Ratha Yatra in Navadvipa

Sep 5 2000 - Krishna Talk 6
Ratha Yatra Navadvipa
Srila B. R. Sridhar Dev Goswami

"If someone is criticizing one's Gurudeva and the disciple remains quiet, then he is not more than an impotent eunuch."

Question: I have taken the following clip (below) from a lecture of Swami B.V. Narayana Maharaja given on Baladeva Purnima of this year. There seems to be a lot involved in what Maharaja is saying, but many things seem unclear. It appears that Narayana Maharaja is speaking about Srila Sridhar Maharaja and stating that Srila Sridhar Maharaja was criticizing Srila Keshava Maharaja. On the other hand he (Narayana Maharaja) leads one to believe that he later defeated Srila Sridhar Maharaja. Many of the devotees that I have spoken with are very disturbed about this matter and would like to hear your explanation and clarification on this topic. Could you please explain?

(Clip from Swami B.V. Narayana Maharaja:
"If someone is criticizing one's Gurudeva and the disciple remains quiet, then he is not more than an impotent eunuch. When our Gurudeva started Ratha-yatra in Navadvipa, no one criticized him. When he left this world, however, a very highly advanced devotee spoke something against Ratha-yatra in Navadvipa. The day I heard it I could not sleep at night. I was restless and so much agitated. Soon after that I wrote an article in our magazine, and that article created chaos, havoc and very great agitation on the other side. Hence there was a fight, and that fight lasted for an entire year. If we do not do these things, we are not doing mano-bhista seva, service to the inner heart's desire of Sri Gurudeva. We should establish our Gurudeva's principles and, when any opposition comes, we should defeat it." [Harikatha, 2000 August 15])

Answer: I am not able to give a glowing report on this subject and thus some devotees may not applaud what I have to say. Sripad Narayana Maharaja has stated that if one criticizes our Gurudeva we must come out and speak something in his defense. I agree whole heartily with that conception, yet I must add that one need not speak rudely when defending one’s guru, especially if one is speaking, as Sripad Narayana Maharaja has indicated in his own words, to "a very highly advanced devotee."

The first contention we have is whether or not Srila Keshava Maharaja actually established the Ratha Yatra in Navadwip in the first place. We do not find mention of such in the authorized biography of Srila Keshava Maharaja nor did we hear of such from Srila Sridhar Maharaja. It may have been so, but we am waiting to hear from a third party before making a final conclusion. Generally speaking the programs established by Srila Keshava Maharaja at the Devananda Gaudiya Matha, such as the Navadwip Dham-parikrama have been maintained by the disciples of Srila Keshava Maharaja, even up to the present day. There is, however, no Ratha Yatra in Navadwip being maintained by that Matha.

There was of course Ratha Yatra held by Devananda Gaudiya Matha sometime after the disappearance of Srila Keshava Maharaja and that did, as stated by Narayana Maharaja, create quite a controversy, which led to chaos and havoc. As I have mentioned, it is doubtful that Srila Keshava Maharaja established the Ratha Yatra in Navadwip, but lastly if he did or if he didn’t, does not change the situation much.

Srila Sridhar Maharaja advised that the Ratha Yatra should not be held in Navadwip. His consideration was thus: Navadwip is the Gupta-Vrindavana (covered Vrindavana) and the ratha means the chariot. The chariot means Akura, who has come to take Krsna away from Vrindavana. Srila Sridhar Maharaja stated that when the eternal residents of Navadwip Dham see the Ratha Yatra, that it will strike terror in their hearts. Thus the Ratha Yatra is not appropriate to be held in Navadwip Dham. Indeed it would be an offense to the eternal inhabitants of the Dham.

What Srila Sridhar Maharaja has spoken in this regard is certainly a rasika consideration, one befitting his position as a very senior Vaishnava and it is certainly a consideration that any "rasika-acharya’ should take very seriously. But in those days the disciples of Srila Keshava Maharaja were quite young and they may have lacked the experience in dealing with very highly advanced devotees. So the disciples of Srila Keshava Maharaja insisted on holding Ratha Yatra, despite the opinion and request of Srila Sridhar Maharaja.

To this Srila Sridhar Maharaja replied that if they insist on holding Ratha Yatra in Navadwip Dham then they should start the Ratha festival from the outskirts of Navadwip and bring the procession towards the Devananda Gaudiya Matha. In this way Srila Sridhar Maharaja said that the eternal inhabitants of the Dham would see the chariot as bringing Krsna back to Vrindavana, this being a welcome sight. However, this suggestion of Srila Sridhar Maharaja was also rejected and the disciples of Srila Keshava Maharaja went ahead as planned.

This controversial issue was discussed through a series of articles that appeared in the journals of the Devananda Gaudiya Matha and the Sri Caitanya Saraswata Matha respectively. Narayana Maharaja was writing for Devananda Gaudiya Matha and Srila Damodara Maharaja, a disciple of Saraswati Thakura was writing the articles on behalf of Srila Sridhar Maharaja for Sri Caitanya Saraswata Matha. These articles were written in Bengali and those articles are still available in the respective Matha libraries.

Ontologically, whatever Srila Sridhar Maharaja directed to be written in the articles from his Matha was sastricly correct and he did not at anytime 'criticize' Srila Keshava Maharaja as Narayana Maharaja has suggested. Criticism of another Vaishnava is something unknown in the life of Srila Sridhar Maharaja, especially criticism of one as dear to him as his Godbrother, Srila Keshava Maharaja.

The philosophical opinions presented by Srila Sridhar Maharaja were unassailable. However, rather than accept a happy defeat and follow the advice of a 'very highly advanced devotee' Narayana Maharaja, in a last effort to avoid surrender, turned to attacks on the character of Srila Sridhar Maharaja and also to criticizing Srila Sridhar Maharaja's competency to preach. In his last article Narayana Maharaja called Srila Sridhar Maharaja 'a fish seller and a coal merchant.' Narayana Maharaja wrote: "You know the utility of selling fish and the utility of selling coal, but you do not know the utility of preaching." *(see note at end of article)

Needless to say, such an attack on Srila Sridhar Maharaja was completely uncalled for. One certainly has the right to preach what he earnestly believes to be the wishes of his Gurudeva and support such with philosophical arguments, but by name calling and ridiculing a senior Vaishnava, certainly a great offense is committed. As Narayana Maharaja stated recently, "I wrote an article in our magazine, and that article created chaos, havoc and very great agitation on the other side."

There were no more articles after that. Some devotees from the Sri Caitanya Saraswata Matha approached Devananda Gaudiya Matha and informed Narayana Maharaja that Srila Sridhar Maharaja was mortified by Narayana Maharaja’s article. Srila Sridhar Maharaja was so heart broken by the words of Narayana Maharaja that he remained in a very serious and internal mood for three days and did not take prasadam, but remained fasting. This was intolerable for the disciples of Srila Sridhar Maharaja, who then approached Narayana Maharaja and informed him of the gravity of the situation.

The next event to unfold was that Narayana Maharaja came to the holy lotus feet of Srila Sridhar Maharaja with folded hands and humble prayers for forgiveness. True to the nature and character of Srila Sridhar Maharaja he was very compassionate and kindhearted to Narayana Maharaja when he came to beg for forgiveness. After hearing Narayana Maharaja speak, Srila Sridhar Maharaja requested that if Narayana Maharaja actually felt that he had made an offense, that he should print a retraction to his previously published statements belittling Srila Sridhar Maharaja. To this Narayana Maharaja agreed and returned to the Devananda Gaudiya Matha.

Unfortunately the retraction by Narayana Maharaja was never published. From that day (sometime in 1974) until now, the members of the Devananda Gaudiya Matha and the members of the Sri Caitanya Saraswata Matha have never since embraced each other. Although separated by a distance of only one-kilometer, the members of these two Mathas do not visit each other. They do not attend the other’s programs and even at the time of the Navadwip Dham-parikrama, held each year just before Gaura Purnima, the Mathas do not pay even a complimentary visit to each other with their sankirtan parties. Sad indeed.

It seems as though Narayana Maharaja was proudly boasting of the event of his having written the article against Srila Sridhar Maharaja as though he had defeated an envious person, opposed to the principles of his Gurudeva. Was it actually such? Narayana Maharaja further assures his followers that if they do not follow in his footsteps and similarly defeat all opposing opinions of their Gurudeva then indeed they are no better than eunuchs. A peculiar yet appropriate analogy.

Another consideration that this issue raises is as follows: If Narayana Maharaja’s statements are to be taken at face value then what fault was there all these years for the leaders of ISKCON who attacked Narayana Maharaja when they felt that he was undermining and belittling Srila Prabhupada’s movement? Have they no right to defend the mission of their Gurudeva from direct attack? Yet, when doing so, Narayana Maharaja has repeatedly condemned them as Vaishnava-aparadhis.

Only Narayana Maharaja has the right to defend his Gurudeva, all others should become eunuchs? Should it be such? But by Narayana Maharaja’s own admission the ISKCON leaders are now vindicated of whatever offenses he has accused them of committing in the past.

Surely then, there should not be an outcry that I (Swami BG Narasingha) have become an offender to the 'rasika-acharya' simply because I have spoken out against the propaganda that Srila Sridhar Maharaja waited until the disappearance of Srila Keshava Maharaja to criticize the program of Ratha Yatra in Navadwip Dham. Should I further stand silent while someone claims to have created chaos and havoc in the Matha of my siksa-guru? Lastly should I continue to stand silent while someone, who has grievously offended my Gurudeva and rejected the opinions of my Gurudeva, claims to be his siksa-disciple?

Is it not my duty to oppose such unfriendly elements, otherwise I too will be guilty of not doing mano-bhista seva, service to the inner heart's desire of Sri Gurudeva?

* At Sri Caitanya Saraswata Matha there is a large pond just in front of the main gate. It is the law in Bengal that if you do not fish your pond then you must allow others to do so, either for free or under contract. If you do not do this then the government of Bengal can seize your pond. Under the circumstances Srila Sridhar Maharaja made a unique decision. Rather than allow the government of Bengal to appropriate the Deities property or the villagers to freely kill the fish, it would be of some benefit for the fish if the fishermen were to fish the pond under a contract with the Matha. Thus the rupees received from the fishermen for the rights to fish the pond were directly engaged in the service of the Deity. It was also the practice of the Matha to purchase a large amount of coal at one time and sell it to the surrounding villagers in small amounts day by day. Thus a modest profit was earned to help with the maintenance of the temple and Matha.