The history of Shri Nrisinghadev Temple in Bhubaneshwar  

Reproduced from The Harmonist, May 2002

Sri Gouranga Ashram at Bhubaneshwar has a temple dedicated to Shri Nrisingha Bhagawan, one of the prominent leela avatars of Bhagawan Vishnu. The temple was established in 1981. The deity here is extremely jagrit and powerful. There are many wonderful leelas performed by the Lord here for the benefit of His devotees that are told.

Tulasi leaves offered to the Nrisingha Shaligram have a strong healing potency. The Lord here has manifested His presence in many ways: sometimes by chastising an errant bhakta by leaving deep scratch marks on his body; sometimes leaving His paw-prints on the food that has been offered to Him and sometimes, servitors and bhaktas have found that His Shaligram shila has vanished from its place in the temple and after much turmoil and commotion, trace its presence in a sealed tin of rasagullas, vehementally battering the sides of the tin, demanding to be taken out.

The property where Sri Gouranga Ashram is presently located actually has a very long history. The story was told by Baba to His devotees in the Ashram on 25 April 2002.

To understand the context, we need to go back to an age far beyond our time, to relive the events of the past and to connect it to the events of the present.

More than 500 years ago, when Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was on His historical padayatra from Nilachal Puri to the South, He halted at this spot in Bhubaneshwar for a rest. At that time, one Basudeva Bipra had established a bhajan kutir there and installed the dieties of Lord Nrisinghadev.

Mahaprabhu gladly accepted his hospitality for a few days before setting out again towards the South. During his stay, Mahaprabhu performed naam sankirtan right at the spot where the temple stands today.

This place which was hallowed by the Lotus Feet of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and where a devotee like Basudeva Bipra had long engaged in bhajan and seva at the Feet of Sri Nrisingha Bhawan, was later to gain in importance.

After Basudeva Bipra, a sanyasi used to live in the same place and continue the tradition of devotional services to the Lord. The sanyasi would keep repeating that one day a Mahapurush would come and establish an Ashram there which would be called Sri Gouranga Ashram, and that a temple for Sri Nrisingha Bhagawan would be erected by Him.

Later on there were many other saintly souls who prophesied the same and waited for years for their dream to be fulfilled.

Now to narrate how the shaligram shila of Sri Nrisinghadev came to be installed in the temple in Bhubaneshwar, it is necessary to move to another time and another place, to the life of a great saint known as Shri Giri Maharaj and his association with Baba over the years.

There was a devout Brahman called Bhagwan Ballav Pandey who lived in Kankhal, Hardwar. He had a son named Gurudas who as just 12 years old. Ballav Pandey travelled all over India conducting Bhagavat katha saptahas with his son in tow. He conducted 108 Bhagavat saptahas in which he gave discourses in Hindi.

In 1954, during his last Saptaha in Rishikesh, his son fell very ill with high fever for a whole week. Yet Gurudas the young boy, remained firm listening to his father's discourse, till he breathed his last on the concluding day of the Katha.

Filled with grief and mourning for his son, Ballav Pandey carried the boy's body to Devaprayag near Joshimath in order to perform the last rites.

At that time, Swami Krishnananda Maharaj who was then 108 years of age, was staying in Devaprayag observing chaturmasya rites. The saint's entire life had been spent in tapasya and in the spiritual deliverance of his devotees. Swami Maharaj had deep affected for Ballav Pandey andwas aggrieved to know of the death of his young son.

He met Ballav Pandey in Devaprayag and comforted him. Then he said, "I can give your son's body new life, Bhagawan Pandey". Startled, Pandey asked, "How is that possible prabhu? Death is the end of life. I have lost my young son and feel my life has become devoid of any meaning".

The Swami replied gravely, "It is indeed possible - when the Lord wants it to be so. If you agree, I will enter your son's lifeless body and fill it with new vigour. In this way, you will feel your son's continued presence beside you, although it wont be him, but me occupying his body".

Then the Swamiji gave up his old frail body and entered the lifeless body of the young boy. Immediately, the young boy rose up as if from sleep and began talking and behaving in a manner that was strange to the father. There was a great difference between Gurudas Pandey, the boy of 12 and the person revived from the dead now.

He began to behave exactly like Swami Krishnananda, the 108 year old saint to the utter astonishment of the father Bhagwan Ballav Pandey.

Unable to comprehend the transformation, Ballav Pandey asked his son, "Don't you remember that you are my son?" The boy replied, "I am not your son; your son is dead. In this transient world everything is temporary. I shall henceforth dedicate my life to austerities and perfect this body in the fire of tapasya."

But the father would not leave him. Both travelled together and went to Badrinath and Gangotri where they spent 12 years in meditation and tapasya. Ballav Pandey, who regarded the young lad as his son, nevertheless paid obeisances and received mantra-diksha from the boy saint.

Swami Krishnananda began to be known as Giri Maharaj and retained all the mannerisms and behavioural patterns of his original form. Giri Maharaj spent five more years in Bharat parikrama during which time many people flocked to him and became his followers.

In 1972 Baba was in Kharagpur Ashram. Batuk Bhai, Secretary of Candikhol Ashram, was also with Baba in Kharagpur at the time. One day Batuk Bhai had gone to the railway station to see off his daughter in the Steel Express. Just then, he saw a bright looking sanyasi alight from the same train. The sanyasi accosted him in a rather familiar way.

"Hey Batuk, you are batuk - the 'batua' of the faith of all devotees. Take me to your Gurudev."

Batuk Bhai was completely taken aback at the ascetic's imperious manner. From the railway station to Baba's ashram was a long way and Giri Maharaj refused to travel in anything less than a Mercedes!!

The owner of the Bhilmora Petrol Pump which was close by, possessed a Mercedes, but refused to lend it to them. At this Giri Maharaj, like a spoilt child, threatened to reveal the man's most intimate secrets in front of all the onlookers if he continued to refuse.

The petrol pump owner quietly parted with the car. Inspite of Batuk Bhai's obvious embarassment and repeated pleas that it was no use going to Baba's ashram now because Baba would have left for Kolaghat, Giri Maharaj would hear none of it.

He said, "I know He is in the Ashram; the man He was to visit in Kolaghat is now dead."

True to his words, Baba was in his ashram when they came to Him. Overcome with emotion, Giri Maharaj fell at Baba's feet and said, 'You were my Gurudev in my last life. I was your ardent devotee. I've spent years in tapasya, searching for you high and low. Remember Almora, where we spent years together? You may have forgotten, but I have not. Receive me back and give me a place at your feet.'

After that, Baba said, Giri Maharaj was with him for 15 years. Both together set out for Bharat Darshan.

At Tirumala Tirupati, Giri Maharaj gave Baba a Nrisinghadev shaligram and enjoined upon Baba to build a temple, establish the vigraha of Sri Nrisinghadev and serve the Lord.

On asking where this place would be on which such a temple would be established, Giri Maharaj said, "You will immediately recognise the place. It will contain an unmistakeable spiritual aura which only you can perceive. You must seek it out and this shall happen very soon. I guarantee that in the place you finally choose, some kind of spiritual activity will already be going on."

Baba then narrated, "I now had two shaligram shilas with me. They travelled with me wherever I went. After 1972, I was staying in Krishnanagar, West Bengal. During nritya kirtan, I broke my leg and this marked a new era in my present incarnation. At that time, I was served devotedly and faithfully by one of my sishyas, Pratima Samantaray, a lecturer in Chemistry at Ramadevi Women's College and sister of Ranjit Samantaray (Kabulu). She brought me to Bhubaneshwar and made me stay in their house at Acharya Vihar. After some time, an ashram was established in Nayapalli, which for various reasons, was discontinued. There were many new devotees in Orissa and all of them were immensely grieved by this event. I was entreated again and again to look for a new place. The then Chief Minister of Orissa, Shri Nilamani Routray was my staunch devotee. He promised that he would help me in setting up another Ashram at any place in Bhubaneshwar that appealed to me.

It was at the CM's behest and the assistance of Shri Gangadhar Mahapatra, Minister of Education and Finance, and Akshay Biswal, Secretary to the Chief Minister, that I applied for land. My application was granted and I was shown several pieces of land in Bhubaneshwar. Not one of them had any interest for me.

Then I was shown this place where the present Ashram and temple stand today. At that time, it was in the possession of an organisation called 'Satsang' which had built a hall in which the portraits of Anukul Chandra and 'Maa' were worshipped. I immediately liked the place and expressed my wish that it be allotted to me. The Chief Minister was aghast.

"Baba, I've shown you so many good places; why have you chosen this one which has already been given to Satsang? You have put me in a dilemma." he proclaimed.

I went back to Acharya Vihar, firm in my resolution that I would have that piece of land and no other. It was left to destiny to decide." Baba said.

During the next few days, the inmates of Satsang, who had never been quite comfortable there, began to experience strange happenings which altogether threw them out of their wits. They wrote to the government that a new piece of property be allotted to them in lieu of the present one. Their application was immediately granted and they were allotted a large piece of land close to Vani Vihar. Plot no. 19-A Sahid Nagar was given to Baba where in 1981, with the help of Yuvraaj Devta, Sri Gouranga Ashram, Bhubaneshwar was established.

The temple of Sri Nrisinghadev was ceremoniously inaugurated the following year in 1982. In this way, the same place where Shri Basudev Bipra, more than 500 years ago, had his bhajan kutir and offered services to Shri Nrisinghadev and where Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had rested during his padayatra saw the re-manifestation of a divine leela.

Giri Maharaj's prophecy was realised. He came to the ashram in Bhubaneshwar several times and also on the occasion of its inauguration. He would sit silently at Baba's feet during the religious discourses and partake of the bliss which flowed all around. He would rarely talk to anyone and showed exemplary devotion, like Hanuman.

Baba then continued in his own words, "Sometimes when he (Giri Maharaj) was far away from me, he would suddenly manifest himself before me, receive my blessings, discuss some personal matter and then leave. When he fell ill and pleaded with me to permit him to give up his early body, he was not allowed to do so. 'Not now', I would say to him. Finally, one day he gave up his earthly body. Even now he continues to visit me from time to time, in his siddha (eternal) form."

The vigraha of Sri Lakshmi Nrisingha was installed by Baba and from that day, nitya-seva is offered to the deities. The shaligram shilas were also given their rightful place in the sanctum sanctorum and to this day, regular puja and kirtan is conducted.

Shri Nrisingha Bhagawan was the Ishta-dev (Preferred God) of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and of Baba's as well - who is non other than Mahaprabhu.

Shri Nrisingha Bhagawan is in particular, the protector of bhaktas. He removes the obstacles and anarthas from the path of their bhakti sadhna.

Sri Sri Lakshmi Nrisingha Bhagawan ki Jai!!

Om Vishnupad 108 Tridandi Swami Sri Srimat Bhakti Sravan Tirtha Goswami Maharaj ki Jai !!