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11. The Chastisement of Bisakisen
THE Thakura's whole family came to live in Puri. He mentions in his autobiography that his mother, his wife, Annada, Radhika, Sadu, Kadu and other relations were all staying there and getting the regular darsana of Lord Jagannatha. The Commissioner, Mr. T. E. Ravenshaw, was much pleased to get a person of the caliber of the Thakura and asked him to watch over the affairs of the temple of Jagannatha on behalf of the Government. It was due to the exertion of the Thakura that many bad practices at the temple were curbed and the offerings to the Lord were regulated to extreme punctuality. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was much enlivened by being in Puri, where Lord Chaitanya had passed His last eighteen years, and he took every opportunity to visit the sites of Lord Chaitanya's final pastimes and to experience the mood of ecstatic separation from Krishna, which was ever-present there.
In the first year of the Thakura's stay in Puri, his third son, Kamala Prasad, was born. At this time the Thakura was given the task of quelling the disturbance caused by a mystic yogi who claimed to be an incarnation of Maha-Vishnu. A few details of this story are taken from the autobiography of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and all other details are culled from the biographical notes of Lalita Prasad Thakur, the seventh son of the Thakura, and other biographers. The story is so gripping and dramatic that one may wonder about its veracity. Yet, we know that truth is both stranger and more profound than fiction, and confirmation of the events described below can be had from so many sources that they cannot be denied.
The background of the yogi Bisakisen was that he belonged to a sect called the Atibari-sampradaya, which was started by a person called Jagannatha dasa. In the beginning Lord Chaitanya had ordered Jagannatha dasa to be a follower of Haridasa Thakura, but later Jagannatha dasa gave up pure devotion and took shelter of Mayavada philosophy. Mahaprabhu rejected him, and for this reason he was called Atibari. The Atibari group was secretive in its practices, and the Thakura states, "This group has many forged books wherein it is written that Chaitanya will again appear. Among them, there are some evil-minded people who attempt to imitate Chaitanya or Brahma, and some who imitate Baladeva or Krishna. One person known as Bisakisen, a scoundrel who had developed a little yogic power, was thought to be Maha-Vishnu Himself." The yogi established a temple in the jungle near the village of Sharadaipur, and as he exhibited many mystic potencies, numerous people came to serve him. It was 'predicted' in the concocted scriptures of the Atibaris that there would be a battle on the 14th of Caitra (March-April), and that Maha-Vishnu would then reveal His four-armed form. This news was spread in the villages, and the yogi sent out a circular announcing that Bhagavan Maha-Vishnu, who had descended as Bisakisen, would deliver India from the hands of the Europeans by killing them all. He also began to exhibit various miracles to impress people. He would sit erect in front of a fire and lean into the flames for some time and then return to an erect position without injury. He could read people's minds, instantly cure diseased persons and manifest fire from his head. To those who lacked knowledge of the various yogic practices, by which siddhis (powers) are acquired, these events seemed extraordinary, even Godly. However, to a serious student of the doctrines of yoga, like the Thakura, such powers were simply an insignificant display of material power acquired by austerity, with no real spirituality. Even to this day in India, unscrupulous persons who perform severe penances acquire these magical powers simply to get a large following and exploit their simple-minded followers for material advantages. Their naive followers often become convinced of the divinity of the rascals and worship them as God. Yet, such persons are really no better than 'confidence men' in one of the world's oldest 'con games': tiny conditioned souls masquerade as God and convince other foolish conditioned souls to accept them as such.
Two of the yogi's associates posed as the guna-avataras, Brahma and Siva. Living in the jungle, not far from Bhuvaneswar, he established a temple, using funds that certain of the intimidated kings of Orissa had sent at his request. Some of the kings and villagers even sent women for his pleasure when he announced that he would hold a rasa dance in which he would exhibit his sole supremacy and power over all women. When he actually had sexual relations with the wives of leading citizens of an Orissan town called Bringarpur, it created an outcry among the husbands and other leaders there, and they took their case to the government officials.
Mr. Ravenshaw, the English District Commissioner, was at that time in charge of the Orissan division of the National British-Indian Government. After hearing from the leaders of Bringarpur, he decided to entrust the case to Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura for a thorough investigation. The case was very sensitive. Bisakisen had gathered a large following of sympathizers, and he was seen as a potential threat to the security of the region, possibly capable of fomenting a local revolution.
The Thakura set out with the District Superintendent, the Chief of Police and a few constables. In the evening, just at sunset, the Thakura entered the jungle where the yogi was staying, near the village of Sharadaipur. He found many people sitting with the yogi. Many sick people had come to get cured by him and were glorifying him as an incarnation of God. Upon the arrival of the Thakura, the yogi rose from his throne and questioned him, "O babu, I know that you are a Bengali and a Magistrate. Why have you come here on this dark night?"
Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura replied, "I have come to see you."
Bisakisen then rejoined, "That being the case, please sit down and hear my teachings. I am Maha-Vishnu. Arising from the ocean of milk, I have come to this place, and very soon I will destroy all the Europeans, including the King of England. I have proclaimed this everywhere."
In his autobiography the Thakura says, "... I went at night to that jungle and spoke at length with Maha-Vishnu, and he revealed his vow to destroy the English Raj."
After saying this, Bisakisen gave the Thakura a piece of palm leaf that had the very thing he had just said written on it in poetic form. Exhibiting his mystic powers, the yogi began to describe everything about Thakura Bhaktivinoda in detail, mentioning his name, mission, etc. and warned him not to try to interfere with him. He also revealed that he knew full well about the men that the Thakura had brought with him, and were hiding among the trees. The Thakura was not impressed, and he asked the yogi, "If you are Maha-Vishnu, then why are you staying in this jungle and not at Puri where Shri Jagannatha Deva resides?"
The yogi replied haughtily, "I am personally the Supreme Lord. There is no God at Puri. That so-called God, Jagannatha, is merely a big slab of wood. Shri Chaitanya was my beloved devotee, and I will again make India the kingdom of the Hindus. For this reason I am living in the jungle. I know that you are an excellent court judge and a good devotee as well. When the Hindu kingdom is again established, I will give you a very good position in the government. I will make you the Governor of the entire state of Orissa."
Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura then gravely replied, "The tiny living entity can never become God. Ravana, Hiranyakasipu, Sisupala, Dantavakra and many others who came under the influence of this arrogant mentality, were all destroyed."
The yogi, in order to impress the Thakura with his power, then called before him many people with incurable diseases, and in a moment made them well. One person was suffering with a spear wound. The yogi brought him under his control and produced some ashes which he smeared on the wound. Immediately the wounded man was well and free of pain. The Thakura was not moved, correctly seeing the yogi as an offender to the Lord, using God-given powers for his own self-aggrandisement. Leaving some spies to watch the yogi, the Thakura spent the night in a tent at Sharadaipur. The yogi had to be arrested, but first further investigation needed to be made. The next day the Thakura traveled to the villages in the region to gather reports from the people. In some villages he heard praise, but others were angry about the yogi's affairs with married women and were anxious that this fever of attraction to the yogi might spread to the women of their own villages and result in scandal and humiliation.
Thereafter, the Thakura gave the order to arrest the yogi, and seeing his men fearful, he personally led them, bringing with him two police inspectors, a police superintendent and over one-hundred armed policemen. They arrived in the early morning hours. A sacrificial fire was burning in front of Bisakisen and well over a thousand followers were present. Many were offering prayers to the yogi. The Thakura and the policemen appeared on the perimeter of the crowd. When the yogi's followers saw the red-turbaned policemen, armed with rifles and bayonets, many of them began to flee. News was quickly spread to the villages that the Government had sent an army to arrest the avatara of God! Bisakisen sat observing all of this calmly. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura approached him. There was a short silence. "Babu, what is the meaning of all this?" asked the yogi with apparent serenity.
"They have come to take you. It is the Governor's order that you should be brought to Puri," replied the Thakura.
The yogi replied harshly, "Who is this Governor? I am King, for I am the Supreme Godhead and master of all the universes. I bow down before no one. Let us see who is able to take me away from this place!"
"If you do not go peacefully, we will be obliged to take you away by force," replied the Thakura sternly.
Becoming enraged, the yogi cried, "I order you to immediately leave this place! Let us see who has the power to take me!" Saying this, the yogi shook his head violently, whereupon hundreds and hundreds of fiery flames like burning snakes began to fly out of his matted locks. The yogi's eyes then became bright red and sparks of fire shot out of them. Seeing this, the police force was terrified and fell back apace.
"Bisakisen!" declared the Thakura, "You may show us as much magic as you like, and we certainly will not forget it. However, you are an offender at the feet of the Supreme Lord. Although you are an insignificant living being, you are proclaiming yourself to be God, but actually you despise God. Furthermore, you are a rebel. You must go to Puri, where you will be judged."
The yogi shouted, "I will not go! My power remains, therefore-go away!"
Thakura Bhaktivinoda ordered four police constables to bring a bullock cart from the nearby village. As they waited for the cart the Thakura preached to the irate yogi: "You must give up your deluded mentality and admit your imperfection. Your mystic powers are very insignificant in comparison to the opulences of the Supreme Godhead and the greatness of the Lord's devotees. I request you to correctly understand this just once."
The yogi reacted like a trampled snake, "You obviously do not know who I am. If I, just once, ignite the fire of my anger, the three worlds will burn into ashes, but because I am very kind to the universe I am not doing it."
Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura began to laugh, "Accha," he said, "let us now go to Puri. When we get there you can display the fire of your anger." By this time, the bullock cart had arrived. Seeing no way out of his predicament, the yogi ascended the cart, but before doing so he announced to the Thakura, "It is the word of the devotee that the Supreme Lord protects, therefore I am only going to Puri to protect your word that you would bring me there."
On the way to Puri, the Thakura began writing up his judgment of the case to date. As the Thakura wrote, the yogi began exhibiting his mystic powers from the back of the cart. The Thakura noted them but remained steadfast. Upon arriving in Puri the yogi was placed in solitary confinement until the trial. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura put three-dozen Moslem constables and seventy-two Cuttack policemen in charge of guarding his cell day and night. He then departed to arrest the false Brahma and Siva, who later pleaded that they had been coerced into their respective roles by Bisakisen. They were prosecuted by Mr. Taylor, who was the Sub-division Officer at Kodar.
Bisakisen fasted from both food and water and did not sleep at all. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura repeatedly requested him to eat and gave him many valuable spiritual instructions, but Bisakisen would not hear him. During the pre-trial period many Orissan people took up a collection and hired a lawyer to defend Bisakisen in court.
The trial lasted eighteen days. It was held in the district court at Puri. Almost one-thousand of the yogi's followers and sympathizers gathered outside the courthouse during the trial, shouting their demands for the yogi's release. On the fifth day of the trial, court was adjourned for the day. At the completion of the sixth day's hearings, Bisakisen ominously threatened the Thakura, "Babu, you must immediately desist from prosecuting me or everything you have will be destroyed. Go to your home now and see what disaster is taking place there."
When he arrived at his home, he found his second daughter, seven year old Kadambini, afflicted with some deadly disease and high fever, repeatedly losing consciousness. Loud sounds of lamentation filled the house, but the Thakura did not fail in his determination, for he knew that the Lord would protect him from the insignificant powers of a yogi. Many doctors came to attend his daughter, and by eight o'clock in the morning she was well, and playing in the courtyard. The Thakura's wife, Shrimati Bhagavati Devi, became very anxious for the safety of their children, and she pleaded with her husband to let Bisakisen go before he destroyed their whole family. "Yes, let us all die," the Thakura replied, "but this rascal must be punished!"
The Thakura recalls the period in his autobiography: All over Puri there were disturbances. At that time the Puri School had a fire, and all of the people suspected him. Also at this time Kadur [a nickname for Kadambini] came down with fever. Bisakisen, by his practice of yoga, had by some means attained yogic powers, and I obtained a lot of evidence against him. For twenty-one days he did not eat or drink even a drop of water, but he did not show any weakness and gave unfailing cures to many people."
On the seventeenth day of the trial, when the court rose for recess, Bisakisen stood up and screamed violently at the Thakura, "Did you see what great calamity occurred at your house the other day? Still you are not coming to your senses! When will you be able to recognize me as the Supreme Lord? The final day of my judgment will be your death! What is the punishment for one who disrespects an avatara? How Death sits on the seat of judgment and gives out his commands, I will see!"
When Thakura Bhaktivinoda returned home in the late afternoon of that day, he took off his court clothes, and all of a sudden he felt a sharp pain on the right side of his chest. As the night went on, the pain increased. The Thakura was unshaken in his determination, but it was unclear how he would be able to enter the court in such a condition to give his final judgment. In the morning the severe pain persisted. Finally, by about 10 A.M. he felt a slight subsiding of the pain, and he was ready to write the judgment. He was unable to walk and had to be carried to his palanquin. On that final day a thousand of the yogi's followers again gathered in front of the courthouse and created a terrific din. Inside, the trial ensued. The Thakura's decision was announced: 'Bisakisen is found guilty of political conspiracy against the National British-Indian Government, as well as the State Government of Orissa, and therefore is sentenced to eighteen months of strict imprisonment and hard labor.' When the huge crowd outside received the news of Bisakisen's sentence, they made a tremendous uproar and began to cry in unison, "Injustice! Injustice!"
Bisakisen was being led away from the court, when suddenly the District Medical Officer, Doctor Walters, jumped on the rascal from behind and cut off his long hair with a large pair of scissors. The English officer had come to know from his studies of yoga that yogis often conserve their powers in their hair. As soon as the matted locks of Bisakisen were cut, he fell to the floor devoid of all power and unable to walk. The pain in the body of the Thakura vanished, and the yogi was removed from the courtroom on a stretcher. When his followers saw that 'God' had been overcome by having his hair removed, most of them deserted him. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura recalls in his biography: "When his hair was cut, his followers said that he was a cheater and left him."
The Thakura walked home peacefully. Bisakisen was held in the Puri jail for three months and then transferred to the central jail in Medinipur. In 1873, while still in prison, he took poison and died. After the rise of Bisakisen, there were other so-called incarnations. In Yajpur a 'Brahma' took over Bisakisen's former group and was similarly punished, and in Khandagiri, a 'Balarama' made his attempt but was also swiftly thwarted. Just as Durvasa Muni had attempted to punish the pure devotee Ambarisha Maharaja but was himself punished, a similar attempt was made on Thakura Bhaktivinoda, but by the grace of the Lord he was fully protected and victorious.
The Thakura sent a letter to the editor of a Cuttack newspaper called Progress after the trial of Bisakisen and described the evils of the Atibari sect, as well as the rise of the other imposter incarnations. The article is so interesting and so devastating a critique that we reproduce it here in full as it appeared in the Harmonist in November of 1928:
TO THE EDITOR, PROGRESS
Aug. 18, 1871
There is a class of men in Orissa who pass by the name of Attibaris. They say that they are Vaishnavas but in fact they are quite opposed to the principles of Vaishnavism. This sect originated with one Jaganath Das who flourished at the time when Mahaprabhu Chaitanya Deva of Nadia entered Puri with a view to propagate the genuine principles of the Vaishnava creed. Jaganath Das was indeed a man of great acquirements in the Sanskrit language. He translated the Sreemad Bhagabata into Uria poetry as also the Bhagabat Geeta, the most instructive book in the Hindu literature. The translations are, however, free and contain more things than the original works themselves. The Urias, [the people of Orissa] especially those who are below the Brahmins, are very fond of reading these translations. As a citizen of Calcutta you might have several times heard the Uria bearers reading these translations in their Palkee Addas in the City of Palaces [Calcutta].
Though the translation of the Bhagabat by Jaganath Das is generally liked by all classes of the Urias, yet there is a special class of men who considered themselves as spiritually led by him. These men are the Attibaris. Most of them belong to the lower classes.
The Attibari is both a religionist and a politician like the Mohammedan fanatics that go by the name of Wahabees. In religion they occupy a very curious position. They say that they worship One Great God who is without any form whatever. They appear to have no conception about the Spiritual Personality of the Deity, nor do they believe that the human soul lasts in distinction from God after salvation. In fact, they hold a similar idea with the great commentator of the Vedanta Darshana, I mean Sankaracharjea, the leader of the Adwaitavadis. But they at the same time believe that the Jaganath in the Temple at Puri is the highest ideal of God. In fact they worship the idol as if it were the unconditioned Deity himself. They do not believe all the Shastras but they attempt to choose principles out of them. They believe, however, that they are the highest class of religionists in the world and the Absolute Truth is alone with them. They several times profess that they are true Brahmagyanis and that the present Brahmas are but Christians, the name Brahma being a misnomer with them. The Attibaris like the old Roman Catholics in the Middle Ages still receive revelations from the Deity and speak sometimes face to face with him. For this reason every learned Attibari is a prophet, and has his Malika or a series of revelations. Go to one of them and he will tell you in which year and under which circumstances the world will end! They sometimes perform some ceremonies of the Yoga philosophy, and attempt to work physical wonders. They are addicted to the smoking of Ganja and taking of opium, and it is when they are under the influence of these intoxicating articles, that they are in the habit of receiving revelations! Most of them are married men living in their own houses and dislike the life of ascetics. They are often very bold and address other people in mysteriously awkward terms. In fact, those of the Urias who are intelligent enough to understand matters but have received no good education, turn out Attibaris. In whole of Orissa, I believe, there are about 15,000 men of this class! We understand it on very good authority that they have a sort of brotherhood like the Free Masons, amongst themselves, which unites them in a strong affection towards each other. They often keep communication amongst themselves in mysterious expressions and signs, and thus the Attibaris at Balasore are often kept informed of what is going on with the Attibaris at Puri which is about eight days' journey from the former station.
We would have been led to compare this class of fanatics with Bowls [Bauls] of Bengal, had there not been another characteristic to distinguish them from the latter, I mean the political characteristic of the Attibaris. The main object of the class is to bring about some political revolution in the province by means of circulating false rumours in the shape of revelations. Their Malikas (as the revelations are called by them) generally declare the period when there will be an incarnation of the Deity to destroy the present ruling authority. By mysterious words they advise their fellow brethern to be ready for the time and eagerly await for the Avatar! These circulations are not solely to be attributed to the ganja to which they are addicted, but to a desire which they foster in them to enjoy money and women belonging to the credulous fools that live far from the light of education. An Attibari is looked upon in the interior as one saint of Heaven to deliver the souls of sinners and to give them worldy aggrandisement when necessary. People sometimes visit them with a view to get rid of chronic diseases and women generally solicit the favour of their giving them children and domestic comfort. The trials of a couple of cases in criminal courts at Puri and Khurda have brought to light a great deal about the doings of the Attibari imposters in the muffosil. The Khurda case has disclosed that one of them turned out to be an incarnation of Balaram and prophesied to the people that he had come to make a political revolution in Orissa, the chosen place of the Deity. By this false rumour he acquired a great reputation and corrupted a number of females belonging to the higher classes of the inhabitants. He was worshipped as a God and was surrounded by thousands as a Raja ruling his own realm. He continued to send out his Malikas and to increase the number of fanatics till the Deputy Magistrate, Mr. Tailor, tried him and sent him to imprisonment! The other imposter was working his way near the Temple of Bhubaneswar in a small village not even a mile from the Jaganath Road. He was also being worshipped as an incarnation of Mahavishnu. Females from the surrounding villages came to worship him in the dead of night and he declared his Mahaprasad as sacred as that of Jaganath. He continued in this way, till some of the aggrieved Brahmins of Bhubaneswar came to him and asked him the authority under which he was thus acting. He plainly declared to them that the authority of the British Government was about to cease and a Dulbehara of Khurda was to be the ruler for Orissa. All those who would oppose his practice were to suffer in a short time from his divine wrath. This terrified those who came to enquire but the matter was communicated to the authorities by one of them. Babu Kedar Nath, the Deputy Magistrate, was deputed to enquire and submit a report. It was through the exertions of that officer that the imposter was brought to trial and punished!!
It was rumoured that a large number of imposters of this class rose simultaneously in several parts of Orissa, but when they heard of the trials of the two alluded to above, they got afraid and kept silent.
Such is the character of the Attibaris! How horrible they are! We would advise the Cuttack Editors to expose these characters and try to correct them. If they want to be patriotic, they ought to save their motherland from the hands of the Attibaris and Alluks. With all the attempts for improvement, Orissa will never rise till these wicked and designing members of the Attibari class are converted into 'Honest Citizens'. [End]