Gour Govinda Swami
Sri Srimad Gour Govinda Swami was born as Braja Bandhu Manik on the second of September 1929 in Jagannathpur, a small village near to Jagannath Puri, Orissa. In his youth he mostly lived with his maternal family the Giris in the village of Gadeigiri. The Giris were Gaudiya Vaishnavas and well known for their expertise in kirtana. Braja Bandhu’s maternal grandfather, Bauri Giri, was famous in the local area as a paramahamsa vaisnava. He was constantly chanting the hare krsna maha-mantra and worshiping the family deity of Gopal Jiu.
As a boy Braja Bandhu was very quiet and serious. Whatever free time he had from his studies he spent rendering services to Gopal and accompanying his grandfather and uncles in going from village to village, chanting hari-namaand singing songs of the vaisnava acaryas. He was very attached to Srimad Bhagavatam. As a young boy his mother found that whenever he would cry she need only place the Bhagavatam in his hands and he would stop. At night Braja Bandhu would go to sleep with the book clutched to his chest.
In 1952 his mother arranged for him to marry, and in 1955, when his father passed away, the financial responsibility to maintain the family fell on his shoulders. After obtaining B.A. and B.Ed. degrees from Utkal University, he took up government service as a school teacher.
Although busy with his family and teaching responsibilities, he maintained a strict daily sadhana of rising before 4:00 AM, chanting hare krsna, worshipping tulasi and speaking on Bhagavad-gita.
In April of 1974, he left his family life, taking only a Bhagavad-gita, two gamuchas, and a notebook with him. At that time he adopted the name “Gour Gopal” — Gour for Gauranga Mahaprabhu and Gopal after his beloved childhood deity. Taking up the lifestyle of a mendicant sadhu, Gour Gopal set out to find a spiritual master who could teach him about the hare krsna maha-mantra, Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. His search took him all over India, from Kanya Kumari in the South to the Himalayas in the North. Finally in September of the same year, he resolved to go to Vrindavan the land of Krishna, thinking that surely his desire would be fulfilled there. Obtaining free passage from a train conductor, he arrived in Mathura. He stayed in a few different temples, and finally he made his way to Vrindavan where he saw a sign, “International Society for Krishna Consciousness.” Arriving there, a devotee gave him a copy of the society’s magazine, Back To Godhead. Seeing the articles in the magazine on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Srimad Bhagavatam and the maha-mantra, Gour Gopal knew he had found what he was looking for. He requested to meet the founder of the society, and at midday was brought to the quarters of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. After speaking with him for a little while, Srila Prabhupada asked, “Have you taken sannyasa?”
Gour Gopal replied, “No.”
Srila Prabhupada said, “Then I will give you sannyasa.”
On Srila Prabhupada’s order, Gour Govinda Swami went to open a center in Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Orissa. Arriving there with no money and no resources, he stayed alone on the newly donated property, which at that time was nothing more than a jungle full of snakes, scorpions and ant hills.
In early 1985 Gour Govinda Maharaja began accepting disciples. Two years later, on the request of senior devotees, he agreed to become a member of the ISKCON Governing Body Commission, and was given joint charge of the society’s projects in Orissa.
In 1991, after sixteen years of endeavor, Gour Govinda Swami opened the magnificent Sri Sri Krishna-Balaram temple in Bhubaneswar on the auspicious occasion of Lord Ramachandra’s appearance day. Today, the Sri Sri Krishna Balaram Mandir is the second most popular temple in Orissa, after the Jagannath Mandir in Puri, and the area around the temple is the fastest growing section of Bhubaneswar.
In Mayapur, on 9 February 1996, the appearance day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, two senior devotees requested an appointment to meet with Gour Govinda Swami to ask some questions. They inquired, “Why did Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stay in Jagannath Puri?” Gour Govinda Swami began to enthusiastically explain the confidential significance of Mahaprabhu’s pastimes in Puri. He described the pain of separation felt by Srimati Radharani when Krishna was away from Vrindavan. He gradually unfolded the pastime to the point where Radha and Krishna were finally united after Their long separation. He described how Krishna became so ecstatic upon seeing Radharani that He manifested a form with big round eyes and shrunken limbs, Lord Jagannath. At that time the devotees noticed that tears had come to his eyes and his voice had become choked up. In a whisper he said, “Then the eyes of Krishna fell upon the eyes of Radharani. Eye to eye union.” Unable to continue, he folded his hands and in a barely audible voice, apologized, saying, “Please forgive me, I cannot speak more.” The devotees present began to chant as he calmly lay back on his bed, breathing slowly and deeply. Upon his request, a servant placed a picture of Gopal Jiu in his hand. Then, gazing lovingly at the picture of his worshipable Deity, Gour Govinda Swami said, “Gopal!” Then his eyes closed, he lost external consciousness and left this world.