BY JEYANTHY PILLAI
KLANG, MALAYSIA – Life is tottering like a drop of water on a lotus leaf. No one will ever know when it will drop. And when it does drop, the leaf looks so empty.
Sri Jagannatha Mandir, ISKCON KL, seems like that now, without its Chief Commander, HG Uttama Caitanya dasa. Everything seems so lifeless and empty.
Who would have ever thought this lean and lanky stalwart commander would leave suddenly during a game of futsal in Klang. The Lord, master controller has a peculiar way of doing things. He took him away when we least expected it.
But we still thank the Lord for giving us the chance to know this soul who gave his all to nurture us in Krishna Consciousness. He had many strengths and talents. His knowledge was incredible, so was his memory. Once he told me he had a dream and in it Srila Prabhupada lay on his lap and said, “I am too tired to preach”. I guess he was hand-picked by Srila Prabhupada to preach and he had the gift of gab. He could preach for hours on a topic and had a palatable style in writing. He sounded like a scholar, his vocabulary intricately laced with philosophical terms and phrases. Elegant hand gestures and animated facial expressions added considerable impact to his delivery. He got many of us glued to his talks and well-written articles. The very interesting ones were from his visits to India. He took us to this land with his mere words.
He was very versatile, he excelled in deity samskara, deity alankara and even stunned many with his cooking skills. He used to head the cooking team during Mother’s Day. He ensured there was prasadam for all devotees. He used to say “This is Jagannatha’s temple, no one should leave without taking prasadam”. Tuesdays used to be his deity alankara days. His dressing of deities was quite different from others. His was quite rich and opulent. He would spend thousands of Ringgit on just flower decoration for Krishna Janmastami. Krishna reciprocated by showering him with dozens and dozens of long garlands and hand bouquets for his funeral.
His austerity was mind boggling. He would fast fully half days during ekadasi and during Caturmasya he would fast without even water during ekadasi. Such was his faith in ekadasi that he left us on this very day. Ekadasi – The Day of Lord Hari. For years I remember seeing him for eating only after serving the devotees after the Sunday Feast. During festivals, he will engage in kirtan and it will go on until most of us had finished eating. The most austere fast that I have seen him doing is during the Krishna Janmastami and Srila Prabhupada’s appearance day. A fast that lasted for two days. He would hardly even sleep during these days. He would shave his head and eat very little. Yet he will move around swiftly in his long strides around the temple ensuring that all the departments were working without hiccups. And most of the times he will also give a talk during the festivals. He would be appealing to all to take up Krishna Consciousness at the end of his talk.
His mastery in the Tamil language was amazing. He was not too fluent initially but as time went by, he improved tremendously and then his lectures were better in Tamil than in English. Such was his enthusiasm to wanting to preach. You will find many devotees moving to attend his talks in Tamil rather than hear the English talks by someone else during the Sunday Feasts. He had what seemed almost like a fan club.
He spoke a lot about Srila Prabhupada. He was Srila Prabhupada’s man. He had so much love for him. He used to hear Srila Prabhupada’s lectures regularly and he could go on for hours glorifying Srila Prabhupada and the Guru Parampara. He used to stress on the importance of Mangala Arati. He said , “Srila Prabhupada mentioned we should regularly attend mangala arati during his last few days. So there must be something there. You must attend it.”
He dressed very simply. Sometimes I noticed it being crumpled or old, torn even. I used to get him saffron material for his robes and told him to use them during Sunday Feasts or festivals. I jokingly told him, “You represent the congregation and what you wear reflects on us. You are part of my family, so I got this for you.” He coyly replied “I am obliged for I am not qualified to receive favours.”
He loved children. He would talk to them like a child himself. He used to say, “Look at these lucky children, they started so early. Did you ever chant or engage in service for Krishna when you were a young child? They are very special”. When I first came to Sri Jagannatha Mandir in 1999, he was the first person I met. The first thing that I asked him was if there was any Children’s Class in the temple. He said “No” but convinced me to attend a Namahatta class or the evening programs in the temple. He then introduced me to the deities and while he was talking to me, my daughter, Shevaanni who was four at that time started dancing. He said, “Look, how natural it is for a child to dance for the Lords.”
He was a man with a vision. He set the pace for others to follow. He had so many innovative ideas and was ambitious. He never was depressed when one of his projects failed. His enthusiasm just kept increasing with time.
Once he told me his sister and mother may come for Krishna Janmastami. I offered to talk to them. However they didn’t come. He seemed a little disappointed. But I am so glad, his entire family and relatives came for his funeral to the temple and gave their blessing and told us to continue where he stopped. He must be pleased that they at least took darshan of his beloved Lordships.
When I first told him how I desired to take initiation from my Guru Maharaj who doesn’t give initiation so easily, he comforted me and told me, “You have time to get polished. We have to be a worthy disciple of our guru. It is important to hear from your guru. For now to build faith, you can get lecture cassettes and listen daily. But don’t forget to hear Srila Prabhupada daily as well.
Maharaja does not visit Malaysia. So to get direct association you have to travel to India. Sometimes he passes thru Singapore.
krishna se tomara, krishna dite paro,
tomara shakati ache
ami to’ kangala, ’krishna’ ‘krishna’ boli’,
dhai tava pache pache
Krishna is yours; you have the power to give Him to me. I am simply running behind you shouting, “Krishna! Krishna!”
(from Ohe, Vaisnava Thakura)”
He loved to act and the Vraja Arts Theater was very dear to his heart. He said, “Srila Prabhupada wanted very much for devotees to engage in Vedic drama, its impact is much stronger than a lecture.” His classic act was his role as Hiranyakashipu during the Nrsimha Caturdasi. He had such passion for acting. I played in a drama with him in the “Dracula and the book distributor” in Langkawi. We had a short rehearsal, but it was easy to work with him. So many times we had worked together and he always appreciated my efforts. We worked hand in glove to put up the IskconKL.com website and the “Gita Jeyanthy” festival. For years we worked together on the Membership database and Patron Payment. It was good while it lasted.
Other times, we were at loggerheads with each other. Trouble was we never really talked face to face. The ashram difference made it quite impossible. So the emails were our only exchanges. It blocked the physical contact and made it so emotionless. This was the root of the problem. HH Bhanu Maharaj mentioned that the latest technical innovation is all from Patalaloka. Internet is one of them. Maya can use it to bring the worse out of you. We were both trapped in it. He was like a child in many ways. When he came to my house to apologize for something he had done, he looked like a little naughty boy who got caught with his hands in the cookie jar. His eyes, not looking straight but shifting away from the catcher. But a mum never is angry when her child poops or urines on her. She still loves her child nevertheless. In the same way, I always took whatever befell on me as small price to pay to get purified. He was an instrument of my own karma.
A quote from Srimad Bhagavatham 10.14.8
“A sincere devotee earnestly desires to go back to the Lord’s abode. Therefore he willingly accepts the Lord’s merciful punishment and continues offering respects and obeisances to the Lord with his heart, words and body. Such a bona fide servant of the Lord, considering all hardship a small price to pay for gaining the personal association of the Lord, certainly becomes a legitimate son of God, as indicated here by the words dāya–bhāk. Just as one cannot approach the sun without becoming fire, one cannot approach the supreme pure, Lord Kṛṣṇa, without undergoing a rigid purificatory process, which may appear like suffering but which is in fact a curative treatment administered by the personal hand of the Lord.”
Coincidently, the day before he left us, I was reading the article “More tolerant than a tree” by Srila Gour Govinda from Sri Krishna Kathamrita Bindu. Like Uttama prabhu, I also forwarded that article to my close friends. It seemed to have touched both of our inner core hearts.
Here is the complete article:
More tolerant than a tree
By Sri Srimad Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja
Mahaprabhu’s teaching is to think oneself worse than a blade of grass lying on the street; to be more humble than that. And to become as tolerant as a tree. Do not demand respect, but pay respect to one and all. One should think that all are Vainshanavs except me.“ I am the lowest of the low.” This is trnad api sunicena.
How can you offer respect to one and all if you think, “I am a Vaishnava. I am a Vaishnava”? Bhaktivinode Thakur has said:
Aami ta vaishnava ei buddhi ha-ile
Amaani naa ha ba aami
Pratisthaasa aasi hrdaya dusibe
If the wicked thought enters my mind that I am a Vaishnava, then I cannot become amani — I won’t be able to offer respect to one and all. Rather, I will demand respect, “Hey, don’t you know who I am? I am a Vaisnava! Offer your obeisances!” In this way, my heart will become polluted and I will go to hell.
Therefore you have to tolerate all these things —all sufferings, all rebukes, all miseries, all insults, all blasphemies and all bad names. Tolerate, tolerate, tolerate! Krishna will give you the power to chant the pure name without duplicity, and Krishna will give you the power to tolerate. Krishna will give you severe tests that you have to pass. Do not be disturbed. Tolerate; have patience!
Rupa Goswami has said in Upadesaamrta (text 3), utsahaan, niscayaad, dhairyaat — be enthusiastic, patient and confident. You were so enthusiastic, but now it is all gone.“O I am depressed and disappointed; everything has failed.” Do not give up your enthusiasm! Have firm determination, “In this very life I must get the lotus feet of Krishna!”
Dhruva said, “I must meet Lord Narayan!” He was just a five-year-old boy, and he had such determination! His name was Dhruva [meaning “fixed” or “resolute”], because he had such strong determination. His mother said, “No! No! You are a boy. You cannot go to the forest. For hundreds of years great sages underwent very severe austerities, but they failed to attain the Lord.”
Dhruva replied, “Whatever it may take, I must attain the lotus feet of Narayan.” He had such determination! Otherwise, how can you get Krishna? utsahaan, niscayaad, dhairyaat — have patience and tolerate! Do not give up your enthusiasm! Do not give up your devotion! Stick it out in spite of all suffering, all rebukes, all blasphemies, and all unfavorable situations. Do not be defeated! Have patience! Krishna is placing a test before you. You have to pass it, tolerate it. My Guru Maharaja, Srila A.C..Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, gave the same instruction. The last instruction he gave was, “Tolerate and cooperate!” So many obstructions, impediments, sufferings, pain, and unexpected things will come. Insults will come. No praise, but all blame will come to you. Tolerate, tolerate, tolerate and cooperate. Then you will pass the test! You will get the mercy of the Lord, Mahaprabhu’s mercy, Nityananda Prabhu’s mercy, Krishna’s mercy.
All glory will come. It may not come in this very life time, but it must come. Whatever it may be, I will not give up my attachment to the lotus feet of Krishna! I will not give up my service! I will never leave! I must stay fixed! This determination is steadiness of mind. This is unalloyed devotion. This is your real love, affection and attachment for Krishna .Otherwise how can you get Krishna’s mercy?
— From a lecture in Bhubaneswar, 6 March 1993.
Why he left us so soon, no one will ever know. But wherever he is, may he always be showered with Krishna’s love. Hopefully we will meet again someday, and work hand in hand again in service of Their Lordships in Goloka Vrindavan.
All glories to HG Uttama Caitanya prabhu, the stalwart leader of ISKCON KL.