Saccidānanda Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura
[September 27, 2023 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.
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.]
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
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
At one stage Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was staying in Kolkata and had a desire to move to Māyāpura, but his sons would not let him. [Śrīla Prabhupāda had come to take Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura to Māyāpura but when his brothers refused, he left and was going to Māyāpura. When Śrīla Prabhupāda was at Sealdah Station,] Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura manifested a sickness pastime. Worried about their father’s desire remaining unfulfilled if any untoward event took place, the sons changed their mind immediately and gave their permission; they knew well that their father was completely transcendental. At that time Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura said, “Gandharvas did what I had to do.”
He was referring to what Bhīmasena had spoken in the Mahābhārata when in Kāmyavana the Gandharvas abducted the wives of Duryodhana and were fleeing away. At that time Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja had told Bhīma, “Go and stop them at once.” Bhīmasena replied, “O! Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja! What we were planning to do, by engaging in warfare, has already been done by these Gandharvas; what they have done is good.” Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja said, “If any outsider attacks then we are a hundred and five.” At that time Arjuna went and rescued the wives of Duryodhana from the hands of the Gandharvas.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura uttered that same verse, “Gandharvas did the job.” His sons became scared by his illness and permitted him to proceed to Navadvīpa.
EXTOLLING THE GLORIES OF THE DHĀMA
In 1910, a gentleman went for dhāma darśana with a return ticket. He bought a watermelon and offered it to Śrīla Gaura-kiśora dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja, who usually would not accept anything given by anyone, however he accepted that watermelon. When Śrīla Bābājī Mahārāja inquired his reason behind visiting the dhāma, he replied, “I have come for dhāma darśana and I also have my return ticket so I will go back after some days.” Śrīla Bābājī Mahārāja replied, “I haven’t heard of anyone coming to the dhāma and returning.” Will anyone be able to read in between the lines and understand the import of what Śrīla Bābājī Mahārāja said? In Bhagavad-gītā we have heard this śloka a hundred times –
na tad bhāsayate sūryo
na śaśāṅko na pāvakaḥ
yad gatvā na nivartante
tad dhāma paramaṁ mama
[That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.]
Despite hearing this śloka so many times, did we ever think of the śloka in this way? We only read, but we don’t follow; we don’t imbibe the teachings or the moods of the ślokas. This is our position.
That person, who was visiting the dhāma, became completely astonished and [by the inspiration of Śrīla Bābājī Mahārāja] accepted dīkṣā from Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. By accepting dīkṣā in the true sense, one becomes a real dhāma-vāsī. After that, wherever one goes, he carries the dhāma with him; one carries the dhāma within his heart. The dhāma then becomes the centre of one’s existence.
Though an individual may have to travel for his work and visit many places, while he is away, he is completely aware that his home is somewhere else. Where his home is, that is the centre of his existence. Ultimately all the love and affection will only be directed to his wife, children and home. Despite spending a large amount of time with his colleagues, who he works with for 8 to 9 hours a day, will he ever cultivate such affection for his colleagues? The same is true for the dhāma; as our real relationship with the dhāma becomes established, all our love and affection goes there.
When Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was asked to speak about the glories of the dhāma, he spoke that from this very dhāma, all preaching will expand all over the world. This prediction of Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s is in Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata. It is said –
pṛthivīte āche yata nagarādi grāma
sarvatra pracāra haibe mora nāma
In every town and village, the chanting of My name will be heard.
There is some connection with regards to this prophecy. In 1896, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura sent an English book he had authored, titled, The Life and Precepts of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, to many university libraries abroad. Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī, the founder ācārya of ISKCON, who preached the Kṛṣṇa bhakti cult all over the world, was also born in that same year. When the followers of Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja discovered the original book sent by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in a library in England, they took it because it had some significance that this book was sent the same year as their Guru Mahārāja was born. They later gave another edition of the same book to the library; however they retained the original book which was sent by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.
One night, when Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was staying in his Godruma house [Svānanda-sukhadā-kuñja], he saw a great effulgence, like a thick beam of light emanating from the direction of the Yogapīṭha. In the morning Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura went across to inquire if there had been any wedding ceremony, or any other occasion celebrated, but the locals confirmed that no such event had occurred. They said, “One ghost resides here so no one can wander around this place.” They also confirmed that nothing but tulasī grew there and thus they were unable to use that land for farming. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wondered, “Then how did I see so much effulgence coming from this place.” After this incident Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura went and met with Śrīla Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja, who was at a very advanced age and used to be carried around in a basket. Bihārī dāsa, his personal servant, would carry him around everywhere, even from Navadvīpa to Vṛndāvana and back.
Previously, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had also taken Śrīla Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja to his residence in Kolkata, and served him very nicely. His servant Bihārī dāsa had commented that Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura knew what it took to serve a Vaiṣṇava and how to serve the Vaiṣṇavas in reality.
When Śrīla Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja was taken to the [current site of the] birth place of Śrīmān Mahāprabhu, the Yogapīṭha, although he was of ripe old age, not even able to walk, he jumped up and began to dance ecstatically. When asked why he was doing this he said, “Can't you see? This is the birth place of Mahāprabhu; all these devotees are also dancing here! I am joining them in saṅkīrtana!” No one else could see. It is said, “yadyapi se līlā kare gaura rāya, kono kono bhāgyavān dekhi bare pāya.” Some fortunate souls are able to see the pastimes of Lord Caitanya that He is still manifesting in the dhāma.
Then they proceeded a little further from the birth site and Śrīla Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja ordered that place to be excavated with the tools that are used to discard excess water from the boat. While excavating, a piece of the mṛdaṅga which the Kāzī had broken was discovered. He confirmed that this was Śrīvāsa-aṅgana, Saṅkīrtana Rāsa-sthalī. Then Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura said, “Now that you have ascertained this place, where is the pramāṇa (evidence)?” To which Śrīla Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja responded, “To gather pramāṇa is your duty.”
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura found around ten ancient maps from the British government and ascertained the birth place and Śrīvāsa-aṅgana, as confirmed by Śrīla Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja. Later Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura established the Viśva-vaiṣṇava Rāja-sabhā there. On Gaura Pūrṇimā, Śrīmān Mahāprabhu’s āvirbhāva tithi, the Viśva-vaiṣṇava Rāja-sabhā was inaugurated and the Mahārāja of Tripura was appointed as the chairperson of that assembly. Rājarṣi Sarbindu Nārāyaṇa Rai of Denachpur, a Professor of darśana śāstra at Lahore Global University was appointed as the secretary.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was also instrumental in establishing a temple of Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva. It was he who installed Gaura-Lakṣmīpriya, Viṣṇupriya, Pañca-tattva and Rādhā-Mādhava at the Yogapīṭha temple. Later the Gauḍīya Maṭha began serving in that place, but it originally was established by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.
EXTRAORDINARY LITERARY CONTRIBUTION
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote over hundred books in many languages such as Oriya, Bengali, English and Sanskrit. He has even written one book in Urdu titled Balid-e-registry. When Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was in Bhadrak, he wrote one book in English, titled Maṭhas of Orissa. How many maṭhas are there in Orissa? He made a list of them and overall there were 752 maṭhas. Despite his duties and other commitments, he wrote many books.
THE ORIGINAL PIONEER OF THE GAUḌĪYA MAṬHA
Though the illustrious son of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda founded the Gauḍīya Maṭha, with its sixty four branches all over India and abroad, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura can be designated as the original pioneer and founder of the Gauḍīya Maṭha. All the kīrtanas sung from dawn to dusk across all of the Gauḍīya Maṭhas are compositions of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura – maṅgala-ārati, bhoga-ārati, sandhyā-ārati, among other kīrtanas. Even the glories of mahāprasādam that are sung before honouring mahāprasāda are composed by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. His every composition is purely based on the scriptures, hence my parama-gurudeva, Śrīla Prabhupāda would not allow any kīrtanas other than those of Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura and Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura to be sung. He would say that every essential teaching is a part of these kīrtanas. They are not whimsically composed. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote kīrtanas dedicated to each of the verses of Śrī Manaḥ-śikṣā, Śrī Upadeśāmṛta, Śrī Śikṣāṣṭaka, and Śrī Nāmāṣṭakam by expanding on their meaning. This style of composition is called padyānuvāda.
DEEP MEANING OF SIMPLE KIRTANAS
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura gave out all the essential teachings through his kīrtanas. In one of his kīrtanas– Ohe! Vaiṣṇava Ṭhākura, it is said –
kṛṣṇa se tomāra, kṛṣṇa dite pārô, tomāra śakati āche
āmi tô ’kāṅgāla, ‘kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa’ bôli’, dhāi tava pāche pāche
[Kṛṣṇa is yours, so you have the power to give Kṛṣṇa. I am only a beggar running behind you, calling out, “Kṛṣṇa! Kṛṣṇa!”]
This kīrtana is based on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Bhīṣma was wounded and lying on the bed of arrows for fifty two days. Seeing him in this state greatly pained Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira who thought himself to be the cause for Bhīṣma’s condition. Had he not incited it, the great war of Mahābhārata would not have taken place, and grandsire Bhīṣma would not have had to suffer this way. When the young Pāṇḍavas lost their father, it was Bhīṣma who had cared for them and brought them up. Now to put that same personality through such suffering, just for the sake of regaining a kingdom, served as a great source of sorrow for Yudhiṣṭhira. After the war of Kurukṣetra was over, all those who had sacrificed their lives on the battlefield were cremated, and at the end, Śrī Kṛṣṇa begged permission from all the five Pāṇḍavas to return to Dvārakā. All of them individually agreed.
However, when Śrī Kṛṣṇa approached Kuntī-devī, begging for her permission, she began to cry. Seeing her crying, Śrī Kṛṣṇa said, “Now there is no enemy of yours, shall I take leave?” Queen Kuntī replied, “The enemy is on all four sides - janmaiśvarya-śruta-śrībhir.”
naivārhaty abhidhātuṁ vai
[My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material] progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling.]
Saying this, she began to cry again and so Śrī Kṛṣṇa decided to stay on a few more days. Later He said to the Pāṇḍavas, “Shall we go and pay our homage to Bhīṣma Pitāmaha?” Upon hearing these words, everyone got ready. When they reached the site where Bhīṣma Pitāmaha was lying on the bed of arrows, Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira started wailing like an infant, and while holding Bhīṣma’s feet, he said, “There is no bigger pākhaṇḍī than I. I am the very cause of your suffering.”
Pākhaṇḍī means pretender or imposter. Śrī Kṛṣṇa said to Bhīṣma Pitāmaha, “Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira is just like a child, so you please bestow some noble instructions unto the Pāṇḍavas and all those who have assembled here.” Bhīṣma Pitāmaha replied, “Where You, the very personification of dharma, are present, what instructions can I give? I am just an insignificant personality in comparison to You.” Then Śrī Kṛṣṇa said, “Since he feels that he is the cause of your suffering, he will only listen from you.”
Bhīṣma Pitāmaha began his address, “O! Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja! Your belief that you are the cause behind my pain is wrong. No one has any independence to cause anyone pain or happiness. One’s own activities become the cause of happiness or distress.” [He then gave many instructions and teachings to Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira and everyone present there.]
To Arjuna, Bhīṣmadeva said, “You can give Śrī Kṛṣṇa to me. At the end of my life, please give Śrī Kṛṣṇa to me.” To Yudhiṣṭhira he gave instructions, and to Arjuna he begged for mercy. From an external consideration, who had put Bhīṣmadeva in such a state? It was none other than Arjuna. From that same Arjuna, Bhīṣmadeva was begging for mercy, considering him as spiritual master. “Śrī Kṛṣṇa is your sakhā, you can give Śrī Kṛṣṇa to me, please give Kṛṣṇa to me, at the moment of my death.” Based on this episode from the Mahābhārata, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura penned –
kṛṣṇa se tomāra, kṛṣṇa dite pārô, tomāra śakati āche
āmi tô’ kāṅgāla, ‘kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa’ bôli’, dhāi tava pāche pāche
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura presented all the scriptural conclusions in a very simple and straight-forward manner, in the form of beautifully composed songs. In his first kīrtana of Śaraṇāgati he mentions whose prayers are heard by the Lord. That very Lord, who comes to this world to bestow the very rare gift of prema unto the unfortunate conditioned souls, gave the teaching of śaraṇāgati. That śaraṇāgati, that surrender, is the life-air of a devotee. Śikhaya śaraṇāgati bhakatera prāṇa.
atyanta durlabha prema kôribāre dāna
śikhāya śaraṇāgati bhakatera prāṇa (2)
dainya, ātma-nivedana, goptṛtve varaṇa
‘avaśya rakṣibe kṛṣṇa’—viśvāsa-pālana (3)
bhakti-anukūla-mātra kāryera svīkāra
bhakti-pratikūla-bhāva varjanāṅgīkāra (4)
ṣaḓ-aṅga śaraṇāgati hôibe ĵāﬁhāra
tāﬁhāra prārthanā śune śrī nanda-kumāra (5)
[In order to bestow the extremely rare treasure of prema-bhakti, Mahāprabhu taught śaraṇāgati, which is the life and soul of the devotees. Humility, submission of the self, acceptance of the Lord as one’s only maintainer, faith in Kṛṣṇa’s protection, acceptance of acts favorable for bhakti and rejection of that which is unfavorable. Whoever embodies each of these six facets of śaraṇāgati has their prayers heard by the son of Nanda Mahārāja.]
The Lord only hears the prayers of those who are surrendered. That is why when Prahlāda said, “Yes, my Lord exists even in this pillar”, the Lord manifested as Nṛsiṁhadeva from the pillar. Hiraṇyakaśipu with a club in his hand, started roaring around, looking for that personality, proclaiming, “I will finish Him the moment I see Him.” But Hiraṇyakaśipu could not see Him. All the demigods watching from above were very anxious out of fear of Hiraṇyakaśipu.
We see here that the Lord did not hear the prayers of the demigods, but when a surrendered devotee, Prahlāda, said, “My Lord exists everywhere, including this pillar” then Nṛsiṁhadeva appeared out of that pillar to keep the word of His devotee. That is why if one has the desire to achieve this most rare kṛṣṇa-prema then he has no choice but to surrender. The words of the scriptures and those of the previous ācāryas like Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī were captured in a very simple and straight forward manner in this first song of Śaraṇāgati by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.
WHO IS SUPERIOR – THE BRĀHMAṆA OR VAIṢṆAVA
In 1911, three years before his departure, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was invited to speak at a spiritual assembly at Mednipur, where the main topic of discussion was – ‘Who is superior – the brāhmaṇa or Vaiṣṇava?’ At that time Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was already 73 years old, and unwell. Thinking that an opportunity had presented itself to serve Śrīmān Mahāprabhu, which he was unable to fulfil, his eyes brimmed with tears out of the sentiment of dīnatā, lowliness. He was wondering who he could send to represent him. At that time Śrīla Prabhupāda approached him, requesting, “If you order, this insignificant servant of yours could go and address the assembly.” Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura agreed and sent him along with one brāhmaṇa. Śrīla Prabhupāda journeyed on foot to Mednipur. He stayed overnight in a village and continued his journey reaching his destination the next day. He immediately met with the organizers and conveyed his desire to speak.
At that time, Śrīla Prabhupāda was very young and had a beautiful face. His name was noted as one of the speakers. The chairman of that assembly was Viśvambhara Nāth Deva Gosvāmī, who was also the chief of Gopīvallabapur Śrīpāṭa. Many other respectable personalities like Madhusūdana Gosvāmī Sārvabhauma of Rādhā-ramaṇa ghera in Vṛndāvana were also assembled there.
When his turn came, Śrīla Prabhupāda started speaking, extolling the glories of the brāhmaṇa. He glorified the position of a brāhmaṇa in great detail and later he asked all the brāhmaṇas present in the assembly – “Does anyone have any comments to make on what I have spoken on the position of a brāhmaṇa?” Everyone in the assembly accepted very easily saying, “We are completely satisfied with what you have spoken, and we have nothing more to say.”
Next Śrīla Prabhupāda went on to extol the glories of the Vaiṣṇavas and established how a Vaiṣṇava is superior to a brāhmaṇa. At that time many in the audience were agitated but one of the gosvāmīs said, “I have read all scriptures and what he is speaking is conclusive.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s impact was so heavy, that everyone became anxious to offer him obeisances and touch his lotus feet after his speech. They even wanted to bathe his feet, and when Śrīla Prabhupāda denied, they placed his feet in a drum, bathed them by force and took the caraṇāmṛta. Later a book titled, ‘Brāhmaṇa and Vaiṣṇava’, was released based on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s speech in that assembly. The Lord always fulfils the desire of his pure devotee. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is a pure devotee of the Lord, and that is why Śrīla Prabhupāda was inspired to ask Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s permission to address the assembly.
On 23 June, 1914, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura manifested his disappearance pastime, and entered the eternal pastimes of the Lord. He appeared in September and disappeared in June. He had appeared in the Nadia district and he left his body in Bhakti Bhavan, Kolkata. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s samādhi is there in Godruma. All those who have been to Godruma have taken darśana of his samādhi. Since he discovered the birth place of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and illuminated the glories of Navadvīpa-dhāma, there is a temple near Yogapīṭha with his deity to commemorate him.
Today is his āvirbhāva tithi, and on this day we beg for his mercy and compassion that we are able to follow and imbibe his teachings, and in this way achieve the perfection of this human form of life.
Subjective Evolution [The Play of the Sweet Absolute] - by Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja (Chapter 10)
Once, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had a dream in which he was wandering in the sky chanting the holy name. He came upon the court of Yamarāja, where Yamarāja himself was sitting with Brahmā, Nārada, and others discussing a point from a verse in Bhagavad-gītā (9.30):
api cet su-durācāro
bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ
samyag vyavasito hi saḥ
The generally accepted meaning of this verse is: “Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is an ananya-bhāk devotee who worships Me alone in devotional service which is free from karma and jñāna, he is to be considered saintly because his endeavors are completely on My behalf and his determination is fixed.”
Here, Kṛṣṇa says, “Whatever he has done, if he is exclusively given to Myself, he should be considered as My devotee. Samyag vyavasito hi saḥ. And whatever he is doing is cent percent right.” But then the next passage says kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā: “very soon he will be a man of righteousness; he will become dharmātmā – dutiful.”
As Yamarāja, Brahmā, and Nārada discussed this point, a question came up. Kṛṣṇa says, bhajate mām ananya-bhāk, “one who is My exclusive devotee.” The question arises, “What is exclusive devotion or ananya-bhajana?” Kṛṣṇa says, “Give up all other religious conceptions and surrender to Me alone”: sarva dharmān parityajya, mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja. That is exclusive devotion. But if one is practicing exclusive devotion, then he is already dharmātmā, he is already righteous. How is it then that in the very next verse, Kṛṣṇa says “soon he becomes dharmātmā”? How are we to adjust this? Kṛṣṇa says (Bhagavad-gītā (9.31)):
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā
na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati
“He soon becomes righteous (dharmātmā) and attains lasting peace. O son of Kuntī, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.”
This is the general meaning of this verse. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna, “He soon becomes dharmātmā. My devotee is never ruined. Go and declare this to the public.” Kṛṣṇa says that after the devotee became ananya-bhāk – that is, he gave up all sorts of duties and surrendered to Kṛṣṇa – then again he will be a dutiful man.
As Brahmā, Nārada, and Yamarāja discussed this point, they saw Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura walking in the sky and taking the holy name. Then one of them suggested, “There is a pure devotee. He should be able to give the real meaning.” Then Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was invited in their midst and was asked, “How shall we adjust these points? Kṛṣṇa has said that this person is an exclusive devotee, that he has renounced all sorts of duties and surrendered to Kṛṣṇa. And yet, in no time it will be seen that he is very dutiful. How can we understand this?”
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura explained that “he quickly becomes righteous” refers not to the exclusive devotee, but to one who considers the exclusive devotee pure in all circumstances. “Even if he performs some abominable act, he is really a sādhu, a saint.” One who can think of an exclusive devotee in that way will soon become dharmātmā. This was Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s explanation.