Atma Nivedana –Biography of a Surrendered Soul

By HG Shanti Rupa devi dasi

“He reasons ill who says that Vaishnavas die, When thou art living still in sound! The Vaishnavas die to live, and live to spread the holy name around.” Bhakti Vinod Thakur

His Grace Uttama Caitanya Dasa Brahmacari, a dear disciple of H.H. Srila Jayapataka Swami Maharaj, departed from this world suddenly but peacefully on Gaurabdha 523, Sridhara Masa, Krsna Paksa (Kamika Ekadasi, July 18th 2009) around 5 pm. On the day, he had observed a full fast, refraining from even water; and had been actively involved in the Congregational Development Ministry's two day seminar which was held at the Klang Valley in Malaysia. He served as the Temple President of Sri Jagannath Mandir, ISKCON-Kuala Lumpur (SJMKL), Malaysia since 2001 until his departure. During his tenure, the temple grew in leaps and bounds, and is now a leading temple in Malaysia. He was an eloquent speaker of Hari Katha and very learned in Gaudiya Vaishnava siddhanta. He was a Bhakti Shastri and Bhakti Vaibhava. An avid reader, he had a wonderful collection of literatures - this he treasured most.

Early Years in ISKCON
H.G. Uttama Caitanya Prabhu was born as Umakanthan to Ramasamy and Rajeswary Ammal on October 30th, 1966 in Batu Gajah, a small town in the state of Perak, Malaysia. Having completed his primary and secondary education in the neighbouring town of Tapah, he proceeded to Kuala Lumpur to pursue pre-university education in the famous TAR College. It is here he came in contact with ISKCON devotees and began to attend programs whenever possible. He often quoted how H.G. Tyaga Caitanya dasa greeted him nicely in 1986 when he first visited the ISKCON temple in Kuala Lumpur. He always spoke fondly of H.G. Siddhi Sadhana dasa, who was then managing ISKCON’s Govinda’s Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Siddhi Sadhana Prabhu carefully preached to him and taught him to chant japa. He then pursued a four year degree in Business Management at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang where he continued to attend more ISKCON programs.

After completing his university degree, Umakanthan enrolled himself in the renowned Singapore International Airways for a pilot training course. Here, his involvement in Krsna Consciousness became deeper. He would often travel the long distance to Kuala Lumpur to attend important festival celebrations and regular programs. Having passed the theoretical part of the training course, he refrained from pursuing the practical portion. We assume that the reason for this was his ardent desire to become more affiliated with Krsna Consciousness. From being a casual visitor at the Govinda’s restaurant, Umakanthan quickly rose to the extent of giving regular classes during the weekly sat-sangs held in the restaurant. Many were drawn to his preaching and seriously took up Krsna Consciousness after attending his classes.

His prolific writing skills earned him a coveted position as the sub-editor of the Business Times section in Malaysia’s leading daily newspaper - The New Straits Times Press. Here, he would often use his advantageous position to circulate announcements on Vaishnava festivals and releases of the latest Bhaktivedanta Book Trust publications. He also wrote and published several Krsna Conscious articles, one such article was the “Reforestation of Vrndavana”, which appeared in the Life & Times section of the same paper in 1995. It was also during the same year, while being stationed in Kuala Lumpur, that he became even more deeply involved in Krsna Consciousness and spent most of his time in the temple, reading and studying Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy.

Having delved deeply into Srila Prabhupada’s writings, he was fully convinced of the Krsna Conscious philosophy. When H.H. Jayapataka Swami Maharaj visited Kuala Lumpur in 1995, a young Umakanthan shaved his head and received harinam diksha, accepting the name Uttama Caitanya dasa. Just eleven days later on December 31st 1995, during the launch of Srila Prabhupada’s 100th anniversary, he pledged to become a full time devotee as an offering to our great founder. At the time he was 29 years old and in the midst of a very materially lucrative career. This move was truly a story of Atma Nivedana, and it demonstrated his deep attachment and profound feelings for Srila Prabhupada’s teachings.

Adorning saffron robes, Uttama Caitanya dasa joined Sri Jagannath Mandir, Kuala Lumpur as a full time devotee in 1996. Simheswar dasa, then Temple President, immediately made him Temple Commander and began grooming him to become President. Uttama Caitanya Prabhu was not interested in the position and politely declined, stating that there were more qualified senior devotees. However, when his dear Guru Maharaj personally ordered him to take on the position, he silently accepted. Uttama Caitanya Prabhu was never attached to the superiority of his position. Senior congregation members noted that within months of becoming the Temple President, he took an extremely bold step by renovating the current premises, starting with zero finances. He managed to put up a remarkable structure amidst criticism from his peers.

­Guru Seva
Until he left his body, Uttama Caitanya Prabhu’s life was an offering of love to his dear Guru Maharaj. He did everything possible to please H.H. Jayapataka Swami Maharaj, and this led to his tremendous success in leading the Kuala Lumpur yatra to great heights. He always picked the best of what the ISKCON world had to offer and implemented them in Sri Jagannath Mandir Kuala Lumpur, almost always very successfully.

Even during a severe testing period in his life when he was on the verge of giving up the brahmacari ashram, he fled from the thought as advised by his beloved spiritual master and emerged an even stronger brahmacari to carry on his services. This and many other incidents exhibited his stong guru nista. He also successfully organised an unforgettable and most impressive sisya samuh for the disciples of H.H. Jayapataka Swami Maharaj, increasing tremendously the guru nista of each and every devotee who attended this festival.

He was a visionary leader who wanted to serve Srila Prabhupada’s movement in the best ways possible. Congregation Development, which is the heart and soul of his spiritual master, was very dear to his heart. He was keen on building up the Congregation Development Ministry, and with the help of his team made significant progress in systematically organizing this department in the Klang Valley.

He also made considerable effort to extend help to other centers across Malaysia and nearby countries to come together to develop this area in their respective yatras. He organised regular regional congregation development meetings which attracted participants from across Malaysia and neighbouring countries. In fact it was during such a seminar on July 18, 2009 that Prabhu breathed his last.

Uttama Caitanya Prabhu also encouraged the implementation of the Spiritual Counsellor system in SJMKL. He was confident that this system, which has been incredibly successful in Sri Sri Radha Gopinath Mandir, Chowpatty, India, would accelerate the spiritual growth of every yatra member. As he predicted, the congregation of SJMKL has made much spiritual progress since the system was introduced.

The internationally famous Damodara project was born and nourished under the leadership of Uttama Caitanya Prabhu. During one of the annual launches of the Damodara program, H.H. Jayapataka Swami Maharaj was so pleased, that at the end of the program, Maharaj tightly embraced him, bringing tears to Uttama Caitanya Prabhu’s eyes as well as the eyes of many who witnessed this loving exchange. Understanding the desire of his beloved spiritual master, he attempted to educate the worldwide ISKCON community on how to conduct the Damodar home and public programs. He sent his team members far and wide - to Delhi, Tirupati, Vadohara in India, and personally visited Mauritius, South Africa, and Indonesia among other places.

“Prabhupada Man”
Uttama Caitanya Prabhu was through and through a Prabhupada man. He constantly emphasized on sticking to the basics – good sadhana, humble seva, unoffensive japa, and sad-achar. He strongly believed that mass distribution of Krsna Consciousness should be carried on using Srila Prabhupada’s formula – book distribution, prasadam distribution, and harinama sankirtana.

With this firm faith he worked very hard to develop these three areas. Just a few days before his departure, he formally registered ISKCON Kuala Lumpur’s Food For Life program with the registrar of societies - a remarkable milestone in the history of SJMKL. The harinama sankirtana division has sky rocketed to organizing over 100 harinamas each year. Book distribution has also escalated to the point that SJMKL is now the top book distributor in ISKCON Malaysia.

Other Services
Uttama Caitanya Prabhu had a special attachment for deity worship, Sri Vrindavan Dham and Sri Sri Radhe Shyam. He loved to cook for the deities and serve the devotees. During his tenure as Temple President he brought about tremendous changes in the deity worship department and effortlessly organised grand festivals for the pleasure of Their Lordships. He was also an excellent actor and always emphasised on dramas as a good medium to preach. In 2001, his Jagannatha Priya Nataka won raving reviews in many leading local newspapers.

He was a warm host to all those who visited Sri Jagannath Mandir. He always ensured that guests were nicely received and served Lord Jagannath’s prasadam. He extended these warm welcomes even to regular devotees, constantly greeting us with a smile and folded hands, also ensuring that we honoured sufficient prasadam. He always insisted that in Jagannath’s home, no one should ever leave without prasadam.

Uttama Caitanya Prabhu was zealous in implementing programs to train and care for devotees. He also strongly encouraged the development of vaishnava training programs such as the the Gokul Garden for children, Pandava Sena for teenagers, and many seasonal courses on philosophical topics. He lent undivided support to the university preaching program (VOICE), which has been expanding very rapidly.

Inspiration for All
For most of us, he came across as a character straight out of the Caitanya Caritamrita; following as closely as possible in the footsteps of the Gaura bhakta vrindas. His aura was that of a learned saintly person, always detached, calm and composed. His tall and lean form was full of grace; his movements regal yet humble. His big eyes extended like lotus petals; and his face was always adorned with a smile. His nature was soft, compassionate and mellow. He was always mild and gentle in his dealings.

Uttama Prabhu drew inspiration from many of the previous acharyas. He would often shed tears of love while speaking of them in lectures. Apart from his spiritual master, his most recent sources of inspiration were H.H. Gour Govind Maharaj and H.G. Jayananda Prabhu. Devotees have noted the similarities between Uttama Caitanya Prabhu and H.G. Jayananda Prabhu in terms of touching the lives of many devotees and non-devotees alike. Uttama Caitanya Prabhu constantly tried to follow in the footsteps and instil the mood of H.G. Jayananda Prabhu in the hearts of all SJMKL members.

His personal necessities were minimal - he wore simple, worn out dhotis. His eating habits were frugal; and his main delights were speaking Hari Katha and serving the Vaishnavas. He was always detached from bodily needs. On fasting days he would lead ecstatic kirtans until very late, forgetting the needs of the body. He would then serve prasadam to all the devotees and only honour some himself when all had left.

He was a wonderful example of a strict devotee and dedicated follower of Srila Prabhupada. Despite opposition and criticism from many outsiders Uttama Caitanya Prabhu remained steadfast in Krsna Consciousness. He remained humble and unassuming even in immense success.

His life has been a wonderful source of inspiration for all of us - the Congregation of Sri Jagannath Mandir Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The End

To view the success of the Damodar Project, please visit

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"A tribute to a dear friend"

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 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.
Vaishnava Abhilasi,

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