Ācārya Siṁha

The Life of Swami Bhakti Gaurava Narasiṅgha Mahārāja

Chapter 11 – Battles on Book Distribution (Denver -1972)

As he drove the old pickup truck over the Rocky Mountains, Narasiṅgha Mahārāja felt relief to be leaving Salt Lake City behind. He wanted to be in a temple with more devotees and more preaching opportunities, and Denver seemed to be a good option.

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: I drove that piece of junk over the Rockies and when I got way up high, it suddenly died on me. The engine just didn’t work. I had to get out and push, push, push and finally, when I got over this hump, it was downhill all the way from there. I came out of the mountains and just coasted all the way down for miles. Finally, I came out on the planes near Denver where there was a big round up, and the truck slowed down till it eventually stopped. Then I walked to a gas station, called up the Denver temple and spoke to Tulasī Dāsa. I gave him a short run-down of what had happened, and a couple of hours later, the Denver devotees showed up in a van and a tow-truck.

Because it had already been decided that upon the closing of the temple, Salt Lake City would fall under the jurisdiction of Denver, the truck and all its contents (about thirty boxes of Spiritual Sky incense) were meant to go to Denver at some point in the future – Mahārāja had simply accelerated the process by commandeering the truck himself. Now Denver had the truck, the incense and a new saṅkīrtana devotee.

Established in 1971, the Denver temple had an unusual beginning. Initially, it was an African-American Protestant church and the devotees rented the basement level. Eventually the Protestants moved out and the devotees were able to acquire the whole building. The temple was run by Tulasī Dāsa, who was also the saṅkīrtana leader there.

(Tulasī Dāsa and the Denver temple in the 1970s)

Because he was constantly travelling on saṅkīrtana, Mahārāja did not spend much time in the Denver temple, but a couple of incidents stood out in his mind while he was staying there. One was that he remembers Tulasī Dāsa purchasing big bolts of cloth for the devotees to use for dhotis and saris, and offering it all on the altar of Lord Jagannātha. The other incident he remembers was a photograph being sent from the LA temple by Karandhara – it was a picture of Śrīla Prabhupāda talking on the phone. The reason why Karandhara had mailed this photograph to every centre in the US was because almost nobody would pick up the phone. Everyone thought that “phones were māyā” and thus, when the phone would ring, all the devotees would simply stand around the desk wondering what to do. Karandhara sent this photo of Prabhupāda to let them know that answering the phone was not māyā!

Mahārāja became a valuable asset to the Denver temple. He was a good book distributor and was well acquainted with Salt Lake City and other potential places for preaching in Utah. Sometimes, Tulasī Dāsa would take the devotees out of state and they would go door to door selling Kṛṣṇa Book trilogies. Every time they successfully sold a whole set, they would blow a conch-shell.

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Everyone had these little conches. It was really cool. We would be in some neighbourhood at a house trying to sell Kṛṣṇa Books, and we would suddenly hear a conch blow down the street and we knew that a devotee had just sold a whole set.

Every day, from 4 till 5:00pm, the devotees would beg food. They had a list of what they could take from people – fruits, nuts, milk, butter, buttermilk, cream, raisins…basically anything raw that they could offer and eat on travelling saṅkīrtana.

By this time, book distribution was booming in North America. There was already a competitive spirit growing amongst the main temples – especially between the San Francisco saṅkīrtana devotees led by Buddhimanta, and the LA saṅkīrtana devotees led by Karandhara and Keśāva.

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Buddhimanta’s crew from San Francisco had already kitted out an old school bus for travelling saṅkīrtana and that became the standard. It got very competitive. Yogeśa-candra and Buddhimanta’s group from San Francisco were headed for the east coast, but our crew from the Denver temple had the same idea. They came through Denver one Sunday and saw that I was fixing up our saṅkīrtana van and we were heading out for Chicago on Tuesday or Wednesday. I don’t know if they even stayed for the Sunday feast – they just jumped back in their van and took off! So we headed out on Monday morning.

Philadelphia temple was doing the old-school thing – hari-nāma and distributing BTGs and they generally distributed about ten a day. When we invaded Philadelphia, we were doing six-hundred! We’d set up a few blocks away from the Philadelphia temple hari-nāma party. We were pretty aggressive actually – sometimes we’d tell little white lies to people to perk their interest in buying a book. We’d also pass out posters and incense – we’d swipe the incense under people’s noses. They’d like the smell, but it would leave a mark on their nose. We’d see people walking down the street and if they didn’t have books or BTGs in their hands, if you looked carefully, you would see a little pink mark on their nose and you’d know they’d already been hit up!

Mahārāja was eventually given charge of his own saṅkīrtana party. On one occasion, he was travelling in Dakota with Prāṇa-Vallabha, Arthada, Dattātreya, Arjita and Mahā-Śakti. They were in the middle of nowhere planning to go to Chicago and had just taken off when they suddenly got a flat tyre. They stopped to fix it and just as they were about ready to leave, a car pulled up in front of them and four red-necks stepped out.

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Prāṇa-Vallabha was the driver and the window was down on his side. Suddenly this guy just runs up to the window and sucker-punches him in the face. When that happened, we just exploded back out of the van! I was in the front passenger seat – I jumped out, grabbed a monkey wrench with one hand and a chain in the other, and ran around the front of the car.

One guy jumped up and kicked Dattātreya in the chest and he fell to the ground. Another guy was coming up behind Dattātreya to pummel him, and I ran and hit him smack in the face with the monkey wrench – his face opened up like a ripe tomato and he was out of commission. Then we commenced to annihilate the rest of them! The main guy was so bad that we were just about ready to kill him – it was the only way to stop him from killing us. We jumped and pounded on him. Mahā-Śakti finally choked him enough that he couldn’t breathe, and when he was somewhat restrained and couldn’t get up, Mahā-Śakti looked at him and shouted in his face, “We are spreading love of God and if you don’t leave us alone, we are going to kill you!!!” I think the contrast between spreading love of God, and in the same breath threatening to kill him was a total shocker. While he was getting his breath, we got in the van and drove out of there.

Mahā-Śakti Dāsa: One was hit by Mahārāja and the others quickly got back in their car and unblocked our entrance to the freeway. Seeing this, Mahārāja shouted, “All devotees – back in the van!”

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: But then these guys decided to chase us down the freeway and they were trying to get in front and cut us off. After we had some distance between us, we pulled the car over, reached over the back seat and took the monkey wrench, the snow chains, the car jack – whatever we could lay our hands on which would do some major damage. I looked in the mirror and saw that the main red-neck had stopped his car about forty yards away. He had got out with a baseball bat and was walking towards us. I told the devotees, “This guy is gonna kill somebody – so we’re gonna kill him first and get the hell outta here! So when I yell ‘charge’ let’s do it!” As he got closer, I shouted, “Charge!” and we all burst out of both sides of the van and ran at him, screaming at the tops of our lungs.

Mahā-Śakti Dāsa: Immediately Mahārāja became like Narasiṁha! He ordered all the devotees out of the van and into battle! His eyes were red with anger and he had a chain in his hands, swinging it at these foolish attackers.

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: I don’t know what this guy saw, but all of a sudden, he had this look of sheer horror on his face – he just turned and ran to his car, jumped in, turned it around, screeched down the road, crossing the centre-divide on the other side, and was gone!

Mahā-Śakti Dāsa: We sped off with great delight, thinking only of Lord Caitanya and His associates, and the mercy of saṅkīrtana. Everyone was amazed at what had just taken place. To ease our minds and celebrate our victory, Mahārāja ordered that a box of dates be opened and everyone ate to their hearts delight. But I think that the sweet dates made us both delighted and more crazy! It was an incident that will never escape me.

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: The solution was ‘break out the prasāda’ – that will calm everyone down. Prāṇa-Vallabha’s face was all swollen, Dattātreya’s shoulder was bust up, but we cracked some skulls that day. Yeah…that was one heck of a day and I’ll never forget it.

Throughout the rest of the summer, Mahārāja and his party visited Chicago, Philadelphia, New York Pittsburgh, DC and Baltimore, and wherever they went, they were distributing hundreds of books. However, some devotees did not appreciate their success. There were complaints from some GBCs and temple presidents that Mahārāja and his men had their own routine and whenever they visited a temple, they didn’t follow the regular temple schedule. After maṅgala-ārati, they would skip tulasī-pūjā, go to their saṅkīrtana van, chant japa, have class in the van, and take breakfast during the class. In this way, they were already on the street distributing books at 8:30am, while the temple devotees were still sitting in Bhāgavatam class.

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: It was always either LA, San Francisco or Denver who were number one in book distribution in those days. We were doing saṅkīrtana all over the east coast and blowing out all the temple presidents. They were cracking my head, complaining that we were not following the temple schedule, but the reality was that they were not happy that we were out-distributing their saṅkīrtana parties by ten times. They didn’t like that. So for the rest of the summer, we were fighting the GBC.

Finally, things came to a head when a number of GBCs and temple presidents joined forces to ban the Denver devotees from distributing in their areas. They decided that the best plan of action to stop Mahārāja and his saṅkīrtana party was to directly complain to Śrīla Prabhupāda and they knew the best time to do it…