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19. Preaching the Holy Name
IN August of 1891 the Thakura received approval for a two-year furlough. He wanted to preach the glories of the holy name for the benefit of humanity. His base for this preaching effort was Godruma-dvipa, which the Thakura dubbed the Nama-hatta, 'the market place of the Holy Name'. He traveled with Shri Ramsevak Chattopadhyaya Bhaktibhringa, his old friend, as well as Shri Sitanatha Dasa Mahapatra and Shri Sital Bhritya. They chanted in many places, gave lectures and made devotees. The Thakura describes this period with happiness:
"At this time in the month of Avin, Ramsevak Babu, Sita Nath and Sital Bhritya all took a ship to Ramjivanpur for chanting and lectures ... In many places in Ramjivanpur we chanted and spoke, and we were very happy. From there, we went to Kayapath Badanganja, where we lectured. In that place all of the devotees, brahmanas and panditas were pleased. Having stayed thirteen days in that area, and concluding with a lecture program in Ghatal, we returned. We performed nama-sankirtana everywhere. After coming to my house in Calcutta, I proceeded to Surabhi-kunja and we performed a great deal of sankirtana there too."
In his lifetime the Thakura established over five-hundred Nama-hatta sangas (associations), and in his original Nama-hatta essay entitled, Shri Shri Godruma-kalpatavi, he describes the structure of the Nama-hatta. The spirit of his endeavor exactly matched the mood of Lord Nityananda, Who was personally ordered by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to preach in Bengal. Lord Chaitanya directed Him thus:
suno suno nityananda, suno haridasa,
sarvatra amara ajna koroha prakasa,
prati ghare ghare giya koro ei bhiksha,
bolo krishna, bhaja krishna, koro krishna siksha
"O hear Me, hear Me Nityananda! Hear Me Haridasa! Simply disseminate My order everywhere. Go from house to house and beg [the residents as follows]: 'Speak about Krishna, worship Krishna and teach [others] about Krishna.'" [Chaitanya-bhagavata Madhya-lila 13.8-9]
In his Nama-hatta essay the Thakura always describes himself as the sweeper of the market-place of the Holy Name. In that market-place in Godruma-dvipa, the storehouse is the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, and the principal trader is Shri Nityananda Prabhu. The co-principal trader in Bengal is Shri Advaita Prabhu; in Vrindavana, Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis; in Jagannatha Puri, Shri Svarupa Damodara and Ramananda Raya. The store-keepers in Bengal are Shri Gadadhara Pandita, Shrimati Vishnupriya and Shrimati Jahnava Thakurani; in Vrindavana, Raghunatha dasa Gosvami; in Jagannatha Puri, Shri Paramananda Puri. Following this explanation is a description of the transcendental currency of the market: the various levels of devotion are compared to paisa (the smallest denomination), to annas (an anna equals about six paisa) and to silver coins, and prema (pure love of God) to the most valuable denomination, the gold coin. The qualifications for membership are also specified, techniques for chanting are detailed, etc. The Thakura then proceeds to describe some of the preaching pastimes of his party of friends:
"5th Asvin Chaitanyabda 406, Monday, the Nama-hatta sweeper, assistant and flag-bearer [Thakura Bhaktivinoda, Bhaktibhringa Mahasaya and Sitanatha] arrived in the town of Ghatal, Midnapur District, after dark. The devotees escorted the Nama-hatta employees with sankirtana to the Hari-sabha. More than a thousand devotees of the Nama assembled and engaged in massive sankirtana. The next day at sunrise, along with all the devotees of Ramjivanpura, they performed blissful kirtana and inspected the activities of the Nama-hatta in the prapannasrama [preaching center] of Shriyuta Kunjabihari Paina. More than a thousand devotees assembled, loudly chanting the name of Hari. The Nama-hatta commander for that area, Shriyuta Umacarana Vidyaratna warmly welcomed the sweeper, Bhaktivinoda, his assistant, Bhaktibhringa, the devotee, Sitanatha, and the assembled Nama-hatta employees. The sweeper, Bhaktivinoda, gave a lecture on the glories of the Holy Name.
"The captivating lecture and Vaishnava songs [I had] personally composed filled the assembled devotees with prema. Travelling salesmen, Shriyuta Ramadasa Babaji and Shriyuta Daracandra Tarkalankara, satisfied the assembly with sweet lectures. The assembly dispersed three hours after darkness had fallen with loud chanting of Hari and pure Nama-sankirtana. [This means the assembly engaged in chanting and hearing all day and into the night!]
"7th Asvin, at daybreak, street sankirtana went out with a great gathering of Ramjivanpura villagers. The special decorations and mandapas [raised platforms] in front of the houses were a wonderful sight to see. Thereafter, the sankirtana party went on the main road and, coming from their homes, the devotees were chanting the name of Hari in great devotion. At one mandapa the travelling salesmen [Shriyuta Ramadasa Babaji and Shriyuta Daracandra Tarkalankara] and Bhaktivinoda Thakura explained the glories and the truth of the Name, while from all four sides the village womenfolk raised their voices in ululation. In some places the school children, breaking loose from their teachers' care, and crying 'Haribol!', ran towards the sankirtana party. The devotees were feeling mutual bliss. The minds of everyone present were captured by this enchanting scene...
"8th Asvin, in a massive gathering at Ramjivanpur, all the Nama-hatta employees did Nama-kirtana from house to house. At the houses of Shriyuta Umes Chandra Modak, Shriyuta Ananta Gayen, Shriyuta Ramachand Datta, Shriyuta Shrinivasa Rauth and Shriyuta Ramkalpa Rauth, a great multitude of people received the message of Mahaprabhu. Finally, at the natya-sala [theater] of Shri Parvatinatha Mahadeva, nearly two and a half-thousand persons came together, where the commander glorified Mahaprabhu from the Vedas and the Puranas. At that time of pure devotional preaching, the sweeper Bhaktivinoda showed the uselessness of the impersonal philosophy. Later, at the prapannasrama of store-keeper Shriyuta Yadunath Pal, the Rasika Mandali performed kirtana.
"9th Asvin, all the Nama-hatta workers gathered at Hatipur Devakhand, where nearly three-thousand people assembled at the natya-saIa of Jagajanani Bhadrakali. The travelling salesmen of that place, Shriyuta Kesava Chandra Chakravarti had made many arrangements with gates and mandapas. The villagers took the Nama-hatta workers with great enthusiasm from the bank of the river to a pandal [pavilion-tent]. Along the way, village women, filled with ecstasy, were ululating [an ancient practice which is supposed to generate auspiciousness and lauds heroic enterprises]. Those present will not forget the enchanting scene. At that time everyone lost material consciousness, submerged in the ocean of Krishna-prema. After all the devotees were properly seated on the mandapa, the following song was sung:
" 'Nityananda has come to the Marketplace of the Name. Whoever is coming, run quickly. Those two rascals Jagai and Madhai have looted the storehouse and taken all the goods. You will find the partners Advaita and Sanatana are the storehouse managers. Gadadhara Pandita is the guard. Haridasa is the watchman. Sanjaya and Shridhara are the bearers. Kesava Bharati and Vidyavacaspati are brokers, and Krishnadasa and others are managers. Shrivasa Pandita is the treasurer, and Kedaranatha is the sweeper. The cost of the goods in the store are the nine kinds of devotional service. The gold coin is prema. There is no limit. With whatever you have got, buy what you can. There is no shortage, brothers, take as much of the goods as you can. For obtaining love of God, this is the best advice. The message is the nectarean name of the Lord, so let there be no useless strife. Let everyone, whoever he may be, share the same plate.'
"12th Asvin. Nama-hatta workers assembled at Bhaktinidhi's Vadan Ganj prapannasrama in the morning. Later at Koyapat Bazaar, nearly four-thousand people came to see the Nama-hatta workers. The first few minutes were spent in getting the people to be quiet. Bhaktinidhi's lecture was followed by a lecture by Bhaktivinoda on the verse vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattvam... from Shrimad-Bhagavatam. With this verse he destroyed the impersonalist philosophy and established the truth of pure devotion to Bhagavan Shri Krishna ... During all of these lectures the listeners' hearts were filled with devotional ecstasy, exhibited by frequent applause and crying of 'Hari!' with love-filled enthusiasm."
In these wonderful excerpts we catch a glimpse of the jubilant preaching exploits of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. His activities immediately invoke the original preaching mood of Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda, on account of which huge crowds wildly chanted the Holy Name in ecstasy. The aforementioned crowds were getting the same opportunity by the pure association and presentation of the eternally liberated associate of the Lord, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. We may also recall how Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura brought the Holy Name to thousands, following in the saintly footsteps of his father. Shrila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada in his turn held huge gatherings in Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay, and Rathayatra (Chariot Parade) celebrations attended by thousands in the West, simply to continue the disciplic succession of ecstatic distribution of the Holy Name, following in the footsteps of his most exalted predecessors.
In February of 1892 the Thakura was invited to speak at Krishnanagar before a large congregation of highly learned men from various parts of Bengal. He gave a lecture concerning his investigation and research into the genuine site of Lord Chaitanya's birth. After hearing his powerful presentation, the members of the assembly, who were overwhelmingly impressed by the Thakura's work, pledged their help by agreeing to join a society organized by the Thakura for the restoration, maintenance and development of Old Navadvipa at Shri Mayapura, called Shri Navadvipa-Dhama-Pracarini-Sabha. The Thakura made the ruling princes of Tipperah the society's hereditary presidents. Europeans were also present at the meeting, and the Thakura recalls the names: Monroe, Wallace and Butler. The Thakura also lectured to other societies and assemblies in the Krishnanagar area.
In March of 1892, accompanied by his Vaishnava friends, the Thakura made a lecture tour of the Basirhat sub-division, located in the northeastern part of West Bengal's Cabbisa Pargana district. He was preaching, chanting and writing constantly during this period. His influence was tremendous. He opened a good number of branches of Nama-hatta, and everywhere people began to take up the chanting of the holy name. This program was so successful and popular that even after the Thakura ceased his participation, due to the call of government duties, it continued for many years.
After the Basirhat tour, the Thakura took his friend Bhaktibhringa Mahasaya with him for a tour of Vrindavan. On the way they spent the fast-day, Ekadashi, with Shrila Jagannatha dasa Babaji Maharaja. The Thakura reached Vrindavana in great ecstasy and undertook a full tour of the Dhama, visiting Bilvavana, Bhandiravana, Manasa-sarovara, Gokula, Madhuvana, Talavana, Bahulavana, Govardhana, Radha-kunda, Syama-kunda-in short, all the places of Krishna's transcendental pastimes. Upon returning to his Bhakti Bhavan in Calcutta, he continued his preaching activities, giving lectures and readings about the glories of the holy name. Sometimes he was in Godruma, sometimes in Calcutta and sometimes in Krishnanagar.