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Shrila Sacchidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura
When Sarasvati Thakura was young he was often taken to visit holy places of Bengal by his father, Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Bengal abounds in holy places connected to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates. Once they set out for Kulina-grama, a village whose inhabitants were very dear to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (see Chaitanya-charitamrita Adi-lila 10.80-83). Arriving there late one evening, father and son were given a house to stay in. Next morning the villagers asked, “Did you sleep comfortably?” Bhaktivinoda replied, “Yes! Thank you very much.” Surprised, the villagers asked, “How could you sleep? That house is haunted by a brahma-raksasa. We had no other place to give you. But no-one can sleep there peacefully because of disturbances from the ghost.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura replied, “Yes, that ghost came and tried to disturb us. But I chanted the Hare Krishna maha-mantra very loudly. As a result, not only did the ghost go away, but I can assure you he will not trouble anyone else any more.” Astonished, the villagers asked Bhaktivinoda Thakura, “How could you send him away by chanting Hare Krishna? He was a priest here in this village and he chanted Hare Krishna throughout his life. How then, did he become a ghost, and how was it that your chanting has sent him away?” Bhaktivinoda Thakura explained that the priest’s chanting could not have been actual chanting at all. Sinful people make a show of chanting with the intention of acquiring wealth and reputation. Such so-called chanting is only cheating. It is not actual chanting.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura quoted Jagadananda Pandita’s Prema-vivarta:
asadhu-sange bhai nama kabhu naya,
bahire namaksara bate, tabe nama nahi haya
“Those not in the association of bona-fide devotees, strictly following their instructions, cannot actually chant the holy names. Even though they may externally vibrate the sound, ‘Hare Krishna’, that is not actually the name of Krishna.” The name of Krishna is non-different from Krishna. It is completely pure and spiritual. Krishna-nama does not allow Himself to be hijacked by materialists. This man never actually chanted the Hare Krishna mantra even once in his life. On the contrary, he was a sinful person who wanted to use the name for sense gratification. Because of the great offense of taking Krishna’s name to cheat people, he became a ghost. When I chanted, Krishna was pleased to manifest Himself as that sound. A sinful ghost cannot stay in the presence of such chanting.”
This incident was published in a famous daily newspaper of Bengal, the “Amrta Bazaar Patrika.” After this, the glories of Bhaktivinoda Thakura became widely known for the first time.
Family and Personal Details
Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s family, on his mother’s side, had been living for several hundred years in Orissa, but they still retained the Bengali language. They considered themselves Bengalis and inter-married only with Bengalis. Bhaktivinoda Thakura himself married a second time, after his first wife died.
This was following the rigid caste and family rules governing marriage in India. Different communities would keep their particular identity. It isn’t that they have any bad feelings with any other community, but they just like to keep their own customs, culture, language, etc.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura was very fond of puris, and was very quick in eating, bathing, etc. not wasting time with these things. He was a magistrate and a family man with so many social responsibilities. However, despite all of these engagements in the material world, he would perform them quickly and in this way was able to do so much for spreading Krishna consciousness, even though a family man with so many responsibilities.
While sleeping Bhaktivinoda Thakura never used a pillow but would use his arm to rest on instead.
He came to Orissa from Bengal, and because at that time there were no trains along that route, he traveled by road. He would carry satu (a powder made by grinding wheat or chick-pea flour) with him, mixing it with water and a little flavor before eating it. This was a very simple food preparation.
For breakfast he would often take mo-anna (rice, cooked in a lot of water until it becomes very soft; something like the rice-soup of the Chinese.) Mo-anna is the Oriya name and fenabhat is the Bengali. He would take some bananas and maha-prasada breakfast, before proceeding to Kendrapara.
He was known as “balava baba” in the Chotimangalapur area, Kendrapara, etc. Balava actually means “one who has many hairs all over his body”, but this was not said in an insulting way.
At the time of Bhaktivinoda Thakura there lived one British administrate, in Orissa, named Hunt. He was responsible for compiling a book on the history of Orissa and also wrote for the government journal called “The Gazette”, about the happenings in Orissa. In one particular article he wrote that he himself had noted how Bhaktivinoda Thakura (known as Kedaranatha Datta at the time) was a very capable, honest and faithful man, who was engaged at the time as a school-teacher in Orissa and Mednapur. He then explained how he induced Kedaranatha into working in administration. During this period, as administrator of the Puri temple, and as district magistrate of Puri, it was noted how Bhaktivinoda Thakura introduced, for the first time, a guard, to watch over the wheels of the Jagannatha Ratha-cart, so as no one would be crushed during the parade.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura noted once how some foolish people had brought a dog into the temple of Jagannatha and had even installed a dog as the “deity” (dog murti) there for worship; thus being grossly offensive to Lord Jagannatha. The dog worship was soon stopped, however, and the dog deity was removed by the Thakura, and he also banned dogs from entering the temple.
This story of the Raghunatha-sila was heard by Sadanugraha Prabhu, who was a family relative of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and also initiated by Sarasvati Thakura. He heard this story from his father, who, even though not initiated by Sarasvati Thakura, was respected by Sarasvati Thakura, who was very friendly to him, as he was an elderly person in the family.
Whilst living in Choti (there were two villages — Choti and Mangalpur), in Orissa, near Kendrapara, Bhaktivinoda Thakura used to worship patita-pavana Jagannatha (only Jagannatha, without Baladeva and Subhadra), Bala Gopala (a Deity of baby Krishna on His hands and knees, holding some laddu in His hand. This is a very popular Deity in Indian households), and the Raghunatha-sila.
The family Deities were Jagannatha and Bala Gopala — Raghunatha came later. Jagannatha had been worshipped in the family for around 400 years. He was brought from Bengal, along with Gopala, when the family’s ancestors moved to Orissa.
Although Bengalis, their family had been living in Orissa for many years, even before the time of Bhaktivinoda’s grandfather.
Seeing as they were landlords and many people would come to see them for many different reasons — maybe for favors, or to settle disputes, etc. — the Datta’s had a system in their family home, where they would supply nice facilities to anyone who came. People were able to bath, cook, take their meal, and in those hot summer days, take some rest, and then when they were refreshed they could meet with whoever they wished to see. This was the common system in those days, not just in the Datta’s house, but in many households: it was the general system used by all Zamindars (landlords, who are practically like small kings in the villages). This facility was especially extended to brahmanas. Wherever they would go they’d be fed, and even anyone traveling like that met with such hospitality. This was the culture and etiquette that was prevalent then in India.
One day an unknown brahmana called to the Datta’s house. All he was carrying was some shoulder-bag, which was unusual, because he had come quite far. He was an unknown person, not from any neighboring village, and therefore might be expected to be carrying more than just a small shoulder-bag, which didn’t look as if it had much in it anyway. People in those days knew everyone around for about several neighboring villages, and as this brahmana was not known to anyone they concluded that he had traveled some distance. It was not the route taken by travelers. He arrived around mid-day, between twelve and one o’clock, so the people of the Datta household requested him, in the usual way, to please take advantage of the facilities available (brahmanas in those days would especially cook for themselves and would never take food from the lower castes). The Datta’s were not brahmanas but kayasthas (who were generally administrators — considered by some to be between brahmanas and ksatriyas, and by others to be sudras), so they asked him to please go and take bath in the nearby canal and then come and cook, and they would supply all the necessary ingredients. That brahmana was also given oil for taking bath. After smearing it on his body he went to the irrigation canal close by. However, that canal was dried up, as it was the summer season, so they arranged for him to go to the River Bhirupala, which ran close to the side of the village near their house. However, that brahmana never returned from that river.
Everyone was waiting, and when he still hadn’t come by mid-afternoon, Sadanugraha’s grandfather (the head of the house at that time) sent some people to search for him. They were fearful that maybe he had drowned or something horrible like this, so many people went and searched thoroughly for him, but no trace of that brahmana was ever found, which astonished and saddened the people.
Before going to take bath that brahmana had placed his bag just inside the door of the family temple, but the family members did not want to search it, out of respect, so the family priest was requested to please look inside it. To everyone’s surprise and amazement, inside the bag was a salagrama of Raghunathaji, which was quite big and beautiful, with a large mouth. Inside the mouth, was another salagrama-sila, around three inches high, with a cakra (the mark of a wheel).
Sadanugraha’s father was convinced that brahmana was none other than Raghunatha Himself. He remarked, “Without informing us in advance He has come incognito to our house. He has graced us.” “Now what shall we do with this salagrama-sila ?” he inquired. The priest advised that the salagrama must be worshipped regularly now that He had come, and from that day on, Raghunathaji has been worshipped there in that village home.
It was discovered that Raghunathaji was very fond of bananas, so many people would go there and offer them to Him. Of course, most of them were devotees with materialistic desires to be fulfilled. They knew that they should worship that Raghunatha Deity by offering many bananas and then their wishes would be fulfilled immediately.
Sadanugraha recalls how his father used to purchase 5-6 unripe bunches of bananas at one time and hang them in the thatch of the house (it was a thatched-roofed house), and then, gradually, as they became ripe, he would offer them to Raghunatha. In this way, there would always be a plentiful supply for Him.
Once Sadanugraha’s father bought five bunches of bananas, and, to the amazement of everyone, they all became ripe in just one day, which was quite astonishing. Maybe one or two might become ripe in one day, but for all of them to do so was very unusual, to say the least. It was finally concluded by each and everyone present that this was caused by none other than Raghunathaji Himself, so they offered all the bananas to Him, but from that time on, instead of purchasing many bunches, only one bunch at a time was bought, for they thought Raghunatha would eat many bananas.
At that village home they have Durga-puja every year, which dates back a long time to their ancestors. This is a nine-day festival — Nava-ratri. They would offer bananas to Durga Devi that had first been offered to Raghunathaji in this festival.
In their house, the family priest used to perform the worship each morning at around 8.00 a.m.
Whatever Sadanugraha’s father got he would utilize for the worship of the Deity, making nice ornaments for Them also, preferring to make jewelry for the Deities rather than for the women of the household. He would point out how Raghunatha had come of His own accord, being very merciful to them, so they should receive Him properly and be very particular about His worship. He would emphasize that if the worship of Raghunathaji ever stopped, then, just as Raghunathaji had come of His own accord, He would also leave of His own accord. The Deities worshipped at Choti are still there to this day.
As headmaster of Kendrapara High School, Bhaktivinoda Thakura used to go everyday from Choti to Kendrapara by palki (a hand-carried palanquin). Sixteen men would carry it: six at the back, six at the front, and four extra. It was very big; so much so, that the headmaster would stretch out and sleep in it while being carried, with bedding and big pillows supplied. The distance was 8-9 km, which they covered in around an hour, by running. That palanquin was nearly six feet long by about three and a half feet wide, plus the handles.
In the morning he would leave Choti and return in the evening, and while going and coming he would sleep, despite the jerking motion made by the palanquin. At that time it was a common system of transport among the richer classes in the villages. That palanquin Sadanugraha wanted to preserve but his relatives thoroughly destroyed it.
Building Projects and Preaching
Close to Chotimangalapur was Derabish, where the king of Aul lived (that whole area was Aul). While digging at Choti to make the foundation for a house a jar was unearthed. Without opening it Bhaktivinoda Thakura took it to the Auli king. On opening it there was nothing inside but mud, although the people had been expecting money, because people would sometimes bury their wealth in those days.
A certain king of the area called Aul (a princely state in Orissa, near to Choti), once invited Bhaktivinoda Thakura to visit at Derabish. The king, knowing the Thakura to be a great sadhu, gave a plot of land as a donation for building an asrama. While digging the land for building to commence, a jar of gold coins was discovered in the earth. This was a common system in India for people to bury their wealth, but sometimes they would die without anyone even knowing where it was hidden.
That jar of coins came into Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s possession, but he handed it over to the king saying, “You have given me the plot of land but the gold is yours.” To which the king replied, “No, no. You keep it.” However, despite the king’s insistence, Bhaktivinoda Thakura would not take that jar of money and adamantly declared, “No. You keep it.” The king and everyone else present became impressed by this amazing display of honesty. This story was told to the villagers of Choti by Sarasvati Thakura. Eventually, Bhaktivinoda Thakura made a prapanasrama there, but unfortunately that asrama is no longer there. Many prapanasramas were established by Bhaktivinoda, such as Amala Jhora in Mednapur District, West Bengal, which was run by Bhaktivilasa Prabhu, a householder disciple of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Jagannatha Dasa Babaji also came to that asrama, as did Madhusudana Goswami. Most of the prapanasramas he established in the Howrah and Mednapur districts. One of them, at Ula, Birnanagar, Nadia District, was placed under the care of Lalita Prasada Thakura. In .... district also there is a prapanasrama. Bhaktivinoda would install the Deities of Gaura Nitai.
At Jagannatha Vallabha Udyan, in Puri, Bhaktivinoda Thakura established a bhakti asrama, for the specific purpose of discussions on bhakti.
One time Bhaktivinoda Thakura was desiring to go to Vrndavana to reside there, but at a certain town along the way, he took rest in a Siva temple, and at night the Deity there told him in a dream, “Don’t go to Vrndavana but rather preach the cult of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura followed this advice and wrote many books against all the bogus and wrong ideas prevalent at that time, especially those pertaining to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Krishna consciousness. Upon waking from that dream he decided not to go to Vrndavana and started searching for the Chaitanya Bhagavata. After much searching through different shops and many asramas, he finally found a copy in a Calcutta store which was, unfortunately, riddled with errors. However, he took that copy to Vrndavana and got it checked with some eminent Vaishnavas there, and was finally able to bring out a corrected copy. The copy he brought out was just a small one without even any commentary.
Disciples and His Disappearance
The disciples of Shrila Bhaktivinoda were given harinama and Nrsimha mantras, just as he had given the Nrsimha mantra to Sarasvati Thakura when he was a young boy. Bimala Prasada was taken by Bhaktivinoda Thakura on many of his travels in Bengal and Orissa. [..] peculiarity that Bhaktivinoda, even before formally taking diksa from Vipina Vihari Goswami, was giving Nrsimha mantra to Bimala Prasad. He didn’t get that Nrsimha mantra from anyone but still he was giving it. So we may say that this is a very peculiar practice, but actually this is just confirmation that he was a siddha from the very beginning, and, therefore, above all the rules and regulations that govern the neophyte.
At Buxi Bazaar, Chuttak, there was a teacher named Bhagat, who was a very humorous friend of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s, who told him to make Panca-tattva murtis instead of Durga Puja murtis at that time, because Mahaprabhu came to Chuttak at the time of Durga puja. That practice of worshipping Chaitanya Mahaprabhu during Durga puja time is still continued at Buxi Bazaar. Bhaktivinoda Thakura disappeared in Calcutta, and on that day Sarasvati Thakura was in Mayapur. He got a telegram and tried to go to Calcutta, but due to heavy rain he was delayed. Sarasvati Thakura wanted to put him in samadhi but Bhaktivinoda’s sons burned his body and put his ashes in the Ganga, thinking of him with material vision as their father, not considering him as a transcendental personality, so Sarasvati Thakura made a puspa samadhi in Godruma.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote a letter, mentioning three points what he (Sarasvati Thakura) should do:
1. to establish varnasrama dharma;
2. to make a printing press in Mayapur;
3. not to be a miser; not to only do your bhajana, but to preach door to door.
Jagannatha Dasa Babaji first instructed Bhaktivinoda Thakura in the chanting of the mantra shri krishna chaitanya prabhu nityananda shri advaita gadadhara shrivasadi gaura bhakta vrnda.