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Saccidānanda Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura

[September 19, 2021 is the appearance day of Saccidānanda Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt of a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on the appearance tithi of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura on September 2, 2009. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]


Today is a very special tithi, it is the appearance day of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.


BIRTH AND FAMILY BACKGROUND


From a material consideration, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was born on September 2, 1838, in Bīrnagar, Nadia district, in a family of zamindārs (landlords) and was given the name 'Kedārnāth Datta'. Svāmī Vivekānanda was also born in the same dynasty as Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.


Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s father was Ānanda-candra Datta, and his mother was Jagat-mohinī Devī. His father left this world when Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was only eleven.


An ancestor of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Govinda Śāraṇa Datta, was a very wealthy landlord, after whom the village ‘Govindapura’ was named. Eventually Govindapura combined with Sutānuti and Kāli Ghāṭa to form the present-day city of Kolkata. At Preta Gayā, there is a mountain called Candranātha which, previously, pilgrims had difficulty ascending. Govinda Śāraṇa Datta made steps on this mountain as a service to the pilgrims and to this day there is a plaque with his name there.


CHILDHOOD PASTIMES


As a child, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was very curious by nature. Once he approached a sculptor engaged in sculpting a Deity and asked, “When will there be life in this Deity?” Initially the sculptor replied, “The Deity will come alive when I paint the eyes.” At the time of painting the eyes Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was there. Seeing the Deity still lifeless, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura inquired again. This time the sculptor said, “Only when a brāhmaṇa does prāṇa-pratiṣṭhā (a rite by which life is infused in the Deity form to commence worship), then the Deity will come alive.” Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was not satisfied by such answers. So, to witness the Deities coming to life, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was present during the prāṇa-pratiṣṭhā ceremony but still saw that the Deity was lifeless and asked the brāhmaṇa, “When will there be life in this Deity?” At that time both the sculptor and brāhmaṇa confessed they had no faith and simply performed the prāṇa-pratiṣṭhā out of custom.


Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s marriage was arranged when he was just twelve years old and his wife, Śayāmaṇi Devi, then seven. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura later referred to it as a ‘play marriage’. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura studied in a school in Bīrnagara. Later he was transferred to another English school at Kṛṣṇanagara and eventually he attended the University at Kolkata. Amongst his classmates was Satyendranātha Tagore, the brother of Ravindranātha Tagore; they were followers of Brahmo Samāj. Even though Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would refute the conceptions of Brahmo Samāj, Satyendranātha remained amicable, as he especially appreciated his ability to debate based on sound logical arguments (yukti).


Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura used to stay at the residence of his uncle who was a theist of sorts. His uncle was a follower of Brahmo Samāj; he did not believe in the existence of the Supreme as a separate individual entity but attributed nature as being the Supreme. Young Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura never opined in their debates and eventually discontinued their association.


His uncle had two brothers. Although they were initially in agreement with the conceptions of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, later they differed on their respective ideologies. They would even invite Bāula (one of the apa-sampradāyas) singers to sing kīrtana in their house; however Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura never mixed with them. By doing so, he set an ideal. Later in his life Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote –


vaiṣṇava-caritra, sarvadā pavitra, ĵei ninde hiṁsā kôri’

bhakativinoda, nā sambhāṣe tā’re, thāke sadā mauna dhôri


[The character of the Vaiṣṇava is always pure and holy. Bhaktivinoda promises that he will never speak to one who criticizes such a Vaiṣṇava out of envy, but will remain silent whenever in his company.]



TAMING IMPOSTORS

After finishing his studies, he started teaching in schools in various places including Bhadrak and Medināpur. Seeing Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s fluency in the English language and his intelligence, the British administrators were very appreciative of him. Eventually, the British Government employed him in the administration department.


At that time, in Orissa (Odisha) there was one yogi called Bisākiśen. By his mystic power, he would miraculously cure many terminal diseases, including leprosy, thus accruing much reverence among the general public. One day he announced that on the thirteenth day of the month of Caitra, he would assume a four-handed form and kill all the mlecchas. He also propagated that on Pūrṇimā he would arrange for a rāsa-līlā dance by gathering all the girls and women.


Hearing this, the dignified section of the society approached Ravenshaw, the then government commissioner, putting in a formal complaint requesting him to justly deal with the situation at hand. Ravenshaw handed over Bisākiśen’s case to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, saying, “Only you can deal with this case.”


Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura dressed in a civil outfit, instead of a government uniform and went to Bisākiśen’s āśrama in Bhubaneswar. [Hearing that he had come to arrest him] Bisākiśen warned Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura of dire consequences, but Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was not disturbed with such threats. He was soft like a lotus, but at the same time, hard as a thunderbolt, befitting the character of great personalities.


vajrād api kaṭhorāṇi

mṛdūni kusumād api

lokottarāṇāṁ cetāṁsi

ko nu vijñātum īśvaraḥ


(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya, 7.73)


[The hearts of those above common behaviour are sometimes harder than a thunderbolt and sometimes softer than a flower. How can one accommodate such contradictions in great personalities?]


Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had Bisākiśen arrested and sentenced to one and a half months imprisonment. Bisākiśen declared a fast unto death and eventually perished during his term in prison. However, while there, by dint of his yogic powers, he cast many distresses upon Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. As a result Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura fell ill, and his son fell ill too, but he neglected all these obstacles knowing them to be a manifestation of some temporary powers that Bisākiśen possessed. For twenty one days Bisākiśen fasted from even water and eventually left his body.


In Jājpura one person claimed himself to be an avatāra of Brahmā, and in Khurdā there was another gentleman who proclaimed himself to be an incarnation of Baladeva. Like Bisākiśen, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura also legally tamed them.


Later, accompanied by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Prabhupāda, he went on many pilgrimages. He went to Kurukṣetra, Prayāga, Gayā, and also to Vṛndāvana. While in Vṛndāvana, he heard of the oppression caused by a local gang of professional dacoits by the name ‘Kanjhars’. By great efforts, he stopped their atrocities.


At one time there were thirteen apa-sampradāyas which had sprung up and were flourishing –


āula, bāula, kartābhajā, neḍā,daraveśa, sāṅī,

sahajiyā, sakhībhekī, smārta, jāti-gosāñī,

ativāḍī, cūḍādhārī, gaurāṅga-nāgarī

tota kahe ei tāra saṅga nāhi kori


[Totā is saying “One should avoid associating with the thirteen different classes of imitation devotees known as āula, bāula, kartābhajā, neḍā, daraveśa, sāṅī, sahajiyā, sakhībhekī, smārta, jāti-gosāñī, ativāḍī, cūḍādhārī and, gaurāṅga-nāgarī.]


One pure Vaiṣṇava named Totārām Bābājī in Navadvīpa started teaching and all the schools of the local caste gosvāmīs began to lose business. All their pupils left them and took shelter of this Totārām Bābājī. He had filed court cases against these sahajiyā sampradāyas, accusing that they indulge in sinful activities. At that time many went to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura pleading to request Totārām Bābājī to withdraw his court cases against them - “We are Vaiṣṇavas and he is also a Vaiṣṇava, so what is the benefit of fighting amongst ourselves?” At that time Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura replied, “Bābājī Mahārāja is so merciful that even by filing a court case against you, he is bestowing his mercy. By doing so he will create only auspiciousness for you and make you leave the wrong ways and conceptions.”


HISTORICAL WORK AS SUPERINTENDENT OF JAGANNĀTHA TEMPLE


Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura stayed in Jagannātha Purī for five years. When he was appointed superintendent of the temple, he introduced a new system to streamline all the sevās. Roles, services, and all other details were clearly defined, recorded, and systematically documented – who would be responsible for what kind of sevā, when that particular sevā would be performed and how it would be performed. This was initially opposed by the paṇḍās (local pūjārīs) but Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura persisted and the new system was introduced. No one could haphazardly perform any sevā in the temple of Lord Jagannātha out of their individual whims and fancies anymore.


DEEP STUDY OF SCRIPTURES


Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura deeply studied the works of Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhuṣaṇa (Govinda-bhāṣya (his commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra), Siddhānta-ratna and Prameya Ratnāvalī), as well as the Ṣaṭ-sandharbas of Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, and Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. By his own precept Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura showed that it is extremely essential to deeply study these scriptures and to imbibe their teachings which are imbued with pure devotion, especially for those who do not know the ultimate good (śreyas).


Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu mentioned the five most potent forms of devotion, pañcāṅga-bhakti–


sādhu-saṅga, nāma-kīrtana, bhāgavata-śravaṇa

mathurā-vāsa, śrī-murtira śraddhāya sevanaṁ

(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 22.128)


[One should associate with devotees, chant the holy name of the Lord, hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, reside in Mathurā and worship the Deity with faith and veneration."]


Among all these, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī declared hearing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as the topmost, and that is why among various scriptures Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura gave more emphasis on the study and discussion of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. In Jagannātha-vallabha gardens, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had formed a Vaiṣṇava association named ‘Bhāgavata Saṅgsad’. Inside the temple of Jagannātha, there was a Mukti Maṇḍapa but at the place of the lotus feet imprints of Śrīmān Mahāprabhu, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura established Bhakti Maṇḍapa. When Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would speak on the glories of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam at Bhakti Maṇḍapa, great Vaiṣṇava personalities and contemporaries, who were also scholars, like Nityānanda, Paramānanda, Mahanta Nārāyaṇa Dāsa, and Uttar Pārśva Mahanta Harihara Dāsa would come to hear.


Just as Śrīmān Mahāprabhu set the ideal of hearing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from the lotus lips of Śrī Gadādhara Paṇḍita at Ṭoṭā Gopīnātha, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda heard Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from Gopīnātha Paṇḍita. One Raghunātha dāsa Bābājī Paṇḍita of Hatiakda once opposed Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura while he was speaking on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and later he was inflicted with a disease. Only on being directed in a dream by Lord Jagannātha to beg forgiveness from Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, did he get relief from his distressful condition.


ALWAYS ACCOMPANIED BY ŚRĪLA BHAKTISIDDHĀNTA SARASVATĪ ṬHĀKURA


When Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura was only ten months old, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was transferred to Rānāghāṭa. He travelled with his family on a palanquin from Purī to Rānāghāṭa. Later Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura went on a pilgrimage to all the tīrthas and returned to Hajipur in Patna; there he learned the Urdu and Persian languages. He also established schools for local education in Orissa (Odisha) and thus the locals were very indebted to him.


Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would discuss on Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu in a place called Tāltā Bhāgān. At that time Śrīla Prabhupāda was just a young boy and he would carry Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu on his head and accompany him. In that assembly many great kīrtanīyas would sing very nicely, and every one would become intoxicated by those kīrtanas. In one of the kīrtanas, they were singing, “bhuvana-mohinī-rādhā...” Hearing this, Śrīla Prabhupāda said to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, “O Prabhu! This kīrtana is opposed to siddhānta (conclusive truth). How can it be said, bhuvana-mohinī-rādhā? It should be bhuvana-mohana-kṛṣṇa, tāhāra mohinī-rādhā. Bhuvana-mohana is Śrī Kṛṣṇa, one who enchants the whole world, and the one who enchants Śrī Kṛṣṇa is Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇi. How can She be addressed as Bhuvana-mohinī?” In this way, right from a young age, Śrīla Prabhupāda exhibited how he was fixed in proper siddhānta.


When Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would go to meet Śrīla Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja, Śrīla Prabhupāda would also accompany him. One day, Śrīla Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja said, “You are a judge [by profession] so please give me an apt punishment. I have committed a great offense; I have engaged some of my followers who had come to do ‘hari-bhajana’ in maintaining the garden of the Lord.” Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura replied, “Just as they are maintaining the garden of the Lord here, they will also have to maintain the garden of the Lord in Goloka Vṛndāvana.” Will any one understand such interactions? What does it mean? Under any circumstance, the servant will only serve, hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa sevanaṁ...that in itself is bhakti. Otherwise how will the senses be engaged in the service of the master of the senses, indriya-pati?


Then Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura addressed those followers of Śrīla Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī saying, “Go to Jagannātha Purī and sustain yourself on mādhukarī, by begging alms, and always remember the precept of Choṭa Haridāsa. Only then auspiciousness will be bestowed upon you.” Hearing this, one of the servants followed Śrīla Bhaktivinoda’s instructions and he continued to progress in bhakti. The other one who did not go, later became a sahajiyā, accepted one female consort as his servant, and sustained himself by begging alms.


When Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would speak on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in Godrumadvīpa, Śrīla Gaura-kiśora dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja would also come to hear from him. Śrīla Bābājī Mahārāja wouldn’t speak or associate with anyone, but he would come to Godrumadvīpa to hear Bhāgavatam. It was at that time that Śrīla Prabhupāda first took darśana of him. Sometimes Śrīla Vaṁśī dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja would also join him.


Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had given Śrīla Prabhupāda harināma and chanting beads as well as the Nṛsiṁha mantra with which he would worship Nṛsiṁhadeva. On Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s order, Śrīla Prabhupāda accepted dīkṣā from Śrīla Gaura-kiśora dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja.


The Mahārāja of Tripura was keen to hear the discourses of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, and he earnestly beseeched him to come to Tripura and speak the glories of the Lord. Śrīla Prabhupāda had accompanied Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura at that time and had made a mental note of the king’s library. Later he went there for three years to teach the king’s son dharma and nīti sīkṣā. While there, he read many Vaiṣṇava scriptures from that library.


Śrīla Prabhupāda would say, “Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is the Bhagīratha of Kali-yuga. Just as Bhagīratha brought the Gaṅgā to this world, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura manifested the current of pure bhakti in this world. All those who are aspiring for pure devotion are indebted to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.”


VISIT TO SVARGALOKA IN INTERNAL CONSCIOUSNESS


Once while on duty, when he was at Āmalājoḍa station, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura fell unconscious on a platform bench. The station master and other officers present, recognizing him to be a prominent government officer, asked if they could arrange for a doctor. However Śrīla Prabhupāda, perceiving the fact of the matter, denied the proposal. After some time Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura returned to external consciousness.


While he was externally unconscious, he had been to Svargaloka to help reconcile one of the verses of Bhagavad-gītā, which had put the demigods in a quandary [Endnote 1]. After providing them the understanding of the verse, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura returned to external consciousness. In honour of this event, later, at the same place, Āmalājoḍa, Śrīla Prabhupāda established Āmalājoḍa Prapannāśrama.


LORD ŚIVA’S INSTRUCTION TO STAY IN NAVADVĪPA


When Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura expressed the desire to perform bhajana near the place of Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s Samādhi in Jagannātha Purī, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura established Bhakti Kuṭīra (now, opposite Puruṣottama Gauḍīya Maṭha near Satāsana Road) near Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s Samādhi.


In Rādhā-kuṇḍa he established Vraja Svānanda-sukhadā-kuñja, with an intention to eventually come to Rādhā-kuṇḍa, settle there and perform bhajana, after resigning from his official government duties. Later he went to the great Vaiṣṇava Śiva at Tāḍakeśvara to beg permission to go to Rādhā Kuṇḍa. At that time Lord Śiva said to him, “You will leave the place of your Prabhu and go? Then who will spread the glories of that place to the whole world?” At that time Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura resolved to stay in Mahāprabhu’s Navadvīpa-dhāma, and eventually, around 1899 he built Svānanda-sukhadā-kuñja in Godrumadvīpa.



THE GANDHARVAS DID WHAT I HAD TO