namo bhaktivinodaya saccidananda-murtaye
gaura-shakti-svarupaya rupanuga-varaya 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 Rupa Goswami.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, formerly known as Kedarnatha Datta, was born in 1838 in Birnagar, West Bengal. Growing up, Kedarnatha Datta preferred to sit and talk with the gate keepers and soldiers, and listen to them recite pastimes of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama than to play outside. Even from a young age, Thakura Bhaktivinoda was attracted to the pastimes of the Lord. Any time he’d hear about a festival, or puja, Kedarnatha would make an effort to try and attend. At the age of 10, two thoughts were in his mind: “What is this world?”, and “Who are we?” Kedarnatha’s inquisitive nature always left him unsatisfied. This mood was carried all though his life.
As the years went by, Kedarnatha Datta had various positions, and finally in 1866, became a District Magistrate high court judge. Thakura juggled his government responsibilities as a high court judge, maintained a Krishna conscious family and studied and wrote many books.
“So Bhaktivinoda Thakura is an ideal guru. He was not a sannyasi; he was grihastha, householder, living with family, wife, children. Still, he was guru…In spite of his becoming a responsible magistrate, a householder, still, he was acarya”
- Srila Prabhupada, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Appearance day lecture, September 3, 1971, London
Even though it had only been a couple hundred years since Caitanya Mahaprabhu disappeared, His teachings were practically lost. It took Thakura eight constant years of trying to finally get his hands on a copy of the Sri Caitanya Caritamrta. Once he got his own copy of the Sri Caitanya Caritamrta and the Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhaktivinoda Thakura felt that his search for answers was done. He would constantly read the biography of Lord Caitanya over and over again. In his autobiography, Thakura stated that, “From this time my respect and reverence for Sri Caitanyadeva was born. That seed of faith for the Vaishnava-dharma which was implanted within my heart soon sprouted. Now I love to study the Sastras dealing with Krishna both day and night”
Between the years 1874 and 1893, Thakura Bhaktivinoda followed a rigid schedule, allowing him to manage all his duties and responsibilities along with his studies and writing.
8 pm – 10 pm Rest
10 pm – 4 am Write
4 am – 4:30 am Rest
4:30 am – 7 am Chant Japa
7 am – 7:30 am Correspondence
7:30 am – 9:30 am Study sastras
9:30 am – 10 am Bathe, simple prasadam
10 am – 1 pm Court duties
1 pm – 2 pm Refresh at home
2 pm – 5 pm Court duties
5 pm – 7 pm Translate Sanskrit sastras to Bengali
7 pm – 8 pm Bathe, simple prasadam
Thakura Bhaktivinoda rested for three hours in total, in order to fit in his studies and japa, which took roughly four and a half hours, his writing which took up about eight and a half hours, and his services for the government which took around six hours of his time. He followed it very strictly.
In the years to come, Srila Thakura Bhaktivinoda composed over one-hundred books and songs such as Sri Krishna-samhita, Jaiva Dharma, Sri Caitanya-sikshamrita, Vaishnava-siddhanta-mala, Prema-pradipa, Manah-shiksha, Saranagati, Gitamala, Gitavali and so on, as well as established many centers. He also defeated and dealt with many trouble makers such as:
- Mystic Bishakishena, who claimed he was God,
- Carana dasa Babaji who was printing bogus books and preaching philosophy that was not according to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s teachings,
- King of Puri at that time, who was using Jagannatha’s money for his own enjoyment,
-Bankima Chandra who wrote a book stating that Krishna was an ordinary person.
He had no tolerance for anyone or anything which did not align with the teachings of Sri Caitanyadeva. During that time, Thakura Bhaktivinoda had also taken Vaisnava initiation into the Vaisnava line coming from Sri Jahnava Devi – the wife of Lord Nityananda.
By 1887, wanting to leave his government services, Bhaktivinoda Thakura desired to quickly leave to Vrndavan, and do bhajana, or meditation on the banks of the Yamuna river until the end of his life. One night following the Thakura’s thoughts, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself appeared to Bhaktivinoda Thakura in a dream and told him: “You will certainly go to Vrndavan, but first there is some service you must perform in Navadvipa, so what will you do about that?”
The Lord then disappeared and Thakura Bhaktivinoda awoke, and thereafter was advised to apply for a government transfer to Krishnanagar, which is nearby to Navadvipa. The Thakura tried very hard to get a transfer to the holy dham of Lord Caitanya. Finally, after much endeavor and requests to be relieved of his official duties, Bhaktivinoda Thakura was finally able to arrange a mutual exchange with the Deputy Magistrate of Krishnanagar, Babu Radha Madhava Vasu, in the December of 1887 and thus, he finally went to Krishnanagar to execute the mission the Lord had given him.
While stationed in Krishnanagar, Bhaktivinoda Thakura would regularly visit the present day Navadvipa, searching for the Janmastan, or birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. One Saturday evening, Thakura was sitting on the roof of the Rani Dharmasala in Navadvipa with his third son, Kamal Prasad, and a friend who was a clerk. It was late at night, around 10pm, it was very dark, and the sky was covered with clouds. Thakura then writes about is experience: "Across the Ganga, in the northern direction, I saw a large mansion flooded with light. When I asked Kamal [about this], he confirmed that he had seen it also. When I asked the clerk, he said, 'I didn't see anything.' I was utterly amazed by that. When I looked carefully at that area in the morning from the roof of Rani's house, I saw a tal [palm] tree located there.”
He inquired about the place, and learned that right next to that place was the ruins of an old fort and kingdom - large pond of King Ballal Sen, from which the town got its name of Ballaldighi. Aside from that, however, there was nothing of importance in that area. The following Saturday, Thakura went to Ballaldighi, where again at night, he had a wonderful vision. The next day, he wandered around the site, and the elderly locals told him that this was indeed the Janmastan of Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu. They pointed out the Tulasi plants growing in abundance, none of them ever being planted.
Thakura Bhaktivinoda then began extensive research using old maps and manuscripts such as Caitanya Bhagavata, Bhakti Ratnakara, Narahari Sarakar Thakura’s Navadvipa-parikrama-paddhati, along with very old maps of the district. It was interesting to find that on one map in particular, from the late eighteenth century, the name “Sri Mayapura” was found on the map, which was later to be known as Ballaldighi. While reading Bhakti Ratnakara, he found the following verse, which confirmed his discovery:
navadvipa madhye mayapura name sthan
yathaya janmilen gauracandra bhagavan
"In the center of Navadvipa there is a place called Mayapura. At this place the Supreme Lord, Gauracandra, took His birth."
Thakura Bhaktivinoda, to confirm it for sure, asked Srila Jagannatha Das Babaji, who was the head of the Gaudiya Vaisnava community to come to the site. Babaji Maharaja, being over one-hundred and twenty years old at that time was so weak, he had to be carried everywhere in a basket, and upon arriving at the place Bhaktivinoda Thakura discovered to be the birth place of Lord Caitanya, Babaji Maharaja literally jumped up into the air in ecstasy and cried "ei to 'nimai-janma-bhumi!", meaning 'This is indeed the birth place of Lord Nimai!' This was the ultimate confirmation, and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was indeed the original birthplace of Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Therefore, from both a factual and spiritual point of view, the place of Lord Caitanya's birth was thus confirmed. This monumental discovery took place toward the beginning of 1888, and was a landmark event in Gaudiya History. Thereafter, he began extensive research and re-discovered other pastime places of the Lord, and produced the book Sri Navadvipa Dhama Mahatmya, which was published in 1890.
In August of 1891, Thakura was granted a two-year break from his government services. He got a place in Godrumadvipa, commonly known as Svarupaganga, and it was there in Surabhi Kunja that he started the Nama-hatta, or the market place of the Holy Name. Thakura Bhaktivinoda established over five-hundred Nama-hatta sangas. He wrote an essay entitled Sri Godruma Kalpatavi. Within this newsletter collection, he describes the structure of the Nama-hatta. He humbly addressed himself as the sweeper of the market place. This composition was made to guide those leaders and members in the preaching movement, who are trying to lead a balanced Krishna conscious life, while maintaining a family and career.
The glories of this great personality are limitless, and his achievements are countless. Mere words cannot do justice to his glories. Although Bhaktivinoda Thakura is especially recognised for re-discovering the birth place of Lord Caitanya, he in fact re-discovered and re-established Lord Caitanya’s movement, which was practically lost due to the cultural and religious fanaticism of the British rulers, and the concocted philosophies of deviant sects, who aimed to discredit and contradict the original teachings of the Supreme Lord.
“Oh, for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German and American people will take up banners, mrdangas and karatalas and raise kirtana through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh, for the day when the fair-skinned men from their side will raise up the chanting of 'jaya sacinandana, jaya sacinandana ki jaya' and join with the Bengali devotees. When will that day be? On such a day they will say, 'Our dear Brothers, we have taken shelter of the ocean of Lord Caitanya's Love; kindly embrace us.' When will that day come? That day will witness the holy transcendental ecstasy of the Vaisnava-dharma to be the only dharma, and all the sects and religions will flow like rivers into the ocean of Vaisnava -dharma. When will that day come?" - Bhaktivinoda Thakura
And then he penned another amazing prediction, which can be applied to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but also, most certainly, to Srila Prabhupada: "A personality will soon appear to preach the teachings of Lord Caitanya and move unrestrictedly over the whole world with His message."
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*References: Vedabase, Vanipedia, Seventh Goswami[ bhaktivinoda-thakura ] [ mayapur ]