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The Life of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
About the year 1500 A.D., the incarnation of God Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu began the Hare Krishna Movement in Navadwipa, a city in the Indian province of Bengal. This movement, based on the philosophy of ancient Sanskrit texts of devotion to Krishna like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam, spread all over India within a short time. The movement popularized sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the maha-mantra Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare, as the most effective means of God realization for the present Age of Kali, a time of rampant faithlessness, sin and materialism. After 1750 A.D., the influence of the Hare Krishna Movement seemed to wane. Many sects of sahajiyas (cheap pseudodevotees) sprouted up, each claiming to be the true purveyors of Vaishnava-dharma (the religion of Lord Vishnu or Krishna). Because of their bad character, the sahajiyas brought disrepute upon the pure movement of love of God begun by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. In the 1800’s, an eternally perfect devotee of Krishna descended from the spiritual world to the material world to revive the Hare Krishna Movement and to initiate its expansion beyond the borders of India. This was Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was born on Sunday, Sept. 2, 1838 in Biranagara (Ulagrama) in the Nadia district of Bengal. He was the seventh son of Raja Krishnananda Datta, a great devotee of Lord Nityananda. He was also known as the great grandson of Madana Mohana and the third son of his Godfather Anandacandra. He would be known as daitya-kulera prahlada (Prahlada in the family of demons). This was because Vaisnavism was not very much respected in his family; on his mother’s side, there was no respect for Vaisnavism at all. He was named Kedaranatha Datta by his Godfather.
His childhood was spent at the mansion of his maternal grandfather Mustauphi Mahasaya, in Biranagara. His environment at this time was very opulent. He got his elementary education at the primary school started by his grandmother. Later he attended an English school in Krishnanagara, started by the King of Nadia; he left that school when his older brother died unexpectedly of cholera.
When he was 11 years old, his father passed away. Subsequently, the grant of land that had been conferred upon his grandmother changed owners; at this time the family fell into a condition of poverty - their great wealth proved to be illusory. Still, Kedaranatha Datta passed over these difficulties with great endurance.
His mother arranged a marriage for him when he was 12 (in the year 1850) to the 5 year old daughter of Madhusudana Mitra Mahasaya, a resident of Rana Ghata.
Around this time Kedaranatha’s uncle Kasiprasada Ghosh Mahasaya Thakur, who had mastered British education, came to Ulagrama after the death of his maternal grandfather. He schooled young Kedaranatha at his home in Calcutta; this was at first resisted by the boy’s mother, but by the time he was 13 he was allowed to go to the big city.
His uncle’s house was situated in the Heduya district of central Calcutta. Kasiprasada was the central figure of the literary circle of his time, being the editor of the Hindu Intelligencer newspaper; many writers came to him to learn the art of writing in correct English. Kedaranatha assisted Kasiprasada by judging manuscripts submitted to the newspaper. Kedaranatha studied Kasiprasada’s books and also frequented the public library. He attended Calcutta’s Hindu Charitable Institution high school and became an expert English reader, speaker, and writer.
Kedaranatha became ill from the salty water of Calcutta. He returned to Ulagrama and was treated by a Muslim soothsayer who predicted that the village of Biranagara would soon become pestilence-ridden and deserted. The Muslim also predicted Kedaranatha would become recognized as a great devotee of Lord Krishna.
In the year 1856, when he was 18, Kedaranatha entered college in Calcutta. He started writing extensively in both English and Bengali; these essays were published in local journals. He also lectured in both languages. He studied English literature at this time extensively, and taught speechmaking to a person who later became a well-known orator in the British Parliament. Between the years 1857-1858 he composed a two part English epic entitled “The Poriade”, which he planned to complete in 12 books. These two books described the life of Porus, who met Alexander the Great.
Dvijendranatha Thakur, the eldest son of Maharsi Devendranatha Tagore and brother of the Nobel Prize winning poet Rabindranatha Tagore, was Kedaranatha’s best friend during these years. He assisted Kedaranatha in his studies of Western religious literatures. Kedaranatha used to call Dvijendranatha “baro dada”, or big brother.
He was very taken by Christian theology, and found it more interesting than Hindu monism. He would spend many hours comparing the writings of Channing, Theodore Parker, Emerson and Newman. At the British-Indian Society he gave a lecture on the evolution of matter through the material mode of goodness.
At the end of 1858 Kedaranatha returned to Biranagara and found that the Muslim soothsayer’s prediction about that place had come true: it was ruined and deserted. Kedaranatha brought his mother and paternal grandmother with him from there to Calcutta. Soon after he went to Orissa to visit his paternal grandfather, Rajavallabha Datta, formerly an important Calcutta gentleman who was now living as an ascetic in the Orissan countryside. His days were coming to a close, and he wanted Kedaranatha to be with him when he departed this world. After receiving his grandfather’s last instructions, he traveled to all the monasteries and temples in the state of Orissa.
Kedaranatha began to consider the question of the means of his livelihood. He was not interested in business, as he’d seen how the “necessary dishonesty” of the trade world had morally weakened the merchant class. He decided to become a school teacher. He established a school for English education in the village of Kendrapara near Chutigrama, in Orissa, thus becoming a pioneer in English teaching in that state. He also could see the oppressive power wielded by the landowners of Chutigrama. After some time he went to Puri and passed a teacher’s examination; he got a teacher’s post in a Cuttack school and later became headmaster of a school in Bhadraka and then in Madinipura. His work was noted by the schoolboard authorities.
In Bhadraka, his first son Annada Prasada (Acyutananda) was born, in 1860. He published a book that year in English that described all the asramas and temples in the state; this book received favorable mention in the work called “Orissa” by British historian Sir William Hunter. Hunter praised Kedaranatha’s moral and religious character.
As the headmaster of the Medinipura high school, Kedaranatha studied many popular Bengali religious sects, particularly their philosophies and practices. He concluded they were all cheap. He came to understand that the only real religion that had ever been established in Bengal was that of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu; unfortunately, His movement was not well-represented. Kedaranatha could not even get a copy of the 16th century Bengali biography of Lord Chaitanya’s activities on earth called Shri Chaitanya-charitamrita, despite searching in bookshops, libraries and monasteries all over Bengal.
Kedaranatha’s first wife died, so in the town of Jakapura he married Bhagyavati De. In 1861 Kedaranatha accepted the post of Deputy Magistrate in the Government of Bengal. Then he became Collectorate Officer after seeing the corruption of the government workers. He established an organization called the “Bhratr Samaja”. He wrote an English book in 1863 called “Our Wants.” At this time he also constructed a home in Rana Ghata. Later in 1863 he stayed at Burdwan, where he composed two novel poems in Bengali: “Vijinagrama” (deserted village) and “Sannyasi.” Volume 39 of the 1863 Calcutta Review praised these poems, saying, “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. The want of the day is the creation of a literature for Hindu ladies, and we trust that many more educated natives will have the good sense to devote their time and abilities to the attainment of this most desirable aim.” The rhyme and style of these two poems were original; they gave birth to a new way of writing poetry in the Bengali language.
In the year 1866 Kedaranatha took the position of Deputy Register with the power of a Deputy Collector and Deputy Magistrate in the district of Chapara. He also became quite fluent in Persian and Urdu. In a placed called Saran in Chapara, a clique of tea planters made unjust demands of him; he successfully opposed them. And while at Saran he visited the Gautam Asrama at Godana. Desiring to establish a school for teaching nyaya-sastra, he delivered a speech there (in 1866) which was well-received. The school was successfully established, the foundation-stone being laid in 1883 by Sir Rivers Thomson, after whom the school was named. Though Kedaranatha had no further part in the project after his speech, the talk he gave was instrumental in securing public aid for the school. Also in 1866 he translated the Balide Registry Manual into Urdu, which was circulated by the government throughout the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh; this manual was used by the registration departments of those areas.
Kedaranatha was transferred to Purniya from Chapara where he took charge of the government and judicial departments; he was then transferred to Dinajapur (West Bengal) in 1868, becoming the Deputy Magistrate. At this time he received copies of the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Shri Chaitanya-charitamrita from Calcutta.
He read Chaitanya-charitamrita repeatedly; his faith in Krishna developed until he was absorbed in Krishna consciousness day and night. He incessantly submitted heartfelt prayers for the Lord’s mercy. He came to understand the supreme majesty and power of the one and only Absolute Personality of Godhead Shri Krishna. He published a song about Lord Chaitanya entitled Saccidananda- premalankara. In 1869, while serving as deputy magistrate under the government of Bengal in Dinajapur, he delivered a speech in the form of a treatise he had written on the Shrimad-Bhagavatam to a big congregation of many prominent men of letters from many parts of India and England.
He was transferred to Camparana, during which time his second son, Radhika Prasada, was born. In Camparana people used to worship a ghost in a banyan tree which had the power to influence the mind of the local judge to decide in the favor of the worshiper. Kedaranatha engaged the father of Pandita Ramabhai, a famous girl scholar, to read Shrimad-Bhagavatam under the tree; after 1 month, the tree crashed to the ground, and many people found faith in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
From Camparana he went to Puri which engladdened his heart no end because the holy city of Puri, the site of the famous Krishna temple of Jagannatha, was where Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had resided for 18 years as a sannyasi (renunciate).
Near Puri, in the town of Kamanala, there lived a yogi named Bisakisena, who would lean into a fire while sitting closeby, then return to an erect sitting posture. In this way he’d rock back and forth over the flames and would also produce fire from his head. He had two companions going by the names Brahma and Siva; Bisakisena himself claimed to be Maha Vishnu. Some wealthy landowners of Orissa came under his sway and were providing funds for the construction of a temple. They also sent him women with whom he engaged in “rasa-lila” enjoyments. Bisakisena declared he’d drive the British rulers out of Orissa and make himself king. Such inflammatory statements were circulated all around Orissa. The British thought him a revolutionary, so the District Governor of the National Government of Bengal drew up arrest orders; but nobody in Orissa dared to act upon these orders, as they all feared the yogi’s power.
Mr. Ravenshaw, district commissioner for Orissa, requested Kedaranatha to bring Bisakisena to justice. Kedaranatha went personally to Bisakisena, who showed some powers and informed Kedaranatha that he knew well who he was and his mission. He warned Kedaranatha that since he (Bisakisena) was the Lord, he’d better not interfere with him. Kedaranatha replied by acknowledging Bisakisena’s accomplishments in yoga and invited him to come to Puri where he could see the Jagannatha temple. Bisakisena haughtily said, “Why should I come to see Jagannatha? He’s only a hunk of wood; I am the Supreme in person.” Instantly furious, Kedaranatha arrested the rogue, brought him to Puri and threw him in jail, where he was guarded by 3 dozen Muslim constables and 72 policemen from Cuttack day and night. “Brahma” and “Siva” avoided arrest by claiming they’d been forced by Bisakisena to do as they’d done; but Mr. Taylor, subdivision officer at Kodar, later prosecuted them.
Kedaranatha tried Bisakisena in Puri. The trial lasted 18 days, during which time thousands of people gathered outside the courtroom demanding Bisakisena’s release. On 6th day of the trial Kedaranatha’s second daughter Kadambini (age 7) became seriously ill and nearly died; but within a day she had recovered. Kedaranatha knew it was the power of the yogi at work. He remarked, “Yes, let us all die, but this rascal must be punished.” The very next day in court the yogi announced he’d shown his power and would show much more; he suggested that Kedaranatha should release him at once or face worse miseries. On the last day of the trial Kedaranatha himself became ill from high fever and suffered exactly as his daughter had done for one whole day. But Kedaranatha pronounced the man guilty and sentenced him to 18 months for political conspiracy. When Bisakisena was being readied for jailing, one Dr. Walter, the District Medical Officer, cut off all the yogi’s long hair. The yogi kept his mystic power in his hair and hadn’t eaten or drunk during the whole trial, so when his hair was shorn he fell to the floor like a dead man and had to be taken by stretcher to jail. After 3 months he was moved to the central jail at Midnapura where he took poison and died in the year 1873.
In Puri, Kedaranatha studied the Shrimad-Bhagavatam with the commentary of Shridhara Swami, copied out in longhand the Sat-sandarbhas of Jiva Goswami and made a special study of Rupa Goswami’s Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu.
Between the years 1874 and 1893, Kedaranatha spent much time in seclusion chanting the holy name (though he still executed his worldly duties perseveringly). He wrote several books in Sanskrit such as Tattva-sutra, Datta-kaustubha and Tattva-viveka. He wrote many other books in Bengali such as the Kalyana-kalpataru; in 1874 he composed Datta-kaustubha in Sanskrit.
While in Puri he established a Vaishnava discussion society known as the Bhagavat-samsad in the Jagannatha-vallabha gardens, where the famous saint Shri Ramananda Raya stayed in meditation hundreds of years before. All the prominent Vaishnavas joined this group except for Raghunatha dasa Babaji, known as Siddha Purusha. He thought that Kedaranatha was unauthorized, as he did not wear kanthi-mala (neckbeads) or tilaka (clay markings on 12 places of the body). Moreover, he advised other Vaishnavas to avoid Kedaranatha’s association.
But soon thereafter Raghunatha dasa Babaji contracted a deathly illness. Lord Jagannatha appeared to him in a dream and told him to pray for the mercy of Kedaranatha if he at all wanted release from the illness and death. He did so;
Kedaranatha gave him special medicines and cured him. Raghunatha dasa Babaji was blessed with a true awareness of Kedaranatha’s spiritual position.
A well-known saint named Svarupa dasa Babaji did his worship at Satasana near the ocean in Puri. Svarupa showed much affection for Kedaranatha and gave him many profound instructions on the chanting of the holy name of Krishna.
A popular upstart holy man named Caran dasa Babaji preached and printed books advising a perverted style of kirtana (congregational chanting of the holy names of God), advising that one should chant the Hare Krishna Mantra in japa and Nitai Gaura Radhe Syama Hare Krishna Hare Rama in kirtana. Kedaranatha preached long and hard to him; after a long time Caran dasa Babaji came to his senses and begged forgiveness from Kedaranatha, admitting his fault in spreading this nonsense fashion of chanting all over Bengal. Six months later Caran dasa went mad and died in great distress.
Kedaranatha became manager of the Jagannatha temple. He used his government powers to establish strict regularity in the worship of the Deity. In the Jagannatha temple courtyard he set up a Bhakti Mandapa, where daily discourses of Shrimad Bhagavatam were held. Kedaranatha would spend long hours discussing Krishna and chanting the holy name, especially at the important sites of Shri Chaitanya’s pastimes like the Tota Gopinatha temple, the tomb of Haridasa Thakura, the Siddha Bakula tree and the Gambhira room. He made notes on the Vedanta-sutra which were used by Shri Syamalala Goswami in the edition of the Govinda Bhasya by Baladeva Vidyabhusana that he published.
Near the Jagannatha-vallabha gardens, in a large house adjacent to the Narayana Chata Matha, on the 5th day of the dark fortnight of Magha in the year 1874, the fourth son of Kedaranatha took birth. He was named Bimala Prasada (and would later be known as Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada, the spiritual master of Shrila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness). Two years earlier, Kamala Prasada, his third son, had taken birth.
In 1874 Kedaranatha discovered the Raja (king) of Puri had misappropriated 80 thousand rupees for his own sense pleasures. This money belonged to the temple, so Kedaranatha forced the Raja to pay for the offerings of food to Lord Jagannatha that are made 52 times daily. This diminished the money quickly. The raja was angry at Kedaranatha and therefore, with the help of 50 brahmin priests, began a yajna (fire sacrifice) meant for killing Kedaranatha which went on for 30 days; when the last oblations were offered into the fire, the king’s own son and not Kedaranatha died.
Kedaranatha left Puri on special business, returning to Bengal where he visited the holy towns of Navadwip, Santipura and Kalana. He was put in charge of the subdivision Mahisarekha in Haora. After that he was transferred to Bhadraka. In August 1878 he was made head of the subdivision Naraila in the Yashohan district.
While in Naraila he published two books on Krishna that became famous around the world: Shri Krishna-samhita and Kalyana-kalpataru. In a letter dated April 16, 1880, Dr. Reinhold Rost wrote to Kedaranatha: “By representing Krishna’s character and his worship in a more sublime and transcendental light than has hitherto been the custom to regard him, you have rendered an essential service to your co-religionists, and no one would have taken more delight in your work than my departed friend Goldstuecker, the sincerest and most zealous advocate the Hindus ever had in Europe.”
In 1877 Varada Prasada was born, his fifth son; in 1878, Viraja Prasada, the sixth son, was born: both appeared at Rana Ghata.
Kedaranatha took formal Vaishnava initiation from Bipin Bihari Goswami, who was descended from the Jahnava family of Baghnapara. At the same time, his seventh son, Lalita Prasada, appeared at Rana Ghata.
Within a few years after his initiation, Kedaranatha was awarded by the Vaishnavas the title “Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura” in appreciation for his tireless propagation of the philosophy of devotion (bhakti) to Shri Krishna.
In Naraila, many people had formally adopted Vaisnavism, but they were not trained in scriptural conclusions and thus were easily misled by upstarts who exploited their devotional sentiments. Bhaktivinoda Thakura gave these simple devotees of Krishna shelter and instructed them in Vaishnava-siddhanta (the essential truths of Vaisnavism) most exactingly. In 1881 Bhaktivinoda began publishing the Sajjanatosani, his Vaishnava journal.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura had previously pilgrimaged to the holy cities of Benares, Prayaga, Mathura and Vrndavana in 1866. At the close of his stay in Naraila he desired to again see Vrndavana, the land of Krishna. He took three months for this purpose. He met Shrila Jagannatha dasa Babaji there, who moved every 6 months between Navadwipa (in Bengal) and Vrndavana. Bhaktivinoda Thakura accepted Jagannatha dasa Babaji as his eternally worshipable siksa guru (instructing spiritual master). During his pilgrimage at this time he dealt with a gang of dacoits (highway robbers) known as the Kanjharas who robbed and killed many pilgrims; he gave evidence to the government and a commission was formed to wipe out this scourge.
From Vrndavana he came to Calcutta and bought a house at 181 Maniktala Street, now called Ramasha Datta Street, near Bidana Park. He called the house Bhakti-bhavan (place of devotion) and started daily worship of Shri Giridhara. He was appointed head of the subdivision of Barasat.
The well-known novelist Bankim Candra met Bhaktivinoda Thakura at Barasat. Bankim Candra showed him a book he’d written about Krishna to Bhaktivinoda, who preached to Bankim Candra for four days, taking little food and hardly any sleep; the result was Bankim Candra changed his ideas (which were mundane speculations about Krishna) and his book to conform with the teachings of Shri Chaitanya. Bhaktivinoda Thakura used to say that knowledge is power.
During the last year of his stay at Barasat (1886), Bhaktivinoda Thakura published an edition of the Bhagavad-gita with the Sanskrit commentary of Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, which he translated into Bengali (the “Rasika-ranjana” translation). He had undertaken this task at the request of Babu Sarada Carana Mitra, ex-judge of the Calcutta High Commission. Bankima Candra wrote the preface, acknowledging his own indebtedness to Bhaktivinoda Thakura; he noted that all Bengali readers would be indebted to Bhaktivinoda for his saintly work.
From Barasat, Bhaktivinoda Thakura was transferred to Shriramapur. At nearby Saptagram he visited the residence of the great Vaishnava saint Uddharana Datta Thakura, a great associate of Lord Nityananda, who lived at the time of Shri Chaitanya in the 16th century AD. He visited the places of another great Vaishnavas of that time, Abhirama Thakura, at Khanakula, and Vasu Ramananda, at Kulinagrama.
At Shriramapura he composed and published his masterly writing, Shri Chaitanya Siksamrta, Vaishnava-siddhanta-mala, Prema-pradipa and Manah-siksa. He was also publishing Sajjanatosani on a regular basis. In Calcutta he set up the Shri Chaitanya Yantra, a printing press at the Bhakti Bhavana, upon which he printed Maladhara’s Shri Krishna-vijaya, his own Amnaya-sutra and the Caitanyopanisad of the Atharva Veda.
Finding the Caitanyopanisad was a difficult task. Hardly anyone in Bengal had heard of it. Bhaktivinoda Thakura traveled to many places in Bengal looking for it; finally, one devoted Vaishnava pandita named Madhusudana dasa sent an old copy he’d been keeping with him at Sambalapura to him. Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote a Sanskrit commentary on the book and called it Shri Chaitanya-caranamrta. Madhusudana dasa Mahasaya translated the verses into Bengali; this translation was called Amrta-bindu. It was a sellout when published.
In Calcutta Bhaktivinoda Thakura started the Shri Visva-Vaishnava Sabha, dedicated to the preaching of pure bhakti as taught by Lord Chaitanya. To publicize the work of the society, Bhaktivinoda Thakura published a small booklet entitled Visva-Vaishnava-kalpavi. Also he published his own edition of the Shri Chaitanya-charitamrita, with his Amrta-prabhava Bhasya commentary. And he introduced the Chaitanyabda or Chaitanya-era calendar, and gave assistance to the propagation of the Chaitanya Panjika, which established the feast day of Gaura Purnima, which is the day of Chaitanya’s appearance in the material world. He lectured and gave readings on Vaishnava books in various religious societies. In the Hindu Herald, an English periodical, he published a detailed account of Shri Chaitanya’s life.
In the year 1887 Bhaktivinoda Thakura resolved to quit government service and go to Vrndavana with Bhaktibhringa Mahasaya for the rest of his life. One night in Tarakeswara, while on government service, he had a dream in which Shri Chaitanya appeared to him and spoke, “You will certainly go to Vrndavana, but first there is some service you must perform in Navadwipa. When will you do that?” When the Lord disappeared, Bhaktivinoda awoke. On the advice of Bhaktibhringa Mahasaya he thereupon applied for a transfer to Krishnanagara, where the government headquarters for the Navadvip district is situated. He turned down offers of big posts in Assam and Tripura. He even tried to retire at this time, but his application was not accepted. Finally, in December of 1887 he managed to trade posts with Babu Radha Madhava Vasu, Deputy Magistrate of Krishnanagara.
During his stay at Krishnanagara, Bhaktivinoda Thakura used to go to Navadwipa and search for the birthsite of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the exact location of which had been lost in time. One night he was sitting on the roof of the Rani Dharmasala in Navadwipa chanting on his beads, when he spotted in the distance a very tall tala tree; near the tree was a small building that gave off a remarkable effulgence. Soon afterwards, he went to the Krishnanagara Collectory where he began to study some very old manuscripts of Chaitanya Bhagavata and Navadwipa Dhama Parikrama by Narahari Sarkar, and some old maps of the Navadwipa area. He went to the village of Ballaladibhi and spoke with many elderly people there, and uncovered facts about the modern-day Navadwipa. In the year 1887 he discovered that the place he’d seen from the dharmasala rooftop was in fact the birthplace of Mahaprabhu. This was confirmed by Jagannatha dasa Babaji, the head of the Gaudiya Vaishnava community in Navadwipa. A great festival was held there. Bhaktivinoda published the Navadwipa Dhama Mahatmya, which elaborated the glories of the birthsite of Shri Chaitanya. Also in 1887, Bhaktivinoda renovated the house of Jagannatha dasa Babaji at Ravasghata. He took leave from office for two years and acquired a plot of land at Shri Godadrumadwipa, or Svarupa Ganga. He built a retirement house there called Surabhi Kunj.
In 1890 he established the “Nama Hatta” there. Sometimes Jagannatha dasa Babaji would come there and have kirtana. Lord Nityananda had established His Nama Hatta at the same place and Bhaktivinoda considered himself the street sweeper of the Nama Hatta of Nitai.
When the birthplace was uncovered, Bhaktivinoda and Jagannatha dasa Babaji would worship Lord Chaitanya there. Once one of Bhaktivinoda’s sons contracted a skin disease and Jagannatha dasa Babaji told the boy to lie down at the birthsite of Lord Chaitanya for the night. He did so, and the next morning he was cured.
In 1888 Bhaktivinoda took charge of the village of Netrakona in the district of Mayamanasimha, because he could not keep good health in Krishnanagara and had requested transfer to a more healthful region. From Netrakona he came to Tangaila and from there he was transferred to the district of Vardhamana. There he would hold kirtana with the devotees from a place called Amalajora, headed by Ksetra Babu and Vipina Babu; they would sing poems like Soka-satana written by him.
He was put in charge of the Kalara subdivision in 1890, and from there would often visit such holy places as Godadrumadwipa, Navadwipa, Capahati, Samudragana, Cupi, Kasthasali, Idrakapura, Baghanapara, Pyariganga (the place of Nakula Brahmacari) and the place of Vrndavana dasa Thakura at Denura. Soon Bhaktivinoda Thakura was transferred for a few days to Ranighata, from where he came to Dinajapura again. Sailaja Prasada was born there, his youngest son. In Dinajapura Bhaktivinoda wrote his Vidva-ranjana commentary and translation of the Bhagavad Gita; it was published in 1891 with the commentary of Baladeva.
1891 was the year Bhaktivinoda Thakura took leave from the government service for two years. He desired to preach the chanting of the Hare Krishna mahamantra. From his base at Svarupa Ganga he used to visit such places as Ghatala and Ramajivana to lecture in clubs, societies and organizations. This he’d also often do in Krishnanagara. In March of 1892 he traveled and preached with a party of Vaishnavas in the Basirahata District. All the while he was writing also. He opened many centers of Krishna worship (Nama Hatta) in different districts of Bengal. The Nama Hatta became a self-sustaining success which continued to spread even after his return to government service.
From Basirahata he set out on his third trip to Vrndavana; he stopped off at Amalajora to celebrate the Ekadashi day with Jagannatha dasa Babaji. In Vrndavana, he visited all the forests and places of pastimes; he continued to give lectures and readings on Hari Nama in various places in Bengal when he returned to Calcutta.
In February 1891 he gave a lecture on his investigation into the whereabouts of the exact birthsite of Shri Chaitanya; his audience included highly learned men from all over Bengal, who became very enthusiastic at the news. Out of this gathering the Shri Navadwipa Dhama Pracarini Sabha was formed for spreading the glories of the Yogapitha (the birthsite). That year, on Gaura Purnima, a big festival was held that witness the installation of Gaura- Vishnupriya Deities at the Yogapitha. All the learned pandits, having deliberated fully on Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s evidence, agreed that the Yogapitha was the true birthsite of Mahaprabhu.
In 1892, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura published the book Vaishnava-siddhanta- mala from his headquarters in Bengal. Later he printed individual chapters of Vaishnava-siddhanta-mala as separate booklets for public distribution. In 1900 he published Hari-nama-cintamani in Bengali poetic form.
In October 1894, at age 56, he retired from his post as Deputy Magistrate, though this move was opposed by his family and the government authorities. He stayed at Svarupa Ganga to worship, lecture and revise his old writings. Sometimes he went to Calcutta; there he begged door to door for funds to construct a Yogapitha temple. In July 1896 Bhaktivinoda Thakura went to Tripura at the request of the the king, who was a Vaishnava. He stayed in the capital for 4 days and preached the chanting of the holy name of Krishna. His lecture on the first day amazed all the local panditas; on the next two days the royal family and general public thrilled to his talks on the pastimes of Mahaprabhu.
Back in Svarupa Ganga, Bhaktivinoda Thakura printed a small booklet written in Sanskrit under the title Shri Gauranga-lila-smarana-mangala-stotram, with a commentary by Shrila Sitikantha Vacaspati of Nadia. The introduction in English was called “Chaitanya Manaprabhu, His life and Precepts”. This book found its way into the library of the Royal Asiatic Society in London, the library of McGill University in Canada and other respectable institutions. It was reviewed in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society by Mr. F.W. Fraser, an erudite British scholar.
In the rainy season of 1896, requested by the Maharaja of Tripura, he went to Darjilim and Karsiyam. In 1897 he went to many villages such as Medinipura and Sauri to preach.
Sisir Kumar Ghosh was the founder of the Amrta Bazar Patrika and the author of the Shri Amiya Nimai-carita. He had great respect for Bhaktivinoda Thakura; he also took up the preaching of the holy name throughout Calcutta and in many villages in Bengal. He published the Shri Vishnu Priya O Ananda Bazar Patrika under the editorship of Bhaktivinoda. In one of his letters to Bhaktivinoda he wrote, “I have not seen the six Goswamis of Vrndavana but I consider you to be the seventh Goswami.”
Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had been residing at Puri as a strict renunciate and was engaged in worship at the Gandharvika Giridhari Matha, one of seven mathas near the samadhi tomb of Haridasa Thakura. Bhaktivinoda Thakura, desiring to help his son, had the monastery cleaned and repaired when he came to Puri himself at the beginning of the 20th century. After Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati left Puri for Shri Navadwipa Mayapur, Bhaktivinoda Thakura constructed his own place of bhajana on the beach, calling it Bhakti Kuti; Krishnadasa Babaji, Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s devoted assistant and disciple, joined him there at this time. He was his constant attendant up to the end of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s life. He began solitary worship (bhajan) at this time; he had many visitors at this place. Some of them simply wanted to disturb him, whereas others were sincere and benefitted greatly from his spiritual inspiration.
In 1908, 3 months before Bhaktivinoda Thakura renounced the world, one of his sons who was working in a Calcutta government office came home to inform his father that Sir William Duke, chief secretary to the government, was in Calcutta. Bhaktivinoda Thakura had served under him as a magistrate. Bhaktivinoda Thakura made an appointment to meet him the next day at the government building. Sir William Duke greeted Bhaktivinoda Thakura on the street outside the building and personally escorted him into his office. With folded hands, he asked forgiveness for having once planned to remove Bhaktivinoda Thakura from his post of district magistrate; this was because he thought that if such qualified Indians held such important posts, the British would not last much longer in India. Formerly Sir William Duke used to visit to Bhaktivinoda’s house and would even take his meals there. Such familiarity between British nobility and the native people of India was uncommon. Now that Sir William was getting old, he wished to clear his conscience of guilty feelings from the past, and so confessed to Bhaktivinoda Thakura that he’d thought ill of him despite their close relationship. Bhaktivinoda Thakura answered, “I considered you to be a good friend and a well-wisher all along.” Pleased with Sir William, he gave him his blessings. Later Bhaktivinod Thakura admitted he was astonished that Duke wanted to harm him in some way.
In 1908 Bhaktivinoda Thakura took vesa (the dress of babaji, or renunciate) at Satasana in Puri. Until 1910 he would move between Calcutta and Puri, and continued to write; but after that he stopped all activity and remained in Puri, absorbed in the holy name of Krishna. He shut himself up and entered samadhi, claiming paralysis. On June 23, 1914, just before noon at Puri, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura left his body. This day was also the disappearance day of Shri Gadadhara Pandita. Amidst sankirtana his remains were interred in Godruma after the next solstice; the summer solstice had just begun when he had left his body.
About Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Sarada Carana Mitra, Calcutta High Court Judge, wrote: “I knew Thakura Bhaktivinoda intimately as a friend and a relation. Even under the pressure of official work as a magistrate in charge of a heavy district he could always find time for devotional contemplation and service, and whenever I met him, our talk would turn in a few moments to the subject of devotion, dvaitadvaita-vada philosophy and the saintly work that lay before him. Service of God is the only thing he longed for and service under the government, however honorable, was to him a clog.”
In executing his government service, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura would wear coat and pants to court, with double-size tulasi neckbeads and tilaka. He was very strong in his decisions; he would decide immediately. He did not allow any humbug in his court; no upstart could stand before him. He would shave his head monthly.
He was always charitable to brahmanas, and equally befriended other castes. He never showed pride, and his amiable disposition was a characteristic feature of his life. He never accepted gifts from anyone; he even declined all honors and titles offered by the government to him on the grounds that they might stand against his holy mission of life. He was very strict in moral principles, and avoided the luxurious life; he would not even chew betel. He never allowed harmonium and he never had any debts. He disliked theaters because they were frequented by public women.
He spoke Bengali, Sanskrit, English, Latin, Urdu, Persian and Oriya. He started writing books at age 12, and continued turning out a profuse number of volumes up until his departure from this world.
7:30-8:00 PM - take rest
10:00 PM - rise, light oil lamp, write
4:00 AM - take rest
4:30 - rise, wash hands and face, chant japa
7:00 - write letters
7:30 - read
8:30 - receive guests, or continue to read
9:30-9:45 - take rest
9:45 - morning bath, breakfast of half-quart milk, couple chapatis, fruit 9:55 - go to court in carriage 10:00 - court began.
1:00 PM - court finished. He’d come home and bathe and refresh.
2:00 PM - return to office.
5:00 PM - translate works from Sanskrit to Bengali
Then take evening bath and meal of rice, couple of chapatis, half-quart of milk.
He always consulted a pocket watch, and kept time very punctually.