namo bhaktivinodāya saccidānanda-mūrtaye
gaura-śakti-svarūpāya rūpānuga-varāya te
“I offer my obeisances to you, O Bhaktivinoda, the form of eternity, knowledge and bliss, the incarnation of Gaura’s potency and the best of the followers of Rūpa Gosvāmī.”
Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s spiritual identity
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākur’s transcendental identity is revealed to the members of his spiritual family. He is the best of the followers of Rūpa Mañjarī who is the leader of Lalitā Sakhī’s entourage. Lalitā Sakhī is the foremost of Rādhārāṇī’s eight girlfriends. In various places in his own writings, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has indicated this divine identity:
yugala-sevāya, śrī-rāsa-maṇḍale, niyukta kara āmāya
lalitā-sakhīra, ayogya-kiṅkarī, vinoda dhariche pāya
“Bhaktivinoda holds your feet and asks you to engage this unworthy servant of Lalitā Sakhī in the service of the Divine Couple while they are performing the rāsa-līlā.” (Kalyāṇa-kalpataru)
In the song Siddhi-lālasā in his Gīta-mālā, also, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura gives his eternal spiritual identity as Kamala Mañjarī, the servant of Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī. Her kuñja is in the bower of Lalitā, Vrajānanda-sukhada-kuñja, where she sets the standard of worship to the Divine Couple.
varaṇe taṛit, vāsa tārāvalī, kamala-mañjarī nāma
sāḍe bāro varṣa, vayas satata, svānanda-sukhada dhāma
“My bodily hue is like that of lightning and I wear a sari the colour of a clear night sky sprinkled with stars. I am twelve and a half years old and I live in Svānanda-sukhada-kuñja.”
The need for Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s appearance
After the disappearance of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Svarūpa Dāmodara, Rāmānanda Rāya and the Six Gosvāmīs, Śrīnivasa Ācārya, Narottama Dāsa and Śyāmānanda Prabhu, a dark age descended on the world of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. Those unable to understand the transcendental purity of Mahāprabhu’s religion of love started numerous heretical sects or apa–sampradāyas. Totārāma Dāsa Bābājī named thirteen such heretical sects:
āul, bāul, kartābhajā, neṛā, daraveśa, sain
sahajiyā, sakhībhekī, smārta, jāta-gosāñi
atibāṛī, cuṛādhārī, gauranga-nāgarī
totā kahe ei teror saṅga nāhi kari
Educated upper class Bengali society was shocked and disgusted by the practices of these heretical sects and came to identify Mahāprabhu’s religion with the lower classes, the uneducated and immoral. People of the gentle classes thus had no understanding or faith in Mahāprabhu’s true religion. The most munificent incarnation Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu took pity on these bewildered persons and in order to reclaim them for his path of divine love sent his eternal associate Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākur into this world. Possessed of superhuman prowess, the Ṭhākura wrote more than a hundred books in several different languages with the goal of defeating all the unorthodox views opposed to the true doctrines of Mahāprabhu’s religion. The result was that many members of discerning society and others from all over the world came to recognise the unequalled value of Mahāprabhu’s teachings. The founder of the Caitanya Maṭha and the worldwide Gauḍīya Maṭhas, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura, based his mission on the books and teachings given by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and set into motion the fulfilment of Mahāprabhu’s message, found in the Caitanya-bhāgavata:
pṛthivīte paryanta āche jata deśa-grāma
sarvatra sañcāra haibe ka mora nāma
“My name will pervade every village and country in the world.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata 3.4.126)
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura thus made an unequalled contribution to the ultimate, spiritual welfare of humankind. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura wrote in his preface to the Jaiva-dharma:
“Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is an extremely dear associate of Śrī Caitanya Candra. In the course of time, when those who preached the desires of Caitanya Deva had left this world to enter the Lord’s eternal pastimes, the sky over Bengal slowly darkened, covered by the thick clouds of sensual enjoyment and false renunciation. The sky was covered and the world was bereft of the rays of light coming from the saṅkīrtana propagated by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. One by one, the sun, the moon and the unlimited stars of that sky faded from view, leaving only the occasional flash of lightning to disrupt the unending darkness of ignorance. Almost 350 years after the appearance of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura came to illuminate the Gauḍīya sky.
All the great virtues are present in the body of a Vaiṣṇava. The good qualities of Kṛṣṇa gradually develop in his devotees. All these transcendental qualities are the characteristics of pure Vaiṣṇavas, and they cannot be fully explained, but I shall try to point out some of the most important. Devotees are always merciful; they are not bellicose. They are truthful, equal to all, faultless, generous, mild and clean. They are without material possessions, and they work for the welfare of all. They are peaceful, surrendered to Kṛṣṇa and desireless. They are meek, resolute, and completely control the six character flaws of lust, anger, greed and so forth. They eat only as much as required and are prudent, respectful, and free from false prestige. They are grave, sympathetic, friendly, poetic, expert and silent. (Caitanya-caritamṛta 2.22.75-80)
“All these devotee qualities were perfectly displayed by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura throughout his life of pure devotion. The ocean of compassion, Śrī Gaurahari, displayed this merciful nature to the conditioned souls in nine different ways. The same kind of distribution of mercy is seen in the life and work of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.”
The sampradaya’s debt to Bhaktivinoda Thakur
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is the root of the daily activities in the Caitanya Maṭha, the Gauḍīya Maṭha, the Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, the Gauḍīya Missions, etc. The Gauḍīya Maṭha institutions cannot be separated from Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. These institutions are entirely indebted to his sublime contributions. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura has written:
“Devotees in the line of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī do not preach faith in their own powers, but rather direct attention to the source of their spiritual strength. We also do everything for the sake of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, Śrī Rūpa, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and our divine spiritual master.” (From Patrāvalī, Śrīla Prabhupada’s letters, vol. 3, p. 89.)
Devotees of the Brahma-Madhva-Sārasvata-Gauḍīya sampradāya pay their respects daily to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākur as follows:
śuddha-bhakti-pracārasya mūlībhūta ihottamaḥ
śrī-bhaktivinodo devas tat-priyatvena viśrutaḥ
“Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is a transcendental personality who is the root of the preaching movement of pure devotion. He is renowned as one who is dear to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.”
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s family history
Just as the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s highest perfection is in his human activities in a human form, so similarly his eternal associates also act in human-like ways when they descend to the worldly platform for the benefit of the fallen living entities. Even though they appear to be ordinary human beings, they are in fact never touched by the illusory nature and always remain transcendental to it. They may be situated in householder life, but they are never entangled in material sensual desires like an ordinary conditioned soul because of their deep attachment and love for the Lord. They are simply engaged in a pastime whereby they imitate the activities of the rest of mankind for the sake of exchanging with them for the purposes of benefitting them. Those who have surrendered with sincerity to Viṣṇu and the Vaiṣṇavas are able to recognise the non-material character of these personalities.
The King Ādiśūra invited brāhmaṇas and other upper class Hindus to Bengal, amongst whom was the kāyastha Puruṣottama. His seventh and eighth generation descendants were Śrī Vināyaka and Nārāyaṇa who became government ministers. The fifteenth generation descendant was Mahāprabhu’s contemporary, Rājā Kṛṣṇānanda Datta. He was a devotee of Kṛṣṇa and Nityānanda Prabhu came to stay in his home with his entourage and bestowed profuse blessings on him. Descendants of Kṛṣṇānanda Datta include Govinda-śaraṇa Datta who founded the village of Govindapura. Kalighāṭa, Sutānuṭī and Govindapura are the three villages which later became Calcutta.
Govinda-śaraṇa Datta’s grandson was Rāmacandra. His grandson was Madana-Mohana Datta, who donated Calcutta’s Heduwa Pukur to the municipality for public use. He also spent a great deal of his personal wealth in 1774 to build steps at Gayā’s Pretaśilā Tīrtha and the Candranātha mountain. Madana Mohana Datta’s grandson was Rājavallabha Datta, whose son Ānandacandra Datta was very religious and detached from material life. Ānandacandra married Jaganmohinī Devī, the daughter of the celebrated zamindar of Ulā village in Nadia district, Īśvaracandra Mustaufī.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura accepted Ānandacandra Datta and Jaganmohinī Devī as his parents and appeared in Ulā-Birnagar in the home of his maternal grandfather. It was the 352nd year after the birth of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Sunday, Sept. 2, 1838; the tithi was Śuklā Trayodaśī of Bhadra. His parents gave him the name Kedāranātha.
Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s childhood
Bhaktivinoda composed his first poem when he was only two years old. This extraordinary display of talent gave an indication of his future vocation and the transcendental devotional songs he would write later in his life. Songs full of devotion for the Lord and sacred sentiment like his are not the result of any worldly scholarship or creativity, but are self-manifested in the eternally perfect associate of the Lord. The words of the residents of Vaikuṇṭha are all not different from the object of their speech, the Supreme Lord. They can in no way be compared to any mundane sound vibration. Every word used by the Ṭhākura is divine ambrosia which awakens the mood of love for the Lord and is full of the flavours of devotional sentiment.
At only six, had learned all the details of the historical epics, Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa. Is an ordinary six-year old capable of such a feat? Without divine mercy, it is impossible to understand the basis of all the devotional scriptures. They are not accessible to mere scholarship. The meaning of the scriptures was revealed in the heart of the Ṭhākura on its own. Thus, there is a basic difference between the explanations of scripture given by him and those derived from a mundane scholarly analysis.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākur began researching astrological texts when he was nine years old, but according to his autobiography, he began inquiring into spiritual truth at the age of ten. Though he was naturally fixed in spiritual truth at every moment, he displayed this pastime in order to demonstrate the special character of human life. He began to mix with people in order to find out what preoccupied people and what they thought about. With his sweet words and respectful attitude, he won over all those whom he encountered. Whenever he pointed out the flaws of anyone’s argument, they would not feel angry or disappointed but rather joy. This was not within the capacity of an ordinary restless boy of ten years.
The following is Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s account of several childhood events from his autobiography:
“I would go whenever a festival was held at someone’s house. There were often such religious festivals at the Brahmacārī’s house. There was a nice temple on the outside, and inside a flower garden and a fire-sacrifice altar. The Brahmacārī worshiped according to the Tantrik cult. He kept a human skull in a small, hidden room. Some people said that if you gave water and milk to a human skull, it will smile. I took the skull down and gave it water, but I saw no smile.
“Nearby there was also an astrologer’s house where I would listen to singing performances. One old carpenter was engaged to paint backdrops for the image during the Durgā pūjā. I sat near him while he worked and asked him many questions, which he always answered. I asked, ‘When does the spirit of the god enter into the image?’ The carpenter answered, ‘When I paint its eyes, the god will come and take up residence in the image.’ The day that he was actually going to paint the deity’s eyes, I eagerly came but I never saw the god actually appear. I said, ‘Goloka Pāl made this image. He first tied bundles of straw and then covered it with clay. You covered it with chalk and then painted it. There is no god anywhere in this statue at all, is there?’ The old carpenter then said, ‘When the brāhmaṇas consecrate the deity then the god incarnates and enters the form.’ I observed this consecration ceremony carefully, but I was never able to see any divine manifestation. I thought that the carpenter was a fairly wise fellow and so I went to his house and asked him to explain again. He then said to me, ‘I have no faith in this worship of idols. My belief is that the brāhmaṇas simply use this as a means of deception for taking money from gullible people.’ The carpenter’s words brought me great pleasure and I asked him to tell me something about the Supreme Lord. He said, ‘Say what you will, I believe in nothing other than the one Supreme Lord, Parameśvara. The gods and goddesses are all imaginary. I worship the one God every day.’ These words of the old man gave me faith.
“I became even more inquisitive. The Muslim footman Golam Khan used to guard the treasury. Once in response to my questions, he said, ‘God’s name is Khodā. At one time he was alone and there was no one and nothing but him. Then he took the dirt from his body and made a pancake out of it which he threw into the single ocean. The upper part of the pancake became the sky and the lower part became the earth. He then created humankind, starting with Adam and Eve. We are all the descendants of Adam and Eve.’ After hearing this myth, I asked him, ‘Who do you think Rāma is?’ He said, ‘Rāma and Rahīm are one. That is Khodā.’ Then I learned from him about a spell which chases ghosts. Golam Khan said, ‘Ghosts are the descendants of Satan. They are afraid of the name of Rahīm.’ These teachings gave me great pleasure.
“My maternal uncle Paraśurāma Mustaufī was studying law at that time. At first, he had some faith in God, but later dismissed the idea. While he was a believer, my other uncles Raghu and Naśu were his followers. When he stopped believing in the personal god, he started calling Rāma Mohana Rāya his guru. I was very troubled because, being just an ignorant child, I was uncomfortable having a difference of opinion with him. Uncle Paraśurāma said, ‘Everything in the world is a product of natural forces. There is no such thing as a God outside of nature.’ When I heard this, I went to see some Bhattacharya in his school and asked him to respond to it. His answers caused me to become more confused. Though I was confused, I never gave up chanting the name of Rāma.”
From all these stories, we can draw the lesson that rather than entering into the confusing business of establishing exact doctrines of the relation of the divine and the creation, one should chant the Holy Name with faith. At one point, Mahāprabhu also bound his books in their cloth wrappers and told his students to simply chant the Holy Name. Dogmatic truths will all be revealed through the Holy Name. Dogmatic spiritual truth is not arrived at through mental speculation; one is bound to arrive at a mistaken conception of God.
When Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was only eleven years old, his father died. According to the custom prevalent at that time, Kedāranātha’s mother arranged for her twelve-year-old son to be married to a five-year-old from nearby Rāṇaghāṭa. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has the following to say about his marriage: “It was just like a doll’s play-marriage. Because I would not be able to stay alone at my in-laws’ house, my parents sent my nanny to accompany me.” Though the Ṭhākura had direct perception of human entanglement, he did nothing to protest the defects of the marriage system of the period.
At six years of age, Kedāranātha went to study Sanskrit at the ṭola of Vidyāvācaspati. Then at the age of seven, his grandfather sent him to study at Kṛṣṇanāgara College. At that time, the college principal’s name was Captain D. L. Richardson and the principle native professor was Ramtanu Lahiri. The next year, an English-language school was established in Ula in which Kedāranātha was enrolled. While studying at Kṛṣṇanāgara College, one of his fellow students was the King of Koochbihar, who was still a child.
When his maternal grandfather died, he and his mother came to live in Calcutta at the family home at the corner of Beadon Street and Hedua in Bhawanipur. He recommenced his studies at the Hindu Charitable Trust School. After four years there, he was admitted to the Hindu School in 1856.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was one of Īśvaracandra Vidyāsāgara’s first students, whom he held in great affection. One day, Bhaktivinoda visited the great scholar in his house in Calcutta. Vidyāsāgara Mahāśaya said to him, “Since none of us has ever seen God, it is best that we not talk about him.”
Though he was his student, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura did not refrain from speaking the truth to the venerated teacher. He asked, “Paṇḍita Mahāśaya, why then did you write in your [children’s] book Bodhodaya that God is formless and pure consciousness. If you haven’t seen God, then why have you written this about him? God is omnipotent. Don’t you think that if he can do anything, that he has the power to maintain a form? The Supreme Lord is my eternal master, and I am his eternal servant. The natural affection that we have for the Supreme Lord is called bhakti, brahma-vidyā or para-vidyā in the Veda. This is real knowledge, the realisation of which means that there is no shortage of any knowledge.”
Those who are always engaged in a direct relationship with the absolute truth, the Supreme Lord, are immediately able to recognise any statement which goes contrary to the spiritual truth. There is a complete difference between knowledge which has been garnered from the reading of books and the knowledge which arises from the epiphany of the self-effulgent truth.
Calcutta University was founded in 1856 and entrance exams held for the first time. Amongst Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s fellow students were Satyendranātha and Gaṇendranātha Tagore, Tārakanātha Palit and Naragopāla Mitra. Principal Clint, Reverend Duff, George Thompson, and Keshab Chandra Sen were attracted by the young man’s mastery of the English language and literature. Toward the end of 1856, Kedāranātha published an English poem, The Poriade, which was well-received in educated circles in Calcutta. All the Ṭhākura’s English poems were published in the paper, Library (Literary) Gazette. He delivered a lecture to the British Indian Society in 1856 on the evolution of matter which was much applauded.
During this time, the Ṭhākura also studied the Brāhma Dharma, Christianity, the Bible and Qur’ān and many other religious traditions and books. He considered Christianity superior to the Brāhma religion because of its acceptance of God’s eternal personality. In 1857, the Sepoy Mutiny broke out. Kedāranātha spent some of this time travelling and lecturing.
The prediction of grandfather Krsnavallabha
In 1858, Kedāranātha went to Nīlācala. On the way back to Calcutta, he stopped at Chutigram, where his grandfather Kṛṣṇavallabha Datta was living. His grandfather said prophetically that Kedāranātha would be a great Vaiṣṇava. Immediately upon making this prediction, his life airs passed out through the top of his head. Kedāranātha remained there for a few more days before continuing through Cuttack, Bhadrak, and Midnapor to Calcutta.
The title Bhaktivinoda
On Īśvaracandra Vidyāsāgara’s recommendation, Kedāranātha Datta took a job teaching at the Cuttack Government Secondary School and shortly thereafter, the headmaster’s position at a school in Bhadrak in 1860. During this time, he wrote a book on the various religious institutions of Orissa, Maṭhas of Orissa, which Sir William Hunter made much use of as a reference work in his Orissa. He also wrote a work named Śrī-Caitanya-Gītā under the pen name ‘Saccidānanda Premālaṅkāra.’ He was given the title Bhaktivinoda by the Śrī Gauḍīya Gosvāmī Saṅgha on the 400th anniversary of Mahāprabhu’s appearance (1885). From this time on, Kedāranātha Datta was known in Vaiṣṇava society as ‘Śrī Saccidānanda Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.’
Travels and Preaching
The Ṭhākura also taught at a school in Midnapore. One day a follower of the Brāhmo religion, Rāma Nārāyaṇa Basu, heard him speak at literary society meeting on the truth of religion and was deeply affected. During his time in Midnapor, the Ṭhākura’s first wife died and he married for a second time, to Bhagavatī Devī. From Midnapore, he went to Burdwan to preach. While there, he published an English book, Our Wants, in 1863. He was involved in the arguments between the Brahmo Samāja and Christians and tried to mediate between the two religions. In two lectures he showed the problems with both groups’ positions. While in Burdwan, he started a group called the Bhrātṛ-samāja. At one of the meetings of this group, he gave a learned speech on the soul which attracted the attention of a certain Mr. Heiley.
From Burdwan, the Ṭhākura went to Chuadanga and Rāṇaghāṭa before going to live temporarily in Chapra in Bihar. While living there, he made his first visit to Vṛndāvana, travelling by train through Kaśī, Mirzapur, Prayāg, Agra, etc. While in Chapra, the Ṭhākura studied Urdu and Persian and mastered these languages. He also gave a speech on Gautama while there.
From Chapra, he went to Purniya and then, in 1868, to Dinajpur where he was engaged as Deputy Magistrate. In Dinajpur, he found that there was a dispute between Hindus and Brahmos in which he intervened, giving a speech on The Bhagāvata: Its Philosophy, Its Ethics and Its Theology.
In June of 1868, he visited Rūpa and Sanātana’s home in Rāmakeli as well as Rajmahāl, etc. Thereafter he returned to Calcutta, where he undertook research to find copies of Caitanya-caritāmṛta and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. After much work, he finally found copies at the Baṭa Talā publishing house. With these valuable editions, he went to Puruṣottama Dhāma. He was engaged as a director of the temple to oversee its management. He lived in Purī continuously for over five years, from 1869-1874.
Punishing Bisikisana for deception
In Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākur’s life we find that he personified the description of a Vaiṣṇava as one who is more gentle than a rose, yet more terrible than the thunderbolt. Although he was generally kind and sympathetic, he gave no quarter to dishonesty in the name of religion. One event in his life which took place while he was in Orissa is an indication of this. In 1871, a member of the khandait caste and the Atibāṛī sect named Biṣakiṣaṇa who had gained some mystic powers through yogic practices proclaimed himself to be an incarnation of Mahā-Viṣṇu. He was staying with his acolytes at the edge of the jungle near the town of Bhuvaneśvara. He announced that on the 14th of Caitra, he would reveal a four-armed form and destroy all the foreigners, restoring the true religion. His announcement was written in Orissan verse:
banere achi biṣakiṣaṇa
guptare achi na jānai āna
tera mīnare ārambhiba raṇa,
catur-bhuja hoi nāśiba mleccha-gaṇa
“In the forest am I hiding and no one else knows me. But on the 13th of Mīna I will begin the war. Taking on a four-armed form, I will destroy the mlecchas.”
Through his mystic powers, he had been able to cure incurable diseases and these powers had won for him a large following. One day he announced that on the full-moon day he would perform the rāsa-līlā and invited the girls of a nearby village to come and join him. The Chaudhuris of the bhṛṅgāra clan found that he had polluted their womenfolk and went to complain en-masse to the district commissioner, Ravenshaw. The Commissioner gave the task of investigating the matter to Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, who went personally into the jungle to meet with Biṣakiṣaṇa. Biṣakiṣaṇa told Bhaktivinoda that he was the living Mahā-Viṣṇu and that Jagannātha Deva was nothing but a lifeless wooden statue. He tried in various ways to flatter the Ṭhākura and to win him over. When he saw that Biṣakiṣaṇa had no intention of stopping his efforts to deceive the people, Bhaktivinoda had him arrested and brought back to Purī.
The Ṭhākura proceeded to investigate the background of Biṣakiṣaṇa by going to many villages and Buddhist vihāras in the Khandagiri area of Purī district. After accumulating a mass of evidence showing the extent to which this yogī was cheating people, he had him brought to court. While the case was being heard, the yogī used his mystic power to cause Bhaktivinoda and his family to be attacked by various illnesses, in an effort to intimidate him, but without success. The Ṭhākura was determined to see Biṣakiṣaṇa punished for conspiracy to rebellion and gave him a sentence of one and a half years. Biṣakiṣaṇa went for 21 days without food or drink and then left his body.
In the months which followed, another rascal in Jayapur proclaimed himself to be the incarnation of Brahmā, while someone else in Khurda said that he was a manifestation of Balarāma. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura quickly thwarted their efforts to cheat the populace.
Other activities of the Thakur in Puri
While living in Purī, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura took the opportunity to study the Bhāgavata, the Six Sandarbhas of Jīva Gosvāmī, the Govinda-bhāṣya, Siddhānta-ratnam, Prameya-ratnāvalī, etc., of Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa. He also studied Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu in great detail. By making a display of intense study, he demonstrated the necessity of cultivating an understanding of the scriptures in order to learn the truths about pure devotion contained therein. Mahāprabhu indicated that one of the five principle limbs of devotional service is hearing the Bhāgavata. Jīva Gosvāmī indicated that this is the best of all devotional activities. In order to proclaim this same truth, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura founded a regular group for discussion of the Bhāgavata, Bhāgavata Saṁsat which was held in the Jagannātha-vallabha gardens in Purī.
Many of the leading Vaiṣṇavas in Purī such as Nityānanda Dāsa, Paramānanda Dāsa, Nārāyaṇa Dāsa Mahānta, Harihara Dāsa Mahānta of Uttara Pārśva were attracted to hearing the Bhāgavata from his lips. Just as Mahāprabhu performed the pastime of hearing Bhāgavata from Śrīla Gadādhara Paṇḍita Gosvāmī, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura also listened to discourses given by Śrī Gopīnatha Paṇḍita. A certain renounced Vaiṣṇava, Raghunātha Dāsa Bābājī of Hātī Ākhaṛā, objected to the Ṭhākura’s speaking on Bhāgavata and was attacked by disease. After Jagannātha appeared to him in a dream and ordered him, he went and begged Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura for forgiveness, after which he was cured.
When the Ṭhākura went to the Jagannātha Temple, he did not sit in the so-called Mukti-maṇḍapa, where Mayavādī scholars discussed their philosophy. He would sit by the Lakṣmī temple where Mahāprabhu’s footprints are enshrined and discussed devotional doctrines there. Many of the māyāvādīs were attracted by his discourses and soon the place became known as the Bhakti-maṇḍapa or the Bhakti-prāṅgaṇa.
During this time, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura studied Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī’s Caitanya-caritamṛta, Narahari Cakravartī’s Bhakti-ratnākara, but he did not accept Jayānanda’s Caitanya-maṅgala as being authoritative. He associated with a siddha Vaiṣṇava named Svarūpa Dāsa Bābājī, discussing scripture with him. He also wrote the Sanskrit work, Datta-kaustubha and began writing the Sanskrit verses of Śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṁhitā.
The birth of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati
A wealthy family in Purī had leased land along the Grand Road from the Dakṣiṇa Pārśva Maṭha and build a house on it. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākur and his family resided in this building, which is not far from the Jagannātha temple, next to the Nārāyaṇa Chātā. This house was reclaimed in 1974 by His Grace Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Gosvāmī Mahārāja and now houses a Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha with a beautiful temple building.
At 3:30 on Friday, February 6, 1874, on the Kṛṣṇa-pañcamī of Māgha month, an effulgent and beautiful child was born to Bhagavatī Devī in this home, while the Ṭhākura and other family members sang the names of the Lord. Everyone was amazed to see that the child’s umbilical cord was wrapped around his body like a sacred thread. He was named after the divine energy of Jagannātha Deva, Vimalā Devī, as Bimalā Prasāda (Vimalā-prasāda). His first solid food was Jagannātha’s mahā-prasāda. When he grew up, this child became the founder of the Caitanya Maṭha and the worldwide Gauḍīya Maṭhas, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura Prabhupada.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was Jagannātha Deva’s own man. It was by his arrangement that he was brought to Purī and put in charge of the temple’s management. After the birth of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura, the preaching of Mahāprabhu’s message spread over the entire planet. This gave meaning to the words written by Vyāsadeva in the Padma-Purāṇa, hy utkale puruṣottamāt, “out of Puruṣottama in Orissa.”
Ten months after the child’s birth, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura returned to Bengal with his family, this time going to Rāṇaghāṭa. They travelled overland by palanquin.
Bhaktivinoda’s unequalled contribution
Vedavyāsa and the scriptures he wrote are the foundation of all those who claim to follow the Sanatāna Dharma. He himself practiced and preached the means by which humankind can attain the supreme peace. Vedavyāsa compiled and divided the Veda, wrote the eighteen purāṇas and the Mahābhārata including the Bhagavad-gītā, but remained unsatisfied. Finally, while at Badarikāśrama, Nārada Muni instructed him to glorify the activities of Śrī Kṛṣṇa in order to attain his pleasure. After writing the twelve cantos of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Vedavyāsa finally found the peace he had been looking for. Mahāprabhu Śrī Caitanya preached the Bhāgavata religion which is found in this text. After the disappearance of Mahāprabhu and his associates, however, the path of pure devotion became covered with thorns until Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura appeared to write many books and to preach the pure doctrine of devotional service to Kṛṣṇa. Through his tireless efforts, all the heretical doctrines were shown to be empty, the path of supreme auspiciousness and compassion was shown to all the world. These efforts can only be said to constitute an unequalled and certainly unsurpassed contribution. Without being empowered by Kṛṣṇa himself, the message of pure devotion cannot be spread. Such a display of empowerment could not be possible were he not a direct associate of Gaurāṅga Mahāprabhu, Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
Externally he was a householder with family obligations, a government servant engaged in the administrative service, but despite these responsibilities he was still able to write over a hundred books in several different languages. One cannot fail to be impressed by this monumental achievement. Every word of his writing is scripture; every word awakens the spirit of devotion to him who is beyond the grasp of the material senses and mind. Mundane scholars would never be able to achieve the kind of synthesis that he did. His every thought was perfectly reasonable and never far-fetched. His writings are a permanent display of compassion to the fallen souls. His Grace Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Mahārāja used to say to his disciples, “You need do nothing else other than translate Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s books into the world’s various languages and you will have done the greatest act of welfare for the people of the world.” In fact, everything that is done in the Gauḍīya Maṭhas throughout the world has come from Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.
Bhaktivinoda’s travels and preaching activities
After the birth of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura returned to Bengal. From then on he engaged in preaching the doctrine of pure devotional service, travelling throughout India. We will give a brief summary here of all the places he visited during the period between 1877 and 1910, whether for the sake of pilgrimage or for preaching. He went to Āmtā in the Ulubeṛiyā subdivision, to Abhirāma Ṭhākura’s Śrīpāṭa in Khanākula Kṛṣṇanagara, Śyāmapura, Bhadrak in Orissa, Naṛāil in Jessore district, Calcutta, Prayāg, Vṛndāvana (where he met Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī for the first time), Śrī Rādhā-Kuṇḍa, Śrī Govardhana (where he broke up the Kañjhara gang of dacoits who were harrassing pilgrims to the dhāma), Mathura, Lucknow, Faiyedabad, Goptāra Ghāṭ, Ayodhya and Benares.
He then returned to Calcutta where in 1882 he started construction on Bhakti Bhavān at 181 Maniktola Street. While digging the foundations for the building, a mūrti of Kūrmadeva was found. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura gave this Deity to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura and taught him how to worship it. He also visited Māyāpura for the first time.
He was engaged as Deputy Collector in the Barasat subdivision. Then he was transferred to Śrīrāmapura (1884) Vaidyanātha, Bākipura, and Gayā, where he saw the steps on Pretaśilā constructed by his great-grandfather, Madana Mohana Datta. He returned to Naṛāil, Barasat, Memārī, Kulīnagrāma, Byāṇḍel, and Saptagram. In Kulīnagrāma he lectured on the Holy Name, distinguishing between the pure name, nāmābhāsa and nāmāparādha. There he also gave Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura initiation in the Holy Name and the nṛsiṁha mantra.
In Calcutta in 1885, he established the Caitanya-Yantra printing press. In 1886, he helped establish the Viśva-Vaiṣṇava-sabhā at the Durgā Maṇḍapa of Rāma Gopāla Basu in Kṛṣṇasiṁhera Gali off Bethune Road. There he gave lectures on Caitanya-caritamṛta and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. He met Ramakrishna Paramahamsa at this time and countered his impersonal philosophy and described the truth of pure devotion to him.
Discovery of Mahaprabhu’s birthplace
In 1887, he visited the most important śiva-liṅga in Bengal at Tārakeśvara where Śiva appeared to him in a dream and said, “You want to go to Vṛndāvana, but there is much work left to do in Navadvīpa-dhāma nearby. What have you done there?” Later that year, he was transferred to Kṛṣṇanāgara. Then, while visiting Kuliyā, the modern city of Navadvīpa, he was standing on the roof of the Rāṇīra Dharmaśālā overlooking the Ganges. At about ten o’clock at night, he saw an illuminated building on the other side of the river. His son Kamalā Prasāda who was there with him also saw this light. On inquiry, they learned that this place was Ballāladīghi. When he made inquiries from the elderly residents of Ballāladīghi, they told him that this was the birthplace of Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura continued to research old maps and documents and was able to establish conclusively that Mahāprabhu’s birthplace was indeed there.
He continued to maintain his Calcutta home where he installed a Giradhārī Śilā given him by Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī, but in 1888 purchased the property in Godrumadvīpa known as Surabhī Kuñja. While working at Kṛṣṇanāgara he was also able to visit his birthplace at Ula.
In 1889, he was transferred to East Bengal in the Netrakona subdivision in Mymensingh District, whence he visited Nārāyaṇa Gañj, Mymensingh city, the Garo Hills where he blessed the people of the Hajong tribe, and Gowālanda. Though he was able to visit Calcutta during this period, he was soon transferred to Tangail and then to Burdwan. He visited Śantipura, Kalna, Baghna Para, Kaigram, and Denur, the site of Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura’s Śrīpāṭa. During this time, he visited Kuliyā again where he met Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī at his bhajana-kuṭīra. He had a concrete veranda built on this occasion (May, 1890). While in Burdwan, he also performed kīrtana with the devotees of Amlajora village and visited Gopalpura, Rāṇīgañj and Barākara.
In 1890, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was again transferred to Rāṇīgañj in East Bengal and then back to Dinajpur in 1891. When he visited Calcutta, he met Śiśira Kumāra Ghosh who considered him a guru, even calling him “the seventh Gosvāmī”. Śiśira Kumāra Ghosh would come regularly to visit him at Bhakti Bhavān and at the Ṭhākura’s direction, started chanting japa and wearing a tulasī mālā around his neck. He was not able to accept the principles of Vaiṣṇava behaviour in their entirety, however.
During this period Bhaktivinoda also visited Midnapore (Medinīpura), where he preached to Sītānātha Mahāpātra and other devotees, Ghāṭāl in Midnapore district and Kayāpāṭa Badana Gañj in Hooghly district. From there he returned to Kṛṣṇanāgara, staying once again in Surabhī Kuñja. He arranged for some large assemblies to be called in Kṛṣṇanāgara at which he spoke. Messrs. Mulrow, Revelshaw, and Butler were regular attendants.
At Amaljora on March 9, 1892, he participated in a Harivāsara program at which Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī was present. From there he travelled to Vṛndāvana, stopping at Bāksar (Bihar) and Prayāg. He was in Vraja from March 21 to 29, during which time he managed to visit Bilvavana, Bhāṇḍīravana, Māṭhavana, Mānasarovara, Mathura, Gokula, Madhuvana, Tālavana, Kumudavana, Bahulavana, Rādhā-kuṇḍa, Govardhana, etc. He then returned to Calcutta via Kanpur and Allahabad.
In Calcutta, he once again engaged in preaching the message of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu at Bhakti Bhavān, as well as continuing to hold assemblies at Kṛṣṇanāgara. In Māgha 1399 (February, 1893), he held a kīrtana festival at Godrumadvīpa at which Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī was the guest of honour. Later that spring, on the 20th of Phālguna (March, 1893), Jagannātha Dāsa indicated the exact spot where Mahāprabhu had first appeared in this world.
At this time, the Ṭhākura had an argument with a certain member of a gosvāmī family who held that one of Mahāprabhu’s closest associates was a śūdra. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was very displeased when he heard this and warned him with the words:
vaiṣṇava-caritra, sarvadā pavitra, jei ninde hiṁsā kari
bhakativinoda, na sambhāṣe tāre, thake sadā mauna dhari
“The character of a Vaiṣṇava is always spotless. Bhaktivinoda will not talk to anyone who criticises a Vaiṣṇava out of spite, but always remains silent.”
Also at about this time, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote down his guru-paramparā and hung it on the outside of Bhakti Bhavān.
In January of 1894, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākur held another large meeting at the A.V. School in Kṛṣṇanāgara. At this meeting it was decided that deities should be installed at Mahāprabhu’s birthplace. At the same time, the Navadvīpa Pracāriṇī Sabhā was formed to preach the newly discovered birthsite. Nafar Chandra Pal Bhaktibhūṣaṇa, the zamindar of Naṭudaha in Nadia district, was elected executive secretary of the of the Sabhā. Dvārikā Babu, Nafar Babu, and other members of the Sabhā decided that a thatched cottage would be constructed on the site would house Deities of Gaura and Viṣṇupriyā. These Deities were consecrated on Friday, March 21, 1894 (Caitra 9, 1300 Bengali), on the Phālgunī Pūrṇimā, in the midst of a rousing kīrtana during a lunar eclipse. For the maintenance of the deities, a committee was formed (Śrī Māyāpura Sevā Samiti) which had many distinguished Vaiṣṇavas as its members, including Śyāmalāl Gosvāmī, Śaśibhūṣaṇa Gosvāmī, Rādhikānātha Gosvāmī, Vipina Vihārī Gosvāmī, Mahāmahopadhyāya Paṇḍita Ajitanātha Nyāyaratna, Mahendranātha Bhaṭṭācārya Vidyāraṇya, Satyajīvana Lāhiṛī, Rājā Vanamālī Raya Bāhādura or Taṛāsa in Pabna district, Śiśira Kumāra Ghosh, Matilāl a Ghosh, Yatīndranātha Chaudhuri, Mahendranātha Majumdāra, the advocate Kiśorīlāla Sarkāra, Nalinākṣa Datta, Kānāilāla De Bāhādura, Deputy Magistrate Navīna Candra Sena, and Jagaccandra Raya.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura spends some time in Puri
On October 4, 1894, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura retired from government service and came to live permanently in Surabhi Kuñja in Godrumadvīpa where he once again gave discourses on the Vaiṣṇava scriptures. Some time after the disappearance of Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī in February of 1896, he accepted the invitation of the independent Rājā of Tiperrah (Tripura), Vircandra Devavarmā Māṇikya Bāhādura, to go to Agartola. He went there with Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī in July 1896 and gave discourses on pure devotional service which enchanted the Rājā. Later in the same year, he took Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī to Kashiyang, then in 1898 to Benares and Prayāg.
In 1899, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura purchased the property on which Svānanda Sukhada Kuñja would be built. When the building was finished, he came to perform his bhajana there. Gaura Kiśora Dāsa Bābājī would come there to hear the Ṭhākura’s Bhāgavata lectures and it was here that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura first met him. In 1900, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura travelled with Bhaktisiddhānta through Bāleśvara, Remunā, Bhuvaneśvara, and Sākṣī Gopāla to Purī. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura displayed a deep desire to engage in bhajana by the beach near Hari Dāsa Ṭhākura’s samādhi and his father arranged with Purī’s sub-registrar, Jagabandhu Paṭṭanāyaka, for him to be given the service of the Giridhari Āsana at the Sātāsana Maṭha. In March of 1901, they came to Purī again and in 1902 the construction of Bhakti-Kuṭīra was begun. At this time the Rājā of Cossimbazar, Maṇīndra Candra Nandī took instruction in devotional service from the Ṭhākura.
In 1903, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī regularly read and gave discourses on Caitanya-caritamṛta to the Ṭhākura at Bhakti Kuṭīra. The famous Rādhāramaṇa Caraṇa Dāsa Bābājī came to visit Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura during this time and they discussed devotional doctrines. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura found Caraṇa Dasa’s activities and dogmas to be heterodox and showed how by reference to the scriptures. Later, after Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had returned to Navadvīpa, Caraṇa Dāsa indicated his desire to participate in the Navadvīpa-parikramā that the Ṭhākura had inaugurated, but unfortunately left his body before he was able to do so.
The Thakura returns to Godrumadvipa
In 1906, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura gave a lengthy discourse on Mahāprabhu’s teachings at the house of zamindar Yatīndranātha Raya Chaudhuri in Ṭākī. On February 26, 1906, the Ṭhākura came to Calcutta again and from there to Svarūpa Gañj in Godrumadvīpa where he engaged in his devotional activities at Svānanda-sukhada-kuñja. While there, a certain Tārakabrahma Gosvāmī of Jessore came to him and asked him to accept the service of his Rādhā-Mādhava deities for Mahāprabhu’s birthplace. Tārakabrahma Gosvāmī also began to live there with his wife and family, but after a short time it became clear that his behaviour was at odds with the standards expected of them and they were obliged to leave. On April 29, 1906, however, the Śrī Dhāma Pracāriṇī Sabhā decided to award an annual stipend of 500 rupees to the temple for the service of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Mādhava.
In 1908, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura took the dress of a renounced Vaiṣṇava, that of a bhāgavata-paramahaṁsa, in order to dedicate his life to the full relishing the sacred nectar of Rādhā and Govinda’s intimate pastimes.
On March 25, 1910, which was Phālgunī Pūrṇimā, Bhakti Pradīpa Tīrtha, at that time still a householder, visited Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura at Māyāpura and five days later was given initiation by him at Godrumadvīpa. Another disciple, Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Bābājī, was living at Svānanda-sukhada-kuñja at that time.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākur preached that the rules of the daiva-varṇāśrama dharma should always be followed. Thus, he upheld the directives of the Sat-kriyā-sāra-dīpikā in giving the sacred thread to Jagadīśa Bhaktipradīpa (who after taking sannyas from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura became Bhakti Pradīpa Tīrtha Mahārāja), Sītānātha Mahāpātra, Vasanta Kumāra Ghosh, and Manmathanātha Raya. In this connexion, it is worth examining the Ṭhākura’s following words:
“The varṇāśrama dharma which is current in society is distinct from the transcendental religion of exclusive devotion to Kṛṣṇa. The practice of varṇāśrama dharma on its own does not result in full surrender to the Lord. The ultimate instruction of the Bhagavad-gītā is to discard all the principles related to the varṇas and āśramas, in short all activities based on bodily identification, and to engage in a cultivation of devotional activities based on the natural emotional constitution of the soul, which is pure and without ulterior motive. Dedicated scholars such as Rāghavācārī have no understanding of this glorious characteristic of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism’s concept of pure devotion.”
Bhaktivinoda sends Bhaktisiddhanta to Balighai
In 1910, while still at Svānanda-sukhada Kuñja, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was engaged in writing his Sva-niyama-dvādaśaka when suddenly he became extremely ill. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura and other dear disciples and followers gathered there, afraid that he was about to enter the nitya-līlā. Even in a state of extreme physical discomfort, however, his enthusiasm for preaching Lord Caitanya’s message was unabated. Though unable to walk, he indicated a desire to be taken from place to place on horseback so that he could continue to spread the teachings of Mahāprabhu.
Three years before the Ṭhākura’s disappearance, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura approached his father and indicated to him that though he felt himself to be an unworthy servant, he vowed to take up the ultimate welfare work of defeating all the heterodox doctrines which went against pure devotional service. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s was delighted to hear his son’s determination and when Gopīvallabhapura’s Śrī Viśvambharānanda Deva Gosvāmī invited him to participate in a conference in Bālighāi, Midnapore, he sent Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura and Sureśacandra Mukhopadhyāya in his place. The conference, the theme of which was to establish orthodox doctrines in certain areas of theology, took place from Sept. 8-11, 1911. Many respected and well-reputed scholars of the sampradaya were present, including Madhusūdana Gosvāmī Sārvabhauma of the Rādhā-ramaṇa Gherā in Vṛndāvana.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura gave a talk on the distinctions between a Vaiṣṇava and a brāhmaṇa, demonstrating clearly a great amount of research, which left the assembly of scholars enchanted and speechless. A year later, when Madhusūdana Gosvāmī visited Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura at the Bhakti Bhavān he enthusiastically proclaimed that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura was his capable successor in protecting the Gauḍīya sampradāya.
In 1913, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī wrote a commentary on the Caitanya-caritamṛta meant to accompany the Amṛta-pravāha-bhāṣya written by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. He read several passages of this Anubhāṣya to the Ṭhākura, giving him indescribable pleasure.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s entry into the eternal pastimes
A few days before his disappearance, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura left Godrumadvīpa to come to Bhakti Bhavān. On June 23, 1914, on the disappearance day of gaura-śakti, Śrīla Gadādhara Paṇḍita Gosvāmī, in his Calcutta home, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura entered the midday pastimes of Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Govinda at Rādhā-Kuṇḍa. Six years later, the worshipable Mātā Ṭhākurāṇi, his wife Śrī Bhāgavatī Devī, went to join him.
(From ‘Śrī Caitanya: His Life & Associates’ by Śrīpāda Bhakti Ballabh Tīrtha Mahārāja)