On January 25th 2015, thousands of renounced Vaishnavas and other guests gathered at Jiva Institute to commence the official installment of Babaji Sri Satyanarayana Dasa as a Mahanta. This position is awarded by an organization called Catuh Sampradaya Virakta Vaishnava Parisad (“Association of the Renounced Vaishnavas of the Four Sampradayas,” CSVVP) presided over by Prahlad Das of Gore Dauji temple in Vrindavan. The CSVVP has a voice to convey certain issues to the government or to people in general. It also has the authority to rebuke someone for not following the principles of dharma.
The pompous function was attended by the prominent Vaishnavas and dignitaries of Vrindavan. Hridyananda Dasa Baba, the oldest Gaudiya Vaishnava, came to bless Babaji, as well as Sri Vasudeva and Sri Caitanya Gosvamis of Radha-raman Temple. Sri Ananata Dasa Babaji Maharaja, Mahanta of Radha Kunda, was unable to come but send his prime disciple Sri Keshava Dasa Babaji with a garland and a shawl from the Samadhi Mandir of Sri Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami.
Mahantas are only appointed on the request of the CSVVP, either because they are the head of a particular place or ashram (i.e., the Jiva Institute) or to choose their successor. A prerequisite for the appointment is good conduct. This tradition is more than one hundred years old. There are several hurdles to cross before a person is officially installed as Mahanta. Prior to it, Babaji was invited to a meeting of all the members of the executive committee of approximately 300 Mahantas to present his acceptance of this position. After being approved, he attended several functions, the last of which was completed at the old Kathia Baba Ashram on Mahatma Gandhi Road last week. Babaji has been requested for many years to accept this position and he finally agreed. All the Mahantas are greatly pleased to have him as part of their group.
Armies of the Past
The CSVVP was originally founded to combat Advaitavada sannyasis and Shaiva sadhus, who used to threaten and harass Vaishnavas, especially at Kumbha Mela, which is the biggest religious gathering. Kumbha Mela is celebrated four times every twelve years at places of pilgrimage on four sacred Indian rivers. Previousy, these sannyasis, who were very prominent at Kumbha Mela, would bar Vaishnavas from taking a dip in the holy water at the auspicious time. They would even fight and beat them. To counteract these threats, a great Vaishnava by the name Balmukanda gathered Vaishnavas to form an army around the 16th or 17th century. Over time, several more of such armies came into existence. They are called Akhadas (lit., wrestling organizations) and still exist today. Vaishnavas have three of them—the Sri Panch Balabhadri Nirvani Ani Akhada, the Nirmohi Ani Akhada, and the Sri Panca Digambara Ani Akhada. Shaivites have eleven Akhadas.
The Akhadas, lead by Mahantas in smaller formations, used to act like armies and their soldiers are stilled called Nagas. Unlike the followers of Lord Shiva, Vaisnava Nagas do not go naked. The Nagas were trained in sword fighting, stick wielding, and other such martial arts. One can still witness this during the Shai Snaan festival (“Royal Dip”) with its royal procession of Akhada chiefs and their Nagas, who demonstrate their fighting skills. They resemble the army of a king on the move to attack. However, the old animosity between the Vaishnava and Shaiva Akhadas does not exist anymore.
In the past, Vaishnavas from all over India used to convene at Vrindavan before Kumbha Mela. From there, they would move to the Kumbha Mela location like a big army. This custom is still followed when there is Kumbha at Haridwara. At that time, one can observe a small Kumbha of Vaishnavas in Vrindavan.
We Gaudiyas belong to the first Akhada, in short called Balabhadri Akhada (Akhada of Balarama, Krishna’s brother). The head of this Akhada is Sri Dharma Dasa Maharaja from Ayodhya. Maharaja came all the way from Ayodhya to Vrindavan, travelling for 12 hours, just to bless Babaji on this occasion. This was a very special visit, because usually he does not attend such functions.
Babaji’s New Responsibilities
As Mahanta of Jiva Institute, Babaji is expected to not only look after the ashrama, but also to maintain good character and spread dharma. As the tradition prescribes it, he is expected to participate in Kumbha Mela. He will also have to attend regular meetings on current issues and problems of Vrindavan, e.g. the current UP government’s intention to abolish Vrindavan’s Municipality and merge it with Mathura. The Mahantas are opposing this move, since as a consequence wine and meat could be sold in Vrindavan, as is the case now in Mathura. This would destroy Vrindavan’s identity.
As a Mahanta, Babaji would like to focus on issues related to Vrindavan, such as maintaining its sanctity. He is especially concerned to maintain the character and structure of the old town. He is also pleading for better arrangements as regards cleanliness, better roads, no loud loudspeakers and a solution to the monkey problem. With all these new duties, Babaji’s main focus is still the activities of Jiva Institute, especially teaching, translating, commenting on, and publishing the works of Jiva Gosvami and other acharyas of the Gaudiya school.
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