A Study for Sri Chaitanya's Birthplace

BY: SUN STAFF


Dec 02, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — A paper by Professor K. N. Mukerjee, retired head of the Department of Geography, City College, Calcutta, in three parts.


ABSTRACT

For about 300 years from late 12th Century there was acute degeneration in the administrative and cultural atmosphere of Bengal. The advent of Sri Caitanya in the late 15th Century instilled a deep sense of self-respect and moral value in the mind of the people. His 500th year of advent will be celebrated all over the country and abroad in 1985-86. But there is uncertainty about the location of his birthplace, resulting in a lot of bickering in between different Vaisnavite groups. No non-Vaisnavite impartial scientific study has yet been taken up. Here, the author makes an honest attempt to set at rest this continuing controversy.


INTRODUCTION

Navadvipa is the place of play and performance (Lila-Ksetra) of Sri Caitanyadeva and it was his emergence that totally changed the moral and physical attitude when the Turk Muslim invaders drove away the king of Bengal, Laksmana Sena, from his capital Navadvipa, a complete chaos came down upon the social life of Bengal. The Turk rulers were busy plundering the wealth of Bengal desecrating the big landlords, who were not disturbed by the new rulers, as long as they accepted the sovereignty of the Turks and paid them taxes and handsome presents. These big feudal landlords (known as zamindars) on the other hand exacted ruthlessly from the ordinary people not only the legal dues (taxes, rents etc.), but also as much as they could get by torture and mayhem. During these years of chaotic administration they never cared for the welfare of the people, rather were overtly busy in the pursuit of baser instincts and hilarious perverted enjoyments. In those days scholars and poets had to depend entirely on the patronage of the zamindars and rulers, since they had no way of earning independently. As it happened, the zamindars practically starved the 'unnecessary' scholars, and the poets were patronized only when they composed praising the rulers or the zamindars, or when they presented sexy-perverted-cheap-hilarious compositions. If they composed something serious, something serene and aesthetic, the patronage would instantly dry up. Many very powerful composers of the period succumbed to this pressure and created masterpieces with very dirty overtones at many places. Even superb Vaisnava literatures painted Krsna-lila in such silly obnoxious ways, that even non-Vaisnavites could not stand them. Peoples' agony knew no bounds, nobody cared for the down-troddens.

For about three centuries this despotic and despairing conditions prevailed and people lost all hope of redress or relief from their suffering. There was complete lack of moral values in any faith thee people pursued. The formal pursuing of faiths (Vidhi-Bhakti) were there, but frustration killed respect in one's own self and love (prema) for others. Feeling for a fellow human being became a quality forgotten. True devotion (Suddha bhakti) was ridiculed, became subdued and scarce.

In this long period of very dark days the refreshing pleasant rays of hope came down at the end of 15th Century in the boldest but sweetest personality of Mahaprabhu (the Great Lord) Sri Caitanyadeva. Dejected callous people hearing the clarion call of love, looked up, straightened their back and became surcharged with a new vision of hope, self-respect and courage. His love was the love for humanity and knew no boundary of religion, caste or creed. His love was the love for the Supreme (the God)--Sri Krsna. It was so intense, pure and electrifying that he was even immune to the feeling of physical violence from the adversaries. His opponents were appalled at his sincerity and bowed down to his honesty. Gradually, thee whole period-atmosphere changed and the people began breathing moral value continued developing in the mind of the people following the ideal Mahaprabhu. Through the love of Mahaprabhu they began deeply loving Sri Krsna. Collective pressure of new moral sense started even influencing the benevolent. The poorest of poor and the lowest cast in the society got the most fervent embrace of Mahaprabhu and for the first time other people looked at them as fellow human beings.

The most invigorating effect was witnessed in thee literary genre of the period. They, after a long time, got rid of their begging complex and started taking their creed as a sacred obligation to the God and the people. New savour (rasa) was tasted in their compositions in the Post-Caitanya era. Even Krsna-lila was narrated to the people with a new found meaning. Sri Radha was considered as the cit-rupa (spiritual form) of the will of Sri Krsna and the whole being of Radhika was for the eternal enjoyment of spiritual bliss by Krsna. Literary genius of the non-Vaisnavite schools also vowed to Sri Caitanyadeva.



THE BASIC PROBLEM

There are two distinct schools of Vaisnavites pleading for two different present villages to be declared as the 'true' birthplace of Sri Caitanya. Each of these groups has advanced emotional and pseudo-scientific arguments (even supported by crude sketches passed as maps) in support of their respective favourite places. The arguments (passed evidences) are so thin and desperate, that the inner urge to channelize the expected stream of devotees to their true' birthplaces to ultimately butter their breads is quite obvious.

It may be mentioned here that although both the groups are claiming that Mayapura area old Navadvipa-dhama was the birthplace of Sri Caitanya, there was no reference to Mayapura of Nava (nine) Dvipas (islands) either in any contemporary (15th-16th Century) literature or in any of the Puranas (old Sanskrit tales). Only Narahari Cakravarti in his poetical work Bhakti-ratnakara in early 18th Century named and described for the first time the Nava Dvipas and mentioned Mayapura in Antardvipa as the birthplaces of Sri Caitanya (Das 1973, Banerjee 1966).

Around 1887 the first group that initiated the search for the birthplace was led by Sri Kedarnath Datta, at the time Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Collector of Krishnanagar Sub-Division of Nadia District (Vidyaratna 1976). He was a well accepted scholar in Bengali, English, Hindi, Oriya and Sanskrit, and had working knowledge of Persian and Urdu. He was already a recognized author in history, ethics and Vaisnava literature. He was a member of Royal Asiatic Society of London. Highly complimentary references were made of him and his works, in their own works by such eminent personalities as Dr. William Hunter (Imperial Gazetteer, Orissa) and, Bengali novelist and essayist Bankimchandra Chatterjee (Srimad Bhagavad-gita). Kedarnath made painstaking search for Sri Caitanya's birthplace collector and Deputy Registrar of Assurance, while working as Deputy Magistrate in about 21 Sub-Divisions during 1866-94. Sri Datta established many Bhakti-mandapas (bhakti - devotion, mandapa - covered platform / place of gathering), Nama-hattas, lectures, so much so, that he was given the title of Bhaktivinoda by the Society of Scholars at Baghnapara of Kalna in Bardhaman Dt. (vinoda -- pleasure) i.e. he retired from service and took up an ascetic life, he became well-known as Bhaktivinoda Thakura (thakura - venerable person) as he is referred to in Vaisnava circles today. He introduced blank-verse in Bengali poetry in 1857 (Bharadwaj, 1989).

Kedarnath was instrumental in the establishment of Sri Navadvipa-dhama Pracarini Sabha in 1883, a registered society, and as Karyapati or executive head, he gradually acquired some land in the Bamunpukur and Ballaldighi mauzas (J.L Nos. 9 and 14, mauza - smallest rural revenue unit having one or more villages) and named it as Sri Mayapura of Antardvipa. On the Holy Festival day of 1894, Sri Datta erected here a temple of Sri Gauranga (Sri Caitanyadeva). This temple (totally renovated now) is named as Yogapitha, the place of advent of Sri Caitanya.

There are two other sets of temples (under practically the same management) in Mayapura, viz. the Srivasa-Angana i.e. the house of Panditas Srivasa, Advaita and Gadhadara where Sri Caitanya passed long hours daily in religious discussions and kirtana (loud singing in praise of God); and Sri Caitanya Matha at the house of Sri Caitanya's maternal aunt where Lord Krsna's main temple (Govinda Mandira) is located (Fig. 4&8).

The impact of establishment of Mayapura has become so great that under subsequent managements of different groups (foreign and local) belonging to this same school, the entire Mayapura has now turned into a village of Vaisnava temples covering an area of about 3 sq. km. Millions of devotees and tourists every year visit these temples. There are good guesthouses.

After the departure of Sri Caitanya, gradually through centuries the strict ascetic discipline and suddha bhakti, gave place to permissiveness and vidhi bhakti. The Vaisnava society degenerated so much that all decent people became totally disgusted and refrained from getting associated with the Vaisnava cult even indirectly. Old Navadvipa city has partially been eaten away by the changing course of the Bhagirathi (Ganga) and during 18th-20th Centuries under the British rule the present Navadvipa city has been built anew on the western bank of the changed course of the Ganga. 'Sahajiya' cults (easy living like the 'flower child' of today) developed in the new Vaisnava akharas (cohabiting religious group --residence with temple) in the new city, where gangsterism and eternal profession swelled to immeasurable proportion.

When being disgusted with the situation Kedarnath founded Mayapura to instill moral discipline and suddha-bhakti, as initiated by Sri Caitanya and his associates. He was hailed and was joined increasingly by larger numbers of elites and simple rural folks alike. The respect and popular support for this new group led later by the ascetic scholar Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, increased so vastly in the 20s and 30s of the present century that the Mahantas (Akhra leaders) of the New Navadvipa town became apprehensive of losing their own popularity and income. In the meanwhile, a number of individual real Vaisnava ascetics became disgusted with the Sahajiyas and started staying separately making small temples in distinct groups of Vaisnavites of day, viz. (1) highly cultured, educated family men with traditional Vaisnava faith, (2) individual Vaisnava ascetics, and (3) Mahantas with their clan in the Akhrahas. It is the third group which ruled for long over the Vaisnava cult in Bengal, very powerful in money and manpower, and controlled most of the larger temples there. Some groups in the past have gradually migrated with their traditional deities and belongings from the old dying city on the other side of the Ganga to the growing new Navadvipa town on this side.

The second group consisted of some virakta Vaisnavas, a few of them having cultured and educated background. The first venture to counter the increasing popularity of Mayapura was initiated by one of the second group, Sri Vraja-mohana Dasa (Babaji), who was a retired overseer. He was living a devotional life at Vrndavana in North India and came to live at Navadvipa around 1916 (Das 1973). Gradually, he felt that the true birthplace of Sri Caitanya is not located at Mayapura and started collecting opinions and 'evidence' in favour of a place now known as Ramchandrapur village located by north of present Navadvipa. By queer coincidence he was later supported in his venture by some powerful, as well as resourceful Mahantas, while of course, some others expressedly opposed his ideas, as that will lessen the glory of their temples located at the heart of the town.

Vraja-mohana Dasa declared in 1931 with his supporters that Ramchandrapur (Kankrhar Math or crab field) is the 'real' birth place of Mahaprabhu, naming it as Prachin (old) Mayapur', and called Sri Mayapura of Kedarnath Datta (and followers) as fake. Since then Vraja-mohana and his followers have erected a number of temples at Ramchandrapur's 'real' birthplace. Although the popularity of Sri Mayapura has increased tremendously since then, the controversy is still raging quite strong, particularly tending to reach a feverish pitch during the 500th year (1985 86) of Mahaprabhu's advent.


Professor K. N. Mukerjee is the retired head of the Department of Geography, City College, Calcutta; retired lecturer of the Department of Geography, University of Calcutta; Secretary of ILEE and Director of the Research Cell of Sri Caitanya Research Institute, Calcutta.


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