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3. Birth and Infancy
DURING the time his father was away, Kedaranatha was born in Birnagar (Ulagram or Ula). At the time of his birth, an astrologer sat marking the time with an hourglass, and an English account of the time was also kept. Kedaranatha was born in the time of the British East India Company's ascendancy. The last powerful Muslim ruler, Shah Alam, had lived only to see the troops of the British East India Company march into Delhi in 1803. In the first half of the 19th Century a number of wars of conquest were waged by the British. The Marathas, who had previously become very powerful under their king, Shivaji, were crushed in three grueling wars; their confederacy was thus broken, and with it any hopes for self-rule, by 1818. From 1818 to 1857, during the time Kedaranatha came of age and was educated, the British fought a number of wars of annexation, and by 1857 almost two thirds of the subcontinent had fallen to them. Bengal, and especially Calcutta, was a hub of the East India Company's trading operation.
Kedaranatha's maternal grandfather, an aristocratic landholder, was fabulously wealthy. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura describes in his autobiography: "My maternal grandfather had incomparable wealth and a grand estate. There were hundreds of male and female servants. When I was born I was a good weight. I had an older brother Abhayakali, who had previously died, and a second brother, Kaliprasanna, was still living. I was my father's third son. It was said that of all my brothers I was a little ugly. But my mother said, 'Very well, let this boy be the servant of the rest, just let him live a long time.' My mother told me that when I was eight months old I got a boil on my thigh and as a result I became weak and emaciated. I also heard that while I was being carried in the arms of my nurse, Shibu, down a flight of stairs, I cut my tongue on my teeth. To this day I have a scar [on my tongue]. This happened around the time my teeth were coming in."
When the boy was almost two years old, his father returned from Orissa. His nurse later told him that a few days before his return, the boy saw a crow flying to a perch, and he composed a rhyme:
kak, kal, jhingera phool
baba aseta, nade baso
"O crow, Kal, flower of the Jhinga squash, father comes, sit aside."
As he spoke, the crow changed his position. Some people nearby noticed this and said, "Oh, your father must certainly be coming soon." His father arrived a few days later.