Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur, formerly known as Kedarnath Datta, was born in 1838 in Birnagar, West Bengal. Growing up, Kedarnath Datta preferred to sit and talk with the gate keepers and soldiers, and listen to them recite pastimes of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama than to play outside. Even from a young age, Thakur Bhaktivinod was attracted to the pastimes of the Lord. Any time he’d hear about a festival, or puja, Kedarnath would make an effort to try and attend. At the age of 10, two thoughts were in his mind: “what is this world?”, and “who are we?” Kedarnath’s inquisitive nature always left him unsatisfied. This mood was carried all though his life.
As the years went by, Kedarnath Datta had various positions, and finally in 1866, became a District Magistrate high court judge. Thakura juggled his government responsibilities as a high court judge, maintained a Krishna conscious family and studied and wrote many books.
“So Bhaktivinoda Thakura is an ideal guru. He was not a sannyasi; he was grihastha, householder, living with family, wife, children. Still, he was guru…In spite of his becoming a responsible magistrate, a householder, still, he was acharya” – Srila Prabhupada, Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur’s Appearance day lecture, September 3, 1971, London
Even though it had only been a couple hundred years since Chaitanya Mahaprabhu disappeared, His teachings were practically lost. It took Thakura eight constant years of trying to finally get his hands on a copy of the Sri Chaitanya Charitamrta. Once he got his own copy of the Sri Chaitanya Charitamrta and the Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhaktivinod Thakur felt that his search for answers was done. He would constantly read the biography of Lord Chaitanya over and over again.
In his autobiography, Thakura stated that, “From this time my respect and reverence for Sri Chaitanyadeva was born. That seed of faith for the Vaishnava-dharma which was implanted within my heart soon sprouted. Now I love to study the Sastras dealing with Krishna both day and night”
Between the years 1874 and 1893, Thakur Bhaktivinod followed a rigid schedule, allowing him to manage all his duties and responsibilities along with his studies and writing.
8 pm – 10 pm Rest
10 pm – 4 am Write
4 am – 4:30 am Rest
4:30 am – 7 am Chant Japa
7 am – 7:30 am Correspondence
7:30 am – 9:30 am Study shastras
9:30 am – 10 am Bathe, simple prasadam
10 am – 1 pm Court duties
1 pm – 2 pm Refresh at home
2 pm – 5 pm Court duties
5 pm – 7 pm Translate Sanskrit sastras to Bengali
7 pm – 8 pm Bathe, simple prasadam
Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur rested for three hours in total, in order to fit in his studies and japa, which took roughly four and a half hours, his writing which took up about eight and a half hours, and his services for the government which took around six hours of his time. He followed it very strictly.
In the years to come, Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur composed over one-hundred books and songs such as Sri Krishna-samhita, Jaiva Dharma, Sri Chaitanya-sikshamrita, Vaishnava-siddhanta-mala, Prema-pradipa, Manah-shiksha, Sharanagati, Gitamala, Gitavali and so on, as well as established many centers. He also defeated and dealt with many deviants such as:
– Mystic Bishakishena, who claimed he was God,
– Charana dasa Babaji who was printing bogus books and preaching philosophy that was not according to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s teachings,
– The then King of Puri, who was using Lord Jagannatha’s money for his own enjoyment,
-Bankima Chandra who wrote a book stating that Krishna was an ordinary person.
He had no tolerance for anyone or anything which did not align with the teachings of Sri Chaitanyadeva. During that time, Thakur Bhaktivinod had also taken Vaishnava initiation into the Vaishnava line coming from Sri Jahnava Devi – the wife of Lord Nityananda.
By 1887, wanting to leave his government services, Bhaktivinod Thakur desired to quickly leave to Vrindavan, and do bhajana, or meditation on the banks of the Yamuna river until the end of his life. One night following the Thakura’s thoughts, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself appeared to Bhaktivinod Thakur in a dream and told him: “You will certainly go to Vrindavan, but first there is some service you must perform in Navadvipa, so what will you do about that?”
The Lord then disappeared and Thakur Bhaktivinod awoke, and thereafter was advised to apply for a government transfer to Krishnanagar, which is close to Navadvipa. The Thakur tried very hard to get a transfer to the holy dham of Lord Chaitanya. Finally, after much endeavor and requests to be relieved of his official duties, Bhaktivinod Thakur was finally able to arrange a mutual exchange with the Deputy Magistrate of Krishnanagar, Babu Radha Madhava Vasu, in the December of 1887 and thus, he finally went to Krishnanagar to execute the mission the Lord had given him.
While stationed in Krishnanagar, Bhaktivinod Thakur would regularly visit the present day Navadvipa, searching for the Janma-sthan, or birthplace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. One Saturday evening, Thakura was sitting on the roof of the Rani Dharmasala in Navadvipa with his third son, Kamal Prasad, and a friend who was a clerk. Late at night, around 10pm, it was very dark, and the sky was covered with clouds. Thakura writes about is experience:
“Across the Ganga, in the northern direction, I saw a large mansion flooded with light. When I asked Kamal [about this], he confirmed that he had seen it also. When I asked the clerk, he said, ‘I didn’t see anything.’ I was utterly amazed by that. When I looked carefully at that area in the morning from the roof of Rani’s house, I saw a tal [palm] tree located there.”
He inquired about the place, and learned that right next to that place was the ruins of an old fort and kingdom – large pond of King Ballal Sen, from which the town got its name of Ballaldighi. Aside from that, however, there was nothing of importance in that area.
The following Saturday, Thakura went to Ballaldighi, where again at night, he had a wonderful vision. The next day, he wandered around the site, and the elderly locals told him that this was indeed the Janma-sthan of Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. They pointed out the Tulasi plants growing in abundance, none of them ever being planted.
Thakur Bhaktivinod then began extensive research using old maps and manuscripts such as Chaitanya Bhagavata, Bhakti Ratnakara, Narahari Sarakar Thakur’s Navadvipa-parikrama-paddhati, along with very old maps of the district. It was interesting to find that on one map in particular, from the late eighteenth century, the name “Sri Mayapur” was found on the map, which was later to be known as Ballaldighi. While reading Bhakti Ratnakara, he found the following verse, which confirmed his discovery:
navadvipa madhye mayapur name sthan
yathaya janmilen gaurachandra bhagavan
“In the center of Navadvipa there is a place called Mayapur. At this place the Supreme Lord, Gaurachandra, took His birth.”
Thakur Bhaktivinod, to confirm it for sure, asked Srila Jagannatha Das Babaji, who was the head of the Gaudiya Vaishnava community to come to the site. Babaji Maharaja, being over one-hundred and twenty years old at that time was so weak, he had to be carried everywhere in a basket, and upon arriving at the place Bhaktivinod Thakur discovered to be the birth place of Lord Chaitanya, Babaji Maharaja literally jumped up into the air in ecstasy and cried “ei to ‘nimai-janma-bhumi!”, meaning ‘This is indeed the birth place of Lord Nimai!’ This was the ultimate confirmation, and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was indeed the original birth place of Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Therefore, from both a factual and spiritual point of view, the place of Lord Chaitanya’s birth was thus confirmed. This monumental discovery took place toward the beginning of 1888, and was a landmark event in Gaudiya history. Thereafter, he began extensive research and re-discovered other pastime places of the Lord, and produced the book Sri Navadvipa Dhama Mahatmya which was published in 1890.
In August of 1891, Thakura was granted a two year break from his government services. He got a place in Godruma dvipa, commonly known as Svarupaganj, and it was there in Surabhi Kunja that he started the Nama-hatta, or the market place of the Holy Name.
Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur established over five-hundred Nama-hatta sangas. He wrote an essay entitled Sri Godruma Kalpatavi. Within this newsletter collection, he describes the structure of the Nama-hatta. He humbly addressed himself as the sweeper of the market place. This composition was made to guide those leaders and members in the preaching movement, who are trying to lead a balanced Krishna conscious life, while maintaining a family and career.
The glories of this great personality are limitless, and his achievements are countless. Mere words cannot do justice to his glories. Although Bhaktivinod Thakur is especially recognised for re-discovering the birth place of Lord Chaitanya, he in fact re-discovered and re-established Lord Chaitanya’s movement, which was practically lost due to the cultural and religious fanaticism of the British rulers, and the concocted philosophies of deviant sects, who aimed to discredit and contradict the original teachings of the Supreme Lord.
“Oh, for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German and American people will take up banners, mridangas and karatals and raise kirtan through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh, for the day when the fair-skinned men from their side will raise up the chanting of ‘jaya sachinandana, jaya sachinandana ki jaya’ and join with the Bengali devotees. When will that day be? On such a day they will say, ‘Our dear Brothers, we have taken shelter of the ocean of Lord Chaitanya’s Love; kindly embrace us.’ When will that day come? That day will witness the holy transcendental ecstasy of the Vaishnava-dharma to be the only dharma, and all the sects and religions will flow like rivers into the ocean of Vaishnava -dharma. When will that day come?”-Bhaktivinod Thakur
And then he penned another amazing prediction, which can be applied to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, but also, most certainly, to Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada: “A personality will soon appear to preach the teachings of Lord Chaitanya and move unrestrictedly over the whole world with His message.”
namo bhaktivinodaya sacchidananda-murtaye
gaura-shakti-svarupaya rupanuga-varaya te
I offer my obeisances to you, O Bhaktivinod, the form of eternity, knowledge and bliss, the incarnation of Gaura’s potency and the best of the followers of Rupa Goswami.
Sri Mayapur Dham ki jay! Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur ki jay! Srila Prabhupada ki jay!
*References: Vedabase, Vanipedia, Seventh Gosvami