Creating a Dham : Truth and the Holy Places

One of the things that Gadadhar and I talked about the other day was the Janma Sthan. He was reading to me from his latest chapter in "Another side of Bhaktivinoda Thakur," and in the context of Bipin Bihari Goswami brought up the controversy about the birthplace. He downplayed it in part by saying that Mahaprabhu responds to devotion, and the rāgānugā bhakta in particular is not confined by material time or place, but in his mind goes to the eternal Goloka Navadvipa.

Ananta Das Babaji's dsiciple Vaishanva Pada Dasji also said to me last year when I saw him at Radha Kund: "What is the harm in having two birthplaces? Why argue over it? We have two places to remember Mahaprabhu's appearance. Mahaprabhu accepts everyone's sincere devotion and prayers. The external place is not the important thing."

"But," Gadadhar said, "I don't agree with these Gaudiya Maths who just claim that their math is on the site of Nandanacharya's house and so on without any real factual evidence. How can you just imagine these things and then say that they are real?"

I did not agree. I said, "Look at you, you have your inner rāgānugā concept of the nitya Dham and you have, by Gaura and Gadadhar's grace, created a miniature facsimile in Gadai Gauranga Kunj. All external manifestations begin with an inner vision. Bhaktivinoda Thakur saw more than just the birthplace. He created Nabadwip Dham, much in the way that Rupa and Sanatan -- Narayan Bhatta, Hit Harivansh and the rest of the founders of Braj -- created Braj Dham. They 'discovered' the places where Krishna had his līlā. Narayan Bhatta used to go into a Braj village, sit down in trance of līlā smaraṇa  and then tell the local residents what līlā had transpired in that place and designate a site where they should built a memorial. That is really the same thing that Bhaktivinoda Thakur did. If he hadn't built this Yoga Peeth, it is unlikely that anyone on the other side of the Ganges would have built a competing site for Mahaprabhu's birthplace. But, in fact, that competition only means that the Dham is continuing to be built and to expand."


Bhaktivinoda Thakur spent a great deal of his energy in the latter part of his active life promoting and developing Nabadwip Dham, based primarily on his identifying Mayapur as the birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Here is his account of that discovery from the Jivani
I transferred to Krishnagar in the district of Nadia according to an order dated the 15th of November 1887. I will tell you the true reason why. When I recovered from my head ailment, I studied the devotional literature a lot. As a result of the association of some bhaktas I began to become particularly dispassionate in mind. My reasoning went like this, "I have lived my life in futility and have accomplished very little. I have not been able to obtain even a slight taste for service to the form of existence-consciousness-bliss, Sri Sri Radha and Krishna. So if I am able, I will work for a few more years, then with my pension I will find a little place in the groves near the bank of the river Yamuna in Vrindavan-Mathura and there perform bhajan in solitude. However, because of my habits and physical condition, I may not be able to remain alone in such a place, so I will live in the company of one other person."

I made efforts for Sri Ram Sevak Bhaktibhringa to be the one who would accompany me. I brought him to Serampore and discussed all this with him and he agreed to my plan. At this time I was writing Śrī Āmnāya-sūtra. Ram Sevak Babu went to Calcutta and I went to Tarakeshwar on work-related business. That night, when I went to bed, the Lord spoke to me in my sleep, saying, "So you will go to Vrindavan. But what about the work you have to do in Nabadwip Dham, which is so close by?"

Upon returning I again called Bhaktibhringa and I told him all about my dream. Bhaktibhringa suggested that I should get a transfer to Nabadwip Dham. I made this known to Peacock Saheb through Jnana Babu. He told me that going to Nadia so soon was not proper: "After retirement you can go and search for antiquities." I was disappointed at the setback and stayed where I was. [182-183]


After arranging for an exchange, he is transferred to Krishnanagar, and this gives him the chance to pursue his interest in Nabadwip Dham. The following story is pretty well known.
Every Saturday, I went to Nabadwip to search out the places of the Lord's leela, but I could not find anything at all, which made me very unhappy. At the present time, the people of Nabadwip only pay heed to their stomachs and other needs, and make no effort at all in relation to the Lord's leela places.

One night, Kamal, a clerk and I went up on the roof [of a building, Rani's house, in Nabadwip city] in order to look around. It was 10 o'clock, and was very dark and cloudy. Across the Ganga, in a northerly direction, I saw a large building flooded with light. I asked Kamal if he saw it and he said he did, just as I described it. I asked the clerk and he said, "I did not see anything." Hearing that, I was quite surprised. In the morning I went back up onto the roof of the Rani's house and looked again carefully at the place where I had seen the building, and saw that there was a tāl palm tree standing there. When I asked others about it, they said that the place was known as Ballal Dighi and that the ruins of Lakshman Sen's fort etc., were close by. 
That Monday I returned to Krishnagar and the following Saturday I went to see Ballal Dighi. That night I again saw the same wonderful phenomenon coming from the same location, and the next day I went on foot to inspect the area. Upon inquiring of the old-time residents there, I was informed that this was the birthplace of Sriman Mahaprabhu. Gradually I saw all the small villages and neighborhoods mentioned in the description of Nabadwip parikrama given in Narahari Thakur's Bhakti-ratnākara and Caitanya Bhāgavata.

While staying in Krishnagar I wrote Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma-māhātmya and sent it to Calcutta to be printed. I explained all these matters to Dvarik Babu, an engineer from Krishnagar, and he was able to grasp everything on the strength of his own learning and intelligence. He made a map of Nabadwip and the surrounding area for me. That was also printed in a reduced form in Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma-māhātmya. While I traveled around Nabadwip Dham and wrote Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma-māhātmya, I saw that there was very little opportunity to do more. (188-190)

After making substantial efforts, just before his retirement in October 1894, i.e., January of the same year, the Thakur organized a committee to purchase the land in Mayapur and to start building something there. It did not go unopposed by the people in Nabadwip, who refused to accept that the birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu could have been in such a distant place, now inhabited by Muslims. Bhaktivinoda Thakur reports in the Jīvanī:
The people of the modern town of Nabadwip, i.e, Kulia, became very envious over the manifestation of Old Nabadwip. They began to spread gossip and unleashed a storm of abuse against the worshipers of Gauranga, but why should those who have offered their life to the lotus feet of Gauranga retreat because of the slander of wicked people? Not paying heed to the malicious words of worldly-minded, envious people, we continued to make efforts to build a temple and worship the Supreme Lord there. (208-209)

Navadvīpa-dhāma-māhātmya has two parts. In the first, there is a presentation of the evidence that the Thakur had collected from various sources (Pramāna-khaṇḍa) and the second (Parikramā-khaṇḍa) is a tour of the Dham, which maps out its geography and provides each place with fabulous stories involving personalities from history and mythology, having them visit or reside in Nabadwip at some time in the past and in some way profess devotion to Gauranga.

In relation to the first of these, there is little I can say at this point. Bhaktivinoda Thakur and his supporters have made elaborate arguments based on the evidence they collected. His opponents also have their opposing interpretations of the evidence. It is rather unlikely that I will devote the time to investigate the matter any further. I am somewhat interested in the second part.

From the above portions of Jīvanī, I have to take the instruction that Param Gurudeva got in the Tarakeshwar dream to be genuine. It is clear that he was convinced by the messages he received in dreams or through signs such as those in this account. And indeed I am not one to discount them. Nor do I discount his attempts to find evidence for the birthplace, but would not be altogether surprised if the vision of light and a building that he saw in the Mayapur village was not the guiding light for his understanding of the evidence he found. The Tarakeshwar message had a great impact on the Thakur and gave him a specific personal mission, much in the way that Mahaprabhu directly instructed Rupa and Sanatan to discover the "lost" places of Braj.

Being exceptionally intelligent, he understood that the birthplace was only one place among many, the central spot, the whorl of the lotus, but that the entire 16-kos area needed to be spiritually revitalized in order to become worthy of the incarnation for the Kali-yuga, to make Nabadwip a center for the spreading of the Holy Name.

And that is where the Thakur's mythologizing in the second part of Navadvīpa-dhāma-māhātmya comes in. Though some of the details provided in NDM are based on Narahari's account in Bhakti-ratnākara, a great many of them are Bhaktivinoda Thakur's own creation. The setting itself is the imagined history of Jiva Goswami visiting Nabadwip and being taken on a tour of the Dham by Nityananda Prabhu. And much of the commentary -- given in the future tense -- refers directly to the present-day situation in which he was living.

Here is a typical example of the kind of story based on the Puranas adapted for the NDM. Remember that Bhaktivinoda Thakur's Swaroop Ganj home was called Surabhi Kunj.
The name of this island is Godruma. [The celestial cow] Surabhi resides here eternally. Influenced by Krishna’s Maya, the proud Indra showered Gokula with torrents of rain. Krishna then lifted Govardhan to protect Gokula. When Indra’s pride had been completely crushed, he recognized Krishna. In order to rectify his offence, he fell to the ground and caught hold of Krishna’s lotus feet. Although Nanda-nandana, the ocean of mercy, forgave and pacified Indra, the fear in Indra’s heart did not diminish. Thus Indra said to Surabhi, “I committed a dreadful offence because I did not understand Krishna’s pastimes, . I have heard that in Kali-yuga he will perform his astonishing pastimes in Nabadwip. But I fear that at that time I will again be bewildered by the illusory energy and commit offences. O Surabhi, you know everything about how to be saved from committing offences. Please explain this to me.” 
Surabhi answered, “Let us both go to Nabadwip Dham and worship Nimai there.” 
Thereafter Indra and Surabhi worshiped Gauranga at this very place. It is very easy to worship Gauranga. Although the result is also easy to attain, it is the topmost. Indra and Mother Surabhi attain darshan of Gaurahari. Both of them constantly chanted his name and wept. They quickly attained darshan of GaurangaMahäprabhu. They beheld his astonishingly graceful, divine form. 
Mahaprabhu smiled gently, assuming the posture of one giving a boon. He who is the storehouse of rasa, was himself overwhelmed with ecstatic love (prema). My Lord Gaurahari smiled and said to Indra and Surabhi, “I know of your desire. I will soon appear in Nabadwip. At that time you will also take birth in Nabadwip and serve me in my pastimes there. Now the snares of illusion will not be able to touch you.” 
Saying this, Mahäprabhu vanished, and Surabhi began living underneath a peepal tree, continuously serving Gaurahari’s divine feet. Since then, this island is called Godruma [Go = cow, druma = tree; the island where a cow resides beneath a tree] If someone makes a hut here and performs bhajan, he will easily become engrossed in service to Gaurahari’s lotus feet.
This example is pretty typical of one based on a Puranic incident, but there are many others that involve historical figures such as the founders of the different Vaishnava sects like Ramanuga and Madhva, as well as others like Jayadeva, who might even have some connection with Nabadwip. Some of these make an imagined connection between an event or personality from the "Satya Yuga" and connects it with historical events, such as the king Lakshman Sena's digging of Ballal Dighi on the site of Prithu Maharaj's Kund.

No one would ever take any of the these stories at face value. They are amusing and they glorify Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the Dham in one way or another. But the question then arises, is it legitimate to do this kind of thing? What is the "truth value" of these stories? Those who have  unrestricted faith in Bhaktivinoda Thakur might do so, but ordinary conditioned souls like myself -- the antarito janah -- will have a hard time with it.

I wrote a few things a few years ago on this subject in this article. I wrote there that I found it "troubling" that Bhaktivinoda Thakur had possibly manufactured evidence to serve his purposes, especially "in view of his knowledge of the historical method."

I have stated many times on this blog that I am not favorable to the literalist reading of scripture. Texts like the Bhāgavatam are given absolute status and those of delicate faith are told to believe them literally. And the license the Thakur takes in Navadvīpa-dhāma-māhātmya seems to be excessive, especially in view of his rational "modernist" approach.

Not long ago I was talking with a notable western Gaudiya Math guru and just confessed to him that on reading chapter 17 of Adi-lila of CC, the original story of the mango tree that grew instantly and gave fruit all year round, which is not found in earlier scriptures, seemed to me to have been added quite gratuitously, simply as a miracle story to amaze the susceptible. But even reading the tattva of Nityananda in the maṅgalācaraṇa verses, I found my credibility being stretched beyond its limits. It all reminds me of Macaulay’s Minute, where he mocks India's accounts of "history abounding with kings thirty feet high and reigns thirty thousand years long, and geography made of seas of treacle and seas of butter." I said I sometimes wish we could just dispose of all this clutter of tall-tales and simply go to the point.

So how could Bhaktivinoda Thakur, who some have called the "first European Vaishnava," who had been influenced by logical thinking and had been trying to solve the problem of the relationship of material intelligence to spiritual realization, so consciously and deliberately write a sthala-Purana type of text without just "getting to the point"?

The only answer that makes sense to me is that the Thakur was not writing for people with a modernist sensibility. He was writing for the ordinary Bengali Vaishnavas of the day. Those who were sufficiently credulous to accept these stories and to be inspired to faith in Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the Dham by hearing them. But "the point" in the Puranas (including the Bhāgavatam) is always couched in some narrative that is not necessarily literally true.

The Thakur himself writes in Kṛṣṇa-saṁhitā that the great majority of scriptures are written for those of weak or delicate faith (komala-śraddhā). And indeed, most of what he had written was for the madhyama-adhikārī; the Pramāṇa-khaṇḍa was also intended for them. But the purpose of the Parikramā-khaṇḍa was to create faith in those of the lower standard, to charm them with stories that glorified the transcendent mercy of Gauranga. When they had developed a stronger faith along with the capacity for rational discourse, then they could see beyond them. It would not have been enough to simply convince people by producing evidence of the sort that is in the Pramāṇa-khaṇḍa; that would have produced an intellectual acceptance, but that in itself was far from adequate for the purpose of creating a Dham, which has to be based on bhakti. And bhakti or rasa is based on narrative.


The problem with Nabadwip, at least as the Thakur describes it in the Jīvanī was that it was to a great extent moribund. In economic terms we could say that it had not attained its potential. A tīrtha or the Dham is ultimately dependent on a living tradition of devotees living and engaging in spiritual practices, so that those visiting do more than just bathe in the holy river or bow down to a holy shrine. This is stated several times in the Bhāgavatam.
śuśrūṣoḥ śraddadhānasya vāsudeva-kathā-ruciḥ  
syān mahat-sevayā viprāḥ puṇya-tīrtha-niṣevaṇāt 

O Brahmins! The taste for hearing the topics of Lord Vāsudeva arise in one who has the desire to hear and has faith when he serves great souls, which comes of dwelling in [or just visiting] a holy place of pilgrimage. (1.2.16)
Because, says Sri Jiva Goswami, the two are connected. The holy places are those where the advanced practitioners of spiritual life gather, and thus they provide the facility for making contact with them.

A holy place without the presence of saintly persons loses its inherent potency. They are in themselves ambulant places.
bhavad-vidhā bhāgavatās tīrtha-bhūtāḥ svayaṁ vibho
tīrthī-kurvanti tīrthāni svāntaḥ-sthena gadābhṛtā 
My lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage. (1.13.10)
yasyātma-buddhiḥ kuṇape tri-dhātuke
sva-dhīḥ kalatrādiṣu bhauma ijya-dhīḥ 
yat-tīrtha-buddhiḥ salile na karhicij
janeṣv abhijñeṣu sa eva go-kharaḥ
One who identifies himself with the inert body composed of mucus, bile and air, who assumes his wife and family belong to him, who thinks an earthen image or the land of his birth is worshipable, or who sees a place of pilgrimage as merely the water there, and not with those who are wise in spiritual truth — such a person is no better than a cow or an ass. (10.84.13)
So this was the real purpose of Bhaktivinoda Thakur, and through the work of those who were inspired by him, especially Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, it is become gradually realized -- something that is not particularly easy in this day and age and in this land, which is still dominated by non-devotees.

Even though there may be differences of opinion between the various sampradayas that honor the Dham -- as is the case in Vrindavan also -- the presence of as many of them as possible enhances its glories and those of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, thereby serving the real purpose, which is to spread his Prema-dharma.

To conclude, then, I do not consider the NDM to be a dishonest work even though I believe that the Thakur wrote it in full knowledge of what he was doing. It is in the same genre as the original Puranic texts that had pretty much the same purpose, except that he lent his name to the text and wrote in Bengali rather than Sanskrit. 


paramātmā vāsudevaḥ
nitāntaṃ śodhite citte
sphuraty eṣa na cānyataḥ

2.2.88 Brihad Bhagavatamrita (Chapter 2 - Jñāna: Knowledge) by Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī.


88. Lord Vāsudeva, the Supreme Soul, the embodiment of eternity, knowledge, and bliss, reveals Himself in a thoroughly purified heart, and nowhere else.


Commentary: Śrī Vāsudeva, the presiding Lord of consciousness, reveals Himself only within citta, the heart, the subtle seat of awareness, more subtle than the mind. That is mentioned by Lord Śiva in the Fourth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (4.3.23):

sattvaṃ viśuddhaṃ vasudeva-śabditaṃ yad īyate tatra pumān apāvṛtaḥ sattve ca tasmin bhagavān vāsudevo hy adhokṣajo me namasā vidhīyate

“The state of pure consciousness, Kṛṣṇa consciousness, in which the Supreme Personality of Godhead is revealed with no covering, is called vasudeva. In that pure state, I always offer obeisances to Him, the Supreme Godhead, known as Vāsudeva, who is beyond the material senses.”

When one’s consciousness is completely pure, meaning that it reflects nothing but the Supreme, then and only then does Lord Vāsudeva reveal Himself within the heart. Because He is the personal essence of the Supreme Truth, self-manifesting and indivisible, the external senses cannot perceive Him.
Jagadananda Das said…
I think my analysis is correct, but it needs a little further development. It is based on some of the most fundamental insights of Bhaktivinoda Thakur. I will have to develop that a bit later, but I don't have the time right now.
Anonymous said…
Jagadananda Das said: "Remember that Bhaktivinoda Thakur's Swaroop Ganj home was called Surabhi Kunj."

Anon replied: Word games act as a thin veil covering the open door of fundamental insight; take "Surabhi Kunj" for instance:



Anonymous said…

Jagadananda Das said: "I think my analysis is correct, but it needs a little further development. It is based on some of the most fundamental insights of Bhaktivinoda Thakur. I will have to develop that a bit later, but I don't have the time right now. "

Anon replied: Fundamental insight depends on the "joy" in your heart.


See the etymology of the word Joy:

Trace it back to the Old English word glēow:

And in-turn, further back to the Proto-Germanic word glīwą (joy) and finally via glīwą to its earliest etymological origin to the Proto-Indo-European word ǵʰelh₃ (“to shimmer, gleam”):

See also Proto-Indo-European ǵʰley-, from Proto-Indo-European ǵʰel- ‎(“to shine”‎). Cognate with Proto-Germanic gliwēną ‎(“to shine, glitter”‎)[1] (compare Old Norse gljá), Proto-Germanic glīmaną ‎(“to shine”‎) (compare English gleam), Ancient Greek χλιαίνω ‎(khliaínō, “warm”‎).
Anonymous said…

True literary insight of the Sanskrit language may be found by its concordance with the earliest form of the English language; the earliest form of English being Proto-Indo-European.

Sanskrit as an ancient language must be decoded by an equally ancient language in its translation; the ancient root language of English is Proto-Indo-European. Proto-Indo-European is the bridge between Sanskrit and English which makes true sense of the words and texts describing the path towards God consciousness written in the Sanskrit language by past saints.
Anonymous said…

Dear Jagadananda Das,

In relation to the previous comment, try a little self-exploration. There will be a key passage of a text that for years you have not been able to truly understand; try researching the etymology of the English translation to find the Proto-Indo-European root word equivalents and 'original meaning', then apply the original meaning (‘true sense’) in the translation of your text.

You may be pleasantly surprised.

Yours in the love of truth,


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