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NITAAI-Veda.nyf > Other Scriptures by Acharyas > Biographies of Acharyas > Bhaktivinoda Thakura > Bhaktivinoda Thakura > College

6. College

KEDARANATHA developed talent as a philosopher and a debater. In the year 1856 he enrolled in the Hindu School, or what later came to be known as the University of Calcutta. Kedaranatha became the student of Iswara Chandra Vidyasagar, a reputed scholar and the author of Samagra Vyakarana-kaumudi. In that year a university was started and classes were held in the Presidency College. The senior classes of the Hindu School were held in the West Wing, Sanskrit College was in the middle section and junior classes were held in the East Wing. Kedaranatha began to write poetry for which he was much respected and praised and which gradually came to the attention of the Principal. An Englishman named George Thompson, a former member of parliament, taught him the art of oratory. Mr. Thompson told Kedaranatha that he used to deliver lectures to the corn fields on his way from his house to parliament. Pretending that the plants were the members of parliament, he would speak freely to them, and in this way had become an expert and pleasing speaker. Kedaranatha also pursued his studies privately by spending time at libraries like Metcalf Hall and being tutored by the Christian missionaries.

Kedaranatha's friend, Shri Tarak Nath Palit, who bore the expenses for establishing the Science College, invited him to speak at the British Indian Society, which many pro-British zamindars and Europeans attended. Kedaranatha was invited to become a member, and he eventually gave a lecture there concerning the evolution of matter through the material mode of goodness. At the end of 1856 he had completed Part One of the Poriade, which was an account in epic verse form of the wanderings of Porus, who fought Alexander the Great in the pre-Christian era. It was well received by his teachers. We see the continuing thread of existential questioning appearing in the pages of his epic, when Porus, the hero, shoots a deer and then begins to feel the sorrow inherent in material life:

Now sad reflection clouds his mental realm,

And questions past our thought his heart o'erwhelm:

"From whom is life? and whence this frame of man?

What mighty power has formed this mighty plan?

Why live we here? and why desire and feel?

For what we turn with Time's revolving wheel?

I eat, and live, and sleep, and spend the day

But never think of these! my life is gay!

From this awaking hour I let my eyes

Select my way, led by the guiding Skies.

This day I leave my ever-gorgeous vest

To visit lands, extending in the west.

Ye woods! be witness, I my country leave

And come not back until my end achieve."

Reverend Duff instructed him in the works of Milton at this time, and at the house of a missionary, he read the works of Carlyle, Hazlitt and others. His poems were published in the Literary Gazette. Some of his classmates called him Mr. ABC. He also studied the Koran, and the works of Theodore Parker, Channing and Newman.

Kedaranatha decided to go to Ula to visit his family. Spending a night with his in-laws, he left by boat for his home. There was a great storm that night but somehow he reached the ghat at Ula safely. "The next day, by the grace of God, we reached the landing at Ula without mishap. In the late evening, in the month of Asvin, the light of the moon was very splendid there. Prior to that evening I had received no news of Ula... That year there was a fearful epidemic in the village of Ula. The family of Mahesh Dada had come to Calcutta in the month of Bhadra because they were ill but had not said anything to me... Upon disembarking I saw some people who, being mad with the happiness which comes from hopelessness, were laughing and joking. The village was empty. As they were under the influence of ganja [marijuana] they perceived no suffering. I questioned them but they gave no answers. [My friend] and I were amazed by the sight of them. Departing from the boat, we went to the house of Madhusudan. When we looked through the door we saw Madhusudan Vasu sitting on a low wooden seat. I paid respects to him and he addressed me, saying, 'O Kedar, stay here for the rest of the day; go to your house in the morning.'" There had been an outbreak of cholera and many persons had died, generally within four or five hours of symptoms first appearing. The words of the mystic guru had come true. Hearing this on his arrival, Kedaranatha wanted to proceed to his house to know the situation fully. When he arrived, he learned that his sister had died. His mother and paternal grandmother were there in great distress, and his mother, though recovering, had been delirious for many days. Ula was the scene of a great disaster. Hundreds had died. Some of the villagers were blaming the epidemic on the tantric brahmacari whom Kedaranatha used to visit. They foolishly theorized that a goat which he had freed to take the fever out of the village had actually spread it.

Taking his mother and grandmother in a boat, Kedaranatha proceeded to Ranaghat, the home of his wife, and heard the news that she had also been ill but was recovering. The Thakura recalls, "The day before we departed I went to many places in Ulagram. In a great number of homes there were no people [left alive]. At some homes there was [heard] the cry of pain of those who were sick. At some homes there were bodies lying around. At other homes there was little life. Some of the survivors were making preparations to leave Ula. Many had already left. It was the time of Durga-puja but there was no happiness [anywhere]." Staying at the house of his uncle, Kali Krishna, in Calcutta, Kedaranatha cared for his mother and grandmother. Times were difficult. He had no money and there were great hardships. He tried to take the college entrance examination but was unable to prepare properly in an atmosphere of anxiety about his family members. Then he began to get recurrent fevers, which were finally cured by his taking quinine.

Although suffering from financial deprivation and recurrent illness, Kedaranatha did not reveal his troubles to others. He continued to meet with his friends, especially Dvijendranath Tagore. At that time he read many books with his friend on the science of God and religion, including Sanskrit books, as well as Western philosophers like Kant, Goethe, Hegel, Swedenborg, Hume, Schopenhauer, Voltaire, etc. This helped remove the anxiety from his heart. He gave a philosophical discourse to the British Indian Society, which was thought very deep by the Englishmen present, yet, a teacher of Kedaranatha's, Mr. Dal, raised a question which Kedaranatha took seriously: "How will the acquisition of such knowledge benefit mankind?" At another meeting of the British Indian Society, Kedaranatha recited the twenty-five stories of the Vetala (a type of ghost that inhabits corpses), which he had translated from the Vetala-panca-vimsati of Somadeva in the form of a play in English. His recitation was followed by a great debate, and from that day his contemporaries began to broadcast his glories as a logician.

When Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a young scholar, he received a similar reputation as a master of nyaya, or logic, and was thus known as Nimai Pandita. No one in the Vaishnava assembly at the meetings of Advaita Acarya and Shrivasa Pandita had any notion that He would prove to be the greatest Vaishnava. Such was the case with Kedaranatha. As a logician no one could defeat him, but this was not his true glory. The time for his manifesting his actual glories was yet to come, just as the exalted position of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was not fully revealed until later in his life-when the time, place and circumstances were appropriate-and Krishna utilized him for the purpose for which He brought him to the world.

Kedaranatha was fascinated by theism, and he spent his time studying the Bible, the Koran and the works of Parker and Newman. He developed deep faith in Jesus Christ. Whatever he read, he discussed with Dvijendranath. The Sepoy Mutiny occurred at this time. He read the newspaper every evening in the Tagores' parlor and learned the news before it was published by hearing the many discussions that took place there. The Thakura does not dwell upon the uprising in his autobiography, but there was much discussion and agitation in Calcutta's intellectual circles at the time, as many of the Sepoy rebels were Bengali soldiers. Calcutta also served as a haven for both British and Indians who fled the horrors of the rebellion.

The background of the mutiny was that the British, through their aggressive annexations, their construction of intimidating public works, their vigorous promotion of British style education, their contempt for the traditions of caste-ism and other ancient customs, and above all, their all too common disdain for the Indians as a race, were igniting feelings of resentment among large sections of the Indian people. A contemporary educated Indian critic declared: "The British Government professes to educate the Natives to an equality with Europeans, an object worthy of the age and of Britain. But if Englishmen, after educating the Natives to be their equals, continue to treat them as their inferiors-if they deny the stimulus to honourable ambition, and show the Natives that there is a barrier over which superior Native merit and ambition can never hope to pass ... are they not in effect undoing all that they have done, unteaching the Native all that he has been taught, and pursuing a suicidal policy, which will inevitably array all the talent, honour and intelligence of the country ultimately in irreconcilable hostility to the ruling power?" This analysis later proved to be correct.

The Sepoy Mutiny stemmed from a multiplicity of underlying currents of dissatisfaction and fears-some groundless, some decidedly not. But the spark that ignited the Great Mutiny (Sepoy Rebellion) was the introduction of the Enfield rifle. The Indian sepoys (soldiers) were expected to bite open the end of cartridges which were rumored to be coated with beef and pork fat. This greatly offended both the Hindus and the Muslims. When eighty-five Indian soldiers in Meerut were publicly dishonored and sentenced to ten years imprisonment for refusing to use the cartridges, there was open and murderous rebellion. Three sepoy regiments revolted, killed their British officers and their families, who chanced to be on their way to church, and headed for Delhi. The revolt spread and Delhi, Lucknow and Kanpur fell to the rebels, who massacred every European they could lay hands on. However, by March of 1858 reconquest by the British and those Indian regiments that remained loyal was complete. During this period of turmoil there was much savagery on both sides, and ultimately inexcusable acts of revenge. Some reforms followed, however, with some genuine attempts to assuage Indian sentiments, and the transfer of power was made from the East Indian Company to the British Crown.

Visiting Burdwan, Kedaranatha got the opportunity to stay with the King, Maharaja Pratap Chandra, at the time of Dola-yatra. He presented the king with a copy of his Poriade, and the king read parts of it and liked it very much. Kedaranatha returned to Calcutta with many ambitions, but no money or help were available to him. He recalls: "Upon returning from Burdwan I saw that my maternal grandmother was bedridden at uncle Kali's house. I was thinking many things, [such as] 'I will study, I will make money, I will print books, I will lecture in many places. I will get somewhere where my mother and grandmother and my wife can all live together.' But there was no money. No help. Everyone was a calculating outsider. No one made even a little effort to help." He was then persuaded, against his better judgment, to go on an excursion by rail. "Upon returning I was put to shame. I was thinking of enjoying an excursion, but what was the condition of my grandmother? That I did not know. When I returned to Kali Kaka's house in the afternoon, I saw mother ... calling me from the doorway, 'Go at once to the ghat on the Ganga. Your uncle Kali took your grandmother there.' I was wearing only one piece of cloth but I went swiftly to Nimatal Ghat. There I saw my grandmother, and Kali Kaka was performing antarjali [final ablutions] ... Her final suffering was unbearable, and thus there was much benefit for her in dying. When I lived in Ula she was very good to me. I read Kali-kaivalyadayini and other books with her ... You could not find a woman who was as frugal as she and who would pay such painstaking attention to details. She would make various kinds of dishes and sweets. What she knew [of the culinary art] no others knew."

His wife, then twelve years old and living at Ranaghat, begged Kedaranatha to be allowed to come and stay with him in Calcutta. He assured her that she could come when he had employment. He got a job as a second grade teacher in the Hindu Charitable Institution School, which he had earlier attended, at a pay of fifteen rupees per month. He was about nineteen at this time. It was 1857 and the height of the Sepoy Mutiny. Kedaranatha rented a house for his mother and wife, and furnished it with ... one cot, two canopy beds, one table, two chairs, and one clothes rack", but he could not maintain the expenses. His mother had to sell a gold necklace to pay the back rent.

Kedaranatha continued his writing and somehow managed to publish the second volume of the Poriade. During this time, he met an elderly, eccentric English poetess named Mrs. Locke, who very much appreciated Kedaranatha's poetry. She was a spiritualist and would show various ghostly manifestations. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura reports, She would have spirits come and dance on her table. She could see the spirits, but I could only hear the sound of their dancing." He dedicated Book I of The Poriade to her with the words: "To Mrs. E. Lock. Authoress of 'Leisure Hours' Etc. Etc. This book is most respectfully inscribed by her obliged and obedient servant, The Author." It is not stated in his biography whether or not she helped him publish his book, but he clearly felt some measure of obligation, as above expressed.

Kedaranatha was trying his best to secure employment, and he applied for the post of accountant with a sugar merchant, who attempted to give him some training. The young man was surprised to see the cheating involved: "When I purchased a large quantity of sugar I obtained an [extra] sack of sugar. I noticed this and considered it irreligious to cheat. I therefore informed the merchant..." The merchant advised him that it would be better for him to get a job as a teacher-that business life would be difficult for one of his principles.