Another side of Bhaktivinoda 9: Following Thakur Bhaktivinoda’s Guru Parampara in Golok Nabadwip
|Sunset on the Ganga at Gadai Gauranga Kunj, Ishodyan, Mayapur|
Previous posts in this series.
1: Guru Nishtha
As we previously mentioned, bhaktas generally only have one parivara in the transcendental abode of Golok Nabadwip, which is formed by the members of their Guru-paramparā. Though in our case we have two. Apart from our Guru-parivāra, we have a family tie with Gadadhar Pandit also since my father is his uncle. So before our family leaves this morning to perform Guru-pūjā, I want to visit Gadadhar first to secure his blessings. This won’t take long since he lives almost next door.
The beautiful abode of Madhava Mishra and Ratnavati Devi, Gadadhar’s parents, is a marvel to behold. In the center of the estate resides Gadadhar’s sevita Gopinath vigraha in an opulent moonstone mandir. Encircling the mandir in every direction are the marvellous palaces where Gadadhar’s relatives and disciples live. All of the beautiful gardens, sarovars, and shady fruit and flower-bearing trees in this area fully render it a natural paradise.
Nearing Gadadhar’s room, I ask myself if I should go to Gopinath first, but my heart leads me right up to his doorstep instead. Before I can knock, however, I am surprised to see the door open and Gadadhar standing right there, smiling at me! I want to offer a thousand pranams, but as I start to bend down, he catches me and leads me to his bed, where he makes me sit down. Gadadhar knows very well that I revere him as my samaṣṭi or supreme guru, but because I happen to be the son of his father’s elder brother, he affectionately calls me dādā to maintain the formality of our close family tie. Gadadhar can figure out why I have come, so without wasting time he places a small golden box in my hands and says, “Give this to Nitai and tell him it is a gift from me.”
When I take the golden box in my hand, it makes me horripilate. I want to ask, “Is there something mystical inside?” But I observe that Gadadhar has suddenly turned grave, so I hesitate. Rather than say anything, I touch my head to his lotus feet and silently exit from the room.
After entering Gopinath’s mandir and offering my sāṣṭāṅga-praṇāma, I remain lying there. When I finally get up I stand reverently with folded hands until the thought comes, “Is he hearing my prayer?” At that time the pujari happens to be decorating Gopinath with flowers, but as he turns and notices me, a colorful champak mala falls from Gopinath’s crown! Picking it up, he instinctively calls me over to place it in my hands. I gaze upon Gopinath’s prasadi mala and then look at the golden box that Gadadhar told me to give Nitai Prabhu and a joyful feeling overwhelms me. Are these two auspicious omens a sign that today our Guru-pūjā will be fruitful?
The scene at the mansion
Arriving back at the house, I see that my family and a large crowd of people have assembled in the courtyard. Everyone appears to be waiting for me. They are eager to perform Guru-pūjā, and the first place we will go is Svananda Sukhada Kunja. A palanquin has been nicely decorated with flowers for the occasion. The puja items have all been collected and nicely arranged on large golden trays. When I request Premamayi to sit down in the palanquin, however, she signals to our son Gopinath, who starts calling to me from the palace door.
I tell Premamayi, “Let’s go right away lest we miss the most auspicious time for puja.” But she clasps my hand and requests me to please go and see what Gopinath wants. “It won’t take long,” she says.
When I enter the mansion, everyone leads me into a corridor where a nicely decorated vyāsāsana is waiting. But when I see what they are planning, I fold my hands and request them, “Today we are all going to perform our Guru-varga’s puja. Do you want to begin this auspicious activity by pouring sand in the sweet rice? Come, let’s proceed quickly to Svananda Sukhada Kunja.”
“Then you can go alone,” Premamayi says defiantly, “because no one will budge from here until you let us fulfil our desire.”
After a brief puja ceremony, everyone returns to the courtyard and it looks like we are ready to go. As Premamayi sits down with me in the palanquin, we start to move ahead. Gopinath, Govinda and Madan Mohan are walking to my right, and Madhavi, Malati and Mallika are on their mother’s left side. Following us is a brigade of dāsas and dāsīs who carry all of the puja paraphernalia, and leading the way is a sampradāya of dancing kirtaniyas. The sankirtan’s vibration is so intoxicating that no one can refrain from singing along as everyone dances down the road! Our Guru-paramparā’s ādi-ācārya, Vamsivadan Thakur, has written two meaningful lines that our kirtaniyas love to sing again and again,
guru kṛpā bhajanera mūla.
Vamsi is instructing that to simply perform bhajan is not bhajan, because only with Guru kripa can Krishna’s bhajan flourish.As our procession enters the Dham’s southeast section, Sri Nityananda’s huge estate comes into view but when we look just south of it, there is Svananda Sukhada Kunja, the residence of Srila Thakur Bhaktivinoda. Upon arriving at the kunja’s front gate, we get down and request the palanquin’s bearers to carry it to the Thakur’s front doorstep. From here we shall walk on foot. Inside Svananda Sukhada Kunja there is a sub-kunja named Ananga Sukhada, which is the residence of Lalita Prasad Thakur. He is first member of our Guru-paramparā we shall worship.
Prabhu is a naiṣṭhika-brahmacārī who owns practically nothing though he loves to combine līlā-smaraṇa with his nāma-japa almost all of the time. We do not find him in his kutir, so we start looking around and there he is, sitting underneath a banyan tree near the Ganga’s shore. Prabhu appears to be steeped in bhāva-samādhi!
What an excellent moment to do parikramā around him, we think. I request the boys to start kirtan. Everyone joins them to sing the refrain, Guru-kṛpā hi kevalam, and a great vibration is stirred. Although we do parikramā around Prabhu for some time like this, his samādhi doesn’t break. Then someone advises me, “Just touch his lotus feet and loudly shout in his ear.” I try it, informing Prabhu why we have come, “Prabhu! We have come to do Guru-pūjā.” With that, his external consciousness returns. “Oh that’s good!” he exclaims. “Let’s all go to worship Baba’s śrī-caraṇa-padma.” Prabhu thinks that we have come to worship his father, so he becomes excited and wants to lead the way. But when someone tells him, “Prabhu, you are our Gurudeva, we have to worship you first,” he meekly protests, “Oh how is that possible? I have not yet been able to become a bhakta.”
Prabhu can be stubborn at times and nobody wants to argue with him, so that is when I signal Premamayi, who knows exactly what to do. She takes a select morcel of mahaprasad in her hand and slips it into Prabhu’s mouth. As he starts to relish Krishna Kelichand’s adharamrita, the divine taste transports him to another realm. Prabhu isn’t just tasting the prasad, he is relishing the flavors of Krishna’s lips, which causes a host of sāttvika-bhāvas to awaken in his body and he becomes paralyzed.
Then we request Govinda and Madan Mohan to hold up a curtain, as Gopinath and I go into dress Prabhu in a new silk dhoti and chadar. One anurāgī bhakta offers nava-ratna aṅgada [armlets made with nine types of gems] and fastens them around both of Prabhu’s arms. Another bhakta places a highly fragrant jasmine mala that he made around Prabhu’s neck, while others decorate his forehead and bodily limbs with āguru-candana. Then an arati is performed. Although Prabhu still appears to be in a trance, the bhaktas sing a guru-vandanā that befits his glories. It is around this time that his consciousness returns – just as we are completing his puja.
Seeing that everyone is now ready for his father’s puja, Prabhu becomes jubilant. He leads us to Radha Madhava’s maṇimaya-mandira where the morning bhoga offering is almost over and there is Thakur Bhaktivinoda himself singing the prātaḥ bhoga kirtan with tear-filled eyes as he comes to the final couplet,
bhoga ārati gāẏa sei bhakatibinoda
He for whom Hari’s līlā is the only source of joy,Prabhu is now in a dilemma. Although he brought us to request his father to allow us to perform his puja, it is now time for morning prasad. So to conceal our intention for coming, he asks a question. “Baba, there are many who sing your bhaja bhakata batsala śrī gaura hari ārati at noontime instead of the morning. Is that alright?”
that Bhaktivinoda sings his bhoga ārati.
“Wouldn’t that be rasābhāsa?” the Thakur asks rhetorically. “I composed this song following Govinda-līlāmṛta’s description// of Krishna’s prātaḥ bhojana at Nandalaya. But at midday, Radha and Krishna’s bhojan takes place at Radha Kund. If we are going to follow Krishna’s aṣṭa-kāla-līlā, shouldn’t we sing the songs that match his daily schedule?”
Smiling to the bhaktas, Bhaktivinoda Thakur then offers an invitation, “Since everyone has come for Radha Madhava’s darshan at this auspicious time, why don’t all of you honor their maha-prasad with me this morning?”
[In Golok Nabadwip a small bhoga offering like this one can easily expand in quantity to meet the demands of a large crowd.]
A short time later, after prasad and a brief rest, Prabhu goes to his father and submits our request. Then the Thakur replies, “But I was just thinking of going to visit Sri Nitai Chand’s abode for the chance to worship our parama-pūjya-pāda Śrī Guru-varga. So instead of doing my puja, I would be much happier if you were to all join us in performing their puja.”
Prabhu answers, “Baba, everyone will surely honor your request, but please don’t forget that you are this paramparā’s first worshipable member for us, so will you kindly let us perform our duty?”
Before the Thakur can reply, he hears Bhagavati Devi [his sahadharmiṇī or wife who assists in religious activities] calling him from the next room, and upon going there he sees that she and many others have already made an elaborate arrangement for the puja.
Hence, on her request, our Thakur has no other recourse but to sit down on the flower-decorated vyāsāsana. Seeing her spunk makes the bhaktas exceedingly happy, and they cry out, “Jaya! Jaya!”
Bhaktivinoda then addresses her, “Hey Bhakta-janani [mother of the bhaktas]! Since our Prabhupada initiated us together on the same day, shouldn’t you sit down here beside me?”
“That won’t do!” she retorts. “Aren’t you my svāmi-devatā? So please allow me to perform your arati.”
Before she can begin, however, a curtain is held up for Prabhu to go in with a few bhaktas to dress his Guru-pitā [his father who is also his guru] even more stunningly than we could previously in new clothes, ornaments, malas and chandan, etc. When he comes out from behind the curtain, Prabhu exclaims, “Ma, now please sit down beside Baba so that all the bhaktas can worship you together. Then I shall perform your arati.”
Bhagavati Devi still won’t budge, however, and she tells her son, “You can perform your father’s caraṇābhiṣeka.”
Gopinath then begins the kirtan, singing:
Oh Gurudeva, please give us a drop of mercy so that we can feel ourselves to be lower than a blade of grass.Although Bhaktivinoda wrote this guru-vandanaā while thinking of his own Gurudeva’s glories, the song’s praises fit him as well. Gopinath cannot help himself and also takes up another song, Ohe Vaiṣṇava ṭhākura and comes to a crescendo when he sings the lines:
tomāra śakati āche
Since Krishna belongs to you, you can give Krishna to others. You have that power.On hearing his emotion-filled voice, the bhaktas feel something wonderful. It is as though they can see Krishna sitting in their hearts, causing tears of prema to stream from their eyes! Then everyone – including Bhaktivinoda and Bhagavati Devi – break down in tears! This awakens the realization that Krishna’s mercy descends through Guru-kṛpā.
After the puja, Premamayi comes with our three daughters and falls at Bhagavati Devi’s lotus feet. They offer her a golden tray that contains a few dhotis and saris, some golden ornaments, kunkum, kasturi and other gifts, along with Radha Kelichand’s mahaprasad.
Bhaktivinoda comes out from the house in great eagerness to worship his Guru-varga and takes his place in the palanquin. Looking to the crowd with folded hands, he invites everyone to come and assist him in the Guru-puja. But as bearers lift the palanquin, he remembers, “Oh where’s Bhagavati? She should sit beside me.” As the bhaktas escort her to the palanquin, however, she protests, “Let Lalu [Lalita Prasad] sit with you. I shall follow behind.”
The bhaktas start looking for Prabhu, but he can’t be found. Finally one of the palanquin’s bearers emerges from the crowd and exclaims, “Look! Your Prabhu has stolen my sevā! There he is holding up the palanquin’s left rear side.”
Up till now, no one had been able to recognize Prabhu because his head was covered with a chadar. Bhagavati smiles on seeing her son’s exceptional pitṛ-guru-bhakti, but she takes him by the hand and seats him beside his father. And so the yātrā begins.
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