Jul 21, CANADA (SUN) — The autobiography of Kedarnatha Datta Bhaktivinoda, written in 1896.


It was in response to a request by his son, Lalita Prasada, for more information about his life, that Sri Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda wrote Svalikhita-jivani. Over 200 pages long, this short autobiographical account offers a very human, heart-warming account of the trials and triumphs of Bhaktivinoda's remarkable life story.

Bhaktivinoda begins Svalikhita-jivani by addressing his son, "You have asked me for the details of my life. Whatever I am able to remember I have written down on paper for you. Please see that you do not misuse this story."

Completed on June 21, 1896 at the age of 58, Bhaktivinoda concludes, "O Lalita Prasada, whatever I can recollect up to my retirement I have written in this letter. You will know everything that happens from now on."

The translation can be credited largely to Sanskrit scholar, Shukavak N. Dasa. According to him, there is little doubt that this is the original version of Svalikhita-jivani.

"I originally received the Svalikhita-jivani through a friend and subsequently found a published edition in the London India Office Library. Since the Svalikhita-jivani would have a critical bearing on how Bhaktivinoda's developing life was interpreted, I traveled to West Bengal to authenticate the text. To my delight I found the original handwritten manuscript in the possession of one elderly lady, Bhakta Ma.

She allowed me to photograph the handwritten text. To determine authenticity, I compared its handwriting with handwriting from other manuscripts by Bhaktivinoda. I also compared the printed edition with the original handwritten manuscript. I am convinced that the printed edition is a true rendering of the original text and has not been adhered or corrupted by the editor, Lalita Prasad Datta."

[From the Introduction, Hindu Encounter with Modernity, Sanskrit Religions Institute, 1999.]

Note to first Bengali Edition

"I have published this volume of Svalikhita Jivani, which was written by my father, for the sake of those who are favourable and who are very close to him. My honourable father ordered me not to misuse whatever was written to me by him. Such was his instruction to me. That is the reason that I cannot give this book to ordinary persons. Only one who has complete love and faith in my father can read this work. If anyone reads this volume and makes his own commentary that is against my father then he alone is responsible, not I."

Sri Lalita Prasad Thakur
181 Manikatal Street
Bhakti Bhavan
Calcutta, India

Part One, 1838- 40

June, 1896
181 Manikatal Street
Bhakti Bhavan Calcutta

O Lalita Prasada,

You have asked me for the details of my life. Whatever I am able to remember I have written down on paper for you. Please see that you do not misuse this story. I was born in Sakabda 1760 on the 18th day in the month of Bhadra in my maternal grandfather's home situated in the village of Ula.

My birth date corresponds to: Sakabda 1760; Sri Gaurabda 352; Bangabda 1245; Christian Era, 2nd September 1838.

Ula and the Datta Dynasty

As Ula was famous within the Bengal region as a wealthy village so was my maternal grandfather, Sri Isvara Chandra Mushtophi also famous as a prosperous landowner. His extraordinary liberality was known in many parts of the region. People used to come from all over the countryside to see his famous palace. In the district of Nadia (map) the village of Ula (or Ulagram, also known as Birnagar) was known to be especially wealthy and happy.

I was born a descendant of Purushottama Datta, a Kanyakubja Kayastha. Among the five Kayasthas who came to the Gauda region at the invitation of King Adisura, namely, Makaranda Ghosh, Dasaratha Vasu, Kalidas Mitra, Dasaratha Guha and Purushottama Datta, Sri Purushottama Datta was the foremost. His community was settled at Baligram. Later on some individual in his lineage settled in Andulagram and became known as the chief of all the Kayastha community.

Sri Govinda Saran Datta was the 17th descendant from Purushottama Datta. Govinda Saran, giving over to his brother Hari Saran all the property of Andulagram, and having established a village called Govindapur on one bank of the Ganges through the generosity of the sultan of Delhi, made his residence there.

In time Govindapur fell into the hands of the British and was converted into a fort (Fort William). Thereafter, in exchange, the Datta family was given land at Hatakhola where they built a new settlement. From that time on the Datta family became known as the Hatakhola Dattas.

The 21st descendant from Purushottama Datta was the greatly famous Madanmohan Datta. He was foremost among the Hatakhola Dattas and known as a very religious man. All the residents of Bengal were aware of his famous works at Pretasila Hill in Gaya and at other places. My paternal grandfather, Rajavallabha Datta, was the grandson of Madanmohan Datta. Somehow or other Rajavallabha lost all of his wealth.

Because of this my father, Anandachandra Datta, gave up his residence in Calcutta and made his residence in my grandfather's village, which is situated in Orissa. Therefore he was not present for my birth in the village of Ula (Birnagar). My father, Anandachandra Datta Mahasaya, was very religious, straightforward, and detached from sensual things. Regarding his beauty, many people used to say that in Calcutta there was no one at that time who was as handsome.

My mother was Srimati Jaganmohini. She was possessed of intellect, straightforwardness, and devotion to my father. It can be said that there was no one like her. My grandfather was robbed of all his belongings, so my father expressed a desire to go to Orissa. My grandfather said to him, "You come and see first, then after some time you can come to Orissa with your family."

The village known as Choti Govindapur was situated on the bank of the river Virupa within the district of Cuttack in the state of Orissa. In that village my father and grandfather had their residence. His wealth was that village and other villages close by. When Raya Jagannatha Prasada Ghosh Mahasaya died there was no heir except for my father. Therefore, all of the property left by Raya Jagannatha Prasada Ghosh became the wealth of my father.

While the vast wealth of my grandfather was undisturbed there was no desire on the part of my father and grandfather to secure it. Thus, after the demise of Rai Jagannatha all of the property remained in the hands of his Khanajat servants, of whom Ramahari Dasa was the chief. That servant took possession of everything.

At the time my grandfather and grandmother, who were destitute in Calcutta, went to Chotimangalpur, but Ramahari Dasa, being disobedient, did not give up control of the property. On account of that, my father had to go there for almost three years until the end of the lawsuit. When my grandfather and grandmother moved from Calcutta to Orissa my father and mother moved to Ulagram taking Abhayakali, their first born with them.

During the time of their residence in Ulagram my elder brother Kaliprasanna was born. After remaining in Birnagar (Ulagram) a few days my father went to Orissa and the request of my grandfather. The servant Ramahari Dasa would not give up the property unless my father was present.

"let this boy be the servant of the rest"

As above mentioned, my grandfather Rajavallabha requested my father to leave Ulagrama and come to Orissa for some time. I was only a few months in the womb when my father set out for Orissa. During the time he was staying in Orissa, my father received news of my birth. After the litigation was over we took possession of the property, therefore my father was delayed a long time from returning from Orissa.

My mother said that after my birth, she suffered labour pains for two or three days. When I was born an astrologer sat marking the time with an hourglass. Also an English account of the time was kept.

My maternal grandfather had incomparable wealth and a grand estate. There were hundreds of male and female servants.

When I was born I was a good weight. I had an older brother named Abhayakali, who had previously died. A second brother, Kaliprasanna, was still living. I was my father's third son. It was said that of all my brothers I was a little ugly. But my mother said, "Very well, let this boy be the servant of the rest, just let him live a long time."

My mother said that when I was eight months old I got a boil on my thigh and as a result I became weak and emaciated. I also heard that while I was being carried in the arms of my nurse, Shibu, down a flight of stairs, I cut my tongue on my teeth. To this day I have a scar on my tongue. This happened around the time my teeth were coming in.

When I was almost two years old my father returned to Orissa. My nurse said that a few days before my father returned I saw a crow flying into a perch and I sang the rhyme:

kak, kal kal, jhingera phool/ baba aseta, nade baso
"O crow, Kal Kal, flower of the Jhinga squash, father comes, sit aside."

As I spoke the crow changed position. Some people nearby saw this and said, "Oh, your father must certainly be coming soon." It so happened that in a few days my father arrived back at our home in Ula.

Part 2 of 17 will appear as an Editorial item in tomorrow's edition of the Sun.


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