Since the passing of beloved ISKCON Guru and Governing Body Commission (GBC) member His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami on July 4th, more information has been released about his last rites in the U.S. and upcoming samadhi ceremony in Mayapur, West Bengal, India.
Meanwhile offerings of appreciation and love have continued to pour in from ISKCON leaders, senior devotees and disciples, as well as other religious and secular leaders. Even newspapers and TV stations in India and abroad have covered Bhakti Charu Swami’s passing, demonstrating his great impact on the world.
According to recent details released by the GBC Executive Committee, Maharaja passed away or “returned to the lotus feet of his divine master, Srila Prabhupada” at 8:30am EDT on the most auspicious day of Sri Guru Purnima, the first day of the holy month of Sravana and Caturmasya, and the divine disappearance day of Srila Santana Goswami.
Soon after Bhakti Charu Swami’s departure in Florida, USA, Pran Govinda Das, a senior devotee based in Alachua, Florida arrived and chanted Brahma-samhita, Gajendra-moksa and other auspicious prayers. Pran Govinda confirmed that Srila Prabhupada’s kirtan was playing in Maharaja’s room. Pran Govinda also annointed Maharaja with Tulasi leaves, Ganga water, and maha oil from Lord Nrsimhadeva in Sri Dham Mayapur.
Bhakti Charu Swami’s final rites were performed on the morning of Sunday July 5th at a funeral home that caters to special requests. After Maharaja’s body was bathed, dressed, and decorated with tilak and auspicious items by Pran Govinda Das and Atlanta temple president Vedasara Das, an arati ceremony was performed.
The ceremony could not be open to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, a brief livestream of the final rites was broadcast online in order to, according to the GBC Executive Committee, “facilitate a final darshan for all of the devotees who so dearly love Maharaja.”
On July 6th, 7th and 8th, meanwhile, memorial programs were held online, with various senior devotees sharing their heartfelt memories of Bhakti Charu Swami.
According to the GBC Executive Committee, on July 10th Bhakti Charu Swami’s vapu (physical body) embarked upon “the final journey to Sri Dham Mayapur.” There, the Committee wrote, “he will rest in samadhi near the puspa samadhi [memorial building] of Srila Prabhupada and the samadhis of his loving godbrothers.”
A date has not yet been set for the Samadhi ceremony. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the ISKCON Mayapur campus will be strictly closed to both devotees and the general public during the ceremony, and will reopen again after it has concluded. The GBC has requested devotees to not travel to Mayapur.
“In the spirit of cooperation that Bhakti Charu Maharaja enshrined, please comply with this request and let us all await the joyous day when we can come together to honor and remember Srila Prabhupada’s dear son,” wrote the GBC EC (Executive Committee).
Devotees are also preparing to establish a Pushpa Samadhi in Ujjain. In the meantime, many around the world are honoring and remembering His Holiness from a distance, including government heads.
“Very grieved to hear about the departure of Bhakti Charu Swami, senior ISKCON sanyasi and spiritual leader,” wrote Mamata Bannerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal on Twitter on July 5th. “His works and teachings will remain with the followers of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. My condolences to his many disciples and devotees of ISKCON.”
Newspapers have also reported on Bhakti Charu Swami’s passing, with India’s Free Press Journal headline reading, “Bidding Adieu to Bhakti Charu Swami – Pall of Gloom Descends in Mahakal City.” Other newspapers listed his many devotional achievements, while the Jagran English quoted the GBC EC on how Maharaja had “lived constantly in meditation on how to serve Srila Prabhupada and his mission.”
Of course, offerings of love are especially flooding in from devotees, including from other Vaishnava groups, showing how much Bhakti Charu Swami is beloved by all.
His Holiness Sri Jeeyar Swami, Tridandi Sannyasi of Sri Sampradaya and former Chairman of the International Srivaishnava Community, said, “Vedic Sanatana Dharma lost a great spiritual Guru. H.H Sri Bhakti Charu Swamiji Maharaj built a global faith and community founded on Vedic Sanatan value. His Holiness was highly respected for his personal piety and dedication, as well as his commitment to promoting Vedic values around the world. The great soul like H.H Sri Swamiji Maharaj rarely visits this planet, we are very lucky to have him for 75 years. We will be forever grateful for H.H Sri Swamiji Maharaj’s works and contributions for Vedic Sanatana Dharma.”
Sri Srimad Bhakti Bibudha Bodhayan Goswami Maharaj, Acharya of Sri Gopinath Gaudiya Math, wrote: “When I was a brahmachari, I used to attend Srila Charu Maharaja’s classes in the Conch Building [at ISKCON Mayapur]. At that time Srila Charu Maharaj use to give classes on Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur’s Jaiva Dharma on the rooftop. His classes were very attractive to me. I am very much remembering Maharaj today. Two months ago, I requested Srila Charu Maharaj to write a homage for my Gurudeva [Srila Bhakti Pramode Puri Goswami] which would be included in my Gurudeva’s biography. Srila Charu Maharaj composed a very sweet and faithful offering which was very heart-touching for me. All of Srila Charu Maharaj’s sweet behavior really makes me feel separation from him.”
Bhakti Charu Swami and Jayapataka Swami several years ago
Many ISKCON leaders similarly remembered Bhakti Charu Swami’s sweetness. “Since 1970s, I have an ongoing relationship with Bhakti Caru Swami,” wrote Jayapataka Swami. “He was serving Prabhupada personally in Vrindavana. He was a very kind devotee. Prabhupada gave him first, second and sannyasa initiation very quickly. He was, as everyone has their strengths, a very sweet, cultured devotee…. He was my co-GBC in Kolkata, Mayapur, West Bengal and Bangladesh and recently also in Orissa. So he was very nice to work with and I am missing his association a lot.”
Bhakti Chaitanya Swami echoed these sentiments, further describing Bhakti Charu Swami’s special personality. “What an exceptional devotee,” he wrote. “What an exceptionally kind and loving devotee. There are many wonderful devotees in Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON, but among them Bhakti Caru Maharaja was one of the most, most sublime. I knew him from the mid-1980’s when he came to South Africa at my request, and immediately I saw that here is a Vaisnava with a heart of gold. A gentle and affectionate devotee who simply exudes love for Srila Prabhupada, and gave that love to all he met, including myself.
“Over the years we spent so much time together, and never once was he ever anything other than extremely kind to me. Many times he invited me for lunch, which he would cook and serve himself. Many times I heard him give wonderful classes and lead amazing kirtanas and bhajanas. Many times I heard him preach to devotees who were having difficulty getting on together, and get them to put aside their differences and come together at Srila Prabhupada’s lotus feet.”
In his appreciation, Giridhari Swami expressed how personal and caring Bhakti Charu Swami was to everyone: “My association with Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaja was in no way unique,” he wrote. “Everyone who met him had the same experience. He was a highly cultured Vaisnava gentleman, with very refined good qualities. He attracted everyone with his kind and loving heart. Everyone loved him because he loved everyone. Nothing pleased him more than to serve the devotees, especially his godbrothers and godsisters, by hosting them for prasadam, arranging for their accommodation and taking care of their each and every need.
“Numerous times throughout the years, His Holiness Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja and I would stay with him in Kolkata, and he would personally arrange for every detail imaginable for our stay. He was the most gracious and expert host that I have ever met. All of us will sorely miss Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaja’s physical association, but we take solace in the fact that Srila Prabhupada and Radha-Madhava have called him to rejoin Them in Their eternal pastimes.”
Nrsimhananda Das of ISKCON Television and the Spiritual Advisors Bhagavata Assembly (SABHA) added: “If the purpose of bhakti is to love Krishna and all of his parts and parcels, no one exemplifies it more than Bhakti Charu Swami. He lived by an unstated maxim that was demonstrated in all of his relationships: it was to love whoever was around to be loved. He didn't just shower affection on his immediate peers; he was an equal-opportunity care-giver. Being in his presence, you got the idea that you were as important as any of his most intimate friends. That ‘talent’ was not ‘grown;’ it was a manifestation of his spiritual nature. I recently told someone that the camera loved Maharaja. He could say anything on screen and would always come out smelling like (offered) roses. He had a ‘star’ quality. Superstar, really. There was only one Bhakti Charu Swami in ISKCON; he is irreplaceable. His presence will continue through his lectures and activities, but, especially, in the disciples whom he nurtured and counseled.”
Other ISKCON leaders offered words of solace for Bhakti Charu Swami’s disciples.
Bhakti Charu Swami and Indradyumna Swami serve out prasadam
Indradyumna Swami wrote: “My heart goes out to all of you wherever you are in the world. The outpouring of love and appreciation for your spiritual master currently flooding the worldwide ISKCON community shows the immensity of his influence and personality. He touched the hearts of countless devotees, even those he never met… As your Guru Maharaja was a close friend of mine for many years, I am crying alongside you. Although we know intellectually from our philosophy that the ‘soul is eternal and never dies,’ we cannot deny the sadness we feel when a devotee departs.
He added: “You can… find solace in knowing that although Bhakti Charu Maharaja has left us, he is Srila Prabhupada’s eternal servant and is either on another preaching adventure with Srila Prabhupada or is, by his grace, engaged in eternal life in the transcendental realm.”
Bhanu Swami wrote: “For us who are still living, and especially for his disciples, there are feelings of intense loss and separation. But by spiritual vision we can see him as still living. This is accomplished by continuing service to him, by trying to remember and follow his dearest instructions. I am sure that if disciples follow this principle, they will live with him and continue to be inspired by him.”
Bhaktivaibhava Swami added: “We disciples of Srila Prabhupada would like to ask your permission to give our support to you at this difficult time in your spiritual life. We love and respect you, because you are the spiritual sons and daughters of your Guru Maharaja whom we love and respect dearly…. Your Guru Maharaja often stressed the importance of cooperating with each other in our service to Srila Prabhupada's movement. This was the direct instruction of Srila Prabhupada. If we can serve that instruction, your Guru Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada will be very pleased.”
GBC member Praghosa Dasa, meanwhile, addressed his offering directly to Bhakti Charu Swami, speaking from his heart:
“So, so much wishing I was paying obeisances to you in person, then giving you a big hug and then discussing the glories of Srila Prabhupada with you,” he wrote. “There was no way anyone in your sweet company could fail to be immediately immersed in the transcendental pastimes of His Divine Grace once with you for a minute or two.
“At your first extraordinary meeting with Srila Prabhupada in early 1977 he instructed you to translate all his books into Bengali. There is such a sweet parallel between your first meeting with Srila Prabhupada and Srila Prabhupada’s first meeting with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, wherein he implored his soon to be disciple to preach Krishna consciousness in the English speaking world.
“I cannot but not mention all the wonderful times we honoured prasadam together, both just the two of us as well as with sometimes dozens of other devotees. Those experiences can only be a replica of what must surely take place in the spiritual world.
Praghosa Dasa’s last paragraph encapsulates what many devotees are feeling right now: “Thank you so, so much Maharaja and I so much look forward to having your association sometime in the future and I will pray to Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna to allow me that wonderful mercy again. Until then I will miss you dearly.”
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ISKCON Communications Director Anuttama Das also contributed to this article.
Watch an online memorial with offerings from many senior Vaishnavas including Sivarama Swami, Jayadvaita Swami, Malati Devi, and Radhanath Swami here: https://www.facebook.com/bhaktivedantamanor/videos/894371114301783/[ bhakti ] [ charu ] [ swami ]