This sacred ashram was founded by nitya-lila pravishta Sri Srimat Haridas Shastri ji Maharaj, a saint who, all along his life, was venerated all over India for his commitment to Dharma and for his scriptural erudition. Maharaj ji, throughout his life, was actively engaged in serving the Lord and guiding spiritual seekers on the path of Uttama-Bhakti, originally taught to the world by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. An expert of the scriptures, a seer of the absolute Truth (tattva-darshi) and an embodiment of the pristine teachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Maharaj ji worked relentlessly throughout his life for the welfare of all.
Sri Haridas Shastri ji Maharaj
Maharaj ji had appeared in this world in a pious Brahmana family of Kashyap Gotra in the erstwhile Manbhum (now Purulia) district of West Bengal. As a little boy, he had once accompanied his mother to go and hear a discourse on Sri Krishna by a sadhu. When he heard the discourse, his heart started longing for Sri Krishna. When he was about 15 years of age, he renounced home and travelled along with a sadhu to Vrindavan, the land of Sri Krishna. It was the year 1933. At that time, Vrindavan was quite different from what we see today. There were no roads, no concrete buildings and no electricity. The temples were the only solid structures. The place was inhabited only by some sadhus who used to live in huts. The population was very low and most of the land was covered with jungles, through which people walked on winding trails.
In those days the spiritual aspirants of the entire Vraja-mandal used to visit a famous saint, Sri Ramakrishna Das Babaji in Dauji ki Bagichi.
He hailed from the family of the chief royal priest of Jaipur and was fondly called Pandit Baba by the local residents of Vraja-mandal. Practitioners of different faiths used to go to him to have their queries answered. He would answer them in accordance with the teachings of their individual faiths. After his arrival in Vrindavan, Maharaj ji started staying under Pandit Baba’s care. Pandit Baba had never given diksha (initiation) to anybody. But he had given vesh-diksha (diksha for adopting the renounced order of life in the tradition of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) to one great personality, Sri Vinod Bihari Goswami Maharaj.
Sri Ramakrishna Das Babaji (Sri Pandit Baba) hailed from a pious family of Bengal where the devotional and scholarly traditions of Sri Chaitanya were maintained in their pristine form through the guru-disciple relationship. The family was initiated in Gadadhar parivar. From the time of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Sri Gadadhar Pandit had established the tradition of high scriptural erudition combined with sincere devotional practice within the followers of Sri Chaitanya. Continuing the traditions, Goswami Maharaj became highly learned and devotionally oriented.
He went to the holy town of Nabadwip to study the scriptures in the traditional system.
Nabadwip was a centre of academic excellence in the Eastern part of India. His extraordinary capability was evident when he mastered various different shastras and was awarded the titles of vyakarana tirtha, kavya tirtha, purana tirtha, sankhya tirtha, sankhya ratna, bhagavat ratna and vedanta ratna. These are traditional degrees conferred upon individuals who achieve expertise in different branches of scriptural studies. Normally a scholar would be considered to be of exceptional callibre if he were to be awarded two or three degrees.
Goswami Maharaj (Sri Vinod Bihari) however, earned several. After completing his family responsibilities, in the year 1932, he renounced home and went to Vrindavan to spend the rest of his life in the Holy Dham. By then, for various reasons, the tradition of scriptural studies and scholarly orientation that had been established by Sri Rup Goswami amongst the community of devotees in Vrindavan had become almost non-existent.
Goswami-ji arrived in Vrindavan and worked hard to re-establish centres of scholarly excellence combined with devotional practice. He was famous in Vraja-mandal as “Sri Vedanta-Ratna Mahashay”. He established an ashram “Sri Giridhari Bhajanashram” at the ancient site of Kaliyadaha.
He received vesh-diksha (renounced order of life in the tradition of Sri Chaitanya) from Sri Pandit Baba.
After taking the young sri Haridas Sastri under his care, Sri Pandit Baba advised him to take diksha from his only vesh-disciple, Sri Vinod Bihari Goswami (Vedanta-Ratna Mahashay). Maharaj ji became totally dedicated to the seva of his gurudev.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had sent Sri Rup Goswami, Sri Sanatan Goswami and others to Vrindavan for reviving the holy Dham. They had worked hard to clear the forests of Vrindavan, establish temples, libraries and educational institutions where students would study and get trained in devotional practices as taught by Mahaprabhu. This would benefit mankind. However, history tells us that those wonderful academic centers were destroyed.
When Sri Vinod Bihari Goswami Maharaj had come to Vrindavan he had found that there was a general lack of proper scriptural knowledge amongst the sadhus there. Being exceptionally learned, he wanted to revive the academic and spiritual culture of Vrindavan that the Goswamis had established.
As per this desire of his Gurudev, Maharaj ji also started working for achieving this goal. He went to Varanasi to study the shastras in the traditional educational system. He achieved a rare distinction of having mastered several different branches of scriptural studies. During a period of twelve years he was conferred with nine “Tirtha” degrees (vyakarana tirtha, kavya tirtha, sankhya tirtha, mimamsa tirtha, tarka tirtha (anuman), tarka tirtha (shabda), nyaya tirtha, vedanta tirtha, vaisnava-darshan tirtha), a “Shastri” degree (nyaya-vaiseshika shastri), and an “acharya” degree (nyaya-acharya). Having achieved such rare academic feats, he came back to the hermitage of his Guru ji in Vrindavan only to continue what he liked best – humble seva of the Lord. He stayed away from worldly honour and fame.
He observed that due to a lack of proper scriptural understanding in Vrindavan, the spiritual practices in Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s traditions were being guided by the fancies of individuals and had become distorted and degenerated. There was hardly any scriptural text of Sri Chaitanya’s tradition available in the whole of Vrindavan save a few belonging to his Gurudev! He felt that the knowledge of the holy texts written by stalwarts like Sri Rup Goswami, Sri Jiva Goswami and other acharyas should be made available to the people so that it could be of benefit to them.
But then, very few people knew Sanskrit and the texts of the Goswamis were not available in the local languages. This ignorance further precipitated in the people an indifferent attitude towards the manuscripts and old publications. As a result many texts written by the saints of Sri Chaitanya’s tradition were getting lost forever on account of neglect and ignorance. Maharaj ji took upon himself the task of saving the scriptural texts, for the shastras are extremely dear to the Lord. He toiled relentlessly, collected old books and manuscripts that were on the verge of becoming extinct, edited them, translated them into Hindi or Bengali and published them.
A view of “Sri Haridas Niwas” Ashram. In the year 1965 he established Sri Haridas Niwas Ashram at the ancient Kaliyadaha Ghat of Vrindavan. The main temple of the ashram was dedicated to the worship of Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu, Sri Gadadhar Pandit Goswami, Sri Radha and Sri Govindadev. It was the first major temple in Vrindavan in which the form of Sri Gaura with his close associate, Sri Gadadhar was established. Within the premises of the ashram also lies the bhajan kutir (“Sri Giridhari Bhajanashram”) as well as the samadhi temple of Sri Vinod Bihari Goswami Maharaj.
Maharaj ji struggled against many odds to give further impetus to the academic culture in Vrindavan. He established a library (Sri Gaura-Gadadhara Granthagaram), which is today one of the largest in the entire Vraja-mandal. He also set up a publication centre (Sri Gadadhara-Gaurahari Press) for publishing the scriptural texts that he was saving from extinction.
So far about 100 books have been published from the press. Recently books in English, Spanish, Italian and Tamil have also been published. Through the press, Maharaj ji wanted to send out to the entire world the knowledge that the supreme Lord in the form of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu revealed to humanity, for this would benefit the entire human race irrespective of cast, creed, religion or nationality. A major contribution of Maharaj ji was his commentary on the Brahma Sutras (or Vedanta-sutras) of Sri Veda Vyas.
Traditionally, when an acharya claims to be talking about Vedanta, the gist of all spiritual knowledge available to mankind, he writes a commentary on the Brahma Sutras to establish his view point. Sri Shankaracharya wrote Shariraka Bhashya, Sri Ramanujacharya wrote Sri Bhashya, Sri Madhvacharya wrote Madhva Bhashya, Sri Nimbarkacharya wrote Vedanta Parijata Saurabh, and so on. However, when Mahaprabhu taught the supreme knowledge to mankind, He did not write any commentary on the Brahma Sutras.
He said that the author of the Sutras, Sri Vyasa-dev had himself written a vast commentary explaining the meaning of the Sutras in depth, and hence no other commentary was required to understand the Supreme Truth of the Brahma Sutras. The natural commentary on the Brahma Sutras was Srimad-Bhagavatam. Followers of Sri Chaitanya therefore studied Srimad-Bhagavatam to understand the highest knowledge available to mankind. Later, during the time of Sri Baladev Vidyabhushan, scholars from different traditions started claiming that Sri Chaitanya’s tradition was an apa-sampradaya (non-authentic tradition) since they did not have a commentary on the Brahma Sutras. They did not accept the fact that Srimad Bhagavatam was the commentary on the Brahma Sutras by Vyasadeva himself. Hence Sri Baladev had to write a sutra-by-sutra commentary on the Brahma Sutras in the same style as those written by the other acharyas. He named it Sri Govinda Bhashya. Since then the Govinda-Bhashya has been recognized as the commentary of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas (the tradition of Sri Chaitanya).
Maharaj ji, however, felt that the original question asked to Sri Baladev Vidyabhushan needed to be answered. How was Srimad Bhagavatm a commentary on the Brahma Sutras? Out of his mercy on mankind Maharaj ji brought to light the mind of Mahaprabhu by showing how Srimad-Bhagavatam explains the knowledge of Vedanta contained in each and every sutra of the Brahma-Sutras. He wrote a book, “Vedanta Darshanam Bhagavata-Bhashyopetam”. In this book he has listed sequentially all the sutras of Vedanta and for every sutra he has given the corresponding verse of Srimad Bhagavatam in which Sri Vyasa Dev has expounded the meaning of the sutra. He then explained the meaning further in Hindi for the common man. Thus, in the series of commentaries by different acharyas lies this latest commentary on Brahma Sutras, the “Bhagavat Bhashya” of Sri Haridas Shastri Maharaj. One who understands the teachings of Sri Chaitanya, will easily be able to appreciate that this great work nullifies the need for mankind to produce any other commentary on the Brahma Sutras in the future. After the publication of this work, Maharaj ji was awarded the title, “Vidya-ratna” by the Vidvan Pracharini Sabha of Varanasi.
ThAnother desire of Sri Chaitanya, which Maharaj ji had been keen to establish in Vrindavan, was the original culture of Vraja that was prevailing at the time of Sri Krishna. The culture of Vraja revolved around the seva of Go, a special creation of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. Go, in Sanskrit means the varieties of cows, bulls and calves that are native to India. (The imported varieties of cows and bulls and the hybrid varieties are called “gavay” and not Go. The Vedas, the Puranas, the itihasas and all other scriptures eulogize the Go.
However, by the influence of modern education system, the importance that the human society attached to Go was fast diminishing. The dreadful sin of killing Go was catching up even in the holy land of India. The concept of Go-seva was getting distorted. Maharaj ji felt that if the ideal practice of Go-seva is not preserved in the society, true seva of God cannot come about. God can never be pleased by merely performing some rituals while supporting the acts of destroying the creature that He loves most. Maharaj ji began ideal Go-seva in Sri Haridas Niwas. For details on Go-seva at Sri Haridas Niwas, please click here. Maharaj ji also established a system of organic farming for growing fodder for Go. In order to establish and spread the message of Go-seva in the society Maharaj ji had established “Sri Haridas Shastri Go-seva Sansthan”. This organisation is a Society registered with the Government of India.
(Sri Haridas Shastri Maharaj ji feeding "laddus" to Go, whom he considered as members of his own family) Maharaj ji himself was the life-long president of the Society. After his entry into the nitya-lila of Sri Krishna, Sri Hare Krishna Das Babaji has become the president.
Maharaj ji always followed the path of Truth and Dharma. Nothing in the world could deter him even an inch from the path of Truth. Even towards the later part of his life, in spite of his advanced age, he continued to teach the scriptures, write books, ensure proper seva in the go-shala and the ashram, and guide the spiritual seekers who used to take shelter of his lotus-feet.