Status of Bhaktivinoda Thakur's birthplace (Part I)

The first draft of this article was written ten days ago when I first arrived with Hari Gopal Dasji in Birnagar. I have been experiencing a number of technological setbacks on this trip -- the loss of the camera being the first major hassle. It took a few days to get some photos taken and finally I am posting a revised version along with a few photos that were taken by other people. There were also numerous computer keyboard and internet connection problems. We will be leaving tomorrow to return to Vrindavan via Kolkata, and there is a lot more to say than what is here.

In Kolkata we stayed two nights with a couple of bhaktas, disciples of a disciple of Bhakta Ma, Kanti Chakravarty Bhakti Hridaya, whom I don't know, but who apparently is engaged in preaching widely in Bangla Desh. He will, I think, be coming to the meeting in Birnagar today, or perhaps tomorrow. I look forward to seeing him, as it will be good to have many branches connected to the Bhaktivinoda tree all coming together here.

It was nice to be in the homes of sadachari Bengali householder Vaishnavas, but a little intimidating from the aspect of proper accepted behavior standards. But both places we went to were very clean, had nice deity service, good prasad, etc. Harigopal knows them well because they are regular visitors to Radha Kund and have the Radha Kunda mood, use Radha Kund tilak, etc.


Next we went to the Bhaktivedanta Research Library in Ballygunge and saw all the material that they took from Birnagar. This project is run by Achyuta Dasji (Angelo Pugliese) with the blessings of the Iskcon GBC. I was quite impressed by the setup and by his sincerity and the hard work he has put into the project. I felt positive about the direction he has taken in preserving and scanning the manuscripts, and I think we will be able to work with him more in doing the same where the printed material is concerned.

Harigopal Dasji Maharaj and I in the BRC Library.
Prabhu's writings are in pretty good shape. The older stuff like the Sva-likhita-jivani of Bhaktivinoda Thakur are in a little more precarious situation. There is only one unpublished Bhaktivinoda MS that is unpublished, a commentary on the Rasa lila, which appears to be incomplete. At the same time there are several MSS by Lalita Prasad Thakur, some of which look interesting and certainly should be printed at some time in the original Bengali at least, and perhaps translated later on.

The town

The intense heat during the trip -- we were in a non AC sleeper car -- left me with a bit of heat stroke. During the local train ride from Kolkata, it started to rain which brought a bit of relief, announcing the beginning of the rainy season, which means alternating between fresh and humid air to very hot and sweaty. One thing is sure, however, rainy season or not, Bengal is green. And the Birnagar and the Dwadash Mandir are greener than green. The town itself is not as urbanized as I had suspected. There are numerous mango orchards, pukurs and dighis throughout the town and the village in general appears comparatively prosperous, which means that it may not be as encircled as I had feared before coming.

I walked around the town last night, and cycled this morning. I saw quite a few people with neckbeads and japa malas and tilak. So there seems to be a bit of Vaishnavism in the area. Of course, if there was an increased Western presence here, it would change things a bit. The current situation is very old school Bengali. In the sense that it is very much from another age.

The Krishna Chandra Ray temple 

This is of course Bengal, so Chandi, Kali, Durga is the main thing and there are mandaps all over the place. A few days ago we ran into a descendant of the same Mustaufi family from which Bhaktivinoda Thakur's mother came. They have recently restored the Krishna Chandra Ray temple that was built by that family. The deity and temple look to me like they date from about the 17th century, but I am not an expert in these matters. The building is of baked clay and is covered with nice terracotta bas relief figures.

The base of a pillar.

During the time we have been here there have been several nama-yajnas in the area, and I also visited an Aurobindo inspired ashram a couple of kilometers from here.

The Mandir property

The Mandir itself has a large property, about 20 bighas, a bit of which was unfortunately sold off some time back. The sold-off land has been marked off for property development, which is troubling. I thought it would be a good idea if that property could be bought back so that a grihastha community of devotees connected to the mandir could be developed. This does not seem to be an option at the present time.

The Mandir property is full of useful and/or decorative trees, probably twenty coconut, jackfruit, mango, and lichi. Mangos rule, though, and we have luckily arrived at the height of mango season, which means as much tree-ripened mango as we can eat every day. The mango orchard is absolutely beautiful and I was very pleased to here the hired old guard who sits day and night there in a little hut melodiously chanting Hare Krishna on his own.

A bit of the land has been set aside for cultivation, where they have planted a ton of banana trees, and currently a few sabjis. A lot of the ashram's food comes from the land itself. Though the potential is tremendous from that side, a lot of the land is totally unused. If it were used for cultivation of either vegetables or ayurvedic herbs, it could provide another source of income.

A few more flower trees would be nice. but it is nice to have the natural environment and the home grown natural (organic) food for offering. It also offers a kind of natural service engagement for devotees.

There is a good sized pukur that needs to be dug out and restored. The actual small temple building that marks the spot where Bhaktivinoda Thakur is said to have appeared stands at the side of the pukur. This building was restored, I believe, by Bhakti Bibudh Bodhayan Maharaj of the Gopinath Gaudiya Math. It is in good shape, but not used much due to the lack of manpower. Regular puja does take place there.

Pukur with Bhaktivinoda Avirbhava-sthali 
There is a nice shady spot on the path crossing the property where a large ashok tree stands. It is surrounded by a concrete chabutara (a circular seat around the trunk) which is used by local unemployed youth as a hangout and the whole place is littered with empty cigarette packets and ghutka (chewing tobacco) packages. This is considered to be the primary problem in the ashram, and nobody wants to deal with these young men for fear of increasing the tension.

Ashoka tree. It is starting to flower, but those clusters of red and yellow blossoms cannot be seen in this picture.
In general, there is no arrangement for garbage, except -- it seems -- the usual Indian solution of "anywhere except where I am sitting." For garbage a couple of big holes should be dug somewhere. A lot of the ashram garbage goes across the passing road, where it sits as an ugly testimony to our failure to think through modern ways of consumption.

Doing a little bit of clean up.


Halley said…
amazing descriptions .
the temple indeed seems to be from 17th century . undoubtedly before influence of british started having its impact on bengali art . its called do-chaalaa style of temple building .

the aurobindo ashram is personally known by me . the founder was a freedom fighter who passed away in 2008 . after independence , inspired bu aruobindo and vivekananda he settled around the village and used his own efforts and money to develop this poverty striken village into a sort of model community . he did not marry but led a intense spiritual life in his small hut with baked tiled roof .

towards the end of his life , when the village had become one of the most prosperous in the area , he left his home silently . after one year he was discovered in himalayas . when requested , he did not want to come back but spend his last days here in contemplation . nishkaam karma indeed !

Anonymous said…
Jagadananda Prabhu: In Sva-likhita-jivani BVT refers to Ralph Waldo Emerson's letter of acknowledgement dated 10th May 1886, Concord, Massachusetts. But Emerson died in 1882. Ay explanation as to this mistake in the date? Was it a mistake in the English translation? Was Emerson's letter quoted in English or Bengali by BVT? I'd appreciate your thoughts.
=Brahmananda dasa
P.S. You can reach me on Facebook.
Jagadananda Das said…
I am sorry, I cannot answer the questions related to Emerson. When I get the chance I will try to find what is written in the Jivani, but it is quite possible that BVT made a mistake.

Our library visit Facebook pictures can be found here
sungazer said…
Pamho JagatJi. I can see in your photo taken in the BRC library the set of 8 vols of the harmonist as it is, as I have the set on my shelf too. Its totally priceless, Srila BSST's writings and essays are just imbued with a power and forcefulness thats out of this world and unlike any other writing that I have experienced! I also see what appears to be perhaps one of the sandarbhas by Srila Haridas Shastri Maharaj Ji below, perhaps bhakti sandarbha. My question is regarding the unpublished and incomplete manuscript by Srila BVT. ITS ON RAAS LILA? OR RAAS LILA TATTVA? I mean, this is huge! We all know how divinely inspired Jaiva Dharma is, ifs a masterpiece of bengali literature. So this manuscript, please JagatJi tell us more about it. Is it a translation and commentary of one of your Gosvami's writings or an original work by Srila BVT? Also, it would be so cool to have the writings of Srila LPT to read in english, is that possible in the near future JagatJi?
Jagadananda Das said…
So much to do. But the facility is there for researchers, many of whom are just looking for things to do. We do need to study Lalita Prasad Thakur's contribution a little more in depth and breadth.
nd said…
what is the "mood" or approuch of the other vaisnavas residing there? (in other words are they all sahajiyas like your good self??)I wouldnt mind farming or so as you have written.
Jagadananda Das said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jagadananda Das said…
No. I should make it quite clear that we have no intention of promoting Sahajiyaism through the Dwadash Mandir, nor would that be appropriate here.

I am going to make a statement in the near future on this topic.

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