Life of BhaktivinodaThakur

Lalitā Prasad Ṭhākura, the son of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, shared a significant incident involving Sir William Duke in his biographical notes. In 1908, just three months before Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura embraced the life of a paramahaṁsa, one of his sons, who worked at the Writers’ Building in Calcutta, informed his father that Sir William Duke, the Chief Secretary of Bengal, was in town. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had previously worked alongside Sir William when he was a magistrate. The following day, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura arranged a meeting with Sir William and went to the Writers’ Building.

Upon meeting, Sir William greeted him with great respect and acknowledged, “My dear Kedaranātha, when you served as District Magistrate, I had considered removing you from your post. I believed that if there were more individuals as capable as you in Bengal, the British rule might be challenged.” Sir William had been deeply impressed by the wisdom displayed in Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s court judgments. He had even visited Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s home on several occasions and observed his intense dedication to writing “Śrī Caitanya-Śikṣāmṛta.” During these visits, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s wife would serve him a meal consisting of purī, lucī, and sweets. Sir William was amazed by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s unwavering commitment to his work.

Sir William Duke confessed that he had once perceived Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s remarkable abilities as a potential threat to British authority. However, he now sought forgiveness, as per English custom, where individuals seek forgiveness from those they have wronged in their old age to find peace. In response, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura graciously accepted Sir William’s apology, expressing, “I have always considered you a good friend and well-wisher.”

This encounter highlighted the profound impact of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s wisdom and character on even those who had once viewed him as a potential adversary.

Acceptance of Bābājī-veṣa: In another significant episode, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura transitioned from household life to the renounced order under the guidance of Śrīla Gaura Kiśora dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja. In 1908, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura followed Bābājī Mahārāja from his home in Godruma-dvīpa to the boat ghāṭa, where Bābājī would cross the Ganges to reach Navadvīpa. During this journey, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura persistently requested initiation into the bābājī order from Bābājī Mahārāja.

However, Gaura Kiśora dāsa Bābājī humbly considered Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura his spiritual master and believed himself to be unworthy to initiate him into the bābājī order. Consequently, he initially declined Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s request. But realizing Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s determination, Bābājī Mahārāja went into hiding by sitting on the veranda of a prostitute’s house in Navadvīpa, a place he believed Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would not visit.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, unable to find Bābājī Mahārāja, sensed his discomfort and returned home to Godruma. When Bābājī Mahārāja felt it was safe, he emerged from hiding and laughed heartily in the Rādhā-ramaṇa Gardens. When asked why he was laughing, he explained that he had successfully eluded Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura by hiding in the prostitute’s house.

A few days later, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura sent one of his sons to Navadvīpa to invite Bābājī Mahārāja to Svānanda-sukhada-kuñja. Bābājī Mahārāja agreed to come, and after a brief stay, he consented to initiate Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura into the bābājī order. In the presence of Bābājī Mahārāja, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura donned the traditional attire of a bābājī, including the old loin cloth and begging apron of Śrīla Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī, his śikṣā-guru who had departed from the world earlier. With Bābājī Mahārāja as the witness and guide, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura formally became a bābājī, following the example set by Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī, who had taken renunciation in the presence of Lord Caitanya by adopting the attire of Tapan Miśra. This initiation and transformation marked a significant milestone in Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s spiritual journey. He continued his devotional activities, splitting his time between Godruma-dvīpa and Calcutta’s Bhakti Bhavan.

After embracing the renounced order of life, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura accepted disciples, among them Kṛṣṇa dāsa Bābājī, who continued to serve him as he had done in Jagannātha Purī. Driven by a profound longing to be completely immersed in the spiritual realm, in the year 1910, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura secluded himself within Bhakti Bhavan, where he could uninterruptedly engage in the divine service of Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. He feigned paralysis before the common people, entering a state of deep samādhi (spiritual trance).

On June 23, 1914, as the sun began its southern course, the Ṭhākura departed from this world. Interestingly, this date coincided with the day when Gadādhara Paṇḍita, the incarnation of Śrīmātī Rādhārāṇī, had left this world approximately 450 years earlier. At precisely noon, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura transcended to the eternal pastimes of the Lord, far beyond the perception of ordinary conditioned souls.

The samādhi ceremony for Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was postponed until the sun commenced its northern course. During this time, his final remains, in the form of ashes, were respectfully taken from Bhakti Bhavan to his residence in Godruma-dvīpa. There, they were placed in a silver urn and interred amidst a grand kīrtana and festival organized by his disciples and well-wishers in his honor. Hundreds of people participated, and everyone felt the direct presence of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. Truly, the great stanza composed by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in praise of Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura can aptly be applied to him.

He reasons ill who tells that Vaishnavs die

When thou art living still in sound.

The Vaishnavs die to live and living try

To spread a holy life around!

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s life and qualities have been appreciated and summarized by various biographers, each highlighting different aspects of this revered ācārya’s character and achievements.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda offered a comprehensive summary of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s significance in a lecture delivered on Gaura Pūrṇimā in 1969. Prabhupāda emphasized the Ṭhākura’s desire to spread the life and teachings of Lord Caitanya in the Western countries. This desire led to the publication of the book “Śrī Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, His Life and Precepts,” which was distributed to various university libraries. Remarkably, one copy of this book was discovered in the McGill University library in Montreal, seventy-two years after its publication, leading to its propagation in the West. Prabhupāda acknowledged that he and Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura belonged to different families but were connected through their spiritual lineage. He narrated how Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura recommended his son, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, to receive initiation from Gaura Kiśora dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja, illustrating the transcendental lineage of spiritual masters. Prabhupāda emphasized that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s desire for the dissemination of Lord Caitanya’s teachings in the West was now being realized through his humble efforts. He recognized Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura as the originator of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement in its pure form.

Prabhupāda also highlighted Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s remarkable literary accomplishments. Despite being a magistrate with numerous family responsibilities, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura authored nearly one hundred books, displaying his sincerity, faithfulness, and the divine strength he received from the Supreme Lord. Prabhupāda appreciated the beauty of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s life, which included writing transcendental literature, maintaining family life, and serving as an officer.

Additionally, another biography of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, authored by Bhakti Kusum Sraman Mahārāja, identified three major areas of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s achievements: his extensive writings on Kṛṣṇa consciousness, his discovery of the Lord’s actual birthplace, and his innovative preaching methods for spreading the teachings of Lord Caitanya and the Six Gosvāmīs worldwide. The Ṭhākura also established Deities of Lord Caitanya and Śrīmatī Viṣṇupriyā in Māyāpura and Gaura-Gadādhara in Godruma-dvīpa, where he engaged in his personal bhajana. His tireless preaching and determination to propagate Vaiṣṇava dharma demonstrated his qualities as an eternal associate of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

From his childhood, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was devoted to the principle of truth. His unwavering commitment to his duties, exemplary household life, eagerness to immerse himself in the study and practice of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and his resolute actions in the face of opposition served as sources of inspiration and guidance for sincere and intelligent individuals.

Lord Caitanya, in Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya-līlā 22.75, states that a Vaiṣṇava possesses all good transcendental qualities, and these qualities gradually manifest in a Kṛṣṇa devotee. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura embodied these qualities, as described in texts 78-80 of the same chapter:

  • Compassionate and merciful
  • Free from hostility
  • Truthful
  • Equal to all
  • Faultless
  • Generous
  • Gentle and mild
  • Pure and clean
  • Detached from material possessions
  • Engaged in welfare work for all
  • Peaceful
  • Surrendered to Kṛṣṇa
  • Desireless
  • Indifferent to material gains
  • Fixed in devotional service
  • Mastery over the six bad qualities (lust, anger, greed, etc.)
  • Controlled eating habits
  • Respectful
  • Serious
  • Compassionate
  • Humble
  • Free from false pride
  • Friendly
  • Poetic
  • Expert
  • Silent

Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura exhibited these qualities, with his unwavering eagerness to remain engaged in the devotional service of the Lord being most prominent. He maintained a rigorous daily schedule, epitomizing his dedication:

  • Sleep from 7:30 to 10:00 PM
  • Rise before 4:00 AM
  • Write books until 4:00 AM
  • Chant on his beads
  • Answer correspondence at 7:00 AM
  • Read religious and philosophical works at 7:30 AM
  • Receive visitors at 8:30 AM
  • Contemplate and solve religious questions at 9:30 AM
  • Brief rest until 9:45 AM
  • Bath and breakfast
  • Begin court duties at 9:55 AM
  • Hear court cases from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM
  • Return home, refresh, and resume work from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM
  • Translate Sanskrit religious texts into Bengali
  • Evening bath and meal

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s life was characterized by an unwavering commitment to truth, diligence in his responsibilities, and an intense desire to serve the Lord, despite his demanding duties and responsibilities.

His Character

In “A Glimpse into the Life of Thakur Bhakti-vinode,” Pandit Satkari Chattopaddhyaya Siddhanta Bhusan, commissioned by the Thakur Bhakti Vinode Memorial Committee to write a brief biography of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in 1916, offered glowing praise of the Ṭhākura’s Vaiṣṇava character. He described Śrīla Bhaktivinoda as an incredibly charitable individual, always leaving visitors with uplifted spirits and a smiling face. He extended his friendship to people regardless of their social status, particularly evident during his extensive preaching of the Holy Name. The Ṭhākura harbored no grudges, and even those who had been envious or obstructive in their dealings with him eventually came to seek his forgiveness, which he graciously granted.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s universal brotherhood mindset led him to befriend and work for the benefit of all who crossed his path, and anyone who came into contact with him found immeasurable spiritual benefit. His humility and amiable disposition were defining traits of his life. He never spoke words that could hurt another’s feelings and would only chastise someone when he was confident it was for their own good. His lack of vanity was remarkable, despite receiving honors and respect throughout Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. He possessed profound knowledge of philosophy, earning respect among the educated, while his unwavering devotion made him a friend to both the gentle and the rough.

As a government official, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura gained the confidence of British officials and had insight into the rationale behind government decisions. He had firsthand experience during the Great Mutiny and played a role in quelling disturbances. His administrative skills were recognized and appreciated, even by ruling chiefs. However, he consistently declined honors and titles offered to him, as he believed they would hinder his spiritual mission. Even during the 1897 plague outbreak in Calcutta, his advice was valued and followed by authorities.

Pandit Siddhanta Bhusan also highlighted the Ṭhākura’s extraordinary morality, emphasizing his strict adherence to moral duties, avoidance of questionable company, and his resolute stand against corruption and immorality. He detested immoral practices such as theaters that employed public women and took it upon himself to set a virtuous example for others to follow.

His Writing

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was a linguist proficient in several languages, including English, Urdu, Persian, Oriya, Bengali, and Sanskrit. He had a passion for history and was a dedicated researcher, delving into the Purāṇas, Vedic texts, and writings of both ancient and modern European authors. He could cite passages from various scriptures, including the Bible and the Koran, on appropriate occasions. His approach to any subject was thorough and unyielding. He was a self-realized soul, and his extensive writings continue to inspire people to this day.

From the age of twelve, when he authored works like “Hati-kathā” and “Śumbha-Niśumbha-yuddha,” Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s pen remained active. His compositions included hundreds of poems and songs that blended profound transcendental emotions with rich Vaiṣṇava philosophy. His books have made the teachings of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu accessible to modern readers, carrying conviction and devotion. His writings compared Lord Caitanya’s teachings with various schools of thought worldwide, striving to unify different theories and religions through the scientific teachings of Lord Caitanya, emphasizing the universal religion of devotional service to the Supreme Lord.

His Predictions

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura envisioned the global spread of Lord Caitanya’s teachings, believing that the congregational chanting of the Supreme Lord’s divine names could unify diverse theories and religions. He prayed that souls from countries like England, France, Russia, Prussia, and America would enthusiastically participate in the congregational chanting of the Holy Name and embrace the universal religion of Vaiṣṇavism. He invoked the words from the Caitanya-bhāgavata, predicting that Lord Caitanya’s name would be preached worldwide. The Thakur sought to re-establish unalloyed devotion to God, eradicate the caste system’s misconceptions, and reform the materialistic mindset prevalent in society.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s pure desires, combined with those of his son and his son’s disciple, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, will undoubtedly lead to the salvation of billions of souls, fulfilling his vision of delivering the universe through the mercy of pure Vaiṣṇavas.

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