Vrindavan, 2016.07.26 (VT): Much is being said to glorify Hargovinda Swami, who just entered the nitya Dham on Monday night. But perhaps the most important thing for many devotees is his innovative spreading of the glories of Gauranga Mahaprabhu. In this year (2015-2016), which commemorates the 500th anniversary of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s historical pilgrimage to Vrindavan, it is significant that we also commemorate Hargovindaji’s contribution.
The story begins in the early 1920’s during the same period and in the same nexus of sants and sadhus that were mentioned in our recent article about Prabhudatta Brahmachari.
Prabhudatt Brahmachari was a big kirtan afficionado and held massive kirtan programmes in Jhusi near the Sangam in Allahabad. He also wrote the first Hindi account of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s life, which was published by Gita Press.
Among those who actively participated in the Prayag kirtans and who shared Prabhudatta’s interest in Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was Hari Baba (1885-1970), whose main center was in Hoshiarpur, UP. According to his biographers, though he was originally a jnani sannyasi, he was changed by hearing the Holy Names in kirtan and by reading Shishir Kumar Ghosh’s life of Gauranga.
Hari Baba’s greatest achievement was when in 1923, he motivated the villagers on the banks of the Ganges in the Hoshiarpur district to build, by their own efforts alone, without government participation, an embankment wall 34 kilometers long. The whole task was completed in the accompaniment of constant chanting of the Holy Name. One can still go to his ashram in Anupshahr (60 km north of Aligarh, or 120 km north of Mathura) — called the Hari Baba Baandh Dham or “the abode of Hari Baba’s dyke” — where the same villagers to this day have unbroken Mahamantra kirtan. Representatives of the same villages that participated in the building of the dyke take turns maintaining that tradition in memory of the inspiration he gave them.
According to G Kamesh’s Athato blog, a banner over the altar in the temple prominently displays the verse:
harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha
In this age of Kali, one’s only hope is only in the names of Hari, the names of Hari, the names of Hari. There is no other, no other, absolutely no other hope otherwise.
And below it, the Hare Krishna maha mantra is given in full.
Hari Baba also used to celebrate Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s appearance day for the entire month of Phalgun in his ashrams, lecturing on Chaitanya lila. In the meantime, Rasacharya Swami Premananda in Vrindavan had written a few songs in Braj Bhasha about Chaitanya. When Hari Baba heard them, he encouraged him to write more. This was in 1940.
Hari Baba then promoted these performances of Gaur Lila in towns and villages wherever he had a following. They were also done annually in Anandamayi Ma’s Vrindavan ashram during Phalgun. Hargovind then continued and developed this tradition when he formed his own troupe in 1945.
By this method, Gauranga Mahaprabhu’s lila was introduced to people in North India, UP and Punjab, etc. According to Swami Premananda, even in Bengal, lila performances of Mahaprabhu’s life usually lasted only a few hours and were limited to one or another aspect of it. No one had done this kind of complete description of his pastimes from beginning to end, to be performed over a period of up to forty days.
Hargovinda’s troupe took Mahaprabhu’s lila to Mumbai, Orissa, Kolkata, Delhi, and many other places. According to him, though, certain performances particularly stood out.
In 1960, for the first time the full month’s programme of Gauranga Lila was held in Delhi at the Feroz Shah Kotla cricket ground. The performances were given on a stage near the public thoroughfare in the morning, and many passers-by on their way to work were attracted to come in and watch. They would sit down and completely forget that they were supposed to go to the office, only going after 12 when the leela was finished.
In 1965, Hargovinda’s troupe was called to Sri Krishna Janmasthan, which at the time still did not have the current temple, which was only completed in 1983. The noteworthy event was the culmination of the programme in a massive Harinam sankirtan through the streets of Mathura, the likes of which had never been seen before. Thousands of people participated in the continuation of Gauranga Lila in the alleys and byways of the city.
And in 1966, he did a 40-day-long performance in the Govindaji temple for the first time in Jaipur. The daily performance began after mangal arati, but hundreds of people gathered, many of whom had come from far-off villages just to attend. The festival also concluded with nagar sankirtan in which 50 to 60 thousand people participated with unprecedented ecstasy. Thousands of women also sang kirtan in front of the rath carrying Gaur Nitai.
Even those of a devotional mind in Jaipur said that Gauranga Mahaprabhu has descended on the streets of the town to awaken the spirit of devotion. A Gaura Govinda Sankirtan Mandali was established as a result.
Hargovinda Swami gave all credit to Hari Baba for inspiring the Gaura Raas Leela and Swami Premananda for teaching and guiding him in the novel genre. Hari Baba also has an ashram in the Davanala Kund area of Vrindavan.
It is often mistakenly thought that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s reputation was well known in Northern India prior to this time, but without the efforts of Prabhudatta Brahmachari, Hanuman Prasad Poddar of Gita Press, Hari Baba and other, non-sampradayika Vaishnavas, the terrain would not have been prepared for the further preaching of Nam Sankirtan.