Sri Sri Haridas Das Babaji Maharaj
Appearance: Bhadra 30, 1305 = Sept. 14, 1898
Disappearance : Ashwin 3, 1364 = Sept. 20, 1957
Before taking to the Vaishnava life, Haridas Das was known by the name Harendra Kumar Chakravarty. His birthplace was in the village of Madhugram in the Pheni subdivision of Noakhali district in what is now Bangla Desh. He came from a line of scholarly Brahmins: his father's name was Gagan Chandra Tarkaratna and grandfather was Goloka Chandra Nyayaratna. Haridas Das only had one brother, Manindra Kumar, who left home to take up a life of renunciation while still quite young. Neither brother ever married, but observed the principles of celibacy throughout their lives. Manindra Kumar took initiation from the same spiritual master as his brother and came to Nabadwip where he lived at the Haribol Kutir for fifteen years, taking the name Mukunda Das Babaji.
Harendra Kumar was a very clever student and passed all his academic exams with honors. In 1925 he graduated from Calcutta University with an English M.A. in Sanskrit, specializing in Vedanta. He was first in his class and awarded a gold medal. A little before graduating, he took initiation from the renowned Vaishnava acharya Sri Harimohan Shiromani.*
After graduation, he taught for some time in Kumilla, at the Ishwar School, but only for as long as it took to pay off his debt to his teachers and spiritual master. During this time, his intelligence, learning and sterling character impressed everyone. As all good teachers, he combined the personality of a tough disciplinarian with that of a gentle parent-figure. He was known for his punctuality and devotion to duty, as well as the affectionate care he gave to his students.
Nevertheless, after only three years of teaching, he began to feel a strong desire to pursue the spiritual life and so began a life of bhajan, living sometimes in Nabadwip, at others in Vrindavan. He came back and taught for a while at Kumilla College, but not long thereafter renounced material life definitively, taking vesh from Sri Sri Giridhari Haribol Sadhu* with the name Haridas Das. After that, he remained in Nabadwip and lived on madhukari at his vesh guru's ashram, Haribol Kutir in Poraghat, Nabadwip.
* Haridas Das has written about both Haribol Sadhu and Harimohan Shiromani in his Gaudiya Vaishnava Jivan. If Sriman Mahaprabhu is willing, we will present them here at some time in the future.
Sri Sri Giridhari Haribol was given this name because of his devotion to chanting "Haribol" in kirtan. Whenever Haridas Das was asked who his father was, he always gave Giridhari Haribol's name and never talked about his previous life or his degrees or academic accomplishments. If anyone asked him about his blood father, he always said with great humility, "He has died, may he rest in peace." Haribol Sadhu left this world in Jagannath Puri in 1944.
At some time prior to this (an exact year would be nice) Haridas Das was in Govinda Kund, practicing intense bhajan. While there, the siddha mahatma Manohar Das Babaji ordered him to work on recovering lost Gaudiya Vaishnava scriptures. Haridas Dasji took this order seriously and until his dying breath was deeply involved in this service to Gaudiya Vaishnava literature.
The extent to which Haridas Dasji received the blessings of the Divine Lord to accomplish this service can be seen from the following anecdote. Many people heard him tell this story, but this account has been taken from an article written by the devotee Suresh Chandra Datta in the Phalgun 1364 issue of Sudarshan magazine:
Once Haridas Dasji was engaged in a search for Sanatan Goswami's Krishna Lila Stava, but was not meeting with any success. One day he was sitting by the Yamuna and calling out to Sanatan Goswami, hA hA prabhu sanAtana! and crying with frustration. As he was descending the stairs to the water, he saw a bundle floating on the waves, touching the shore. Curious, he plucked the bundle out of the water and found an ancient manuscript of the Krishna Lila Stava. He took the manuscript and held it to his head, then to his chest, and then to his nose, ecstatically smelling the perfume of old paper mixed with incense and sandalwood.Haridas Das had all the godly qualities described in the Bhagavad Gita. He had the humility that is the ornament of the Vaishnavas, and stayed free of faultfinding. He kept all the principles of sadachar, and showed a powerful spirit of renunciation. His attractive personality impressed all who came in contact with him.
He prefered to remain out of the public eye. He never went to large gatherings, and though he was often invited to lecture or give discourses on the scriptures, he always refused. Even so, all who were interested in Vaishnava literature recognized his contribution and expressed their gratitude to him. Swedish professor Walther Eidlitz and the German scholar E. G. Schulze in particular praised him lavishly for his publications. It is impossible not to be impressed by what Haridas Dasji was able to accomplish on his own and without riches or political clout, simply through hard work and unfailing determination.
Though he was an imposing figure, light-skinned, tall and long-armed, with wide-eyes and a steady smile, his face luminous with spiritual power and devotion to Vaishnava practices, and yet he was so hospitable that he would rise up from his seat to eagerly greet any guests to his kutir.
He was ready to undertake any effort to achieve the needful in establishing the authentic Vaishnava path. At some time early in his life he heard the sweet singing of a youth singing Radha Madhava's names in a beautiful voice and was plunged into a sea of feeling for the Lord, a feeling that all his university education or a life of austerity never undid. All this is the proof of the unequalled mercy of his teachers and spiritual masters on him. His humility before his teachers always amazed anyone who witnessed it, such as when he met his university professor Dr. Amareswar Thakur later in life and prostrated himself on the ground in front of him.
Haridas Dasji always seemed to be rushing from one library or manuscript collection wherever he heard of one, from one end of the land to the other. He looked through countless manuscripts like someone obsessed trying to find any evidence of works that had hitherto been unknown--writings by Mahajans, Goswamis or other Vaishnavas. He never thought about whether food or shelter would be waiting for him, his only concern was to go where there was a possiblity that some new literary discovery could be made. But the discovery alone was not enough, he wanted to make these jewels shine for all, and so he translated and published so many such works. Simultaneously, he was constantly gathering notes related to the geography and history of the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya. Everywhere he went, he would inquire into the family histories of Mahaprabhu's associates. Though his efforst alone were glorious, the success he achieved in compiling the Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhan--the fruit of these researches, was even more glorious.
The Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhan was the last work completed by Haridas Dasji. He would work on it 16 or 17 hours a day. In fact, he finished the second volume (Parts 2, 3 and 4) of the Abhidhan on the day before he left his body. He was in Calcutta going through the last proofs of the first volume and he said, "I am not well. When the Abhidhan is finished, I will be too." On September 20, 1957, just three days before Mahalaya, he fell ill, and after only seven or eight hours of sickness he entered the spiritual world. He was only 58. Had he remained alive another three days, he would have seen the first completed printed editions of the first volume. The second volume was completed a year later after proofreading and copy-editing by other volunteers.