Bipin Bihari Goswami's testimonial to his best disciple, Kedarnath Dutt Bhaktivinoda
In Daśa-mūla-rasa, Bipin Bihari Goswami tells a little of his life story, some of which I summarized in an earlier article about him. Those details were taken from Kanan Bihari Goswami’s book on the Baghnapara tradition, but reading here directly I think it worthwhile giving a bit of nuance to that. This information is supplementary to that.
Bipin Bihari lost both his parents when quite young. He had been having trouble applying himself to his education and after their departure he fell into bad company and was about to mess up his life when a friend of his father’s, Anupam Chandra, set him straight. Bipin Bihari then asked him what he should do, and was told to take up devotion to Krishna. As a result of this advice, Bipin Bihari started frequenting Bhagavan Das Babaji in Kalna.
Bipin Bihari refers to Bhagavan Das Babaji in several places in the course of this book, and it seems that Bhagavan Das was quite familiar with the Baghnapara tradition and literature. Bipin Bihari Goswami’s in-laws lived in Kalna, so it was easy for him to study with Bhagavan Das. The first thing Bhagavan Das told him was to take shelter of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
gaura-padāśraya vinā sad-bhaktira tathya |
keha nāhi pāya ei kahilāma satya ||
When he heard this, then Bipin Bihari Goswami took shelter of the family deities, by which I assume he means not only the deities of Krishna and Balaram established by Ramai Thakur in the Baghnapara temple, but the entire family devotional tradition. Vamsivadanananda Thakur was a younger contemporary and friend of Nimai in Nabadwip, a participant in the early sankirtan lila, and entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of Sachi and Vishnupriya when Mahaprabhu took sannyas. He was the one who had the Mahaprabhu Dhameshwar deity carved and his name is apparently carved into the bottom of the deity’s base.
Bipin Bihari Goswami then embarked on a study of the Vaishnava scriptures under the direction of Bhagavan Das, going back and forth to Kalna where he could stay with his in-laws.
śikṣā ārambhaṇa kale bābājī āmāya
kahilā tomāra kathā kahiba tomāya
mui tomāra śikṣā data haite nā pāri
tomāya tomāra bastu diba hṛdughāri
eta kahi ati snehe bābājī āmāya
bhajana siddhānta ādi kramete śikhāya
When I first starting studying with Babaji, he told me, “I will tell you about your own thing. I cannot be your teacher, but I can only show you what is already yours by opening your heart.” Having said this he affectionately taught me all the principles of bhajan over the course of time.
The point here is that since Bipin Bihari Goswami was from a noble Vaishnava family, being kulīna brāhmaṇas besides that, Bhagavan Das did not presume to be his student’s superior. Another thing to note is that Bipin Bihari says twice that the education he received was related to bhajan, which means a specialized training in spiritual practices, not merely philosophical knowledge. At some point I will have to go through this monumental book and compare it to Bhaktivinoda's works on the "ten basic philosophical principles taught by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu."
hena mata naba barṣa bābājīra sthāne
bhajanādi śikhilāma sammata bidhāne
kabhu kabhu nabadbīpa kariyā gamana
siddha śrī-caitanya-dāse kariyā darśana
gaura-tattba bārtā ādi kichu tāɱra paśa
lābha kari cittollāse āsi nija bāsa
Chaitanya Das Babaji’s samadhi is at the temple of Dhameshwar Mahaprabhu. He is quite famous for his Gauranga Nagara worship. He would often dress up as a nagari and have public fits of jealousy with Mahaprabhu. Bhagavan Das also worshiped Mahaprabhu in that mood, even though we do not see it reflected much in the writings of Bipin Bihari. Nevertheless the following story is told by Haridas Das in his Vaishnava Jivana, which illustrates a bit of the mood of these two figures:
Many residents of Navadvipa knew that Siddha Chaitanya Das always remained in his āveśa as a Nadia nāgarī. One day, while he was sweeping Sri Dhameshwar Gauranga's temple like a menial servant, Siddha Bhagavan Das Babaji arrived from Kalna in order to have Mahaprabhu's darshan. Following Bhagavan Das was a large crowd of disciples and bhaktas. Because he was famous, all of the mandir's bhaktas assembly also gathered around him.Anyway, whatever one may think of these two mahatmas, they were both considered “siddha” by the Vaishnava society of the time due to their deep absorption in devotional practices and miraculous events that took place during their lives. Their inner lives were one thing, but their knowledge of shastra and so on are beyond dispute and this is amply evident from the information that Bipin Bihari Goswami himself gives in the various references to Bhagavan Das Babaji in this book.
Chaitanya Das heard that Bhagavan Das had come, but he also knew that Bhagavan Das worshiped in nāgarī bhāva. An incredible jealousy thus suddenly awakened within him. Chaitanya Das suspected that Bhagavan Das had come to secretly allure his prāṇa vallabha Gora to Kalna.
Looking at Bhagavan Das with fiery red eyes, Chaitanya Das addressed him as if he were a jealous co-wife : "O lo, gaura-bhātāri [a colloquial expression meaning Gaura-nāgarī] kālā mukhī petnī ! You black-faced old witch! I see you've come to seduce my prāṇa vallabha and sneak him off to Kalna with you. Leave this mandir at once before I chase you away with my broom!"
Chaitanya Das's entire body was shaking as he waved his broom threateningly. The Vaishnavas surrounding Bhagavan Das were surprised and offended. They felt sad that such an exalted Vaishnava as Bhagavan Das was being abused and insulted in this way. Some were angry with Chaitanya Das for his atrocious behavior. But then the entire assembly fell starkly silent and everyone's attention focused on Bhagavan Das's serene face.
Understanding Chaitanya Das's bhāva, he smiled and took his hand to console him. He then spoke in a sweet voice, "O satIn (co-wife), why are you becoming angry? I have not come to steal your prāṇa vallabha away. But sometimes he deceives you and sneaks away to Kalna all by himself. O didi (older sister), I am telling you this so that you can be more careful to watch out for his tricks in the future. If you cannot control your beloved at home, what will be the use of cursing others or beating them with a broom?"
Hearing this reply, Chaitanya Das began to fume. Looking over at Sri Dhameshwar Gauranga's lotus face, he let out his loving anger before the entire assembly and began to scold him. "Alright! I am going to look into this matter. Well, well! So I cannot trust you then? You've been cheating on me? Hay, hay, what have I not done for you? Still I've failed to captivate your mind. If you are more attached to other women, then why don't you just tell me? Then I won't be so spiteful. For you I can supply whomever you want. Don't you know this?"
Falling silent, Chaitanya Das's mind churned with fiery maan. Then quickly pacing to his kutir, he entered and slammed the door behind him. Witnessing this fantastic display of possessive love, the assemply shouted Haribol in premananda.
Then Bhagavan Das went over to Chaitanya Das's kutir and silently listened from outside. Chaitanya Das was laying upon his cot and crying his heart out. From time to time he continued to speak rasa-filled scolding words to reprimand his prāṇa vallabha. Bhagavan Das repeatedly knocked on the door, and finally Chaitanya Das opened it, allowed him to enter and then shut it. The co-wives joined together. After a brief iṣṭagoṣṭhi they exited holding hands and ecstatically dancing together. Joining voices they sang to Dhameshwar Gaura :
ki khene gora navina kamera konrasei ha'te raite nāri gharekata na kariba chala kata na bhariba jalakata jāba suradhuni tīre
bidhi to binu balite keha nāijata guru garabite gañjana bacana kataphukari kāɱdite nāhi thāñi
aruṇa nayana kone cāiyā chila āmā pāneparāṇa barasi diyā tāne
kulera dharama mora chāre khare jāuk gona jāni ki habe pariṇāmeāpana āpani khāiluṅ gharera bāhira hainuśuni khola karatāla nādalakṣmīkānta dāsa kaya marame jāra lāgayaki karibe kula parivāda
From the moment I saw Gora, the ever new abode of desire, I have been able to remain at home no longer. How many tricks will I use to get away? How much water can I draw from the Suradhuni? How often can I go to the river bank?
There is no one to whom I can speak other than Providence. As much as my proud guardians scold me, there is no place that I can cry out my heartfelt pain.
When Gauranga looked at me, He snagged my heart with the hook of his reddish glance. Let my family obligations go to hell! Who knows what the end result of all this will be?
I have brought all of this upon myself, for I was drawn outside when I heard the mridanga and karatals' sound. Lakshmikanta Das* says : "Can a family scandal scare those who have fathomed Gauranga's sweetness?" [From Gadadhar Pran’s Rasarāja Gaurāṅga]
* Laksmikanta Das was the son of Srikhanda's Raghunandana Thakura
After his studies with Bhagavan Das, Bipin Bihari Goswami started to become a speaker on the Bhagavatam, finding a sponsor in Rakhal Das Sorkar who helped him publish his first book Harināmāmṛta-sindhu. The king of Burdwan saw the book and this made it possible for him to make disciples and establish himself further.
At this point, Bipin Bihari Goswami says he wants to thank and bless his disciples for making it possible for him to write this book, Daśamūla-rasa.
mora priya śiṣyottama śrī-bhaktibinoda
śrī-kedāranātha datta sarbba citta-moda
datta-baṁśa bibhūṣaṇa sura bhaktimāna
rāja bhakta dbāre yāɱra bipula sammāna
śrī kṣetra haite tiɱho patrikāra dbāre
barṣa traya bhaktyālāpe bujhiyā āmāre
bhāryāra sahita tiɱho mama sannidhāne
śubha dine dīkṣā lana naḍāla mokāme
naḍālera myājiṣṭreṭa tiɱho se samaya
teñi tathā rahi kare prathama āśraya
kalikātā rājadhānī rāma bāganete
śateka ekāśi saṅkhyā nija bhabanete
rāja bṛtti labhi sukhe kare abasthāna
adhunā saptama putra tāɱra barttamāna
The greatest of my disciples is Bhaktivinoda Sri Kedarnath Dutt, who brings happiness to all hearts. A heroic devotee who is the ornament of the Dutta clan, who has gained profuse respect from the servants of the Raj. For three years we exchanged letters from the time he was in Jagannath Puri in which we discussed devotional subjects and in that way he came to understand me. Then he and his wife took initiation from me at an auspicious moment at their residence in Narail. At the time he was the magistrate in Narail, and it was while residing there that he first took shelter of Guru. Now he lives comfortably at 181 Ram Bagan in Calcutta with his government pension, and now he has fathered his seventh son.
Comment: The fact that they exchanged letters for at least three years tell us two things. From the Jivani we know that there was an incident in Puri that is sometimes held out as "proof" that Bhaktivinoda did not "need initiation" as he was nitya-siddha. [This argument was made by Sundarananda Vidyavinoda in the preface to Datta-kaustubha, a book written in Sanskrit by BVT during the Jagannath Puri period.] In the Jivani, the Thakur writes:
At that time we would hold a "Bhāgavata association" in the Jagannath Vallabha gardens. Mahanta Narayan Das, Mohan Das, the Mahanta of the Uttar Parshwa Math Harihara Das, and other pandits used to attend the sessions. Babaji Kanthadhari and Raghunath Das Mahashay were opposed to my meetings and banned many people from coming. Raghunath Das Babaji used to stay at Hati Akhada at that time. He was a siddha purush and thus knew everything. After a few days he became close friends with me and said, "When I saw that you were not wearing tilak or neckbeads, I committed an offense by being disrespectful. Please forgive me." I replied, "O Babaji, what wrong have I done? Tilak and mala are given by the Diksha Guru and thus far the Lord has not given me a Diksha Guru. I only recite Harinama on japa beads. In such a situation, is it proper to take tilak and kanthi-mala at one's own whim?" [Pages 150-151 of the MS]Although this certainly does show that the Thakur was an exceptional individual, if read in context with his comments about initiation, that he had been looking for a guru for years. This incident no doubt was a source of some anxiety. Without initiation he could not be accepted into the Vaishnava samaj. It is a rather interesting situation. He could have broken out on his own and ignored the necessity for initiation prescribed in shastra, but he chose to follow the injunction of the scriptures to take initiation.
So the second thing is that he also followed the injunction to test the guru and Bipin Bihari Goswami says they exchanged letters for [at least] three years until Bhaktivinoda "understood him." So this confirms what I have been saying: At the age of 42, with the knowledge that the Thakur had of shastra, etc., after testing his guru through several years of interchanges by mail, he made this extremely important decision. If he did not take it lightly, then how can we who claim to follow the Thakur take it so lightly? Or worse, deny the intelligence of the Thakur in making this very important decision?
mantra lābhābadhi tiɱho rāśite rāśite
āmāra saṁsāra byaya lāgilā bahite
saṁsāra nirbāha bhaya sei dina haite
dūrībhūta haila mora śiṣyera bhaktite
hena mate guru-sebā kariyā kedāra
santuṣṭa nā hañā duḥkha kare anibāra
guru tuṣṭi kārya nāhi haila mora dbāre
e baḍa duḥkha haya rahiyā saṁsāre
sac-chiṣyair guru-niṣkṛtiḥ śāstra-bākya yāhā
āmi nāhi pārilāma pālibāre tāhā
ityādi prakāra duḥkha patnīra sahita
prāya sadā kare ei āchi subidita
satī bhagabatī yathā tathā bhagabatī
pati guru sebā-ratā śuddhā bhaktimatī
yaiche bhaktimāna haya sura śrī-kedāra
taiche bhaktimati bhagavatī patnī tāɱra
kedārera bhakti jñāna kariyā darśana
śrīpāṭera prabhu gaṇa hañānanda mana
āśīrbāda saha bhaktibinodākhyā tāɱre
samarpaṇa karilena patrikāra dbāre
saṁbāda patrete sei patra sarbba jane
bidita āchena ei naśbara bhubane
tathāpi saccitta tuṣṭi karaṇa kāraṇa
sei patra likhi ethā karuna darśana
Just as Sati Devi is a divine goddess, so is Bhagavati Devi. She is always engaged in the service of her husband guru, and is a pure devotee. Just as Kedarnath is a pure devotee, so is his wife.
When the Prabhus of Baghnapara saw Kedarnath’s knowledge of devotion they were overjoyed. They blessed him by giving him the title “Bhaktivinoda” along with a certificate. This was publicized in the newspaper and so everyone in this temporary world knows it well. Nevertheless, in order to give pleasure to those of pure mind, I am copying that testimonial here.
[This letter and Bhaktivinoda Thakur's response can be seen an earlier article about him here.]
śrī-caitanya cāri śata māgha māse
upādhi karilārpaṇa prabhugaṇollāse
bhakti-śāstre kedārera yata adhikāra
tat-kṛta granthādi āche pramāṇa tāhāra
nabadbīpa māyāpura gaura janma-sthāna
prakāśa karilā yiɱha kariyā sandhāna
sad baiṣṇaba gaṇa nitya tāɱra guṇa gāya
kapaṭa markaṭe nindā kariyā beḍāya
mora śiṣya bali beśī nā kari barṇana
sbarūpa kahinu sarbba bidita kāraṇa
putra pautrādira saha dīrghāyu haiyā
kṛṣṇa prīte gṛha yātrā nirbāha kariyā
sba-patnī prabhṛti saha śrī-kṛṣṇa caraṇa
crī kedāranātha sadā karuka sebana
Comment: The entire passage is self-explanatory, though the mention of the birthplace is significant, as it shows Bipin Bihari Prabhu's approval for that work. This edition of the book is dated 1907, which is more than fifteen years after the Janmasthan temple was established. The indication that there were critics is no doubt related to the Janmasthan issue, since the Mayapur location was controversial from the very beginning, and Bhaktivinoda himself says as much in his Jivani.
Much envy arose among the people of the modern town of Nabadwip, i.e, Kulia, over the manifestation of Old Nabadwip. There began to be some gossip and a storm of abusive words against the worshipers of Gauranga, but why should those who have offered their life to the lotus feet of Gauranga retreat because of the talk of wicked people? Not paying heed to the talk of worldly-minded, envious people, they continued to make efforts to build a temple and worship the Supreme Lord there. (208-209)So if it is true that Bipin Bihari changed his mind later on, it is still clear that in 1905 (1826 Shaka) when Daśa-mūla-rasa was published, he was still on the side of Bhaktivinoda Thakur on the Janmasthan issue -- in full knowledge of the oppositional forces -- and according to other information we have, supported it up until the time of the Thakur's disappearance in 1914.