His Divine Grace Om Vishnupad 108 shri Shrimad Bhakti Prajnan Keshav Goswami Maharaj was a scholar, a philosopher, a prolific author, a spiritual teacher, and a prominent Gaudiya Vaishnav saint in 20th Century. He is the Founder-President-Acharya of “Shri Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti” and its preaching
centers all over India. His philosophy is based on the theistic Vedanta as the sole medium of reaching the eternal destination and not Shri Shankara’s targeted salvation-Nirvan. He describes the Brahma-sutras as Bhakti-sutras. He is complete follower of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s close associates Sri Svarupa Damodar, Sri Rupa Goswami and Sri Raghunath Das Goswami and is best amongst the 10th generation of descendants in the Bhagavata-parampara from Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Birth and Early Life
He was born on Monday, 24th January 1898 (12 Magh 1304, Krishna Tritiya) in Banaripara of Barisal district of undivided Bengal (now Bangladesh). His parents, Srimati Bhuvanmohini Devi and Sri Sharat Chandra Guhathakurta were respected and wealthy Vaishnava devotees. His father was disciple of well-known saint, Sri Vijay Krishna Goswami. His mother belonged to a family of landlords and she was much respected as being very learned, thoughtful and with high moral values. His parents kept his name Jyotsna or Jona or Janardan and Vinoda-bihārī. The boy, Vinoda-bihārī had effulgent eyes, a beautiful physique endowed with all auspicious signs.
His father left this world after they had moved to the district of Noyākhali, while his father was employed in the Court of Lakṣmīpura. Vinoda-bihārī was just 8 years old. Bhuvanamohini-devī had to face the entire responsibility of the children’s upbringing and education. Vinoda-bihārī had studied at the National School in Noyākhalī, which offered both academic education and vocational training. In addition to his textbook studies, Vinoda-bihārī took a great interest in craftsmanship. At that time the community had no organization to help the poor and sick. Together with many enthusiastic youths, Vinoda-bihārī established a society which cared for the poor and the sick free of charge, even those with contagious diseases. Vinoda-bihārī, who was still in high school, joined Mahātmā Gāndhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement and became a revolutionary leader. He took part in preparing a revolt against the British rule, but as he was hiding in the jungles, the police were unable to apprehend him. Even while this was going on, Vinoda-bihārī still passed the entrance examinations for Uttarapāḍā College near Kolkata. After studying there for one year, he shifted to Daulatapura College. There, he astonished the principal and professors with his explanations of the difficult and complicated philosophical verses of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta. Although Śrī Vinoda-bihārī was just a student, he understood the profound and complicated philosophical ideas and high devotional sentiments of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta and readily explained them so that others could also understand. His erudition fascinated the other students as well as his teacher.
Meeting with Srila Saraswati Prabhupāda in Chaitanya Math
In 1915, Vinoda-bihārī went with his two paternal aunts for darśana of Srila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati Prabhupāda in Chaitanya Math, Mayapur at the time of Sri Gaura-pūrṇimā. Two paternal aunts, Śrīyutā Sarojavāsinī and Priyatamā-devī, later became disciples of Śrī Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Prabhupāda. Both women were well-versed in bhakti-śāstra and were accomplished poets and authors. Their instructions on bhakti and their devotional lives had a great influence on their nephew.
After taking part in the nine-day Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā and after hearing hari-kathā, he offered himself completely at the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda on the day of Śrī Gaura-pūrṇimā. Understanding him to be worthy, Prabhupāda accepted him as his dear disciple and gave him Harināma. Now the life of Vinoda-bihārī became exclusively dedicated to Prabhupāda and his teachings. Prabhupāda expressed his wish to establish maṭhs on each of the nine islands of Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma, to establish other Gauḍīya Maṭhas and centres for preaching śuddha-bhakti in the prominent cities of Bengal and throughout India, and to establish a printing press for the printing and distribution of transcendental periodicals, which would propagate the philosophical conclusions of pure devotion everywhere, in all the languages of India. Hearing this, Śrīyutā Sarojavāsinī-devī asked, how will so many maṭhas be taken care of? At that time the youth Vinoda-bihārī was sitting nearby, listening with rapt attention to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s hari-kathā. Śrīla Prabhupāda pointed to him and said, “Vinoda-bihārī will manage all the maṭhas and preaching centres”. This prediction later came true. By the blessings of Śrīla Prabhupāda, Vinoda-bihārī did become the Superintendent of the main Śrī Chaitanya Math and managed them all with great expertise. Furthermore, after Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance from this world, Vinoda-bihārī established the Śrī Gauḍīya Vedānta Samiti with Gauḍīya Maṭhas and preaching centres throughout India and around the world and thus preached śuddha-bhakti everywhere. After Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī received harināma initiation from Śrīla Prabhupāda, he returned home and began regular studies at Daulatpura College. From time to time, however, he went to Śrī Dhāma Māyāpura to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lotus feet, where he listened to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s powerful hari-kathā with faith and full concentration.
Blessings of Gaur Kishore Das Babaji Maharaj
On Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī along with his paternal aunts and Śrī Gaura-govinda Vidyābhūṣaṇa went to have the darśana of Śrīla Gaur Kishore Das Bābājī Mahārāja, in 1915. However, despite their repeated requests, Śrīla Bābājī Mahārāja would not open the door. Śrī Gaura-govinda Prabhu then said in a very humble voice that they were Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura’ disciples and came here on his instruction. Then he quickly opened the door. Śrīla Bābājī Mahārāja observed Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī’s effulgent form, his sincere desire to serve Navadwip Dham, and above all his firm faith in his spiritual master (guru-niṣṭhā). Śrīla Bābājī Mahārāja blessed him, saying, “I have taken away all hindrances and obstacles from your life. You will become a distinguished sanyasi and fearlessly spread the words of Śrīman Mahāprabhu all over the world.” Hearing this blessing, Śrī Vinodabihāri’s eyes overflowed with tears. Falling at Bābājī Mahārāja’s lotus feet, he took his foot-dust on his head.
Joining Chaitanya Math
In 1919, Sri Vinod-bihārī left everything and joined Srila Prabhupāda’s mission wholeheartedly. Śrīla Prabhupāda gave him Dīkṣā initiation on the roof of the kitchen at Yogapīṭha on Śrī Gaura-pūrṇimā evening. After the Dīkṣā ceremony was over, Vinoda-bihārī went to his guru, and at his lotus feet, humbly requested the guru-mantra. Until then Śrīla Prabhupāda had not given the guru-mantra to anyone. Śrīla Prabhupāda was silent on that request. Seeing him silent, Vinoda-bihārī asked whether a disciple should approach some other guru to receive the guru-mantra. Śrīla Prabhupāda then smiled and with great affection gave Vinoda-bihārī the guru-mantra. Then on, Śrīla Prabhupāda started giving guru-mantra to others as well.
A lesson of fearless devotion
In 4th March 1925, on the occasion of Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā an outrageous assault on Śrīla Prabhupāda and his saṅkīrtana party caused pandemonium which was published in Ananda Bazar Patrika. As usual, Śrīla Prabhupāda and thousands of devoted pilgrims were walking together in an enormous saṅkīrtana party. The deities of Śrī Śrī Guru-Gaurāṅga and Gāndharvikā-Giridhārī were carried on the back of an elephant. The parikramā party gathered in front of the temple of Prauḍāmāyā in Kuliyā (Koladvīpa) or current Navadwip municipality town. Suddenly, gang of atheists and notorious anti-Vaishnavs of Navadwip attacked them with bricks, stones and cow dungs. The pilgrims started running to protect their lives, and no one cared for anyone else. Śrī Vinoda-bihārī risked his own life and quickly exchanged Śrīla Prabhupāda’s sannyāsa saffron attire with his own ordinary white clothes. Thus, Śrīla Prabhupāda reached Śrī Māyāpura in the ordinary white dress undetected. All the Vaiṣṇavas were amazed at Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī’s remarkable guru-niṣṭhā (steadfast faith and devotion to the spiritual master), remarkable presence of mind, courage about which was discussed everywhere. This incident reminded everyone of how Kuresh has served his Gurudeva, Sri Ramanujachrya.
Being member of Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda Institute
In April 1931, Śrīla Prabhupāda established the Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda Institute in Māyāpura for education in transcendental subject matters. Śrīla Prabhupāda was the chairman of the managing committee of the school, Śrīmad Bhakti Pradīpa Tīrtha Mahārāja was the headmaster, and among the other members of the committee, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī was one of the members of managing committee. Śrī Vinoda-bihārī changed the standards that were established by the Englishmen. He announced that the school would have off days on Pancamī and Ekādaśī instead of Sundays, and a half-day vacation on Caturthī and Daśamī instead of Saturday. Ekādaśī was chosen because it is the day of Mādhava (mādhava-tithi ) the mother of pure devotion. Pancamī-tithi is the appearance day (tithi ) of Śuddhā-sarasvatī, the goddess of learning, and also of Śrīla Sarasvatī Prabhupāda. This change brought in by Śrī Vinoda-bihārī was met with lot of resistance from the authorities; however, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī overcame all obstacles by the blessings of his Gurudeva.
Some major events and responsibilities
Just after Srila Prabhupāda left this word, the next or 43rd Annual General meeting of Sri Navadwip Dham Pracharini Sabha was held on In 26 March 1937. In this meeting, the successor of Srila Prabhupāda was selected and appointed. On this occasion, senior disciple of Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur and first sansyasi of Śrīla Prabhupāda, Srila Bhakti Pradeep Tirtha Maharaj on behalf of Sri Navadwip Dham Pracharini Sabha, said,
“The great soul, who wholeheartedly and tirelessly worked to take care of the devotees coming for Navadwip Dham parikrama, who on the third-day of Parikrama overpowered enemies who tried to stop Sankirtan party in Godrum dwip and with the blessing of Srila Gurudeva overcame every obstacles and declared the victory of Sri Gaur Vinod Vani Sankirtan, such a great soul Sripad Vinoda-Bihārī Kriratna be victorious.”
In 3rd June 1937, the Governing body of Gaudiya Math & Mission appointed him General Superintendent. His responsibility was to manage all the Maths from Kolkata. Hence he moved to Gaudiya Math in Baghbazar, Kolkata from Chaitainya Math, Mayapur on 9th July 1937. Although very busy with management responsibilities, he continued his preaching activities giving lectures and discourse on different occasions in different occasions and places. Some of major lectures are on Julayatra in Kolkata, Srila Prabhupāda’s Virah Utsav in Sri Chaitanya Math, Sri Nrisingha-Jayanti in Alalnath, Ramnavami in Chapahati, Sri Bhaktivinod’s centenary celebration in Sri Chaitanya Math, Srila Prabhupāda’s 2nd Anniversary and many others are admired and attracted people from various quarters.
In 1939, Srila Vinod-Bihārī gave Dīkṣā mantra to Santosh, his first and only disciple while being in Sri Chaitanya Math, Mayapur. Santosh was renamed to Sri Sajjan Sevak Brahmachari after Dīkṣā, who later on became renowned as Srila Bhakti Vedanta Vamana Maharaj.
Founding Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti
In 1940, Sri Vinod Bihārī Brahmachari left Sri Chaitanya Math along with few associates of Srila Sarswati Prabhupāda, namely Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaj, Narahari Sevavigraha, Mahananda Brahmachari, Virchandra Brahmachari, Narottam Brahmachari and Sajjan Sevak Brahmachari. They had taken a house in rent in Tegharipara, Nabadwip town and founded Sri Devananda Gaudiya Math. They started preaching the tenets of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and teachings of Srila Saraswati Prabhupāda. In April 1940 (Akshay Tritiya), Sri Vinod Bihārī Brahmachari founded Sri Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti in a rented house in 32/2 Bosepara Lane, Kolkata with help of the associates of Srila Sarswati Prabhupāda who left Sri Chaitanya Math along with him.
Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti was founded to nurture transcendental life it is absolutely necessary to adopt the pure teachings of the mahājanas. These pure teachings were presented by Śrī Vedavyāsajī, who compiled Vedānta-sūtra for the ultimate welfare of the jīvas.
Sanyas, Preaching and establishing Maths
In 1941, Sri Vinod Bihārī Brahmachari recieved sanyas (Renounced Order) from Srimad Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaj. His name has been changed to Srimad Bhakti Prajnan Keshava Maharaj. After the establishment of Śrī Gauḍīya Vedānta Samiti, the scholar in Vedānta, mahopadeśaka Srimad Bhakti Prajnan Keshava Maharaj started to travel throughout Bengal and prominent cities of India to preach śuddha-bhakti and Harinam.
In 1942, he started the weeklong Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā and festival to commemorate the appearance of Śrī Gaurasundara from his newly established Sri Devananda Gaudiya Math in Navadwip town. The enthusiasm of the members of the Samiti was amplified by the participation of many pious people, brahmacārīs, sannyāsīs and gṛhastha Vaiṣṇavas.
In April 1943, he established Śrī Uddhāraṇa Gauḍīya Maṭha. The ancient deities of that temple had once been worshipped by Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita, an associate of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He went on establishing Maths and preaching centers like Sri Keshavji Gaudiya Math in Mathura, Pichalda Gaudiya Math in Pichalda, Medinipur, Golokaganj Gaudiya, and so on. About 19 centers he established including Sri Trigunatit Samadhi ashram and Sri Gaudiya Datavya Chikitsalaya in Nabadwip.
He also nurtured and mentored disciples who would be able to take his mission further. The prominent personalities he has given Sanyas are Bhakti Vedanta Vamana Maharaj, Bhakti Vedanta Narayan Maharaj, Bhakti Vedanta Trikram Maharaj, Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaj (ISKCON founder), , Bhakti Vedanta Harijan Maharaj, etc. He also gave Babaji discipline to 9 of his disciples.
He published many books and literature, primarily in bengali and a few in hindi and english as well. He also started monthly magazine in bengali and hindi – Sri Gaudiya Patrika and Sri Bhagavat Patrika, respectively.
He left this material world on 6th October 1968, Sunday, during lunar eclipse when everyone was chanting Harinam at Sri Devananda Gaudiya Math, Navadwip. The wealth he given to this world will remain extraordinary for centuries to come.