The Shalagrams of Shridhar Maharaja
By Patita Pavana das Adhikary
Saturday, 26 September 2009
Devotees appreciated the recent article on Shridhar Swami about Kirtan Sagar (Dandavats: “In the Dungeon With Shridhar Swami”) so much that I am submitting another piece about him. This one discusses his worshipful Shalagram Shilas, and it was written by my dear friend and Godbrother Shriman Suhotra Maharaja (who as Roger Prabhu actually assisted me in the bookbindery of ISKCON Press in 1969).
Suhotraji found in Shridhar Maharaja a companion with whom he could reveal his mind, noting that they had much in common. To which the Jolly Swami would reply that what was really important was that they shared the same initials! Sadly, another detail—unknown at the time—would be that within a very few years of the meeting described in the following piece, they would both leave the world and go back to Godhead from Shridham Mayapur.
The following is from an entry into Suhotra Maharaja’s diary, written for the Vaishnava community, dated 14 April 2003. That is the day of the solar new year when the Sun enters Aries called Mesh Sankranti:
Sunday afternoon I visited HH Sridhara Swami Maharaja at his “Nrsimha Kutir.” On the ISKCON Juhu land, besides the big temple and guest house, there is an apartment complex that has stood here since before ISKCON bought the property. Gradually all the nondevotee residents of those apartments moved out; now the building is occupied by ISKCONians only. So HH Sridhara Maharaja stays in one apartment where he worships his three amazing Nrsimha shilas and one Sudarshana shila.
I wish I could publish here a photo of his big Nrsimha shila, but with Madhu Puri being in Bhubaneshwar there is no digital camera for that. Anyway, the shila is truly amazing. And the story behind Maharaja’s getting it is also amazing. He used to worship Nrsimha shilas gifted to him by HH Indradyumna Maharaja. But a few years back these shilas were stolen from a car he had been traveling in while visiting America. So Maharaja felt very bad about this, of course. Then an astrologer told him his shilas would return.
So recently it happened that a devotee came to tell Maharaja that in a shop just near the Juhu temple, a man was selling shaligram shilas along with Rudraksha beads (the kind of beads the Shaivites chant on, just as Vaishnavas chant on tulasi beads). Maharaja went to that shop and was attracted to one particular shila. This form of the Lord is quite large and round, the size of a small melon, and very smooth. And he has a mouth. This mouth is simply amazing. If you look into the opening you can see that the mouth cavity is much larger inside the shila. The inner sides of the cavity are shaped as perfect chakras.
Now, the traditional account of how shilas get their different shapes, particularly the chakra marks, is that in the Gandaki river in Nepal where shaligrams are to be found, there dwell special worms with tusks that carve markings into the shaligram stones. It goes without saying that modern scientists will scoff at such an explanation. They call shaligram shilas “ammonites,” meaning a kind of fossil stone formed from the shell of ancient creatures of the nautilus type. When I saw this big shila I understood how deficient this “scientific” explanation is.
This is no fossil. This is a big round stone with a hole in the front that inside expands into a large chamber carved in a chakra shape. Looking at it, logic impels you to conclude that some worm-like animal bored into the stone and did a “tour” around inside of it, then left the stone through the same hole it entered.
The word ammonite comes from the name of a Roman god, “Ammon”, who was associated with rams (male sheep). Male sheep have coiled horns growing out of their heads. Scientists say that in ages past undersea creatures like the nautilus, which is a sort of octopus that has a shell shaped like a ram’s horn, died and by some process science can’t really explain, turned into ammonites, spiral stones that look like the horns of the rams of Ammon.
In places like Whitby, England, there are such stones one can find along the sea beach that could be fossils of the nautilus. Actually you can see these stones yourself by typing “whitby” and “ammonite” into your Internet search engine. You’ll come to websites where such stones are pictured. And you’ll notice they do not look like shaligram shilas, even though, yes, ammonites and shaligrams sometimes show similar spiral chakra marks. Anyway, HH Sridhara Maharaja’s shila makes a farce out of the “ammonite” theory.
The man in the shop selling the shilas had put a price tag on this particular one for Rs 21 000! Maharaja preached to him that a shaligram shila is Vishnu. Anyone who sells a Visnhu shila goes to hell for the entire duration of the universe. The man then offered Maharaja any shila in the shop for free–except the big one! Maharaja kept preaching and insisting he wanted only the big shila with the cakra mouth. And the man ended up giving the shila to Maharaja without cost! Jaya Narasimhadeva! From other sources Maharaja got two ugra-Nrsimha shilas, plus the Sudarshana-chakra shila that was the first shila ever to be worshiped by HH Indradyumna Maharaja, when he took sannyasa.
So the astrologer’s prediction was not wrong.
I so much appreciate Sridhara Maharaja’s mood. He has realized that management can’t solve our most fundamental problems in Krishna consciousness. Only Krishna can do that. And Krishna does that in His own way, according to His own plan, because He is independent and supreme and all-powerful, and charmingly clever, too. But Maharaja does not take Krishna’s supremacy over all as an excuse to be obstinant towards management. Rather, Maharaja perseveres. He has a strong will, not a strong “won’t”. And thus he continues to go forward. Seeing his example, many devotees are inspired in their own spiritual lives. I am one of them.
Sridhara Maharaja has started a computer media preaching mission he calls VAST (the Vedic Academy for Spiritual Technology). I told him a story from a darshan Srila Prabhupada had with the BBT Library Party in Chicago 1975. I was a member of that party, so at one point in the discussion I asked Srila Prabhupada about Vedic technology. This question was impelled by my meetings with professors at universities. When I showed them the BBT books, they wanted to know if they explained anything about ancient Vedic technology like brahmastra weapons and vimanas (airplanes).
All Srila Prabhupada told me in reply was, “Vedic technology means Sri Guru Parampara.” It was a very short answer. But it was enough. I consider it an extremely important sutra, because technology is the means by which a society progresses. Modern society progresses by material, scientific technology; Vedic society, which ISKCON represents, can only progress by following guru-parampara. If ISKCON does that, it can overtake the world, just as nowadays the Western scientific-technological culture has overtaken the world.
-Suhotra Maharaja, 14 April, 2003. Hare Krishna Land, Juhu Bombay
Dear Patita Pavana Prabhu,
I like your articles very much.
Roger (Suhotra Swami) and I moved into the Boston temple the same day, Dec. 1, 1970. I had a nice visit with him maybe a month before he passed on. And we talked about the old Boston temple. I also remember you were at our initiation in July 1971. Thanks again.
The following response to the article was received from Shri Narottama das Thakur Das Adhikary of Juhu, a disciple of HH Indradyumna Swami. His wife is a disciple of HH Shridhar Swami
-Patita Pavana das
“H.H.Shridhara Swami’s big, round shalagram shila was known as Karalavadana, or ‘one with a big mouth’. He obtained it from Shri Tanaya Seth who had put a small shop of shalagram shilas in the Shri Mukteshwara Temple opposite ISKCON Hare Krishna Land. Shridhar Swami’s personal servant Shriman Mayapur Das Prabhu had gone to the Shri Mukteshwara Mandir to have darshan. There he saw this shalagram, and then told Maharaja about it. I still meet Tanaya Seth, still a very big businessman dealing in shalagram and rudrakshas. Now that Karalavadana Shalagram is in Mayapur at the Boys Gurukula, and under the expert care of H.H. Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami. I would love to get Him back to Mumbai where H.H. Shridhara Swami belonged. I personally have close to 400 shalagrm shilas.
“Pictured in the article is not the Karalavadana Shalagram of H. H. Shridhar Swami.
“Out of curiosity we had taken this shalagram shila to a Pejavar Matha in Chembur, Mumbai (of the Madhva Vaishnava sampradaya). At that math there is a Nrsimha
Deity. The head pujari is a very old man, and after seeing this shila called Him “one with a big mouth” or Karalavadana. He offered H.H. Sridhar Swami five shilas in exchange for him. On occasion we used to offer huge buckets of food to this shila as Maharaja used to say Karalavadana likes to eat a lot. My dear wife Manjari, who is a disciple of Shridhara Maharaja cooked lots of bhoga for this Shalagram Deity. Maharaja really loved Him. I had the good fortune to make an altar and obtain the silver paraphernalia for the worship of the shilas and Deity of H.H. Shridhara Swami.”
– Narottamadas Thakur das Adhikary
My dear Somadas das Prabhuji,
Dandavats. May Shrila Prabhupada be ever glorified. How kind of you to write!
Of course I remember you, always quiet and meditative like your namesake the Moon god. Always quietly meditative, yet absorbed in good and kind thoughts towards your Godbrothers and Godsisters.
Since posting the above article, I found out why Suhotra wanted to help me in the bookbindry. In those days we printed all the BTG’s at ISKCON Press, Boston and shipped them hot off the press to the other centers. Roger (Suhotra) bought a BTG from a sankirtan Prabhu in Detroit. As he recalls, it was one with Jadurani’s painting of Lord Vishnu on the cover. He writes in his “In2MeC” Diary that he was so impressed by the magazine that he wanted to join ISKCON at the place where it was printed. He notes that although there was a center in Detroit at the time, he had to go to Boston. As we have learned, Lord Krishna works in wonderful ways, and all it takes to see Him is the grace of the spiritual master.
Please stay in touch with me, Somadas Prabhuji, and I can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks very much for thinking of me.
Patita Pavana das