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

7. Orissa

HIS paternal grandfather sent for Kedaranatha from Chotimangalpur in Orissa. He wrote, "I will not live much longer. I desire to see you immediately. If you come quickly, then I will be able to see you, otherwise it will not be possible." This was in 1858. His mother and wife accompanying him, he set out for Orissa. There were great obstacles on the journey, but when he finally reached the outskirts at Chotigram his grandfather sent two palanquins with bearers. His grandfather openly wept out of affection when he saw them.

Kedaranatha observed the activities and schedule of his grandfather. He kept many cows and there was plenty of yogurt and ghee always. He also had many animals: peacocks, swans, etc. That elderly gentleman ate nothing at all during the day. At midnight he would eat kacauris (stuffed pastries) full of chilies, or milk cooked with date sugar. He wore the saffron cloth of a sannyasi. During the day he constantly chanted japa. Kedaranatha saw him pull cobras out of their holes and kill them with his shoes. He was very strong and did not appear to be ill. According to one of the early biographers of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Pandit Satkari Chattopadhyaya, "That gentleman [Kedaranatha's grand-father] had once been a conspicuous figure in the 'city of Palaces' [Calcutta] and retired to a lonely place in Orissa to spend the rest of his life as an ascetic. He could predict the future and knew when he would die. He could commune with supernatural beings." Rajavallabha Datta worshipped Lord Jagannatha and Radha Madhava in his house. He made a horoscope for Kedaranatha and predicted that he would secure a good position at the age of twenty-seven.

Kedaranatha at this time was still seeking employment, and his old mentor and teacher, Iswara Chandra Vidyasagara Mahasaya, wrote a letter of recommendation to assist him. He began teaching in the Kendra District of Orissa. A Doctor Roer, who was Inspector of Schools for South West Bengal, met with him, and after seeing Iswara Chandra Vidyasagara's letter suggested to Kedarandtha that he go to Puri and take the Teacher's Examination. He also promised to help him get a position, so Kedaranatha made plans to go to Puri.

In the meantime, he got news that his grandfather was sick, but when he arrived his grandfather appeared well. However, the old man told him, "Do not leave here for one or two days. My life is coming to an end." On the third day thereafter, his grandfather had a slight fever. He sat upon a bed in the courtyard of his house, leaning against a bolster, and he began to continuously chant the holy name. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura recounts: "He called for me and said, 'After my death, do not tarry many days in this place. Whatever work you do by the age of twenty-seven will be your principal occupation. You will become a great Vaishnava. I give you all my blessings.' Immediately after saying this, his life left him, bursting out from the top of his head. Such an amazing death is rarely seen."

Kedaranatha took care of all funeral arrangements, received a small inheritance and then proceeded to Puri where he took the Teachers' Examination and received a certificate of qualification. This was in May of 1859. He was twenty-one years old. He then attended the Candana Festival in Jagannatha Puri and toured the temples of Orissa, finally returning to his grandfather's house, where his mother and wife greeted him happily. He received a sixth grade teacher's position in Cuttack (in Orissa) at twenty rupees per month, and immediately went there with his wife and mother and took up residence. Expenses were minimal in Orissa, and they began to live more comfortably.

A Mr. Heiley, who was the Assistant Magistrate and School Secretary at Cuttack, befriended Kedaranatha, having heard him in debate and been much impressed by his power of oratory. Kedaranatha studied Ellison's Europe with him and began to read all of the books on philosophy from the Cuttack school library. In March of 1860 he received the position of Headmaster of the Bhadra School for forty-five rupees per month, and so he left Cuttack for Bhadrak where he had a house constructed and brought his family.

His mother had contracted epilepsy, and the disease gradually grew worse. An Orissan brahmana came to Bhadra to recite the Ramayana, and hearing the news of Kedaranatha's mother's disease, he made a preparation with sandalwood and oil mixed with conch powder and gave it to her. His mother was quickly cured and became very healthy again. Kedaranatha amply rewarded the brahmana, and everyone was satisfied and happy. During his stay in Bhadra, Kedaranatha wrote a book called Maths of Orissa which was published in 1860. One of the final requests of his grandfather had been that he tour the temples of Orissa, so when Kedaranatha journeyed to Puri, he visited all of the major temples in Orissa en route, keeping a careful record of all that he observed. Sir William Hunter, a reputed British historian, took note of and praised the book in his own work, Orissa, which was published in 1872. Noting the moral and religious nature of Kedaranatha, the historian wrote, "In 1860 a pamphlet was put forth by a native gentleman (Kedar Nath Dutt) who had visited all the larger monasteries of Orissa and who was himself a landholder in that province. With regard to a little monastery in his own estate, the author adopted an even more vigorous procedure. 'I have a small village,' he says, 'in the country of Cuttack, of which I am the proprietor. In that village is a religious house, to which was granted, by my predecessors, a holding of rent-free land. The head of the institution gave up entirely entertaining such men as chanced to seek shelter on a rainy night. This came to my notice; and I administered a severe threat to the head of the house, warning him that his lands would be cruelly resumed if in future complaints of inhospitality were brought to my knowledge.'"

In the same year (1860) his first son, Annada, was born, and on the 18th of December he received a fifth grade teacher's appointment in Midnapur. The climate at Midnapur was very conducive to good health, but Kedaranatha found the spiritual atmosphere disturbed. There was much controversy between the followers of Rammohun Ray and the conservative Hindus. Rammohun Ray was a reformer who repudiated the caste system, who believed that sati (the self-immolation of widows) should be outlawed, that much of the Vedic teaching was mythological and that stress should be placed on jnana (empirical knowledge). He rejected the teachings of Lord Chaitanya, although he had himself been raised as a Vaishnava. He derived many of his ideas from Western philosophers like Aristotle, Locke, and Hume and from other scriptures of the world. His ideas found some favor with the young Bengali intellectuals but met strong opposition from caste conscious Hindus as well as from the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, for he did not believe that Shrimad-Bhagavatam was the commentary on Vedanta-sutra and doubted the authenticity of many of the Puranas. His own mother rejected him as a heretic, and many conservative religionists bitterly attacked his ideas, as Rammohun unreasonably attacked Vaishnava thought, not even taking note of the anti-caste-ism in the teachings of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Furthermore, he was criticized for accepting the authority of the Tantras and Lord Siva, which severely weakened his claims of critical objectivity.

Many of his ideas found favor, however, with the intellectual crowd in Calcutta, headed by Kashi Prasad Ghosh and the Tagores. The intellectual youth of Bengal disliked the older generation of conservative Hindus, because they often found themselves censured by them for aping Western liberality and habits. Thus, Vaishnava traditions and ideas were generally out of favor with the new generation. They preferred the ideas of the reformer Rammohun Ray, who was more disposed toward the logic and ideas of Western philosophers. Kedaranatha, however, didn't accept Rammohun's theories. He would sometimes travel to Calcutta for discussions with his old friends and notes: "... the religion of the Brahmos [the philosophy of Rammohun] was not good. I thought that the brotherly philosophy taught by Jesus Christ was best ... the taste [derived from such worship] was due to devotion. I read all the books written by Theodore Parker and others, and books on Unitarianism I got from Calcutta. Because of [such books], my mind was attracted toward the devotion of Jesus. From the time of my childhood I had faith in bhakti. During the time I was in Ula, hearing Hari-kirtana produced bliss in me." We see the natural inclination of Kedaranatha taking shape in the crucible of his discussions with the intellectuals of the day. It is wonderful to see how, because of his prodigious intellect and studies, and the Lord's inscrutable plan, his deliberations began to center unerringly on the ultimate philosophical conclusion-bhakti.

Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura also recalls how a servant of his grandfather chastised some so-called Vaishnavas for catching fish, admonishing them that it was very bad for Vaishnavas to kill other living entities. When Kedaranatha heard these exchanges he immediately could understand the truth of the statements. He had observed the practices of the saktas, who sacrificed animals and ate the meat, from his youth and considered these activities very ignoble. He further recalls seeing in his youth a Vaishnava called Jaga who danced and chanted, crying torrents of tears, in the ecstasy of singing the Holy Name, and he remembered how the Karta-bhaja fakir had cured him. "There was some substance in the Vaishnava religion. There was bhakti-rasa, and therefore I had some faith therein ... When I went to Calcutta I would meet with Baro Dada [Dvijendranath Tagore] and hear a little of the Brahmo dharma... but there was a natural aversion towards the Brahmo religion in my mind. I would deliberate and converse a good deal with Dal Saheb [a former teacher], along with other missionaries, and the Christian religion, in comparison to the Brahmo religion, was far superior."

Dal Saheb sent him some other books, and he discussed them at length with him. Kedaranatha recalls, "I developed a feeling for pure bhakti, but I did not begin to practice it. While I was at the school in Midnapur I decided that I would obtain and read books on the Vaishnava dharma. There was a jati Vaishnava [Vaishnava by birth] pandita at the school. I learned from talking to him how Chaitanya Mahaprabhu preached the Vaishnava dharma in Bengal and that the history and teachings of Chaitanya were recorded in the book known as Chaitanya-caritamrita. I began to search, but I could not secure a copy of the Caritamrita. I had faith that by reading that book I would achieve happiness, but Vaishnava books were not in print then."

Between 1816-1829 many authentic Vaishnava works, such as Narottama-vilasa, Chaitanya-caritamrita, Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, Hari-bhakti-vilasa and Shrimad-Bhagavatam were published in limited editions. But after this, this important work was somehow neglected. Publishing fell into the hands of the printers and publishers of North Calcutta called the "Baratala" publishers. They were aware of the great demand for Vaishnava works in rural areas. They printed many translations of Vaishnava classics on cheap paper and with inferior type, but the translations were very bad and made from notoriously apocryphal manuscripts. To make matters worse, they brought out numerous editions of concocted sahajiya "scriptures", and these works became very popular with the simple-hearted people in the villages. The principal publisher of these books was Benimadhav De of Upper Chitpore Road. The result was that the sahajiya (sentimental) groups and their teachings proliferated and became very popular with the common people, and confusion about the actual teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the Gosvamis was rampant. This terrible situation was later greatly remedied by the powerful preaching of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and others, and the authentic works with the original commentaries of the acaryas were brought forward once again, especially by the efforts of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and his son, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.

Kedaranatha joined a literary society in Midnapur and gradually got many followers and students. This created some feelings of envy amongst members of the Brahmo group, and they tried to stir up trouble between Kedaranatha and his supporters. He thus "lived with caution" and took care to surround himself with friends.

Toward the end of 1861 his wife became ill and died, leaving him with a ten month old son. It was a difficult time. He remarks in his biography, "I endured this grief like a warrior according to the Psalm of Life." His mother tried to raise the child, but was old and found it difficult. Kedaranatha was sick with a swelling in his lungs. He prayed to God for help and says that he had conviction at that time in both the formless conception of God and the conception of the spiritual form of God as well, but could not determine how both concepts were simultaneously true. Two months later he remarried. His bride was a girl named Lalita, the daughter of Ganyamanya Ray from the village of Jakpur. She later came to be known as Shrimati Bhagavati Devi and was a sincere Vaishnavi, following in the footsteps of her husband. She was of noble character, peaceful and accomplished in all she did. Kedaranatha was criticized by some of his relatives for marrying again so quickly, but he personally concluded that there was no blame attached to it.

After this, Kedaranatha held unsatisfactory positions as tax-collector and clerk in the Collectorate. He returned to Bengal to a place called Bhacchala where in the position of clerk he received a little more in the way of salary, and there, in 1863, he wrote two poems: Vijana-grama (A Deserted Village) and Sannyasi. Vijana-grama was the first work ever written and published in blank verse in the history of the Bengali language and literature. The famous Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Datta is sometimes credited with the invention of Bengali blank verse, but he was not, in fact, the first to use this form. Rather, he got the idea from a greater Datta! Many important literary men praised Kedaranatha's efforts, and the poems were reviewed in the prestigious Calcutta Review of 1863, Volume 39. What follows are excerpts from that review:

"We have glanced at this little volume of Bengali verse, which we have no hesitation in recommending ... The Vijana-grama, the first poem in this book, is an account of the desolation of the once populous village of Ula, near Ranaghat, in consequence of the ravages of the late epidemic. It is pleasing in style, and evidently on the model of Goldsmith ... The Sannyasi in two chapters ... reflects much credit on the author. Of the minor poems, the descriptions of spring and the translation from Carlyle are very fair specimens. We hope the author will continue to give his countrymen the benefit of his elegant and unassuming pen, which is quite free from those objectionable licenses of thought and expression which abound in many dramas recently published..."

In the same year he wrote a work in English called Our Wants which was in prose and philosophical in nature. There was more conflict between the followers of the Brahmo religion and the Christians. At one point he was asked to mediate, but the result of this attempt was that both groups became furious with him. He then formed his own society, and many of the former Brahmos joined him at his meetings at the Burdwan Public Library. One of the speeches he delivered there, entitled Soul, was heard by Mr. W L. Heiley, I.C.S. who helped him greatly from that time on. He offered to find Kedaranatha a good job. He invited Kedaranatha to come to Calcutta and hear a speech at the Dalhousie Institute on the subject of the Centralization of Power. After hearing the lecture, Kedaranatha met his old teacher and friend Dal Saheb and stayed in the home of his good friend Dvijendranath [Baro Dada] for the night. Thereafter, they exchanged letters in the form of poems when Kedaranatha returned to Burdwan.