Sri Srimad Gour Govinda Swami was born as Braja Bandhu Manik on the second of September 1929 in Jagannathpur, a small village near to Jagannath Puri, Orissa. In his youth he mostly lived with his maternal family the Giris in the village of Gadeigiri. The Giris were Gaudiya Vaishnavas and well known for their expertise in kīrtana. Braja Bandhu’s maternal grandfather, Bauri Giri, was famous in the local area as a paramahaṁsa vaiṣṇava. He was constantly chanting the hare kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra and worshiping the family deity of Gopal Jiu.
As a boy Braja Bandhu was very quiet and serious. Whatever free time he had from his studies he spent rendering services to Gopal and accompanying his grandfather and uncles in going from village to village, chanting hari-nāma and singing songs of the vaiṣṇava ācāryas. He was very attached to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. As a young boy his mother found that whenever he would cry she need only place the Bhāgavatam in his hands and he would stop. At night Braja Bandhu would go to sleep with the book clutched to his chest.
In 1952 his mother arranged for him to marry, and in 1955, when his father passed away, the financial responsibility to maintain the family fell on his shoulders. After obtaining B.A. and B.Ed. degrees from Utkal University, he took up government service as a school teacher.
Although busy with his family and teaching responsibilities, he maintained a strict daily sādhana of rising before 4:00 AM, chanting hare kṛṣṇa, worshipping tulasī and speaking on Bhagavad-gītā. Throughout his life Braja Bandhu made entries in his diary in the form of prayers to Gopal. His 1973 entries frequently mention his desire to renounce family life. From 10 October:
O Prabhu Gopal, please make me a yogī sannyāsī! I don’t need anything, Prabhu. I’m not asking you for material opulence, respect, glory or anything else. You may give those things to my younger brother Kripa-sindhu. Let him maintain your [my] family. Make me a saṁsāra-vairāgī-yogī, a renunciate of family life. Let me beg that prema-dhana, that wealth of love of Godhead! Let me distribute prema and ānanda! Let me serve you! Please shower this mercy on me, Prabhu! Please bless me with prema-bhakti, ecstatic love for you!
In April of 1974, he left his family life, taking only a Bhagavad-gītā, two gāmuchās, and a notebook with him. At that time he adopted the name “Gour Gopal” — Gour for Gauranga Mahaprabhu and Gopal after his beloved childhood deity. Taking up the lifestyle of a mendicant sādhu, Gour Gopal set out to find a spiritual master who could teach him about the hare kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. His search took him all over India, from Kanya Kumari in the South to the Himalayas in the North. Finally in September of the same year, he resolved to go to Vrindavan the land of Krishna, thinking that surely his desire would be fulfilled there. Obtaining free passage from a train conductor, he arrived in Mathura. He stayed in a few different temples, and finally he made his way to Vrindavan where he saw a sign, “International Society for Krishna Consciousness.” Arriving there, a devotee gave him a copy of the society’s magazine, Back To Godhead. Seeing the articles in the magazine on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and the mahā-mantra, Gour Gopal knew he had found what he was looking for. He requested to meet the founder of the society, and at midday was brought to the quarters of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. After speaking with him for a little while, Srila Prabhupada asked, “Have you taken sannyāsa?”
Gour Gopal replied, “No.”
Srila Prabhupada said, “Then I will give you sannyāsa.”
Gour Govinda Swami later commented:
I could then understand, ‘He is a genuine guru because he knows my heart. He is caitya-guru.’ I was in search of such a person under whom I could take shelter. I took shelter of him. My heart was naturally attracted towards him. I had full faith in Krishna and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and they helped me.
Hearing of his scholastic abilities, Srila Prabhupada immediately engaged Gour Gopal in translating his small book Perfection of Yoga into Hindi. A few weeks later Srila Prabhupada gave him initiation and the name Gour Govinda Das. Then, on 20 April 1975, Gour Govinda Das received sannyāsa from Srila Prabhupada at the opening ceremony of the ISKCON Sri Sri Krishna Balaram temple in Vrindavan.
On Srila Prabhupada’s order, Gour Govinda Swami went to open a center in Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Orissa. Arriving there with no money and no resources, he stayed alone on the newly donated property, which at that time was nothing more than a jungle full of snakes, scorpions and ant hills.
In late January 1977 Srila Prabhupada arrived in Bhubaneswar and stayed for seventeen days on the property in a small hut that Gour Govinda Swami had arranged for him. On Lord Nityananda’s appearance day Srila Prabhupada laid the foundation stone for the upcoming temple. This was his last founded project. Prabhupada predicted that one day the temple on the isolated property would be one of the best ISKCON centers in the world and would be situated in the heart of the city. Prabhupada also instructed Gour Govinda Maharaja to translate his books into the Orissan language and to travel and preach to devotees around the world.
In early 1985 Gour Govinda Maharaja began accepting disciples. Two years later, on the request of senior devotees, he agreed to become a member of the ISKCON Governing Body Commission, and was given joint charge of the society’s projects in Orissa.
In the summer of 1985, pursuing Srila Prabhupada’s order, Gour Govinda Maharaja went overseas to preach. For the next eleven years he traveled all over the world speaking kṛṣṇa-kathā to interested devotees. His lectures inspired thousands of devotees and these lectures are now being compiled into books by his followers. During this time, despite his busy schedule, he strictly maintained a daily quota of translating Srila Prabhupada’s books into Oriya.
In 1991, after sixteen years of endeavor, Gour Govinda Swami opened the magnificent Sri Sri Krishna-Balaram temple in Bhubaneswar on the auspicious occasion of Lord Ramachandra’s appearance day. Today, the Sri Sri Krishna Balaram Mandir is the second most popular temple in Orissa, after the Jagannath Mandir in Puri, and the area around the temple is the fastest growing section of Bhubaneswar.
In July 1994, in New York City, Gour Govinda Maharaja spoke to the devotees about his mission:
There are three things that are very important to me. One is that I want to preach to the preachers. It causes me so much pain to see the devotees falling down and going away. The second thing is that I want to show how everything is in Prabhupada’s books. Those persons who are saying that Srila Prabhupada only gave ABC, it causes me so much pain in my heart. I want to make them silent. And the third thing is that I want to show how everything is in ISKCON and that devotees do not have to go elsewhere for higher teachings.
In late January of 1996, Gour Govinda Swami mentioned, “Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati said that this material world is not a fit place for any gentleman. Therefore, because he was disgusted, he left this world prematurely. I may also leave. I don’t know. I will ask Gopal. I will do whatever he wants.” The next day he went to Gadeigiri to see Gopal. While there he spoke to his cousin Ghanashyam Giri, who recalls:
We were discussing Gopal’s new temple and the planned installation of large deities of Radha Gopal to go with the existing small ones. Suddenly, Maharaja told me, “I won’t see this deity installation. You will see it but I won’t.”
I said, “How is that? You are ten years younger than I am. If you won’t see it how will I?”
Maharaja said, “No, no. You will see the inauguration of the temple and the deity because you have served Gopal so nicely.” That was the last discussion I had with Maharaja. After that he went to Bhubaneswar for a few days and then to Mayapur where he stayed forever.”
In Mayapur, on 9 February 1996, the appearance day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, two senior devotees requested an appointment to meet with Gour Govinda Swami to ask some questions. They inquired, “Why did Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stay in Jagannath Puri?” Gour Govinda Swami began to enthusiastically explain the confidential significance of Mahaprabhu’s pastimes in Puri. He described the pain of separation felt by Srimati Radharani when Krishna was away from Vrindavan. He gradually unfolded the pastime to the point where Radha and Krishna were finally united after Their long separation. He described how Krishna became so ecstatic upon seeing Radharani that he manifested a form with big round eyes and shrunken limbs, Lord Jagannath. At that time the devotees noticed that tears had come to his eyes and his voice had become choked up. In a whisper he said, “Then the eyes of Krishna fell upon the eyes of Radharani. Eye to eye union.” Unable to continue, he folded his hands and in a barely audible voice, apologized, saying, “Please forgive me, I cannot speak more.” The devotees present began to chant as he calmly lay back on his bed, breathing slowly and deeply. Upon his request, a servant placed a picture of Gopal Jiu in his hand. Then, gazing lovingly at the picture of his worshipable Deity, Gour Govinda Swami said, “Gopal!” Then his eyes closed, he lost external consciousness and left this world.
His body was brought to the Sri Sri Krishna Balaram Mandir in Bhubaneswar where he was placed in samādhi in the small mud hut that had served as his bhajana-kuṭīra for many years.