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18. Discovery of Lord Shri Chaitanya's Birthsite
IN 1887, when the Thakura was forty-nine years old, he began to reflect on his retirement. He revealed his mind in his autobiography: "I recovered fully from my head ailment, and I constantly studied the devotional literatures. Because of associating with devotees I became more renounced. I thought, 'I have spent my days in a futile way. I have not accomplished much. I have not been able to obtain even a little taste of service to Shri Sac-cid-ananda-svarupa Radha-Krishna. Therefore, I will retire, and taking my pension I will find some little place in the groves of Vraja near the bank of the Yamuna and perform bhajana with my friend, Bhaktibhringa, until the end of my life.'"
The Thakura approached his intimate friend, Shri Ramsevak Bhaktibhringa, for consultation, and they had some heartfelt discussions. At this time the Thakura was composing the Amnaya-sutram-130 Sanskrit sutras describing the Absolute Truth, with a Bengali commentary called Laghu-bhashya and a Bengali translation of the sutras. Following the consultations with Bhaktibhringa, the Thakura went to perform some governmental work in Tarakeswar and Bhaktibhringa Prabhu went to Calcutta. The Thakura spent the night in Tarakeswar, and while he slept, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared to him in his dreams and told him: "You will certainly go to Vrindavan, but first there is some service you must perform in Navadvipa. What will you do about that?" Returning from Tarakeswar, he again consulted his friend who advised him to transfer to Navadvipa-dhama. The Thakura requested Mr. Peacock for this transfer, but Mr. Peacock felt that a transfer so soon after coming to Shrirampur would be improper. The Thakura was filled with transcendental anxiety. He declined offers thereafter of personal assistantship to the Chief Commissioner of Assam and the office of the Minister of Tiperrah State, both offices carrying tremendous prestige and generous salary. The Thakura then submitted his application for retirement, but the application was not accepted. Finally, he approached Babu Radha Madhava Vasu, who was the Deputy Magistrate of Krishnanagar and worked out a mutual transfer with him-the Krishnanagar post for the Shrirampur post. This proposal was submitted to the government, but Mr. Peacock was absent and Mr. Edgar was on duty. The transfer, however, was approved and notification to that effect came on November 15, 1887.
The Thakura was jubilant, but he was then overwhelmed by high fevers. He writes: "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.'" The Thakura received sick-leave and proceeded to Navadvipa. "Thus, in my bed-ridden condition I chose to go. My wife and Mahendra Mama went with me. There was a little difficulty on the way, but in the ecstasy of going to Navadvipa I felt untroubled." The Thakura began to perform a few minor duties in Krishnanagar, but soon collapsed. A Doctor Russell informed him that if he did not take medicine and a proper convalescence diet he would die. The Thakura had taken only milk for forty-five days. "From time to time I thought, 'Many obstacles are a good sign.'" Doctor Russell prescribed quinine, that chapatis be eaten every day, and other medicines.
During the Christmas break the Thakura took a train to Navadvipa with his wife. He writes, "Upon arriving there and surveying the land in all four directions, the hairs on my body stood on end." Proceeding to the Rani Dharmasala, the Thakura arranged for an offering to be cooked for Lord Chaitanya. He then took grains for the first time in many days and commented: "Since my birth I had not eaten such nectarean food." After this, the Thakura gradually regained his strength and began to come to Navadvipa every Saturday to search out the site of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's birth. However, most of the local people had little interest in or actual knowledge of the holy sites of Navadvipa, and the Thakura became a little discouraged. Most of the local inhabitants expressed the opinion that the site of Lord Chaitanya's birth was in Navadvipa, but the Thakura was not convinced. Another theory was that the actual site had been lost under the shifting path of the Ganges. Still not satisfied, he continued to try to establish where the authentic birthplace was located.
One Saturday evening, the Thakura was sitting on the roof of the Rani Dharmasala in Navadvipa with his third son, Kamal Prasad, and a friend who was a clerk. It was 10 o'clock and very dark, as the sky was covered with clouds. The Thakura gives his account: "Across the Ganga, in the northern direction, I saw a large mansion flooded with light. When I asked Kamal [about this], he confirmed that he had seen it also. When I asked the clerk, he said, 'I didn't see anything.' I was utterly amazed by that. When I looked carefully at that area in the morning from the roof of Rani's house, I saw a tal [palm] tree located there. Inquiring from others about the place, they said it was known as Ballaldighi, which was near the ruins of the old fort and kingdom of Laksman Sen." Upon inquiring of various persons, the Thakura learned that adjacent to that place was the large pond of King Ballal Sen from which the town got its name, and aside from that there was nothing of importance. The following Saturday he went to Ballaldighi where at night he again had a wonderful vision. He spent the next day wandering all over the site. The elderly locals told him that this was indeed the location of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's birth. They pointed out an extensive mound covered with Tulasi plants as the actual site of His appearance.
In order to substantiate his growing conviction, the Thakura began to conduct an investigation utilizing old manuscripts of the Chaitanya-bhagavata, Bhakti-ratnakara and Narahari Sarakar Thakura's Navadvipa-parikrama-paddhati, as well as antique maps of the district. In particular, he found an old map from the time of Ganga-Govinda Singh, who was the Naib Diwan of the Kalsa and founder of the Paikpara Raj family which flourished in the latter part of the eighteenth century. The name "Shri Mayapura" was found on the map to indicate the site of what became known as Ballaldighi. He ascertained a good deal about the different villages of the area from his research with the manuscripts and maps and from the local villagers as well. He found to his great astonishment that the town on the western banks of the Ganges, now called Navadvipa, was actually a place of less than one-hundred years standing, and that there were still people living there who declared that in their youth they had moved to the new town from the old site at Ballaldighi. He also found that this town of Navadvipa could not possibly be the site of Lord Chaitanya's appearance, because Lord Chaitanya had appeared on the eastern bank of the Ganges. Furthermore, the elderly villagers of Ballaldighi even called the area Mayapura. Then, while reading the Bhakti-ratnakara, the Thakura found the following verse which confirmed his discovery beyond a doubt:
navadvipa madhye mayapura name sthan
yathaya janmilen gauracandra bhagavan
"In the center of Navadvipa there is a place called Mayapura. At this place the Supreme Lord, Gaurachandra, took His birth."
This monumental discovery took place toward the beginning of 1888, and it was a landmark event in the history of Vaishnavism. The site of the divine appearance of Lord Chaitanya, after being lost for several generations, was again revealed to the world by Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Wishing to confirm it even more resoundingly, the Thakura later requested Shrila Jagannatha dasa Babaji Maharaja, the head of the Gaudiya Vaishnava community, to come to the site. The aged babaji, who was more than 120 years old at that time, was so weak that he was carried everywhere in a basket by his disciple, Bihari. Many curious persons accompanied him. He was so old that his eyelids completely covered his eyes, and they had to be propped open with his hand if he wanted to see someone. When he was brought to the spot discovered by the Thakura, he became overwhelmed with ecstasy and jumped into the air, crying, "ei to 'nimai-janma-bhumi!" ('This is indeed the birth place of Lord Nimai!') Thus, by the additional and absolute confirmation of the paramahamsa babaji the site was forever certified beyond doubt. Thus, from both an empirical and spiritual point of view, the place of Lord Chaitanya's birth was ascertained. Just as Shrila Rupa Gosvami and Shrila Sanatana Gosvami excavated the lost sites of Krishna's pastimes in Vrindavana, the Thakura discovered this lost site of Gauranga's advent and other pastimes in Navadvipa. This discovery led to his undertaking further research, and he eventually discovered many of the sites of Lord Chaitanya's pastimes and described them in his book Shri Navadvipa-dhama-mahatmyam, which he wrote in Krishnanagar and published in 1890.
After the discovery of the birthplace of Lord Chaitanya, Shrila Jagannatha dasa Babaji Maharaja and Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura spent some time worshiping the Lord there. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura's son, Lalita Prasad, relates that one of the Thakura's sons was suffering from a skin disease, and that Shrila Babaji Maharaja told him to lie down at the site of the Lord's birth. The boy did so, and was cured by the next day. Later, when Jagannatha dasa Babaji returned to his place of bhajana at Kuliya, he requested Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who was eager to render some service to him, to build a solid covered veranda, so that the Vaishnavas who came to see him would have a pleasant place to sit and chant. The Thakura immediately complied with that order, to his guru's full satisfaction.
In Krishnanagar the Thakura's health deteriorated. He was afflicted with severe tonsillitis. He received two month's leave, and during that time he purchased the place where he would write many books and perform hours of bhajana: Shri Surabhi-kunja. He then traveled with his family by horse and carriage and visited Ulagram, the place of his birth and childhood. After visiting his boyhood home, he spoke to the government officer, Mr. Edgar, who had helped him get a post in Krishnanagar, about transferring to a place where he could regain his health. In 1889 he moved to Netrakona, from there to Tangail and from Tangail to Burdwan. During his stay in Burdwan, the Thakura sometimes suffered from fevers and had difficulty breathing. When he recovered, he resumed his duties. While in Burdwan he performed kirtana with the Vaishnavas of Amalajora, headed by Kshetra and Vipina Babus and noted their strong devotion to Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The Thakura composed poems like Soka-satana, which described in thirteen songs the disappearance of Shri Shrivasa's son during Lord Chaitanya's kirtana, and his friends would sing them. All the while he was working on his books, despite all difficulties.
1890 saw the publication of Amnaya-sutram, a work comprised of 130 Sanskrit sutras describing the Absolute Truth, with his commentary, Laghu-bhashya, together with Bengali translations of the codes. He also published the Shri Navadvipa-dhama-mahatmyam, which comprised eighteen chapters written in Bengali verse describing Jiva Gosvami's tour of the land of Navadvipa in the company of Lord Nityananda. This was called the Parikrama-khanda. A second volume of this work called Pramana-khanda was also published, and it was a collection of Sanskrit verses glorifying the holy land of Navadvipa, gathered by him from the Vedic literature and arranged in five chapters.
In March and April of that year he got the chance to tour various holy places, including the birthplace of Vrindavana dasa Thakura, and visiting Godruma-dvipa he had a picnic with his sons. On May 19th he took darsana of Shrila Jagannatha dasa Babaji in Kuliya with great delight.
From Burdwan he was transferred briefly to Raniganj and then back again to Dinajpur in 1891. In 1891 he published his Bhagavad-gita with the Sanskrit commentary of Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana called Gita-bhushana, as well as his own Bengali commentary, Vidvad-ranjana.