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Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
Bhaktivinoda Thakur is responsible for reestablishing Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhus sankirtan movement which had become almost extinct by the mid 19th century. Due to sahajiya influence, the mission had deteriorated greatly, and later, by the policy of the British Raj, was further perverted. Through his tireless efforts, however, the Thakur restored the purity, prestige and respect of the Vaishnava creed amongst the cultured gentlemen of his day. He also sowed the seeds for future propagation of the mission worldwide.
Born Sunday 2 September 1838 of the wealthy Dutta family in the ancient village of Ulanagar, he is given the name Kedarnath. From early childhood he is attracted to hearing about Rama and Krishna. He loves to hear the recitation of Ramayan and Mahabharata at festival times. The village is very prosperous in these early days.
At seven he excels in reading and reciting, studying Bengali and mathematics. That year his elder brother and his maternal uncle both pass away. By his eighth year his two younger brothers also meet their death. He is obliged to experience the pain of the temporary material world. At nine he takes up the study of astrology. The family fortunes begin to decline, however, and by age eleven his father dies. The youngster begins to question, What is this world? Who are we?
His mother arranges his marriage at twelve to a five year old girl. She hopes to improve the family fortunes by this arrangement. At fourteen his uncle brings him to Calcutta to further his education. In his first year at the Hindu Charitable Institution School he takes top honors in the examinations and receives a medal. He begins to contribute articles to the Literary Gazette and completes an epic poem called The Poriade in two volumes at the age of eighteen.
His College years are spent researching the works of western philosophers. He takes up the study of world religions reading the Bible and the Koran. Giving lectures around Calcutta, he soon becomes known as a great debater and logician.
In 1856 he returns to Ula. There has been an outbreak of cholera.The village is empty and hundreds of people he knew have died, including his sister. His wife had also been ill but recovers. He takes his mother and grandmother to live with him in Calcutta. His wife, now 12, remains with her father. At nineteen his first job is teaching second grade at the Hindu Charitable institution School for fifteen rupees a month, but he cant meet expenses. His mother has to sell a gold necklace to pay the back rent.
In 1858, a letter arrives with word that his paternal grandfather is about to leave this world and wishes to see him before dying. He sets out with his wife and mother. The old man appears healthy enough on arrival, sitting upon a bed in the courtyard of his house, leaning against a bolster pillow, and chanting the holy name continuously. Shrila Bhaktivinoda describes the incident in his autobiography written as a letter in 1896.
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 27 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.
Thereafter, he takes his wife and mother to Cuttack and lives comfortably on a sixth grade teachers salary of twenty rupees a month. In 1860 he shifts his family to Bhadrak with the position of headmaster for 45 rupees a month. A year later he receives another position in Midnapur. It is here that he develops a desire to read Chaitanya Charitamrita.
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 pandit 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 Charitamrita. I began to search, but I could not secure a copy of the Charitamrita. I had faith that by reading that book I would achieve happiness, but Vaishnava books were not in print then.
Toward the end of 1861 his wife becomes ill and dies, leaving him with a ten month old son. I endured this grief like a warrior according to the Psalm of Life. His mother tries to raise the child, but she is too old and finds it difficult. Two months later he remarries Shrimati Bhagavati Devi, a sincere Vaisnavi of noble character, peaceful, and accomplished in all she does.
In 1863, he writes two poems that are published in the prestigious Calcutta Review, volume 39. He is highly praised for this work. He is now the Head Clerk of the Judges Court in Chuadanga on a salary of 150 rupees a month. It is here that he passes a law examination. In 1866 he accepts the position of Special Deputy Registrar of Assurances with powers of a Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Collector. He is 27 years old!
He takes his first tour of Vrndavan later that year and visits other holy places including Mathura, Prayag, and Kasi. In March of 1868 he finally obtains a copy of Chaitanya Charitamrita at Dinajpur, where he is appointed Deputy Magistrate.
On my first reading of Chaitanya Charitamrita I developed some faith in Shri Chaitanya. On the second reading I understood that there was no pandit equal to Shri Chaitanya. Then I had a doubt. Being such a learned scholar and having manifested the reality of love of Godhead to such an extent, how is it that He recommends the worship of the improper character of Krishna? I was initially amazed at this, and I thought about it deeply. Afterwards, I prayed to the Lord with great humility. O Lord! Please let me understand the mystery of this matter. The mercy of God is without limit. Seeing my eagerness and humbleness, within a few days He bestowed his mercy upon me and supplied the intelligence by which I could understand. I then understood that the truth of Krishna is very deep and confidential and the highest principle of the science of Godhead. From this time on, I knew God as Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. I made an effort to always speak with renounced Vaishnava pundits, and I came to understand many aspects of the Vaishnava dharma. In my very childhood the seed of faith in the Vaishnava religion was planted in my heart, and now it had sprouted. From the beginning I experienced anuraga, and it was very wonderful. Day and night I liked to read about krishna tattva.
Shortly thereafter, Bhaktivinoda writes a short poem out of ecstatic feeling for Lord Chaitanya called sac-cid-ananda-premalankara. From this time on he becomes famous as Sac-cid-ananda, one who embodies eternity, knowledge and bliss.
Here we see Lord Chaitanya reawakening the feelings of devotion in Bhaktivinoda, as they had been kept hidden to allow the Thakur to establish himself within the British Raj. Now his spiritual mission begins to manifest. Like Arjuna, it is for the benefit of all that come behind him.
In 1869 he gives a lecture in Dinajpur to many learned gentlemen of religion and culture, who have come from all over India. Some interested Englishmen also attend. This speech later takes the form of a book: The Bhagavat: Its Philosophy, Its Ethics and Its Theology. In this talk he criticizes the sectarianism that characterizes the religious strife between men. He also recounts his own history as a sectarian thinker who ignored the beauty of the Bhagavatam due to early prejudices imbibed from the English. He presents himself as a sectarian thinker who has had his eyes opened by Shri Chaitanya. Next he glorifies the Bhagavatam, and finally he explains the mysterious nature of Krishnas dalliances with the gopis, enlightening the listener with its profound universal meaning.
What better person could Lord Chaitanya choose to preach to the intelligentsia of his day than the Thakur? He is fully conversant with the burning issues of the times, well studied in the major philosophies and religions of the world, and a highly respectable figure in both Hindu and English circles. His opinions are seriously heard by both camps.
In 1871 he moves to Puri and takes up the study of the Goswamis literature while serving there as Chief Magistrate. Inspired by the holy dham, he composes two English poems. The first On Haridas Samadhi, contains one of his most famous verses.
He reasons ill who tells that Vaishnavas die
When thou art living still in sound.
The Vaishnavas die to live, and living try
To spread a holy life around.
The Thakuras heart is overflowing with deep spiritual emotions as he visits the holy sites of Mahaprabhus pastimes. His second poem, the 22 verse Saragrahi Vaishnava, describes the futility of material aspirations for sensory pleasures, and the souls journey to the eternal spiritual realm.
There rests my Soul from matter free
Upon my Lovers arms,
Eternal peace and Spirits love
Are all my chanting charms!
The same year he writes an essay To Love God wherein he gives a deep purport to the great commandment of Jesus the Christ; Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and love thy neighbor as thy self. He compares this commandment to the teachings of Vaisnavism, demonstrating how Shri Chaitanya further promulgated the teachings of Lord Jesus.
Within the first year of the Thakurs stay in Puri, the British ask him to watch over the affairs of the Jagannath Temple on behalf of the government. Due to his untiring work many bad practices at the temple are curbed, and the offerings to the Lord are regulated to punctuality.
As the magistrate for Puri he arrests the scoundrel yogi Bisakisen, possessed of mystic powers, who had proclaimed himself the incarnation of Maha Vishnu. The foolish people of the locality had indulged him, being fearful of his mystic prowess. Other villages are up in arms about the yogis affairs with married women and anxious that this fever might spread to the women of their own villages resulting in scandal and humiliation.
Bhaktivinoda apprehends the yogi and holds him over in jail for trial. Fasting from food and drink, the yogi increases his mystic potency to inflict hardships on the Thakurs family.
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 pet name for his daughter 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.
At last he is brought to trial and sentenced. Thousands of the yogis followers are outside the courtroom chanting Injustice. A young British officer, who had been reading about the mystic powers of yogis, rushes up behind the yogi as he is being transported from the courtroom and cuts off his matted locks with a huge pair of scissors. The yogi immediately falls down on the floor unable to walk. When his followers see that he has been overcome simply by having his hair removed, they desert him. The Thakur continues to prosecute other self proclaimed incarnations and thwarts their attempts to exploit the innocent public.
During this period Shrila Bhaktivinoda carefully studies the twelve cantos of Bhagavatam, and begins the Krishna-samhita, one of his most famous works. In great happiness he tours the holy places of Puri and constantly associates with the most elevated Vaishnavas in the area.
While in Puri I made much advancement in devotional service. I became more detached from wordly life. [The idea] that wordly progress produces anything of lasting value was gone forever. Almost every evening I would go to the temple to see the Lord, to hear and chant the Holy Name and associate with the devotees...Just as the Jagannath Temple is very lofty and beautiful, so also the service to the Deity was wonderful. To see it was charming to the mind. Daily, from five to seven hundred people, were present to see the routine festivals like the evening arati, etc. What bliss! Many kinds of pilgrims came from all over India to attend the religious festivals. Seeing that, ones eyes are soothed.
On a Friday afternoon at Jagannath Puri, February 6, 1874, Shrimati Bhagavati devi, and Thakur Bhaktivinoda are delighted with the appearance of a son. He is born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck resembling the sacred thread. Everyone is astonished. They take it as an auspicious sign. As Shri Bimala Devi represents the para sakti of Lord Jagannath, he is given the name Bimala Prasada. Shrila Bhaktivinoda had prayed for a ray of Vishnu to help him with his preaching, and this son will fulfill that mission as Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada.
Six months later in July the annual rathayatra festival is in progress. Inexplicably, the three carts stop at the gate in front of Bhaktivinoda Thakurs residence and remain there for three days. Mother Bhagavati Devi decides to take advantage of the situation in order to benefit her six month old son. She is allowed to ascend the ratha cart since her husband is manager of the Puri Temple. As she approaches Lord Jagannath, the child extends his arms to touch the feet of Shri Jagannath Deva, and is blessed with a garland from the Lord. His annaprasana, first feeding of rice, is celebrated with the Mahaprasada of Lord Jagannath on the ratha cart.
In the temple Bhaktivinoda begins regular lectures on Shrimad Bhagavatam. Due to his association many mayavadi brahmanas become devout Vaishnavas. One day, the Raja of Puri bursts noisily into the temple disturbing the Thakurs discourse. Unable to tolerate this disrespectful behavior, the Thakur voices his displeasure.
You have the right to hold the position of kingship over your small kingdom, but the Supreme Lord, Jagannath Purusottam, is the King of all kings. Therefore it is mandatory that you show respect to His Bhakti Mandap, where His glories are daily sung.
The king, immediately realizing his offense, bows before the assembled Vaishnavas begging for their forgiveness. Later in 1874, eighty thousand rupees are misappropriated from the Jagannath Temple by the Raja. Subsequently Bhaktivinoda punishes the king by obliging him to make fifty two offerings daily to Lord Jagannath.
Seeing his treasury depleting rapidly, the Raja seeks revenge and an attempt is made on the Thakurs life. A secret yajna is performed within the confines of the palace with fifty pandits chanting mantras in order to harm the Thakur by mystic power. At the end of the thirty day yajna when he is supposed to die, the only son of the Raja leaves his body instead.
The king and other persons connected with the temple used to commit many illegal acts. I would go there to prevent all such things, and thus I made enemies of the king and the kings men. Because I was helped by Lord Jagannath no one was able to harm me in any way.
After five years of service in Puri, Thakur Bhaktivinoda is posted at different areas of Bengal, finally settling in Narail in August 1878. While residing in Narail he publishes his Krishna-samhita in 1880. Immediately he receives high critical acclaim for this work. The following year he publishes Kalyan-kalpataru, a collection of songs describing the various stages of spiritual life from the earliest to the highest stage of prema bhakti. It is also highly acclaimed and acceped as an immortal work equal to the songs of Narottama das Thakur. The Vaishnava journal Sajjana-tosani is also begun in Narail as a monthly. Its aim is to educate influential and learned gentlemen about the divine mission of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
The Thakur now feels a great need to accept Vaishnava initiation.
I had been searching for a suitable guru for a long time, but I did not obtain one. I was very unhappy...I was feeling very anxious, and in a dream Mahaprabhu diminished my unhappiness. In that dream I received a little hint. That very day I became happy. One or two days later Gurudeva wrote a letter to me saying, I will soon come and give you diksa.
Subsequently he receives Bipin Bihari Goswami as his guest and becomes his disciple. In his commentary to Shri Chaitanya Charitamrita written fourteen years later he concludes with this prayer.
The eminent Bipin Bihari Prabhu, who is the manifestation of the transcendental energy of Lord Hari, who sports in the forests of Vraja, has descended in the form of the spiritual preceptor. Seeing me in the dark well of worldly existence, he has delivered this humble servant of his.
Towards the end of 1881 he again desires to visit Vrndavan after an absence of fifteen years. He sets out with his wife, his youngest son, and two servants. Upon arrival he comes down with fever, and prays to the Lord to relieve him for the duration of his pilgrimmage. After, if Krishna so desires, He can again purify him with fever. The illness disappears. While in Vrndavan he meets the exalted Vaishnava, Jagannath Das Babaji Maharaja, coming in disciplic succession from Baladeva Vidyabhusana. Babaji Maharaja is a constant source of inspiration and guidance for the Thakur, who becomes increasingly absorbed in the mission of Lord Chaitanya.
Upon his return to Calcutta, he is transferred to Jessore where he succumbs to a heavy fever in accordance with his prayer in Vrndavan. Receiving medical leave, he returns to Calcutta, purchases a house, the Bhakti Bhavan, and holds many meetings there to discuss spiritual topics. He expresses his realizations in an article for Sajjana Tosani.
Lord Chaitanya did not advent Himself to liberate only a few men of India. Rather, His main objective was to emancipate all living entities of all countries throughout the entire universe and preach the Eternal Religion. Lord Chaitanya says in the Chaitanya Bhagavat: In every town, country and village, My name will be sung. There is no doubt that this unquestionable order will come to pass. Very soon the unparalleled path of Hari-nama-sankirtan will be propagated all over the world...Oh for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German and American people will take up banners, mrdangas and kartals, amd raise kirtan through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh for that day when the fair-skinned men from their side will raise up the chanting of Jai Shachinandana````@P@````PP@P°`° `@```š`@°°`°° @@P` ` P@ °P`0@````@`` P`@ `PPP```@`PP`°°°Ppppppp p````@@@@ppppp````````` P```` ```````````````_8Ȱ_Ȱ_娜粜娈粜が粞〼粞ぜ粞, Jai Shachinandana````@P@````PP@P°`° `@```š`@°°`°° @@P` ` P@ °P`0@````@`` P`@ `PPP```@`PP`°°°Ppppppp p````@@@@ppppp````````` P```` ```````````````_8Ȱ_Ȱ_娜粜娈粜が粞〼粞ぜ粞 ki Jai, and join with the Bengali devotees.1
The article is a powerful prayer for bringing the people of the world together under the banner of the Holy Name. Next he makes a bold prophecy.
A personality will soon appear to preach the teachings of Lord Chaitanya and move unrestrictedly over the whole world with His message.
As Advaita Acarya invoked the descent of Lord Chaitanya through his prayer, so Thakur Bhaktivinoda invokes the descent of the person who will fulfill the ancient prophecy.
In 1887, at age forty nine, he discovers the Shri Caitanyopanisad, found only in very old manuscripts of the Atharva Veda. He writes a sanskrit commentary on the work. In 1886 and 1887 he produces ten books and is awarded the title Bhaktivinoda for his outstanding work of preaching and writing. He is now known as Sac-cit-ananda Bhaktivinoda Thakur.
At this point in his life he considers retiring from government duties to concentrate on his bhajan. One night Lord Chaitanya appears to him in a dream: You will certainly go to Vrndavan, but first there is some service you must perform in Navadvipa. What will you do about that?
He requests a transfer to Navadvipa and on November 15, 1887 his transfer to nearby Krishnanagar is granted. He is jubilant on receiving the news, but experiences high fevers at that time.
How shall I speak of my misfortune? Returning home in joy, I became anxious because a horrible fever came on. It did not subside. Collector Toynbee arrived and expressed a desire to postpone my substitution. But then I thought, Ill live or Ill die, but I will go to Krishnanagar.
Every Saturday he journeys to Navadvipa to search out the holy birth site of Lord Chaitanya. Most of the locals have no interest in the project and he becomes a little discouraged. They believe, that due to the shifting course of the Ganga, the actual site has been lost. Others claim the site is on the opposite bank of the river. The Thakur is neither satisfied nor convinced by these assertions. He continues his research and discovers that the present town of Navadvipa is less than a hundred years old. On an old map he finds the town Shri Mayapur on the opposite bank, situated at the same site as the current village of Ballaldighi. Some elderly locals of the village point out a mound covered with Tulasi as the actual place of Lord Chaitanyas birth.
One day he finds this verse in Shri Bhakti Ratnakara:
In the center of Navadvipa there is a special place called Mayapur. At this place the Supreme Lord, Shri Gaurachandra, took His birth.2
To confirm his discovery, the Thakur requests the elderly Shrila Jagannath das Babaji to come. When he is brought to the site, Babaji Maharaj becomes overwhelmed with ecstasy and jumps up exclaiming, This is indeed the birth place of Nimai. The discovery leads to further research and the publication of Shri Navadvipa Dham Mahatmyam in 1890 describing the holy places of Lord Chaitanyas pastimes.
He now establishes his own place of bhajan, Surabhi-kunja. From here he can look out across the Jalangi river towads Mayapur. One day he has a fantastaic vision, seeing a large golden city rising above the Ganges plane at the place of Shri Mayapur. He understands he is getting a glimpse of the fulfillment of Lord Chaitanyas prophecy.
In August 1891 Thakur Bhaktivinoda receives a two year furlough from Government service and begins preaching from Godruma-dvip, which he dubs Nama Hatta, the market place of the Holy Name. He travels with three other close friends chanting and lecturing in many places. Altogether the Thakur establishes over five hundred Nama Hatta sangas. In this period he also writes prodigiously producing eighteen books!
We performed nama-sankirtan everywhere. After coming to my house in Calcutta, I proceeded to Surabhi-kunja and we performed a great deal of sankirtan there too.
Government service has now become a hindrance to his real work of sankirtan, preaching the glories of the holy name. He retires to Surabhi-kunja at age fifty-six. Determined to build a temple in Mayapur, he goes door to door in Calcutta begging donations. As the foundation for the temple is being dug, a Deity of Adhoksaja Vishnu is found. Referring to the Vaishnava scriptures, the Thakur discovers that this is the family Deity worshipped by Jagannath Misra, Mahaprabhus father. The archeological evidence further confirms the authenticity of the birth site of the Lord.
On Gaura Purnima, March 21 1895, the temple is opened with an enormous installation ceremony and sankirtan festival. The occasion is compared to the Kheturi festival organized by Narottama Das Thakur 450 years ago to unite the followers of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur installs deities of Lord Chaitanya and His eternal consort Vishnupriya Devi, as thousands of Vaishnavas attend the celebration to chant, dance and feast.
The following year, 1896, is certainly one of the momentous moments in Vaishnava history. A small book entitled Chaitanya Mahaprabhu - His Life and Precepts is penned by the Thakur in English and sent to major university librairies around the world. In Calcutta on September 1st of that year a son is born to Gaura Mohan De and his wife. He is destined to fulfill the Thakurs prediction. With natural humility, he gives the credit to his Guru Maharaja.
Shrila Prabhupada: Thakur Bhaktivinoda also wanted to beget a son who could preach the philosophy and teachings of Lord Chaitanya to the fullest extent. By his prayers to the Lord he had as his child Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Maharaja, who at the present moment is preaching the philosophy of Lord Chaitanya throughout the entire world through his bona fide disciples.3
The prediction also applies to Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, but the personality moving unrestrictedly over the whole world with the message of Mahaprabhu, certainly is Shrila Prabhupada. Therefore we can say that both of these great personalities fulfilled Lord Chaitanyas prophecy because the sincere disciple is never separate from the instructions of his Guru Maharaja.
Returning to Puri in 1900 the Thakur establishes a place for his bhajan near the samadhi of Shrila Haridas Thakur which he names the Bhakti Kuti. In the same year one of his most important books, Shri Harinama Cintamani, is published.
In 1908 he gives up his household life and accepts initiation into the babaji order of life from Gaura Kishor Das Babaji Maharaja, a renowned paramahamsa saint. He puts on the the outer cloth and kaupin previously worn by Shrila Jagannath Das Babaji Maharaja, which he has saved since the Babajis maha samadhi. After a brilliant life in which he has single handedly reestablished the Vaishnava dharma according to the teachings of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Thakur Baktivinode retires from public life and spends his final years in solitude ecstatically tasting the nectar of pure Krishna Prema.
On June 23rd, 1914, on the disappearance day of Shri Gadadhara Pandit, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur mourns the passing of his father, Shrila Sat-cid-ananda Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Immediately, he begins printing the various books that the Thakur has left unpublished, and also takes up the republishing of Sajjana Tosani.