If I had to pick one book that inspired me the most throughout my devotional life, I guess I would have to say it is “Songs of the Vaisnava Acaryas”. I recently went to open it the other day, and it fell open to the Introduction. I took a moment to re-read it. We share it with you here today.
by Acyutananda Swami
It was my good fortune to be in the service of Srila Prabhupada at Sri Mayapur, the birthplace of Lord Caitanya, in setting up the groundwork of our Society’s international center there. That year (1971) there was a terrible flood, but although for many days the water was rising, it was diverted from floodinging the Society’s property solely due to the embankment created by a road constructed by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, our Parama Guru Maharaja. I wrote a letter to His Divine Grace explaining the situation and I mentioned, “The water has not entered our property. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s road has saved us.” Srila Prabhupada, however, wrote back in answer in a different tone: “Yes”, we are always saved by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s road, so go on glorifying the disciplic succession, and your life will be a great success.” Later on, when I suggested writing down the songs of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Narottama Dasa Thakura in English translations, His Divine Grace said, “Yes, we must push on this mission of Bhaktivinoda.” So here in this book, which is the first of a series of translations of the complete works of the Vaisnava acaryas in the line of succession coming after Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, I have also included a short life sketch of Thakura Bhaktivinoda. In the following volumes, the lives of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura, Srinivasa Acarya, and other Vaisnava acaryas will appear.
The songs in this book are mostly by Thakura Bhaktivinoda and Narottama Dasa Thakura. While they may sometimes make awkward English poetry, the translations are accurate renderings of the originals. All these songs have exquisite melodies, and cassette recordings are available to accompany the book. It should be noted that these songs and verses are all explanations of pure devotional service and that devotional service to Sri Krsna is obtained only by the mercy of the spiritual master, which can be obtained by serving his desires perfectly. These songs are not substitutes for the main and prime benediction of the age of Kali, the congregational chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, which is of the utmost importance. They are verses which have expanded from the maha-mantra, and they are explanations of the maha-mantra. Thus, because they are expansions of the maha-mantra, they are nondifferent from it.
The songs of Srila Narottama Dasa and Bhaktivinoda Thakura are nondifferent from the Vedic mantras. But, as stated by Srila Prabhupada in The Nectar of Devotion, even if someone does not have initiation into the Gayatri mantra, the chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is sufficient to enable one to attain the highest perfection of spiritual life.
The verses of these songs are wonderful sources of knowledge for preachers of Krsna consciousness. In each and every line there is so much philosophy that one can preach from one line for hours. They are all so pregnant with meaning and they lead to such succinct spiritual conclusions that a preacher need only recall the simple lines of songs like Bhajahu Re Mana, Sri Rupa Manjari Pada, Ohe Vaisnava Thakura, or the Sri Manah-siksa, and every point of Krsna consciousness will be covered in detail. Srila Prabhupada is constantly quoting from these lines in his lectures and books, and here also in this book his commentaries are given. Wherever Srila Prabhupada has translated a song, no separate translations have been given, for his are complete in themselves.
This is the first time that these transcendental vibrations have appeared in the English language, and to introduce them I am including herewith a life sketch of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
A Glimpse into the Life of Thakura Bhaktivinoda
Thakura Bhaktivinoda led a life of incessant labor and activity for Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He effected such immense good in the world that his work is only to be compared with the unbounded works of Sri Caitanya Himself and the Gosvamis. It was the spiritual attempts and divine writings of this individual that turned the scale and led the intelligent and educated community to believe in the noble precepts and teachings of Lord Caitanya.
If we look back one century, we cannot but be astonished to find how degraded was the condition of the Vaisnava faith which had its pure origin in the deep and majestic spiritual philosophy of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Even vastly learned panditas could not fathom the superexcellent precepts of Lord Caitanya’s philosophy, yet due to incredulity born of the ignorance of uncultured men, the Vaisnava faith had been degraded and was considered a beggar’s excuse for living at the expense of society. It was by sheer love for the Godhead that Thakura Bhaktivinoda expounded the deep philosophy which had remained concealed in the pages of the Vedas, the Upanisads, the Puranas, and the Bhagavatam. By his action toward divine servile and also by his words, set in simple language to be easily understood by readers in general, he has given this philosophy to the world. It is his writings and his divine, unparalleled character that have helped to produce a class of educated and enlightened men who are now proud of their Vaisnava faith and of their acquisition of the spiritual knowledge of the pure and sublime philosophy of Krsna, on which the stern teachings of Sri Caitanya are based.
Though born in opulent circumstances (on September 2, 1838), Thakura Bhaktivinoda, who was given the name Kedara-natha Datta, had to meet many difficulties in his early life. His childhood was spent at his maternal grandfather’s house at Birnagar (Ulagram), from where he came to Calcutta at the age of thirteen, after the death of his father. After he completed his education, he was requested to be present at the time of his paternal grandfather’s death. His grandfather, Rajavallabha Datta, had been a famous personality of Calcutta and had retired to a lonely place in Orissa to spend his last days as an ascetic. He could predict the future and knew when he would die, since he could commune with supernatural beings. Thakura Bhaktivinoda was present at the eventful time when that great soul passed away, and after receiving his grandfather’s instructions, he visited all of the major temples and asramas of the state of Orissa.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura then entered the educational service and introduced English education into the state of Orissa for the first time. He wrote a small book about all the asramas of the state and mentioned an asrama which was on his ancestors’ property. “I have a small village Chotimangalpur in the country of Orissa of which I am the proprietor,” he wrote. “In that village is a religious house which was granted by my predecessors to the holy men as a holding of rent-free land. The head of the institution entirely gave up entertaining such men as chanced to seek shelter on a rainy night. This came up to my notice, and I administered a severe threat that his lands would be cruelly resumed if in the future complaints of inhospitality were brought to my knowledge.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura later took to the government service and was transferred to Bengal. In one town he gave a historic speech on the Srimad-Bhagavatam which attracted the attention of thousands. He made the world know what hidden treasures pervade every page of the Bhagavatam, which should be read by all persons having a philosophical turn of mind. He was transferred some years later to a town called Champaran. In this town there was a brahma-daitya living in a great Banyan tree, and he was being worshiped by many degraded people. A brahma-daitya is a type of ghost.) One day the father of a famous girl scholar came to Bhaktivinoda for alms, and Bhaktivinoda Thakura at once employed him in reading the Bhagavatam under the shade of the Banyan tree which was the abode of the ghost. After one month, the Bhagavatam was com- pleted, and then and there the tree trashed to the ground, and the ghost was gone for good. Everyone was thankful for this act except the few dishonest persons who were worshiping the ghost.
Bhaktivinoda’s next move was to Puri. The government commissioner was much pleased to get him in his division, and he asked him to watch the affairs of the temple of Jagannatha on behalf of the government. It was through Bhaktivinoda’s exertions that many malpractice were checked and the time for the offering of foods before the Deity was regulated to its extreme punctuality. Thakura Bhaktivinoda was especially entrusted to quell the rise against the government of one Bisikisena, who declared himself to be an incarnation of Maha-Visnu. During the course of his investigation, Thakura Bhaktivinoda found him to be a hoax and a culprit and charged him with transgressing government injunctions. After his trial the fellow was sentenced to imprisonment for a year and a half, but he died shortly after in jail. This man was really possessed of unnatural powers, but as they were the outcome of nonspiritual practices, he had to submit to the Thakura when the latter wanted him to do so. Bisikisena was held in dread by the common people, and everyone warned Srila Bhaktivinoda not to admonish him, even for the sake of justice, in view of the serious consequences that the yogi would inflict. But although the Thakura was not a man of ostentation and did not allow people to know his true qualities and spiritual strength, he easily cut down the demoniac power of the impostor. With the fall of Bisikisena there rose an impostor Balarama at another village, and there were also other so-called incarnations of God, but their plans were similarly frustrated.
During his stay at Jagannatha Pun, Thakura Bhaktivinoda devoted much of his time to the discussion of spiritual works and prepared notes on the Vedanta-sutras which were published with the commentaries of Baladeva Vidyabhusarla. He also composed the Kalyana-kaipataru (from which Vibhavari Sesa, one selections appears in this book). This may very truly be termed an immortal work, and it stands on the same level as the divine writings of Narottama Dasa Thakura. In 1877 he left Puri on government service, and in 1881 he started a well-known spiritual journal called the Sajjana-tosani (“The Satisfaction of Pure Devotees”). He also published the Sri Krsna-samhita, which revealed to the world the underlying philosophy explaining the spiritual existence of Krsna. This book opened the eyes of educated people to teach them their true relationship with God. It also attracted the admiration of many German scholars, for although the public regarded Krsna as a poetic creation of erotic nature, Srila Bhaktivinoda revealed Krsna as Parabrahman, the Supreme Transcendental Person, the Absolute Being, on the basis of Vedic evidence.
At the close of his stay at the village of Narail, he visited Vrndavana. There he had to encounter a band of dacoits known as Kanjharas. These powerful bandits spread all over the roads surrounding the holy place and used to attack innocent pilgrims. Bhaktivinoda Thakura brought this news to the government and after many months of struggle extirpated the bandits from Vrndavana forever. From this time on, Thakura Bhaktivinoda preached extensively in large gatherings, explaining all of the precepts of the sankirtana of the holy names, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
While staying at Barasat, Thakura Bhaktivinoda met the famous Bengali writer Bankimacandra. This novelist and play-wright had just finished writing a book on Krsna and knowing Srila Bhaktivinoda to be an authority on topics of Krsna, he gave the manuscript to Bhaktivinoda Thakura to see. It was full of mundane Western-stylized speculations and ideas, but after four days of discussion, Bhaktivinoda had the whole text revised by Bankimacandra to accommodate the pure supramundane precepts of Lord Caitanya. During his last year at Barasat, Bhaktivinoda was requested by a noted high court judge to publish an authorita- tive edition of the Srimad Bhagavad-gita with the commentaries of Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura as well as his own (Bhaktivinoda’s) translation. The preface, written by Bankimacandra, expressed his gratitude to the Thakura for his endeavor, and when it was published, the copies were soon exhausted. Then Thakura Bhaktivinoda published a unique work entitled Sri Caitanya-sik- samrta (“The Nectarean Teachings of Lord Caitanya”), which dealt with Lord Caitanya’s theistic philosophy and the philosophies of the Western speculators. This book defeats every other philosophy point for point and establishes the philosophy of Lord Caitanya as supreme. In 1885 he started a society named Sri Visvavaisnava-raja-sabha for the propagation of pure hari-bhakti. Many eminent citizens of Calcutta joined the society, and several committees were organized with assigned duties.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura was so anxious to see the land of Lord Caitanya that he applied many times for a transfer to any town nearby. Upon not receiving the desired transfer, he formally submitted a resignation from public service, but it was refused. Then, to his great rejoicing, he obtained a transfer to Krishnanagar, twenty-five miles from Navadvipa, Mayapur. Once stationed at a place near Navadvipa, he did not let a single free moment pass without visiting the land of Navadvipa. He at once made inquiries about the exact whereabouts of the different places of Lord Caitanya’s pastimes. He soon discovered that the then city of Navadvipa was a town of only a hundred years’ standings so he was curious to locate the actual birthplace of Lord Caitanya. He was convinced that the town of Navadvipa was not the authentic location, and he at once commenced a vigorous inquiry to find the truth of the matter. But he could not easily escape from the people who tried to make him believe that the birthplace of Caitanya was at that town. Then, after careful inquiry, he was told that the site was lost under the shifting course of the Ganges. Not satisfied with this explanation, he himself set out to discover the yoga-pitha (birthplace). After great difficulties, he came to know of a place which was being adored by many realized souls as the true birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and which was then in the possession of the Muhammadans. Local inquiry and corroborative evidence from ancient maps of the latter part of the eighteenth century which showed the name “Sri Mayapur’~ at last helped him to discover the real site of the birthplace. The discovery led to the publishing of a valuable work called Navadvipa-dhama-mahatmya. (Chapter Five of this book has appeared in ISKCON’s Bengali Back to Godhead magazine.)
The year 1895 was the most eventful year in the history of the Vaisnava world, and Bhaktivinoda Thakura was the prime mover of the events. It was in this year that he officially memorialized the birth site of Sri Caitanya and brought its true identity and importance before the public eye. Thousands of visitors were present at a function held at the spot.
Just after retiring from government service, Thakura Bhaktivinoda himself, in a spirit of perfect humility and with a view to giving a firm standing to the discovery, went from door to door to raise funds for a temple. In the Amrita Bazar Patrika newspaper, on December 6, 1894, the following article appeared: ‘Babu Kedaranatha Datta, the distinguished Deputy Magistrate who has just retired from the service, is one of the most active members. Indeed, Babu Kedaranatha Datta has been deputed by his com mittee to raise subscriptions in Calcutta and elsewhere and is determined to go from house to house if necessary and beg a rupee from each Hindu gentleman for the noble purpose. If Babu Kedaranatha Datta sticks to his resolution of going around with a bag in hand, we hope that no Hindu gentleman whose house may be honored by the presence of such a devout bhakta as Babu Kedaranatha Datta send him away without contributing his mite, however humble it may be, to the Gaura-Visnupriya Temple fund.” Truly, Thakura Bhaktivinoda honored the houses of many persons for the fulfillment of the noble object he had undertaken. He went to persons to whom he would not have gone for any purpose but for this mission of Lord Caitanya, and his efforts were not fruitless, since the sum collected contributed to the construction of a building on the holy site of Lord Caitanya’s appearance.
The work of preaching the holy name was also in full swing, and it spread fast into the distant corners of the globe. The Gauranga-smarana-mangala-stotra with a preface in English containing the life and precepts of Sri Caitanya, came out from Bhaktivinoda’s pen soon after the discovery of Lord Caitanya’s birthplace and found its place in all the learned institutions of both hemispheres.
The more the names of Lord Caitanya and Lord Krsna were preached, the merrier was Thakura Bhaktivinoda. He thereafter made annotations of Sri Brahma-samhita and Sri Krsna-karnamrta and gave to the world his immortal and precious works Sri Harinama-cintamani and Bhajana-rahasya. He also edited, with commentary, Srimad-bhagavatarka-marici-mala which contains all the most prominent slokas of the Srimad-Bhagavatam pertaining to the Vaisnava philosophy. His pen never tired, and it produced many other Vaisnava philosophical works. He would begin his writings very late at night, after completing his government work, and stay up until one or two o’clock in the morning composing songs and literatures. Most of his works appeared in the Sajjana-tosani magazine. He was equally engaged in writing and in preaching the holy name in many districts of Bengal. His personal appearances at villages had marvelous effects on the people. To maintain the center at Nadir he built a house at Sri Godrumadvipa which is called Sri Svananda-sukhada-kunja. Here in this abode the preaching of hari-nama continued in full swing.
It was at the beginning of the twentieth century that he chose to live at Puri and build a house on the beach front there. Many honest souls sought his blessings and readily obtained them when he accepted the renounced order of life by taking babaji initiation from Srila Gaurakisora Dasa Babaji in 1908. Though he was leading the life of a renounced soul, he could not avoid the men of all description who constantly visited him. All of them received oceans of spiritual training, instructions and blessings. In l910 he shut himself up and remained in a perfect state of samadhi or full concentration on the eternal pastimes of the Lord. In 1914 he passed on to the blissful realm of Goloka on the day which is observed as the disappearance day of Sri Gadadhara. Here we quote a stanza written about the samadhi of Haridasa Thakura which Srila Bhaktivinoda wrote sometime in 1871 to explain what influence a Vaisnava carries in this world even after his departure:
He reasons ill who tells that Vaisnavas die
When thou art living still in sound!
The Vaisnavas die to live, and living try
To spread the holy name around!
Srila Bhaktivinoda predicted, “Soon there will appear a personality who will preach the holy name of Hari all over the world.” It is clearly understood that His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is that personality. I offer my prostrated obeisances first unto all the devotees that have surrendered unto his divine lotus feet and next unto the devotees who will in the future take shelter of his lotus feet, and I then offer my humble obei- sances unto his lotus feet again and again. May he bless this first translation attempt so that it may be accepted by the Lord Sri Krsna, and may he engage me in the service of the six Goswamis of Vrndavana, Lord Caitanya, and Radharani.
August 20, 1972
Disappearance Day of Srila Rupa Gosvami