Since the arrival of Śrīla A.C Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda and the beginnings of the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement in New York in 1965, many stories have come down to the present generation regarding the struggles and successes of His Divine Grace. Yet little is known to us of the struggles and successes of preaching in the west during the time of and shortly after the manifest pastimes of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, a time before most contemporary Vaiṣṇavas were yet to be born. One such inspiring story is that of Adhokṣaja Viṣṇu and Śrīla Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Mahārāja.
Our story begins in 1888 with the appearance of Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Mahārāja in a renowned brāhmaṇa Gosvāmī family of the Nityānanda-vaṁśa lineage (the family of Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu). His childhood name was Atula-candra Bandyopādhyaya.
In 1920, at the age of 32, Gosvāmī Mahārāja joined the Gauḍīya Maṭha and soon became an initiated disciple of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura receiving the name, Aprākṛta Dāsa. Sometime later Bhaktisiddhānta awarded Aprākṛta Dāsa the upādhi (title) ‘Bhakti Sāraṅga.’ Henceforth, he was known as Aprākṛta Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Prabhu, or Aprākṛta Prabhu for short.
After many years of distinguished service in the Gauḍīya Maṭha, in a second attempt to establish Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the west (late in 1936), Bhaktisiddhānta sent Aprākṛta Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Prabhu, a householder at the time, to London for preaching the mission of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya. Before departing to London, Sarasvatī Ṭhākura gave Aprākṛta Prabhu the govardhana, śālāgrāma and gomatī śilās for worship.
A few months later on 1st January 1937, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura departed this world while staying at the Gauḍīya Maṭha, Bagh Bazaar temple in Calcutta. News of this tragic event reached Aprākṛta Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Prabhu in London via telegram.
In that far away land Aprākṛta Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Prabhu endured the shock of separation from his beloved spiritual master and continued to press on the mission of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya according to the order of his beloved Gurudeva by holding lectures in such places as Caxton Hall, London and meeting such distinguished personalities of British society such as Lord Zetland and others. He met with the King and Queen of England at Buckingham Palace and he attended the World Congress of Faiths at Oxford University as the representative of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, delivering a lecture glorifying the saṅkīrtana of the Holy Name of Lord Kṛṣṇa.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, the preaching continued but the finances ran thin, very thin. Having some connections back in India, Aprākṛta Prabhu decided to write the King of Darbhaṅgā province in Bihar requesting the King to send him financial assistance.
After waiting for several weeks and receiving no reply the situation became desperate. Money was exhausted as was the food supply and the rent at the boarding house was due.
One morning Aprākṛta Prabhu went for a morning walk in Kensington Park. While strolling thru the park he noticed a sparkling object in a thicket of ornamental bushes. On closer examination Aprākṛta Prabhu found a small Deity of Lord Viṣṇu lying there. Lifting the Deity from the bush he saw that the four arms held the śaṅkha, cakra, gadā and padma. According to śāstra, he understood the arrangement of the Lord’s symbols in each of His four hands indicated the śrī-mūrti was Adhokṣaja Viṣṇu.
Astonished at his discovery and feeling blessed, Aprākṛta Prabhu returned to the boarding house with the Deity. Upon entry the house maid approached him and said she had found a discarded sealed envelope with his name on it. Opening the envelope Aprākṛta Prabhu found an enclosed check from the King of Darbhaṅgā, payable at a London bank for 100 British Pounds!
Though the sun seldom shines in London, the sun of the blessings of his worshipable Lord did indeed seem to be shining on Aprākṛta Prabhu that day. Going to the bank he produced the check for payment, but when the bank teller asked for identification Aprākṛta Prabhu realised that the check was payable to his initiated name and not his secular name as in his official documents of identification.
After some discussion the bank teller insisted that Aprākṛta Prabhu needed to produce some form of identification. At the point of complete despair Aprākṛta Prabhu glanced over the shoulder of the bank teller and there he saw a newspaper opened to the social section and there was the photo of Aprākṛta Prabhu along with the announcement that Aprākṛta Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī of India was to be giving a lecture at the local town hall.
Aprākṛta Prabhu pointed to the newspaper, “Surely this announcement is sufficient identification to prove to you who I am.” Pleasantly surprised the bank teller acknowledged the identity of Aprākṛta Prabhu and cash the check. Aprākṛta Prabhu returned to his residence and prepared an offering for Adhokṣaja Viṣṇu whom had shown His extra ordinary mercy to him on that day, 16th June 1937.
Later that year after enduring many hardships and having achieved success in his preaching Aprākṛta Prabhu returned to India with the śrī-mūrti of Adhokṣaja Viṣṇu and was joyfully received by his affectionate godbrothers and well-wisher on 6th October 1937 (see photo).
In 1942 Aprākṛta Prabhu received sannyāsa initiation from Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja becoming Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Mahārāja and continued his preaching in India until his departure from this world in 1964. Gosvāmī Mahārāja opened twenty-two temples and among those are some very important tīrthas (holy places) such as Imlītalā in Vṛndāvana and Ācārya Bhavān in Māyāpura.
Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Mahārāja was also a near and dear friend of our Guru Mahārāja, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda. The two preached together on numerous occasions in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. In 1955, during our Guru Mahārāja’s vānaprastha life, Gosvāmī Mahārāja requested our Guru Mahārāja to stay at his Delhi āśrama to write articles for the maṭha’s Bengali publications and to edit the English edition of the Sajjana Toṣaṇī magazine.
To wrap up this article and to cement the glories of Śrīla Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Mahārāja in our memories of great and venerable Vaiṣṇavas, we present to you a glorification of Gosvāmī Mahārāja written in 1929 by Śrī Bhaktisiddhānta Saravati Ṭhākura titled, “A Genuine Gosvāmī”:
A Genuine Gosvāmī
In the great land of Bhārata, from distant Kashmir near the high peaks of the Himalayas to the banks of the Indian ocean, who does not know Bhakti Sāraṅga Prabhu?
Śrī Bhakti Sāraṅga Prabhu is the brightest jewel in the lineage of Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu. His detachment is the full manifestation of the path preached by Śrī Nityānanda. Although he adheres to the scripturally ordained duties of a householder, he is a genuine Gosvāmī and naturally detached from everything unrelated to Kṛṣṇa. Every quality-appreciating servitor in Śrī Caitanya Maṭha and the twenty-eight primary maṭhas of Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭha greatly respects him.
Every Gauḍīya preacher and the numerous supporters of the tridaṇḍi preachers from the ocean to the Himalayas throughout the land of the Āryans and the south know of Śrī Bhakti Sāraṅga Prabhu’s eloquence and capability in Sanskrit, English, and Bengali.
Nearly every single fortunate resident of Gauḍa has seen, more or less, His holy character, his pure heart’s ecstasy, his earnestness for Kṛṣṇa, and his profound love for Śrī Gaurasundara.
With his assiduousness, his constant, all-rounded endeavours from dawn until midnight for the benefit of the society of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, his unparalleled spirit of dedication to Kṛṣṇa and His devotees, he is fulfilling his name ‘Atula’ (‘unparalleled’).
He has wiped away the moon’s imperfections and replaced them with the immense light from the moon of kṛṣṇa-prema’s sole path. Thus, by reproaching even the pleasant, shining moon, his position as the unparalleled moon (‘atula-candra’) amongst Gauracandra’s exclusive followers has been realised.
He is the teacher (‘upādhyāya’) of worshippable (‘vandya’) Vaiṣṇavas. He is the sole reformer of the ṛṣi’s laws. His heartfelt endeavours are the enlivening energy of Śrī Caitanya Maṭha’s Institute for Spiritual Education (Para-vidyapitha). He is a genius amongst the Gosvāmīs, and himself is a genuine Gosvāmī. The pure devotees have heard that he is renowned to be ‘Bhakti-Sāraṅga’ (‘the embodiment of the essence of devotion’) on account of his expertise and excellence in devotion. Seeing the beauty of the holy lotus feet of this great transcendentalist, the world of pure Vaiṣṇavas is enchanted.
He is the secretary of the Śrī Viśva Vaiṣṇava Rājya Sabhā. He is one of the editors of Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭha’s Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. He is an exemplar in the world of the pure Vaiṣṇavas, a follower of the Śrī Rūpānuga Vaiṣṇavas, and thus worshippable to the world. (Translated from the Bengali article published in the 7th February 1929 issue of the daily Nadīyā Prakāśa)
In the everyday hustle and bustle of preaching in the west and performing our many duties and services to Kṛṣṇa and our guru-varga, we often forget, or have never heard of the previous generations of devotees who sacrificed and endured against all odds to spread the glory of the mission of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, and who achieved the ultimate grace of the Supreme Lord to become one of His eternal associates. Had they not done their duty and performed their service in the mission of Mahāprabhu, we ourselves would not be where we are today, basking in the rays of the effulgent sun of Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana movement. Let their memory and their achievements never be forgotten. All glories to Lord Caitanya’s devotees past, present and future!