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5. Marriage & Studies in Calcutta
UPON his reaching the age of twelve his mother arranged a marriage with a five-year-old girl from Ranaghat named Sayamani, the daughter of Shriyukta Madhusudana Mitra. She hoped to improve the family fortunes by this arrangement. Childhood marriages were not uncommon at that time in Bengal. Such marriages were generally arranged by astrological calculation so that the partners would be compatible, and the couple usually came from similar family backgrounds. The psychological reasoning behind these early marriages was that a girl in Vedic culture could feel secure knowing that her future was arranged and her protection guaranteed. The couple did not generally live together until they reached adulthood. A grand wedding was held which Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura compares to a child's doll marriage: "There was a pleasure boat, a wedding palanquin, decorations, lights, English music etc. The marriage took place between a twelve year old boy and a five year old girl and was exactly like a child's doll marriage. Drinking Ganges water and milk I arrived at the house of my father-in-law with a great, festive crowd. The reception was huge. Many gentlemen of the Teli [oil] caste dressed in bright and varied clothes and wearing jari outfits came to the reception. Even though I was of such a tender age, I was able to understand that except for the kayasthas and the brahmanas [who were dressed nicely] the good clothes and ornaments did not look well on the others... Two reciters of genealogies read out the family histories of the Mitra and Datta families and the marriage was gradually concluded. I said that I was not able to stay alone in the house of my father-in-law..." Kedaranatha's nanny came to stay at his father-in-law's house to care for him, and he was accepted there just like a family member. His maternal grandfather subsequently died at Bhavanipura, where he had gone after his fortunes had utterly failed.
"Thereafter we went to Calcutta by boat [to spend some time in nearby Bhavanipura]. In those days Calcutta was a fearful place. Immediately upon arriving my nose was assailed by a severe, foul smell. This stench took away my appetite. After residing in Bhavanipura for a few days we visited numerous places in Calcutta and Bhavanipura. We saw Kalighat [where Goddess Kali is worshiped]. Being exceedingly disgusted I was not able to appreciate anything. When we returned to Ula, I was the first to leave. Upon arriving in Ula, Mahesh Dada, Meja Mami and her brother, Raja Babu, performed sraddha [the funeral rites] for my grandfather." Kedaranatha then returned to Ula and tried to manage the shambles of his grandfather's estate. He was not well suited to do it, being young and inexperienced, but by various means, family debts were paid off. However, it seemed that there was never enough money, and his family experienced suffering on this account, being so much accustomed to a comfortable existence. The Thakura recounts: "Everybody thought that my mother had a lot of money and jewelry. Except for a few properties, all her wealth was lost. At the time my father went to Murashidabad he took 1,500 rupees from my mother. That money was lost. On another occasion my father went to extricate one of the sons of Mukherjee from some difficulty and loaned 2,500 rupees from my mother's family with a security of jewelry [to that end]. Most of that money was never repaid. My wedding cost almost 2,000 rupees, and my mother paid 1,000 rupees of the expenses ... In this way there were numerous expenses and no money remained in my mother's hand. I was in complete anxiety. My grandfather's house was huge. The guards were few, and I was afraid of thieves at nights. I thus gave the guards bamboo rods to carry. In this regard I was not lax."
When Kedaranatha was fourteen, his maternal uncle, the famous Bengali poet Kashi Prasad Ghosh, came for a visit. Kashi Prasad was a journalist and the editor of the Hindu Intelligencer, a weekly journal. He was a literary luminary of his time, and his home was a meeting place of many famous figures of the Calcutta literary scene. Many aspiring writers came to him to be trained in effective English composition. He counted among his friends the Englishman, Major Richardson, commonly known as Shakespeare-Richardson, who was a noted author and journalist, as well as having been the Aide-de-camp to Lord William Bentinck, who in his time had wielded tremendous influence and power in the development of British affairs in India.
Kashi Prasada tested the English reading and writing of Kedaranatha, was impressed with his intelligence and gave him a mirror as a prize. Kedaranatha's maternal aunt suggested to his mother that he go to Calcutta to pursue his studies. His aunt reasoned with his mother that she would care for him as though he were her own son, and it was thus decided that Kedaranatha would go to Calcutta for his education.
Arriving in Calcutta after the puja season, Kedaranatha stayed in the house of Kashi Prasad. It had very thick pillars and was situated on the northern side of a pond called Heduya. On the banks of the Heduya were the homes of missionaries, the church of Krishna Bandor, Queens College and the Bethune School. It was a beautiful and aristocratic section of Calcutta. Kedaranatha was enrolled in the Hindu Charitable Institution School. He studied there for four years, from 1852 to 1856, constantly reading and studying literature with Iswara Chandra Nandi, in whom he had great faith. He described that gentleman as "...truthful, in control of his senses, religious, knowledgeable in the sastras and well spoken."
The British were interested in creating a generation of Indians whose native ways could be transformed by education. In a famous education brief written in 1835, Thomas Macaulay put forward his argument succinctly, if arrogantly: "To sum up what I have said: I think it is clear that we are free to employ our funds as we choose; that we ought to employ them in teaching what is best worth knowing; that English is better worth knowing than Sanskrit or Arabic; that the natives are desirous to be taught English, and are not desirous to be taught Sanskrit or Arabic; that neither as the languages of law, nor as the languages of religion, have the Sanskrit and Arabic any peculiar claim to our encouragement; that it is possible to make natives of this country thoroughly good English scholars, and that to this end our efforts ought to be directed.
"In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel, with them, that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of people. We must at present do our best to form a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from our Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population."
Many Indians began to take advantage of this policy, but it was ultimately to be one of the major factors in the undoing of the British Raj, as the very intellectuals produced by British education were to later establish an independence movement that drove the British from India.
During the annual examinations Kedaranatha won first prize and obtained a medal. In his first year there, however, during the rainy season, the boy fell sick with blood dysentery, fever, itching skin, etc. Becoming very weak, he returned with some residents of Ula for a visit to his home. Since his illness was complicated, his mother spoke to a leather worker who said he knew a fakir who could cure him. A fakir named Chanda, arrived. Using bakash leaves he performed an exorcism and gave Kedaranatha gura leaves to eat. He gave Kedaranatha a mantra to chant and told his mother to feed him only vegetables and rice cooked with ripe tamarind in particular. He told Kedaranatha that in a dream something would be revealed. A dream came to Kedaranatha in which a black snake crawled out of his body. The fakir was satisfied that Kedaranatha was out of danger. He told him to continue with the mantra and to never eat any demigod prasadam. The fakir then took him to his guru, a former cobbler, whose name was Golok.
Golok belonged to a branch of the Karta-bhaja sect. This particular group accepts the moral restrictions of strict Vaishnavism, but their eclectic beliefs and philosophical conclusions are ultimately impersonal, for they think the formless Absolute to be the highest manifestation of transcendence. Nevertheless, the guru had many supernatural powers and Kedaranatha was impressed by him. The guru assured Kedaranatha that his itching, as well as all the symptoms of his other diseases would be completely eradicated. In a subsequent dream calcium powder was prescribed as the treatment for the sores, and in no time the ailment cleared up. Kedaranatha's body filled out and became healthy again. He continued chanting the mantras given to him and often went to see this guru. One day the guru predicted that Kedaranatha's boyhood home, Ula, would soon be almost entirely destroyed. The people there would die from fever and disease. He also predicted that Kedaranatha would become a great Vaishnava. Both predictions would prove to be true.
After this impressive recovery he took his mother and sister to Calcutta and arranged a marriage for his sister. Then his mother and sister returned to Ula. Kedaranatha studied all of the books in Kashi Prasad's library and assisted Kashi Prasad by reading to him all the articles which were submitted for publication in his magazines and newspapers. He also availed himself freely of the Public Library. He began to contribute articles to the Literary Gazette and the Intelligencer, which were edited by Kashi Prasad, and began the composition of the first two books of the Poriade, an epic poem which he intended to complete in twelve volumes. These two books were completed before he turned eighteen. He joined various debating clubs and freely exchanged thoughts on spiritual and literary topics with Krishna Das Pal, Devendranath Tagore and his two sons-Dvijendranath Tagore (who Kedaranatha came to count as his closest friend) and Satyendranath Tagore, brother of the poet Rabindranath Tagore, as well as many other figures who later became famous in different spheres of influence. About Dvijendranath Tagore, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura recalls, "The honorable Dvijendranath Tagore was the older brother of my friend Shriyukta Satyendranath Tagore and my older brother as well. If ever among men there was a close friend then baro dada [older brother] is that close friend. He was charitable, of good character, pure-hearted and honest, and my heart was enlivened by him. Upon seeing him, all my troubles would go away." In his association Kedaranatha studied the works of many Western philosophers, as well as the controversial views of the Brahma Samaja, led by Rammohun Raya, which were promulgated by the Tagore family. Kedaranatha also met regularly with an open-hearted Christian missionary named Reverend Duff and had frequent discussions with him and read many books in his association. He also studied the works of Addison and Edward Young in the association of another missionary named Reverend Greaves.