About the year 1500 A.D., the incarnation of God Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu began the Hare Krishna Movement in Navadvip, 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 Srimad-Bhagavatam, spread all over India within a short time. The movement popularized sankiritan, 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 pseudo-devotees) 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 Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who was named Kedarnath Datta by his father (some say by his Godfather), was born in opulent circumstances on the 2nd September 1838., on a Sunday in Biranagara (Ulagrama) in the district of Nadia. He was the seventh son of Raja Krsnananda 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 Vaishnavism at all.
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 illusiory. Still, the young Kedaranatha Datta passed over these difficulties with great endurance.
His mother arranged a marriage for him when he was just twelve (1850 A.D.) to the then five year old daughter of Madhusudana Mitra Mahasaya, a resident of Rana Ghata. Around this time Kasiprasada Ghosh Mahasaya Thakur (Kedaranatha Datta’s uncle), who had mastered under the British education, came to Ulagrama after the death of his maternal grandfather. He schooled young Kedaranatha Datta at his home in Calcutta; this was at first resisted by Kedaranatha Datta’s mother, but by the time he was years of age he was allowed to go.
The 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; many writers came to him to learn the art of writing in correct English. At this time, and recognising Kedaranatha Datta’s natural ability, he assisted Kasisprasada by judging manuscripts submitted to the newspaper. Sri Kedaranatha Datta 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.
He became ill from the salty water of Calcutta. He returned to Ulagrama and was treated by a ‘Muslim soothsayer’ (‘tantric’) who predicted that the village of Biranagara would soon become pestilence-ridden and deserted. The Muslim also predicted Kedaranatha Datta would become recognized as a great devotee of Lord Krsna.
At the age of 18 years (1856.) Kedarnatha Datta 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 further 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.
Sriman Dvijendranatha Thakur, the eldest son of Maharsi Devendranatha Thakur, was Sri Kedaranatha Datta’s best friend during these scholastic years. He assisted Kedaranatha Datta in his studies of Western religious literatures. Affectionately Kedaranatha Datta used to call Devendranatha Thakura ‘baro dada’, or big brother.
He was very taken by Christian theology, and regarding it more interesting, and less offensive than Hindu monism, ‘advaita-Vedanta of Sankaracarya’. 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 Datta returned to Biranagara and found the Muzzi’s prediction about that place to have come true; the place was ruined and deserted. Sri Kedaranatha Datta 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, who used to be a big man in Calcutta, who was now living as an ascetic in the Orissan countryside. His days were coming to a close. He could predict the future, so he knew it himself very well. He wanted Kedaranatha Datta to be with him when he departed this world, which he did in 1859, when Kedaranatha Datta was 21 years of age. After receiving his grand-father’s last instructions, he travelled to all the monasteries and temples in the state of Orissa.
As a young householder Srila Bhaktivinoda began to consider the question of the means of his livelihood. He was not interested in business, as he’d seen how the apparent ‘necessary dishonesty’ of the trade world due to competition for sales, had moraly weakened the merchant class. Their work ethics becoming removed from the principle of mutually helping others by which they would automatically be protected from failure to succeed, as well as being co-operatively assisted by the ‘natural laws of compensation’, ‘karma’.
He decided instead 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 teachers 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 dedicated work was noted by the school-board 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 ‘ashramas’ and temples in the state; this book received favorable mention in the work called “Orissa” by British historian Sir William Hunter; Hunter praised Kedaranatha Datta’s moral and religious character, as everyone did.
As the headmaster of the Medinipura high school, Kedaranatha Datta looked into the various religious sects, their philosophies and practices. He could see that many of them were taking it all very cheaply. He came to understand that the only real religion that had ever been established in Bengal was that of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu; unfortunately at present, His movement was not well-represented. Due to the misrepresentation, and coruptions and influence of the ‘Apa-sampradayas’ this sincere soul Sri Kedaranatha Datta could not even get a copy of the Sri Caitanya Caritamrta, despite all his efforts.
The Thakura made an onslaught against those who belonged to the apasampradayas who were polluting Gaudiya Vaisnavism by basically thirteen deviant philosophies – Aula, Baula (2 types), Karttabhaja, Neda, Daravesa, Sani, Sahajiya, Sakhibheki, Smarta, Jatagosani, Ativadi, Cudadhari and Gauranga-Nagari. These deviant groups, mostly because of their boldness, had been seen by the public as the Gaudiya Sampradaya, though actually none were following the pure Vaisnava regulative principles strictly, as laid down by the followers of Sri Krsna Caitanya (namely the Goswamis). Being a follower of the Goswamis or not is interdependent on qualifying one to be a Gaudiya Vaisnava.
For more details on apa-sampradayas one should read the very nice articles, running as a sequil in the “Back to Godhead” magazine 1991 editions on the same, by His Holiness Suhotra Swami, Iskcon.
Sri Kedaranatha Datta’s first wife died, so in the town of Jakapura he married Bhagyavati De.
In the year 1861 Sri Kedarantha Datta 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.
Sri Kedaranatha Datta – In the post of Deputy Magistrate. In the year 1866 Kedaranatha Datta took the positon of Deputy Register with the power of a Deputy Collector and Deputy Magistrate in the district of Chapara. He also was known to have 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 Gautamashrama at Godana; desiring to establish a school for teaching ‘nyaya-shastra’, he delivered a speech there (in 1866) which was well-received. The school was in fact established, the foundation-stone being laid in 1883 by Sir Rivers Thomson, after whom the school was named. Though Sri Kedaranatha Datta 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 Kedaranatha Datta 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.
Sri Kedaranatha Datta 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 Srimad Bhagavatam and Caitanya Caritamrta from Calcutta.
He read Caitanya Caritamrta repeatedly; his faith in Krsna Consciousness developed until he was absorbed in the pure ‘bhakti-shastras’ day and night. He was incessantly submitting 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 Sri Krsna. He published a song about Lord Caitanya 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 Srimad 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 worshipper. Sri Kedaranatha Datta engaged the father of Pandita Ramabhai, a famous girl scholar, to read Srimad Bhagavatam under the tree continuously, by day and night; after one month, the tree crashed to the ground, and naturally many people found faith in the Srimad Bhagavatam.
From Camparana he went to Puri, which engladdened his heart no end.
Near the capital of Orissa, 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. He could also produce fire from his head. He had two companions going by the names Brahma and Siva; he claimed to be Maha Vishnu. The small kings of Orissa came under his sway and were providing funds for the construction of a temple for the ‘Triguna-Avataras’; they also sent him women with whom he engaged in ‘rasa-lila’ enjoyments. Bisakisena declared he’d drive off the British from ruling Orissa and himself would become king. He published such statements which were circulated all around Orissa. The British thought him a revolutionary for speaking out against the ‘British Raj’, 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 Bisakisena. Mr. Ravenshaw, district commissioner for Orissa, requested Sri Kedaranatha Datta to bring Bisakisena to justice. Sri Kedaranatha Datta went personally to Bisakisena; Bisakisena showed some powers that would normally scare off an ordinary man, and informed Kedaranatha Datta that he knew well who he was and his mission, but that since he (Bisakisena) was the Lord, he’d better not interfere with him. That was enough for Sri Kedaranatha Datta, who replied by acknowledging Bisakisena’s accomplishments in ‘yoga’ and ‘tantra’, and requested him to come to Puri where he could have the ‘darshan’ of Jagannatha. Bisakisena haughtily said, “Why should I come to see Jagannatha? He’s only a hunk of wood; I am the Supreme in person.” Sri Kedaranatha Datta became instantly furious and 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. The accomplaces to the ‘divine trilogy’ ‘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.
The fearless Kedaranatha Datta tried Bisakisena in Puri; the trial lasted 18 days, during which time thousands of people whom he had control over gathered outside the courtroom demanding Bisakisena’s release. On day six of the trial Kedaranatha Datta’s second daughter Kadambini (aged 7 years) became seriously ill and nearly died; but within a day she had recovered. Sri Kedaranatha Datta knew it was the power of the ‘tantric 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 Datta should release him at once or face worse miseries. On the last day of the trial Kedaranatha Datta himself became ill from high fever and suffered exactly as his daughter had done for one whole day. But the determined Kedaranatha Datta 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 ‘yogis’ hair. The ‘yogi’ drew power from his long hair; he hadn’t eaten or drunk during the whole trial, so 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 there in the year 1873.
In Puri, Sri Kedaranatha Datta studied Srimad Bhagavatam with the commentary of Sridhara Swami, he also 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, Bhaktivinode Thakur 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 Sri Krsna samhita, Tattva-sutram and Tattva-viveka (which we have cited in the early sections of this book); he wrote many books in Bengali such as the Kalyana-kalpataru; in 1874 he composted Datta-kausubha (in Sanskrit).
While in Puri he established a Vaishnava discussion society known as the Bhagavat-samsat in the Jaganatha-vallabha gardens, where Sri Ramananda Raya did bhajana. All the prominent Vaishnavas joined this group except for Raghunatha dasa Babaji, known as Siddha Purusha. He thought that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was unauthorized, as he did not wear ‘kanthi-mala’ or ’tilaka’; moreover, he advised other Vaishnavas to avoid Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s association.
But soon thereafter Raghunatha dasa Babaji contracted a deathly illness for his offense. In a dream, Lord Jagannatha appeared to him and told him to pray for the mercy of Bhaktivinoda Thakura if he at all wanted release from the illness and death. He did so; Bhaktivinoda Thakura gave him special medicines and cured him, and also blessed Raghunatha dasa Babaji with a true awareness of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s position.
Others had a natural affection like Sri Swarupa dasa Babaji, who did ‘bhajana’ at Satasana near the ocean in Puri; he showed much affection for Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and gave him many profound instructions and insights from his own realisations on the bhajana of the holy name.
Another Charan dasa Babaji, preached and printed books advising that one should chant the ‘Hare Krsna Mahamantra’ in ‘japa’ and ‘Nitai Gaura Radhe Syama Hare Krsna Hare Rama’ in ‘kirtana’. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura preached long and hard to him; after a long time Charan dasa Babaji came to his senses and begged forgiveness from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, admitting his fault in spreading this nonsense ‘mantra’ all over Bengal; six months later Charan dasa Babaji went mad and died in great distress.
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura was one of this age’s formost devotional scholars, yet humbly presents himself as the insignificant messenger of the Lord as we can note from this following message of his; “The way how I got the inspiration to compile this book (Sri Srimad Bhagavata Arka Marichimala) is a Divine Mystery which I felt not proper from my part to disclose as it might be bridging spiritual conceit, but subsequently I realise that it would be an undoing to my spiritual master which might stand as an obstacle on the path of my spiritual progress therefore without any shame I record the fact that while under the benediction of my Guru Sri Bapin Behari Goswami who belonged to the great heritage of Thakur Vamshibadananda, a faithful follower of my Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu I was deeply penetrating upon Srimad Bhagavatam, one day in a vision Sri Svarup-Damodara, the right hand personal Adherent of Lord Sri Chaitanya, instructed me to compile the slokas of Srimad Bhagavatam in accordance with the principles of ‘Sambandha’, Abhidheya’ and ‘Prayojana’ as laid down by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu – so that the book will read with an easy understanding with great interest and delight by the loving devotees of the Lord. Sri Svarupa-Damodar Prabhu further guided me by giving a wonderful explanation of the first sloka of Srimad Bhagavatam and also showed me how I have to explain the slokas under the light of Gaudiya-Vaishnava Philosophy.”(B.P Yati. 1978. Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Sri Srimad Bhagavata Arka Marichimala. Chapter 20., supplication 3. inclusion. page 479.)
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura became manager of Jagannatha Puri Temple; he used his government powers to establish regularity in the worship of the Deity. In the Jagannatha Puri Temple courtyard he established a ‘Bhakti Mandapa’, where daily discourses of Srimad Bhagavatam were held. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura would spend long hours discussing Krsna and chanting the holy name, especially at Tota-Gopinatha Mandir, the tomb of Haridasa Thakur, the Siddha Bakula and the Gambhira. He made notes on the Vedanta-sutra which were used by Sri 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 the Narayana Chata Matha, on the 5th day of the dark fornight of Magha in the year 1874, the 4th son of Bhaktivinoda Thakura took birth. He was named Bimala Prasada (later known as Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada).
As a householder Bhaktivinoda (Kedarnatha Datta) had two wives and no less than 10 children, of which the great Vaisnava scholar Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati (Siddhanta Saraswati Thakura) was one. Bimala Prasad (Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati) was born in Sri Purusottama Kshetra (Jagannatha Puri) on 6th February 1874 AD, answering the prayer of Bhaktivinoda for the Lord “to send a Ray of Visnu” to preach the message of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu all over the world. He was given the name Bimal Prasad.
When the child was six months old, Lord Jagannatha’s cart stopped in front of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s house in Puri for three days during the procession. Bhaktivinoda told his wife, Bhagavati Devi, to bring out the child for ‘darsan’ of Lord Jagannatha. As she placed the child before the Lord, a garland from the Lord encircled the baby boy, and the first grain ceremony (‘anaprasna’) was performed at that time with Jagannatha ‘prasad’. Bimala Prasada stayed in Puri for ten months after his birth and then went to Bengal by palanquin on his mother’s lap, his infancy was spent at Nadia District’s Ranaghat hearing topics of Sri Hari from his mother.
Srila Bhaktivinoda and his wife were orthodox and virtuous; they never allowed their children to eat anything other than ‘prasada’, nor to associate with bad company. One day, when Bimala Prasada was still a small child of no more than four years, his father mildly rebuked him for eating a mango not yet duly offered to Lord Krsna. Bimala Prasada, although only a child, considered himself an offender to the Lord and vowed never to eat mangoes again. (This was a vow that he would follow throughout this life.) By the time Bimala Prasada was seven years old, he had memorized the entire Bhagavad Gita and could even explain its verses giving wonderful purports. His father then began training him in proof reading and printing, in conjunction with the publishing of the Vaisnava magazine Sajjana tosani.
Two years earlier, Kamala Prasada, the 3rd son of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, had taken birth.In 1874 Bhaktivinoda Thakura discovered the Raja of Puri had misappropriated Rs. 80 thousand for sense gratification. This money belonged to the temple, so Bhativinoda Thakura forced the Raja to give Lord Jagannatha ‘bhoga’ 52 times daily. This diminished the money quickly; the ‘raja’ was angry at Bhaktivinoda Thakura and began, with the help of 50 ‘pandits’, a ‘Maran-karmani tantric yajna’ meant for killing Bhaktivinoda Thakura which went on for 30 days; when the last oblations were poured, it was the kings son and not the pure hearted Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura who died.
He left Puri on special business; returned to Bengal and saw 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 his two famous books Sri Krsna-samhita and Krsna-kalpataru were published. In a letter dated April 16th., 1880, Dr. Reinhold Rost wrote to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura: “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.” These two works brought the devotional attention of many of India’s pandits and educated men.
In 1877 Varada Prasada was born, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s fifth son; in 1878, Viraja Prasada was born, the sixth son: both appeared at Rana Ghata.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura took ‘pancaratrika diksa’ initiation from Bipin Bihari Goswami, descended from the Jahnava family of Baghnapara. At the same time, his seventh son, Lalita Prasada, appeared at Rana Ghata.
Many people had adopted Vaishnavism at Haraila, but they could not tell who was a Vaishnava and who not; Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura gave them shelter and instructed them on this matter most exactingly.
Once Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and his son-cum-assistant went to see Bhaktivinoda’s ‘guru’, Vipin Bihari Goswami (Bipin Behari Goswami). Vipin Bihari Goswami was coming in the disciplic succession from Sri Gadadhar Pandit the plenary portion of Srimati Radharani. The followers of this line are generally Raganuga Bhaktas, worhipping Sri Gaura Gadahara in a loving spontaneous mood of ‘bhava’. This mode of worship is not for those who are materially confined by the dictates of the body and senses, but for those who are already experiencing their eternal loving relationship with the Divine couple Sri Radha Krsna.
There is an interesting little story which captures the mood of Bhaktivinoda and that of his son, then named Siddhanta Saraswati. In their ‘siddha deha’ as pure ‘nitya siddha’, eternal associates of Lord Krsna, Bhaktivinoda Thakura is Kamala Manjari, one of the maid servants of the ‘gopis’, and Siddhanta Saraswati is her assistant Nayana Manjari. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s dealings with his ‘diksa guru’ were always exemplary, even though Vipin Bihari Goswami was not very advanced, being a ‘kanistha adhikari guru’, whereas the Thakura was an ‘uttama adhikari’, ‘paramahamsa’ of the highest order. Still Bhaktivinoda always played the humble disciple. On one such occasion in the presence of young Siddhanta Saraswati, Bhaktivinoda Thakura paid his respectful obeisances to his ‘guru’. Vipin Bihari Goswami replied by placing his feet on the Thakura’s head. For the young fiery Siddhanta Saraswati this was too much! It was one thing that his father had accepted him as his formal initiating spiritual master, but this was going too far. Srila Siddhanta Saraswati was only seven years old at the time, but when Bhaktivinoda Thakura left the room leaving the two of them alone, Siddhanta Saraswati decided to set things straight.
“You are acting like a big, big ‘guru’ and you place your feet on the heads of those who you don’t know. If you knew who the Thakura is you would not do it. But you do not know! My father is a great exalted ‘nitya siddha’, eternal associate of Sri Radha and Krsna who has come here to fulfil Their mission. Do you think that you are so advanced that you can place your feet on the head of such a person? I think not. You have proven yourself to be a ‘kanistha adhikari’ (neophyte) by not being able to distinguish between those who are advanced and those who are less advanced, therefore I suggest that you desist from this practice any further.” Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura then re-entered the room and the conversation changed. Later that day Vipin Bihari Goswami mentioned to Bhaktivinoda, “Your son is bold to the point of being rude.” Later Thakura Bhaktivinoda found out about the conversation and used to jokingly glorify his exalted son to his friends, saying how he is fearless, that he even chastised my ‘guru’ Vipin Bihari Goswami.
Reflecting on this incident we can see that even if one’s spiritual master is not an ‘uttama adhikari’, ‘mahabhagavat’ devotee of the Lord still one should be satisfied, and serve him anyway. Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who himself was certainly a ‘mahabhagavat’, set the example how to serve and show respects. On the other side of the transcendental coin, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati showed a nice lesson to us. We should not show ourselves to be more advanced than we really are, lest we commit offences against those who are actually advanced.
In 1881 Bhaktivinoda Thakura began publishing ‘Sajjanatosani’, his Vaisnava journal.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had previously pilgrimaged to Kasi, Prayaga, Mathura and Vrndavana (‘Vraja Mandal’) in 1866. At the close of his stay in Naraila he desired to again see the land of Vraja. He took three months for this purpose. At this time he met Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji there, who had a program by which he moved every six months between Navadwipa and Vrndavana. Meeting him, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura accepted him as his eternally worshippable ‘siksa’ (instructing) ‘guru’.
During his pilgrimage at this time he dealt with a gang of ‘dacoits’ known as the Kanjharas who robbed and killed pilgrims; he gave evidence to the government and a commision 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 started daily worship of Sri Giridhari (the transcendental form of Krsna who appeared in the form of Govardhan Hill) and called the house Bhakti-bhavan. He was appointed head of the subdivision of Barasa.
In 1881, in the course of excavating for the construction of the ‘Bhakti bhavana’ at Rambagan in Calcutta, a Deity of Kurmadeva was unearthed. After initiating his seven year old son, Bhaktivinoda entrusted Bimala with the service of the deity of Kurmadeva.
The well-known novelist Bankim Candra met Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura at Barasa. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had written a book about Krsna and showed it to Bhaktivinoda Thakura, 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 Krsna) and his book to conform with the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura used to say, “knowledge is power”.
On April 1, 1884, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was appointed the senior Deputy Magistrate of Serampore, where he admitted Bimala in the Serampore High School. When Bimala was a mere student in class five, he invented a new method of writing named Bicanto. During this period he took lessons in mathematics and astrology from Pandita Mahesacandra Cudamoni. However, he preferred to read devotional books rather than the school texts.
During the last year of his stay at Barasat (1886), Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura published an edition of the Bhagavad Gita with the Sanskrit commentary of Srila Vishvanatha Cakravarti Thakur, which he translated into Bengali (the “Rasika-ranjana” translation). Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had undertaken this task at the request of Babu Sarada Carana Mitra, ex-judge of the Calcutta High Commission. Sriman Bankima Candra wrote the preface, acknowledging his own indebtedness to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura; he noted that all Bengali readers would be indebted to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura for his saintly work.
From Barasat, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was transferred to Sriramapur. He visited the residence of Uddharana Datta Thakur, a great associate of Lord Nityananda, at Saptagram. At Khanakula he visited the place of Abhirama Thakur, and saw the place of another great devotee of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Vasu Ramananda, at Kulinagrama.
At Sriramapura he composed and published his masterly writing, Sri Caitanya Siksamrta, and also the Vaisnava-siddhanta-mala, Prema-pradipa and Manah-siksa. He was also publishing Sajjanatosani on a regular basis. In Calcutta he set up the Sri Caitanya Yantra, a printing press at the ‘Bhakti Bhavana’, upon which he printed Maladhara’s Sri Krsna-vijaya and his own Amnaya-sutra and the Caitanyopanisad of the Atharva Veda.
Finding the Caitanyopanisada was a difficult task. Hardly anyone in Bengal had heard of it. Consequently Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had to travel to many places in Bengal looking for it; finally, one devoted Vaisnava pandita named Madhusudana dasa (sometimes found listed in the ‘Guru-parampara’ listings) sent an old copy he’d been keeping with him at Sambalapura for Bhaktivinoda Thakura; Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote a ‘Sanksrit’ commentary on the book and called it Sri Caitanya Caranamrta. Madhusudana dasa Mahasaya translated the verses into Bengali; this translation was called Amrta-bindhu. It was a sellout when published.
In Calcutta srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura started the Sri Visva-Vaisnava Sabha, dedicated to the preaching of pure bhakti as taught by Lord Caitanya. To publicize the work of the society, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura published a small booklet entitled Visva-Vaisnava-kalpavi.
Also he published his own edition of the Sri Caitanya Caritamrta, with his Amrta-prabhava Bhasya commentary. And he introduced the Caitanyabda or Caitanya-era calendar, and gave assistence to the propagation of the Caitanya Panjika, which established the feast day of Gaura Purnima.
He lectured and gave readings on books like the Bhakti Rasamrta Sindhu (of Srila Rupa Goswami) in various Vaishnava societies; he published in the Hindu Herald, an English periodical, a detailed account of Sri Caitanya’s life.
It was at this time that the learned Vaisnavas recognized Kedaranatha Datta and given the honourary titile as Bhakti Vinoda Thakura.
In the year 1887 Srila 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 Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared to him and spoke, “You will certainly go to Vrndavana, but first there is some service you must perform in Navadwipa, so what will you do about that?” When the Lord disappeared, Bhaktivinoda Thakura awoke. Srila Bhakti Bhrinha Mahasaya, hearing of this dream, told Bhaktivinoda Thakura to apply for a transfer to Krishnanagara; he did, even turning down offers of personal assistanceship to the chief Commissioner of Assam and the seat of the Minister of Tripura State. He even tried to retire at this time, but his application was not accepted. Finally, in December of 1887 he arranged for a mutual exchange of personell: himself for 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 Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. One night he was sitting on the roof of the Rani Dharmasala in Navadwipa chanting on his ‘Japa-beads’, when he spotted a very tall Tala tree with some very strange substance attached to it; 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 Caitanya Bhagavat and Navadwipa Dhama Parikrama by Narahari Sarkar, and some old maps of Nadia. 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 dharmasalla rooftop was in fact the birthplace of Mahaprabhu. This was confirmed by Srila Jaganatha dasa Babaji, the head of the Gaudiya Vaisnava community in Nadia.
A great festival was held there. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura published the Navadwipa Dhama Mahatmya.
Also in 1887, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura renovated the house of Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji at Ravasghata. He took leave from office for two years and acquired a plot of land at Sri Godadrumadwipa, or Svarupaganga. He built a retirement house there for his ‘bhajana’, and called it Surabhi Kunja; 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; Bhaktivinoda Thakura considered himself the street sweeper of the ‘Nama Hatta’ of Nitai.
Once whilst stationed in Krishanaga, every second spare was spent in Mayapur. As mentioned in the story of Jagannatha dasa Babaji, Thakura Bhaktivinoda, along with Babaji Maharaja found Lord Caitanya’s birthplace in the year 1887. When the birthplace was uncovered, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji would worship Lord Caitanya there (this episode was told in regard to Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji’s Life.)
Once one of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s sons contracted a skin disease; Jaganntha dasa Babaji told the boy to lie down at the birthsite of Lord Caitanya for the night – he did so, and the next morning he was cured.
In 1888 he 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 have ‘kirtana’ with the devotees from a place called Amalajora, headed by Kshetra 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, Piyariganga (the place of Nakula Brahmacari) and the place of Vrndavana dasa Thakur 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 Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura 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 ‘Sri Hari-Nama’. His base was at Godadrumadwipa; from there 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. He travelled and preached in March of 1892 in the Basirahata District together with some other Vaishnavas. All the while he was writing also. He opened many branches of ‘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. Also from Basirahata he set out on his third trip to Vrndavana; he stopped off at Amalajora to celebrate the Ekadasi day with Srial Jagannatha dasa Babaji. In Vraja, 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 actual birthsite of Sri Caitanya; his audience included highly learned men from all over Bengal, who became very enthusiastic at the news. Out of this gathering the Sri Navadwipa Dhama Pracarini Sabha was formed for spreading the glories of Navadvipa-Mayapura. All the learned pandits, having deliberated fully on Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s evidence, agreed that the Yogapitha was the true birthsite of Mahaprabhu. That year, on Gaura Purnima, a big festival was held that witness the installation of Gaura-Visnupriya Dieties at the Yogapitha.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura personally, in a spirit of pure humility, went door to door collecting to raise funds to build a temple on the very site. In the Amrta Bazaar Patrika, December 1894, an article appeared: “Babu Kedarnatha Datta, the distinguished magistrate who has just retired from service, is one of the most active members. Indeed, Babu Kedarnatha Datta has been deputed by his committee to raise subscriptions in Calcutta and elsewhere and is determined to go from house to house if necessary and beg a rupee from each Hindu gentleman for noble purpose. If Babu Kedarnatha Datta sticks to his resolution of going around with bag in hand, we hope that no Hindu gentleman whose house may be honoured by the presence of such a devout bhakta as Babu Kedarnatha, will send him away without contributing his mite, however humble it may be, to the Gaura-Visnupriya Temple Fund.” His venture was highly successful and the temple was built.
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 Surabhi Kunja and preached, as well as revised his old writings. Sometimes he went to Calcutta; there he begged door to door for building the Yogapitha temple.
In July 1896 Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura went to Tripura at the request of the the king, who was a Vaishnava. He stayed in the capital for four days and preached the glories of Sri Hari-Nama. His lecture on the first day amazed all the local ‘panditas’; on the next two days the local Royal family and general public thrilled to his talks on the pastimes of Mahaprabhu.
His mercy far outreaches the geographical boundaries of India or even Asia, taking Krsna consciousness to the West.
Back in Godruma, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura sent out a small booklet, written in Sanskrit, to Sri Gauranga-lila-smarana-mangala-stotram, with a commentary by Srila Sitikantha Vacaspati of Nadia. The intro, “Caitanya Manaprabhu, His life and precepts”, was in English (Which we have included in this book in the section on Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu) This book found its way into the library of the Royal Asiatic Society in London, the library of McGill University in Canada (the year is 1896) and other respectable institutions. It was reviewed in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society by Mr. F.W. Fraser, an erudite European scholar.
In the rainy season of 1896, requested by the Maharaja of Tripura, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura went to Darjeeling and Karsiyam. In 1897 he went to many villages such as Medinipura and Sauri to preach.
Sri Sisira Kunara Ghosa was the founder of the Amrta Bazaar Patrika and the author of the Sri Amiya Nimai-carita. He had great respect for Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura; he also took up the preaching of the holy name throughout Calcutta and in many villages in Bengal. He published the ‘Sri Visnu Priya O Ananda Bazar Patrika’ under the editorship of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. In one of his letters to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura he wrote, “I have not seen the six Goswamis of Vrndavana, but I consider you to be the seventh Goswami.”
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s son Bimala Prasad (latter Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati) had been residing at Puri as a ‘naisthika brahmacari’ (celebate student) and was engaged in bhajan at the Gandharvika Giridhari Matha, one of seven ‘mathas’ near the ‘samadhi’ tomb of Haridasa Thakur on the sea-shore. Srila 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 the young (Bhakti) Siddhanta Saraswati left Puri for Sri Navadwipa Mayapur, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura constructed his own place of ‘bhajana’ on the beach, calling it Bhakti Kuti; one Sri Krsnadasa Babaji, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s devoted assistant and disciple, joined him there at this time, and he became very dear to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and was his constant attendant up to the end of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s life.
He began solitary ‘bhajan’ (worship and devotional meditation) at this time; he had many visitors at this place, and some of them simply wanted to disturb him, whereas others were sincere and benefitted greatly from his spiritual inspiration.
In 1908, three months before he took ‘sannyasa’, a son of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura who was working in the writers building in Calcutta, came home to inform Bhaktivinoda Thakura that Sir William Duke, cheif secretary to the government, was in Calcutta; formerly Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had served under him as a magistrate. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura made an appointment to meet him the next day at the writers building. Sir William Duke met with Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura on the street outside the building and personally escorted him in to his office. With folded hands, he asked forgiveness for having once planned to remove Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura from office of district magistrate; this was because he thought that if such qualified Indians take up such posts, the British would not last much longer in India.
In those days, while studying Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s activities (then Kedarnatha Datta), he’d come to his house and would be fed ‘puri’, ‘luchi’ and sweets by the Thakura’s wife. But now he was begging forgiveness as he was getting on in life; Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura answered, “I consider you to be a good friend and a well wisher all along.” Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was pleased with him and gave him his blessings. Later Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura admitted he was astonished that Sir William Duke wanted to harm him in some way.
In the year 1908 Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura took the external ‘vesa’ dress of a ‘babaji’ at Satasana in Puri technically which is called his accepting ‘paramahamsa-sannyasa’, among the ‘Gaudiya sampradaya’; until 1910 he would move between Calcutta and Puri, and was still writing books; but during that year he shut himself up and entered ‘samadhi’, ‘claiming paralysis’.
It was on June 23rd., 1914, just before noon at Jagannatha Puri, that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura Prabhupada left his body; on the Gaudiya Panjika this day was also the disappearance day of Sri Gadadhara Pandita. But from Orissa his bodily remains were taken back to his beloved Godruma, in the land of Nadia. Amidst ‘sankirtana’ his remains were interred in Godruma after the next solstice; the summer solstice had just begun when Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura Prabhupada had left his body.
Remembering His Divine Character.
In an obiturary about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Sarada Carana Mitra, Calcutta High Court Judge, wrote: “I knew Thakur Bhaktivinode intimately as a friend and a relation. Even under the pressure of official work as a magistrate in charge of a heavy subdivision he could always find time for devotional contemplation and work, and whenever I met him, our talk would turn in a few moments to the subject of ‘bhakti’ and ‘achintya bheda abheda’, ‘dvaitadvaita-vada’ etc., 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.”
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Daily Schedule
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 ‘Hare Krsna Mahamantra 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 of ‘chapatis’, some fruits.
9:55 – go to court in carriage.
He would wear coat and pants to court, with double-size Tulasi neckbeads, and Vaishnava 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 never allowed harmonium in his ‘sankirtan’, considering it a distraction from the sound of the ‘Nama Prabhu’.
He never had any debts.
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 (1 pint – 20 onces, or approx half litre) of milk.
He always consulted a pocket watch, and was always accountable keeping time very punctually. 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 dislike 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.
As with all of the wonderful personalities we have touched on there are so many things that can be said to glorify such incredible devotees, but just to keep this book in perspective we are just trying to give a taste. For further details on Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Rupa Vilasa Prabhu, a disciple of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has compiled a book on the life of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura entitled “The Seventh Goswami”.