After a bleak 2020 it would be pleasant to start the new year with a bit of positivity, especially by reminding ourselves that spirituality can restore the imbalances of modern day living if we put our minds to it. When we talk of spirituality in this era in Manipur a name that remains unsurpassed is Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness who in long decades of service to the propagation of Vedic culture and learning cultivated thousands of devotees, important temples and centres of worship and most importantly a discourse with scores of Nobel laureates in science and other renowned names in the world of science, which is so relevant not just to someone from Manipur, but to any spiritual minded person from across the world.
Swamiji’s 83rd birthday or Avirbhava Divas was celebrated on December 20 and the following weeks leading up to the New Year have brought back fond memories of his stewardship of the ISKCON’s Bhakti movement which was acclaimed and celebrated in the devotee households all over Manipur. A few hundred disciples of Swamiji, devotees and well-wishers attended this year’s programme which was held at the ISKCON’s Sri Sri Radha Krishnachandra Manimandir in Imphal marked by speeches, chanting of mantras, prayers and feasting with tasty Krishna Prasad.
Among those who spoke at the programme were devotees and disciples of Damodara Maharaja who touched on his early life, scholarship, devotional life and his mystic presence. Here we present a synopsis of the glorifications that were offered on the occasion by the speakers.
Ekanath Das, Secretary to Damodara Maharaja for over 30 years.
Damodara Maharaja had a difficult childhood in rural Toubul as his father passed away early. A teacher in the same village named Oja Kerani took over the care of Damodara and supported him up till the time he was pursuing his PhD at the University of California at Irvine in 1972. During those years Oja Kerani was often surprised when Damodara wrote letters asking him to send a pung (local drums) and kartals (local cymbals). The teacher was thinking Damodara was deeply into his research studies only and was even worried at times considering Damodara’s changed behaviour. Oja Kerani enquired about Damodara from I.S. Khaidem, the former VC of the Manipur University, who was Damodara’s friend and whom he had met during a visit to America.
But the transformation had already taken place in the studious Damodara as by the time he was finishing his PhD he had already met his eternal spiritual master, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada who had by then established the ISKCON in New York. The next time Damodara came to Manipur he was not dressed in western clothes, but in dhoti and kurta, and had already begun preaching Krishna consciousness. Damodara had asked permission from Prabhupada to discontinue his PhD and join the ISKCON movement full time. Prabhupada however did not approve of it and told him his PhD would be an asset in preaching to scientists. Evidently in later years, Prabhupada also entrusted him the work of preaching to scientists as the Director of the Bhaktivedanta Institute. Damodara Maharaja was very successful in preaching the Vedic principles while explaining modern science according to those precepts. He was able to popularise Vedic knowledge among the world’s scientific community by amalgamating both the subjects and reinventing it as ‘Synthesis of Science and Spirituality’.
In the realm of Bhakti, Maharaja’s acceptance of Srila Prabhupada as his spiritual master was a defining moment for Vaishnavism in Manipur as he through his preaching surpassed the process prevalent till then of taking Harinam, or being assigned a spiritual destination, at the moment of death, as is customary among the old school of Vaishnavas in Manipur even now.
One personal quality Maharaja had was that he never got angry. Once during arbitrations in a land dispute in the holy town of Vrindavan, Maharaja was offered a higher seat than the leader of the opposing party who objected vociferously. Maharaja immediately left the seat and sat down on the bare floor, showing that he did not harbour an iota of animosity in him.
The government is spending crores of rupees on trying to make students morally upright citizens by making plans to stop drug abuse and other ills among them. But under the guidance of Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami the devotees of ISKCON are accomplishing the same objective without charging a single rupee from the government. This is a true gift from Damodara Maharaja.
Brajapran Das, disciple of Damodara Maharaja
Maharaja travelled on preaching tours all over the world and met many well-known scientists and Nobel laureates in science. Maharaja’s preaching emphasised on how one should place god at the centre of one’s profession. He taught that whether a man or woman, everyone has an occupation destined for her or him, and should know this science of placing god at the centre of whatever profession she or he is in. When one is self-centred there is corruption, nepotism and favouritism, which makes the world corrupt.
Maharaja also taught that one should express anger in a humble way. A person is known to be magnanimous by the dignified way in which he shows his happiness and also anger.
Parthasarthi Das, close elderly disciple of Maharaja who was present at the ISKCON bomb blast and is partially hearing impaired after that incident.
After coming in contact with Damodara Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, I understood that ‘serve’ means not directly serving fellow human beings, but to serve god. I was a follower of Swami Sivananda of Divine Life before joining the ISKCON and the earlier precepts I knew of were very different from what insights I got through the teaching of ISKCON. There is no service higher than serving god because if you serve one party among men, the other will become angry that you didn’t serve them.
In the same way if you want to give, then give everything to Krishna. If you give to only one needy the other will feel bad. If you give all your love to Krishna, he will see to it that everyone gets the result of your offering. Also in the same way Maharaja told me to translate the Bhagavad Gita in the Meitei Mayek script so that everyone will be able to understand the essence of the Vedic scriptures in the same way as devotees like King Bhagyachandra of Manipur, Meera Bai of Jodhpur and the saint Ramanujacharya knew about the Rasa Lila.
God is present in the heart in his form as the almighty, and in the form of the scriptures, and in the form of one who knows the scriptures. Damodara Maharaja is an instance of one who represents God as one who knew the scriptures. Prabhupada said Bhakti or devotion is never causal. Meaning it doesn’t need to have a cause for it. Bhakti or devotion is god given, like for instance how Krishna was always in Maharaja’s heart.
His Holiness Bhakti Ananda Haridasa Goswami, sannyasi in the renounced order.
Damodara Maharaja had special protection from Krishna and this was seen by everybody during Maharaja’s preaching tour of Malaysia. Maharaja was to attend a particular programme at a location and had begun doing kirtan (singing in congregation) for 5-10 minutes when an urgent call came which made necessary Maharaja’s going to another place for an engagement. As he left, those gathered were disappointed and also left the place. Moments later a tsunami hit the place and because all the 300-odd devotees had left the place none of them lost their lives.
At another gathering in Bali, Maharaja asked during his speech where the hundreds of devotees gathered there were from. The 15-odd devotees who were gathered there asked him whom he was talking about as there were no more than 15 people there. Actually it was the Bhutas, or spirits, who wanted to hear him speaking. The place, Radha Raseshwari temple, was in fact haunted and devotees had experience of Bhutas there. But ever since Damodara Maharaja left the mortal world, the Bhutas have stopped coming there.
One of the most relevant lessons that Damodara Maharaja gave was that if you want to become a good human being learn not to get angry.