A Study for Sri Chaitanya's Birthplace, Part Two


The Nine Islands of Navadvipa

Dec 03, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — A paper by Professor K. N. Mukerjee, retired head of the Department of Geography, City College, Calcutta, in three parts.


No systematic scientific study has yet been taken up to ascertain the real birthplace of Sri Caitanya, at least the approximate locality. This study must be made by impartial scholars not belonging to either of the Vaisnavite groups.


The present author, a senior geographer, took up this investigation individually while studying the fluvial evolution morphology and water pollution of the area a few years back (1976-82) (Bagchi and Mukherjee 1978 ; Mukherjee et al 1982). In his attempt to set at rest this controversy and finalize the location of the birth-place, he was used all writings of contemporary biographers and Vaisnava scholars, all surveyed maps, air photographs, travellers accounts with sketches, land use surveys, statistical accounts and records, archaeological and historical relics, iconology and field observations (including drainage conditions, ground slope, soil patterns etc.) As elsewhere, the author has applied cartographical tools to solve and inter-disciplinary problem here (Mukherjee 1984)

There are two main biographical volumes, viz. Sri Caitanya-bhagavata (1548?) by Vrndavana Dasa and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (1595?) by Krsnadasa Kaviraja, the contents being more or less complimentary with only minor variations in the narration of events of Sri Caitanya's life. Both the contending groups accept the contents of these volumes. There is also no dispute about the writings of the six Goswamis (venerated Vaisnavas)--Rupa, Sanatana, Gopal Bhatta, Raghunatha Bhatta, Raghunatha dasa and Jiva, who were contemporary of or lived immediately after Sri Caitanya. So, references in these writings may form the base to start with. Rupa Goswami, although a disciple of Sri Caitanya, was older than him and was a man of the locality who saw contemporary Navadvipa from close quarters. The very first couplet of his Navadvipastakam (eight Sanskrit couplets describing the glory of Navadvipa/1541?) is quite significant (Goswami 1959). He wrote:

    sri gaudadese suradirghikayastire
    airamye iha punyamasya lasantam
    anandabharen nityam tam
    sri navadvipamaham smarami

    "In Gauda Kingdom (Bengal) on the side of the heavenly dirghika, this sacred pond is always full of bliss and pleasure, Navadvipa, I meditate on that. (dirghika - long excavated tank).

And in the 4th couplet:

    srisvarnadi yatra viharita ca
    vyaptormivih gaurabagahamayyestam
    sri navadvipamaham smarami

    "Whereby the river (Bhagirathi or Ganga) flows with musical sounds, which has its banks bound with golden stairs and in the waters of which Gaura used to bathe, I meditate on that Navadvipa." (Gaura - very fair complexion--the other name of Sri Caitanya).

Then in the 7th couplet he confirms:

    yasyantare misra-purandarasya
    svananda gamyaikapadam
    nivasah sri gaurajanmadika lilayadhyastam
    sri navadvipamaham smarami

    "Wherein the only house which has ever blissful belonging to Misra 'Purandara' was located, and which was the place of birth and other 'lila' of Sri Gaura, I meditate on that Navadvipa." (Misra Purandara - Jagannatha Misra, father of Sri Caitanya. Purandara is a title; lila - the activities of a heavenly being).

He ends the couplets by saying:

    iti srimad rupa gosvamina viracitam
    sriman navadvipastakam sampurnam

    "Thus ends the complete eight Navadvipa couplets by Srimad Rupa Goswami."

So, it is clear from the above couplets that Navadvipa town was the birthplace of Sri Caitanya, that the town was located on the side of dirghika or dighi, and that the Ganga also flowed by the town. In other words the town extended from the dighi to the Ganga (Fig. 8). The Sena dynasty (12th Century) had their capital at Navadvipa and the massive, about a kilometre long tank they got excavated here, is still there on the eastern side of the present course of the Ganga (Bhagirathi), known for centuries as Ballal dighi. Since there is only one Ballal Dighi or, for that matter only one dighi in the entire area this must be the dirghika mentioned by Rupa Goswami. Although this dighi is now practically filled up, the massive partly breached embankments (about 10 metres high and 10 metres wide) are still to be witnessed there.

There is also a very large mound, in the Bamunpukur mauza at a straight distance of about a kilometre to the north-east from Ballal Dighi, which is popularly known from long time past as Ballal Dhipi (dhipi - large mound) (Figs. 5 and 7). The Archaeological Survey of India has recently partly excavated Ballal Dhipi and huge structures with massive walls have been exposed. Initially, there is a suggestion that the structure may partly be a Buddhist stupa of Pala dynasty, which may have been subsequently captured and modified by the Hindu Sena kings. Anyway, the royal link of the old Navadvipa town has been firmly established.

During pre-sanyas living in Navadvipa (1486-1510) Sri Caitanya was known as Nimai or Nimai Pandita (pandita - Sanskrit scholar cum teacher). At around that time Maulana Serajuddin or Chand was the Kazi or Governor of thee Bagwan Pargana and his seat was at Kazipara (para - locality) of Navadvipa city, which is even now known as such (Figs. 7 & 8). The Kazi's tomb is lying near present Bamunpukur Bazar on which a massive swinging Krishna Champa or pagoda (Michelia Champaka) flower tree has grown. The unusual massiveness of the tree with thick roots penetrating the tomb easily impresses anyone of its very old age (botanical experts have estimated the age to be more than 400 years now). Incidentally, none of the contending groups question the location of Kazipara or the authenticity of Chand Kazi's tomb (Das 1973).

Now that the Kazi's place is determined, an episode in between Nimai Pandita (Sri Caitanya) and Chand Kazi, as vividly narrated in Caitanya-bhagavata may be considered for tracing the location of the birthplace of Sri Caitanya, as well as the course of the Ganga at the time. The episode mentions that adjoining Nimai's house was the Srivasa Angana, where many Vaisnavas assembled daily and did kirtana in chorus with drums and symbols for long hours, even late in the night. The Turk kings were avowedly anti-Hindu. They not only desecrated Hindu temples, but also destroyed many, and their policy towards the Hindus was 'to grind them down and reduce them to poverty' (Smith 1962). The Kazi was equally intolerant. Being disturbed by the loud kirtana he sent his attendants to the Srivasa house who broke the drums and warned the Vaisnavas of dire consequence if they did the kirtana again (see Appendix). Since that time, the Srivasa Angana is known to the Vaisnavas as 'Khol Bhangar Danga' i.e. the place where the drums were broken. Hearing of the incident Nimai became so enraged that he took out a large procession of Vaisnavas doing loud kirtana with many drums and cymbals. He led the procession from near his house along the road by the bank of the Ganga and proceeded towards the Kazipara.

The most significant part of the description is the path followed by Nimai and the reference to the bathing ghatas in continued sequence. Vrndavana Dasa narrated:

    gangatire path achhe nadiaya
    age sei pathe nachi jay gaura-raya
    apanar ghate age bahu nritya kari
    tabe madhaier ghate gela gaurahari
    barokona ghate nagaria ghate giya
    ganganagar diya gela simulia
    nadiar ekante nagar simulia
    nacite nacite prabhu uttarila gia

    "Gaura (Nimai) went dancing (with kirtana) along the road by the Ganga in Nadia (Navadvipa). He first went to his own bathing ghat (near his house), danced there a lot, and then went to Madhai ghata, Barokona ghata and Nagaria ghata. At last he went (leading the procession) through Ganganagar (nagara-town, locality of a city) to Simulia. Simulianagar was in the extreme end of Nadia where the Prabhu (Lord) arrived dancing all the way." (Kazipara was in the Simulia area of Nadia City) (Fig 8).

Vrndavana Dasa ended his description by saying:

    sarva navadvipe nace tribhuvana raya
    gadigachha pardanga adi diya jaya

    "The Lord of the three worlds (Gaura) thus went on dancing through the entire Navadvipa ending his journey via Gadigachha, Pardanga and other localities of the city." (It may be noted here that there was no mention of his ever crossing the river in this journey) (Figs, 5 and 8).

It must be remembered that Navadvipa City at that time was commonly known as Nadia. Eminent historians also referred to the capital of King Laksmana Sena as Neddia, Nuddheah, Navadipa (Smith 1962). There was no other Nadia at that time. The sprawling city had different localities called 'para' or 'nagar', as in Calcutta there are even now Kansaripara, Sahanagar, Gopalnagar etc. After Nadia city gradually decayed, initially by the ravage and neglect of the Turk rulers, and later by the change of course of the Ganga through centuries, the new Navadvipa town gradually grew up on the other side of the river during British period. Some surviving para or nagar of the old city degenerated into small villages. A few of these villages are still retaining their old names, e.g. Rudrapara Nidaya, Ganganagar (now merged with Bharuidanga), Mollapara etc., but most of the others are either not in existance any more, or are now known by new names. While Simulia (Kazipara and adjoining section) is now partly lying with Bamunpukur and partly eaten away by the Ganga, Ballaldighi is retaining its old name (Fig. 7).

During Kazi's rule Navadvipa and environ were part of Bagwan Pargana (Fig. 5). In the early British period Governor Warren Hastings constituted around 1772 the new large district of Nadia, extending from the Bhagirathi to the Padma. The new Navadvipa town area on the western bank of the Ganga was at the time part of Kalna Police Station (P.S.) of Bardhaman District and originally a part of the Satsikka Pargana. But later in Smythe's Pargana Map (1855 the area was shown separately as Khus Nuddheah (Khas Navadvipa) Pargana, when the town had grown considerably in area and population. The new town was turned into a municipality around 1869 and a part of Nadia district.

Now, the above narration of Vrndavana Dasa should be read with the following portion from poet Premdasa (Purusottama Misra)'s Vamsi Siksa (1706)_ or (Sri Caitanya's) Sermons to Vamsi (Vamsivadana Chatto) (vide Das 1973, Banerjee 1966) :

    o're devi niradaya haiya jeman, nimaye karili par sannyas karan
    tei tor e ghater nam aji hotey, niradaya ghat haila janiha nischite
    (4th Ullas)

    "Oh goddess (Ganga)! Being heartless, as you have allowed Nimai to cross over forever for sannyasa, you know for certain that this ghat of yours will remain defamed from this date as Nidaya Ghat" (nidaya or niradaya-heartless, merciless).

First of all, referring to the drum breaking episode mentioned earlier, if we take Ramchandrapur (by the north of present Navadvipa/Fig.7) to be the place of birth of Sri Caitanya, it is too far away (more than 6km) for even the loudest kirtana in the dead of night to have disturbed the Muslims in the Kazipara and Mollapara area (Fig. 8) But from Mayapura Srivasa Angana, only about 1 km away by air, loud kirtana with drums and cymbals might have irritated the Muslims in the night (See Appendix).

The path taken up by Nimai's procession to Kazipara, from his own house at Ramchandrapur, should have mentioned on the way the ghata (Nidaya) he used much later for crossing over to go to Kantaknagar (present Katwa) for his sanyas (Fig. 7 & 8). But, if one considers Nimai's own house was at Jogapith in Mayapur, it appears reasonable when he moved further west to Nidaya ghat to cross over and continue north-westward to Kantaknagar.

Another vaishnav poet, chronicler and philosophical interpreter Narahari Cakravarti (Ghanasyama Dasa) was universally accepted and respected by all sections of Vaisnavas, and acclaimed by literary critics (Banerjee 1966). It was he who first conceived the concept of Nava (nine) dvipas (islands) to form Navadvipa-dhama (city of Navadvipa and environ). He wrote in his famous Bhakti-ratnakara in the early 18th Century (vide Das 1973):

    navadvipa nama sravane sakala duhkha ksaya
    gangara purva pascima tirete dvipa naya
    purve antardvipa simantadvipa haya
    godrumadvipa madhyadvipa catustaya
    koladvipa rtu jahnu modadruma ara
    rudradvipa ei panca pascime pracara

    "All sorrow will go with hearing the name of Navadvipa (dhama). The nine islands are on the east and west bank of the Ganga. Antardvipa, Simantadvipa, Godrumadvipa and Madhyadvipa are the four islands on the east. Koladvipa, Rtudvipa, Jahnudvipa, Modrumadvipa and Rtudvipa are the five ones well-known to be in the west."

Poet Cakravarti conceived and described vividly what he saw in the early 18th Century. By that time old Navadvipa city has virtually been destroyed and a new Nadia town has grown up on the west side of the Ganga in the Kulia daha (marsh) area referred to above as Koladvipa. The location of Teghari village to the SW of Nadia by the Teghari's Kol in Figs. 5& 7 is significant. Both the contending Vaisnava groups have accepted Rudrapara mauza (of which Ramachandrapura is a part) as the Rudradvipa described above. But as Rudradvipa should be located by the west of Antardvipa on the other side of the Ganga, Ramachandrapur cannot be in Antardvipa. Rudrapara (Rudradvipa) on the other hand being on the other side of the Ganga and to the west of Mayapura (described to be at the heart of Antardvipa) fully tallies with the above description (Fig.7)

It is well known that an idol of Adhoksaja Visnu was worshipped as family Deity in Jagannatha Misra's house. Although the general understanding is adhoksaja means atindriya i.e. beyond the perception of the five sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue and skin), the Tri-lingual Dictionary (1966) published by the Sanskrit College, Calcutta has given the derivation as adhas aksa jan o i.e. He who has the aksa or cakra or disc weapon downwards. Lord Visnu is descriebd to have four hands (caturbhuja) and the cakra is usually held in one of the two raised hands. But in the Siddhartha-samhita vide. Krsnadasa's Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya.10 223-36) and Gopala Bhatta's Hari Bhakti-vilasa (5,176-77), Lord Krsna's divinity has been described in 24 forms, of which Adhoksaja Visnu is the 23rd one. The items in the four hands have been described in the order -- etasca murtayo'gneya daksinadhah karakramat (i.e. in all the forms to start from lower right hand / clockwise) padma-gada sankha cakra (i.e. lotus, club, conch and disc). A small (20cm) black stone image of Visnu (Fig. 1) was found at a shallow depth while digging for plinth construction of the massive tall Yogapitha temple at Mayapura in 1934. The priests there have kept this idol in that temple and worship it as Adhoksaja or Atindriya Visnu.

Fig. 1 - Adhoksaja Visnu

Now the vital point is when Nimai went away for sannyasa. His mother and wife were prostrate with grief and were taken away to other place by relatives and neighbors. Poet Vrndavana Dasa and others narrated vividly these sorrowful scenes. The mother Saci Devi refused to take anything with themselves and asked the devotees to take away everything, but they left the things as they were. In course of time the deserted earthen house must have crumbled down and the small idol must have been buried beneath the heaps of earth. If Ramachandrapur was the place where Sri Caitanya's family lived, then this small idol could never have been accidentally dug out after 400 years at Mayapura, several kilometres away. According to the archeological experts, who are now excavating at the Ballal Dhipi (mentioned earlier), the idol is not a fraudulent one, It is extremely rare and is more than 500 years old. The author has made searching enquiries in many villages in the area, but could not find a second one. None of the well-known historical volumes too, recorded any such idol as yet. The slightly Mongolian eyes and square jaw indicate that the idol may have been made in the Sylhet area of old Assam from where the Misra family came to Navadvipa-dhama. Iconologically, the upward tapering back frame (cala-citra) also indicates the idol to be of 15th Century.

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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