Vrindavan, 2017.04.06 (VT): Today the festival commemorating the life of Vishnudas Babaji Maharaj of Bhagavata Niwas in Raman Reti. Vishnudas Babaji (1916-1997) was one of the followers of Ramkrishna Pandit Babaji and succeeded Kripasindhu Das Baba as Mahant of Bhagavata Niwas in 1972. Like Kripasindhu Dasji, he was a great devotee of the Govinda-lilamrita and practitioner of ashta-kala lila smarana.
Born in Bankura in West Bengal, his inclination to a life of renunciation came when he was only 15. His name at home was Badal. was He ran away from home, but was followed and found in the railroad station before he could get too far away. Eventually, however, he made his escape and with no money and with the kindness of a ticket inspector traveled by train to Hathras Junction. From there he walked to Mathura where after bathing in the Yamuna at Vishram Ghat he went to Vrindavan.
Badal hadn’t eaten for three days. He was sitting on the steps at Keshi Ghat. Feeling a little dizzy and weak from hunger, he was yet imbued with the thought of the Divine Couple. It was the rainy season and in those days, the water ran rapidly at Keshi Ghat. Still he stared at the water and thought he saw Radha and Krishna. He stepped into the turbulent water, but the current took him away and pushed him under. He temporarily lost consciousness and when he came to, he found himself on the shore a few hundred meters downstream from Keshi Ghat. He felt as though he had undergone some kind of transformation experience and that the Yamuna had thrown him on the banks of the river where Krishna and the gopis had conducted their rasa dance. He was not just in the worldly Vrindavan, but the other-worldly Vrindavan also.
He gulped down water from the holy river to slake his hunger, but to no avail. Then he saw a beggar on the road who was walking somewhere quickly and decided to follow him, thinking that there would be something to eat at the end of the beggar’s journey. Indeed, he followed him as far as Rangaji temple, and there had some prasad — but only makhan-misri, some butter with sugar candy, Krishna’s childhood favorite. Still, somewhat dazed by his experience, he wandered into the Govindaji temple and had darshan of Govindaji, then sat on the steps outside. It was then that Yadunandan Das, who was to become his guru, happened by and began talking with him.
Yadunandan Das, who was actually living at Surya Kund at the time, was a disciple of Jaikrishna Das Babaji in parampara from Siddha Madhusudan Das Baba of Surya Kund. But like the young Badal, he was from the same West Bengal district of Bankura and had also run away from home as a teenager to take shelter of the Dham 30 years earlier. He took the boy with him back to Surya Kund and there began to train him in the life of a Vaishnava vairagi. He gave him initiation and engaged him in the service of Siddha Madhusudan Das Baba’s samadhi, then gave him bhek, with the name “Vishnu Das.”
One day, during the cold season, Vishnu Das was attacked by pneumonia. Yadunandan Das was a frequent visitor to Vrindavan and a member of Pandit Ramkrishna Baba‘s entourage. Not knowing what to do with the boy in the remote and isolated Surya Kund, he brought him to Vrindavan, where the Ramkrishna Mission Hospital was the most advanced medical facility in the region.
Yadunandan Das lay Vishnu Das by the well in Dauji Bagicha (the current site of the Vrindavan Research Institute). Ramkrishna Pandit Baba assigned a Nimbarki baba who was living with him, Shyam Das, and his closest student, Kripa Sindhu Baba, to take care of him. Within a short time, the young Baba was returned to health, but neither he nor his guru could leave the company of Pandit Baba.
Eventually, as Pandit Ramkrishna Babaji Maharaj grew older, he still insisted on going out for madhukari, but he would walk taking the shoulders of Kripa Sindhu Baba, whom he affectionately called bachchi, with one hand, and Vishnu Das, nicknamed Lallu, with the other.
Although Vishnu Das had little formal education, in the association of Pandit Baba and Kripa Sindhu Baba, he adopted their bhajan style of strict discipline. He would rise at one or two in the morning, bathe and begin his practice of lila-smarana. Like Kripa Sindhu Baba, he memorized the entire Govinda Lilamrita in Sanskrit and would often speak on the topic of Krishna’s daily pastimes in the nitya-lila as presented by Kaviraj Goswami. He also knew many of the other details of the Gutika, such as the descriptions of the Yoga Peeth and so on, which he taught to whomever was serious about bhajan and came to him.
Not long before Pandit Baba entered the nitya-lila in 1940, he told his followers and in particular Kripa Sindhu Baba, who had been with him for more than 20 years, to leave Dauji Bagicha and to establish another ashram on the other side of the Chattikara Road. This they did, and the wealthy owners of the land signed it over to the sadhakas. This is now known as Bhagavata Niwas and is where Pandit Baba’s tradition lives on.
Vishnudas became the Mahant of Bhagavata Niwas in 1978 and remained in that position until his departure in 1997. It was he who planted the trees and created the tapo-vana mood of the ashram. He made garlands for Girindra Bihari, the Govardhan shila that is worshiped at Bhagavata Niwas, tended the garden, took care of the samadhis of Pandit Baba and later of Kripa Sindhu Baba and his own guru.
In 1978 he created the Girindra Bihari Trust, and as he was becoming older and wished to increase his manasi seva, he turned the responsibility for the service to the ashram to Shukadeva Das, who is still the principal sevait of the ashram. When the time came for him to enter the nitya-lila, he asked his disciple Amarananda Das to lie him down on the Vrindavan dust and the other devotees to do sankirtan. As the kirtan rose, he announced, “Now I am going to [Ramkrishna Pandit] Baba’s side.” He closed his eyes and entered the nitya nikunja. It was Chaitra Shukla Navami, i.e., Ram Naumi. The devotees celebrate and have the feast on the following day.
[Based on Vraj ke Nava Bhakta Mal by Anuragi Baba.]