|NITAAI-Veda.nyf > All Scriptures By Acharyas > Bhaktivinoda Thakura > Bhaktivinoda Vani Vaibhava > Bhaktivinoda Vani Vaibhava Part 1 > A glimpse into the|
A glimpse into the life of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur
Much had been written on the life and teachings of Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Just as less intelligent, mundane persons cannot understand the birth and activities of Lord Krsna, similarly the life and activities of a pure devotee of the Lord cannot be understood by mundane intelligence. Sometimes the account of the life and activities of great devotees are bewildering for the non-devotees, because they cannot comprehend how a devotee of Krsna could seem to be an ordinary person. But such are the ways of the Lord. He makes His activities and the activities of His pure devotees bewildering for those who are not devoted to Him.Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was responsible for re¬establishing Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's sanklrtana movement, which had become almost extinct by the mid-nineteenth century. The mission had deteriorated greatly, due to the influence of the sahajiyas and later the British rule in India. Through his tireless efforts, however, the Thakura restored the purity, prestige, and respect of the Vaisnavism amongst the cultured people of his day. He also sowed the seeds for future worldwide propagation of the mission.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was born on Sunday 2, September 1838 in the wealthy Datta family in the ancient village of Ulanagara and was given the name Kedaranath. From early childhood, he was attracted to hearing about Rama and Krsna. He loved to hear the recitation of Ramayana and Mahabharata at festival times. The village Ulanagara, was very prosperous in those days.At the age of seven, he excelled in reading Bengali and studying mathematics. That year, his elder brother and his maternal uncle both passed away. The following year, his two younger brothers also met their death, and he was obliged to experience the pain of this temporary material world. At nine, he studied astrology. The family fortunes, however, began to decline, and at the age of eleven, his father died. Young Kedaranath began to question, "What is this world? Who are we?"
At twelve, his mother arranged his marriage to a five-year-old girl. His mother hoped to improve the family finances by this arrangement. At fourteen, his uncle brought him to Calcutta to further his education. In his first year at the Hindu Charitable Institution School, he took top honors in the examinations and received a medal. He began to contribute articles to the Literary Gazette, and at eighteen he completed an epic poem called The Poriade in two volumes. He spent his college years studying world religions and the works of Western philosophers. He read the Bible and the Koran. He soon became known as a great debater and logician, and give lectures in Calcutta.In 1856, he returned to Ulanagara. There had been an outbreak of cholera. The village was empty and hundreds of people he knew had died, including his sister. His wife had also been ill, but she recovered and lived with her father. Kedarnatha took his mother and grandmother to live with him in Calcutta. At nineteen, his first job was teaching second grade at the Hindu Charitable Institution School for fifteen rupees a month, but he could not meet expenses. His mother had to sell a gold necklace to pay the back rent.
In 1858, a letter arrived with word that his paternal grandfather was about to leave this world and wished to see him before dying. He set out with his wife and mother. The old man appeared healthy on arrival. He was sitting on a bed in the courtyard of his house, leaning against a bolster pillow, and chanting the holy name continuously. Srila Bhaktivinoda described the incident in his autobiography, which he wrote as a letter in 1896.
"He called for me and said, After my death, do not tarry many days in this place. Whatever work you do by the age of twenty-seven will be your principal occupation. You will become a great Vaisnava. I give you all my blessings.' Immediately after saying this, his life left him, bursting out from the top of his head. Such an amazing death is rarely seen." Thereafter, he took his wife and mother to Cuttack and lived comfortably on a sixth grade teacher's salary of twenty rupees a month. In 1860, he moved his family to Bhadrak taking the position of headmaster for forty-five rupees a month. A year later, he took another position in Midnapur. There, he developed a desire to read Caitanya-caritamrta.
"I developed a feeling for pure bhakti, but I did not begin to practice it. While I was at the school in Midnapur I decided that I would obtain and read
books on the Vaisnava dharma. There was aJdti Vaisnava pandita at the school. I learned from talking to him how Caitanya Mahaprabhu preached the Vaisnava dharma in Bengal, and that the history and teachings of Caitanya were recorded in the book known as Caitanya-caritamrta. I began to search, but I could not secure a copy of the Caitanya-caritamrta. I had faith that by reading that book I would achieve happiness, but Vaisnava books were not in print then."Toward the end of 1861, his wife became ill and died, leaving him with a ten-month-old son. "I endured this grief like a warrior according to the Psalm of Life." His mother tried to raise the child, but she was too old and found it difficult.Two months later, he married Srimati Bhagavati Devi, a sincere Vaisnavi of noble character, peaceful, and accomplished in all she did.
In 1863, he wrote two poems that were published in the prestigious Calcutta Review, volume 39. He was highly praised for this work. He was then the Head Clerk at the Judge's Court in Chuadanga on a salary of 150 rupees a month, and passed the law examination. In 1866, he accepted the position of Special Deputy Registrar of Assurances with powers of a Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Collector. He was twenty-seven years old! He took his first tour of Vrndavana later that year and visited other holy places including Mathura, Prayaga. and KasT. In March of 1868, he finally obtained a copy of Caitanya-caritdmrta at Dinajpur, where he was appointed Deputy Magistrate.
"On my first reading of Caitanya-caritdmrta I developed some faith in Sri Caitanya. On the second reading, I understood that there was no pandita equal to SrT Caitanya. Then 1 had a doubt. Being such a learned scholar, and having manifested the reality of love of Godhead to such an extent, how is it that He recommends the worship of the improper character of Krsna? I was initially amazed at this, and I thought about it deeply. Afterwards, I prayed to the Lord with great humility. 0 Lord! Please let me understand the mystery of this matter.'The mercy of God is without limit. Seeing my eagerness and humbleness, within a few days He bestowed his mercy upon me and supplied the intelligence by which I could understand. 1 then understood that the truth of Krsna is very deep and confidential and the highest principle of the science of Godhead. From this time on, I knew God as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. I made an effort to always speak with renounced \aisnava panditas, and I came to understand many aspects of the Vaisnava dharma. In my very childhood, the seed of faith in the Vaisnava religion was planted in my heart, and now it had sprouted. From the beginning, I experienced anuraga, and it was very wonderful. Day and night I liked to read about Krsna tattva."
Shortly thereafter, out of ecstatic feeling for Lord Caitanya, Bhaktivinoda wrote a short poem, called Sac-cid-ananda-premdlankara. From that time, he became known as Sac-cid-ananda—one who embodies eternity, knowledge, and bliss.Here we see Lord Caitanya reawakening the feelings of devotion in Srila Bhaktivinoda; they had been kept hidden to allow the Thakura to establish himself within the British Raja. At this time, his spiritual mission began to manifest. Like Arjuna, it was for the benefit of all that came after him.
In 1869, he gave a lecture in Dinajpur to many learned gentlemen of religion and culture, who had come from all over India. Some interested Englishmen also attended. This speech later took the form of a book: The Bhagavat: Its Philosophy, Its Ethics and Its Theology. In this talk, he criticized the sectarianism that characterizes the religious strife between men. He also recounted his own history as a sectarian thinker who ignored the beauty of the Bhdgavatam due to early prejudices imbibed from the English. He presented himself as a sectarian thinker who had his eyes opened by SrT Caitanya. He glorified the Bhdgavatam, and finally he explained the mysterious nature of Krsna's dalliances with the gopls, enlightening the audience with its profound universal meaning. What better person could Lord Caitanya choose to preach to the intelligentsia of his day than the Thakura? He was fully conversant with the burning issues of the times, well studied in the major philosophies and religions of the world, and was a highly respectable figure in both Hindu and English circles. His opinions were seriously heard by both camps.
In 1871 he moved to Purl and took up the study of the Gosvami's literature while serving there as Chief Magistrate. Inspired by the holy dhama, he composed two English poems. The first, on Srila Haridasa Thakura's samadhi, contains one of his most famous verses:
He reasons ill who tells that Vaisnavas die When thou art living still in sound.
The Vaisnavas die to live, and living try To spread holy name around.
The Thakura's heart was overflowing with deep spiritual emotions as he visited the holy sites of Mahaprabhu's pastimes. In his second poem, Saragrahi Vaisnava verse twenty-two, he described the futility of material aspirations for sense pleasures, and the soul's journey to the eternal spiritual realm.
There rests my Soul from matter free Upon my Lover's arms, Eternal peace and Spirit's love Are all my chanting charms!
The same year he wrote an essay To Love God, wherein he gave a deep purport to the commandment of Jesus Christ; "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and love thy neighbor as thy self." He compared this commandment to the teachings of Vaisnavism, demonstrating how Sri Caitanya further broadcast the teachings of Jesus Christ.Within the first year'of the Thakura's stay in Purl, the British asked him to watch over the affairs of the Jagannatha Temple on behalf of the government. Due to his untiring work, many bad practices at the temple were curbed, and the offerings to the Lord were punctual. As the magistrate for Purl, he arrested a scoundrel yogi called Bisakisen, who possessed mystic powers and proclaimed himself the incarnation of Maha-Visnu. Fearing his mystic powers, the foolish people of the locality had succumbed to him. The people of nearby villages were outraged by the yogi's affairs with married women and were anxious that this fever might spread to the women of their own villages, resulting in scandal and humiliation.
Bhaktivinoda apprehended the yog? and held him in jail 1 ••¦ trial. Fasting from food and drink, the yogi increased his mystic potency to inflict hardship on the Thakura's family."All over Purl there were disturbances. At that time, the Pun School had a fire, and all of the people suspected him. Also at this time, Kadur [a pet name for his daughter Kadambini] came down with fever. Bisakisen, by his practice of yoga, had by some means attained yogic powers, and I obtained a lot of evidence against him. For twenty-one days he did not eat or drink even a drop of water, but he did not show any weakness and gave unfailing cures to many people." At last, he was brought to trial and sentenced. Thousands of the yogi's followers were outside the courtroom chanting "Injustice." A young British officer, who had been reading about mystic powers, rushed up behind the yogi as he was being taken from the courtroom and cut off his matted locks with a huge pair of scissors. The yogi immediately fell down on the floor unable to walk. When his followers saw that he had been overcome simply by having his hair removed, they deserted him. The Thakura continued to prosecute other self-proclaimed incarnations and thwarted their attempts to exploit the innocent public.
During this period, Srila Bhaktivinoda carefully studied the twelve cantos of Bhagavatam, and began the Krsna-sarhhita, one of his most famous works. In great happiness, he toured the holy places of Purl and constantly associated with the most elevated Vaisnavas in the area.
While in Purl 1 made much advancement in devotional service. I became more detached from worldly life. [The idea] that worldly progress produces anything of lasting value was gone forever. Almost every evening I would go to the temple to see the Lord, to hear and chant the Holy Name and associate with the devotees. Just as the Jagannatha Temple is very lofty and beautiful, so also the service to the Deity was wonderful. To see it was charming to the mind. Daily, from five to seven hundred people were present to see the routine festivals like the evening arati etc. What bliss! Many kinds of pilgrims came from all over India to attend the religious festivals. Seeing that, one's eyes are soothed."
On a Friday afternoon, 6 February 1874, at Jagannatha Furi, SrimatI Bhagavati dev! and Thakura Bhaktivinoda were delighted with the appearance of a son. He was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, resembling the sacred thread. Everyone was astonished. They took it as an auspicious sign. As Sri Bimala Devi represents the para cacti, spiritual energy, of Lord Jagannatha, he was given the name Bimala Prasada. Srlla Bhaktivinoda had prayed for a ray of Visnu to help him with his preaching, and this son, Srlla Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada, would fulfill that mission. Six months later in July, the annual Ratha-yatra festival was in progress. Inexplicably, the three carts stopped at the gate in front of Bhaktivinoda Thakura's residence and remained there for three days. Mother Bhagavati Devi took advantage of the situation to benefit her six-month-old son. She was allowed to ascend the ratha cart since her husband was the manager of the Purl Temple. As she approached Lord Jagannatha, the baby extended his arms to touch the feet of Sri Jagannatha Deva and was blessed with a garland from the Lord. His anna-prasana, first feeding of rice, was celebrated with the mahaprasada of Lord Jagannatha on the ratha cart.
Jn the temple. Bhaktivinoda Thakura began regular lectures on Srimad-Bhdgavatam. Due to his association, many Mayavadi brdhmanas became devout Vaisnavas. One day, the King of Purl burst noisily into the temple, disturbing the Thakura's discourses. Unable to tolerate this disrespectful behavior, the Thakura voiced his displeasure.
"You have the right to hold the position of kingship over your small kingdom, but the Supreme Lord, Jagannatha Purusottama, is the King of all kings. Therefore it is mandatory that you show respect to His Bhakti Manclapa. where His glories
are daily sung."
The king,immediately realizing his offense, bowed before the assembled Vaisnavas, begging for their forgiveness. Later that year, the King misappropriated eighty thousand rupees from the Jagannatha Temple. Subsequently Bhaktivinoda punished the king by obliging him to make fifty-two offerings daily to Lord Jagannatha.Seeing his treasury depleting rapidly, the king sought revenge and made an attempt on the Thakura's life. A secret vajfw was performed within the confines of the palace with fifty panditas chanting mantras in order to kill the Thakura by mystic power. At the end of the thirty-day yajna, when the Thakura was supposed to die, the king's only son died.
"The king and other persons connected with the temple used to commit many illegal acts. 1 would go there to prevent all such things, and thus 1 made enemies of the king and the king's men. Because I was helped by Lord Jagannatha, no one was able to harm me in any way."After five vears of service in Puri, Thakura Bhaktivinoda was posted at different locations in Bengal and finally settled in Narail in August 1878. While residing in 1880, he published his Krsna-saiiihita. Immediately he received high acclaim for this work. The following year he published Kalyana-kalpatam, a collection of songs describing the various stages of spiritual life, from the earliest to the highest stage of prema-bhakti. It was also highly acclaimed and was accepted as an immortal work equal to the songs of Narottama dasa Thakura. In Narail, he also started to publish the monthly Vaisnava journal Sajjana-tosanJ. Its aim was to educate influential and learned people about the divine mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The Thakura now felt a great need to accept Vaisnava initiation.
"I had been searching for a suitable guru for a long time, but I did not obtain one. I was very unhappy. I was feeling very anxious, and in a dream Mahaprabhu diminished my unhappiness. In that dream, I received a little hint. That very day I became happy. One or two days later Gurudeva wrote a letter to me saying, 'I will soon come and give you dlksa."'Subsequently, he received Bipin Bihari Goswami as his guest and became his disciple. In his commentary to Sri Caitanya-caritdmrta written fourteen years later, he concluded with this prayer:
"The eminent Bipin Bihari Prabhu, who is the manifestation of the transcendental energy of Lord Hari, Who sports in the forests of Vraja, has descended in the form of the spiritual preceptor. Seeing me in the dark well of worldly existence, he has delivered this humble servant of his."
Towards the end of 1881, the Thakura again desired to visit Vrndavana, after an absence of fifteen years. He set out with his wife, his youngest son, and two servants. Upon arrival, he came down with fever, and prayed to the Lord to relieve him for the duration of his pilgrimage. The illness disappeared. While in Vrndavana, he met Jagannatha dasa Babajl Maharaja, an exalted Vaisnava coming in disciplic succession from Baladeva Vidyabhtisana. Babajl Maharaja was a constant source of inspiration and guidance for the Thakura, who became increasingly absorbed in the mission of Lord Caitanya. Upon his return, he was transferred to Jessore where he suffered from a heavy fever in accordance with his prayer in Vrndavana. Receiving medical leave, he returned to Calcutta, purchased a house—the Bhakti Bhavan—and held many meetings there to discuss spiritual topics. He expressed his realizations in an article printed in the Sajjana Tosani.
"Lord Caitanya did not advent Himself to liberate only a few men of India. Rather, His main objective was to emancipate all living entities of all countries throughout the entire universe and preach the Eternal Religion. Lord Caitanya says in the Caitanya Bhagavat: 'In every town, country and village, My name will be sung.' There is no doubt that this unquestionable order will come to pass. Very soon the unparalleled path of han-narna-sankirtana will be propagated all over the world. Oh! For that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German and American people will take up banners, mrdarigus and karatdlas, amid raised klrtana through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh for that day when the fair-skinned men from their side will raise up the chanting of Jai Saclnandana, Jai Sacinandana ki jai, and join with the Bengali devotees." (Sajjana-tosanl 1885, pp. 4-5) The article was a powerful prayer to bring the people of the world together under the banner of the Holy Name. Next, he made a bold prophecy.
"A personality will soon appear to preach the teachings of Lord Caitanya and move unrestrictedly over the whole world with His message."
As Advaita Acarya invoked the descent of Lord Caitanya through his prayer, so Thakura Bhaktivinoda invoked the descent of the person who would fulfill the ancient prophecy. In 1887, at the age of forty-nine, he discovered Sri Caitanyopanisad, which could only be found in very old manuscripts of the Atharva Veda. He wrote a Sanskrit commentary on the work. In 1886 and 1887, he produced ten books and was awarded the title Bhaktivinoda for his outstanding work of preaching and writing. He became known as Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
At this point in his life, he considered retiring from government duties to concentrate on his bhajana. One night Lord Caitanya appeared to him in a dream: "You will certainly go to Vrndavana, but first there is some service you must perform in NavadvTpa. What will you do about that?"
He requested a transfer to Navadvlpa, and on 15 November 1887, his transfer to nearby Krishnanagar was granted. He was jubilant on receiving the news, but experienced high fevers at that time. "'How shall I speak of my misfortune? Returning home in joy, I became anxious because a horrible fever came on. It did not subside. Collector Toynbee arrived and expressed a desire to postpone my substitution. But then I thought, 'I'll live or I'll die, but I will go to Krishnanagar.'"
Every Saturday he went to Navadvlpa to search out the holy birthsite of Lord Caitanya. Most of the locals had no interest in the project and he became a little discouraged. They believed that due to the shifting course of the Gahga, the actual site was lost. Others claimed the site was on the opposite bank of the river. The Thakura was neither satisfied nor convinced by these assertions. He continued his research and discovered that the present town of Navadvlpa was less than a hundred years old. On an old map, he found the town Sri Mayapura on the opposite bank, situated at the same site as the current village of Ballaldighi. Some elderly locals of the village pointed to a mound covered with tulasi, saying that it was the actual place of Lord Caitanya's birth.One day he found this verse in: "In the center of Navadvlpa there is a special place called Mayapura. At this place the Supreme Lord, Sri Gauracandra, took His birth." (Bhakti Ratnakara 12.83) To confirm his discovery, the Thakura requested the elderly Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji, who at the time was cripped and carried in basket, to come. When he was brought to the site, Babaji Maharaja became overwhelmed with ecstasy, jumped up, and exclaimed, "This is indeed the birthplace of Nimai!" The discovery lead to further research and the publication in 1890 of Sri Navadvlpa Dhama Mahatmyam describing the holy places of Lord Caitanya's pastimes. The Thakura then established his own place of bhajana, Surabhikuhja. From there, he could look out across the Jalangi River towards Mayapura. One day he had a fantastic vision; he saw a large golden city rising beyond the Ganges at the place of Sri Mayapura. He understood he was getting a glimpse of the fulfillment of Lord Caitanya's prophecy.
In August 1891, Thakura Bhaktivinoda received a iwo-year furlough from government service and began preaching from Godruma-dvlpa. He called this preaching Nama Hatta, the market place of the holy name. He traveled with three close friends to chant and lecture in many places. Altogether, the Thakura established over five hundred Nama Hatta sahgas, and in this period, he also wrote profusely, producing eighteen books! "We performed nama-sanklrtana everywhere. After coming to my house in Calcutta, I proceeded to Surabhikuhja and we performed a great deal of sahkuiana there too."Government service had now become a hindrance to his real work ofsahklrtana, preaching the glories of the holy name. He retired to Surabhikuhja at the age of fifty-six. Determined to build a temple in Mayapura, he went door to door in Calcutta begging donations. As the foundation for the temple was being dug, a Deity of Adhoksaja Visnu was found. Referring to the Vaisnava scriptures, the Thakura discovered that this was the family Deity worshipped by Jagannatha Misra, Mahaprabhu's father. The archeological evidence further confirmed the authenticity of the birthsite of the Lord.
On Gaura Purnima, 21 March 1895, the temple was opened with an enormous installation ceremony and sahklrtana festival. The occasion was compared to the Kheturi festival, which was organized by Narottama dasa Thakura to unite the followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura installed deities of Lord Caitanya and His eternal consort Visnupriya Devi as thousands of Vaisnavas at the celebration chanted, danced and feasted.The following year, 1896, was one of the momentous moments in Vaisnava history. A small book entitled Caitanya Mahaprabhu—His Life and Precepts was written in English by the Thakura, and was sent to major university libraries around the world. On 1 September of that year in Calcutta, a vas born to Gaura Mohan De and his wife. Their son,Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, was destined to fulfill the Thakura's prediction.With natural humility, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada gave the credit to his Guru Maharaja as follows:
"Thakura Bhaktivinoda also wanted to beget a son who could preach the philosophy and teachings of Lord Caitanya to the fullest extent. By his prayers to the Lord, he had as his child Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati GosvamI Maharaja, who at the present moment is preaching the philosophy of Lord Caitanya throughout the entire world through his bona fide disciples." (Srimad-Bhagavatam lecture, Iran, August 8, 1976) The prediction also applied to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but the personality moving "unrestrictedly over the whole world with the message of Mahaprabhu" was certainly Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Therefore, we can say that both of these great personalities fulfilled Lord Caitanya's prophecy, because the sincere disciple was never separated from the instructions of his Guru Maharaja.Returning to Purl in 1900, Thakura Bhaktivinoda established a place for his bhajana, called Bhakti Kutir, which was near the samadhi of Srila Haridasa Thakura. In the same year, one of his most important books, Sri Harinama Cintamani, was published.
In 1908, he gave up his household life and accepted initiation into the Babaji order of life from Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji Maharaja, a renowned paramahamsa saint. He put on the outer cloth and kaupina previously worn by Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji Maharaja, which he had saved since the Babaji entered samadhi. After a brilliant life in which he had single-handedly re-established the Vaisnava dharma according to the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Thakura Bhaktivinoda retired from public life and spent his final years in solitude, ecstatically tasting the nectar of pure krsna-prema. On 23 June 1914, on the disappearance day of Sri Gadadhara Pandita, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura mourned the passing of his father, Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Immediately, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta began printing the various books that his father had left unpublished, and he also continued to publish Sajjana Tosani.