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 prabhu. Everything seems so lifeless and empty.
Who would have ever thought this lean and lanky stalwart commander would leave suddenly. 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. 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 favors.”
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 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. 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 dâya-bhâk. Just as one cannot approach the sun without becoming fire, one cannot approach the supreme pure, Lord Kròsònòa, 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.
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.