Hanuman Prasad Poddar (1892-1971) was an author and freedom fighter of India. Lovingly called ‘Bhaijee’, he was a multifaceted personality. As an editor of the religious magazine ‘Kalyan’, he is known for his untiring efforts to propagate and disseminate Hindu religion across the world. The Government of India issued a postage stamp in his memory in 1992.
Hanuman Prasad Poddar was born in Ratangarh in Rajasthan. He dedicated his life to make available Hindi translations of the great epics like Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas and the Upanishads to the common people at affordable prices. He started publishing and editing the Hindi monthly magazine Kalyan in 1927. It is still in publication with approximately 2,50,000 subscribers.
Although he was not directly affiliated with any sampradaya, he was one of the founders of the Gita Press in Gorakhpur. Though he spent most of his time in Gorakhpur, his home was in Ratangarh, Rajasthan. He made many visits to Vrindavan. This is the story of one of those visits from Mahabhavodadhi Sri Poddarji written by Goswami Sri Hit Jivanji Shastri (ed.) Radhe Shyam Banka.
This incident took place in 1965. Sri Bhaiji Hanuman Prasad Poddarji was invited to the Krishna Janmabhoomi as the guest of honor for the cornerstone ceremony for the Bhagavata Bhavan. The Vrindavan devotees led by the municipal chairman asked him to come to the Vrindavan meeting hall to give a speech, and so Bhaiji came on February 29 at 6 pm for that purpose. When he got there, however, he found that the Vrindavan devotees were planning to give him special honors in the form of a framed letter of recognition of his contributions to the dissemination of devotion to Lord Krishna. Prabhu Dutt Brahmachari was the head of the assembly and leader of the plot.
As soon as he saw what the devotees were up to, Bhaiji became anxious. He folded his hands in supplication and asked them to please not go ahead with the program. “I have up until now avoided any such programs,” he said. “I am unqualified in every way. My entire life is full of mistakes and faults. All my life I have been followed by material fame, but I have always been afraid of getting caught. I have never accepted any such honors.”
I [Goswami Hit Jivanji] was amazed to see such humility coming from Bhaiji. There are many people who will do anything to get national honors and awards, but that was completely absent from Bhaiji’s character. I had heard about it before, but on that occasion I was seeing it for myself. Bhaiji had been offered the “Rai Saheb” title by the Gorakhpur collector, Peddley Saheb, but he refused it. Then later the British commissioner, Herbert Saheb, wanted to award the “Rai Bahadur” honorific, but again he refused. The United Provinces governor Harry Haig also even offered him a knighthood, but Bhaiji would not accept it. Then again, after Independence, the Home Minister Govinda Vallabh Pant wanted to give him the Bharata Ratna award, but this too he considered to be no better than a disease. Even though a citizenship award is more highly considered by the people than government honors, for him they were all at best a mixed blessing, full of hidden dangers, and he was not interested in them. And now the citizens of Vrindavan wanted to honor him. Seeing his humility, everyone simply felt that he was more deserving of the heartfelt appreciation and the desire to show it simply grew in everyone.
Prabhu Datt Brahmachari was a friend of Bhaiji and a highly respected figure in the Hindu society of the time. He took advantage of his authority to order Hanuman Prasad Poddar to sit down and be quiet and just accept the recognition that he deserved. “No more objections,” he said. “If you must refuse, refuse mentally. But externally, you accept for the pleasure of the municipal chairman and the devotees.”
Bhaiji sat down, but he still refused to accept the framed letter of recognition. The municipal chairman gave a short speech in which he called Hanuman Prasad Poddar “the embodiment of modesty.”
Then he himself got up to give his speech. He began with a verse from Vrindavana-mahimamrita glorifying the Brajavasis. “I am here before an assembly of Brajavasis, the dust of whose feet I am not worthy to take on my head, and yet I am standing on the elevated platform and you are all sitting below me. What can I say? This is the way things are done nowadays. But whenever I come to Vraja-Vrindavan I have it in my mind that every single atom in the Dham is worshipable to me. I have refused to accept the honors you offered me. Perhaps there is something improper in my doing so, and a deeper desire for honor is hidden in my refusal. There are many vairagis, people who have renounced all material things, who still covet praise and recognition. But Prabodhananda Saraswati says,
saṁmānaṁ kalayātighora-garalaṁ nīcāpamānaṁ sudhāṁ
Consider praise to be a most horrible poisonous cup, and lowly condemnation to be nectar. (1.48)
“I refused the honor and as a result I have had to hear even more of my own praises. Only the Indwelling Lord knows whether I have felt more pleasure or embarrassment as a result. I therefore ask you for the blessing that I get as much pleasure from being adorned with a garland of shoes as I do a garland of flowers. Give me the blessing that my heart be entirely free of any desire for honors or recognition.
“There is a verse in the Mahabharata that say the grand and mighty are not killed by the sword, but by criticism. I think that to speak or hear one’s own praises is a kind of suicide. If there were no pleasure in it, however, the respected Brahmachari would not have ordered me sit down and be quiet and to accept the proceedings. But in fact, I take it as a sign of my own inferiority that I did so. But whatever you have said, I accept it as your blessings for you are all Krishna’s own people.”
The members of the assembly, which included many saints and scholars, were enchanted by the revelation of Bhaiji’s inner character. After the assembly broke up and Bhaiji was leaving the hall, an old sadhu came up to him and Bhaiji folded both hands in greeting. The old sadhu said, “Bhaiji! I have been reading Kalyaan for years now, and it has had a great influence on my life. This is the first time that I have seen you. I have often wondered that there are so many spiritual magazines available nowadays, but none seem to have the power that Kalyaan does. It is miraculous the way that it changes people’s lives and turns their hearts towards God. But today, seeing your character and hearing your words, there is no more mystery to it in my mind. When I see how the chief editor of the magazine is himself beyond any desire for name or fame, how he runs from honors and recognition, how he has such integrity that mind, words and actions are all in harmony with the deepest humility, I can understand where the power of the magazine to change people’s hearts and minds comes from. May God forever bless you.”
Hanuman Prasad Poddar’s eyes filled with tears on hearing the Mahatma and he fell to the ground and touched his head to his feet.
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