay, Maharaja,’ I said. ‘I’ll tell the captain, and he’ll make the necessary changes.’

Maharaja lay back down and went to sleep again.

As the plane sped through the skies I sat next to Maharaja chanting loud enough for him to hear. I was thinking about how he could die at any moment, even in his sleep, and I felt responsible that should that moment come, he would be hearing the holy names.

He awoke two hours later, moaning in great pain. I quickly popped two painkillers in his mouth, and within minutes he calmed down.

A stewardess noticed what was happening and walked over. ‘Is anything wrong?’ she asked.

Maharaja amazed me by immediately taking the opportunity to preach to her. ‘There’s always something wrong in this world,’ he said. ‘At any given moment we’re struggling with birth, disease, old age, or death. Therefore an intelligent person should try to get out of material existence and go back to the spiritual world.’

‘That makes sense,’ the stewardess said. ‘Is that what you’re doing?’

‘Yes,’ Maharaja smiled, ‘that’s exactly what I’m doing.’

‘How can I learn how to do that too?’ she asked. I sat up in surprise.

Maharaja reached into his handbag and pulled out one of Srila Prabhupada’s books, Perfection of Yoga. I was even more surprised.

‘By reading this,’ he said.

‘I’d love to have that book,’ she said. ‘Let me get my purse, and I’ll give you a donation.’

In 10 minutes she came back with a 10-pound note.

‘This is for the book,’ she said as Maharaja handed it to her. Watching the exchange go on reminded me of how Srila Prabhupada had preached up to moment of his death. Sridhar Maharaja was following in his spiritual master’s footsteps.

Next Maharaja turned to me. ‘Can you give me one of those peanut-butter-and-jam sandwiches in the bag,’ he said.

‘That might not be the best thing to eat,’ I said, ‘considering your liver disease.’

He laughed. ‘At this point there’s no question of curing this disease,’ he said. ‘I’d rather enjoy prasadam and die earlier than start fasting and live a little longer.’

I gave him the sandwich and when he was halfway through it, a five-year-old Bengali boy came up and stared at Maharaja. The business class cabin was filled with well-to-do Bengali’s returning home from the West.

‘Can I have some?’ the little boy asked.

Maharaja stopped eating and looked at the boy.

‘I’m hungry,’ the boy said.

Before I could intervene, Maharaja smiled and gave the boy part of his sandwich. Not waiting a moment, the boy immediately bit into it and rewarded Maharaja with a big smile.

As the boy was taking his second bite, his mother came and thanked Maharaja. ‘You are so kind to my son, Swamiji,’ she said. ‘You are giving the remnants of your food to my son. Thank you.’

‘Where are you going Swami?’ she continued. ‘To your temple in Calcutta?’

‘No,’ said Maharaja, ‘as a matter of fact, I’m going to Mayapura to die, Mataji. I have liver cancer, and the doctors have only given me a few days to live.’

I knew that the lady would be distraught to learn that her son was eating the sandwich of a dying man, so I managed to interrupt.

‘Yes, yes, Mataji,’ I said. ‘He’s going Mayapura to die, meaning that he wants to give up all his material desires and become fully engaged in the service of the Lord.’

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Very nice Swami. Please bless my son one more time.’

Maharaja rubbed his hand on the boy’s head, and the boy and his mother left.

Just at that moment a Bengali man came up to Maharaja. He had been watching us since we boarded the flight. ‘I have been observing you, Swami,’ he said, ‘and I can see that you are renounced. You are eating little, sleeping little, and preaching to the misfortunate souls on this plane. I want to give you one of my sons, Swami, my eldest boy. Take him as your servant.’

For a moment Maharaja was speechless. Then he smiled and looked at me. ‘A little late, isn’t it?’ he said to me.

He turned to the man. ‘Thank you, sir,’ he said, ‘but I’ll have to decline. I’ve only got a few days to live.’

Maharaja was exhausted. He fell back into his seat and went to sleep. His seat was reclined like a bed, but Maharaja was a big man with a severely bloated belly, and I could see he was uncomfortable as he moved around in his seat, moaning. I would shift his position every once in a while to make him more comfortable. He would drool sometimes, and I would take a paper tissue and clean his face. At one point, he urinated. Unable to do much, I arranged his cloth in such a way that it could dry. The air became chilly, so I put his socks on his feet.

I noticed a few of the other passengers looking at me curiously, but I didn’t care. I was relishing the service. I was thinking that finally I could do some seva for a senior devotee. Most of the time it is I who am taking menial service from other devotees. ‘But I like it better this way,’ I thought, ‘not being the object of the service, but offering it.’

When Maharaja finally stopped moving, I took the last piece of the sandwich and ate it. Then, feeling exhausted but purified, I fell asleep.

visayavista murkhanam
citta samskaram ausadham
visrambhena guroh seva
vaisnavocchista bhojanam

‘The medicinal herb to purify the minds of fools absorbed in sense pleasure is faithful service to Sri Guru. The diet is the remnants of food left by the Vaisnavas.’ [Srila Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, Sri Gauranga-mahi-ma, Susloka Satakam, Text 8]

We both woke up just before landing at Calcutta airport. Maharaja reached over with both arms and gave me a long hug. ‘Thanks, Indie, for bringing me here,’ he said. ‘I love my Godbrothers so much.’

It was a genuine affection that Maharaja would express often in the days leading up to his departure. While many of us would lament his deteriorating condition, he seemed only to focus on the good qualities and service of those who visited him. For me, it was another manifestation of his total lack of fear in the face of death.

There was an upbeat mood in business class as the stewardesses served a meal of fresh fruit, buns, cheese, and drinks just before landing. People were talking and laughing, standing in little groups here and there.

But I didn’t share their optimism. Being with a man about to die, I was sober and reflective. In my mind, I addressed the people. ‘You fools,’ I thought. ‘What is there to rejoice about? Sooner or later we will all have to die.’

I imagined the scene to be like the Titanic: people partying on the decks, as the illfated boat raced towards destruction on the high seas.

Atmavan manyate jagat

‘A person assesses others according to his own mentality’ [Source unknown]

When we landed, Maharaja and I felt a sense of relief. His first desire was close to being fulfilled: we weren’t far from Mayapura. After we cleared immigration and customs, I helped Maharaja walk out of the terminal. I had to hold him up, as his condition was deteriorating rapidly. Once, when he gasped with pain, I held him tighter. ‘Almost there, Swami,’ I said.

Again he smiled, despite the agony he was experiencing. Maharaja’s disciple Mayapura das was waiting outside for us and helped Maharaja to the van that was waiting. We put Maharaja inside and laid him down on a mattress that had been provided for the four-hour journey to Mayapura.

On the way, Maharaja spoke with affection about his disciples. In particular, he reminisced about the service of Mayapura das, his first disciple. It was nectar to hear his reminiscences, but painful as well, for there would not be many more in this lifetime.

We were so absorbed in the discussion that at first we didn’t hear the big kirtan on the road leading up to our property in Mayapur. I was the first to hear it, and when I looked out the window, I was stunned. The entire GBC body had come to greet Maharaja, as well as many sannyasis and other senior devotees. Hundreds of other devotees had assembled as well. Everyone was chanting and dancing to a blissful kirtan led by Danavir Goswami.

‘Maharaja,’ I said, ‘the devotees have come to receive you. Look.’ We lifted Maharaja a bit so he could see outside the front window, and when he saw the kirtan party, tears started rolling down his cheeks and he couldn’t speak. Then slowly, he recovered his voice. ‘How I love my Godbrothers!’ he said.

At that moment I realized how important a place Godbrothers have in one’s life. Just as one cannot love Krsna without the mercy of the spiritual master, one cannot love the guru without the help of one’s Godbrothers. All three are intimately linked. Srila Narottama das Thakur sings, ‘Hari, Guru, Vaisnava, Bhagavata Gita’

Because of the mass of devotees converging on our van, we had to slow down. As we inched our way along, many senior devotees came to the side window of the van to greet Maharaja and pay their respects. It was a touching sight to see the love expressed between Maharaja and these men. He had served alongside many of them through the years, and it was obvious that the camaraderie they had developed in service to Guru and Gauranga ran deep.

We finally drove through the big gates and then up close to the temple of Sri Sri Radha Madhava. By that time, news had spread of Maharaja’s arrival and an even bigger crowd’over a thousand devotees’had assem-bled. ‘A hero’s welcome,’ I thought, ‘and well deserved.’

I helped Maharaja out of the car and began helping him towards the temple to take darsan of the Deities. But at one point he pushed me away, as if disturbed that he even needed help. I didn’t take offense but rather thought of him as an old soldier, distraught by the fact he needed help. Maharaja had been an active preacher throughout most of his life. He once told me that he would prefer to go down fighting than to die lying in bed with a prolonged illness. A noble sentiment for any preacher, but after a few steps Maharaja began to falter, and I had to catch him to help him along again.

We entered the temple. Maharaja stood before Sri Sri Radha Madhava and the eight gopis, his eyes focused on Their divine forms. He then surprised everyone by raising his arms and dancing a little. Ever intent on learning the art of dying, I watched him intently, and I thought about a passage from Krsna Book:

‘The flames increased as the wind blew very quickly, and it appeared that everything movable and immovable would be devoured. All the cows and the boys became very frightened, and they looked toward Balarama and Krsna the way a dying man looks at the picture of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.’ [Krsna Book, ‘Devouring the Forest Fire’]

Afterwards several of us helped Maharaja to his room. Many devotees accompanied us, and the room soon filled with devotees wanting to see him. Despite his condition he was the perfect host, receiving their blessings, words of appreciation, and encouragement.

But soon it became obvious that the long journey from Vancouver and the darshan were taking their toll on Maharaja. His abdomen appeared alarmingly swollen with liquid. A doctor was called and those who were allowed to remain in the room were very sober as Maharaja lay there with his eyes closed and the doctor checked his stomach with a stethoscope.

Suddenly Maharaja opened his eyes. ‘It’s a boy, Doc,’ he said. The room exploded in laughter. He was still the Jolly Swami.

That evening, we were having kirtan in his room. Maharaja asked to see me, and I went over to his bed. He was lying down, so I leaned down close his face. He spoke softly. ‘You’ve done your duty, Maharaja,’ he said. ‘You brought me here safely. I’m grateful. Now my disciples can take care of me. You haven’t been to the Mayapura festival for years. You should participate in all the functions. The devotees will be happy.’

I protested. ‘But Maharaja”

‘There’s no discussion,’ he interrupted. ‘Come to my room in the evenings and sing bhajans. That will be enough.’

During the next week, while preparations went on for the upcoming installation of the Panca Tattva Deities, I would go daily to Maharaja’s room. Though there was some talk of special doctors and miracle cures, I knew that Maharaja’s time had come.

One evening I told this to him. I wanted him to focus on hearing and chanting about Krsna’the final duties of every devotee preparing for death. ‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘Let’s have more kirtan. I only want to stay alive long enough to see the installation of Panca Tattva and participate in the Gaura Purnima festival. My only anxiety is that after Gaura Purnima, my Godbrothers will leave Mayapura.’

We increased the bhajanas and kirtans in Maharaja’s room up until the installation of the Panca Tattva Deities. That event was grand affair, unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Over five thousand devotees attended, and somehow Maharaja also participated by pouring auspicious substances over the Deities during the abhiseka ceremony. Watching from a distance I thanked the Deities for fulfilling Maharaja’s desire to be present that day.

The next day, I came to say my final goodbye to Maharaja. I had to return to my services in the West. It took me a long time to get up the courage to go into his room. I entered, and in a sober mood asked Mayapura das if I could see Maharaja. Maharaja was in the shower, but he overheard our conversation. ‘Come on in, Indie!’ he called out.

‘But you’re in the shower, Maharaja,’ I replied.

‘That’s okay,’ Maharaja called back. ‘I’m just finishing up.’

I opened the door and found Maharaja wearing a gamsha, leaning against the shower wall. He could hardly stand, but he was smiling.

‘I’ve come to say goodbye, Maharaja,’ I said. I had to hold back my tears.

‘Oh Indie,’ he said with his usual equipoise, ‘we’ll meet again. Don’t worry. Service to the spiritual master is eternal.’

‘I know,’ I said, ‘but it may be some time before we see each other again.’

Maharaja thought for a moment and began to smile. Then he broke out into a song that we both knew from our youth: ‘Happy trails to you, until we meet again.’

Once more, he had made a difficult moment light and laughing I left the room. But when I got outside, the reality that I wouldn’t seem him again in this life overcame me. Walking back to my taxi, I tried to conceal the tears that came to my eyes, as devotees came to say goodbye to me along the way.

Two weeks later, on the auspicious appearance day of Srinivas Acarya, I was in Laguna Beach speaking with Giriraja Maharaja just outside the temple when the news came that Sridhar Maharaja had passed away a few hours earlier in Mayapura, peacefully gazing at a picture of Srila Prabhupada. It was exactly one week after Gaura Purnima.

No matter how much one is prepared for such news, it always comes as a shock. Giriraja Maharaja, softhearted as he is, immediately became overwhelmed with emotion. Waves of sorrow also overcame me, but I soon checked myself and slightly smiled. I thought about how Lord Caitanya had been kind to Sridhar Swami. In appreciation for unswerving service over many years, the Lord had fulfilled all three of Maharaja’s final desires, then took him to a higher destination.

I thought about what Srila Prabhupada had written after the passing away of Jayananda Prabhu: ‘Krsna has done a great favor to you, not to continue your diseased body, and has given you a suitable place for your service.’ [Letter, May 5, 1977]

Sridhar Maharaja, as you said, you won’t be around to read this chapter of my diary. But in fact I’m the unfortunate one, as I can’t see the glories of your next chapter of life. No doubt it’s a wonderful chapter in service to Srila Prabhupada and most likely spiced with this humor of yours, which lit up the lives of so many in the past.

I will miss you dearly, Maharaja. I am indebted to you in so many ways, most notably for teaching me the art of dying. But you will remain in my heart forever as a well wishing friend’until we meet again. As you said in London, ‘Surely such relationships will not end when I die.’

He reasons ill who says that Vaisnavas die
When thou art living still in sound!
The Vaisnavas die to live, and living try
To spread the holy name around.’
[Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur]