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Tamal Krishna Maharaja
By Brahma Das
I worked extensively under Tamal Krishna Maharaja from 1975 through 1979. We met when I was in San Francisco working with Swami Tripurari on his BBT book distribution party. At that time Tamal Krishna Goswami asked me to join his party as leader of one of the new Radha-Damodar Buses.
Upon returning from India Tamal Krishna Goswami had teamed up with his old friend Visnujana Maharaja and turned his festival bus program into a dynamic preaching party. Together their preaching was so powerful that they recruited enough devotees to fill up two new buses. Soon those devotees were selling more Back to Godheads than any other zone in North America. Therefore Back to Godhead featured ads for the Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party in every issue. This ad had a picture of Visnujana Maharaja chanting and playing harmonium, and it read: "Travel with advanced devotees of the Hare Krishna movement" and "Learn to play ancient Indian Instruments."
Because of these ads, every devotee in the movement knew about the Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party and almost every brahmachari secretly wanted to travel and preach with Tamal Krishna Goswami and Visnujana Maharaja. New men were also joining as well, so Tamal Krishna Goswami commissioned two more buses and was looking for devotees to put in charge of them. It was at this time, in 1975, that Radha-Damodar visited San Francisco, and there is an amusing and insightful story regarding how I came to be part of the Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party team.
The first day the bus arrived in San Francisco, I was in the brahmachari ashram and came across Visnujana Maharaja singing in the shower. Everyone knew Visnujana Maharaja and loved him. He had a warm dramatic style that had the power to transport a person immediately to Vaikuntha.
As I stepped into the shower room, Maharaja recognized me and said, "Brahma, why are you here in San Francisco? Did you know that Tamal Krishna Goswami and I wanted to put you in charge of one of the new buses?"
I was shocked at this statement as I had only been in the movement three short years and was barely twenty-two years old. Certainly one had to have more experience and maturity than I to be in charge of a Radha-Damodar bus. When my ego and mind recovered from the shock I asked Visnujana Swami what I would do if I became a bus leader.
There, dripping from the shower, Visnujana Maharaja dramatically outlined everything to me in vivid terms.
He said," You will be the spider."
"The spider?" I replied with a puzzled look.
"Yes," he said. "At the festivals, Radha-Damodar weave a web through the chanting of Their Holy Names, and various types of conditioned souls are caught on that web. You as the spider will have to find out which of the souls caught on their web of chanting are ready to surrender their lives to Radha-Damodar. Those souls who are worthy, you transport to your lair on the bus and turn them into shining new bhaktas for Krishna and Prabhupada." Then he opened his arms and leaned into the shower, and as the stream of water cascaded over his head, he chanted in a loud voice "Radha-Damodar Ki-Jai!"
Needles to say, I was spellbound by Visnujana’s ecstatic presentation and the picture it painted in my mind. I was now speechless, and in a half a minute, Visnujana Swami had turned my world upside down and I began to believe that Prabhupada and Radha-Damodhar wanted me to be the" spider" on a Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party bus.
Such was the power of Visnujana Swami’s amazing love for Radha-Damodar.
There was, however, a slight problem. Before I could join the Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party and begin spider training I would have to talk to Tripurari Maharaja, who had just recruited me to be in charge of the San Francisco airport book distribution party. Outside Visnujana Swami’s influence, I became confused and depressed at the thought of letting down Tripurari Maharaja and the BBT party. I was in a dilemma, but little did I know that Tamal Krishna Goswami, the great preacher, organizer, and problem solver, was about to work his magic behind the scenes.
First he called me in and asked if I wanted to join Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party. At this point, although I really wanted to be the spider, I was confused and told him I was undecided. He was not happy about this answer and gave me a strong lecture about taking on responsibility for Prabhupada. He said I had leadership potential and on Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party that potential could be developed for Krishna’s service. I objected and said that I was distributing books for the BBT and knew that service was extremely pleasing to Prabhupada. At this, Tamal Krishna Goswami hesitated and thought for a moment. Something was going on in the back of his mind. He ended the conversation by saying, "Yes, book distribution is no doubt pleasing to Prabhupada," and asked me to join him for prasadam after I came back from the airport the next day.
The next day at the airport, I was too disturbed to distribute many books. To be the spider or not to be the spider was the question disturbing my mind. And that was my mental state when I went to the bus for dinner with Tamal Krishna Goswami and Visnujana Swami. As I was dined and flattered by two of the most respected devotees in the movement, the bus book-distribution team came in to take prasadam.
One by one, Tamal Krishna Goswami introduced each devotee and asked how many books he had sold that day. Each devotee replied with a number that ranged from ten to thirty books. After he was done, he said this is Brahma Das. He is a very famous BBT book distributor. Then he asked how many books I had sold today. Having had a bad day I was embarrassed to report that I had only sold about fifteen books that afternoon.
At that, Tamal Krishna Goswami pointed his finger at me and said very sternly, "These men are all new bhaktas, and they have almost to a man each sold more books than you. With good training these devotees will be able to preach and sell more and more books, but none of them are qualified now or any time in the near future to be a Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party bus leader. These new men need experienced guidance, and that is why the best service for you is to take command of one of the new buses."
Again I was speechless. Both Visnujana Swami and Tamal Krishna Goswami, each in his own way, had overwhelmed me in a matter of minutes. I knew at that time that these two were the most dynamic preaching team in the movement and I wanted to be part of that team.
But there was still the problem of my responsibilities to the BBT party. Tamal Krishna Goswami quickly took care of this problem to everyone’s satisfaction by offering three of his best book distributors as replacements for me on the BBT party. But before he did this Tamal Krishna Goswami asked me one important question: "Are you considering grhasta life?"
"Grhasta life is fine for Bhaktivinode Thakur but not for me," I replied.
He then smiled and said that was the right answer, as he wanted only dedicated brahmachari or sannyasi leaders on his bus party. And with that, I was welcomed aboard.
I served on Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party for the next three years as a bus leader. Tamal Krishna Goswami was a hard taskmaster, but he was able to motivate me like no one had done before, and in turn, I was able to motivate others. He saw something of my potential for service, and I had faith and appreciation for him. As bus leader I had to call him from the field once a week, and those calls either left me tearful because I had let him down or elated because he was pleased. He had a powerful effect on my life that has been with me ever since.
By 1979, the Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party buses were all broken down or dry-docked, and I was serving on the Indian library party out of Bombay. Tamal Krishna Goswami called me in Bombay and asked me to return to the United States to take a bus on the road again. I loved the bus party and was reunited again with many from my old party.
There was Hasyagrami, who had been my driver and festival equipment manager; Sunanda, the cook and kirtan leader; and Drista, the sincere leader of the book distribution party. We were all happy to be serving together again on the bus. Once our bus party alone consisted of twenty-eight brahmacharies packed together on a bus and accompanying three vans. Now we were going to Texas to distribute books, preach, and put on festivals with a total of seven devotees. Times had changed, and now Tamal Krishna Goswami was in charge of temples rather than buses and had to put most of his energy into those responsibilities. We were on the road in Texas for about six months. Finally we parked the bus in Austin and started a restaurant preaching center near the University of Texas that Tamal Krishna Goswami named Govinda’s Super-Natural Foods.
That was the last ride of the Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party, but anyone who took that or any ride on the Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party between 1974 and 1979 will never forget it. And all owe a debt of gratitude to Tamal Krishna Goswami for making it possible that Radha-Damodar and their devotees could travel down that historic road into the glorious history of the Krishna consciousness movement.
© CHAKRA 16 March 2002
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