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Swami Maharaja


Question

I heard you say that the term “maharaja” and “swami” are not historically used for sannyasis. Could you explain this?

Answer

H.D. Goswami Profile Picture

My main point was that many of the externals of our Krishna conscious culture are not eternal or absolute, but are simply Vaishnava adaptations of Hindu culture, according to time and place. We observe in Lord Caitanya’s life that because His basic message was so revolutionary, He often chose to fit in with non-essential customs. For example, He ate in the homes of brahmanas, even though as Krishna, He lives in the home of vaishyas in Vrindaban. Similarly, He took sannyasa from an impersonal sampradaya, because at that time, it was the only “accredited” sannyasa degree. The six Goswamis then restored Vaishnava sannyasa to Indian culture.

The Sanskrit compound word “maha-raja” is used literally in the MahabharataRamayanaBhagavatam, etc., to address a “great king” (Latin: magna-rex). The word swami literally means a lord (as in Jagannatha Swami). At a certain point in Indian culture, many honorific titles were applied to sannyasis, without regard for the historical use of those terms.

Following Lord Caitanya’s example, I am not campaigning to change these usages, such as Guru Maharaja, but we should be aware that in using these terms, we are not revealing an eternal culture to the world. Hopefully, that will make us a little more humble in our presentation.