Who is Gopala Baba?
Who is Gopala Baba?
Swami Gopala Krishna was born in 1951 on November 6, Tuesday. The youngest of eight children of the devout Brahmin couple Yamunamma and Venkataramianah Urala, Gopala Krishna was born under a favourable star, and also on a day that happens to be sacred to both Vishnu and Shiva.
His father, Venkataramianah, was one of the first to start a hotel near the central bus and train station, and as the eldest son, he had the tremendous duty to provide for the entire family. Mother Yamunamma, who is described by Swami as “a true karmayogi,” was a simple, modest and exceptionally dedicated woman, who worked in her house from early morning till late at night. She managed every task in the large household and the guests and relatives who constantly visited their home.
With the birth of ‘Gopi,’ as they called him affectionately, prosperity and fame followed because not only was he a very beautiful child who smiled all the time, which won everyone’s hearts, he also exuded a special charisma.
However, family problems began to mount.
Swami says: “I was a child at the time, but in fact, I was centuries old. I am no stranger to this world. I was here also in the time of Sri Ramakrishna. When Ramakrishna was born, He brought His entourage with Him, and I was one of them. I know Siddharudha and Ramana Maharshi. I was with all these great Souls. I am the result of an evolutionary process. I am the manifestation of the Eternal Consciousness.”
And so Swami showed a clear spiritual and artistic development at a very young age, at an age when other children were busy playing and mischief-making. Swami says: “My mind never strayed from God. Worship was my game and my game was worship. It was just as natural as breathing.”
By the time he was eight years old, he was already a true craftsman who cleverly made figurines of gods and goddesses from different materials.
He had a strong predilection for Krishna and for the divine Mother, who was worshipped in the nearby temple as Annamma. By looking attentively at the devotees who gathered colourful and fragrant flowers in the temples, he quickly became exceptionally good at producing garlands (Malas). In a spur of devotion and an innate knowledge of rituals, Gopi often decorated the images and photographs of gods in the house.
Love and devotion were his foundation and his food, but sacrifice and compassion were his life and his message.
When he thinks back to that time, Swami says: “I felt compassion for the poor, the people who suffered and those who were disadvantaged. I felt a bond with such souls. My heart went out to them. I was willing to give up everything I had if it could bring them something good. Sacrifice is a part of my life.”
Around that time it was rumoured that Gopi was no ordinary child, that he was also blessed with the gift of prophecy. Swami says: “What flashes in my mind, the whispers of my heart, materialise as reality. I do not know if this is my own strength or the mercy of the Almighty Lord. Only God knows that. He is everything.”
As a Brahmin, he was given the sacred thread in the eighth year of his life, and was instructed in the Gayatri mantra. With this ceremony and the passing of time, the family hoped he would mature into a young man who would know his responsibilities, focus on his studies and pursue a good career. But that would not happen; the ceremony had the opposite effect!
In the early 1940s, much before Gopi’s time, the Venkataramianah family had heard about Sri Sathya Sai Baba and that He was the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. Soon, Sai Baba got a permanent place in their hearts and in their home. Venkataramianah regularly travelled to Baba’s ashrams in Puttaparthi and Brindavan, and during the darshan (appearance of Sai Baba), he had regular conversations with Sathya Sai Baba.
Gopala, who was still in school back then, was deeply impressed by the lives of saints. Just as those saints expressed their love for God in their compositions, he also began to sing devotional songs. At the request of the managers of a Hanuman temple in the neighbourhood, he kept the daily worship there for some time.
The atmosphere and the bhajans (devotional songs) of the Ramakrishna Temple were also very appealing to him. The sincerity of the young seeker, his pure behaviour and the deep inner happiness that radiated from his face drew the attention of the then head of the monastery who wanted to initiate him into a monk. But God had other plans.
In the early 1960s, the Sai movement started gaining momentum, and Sathya Sai societies were added to several places in Bengaluru. Gopala regularly went to the bhajan services, where he led the group singing. His desire to be with Sai Baba grew.
From the age of 14, Gopal was invited to call every time he went to Baba's ‘darshan.’ During one such conversation in 1966, Baba took Gopal’s hands in His and insisted that he make a wish. Gopal replied, “I do not want anything at all.” He had passed the stage of desires and had separated himself from worldly affairs. Gopala went through years of intense ‘sadhana’ (spiritual practice) from his puberty until 1991. Gopala experienced the severe trials or ordeals that people face sometimes. Some of these include the incomprehension of people and thus also being harassed by them. Swami told me that, in those 25 years, he had to tread the same path that we also take towards awareness. Swami says literally: “There was no country with me, I only wanted Baba. Eventually Baba could do nothing but take over. That is what He did. I (Gopala Krishna) looked down at the body and saw that Baba took over. Eventually, Baba and I became one.”
Swami is an example of the perfect devotee (bhakta), where the student enters the Master and eventually becomes the Master. This is also his message to us:
“Give me your worldly duties so that you can do my work.”
Sathya Sai Baba
A new phase was initiated when he left his birthplace and moved into a house in Girinagar. There, too, he established a room as a temple space. Despite having less scope, that changed quickly. In the early 1990s, a temple was built beside the house and opened to a larger spiritual gathering, due to the ever-increasing flow of visitors. The Sai Mandiram is a unique temple in a well-developed area (Girinagar) in Bengaluru, where both Shirdi Sai and Sathya Sai – the two forms of Sai – are worshipped.
The desire to be physically in the presence of Sai Baba declined after his last visit in 1990, as thousands of people tried to catch a glimpse of Baba in Baba’s ashram. There was no way for Gopala Krishna to get close without being jostled by the crowds. Gopala Krishna had the intense desire to continually experience the ever-present aspect of Sai Baba in the form of Love and Light. Gopala Krishna encourages everyone to pay more attention to the “inner Sai” instead of yearning for the physical presence of the Master.
That deep, inner desire resulted in the physical appearance of Sai Baba in the Mandiram (temple) in Girinagar. On November 23, 1991, during a bhajan session, Sai Baba manifested Himself physically before Gopala Krishna and materialised His Atma Linga or ‘Chandra Moulishwara Lingam’ and gave it to Gopala Krishna (a lingam is an egg-shaped, smooth stone, nothing can attach itself to it and thus the lingam symbolises the divine). Sai Baba instructed Gopala Krishna to perform the Rudrabishekam (a cleansing ritual) every Monday on the lingam and to give the sacred water (tirtham) to the people. From 1991, Swami had been doing this ritual for 25 years without interruption. On November 23, 2015, at the opening of the new ashram, Swami completed the last Rudrabishekam on the ‘Chandra Moulishwara Lingam.’ There are countless examples of people who have been healed spiritually or physically by taking this sacred water.
The tree is recognised by its fruit.
The past decades have been marked by the growth of the ashram. Not only was an outpatient clinic (dispensary) realised in the late 1990s, but a new temple was built to accommodate the large numbers of visitors, just opposite the old, small temple of Gopala Baba (as he is also called).
In 2014, a long cherished wish was fulfilled, and a new ashram was built in the countryside: the Sri Soma Sai Skanda Ashram in Nidghatta village. It is situated along the road from Bengaluru to Mysuru. On November 23, 2015, the ashram was festively opened by the governor of the Karnataka district.
From 1996, Swami Gopala Baba has regularly travelled to Mumbai and other places in India. Swami had visited the Netherlands in 2001, 2004, 2014 and 2019. During these visits, he always emphasised the unity between God and him with the words:
“I am a ray of that one sun; God is that sun.”
All of this is merely the external characteristics of what happens and has happened. What has happened to inner transformation is sometimes baffling for him, for the devotees and for the ‘accidental’ visitor who finds it bewildering.
The visitors are diverse in terms of background and religion. Gopala Baba gives you the values that were presented to us by Sai Baba.