Status of Bhaktivinoda Thakur's birthplace (Part 3)
|Harigopal Dasji and Vamshi Dasji.|
So I did not finish reflecting on the visit to Dwadash Mandir. Some came out today in a bit of a poetical form, which can be seen here. Let me quote the relevant parts, which is actually most of the poem:
It was a visit to a distant past,
my guru's ashram. Strangely unchanged,
though changes are coming, like everywhere,
like a cancer
they spread through every artery
in the shape of fallen trees
and piles of bricks in various shapes and forms,
usually square and shapeless, devoid of love or art.
But Dwadash Mandir sits in obliviousness to the norms
of the modern world. It is dangling with cobwebs
the spaces are just nooks, the women are just cooks.
And the bell rings and the gong chimes
and one or two voices sing the mangal arati
waking up the rest, who slowly drag themselves
into their daily routine of cooking and cleaning
the men are dragging long tubes or piles of wood,
or bringing in mangoes from the orchard
or bringing feed to the cows,
or just standing around in a gamcha
with a neem twig dangling from the mouth.
But now they have taken Prabhu's room
with its 19th century aura of poverty-stricken opulence
and sterilized it with marble floors and tiled walls.
And marble is sneaking in in the Shiva temples
and who knows where else it will end up,
bringing the new concept of mandir here.
Yet the damage is only just beginningThe need for a vision
as the Bhaktivedanta Charity Trust
slowly begins to impose its modern vision
of what should be Bhaktivinoda Thakur's glory--
no doubt some kind of skyscraper spectacularness,
which who knows may require a 60-storey glass structure
rivaling the gaudy marvels of Abu Dhabi and Shanghai,
and will bring much needed economic development
and foreign tourist dollars to the region!
Yes, that was the other distant past,
I viewed from the optics of Gadai Gauranga Kunj,
Gadadhar's folly, a one-man diamond Neverneverland,
which stands like one last precarious sentinel
to another way of looking at things,
a crazy, fantastic, maybe even weird kind of
Gauranga prem, but which has been as persistent and
internally evolving as the Ganges itself,
as imagination itself.
And from there you can look out
like Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself
and see the skyline of a glorious spiritual city
the very living manifestation of Bhaktivinoda's prophetic vision,
where Sahebs and the sons of rishis dance together
in ecstatic glorification of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
It can be done, it must be done!
Krishna West was Krishna West before it came west,
the karma yoga vision of bhakti,
a religion for doers and go-getters.
creating a new spiritual Kolkata where once there had only been rice fields,
Oh happy day!
Perhaps it is a bridge, but I don't think you get to the other side
until you scrape away at the palimpsest of history
to see what was below, what was Vrindavan,
what was Radha Kund, what was Nabadwip,
what was the Jaiva Dharma world of Lalita Prasad Thakur.
To find out exactly what it is that they had.
How can you have Lalita Prasad Thakur
-- or Sri Rupa or Sri Jiva or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself --
without having their world?
It took a few days for the place to sink in to my awareness. Bhakta Das (Harigopalji) made it clear numerous times that his vision is to have a few huts and to invite bhajanānandī Vaishnavas to come and stay in them. I would like to see this kind of vision realized also, but I see a few problems and those need to be addressed.
The first, as indicated in the poem, is that we need a clear vision for the Mandir which is true to the one Lalita Prasad Thakur had of it. I am not saying that the BCT is actually externally imposing its vision in a direct way. But when they are throwing money at the mandir and no one has a clear idea of what we want Birnagar to be, then the lowest common denominator goes to the prevailing ethos of the times. Which is to put lots of marble in, build guesthouses, nice nat mandirs, make it slick and modern so that it will attract people and so on.
I have mentioned Radha Charan, Harigopal Dasji's European disciple, who is largely the catalyst for this whole rethinking of the Mandir, and I may say that he came on the scene not a moment too soon. Some major changes were in the way of being started and I think that we need to take a deep breath and think what exactly we want to see take place here.
The Jaiva Dharma model
So here is my idea: I think that what Prabhu wanted to create is an environment that follows the vision of Jaiva Dharma. Most of the people who are interested in Gaudiya Vaishnavism will come through ISKCON and the Gaudiya Math, there is not much that we can do about this at this stage, nor should it be a matter of concern, since they are all branches coming from Bhaktivinoda Thakur. But those who read the Thakur's books, especially the sections of Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta, Jaiva-dharma and Harināma-cintāmaṇi that deal with bhajan as he conceived of it, and become attracted to it, would like to find a place where this kind of bhajan is actually performed. I don't think that they want the usual math setting.
In fact, we can deduce what Bhaktivinoda Thakur had in mind, not only from Jaiva Dharma, but also his descriptions of Svarupa Das Babaji, who impressed him greatly in his stay as magistrate in Puri, as well as from his fondness for reclusive bhajanānandīs like Jagannath Das Babaji and Gaur Kishor Das Babaji Maharaj. I think the model would be roughly such as would have been found a place like Bhagavata Nivas, where monks have their individual cells and meet at certain times of the day for communal services like mangal arati and iṣṭagoṣṭhī. Iṣṭagoṣṭhī in Jaiva Dharma takes place at the chabutara, like the one around the ashok tree in the picture below. It is hard not to think that Prabhu was inspired by this idea when he had it constructed.
|The chabutara near Bhaktivinoda Thakur's avirbhava sthali.|
Here one can see how it is being used at present.
In one of my previous posts I believe I mentioned that the same kind of temple politics prevail -- personality clashes and frictions -- that are present in any place where several humans gather into a community. But I don't think that this is where the math/mandir excessive prayāsa problem arises.
And the problem it is not that there is no preaching. Lalita Prasad Thakur, from his 1934 Sajjana-saṅginī magazine made it quite clear that he considered preaching to be part of his activities at Dwadash Mandir, which he named Anaṅga-sukhada-kuñja. He did maintain daily Nāma-ṭahala, and he wanted to establish Nāma-haṭṭa activities. He considered Anaṅga-sukhada-kuñja to be a Prapannāśrama, or sanctuary for surrendered devotees. A simple and traditional organization of a place like this would be the above model.
The fundamental problems to be avoided are the combining of the initiating process to the ashram property. Harigopal was clear that anyone can initiate, it is not a problem. But the secretary of the Goshthi (he himself) holds a separate position that is primarily managerial. Spiritual and managerial functions are separate.
Dwadash Mandir in the local community
As I wrote before, the local community has a lot of promise, not only in the personalities but in a certain attitude that I detected there. Birnagar is, as I mentioned, a very attractive and well-resourced Bengali village. Indeed, it is quite unique in its entire makeup. I met a member of the Mustafi family, and saw that they are still very strong in the town and clearly thinking of its heritage and environment. For instance, the Ula Chandi sacred spot has been protected as a small park with several banyan trees. It is the site of an annual festival (though I think they sacrifice goats at it).
Many of the youths I came into contact with were environmentally aware. I think that we need to get involved with the local community to preserve its heritage before it is broken by the cancerous mindless growth and development that seem hellbent on suffocating this entire subcontinent.
Institutional Cultures and the independence of Bhaktivinoda Gosthi
Now the biggest problem will be this Krishna West cultural behemoth that is ISKCON and to a lesser extent the Gaudiya Math. Each of these organizations has a separate ethos and cultural mood, both of which are quite different from the 19th century mood that I think we should try to recreate here. This is not so different really from the older bhajanānandī traditions of Vrindavan, Radha Kund and Puri, but is set in the distinct cultural atmosphere and natural environment of old Bengal.
I am truly afraid that the devotees who come out of these international cultural monoliths with their own set of saṁskāras will not be able to adapt; but that is a question of surrender. Experimenting with "acting as a way of salvation" starts with adapting to a changed sādhaka deha. I think that Srila Prabhupada himself instilled in the devotees a thirst for this Indian cultural ethos, but the ISKCON organization is a modern, Westernized, ersatz version of that religious culture. Why not make the genuine thing available, at least for the specialized individuals who will be attracted to it?
For that some special obstacles will need to be overcome. I think that Bengali and Sanskrit language training and education have to come as compulsory, a priority for anyone who wants to try this kind of bhajan. We will not bow to the homogenized internationalist cultural imperialism of these other organizations.
We should have organized retreats for short periods, and a special program for those who will be there on an extended stay. Perhaps some affiliation with a nearby university could be arranged whereby credits and degrees in Bengali and Vaishnava shastras, etc., could be awarded. This would also facilitate getting student visas for foreign students.
The Bhaktivinoda Goshthi previously held annual examinations for Bhakti Shastri titles, and also gave other titles to members of the Bhaktivinoda family. These traditions should also be resurrected.
The next question, of course, is who is going to take care of all this. There are really only two people who can do it and neither of them can do it alone: Harigopal Dasji and myself. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Harigopal has a good managerial brain. In the two weeks we were there, he shook things up pretty well and established preliminary guidelines. I have confidence in him, and I saw that others of the Goshthi and the local community similarly seem to feel the same way.
He will be back for Bhadra 18, the Bengali date on which Bhaktivinoda Thakur's birthday is celebrate at Dwadash Mandir, when a major meeting of the Goshthi will take place.
Unfortunately I will be in Canada when that takes place, but before I go I will present these ideas to him and he can propose them to the Goshthi. The local community is completely behind the two of us. The devotees in the temple are also 100% in favor. So I am ready to go in. Jai Sri Radhe.