Vaisnava Saints

 

 

.from Srila Bhaktivinode’s auto-biography- selected portions-

If you read the first part already, and want to go to part#2, click here.

and if you read the second part already, and want to go to part#3, click here.

to part 4, here


Part #1-

 

When I was growing up I was full with curiosity and tried to

see everything. In my grandfather's house all kinds of festive

occasions were celebrated. Jagaddhatri pooja was celebrated with

much pomp. I can well remember Jagaddhatri pooja being

celebrated, during the night especially. Hundreds of chandeliers

would hang on the pooja house. Bachara would be observed outside

the pooja house. There, lanterns would be wrapped around

all the pillars and columns. All the guards at the doors would be

dressed in sepoy uniforms. Numerous stout men dressed in golden

embroidered clothes would come from Ranaghat and Santipura. Many

bodyguards and soldiers used to accompany all these men. In terms

of people, the scene was like a forest of people and in terms of

lights it was like the battle of Kurukshetra. The scene was

filled with fireworks and rowdy pomp. On the first night there

was kshemat and bainat dancing. At that time people would be so

overwhelmed with pleasure they would lose all sight of the

religious occasion. Late at night there would bekabi gana

[singing contests]. At dawn I used to listen, but the kavi wallas

used to scream so loudly that it would hurt my ears. The deity

would be dressed in the best outfits. The eating arrangements

created the greatest pleasure.

 

The Durga seva used to be very nice. Everyday in the temple

the goddess Jagattarini, who was very big and made of eight

metals, was worshipped. At the time of Durga pooja the goddess

was brought into the pooja house. I can remember that we used to

have 25 or 30 brahmanas from west [Bengal] come and carry the

goddess to the place of worship and perform the pooja. For three

days the pooja was celebrated with very great pomp. On the sixth

day two types of drums [tak and tol] would be beaten and the

sound would shake the whole pooja house. On the ninth day many

goats and buffalo would be sacrificially killed. On that very day

the ladies of the house would worship the goddess Durga by

carrying incense on their heads in some manner. During the Kali

pooja we young boys would get together and go to the temple. The

stone deity known as Dindayamayi Kali was always present in the

temple named Navachooda. On the actual night of Kali pooja there

would always be great fan fare. Everybody used to enjoy this

occasion, except the goats and buffalo. Most of the Brahmanas and

pandits used to come solely for taste of mutton.

 

During the Dola Yatra festival there used to be singing and

various kinds of sport. So much red dye was thrown about that

everything appeared to be red or blood colored. At this time

even the guards took part in the festival. They would enter the

temple courtyard singing and throwing dye. Because of all their

commotion I would stay a little distance away from them. During

the Dola yatra I used to enjoy watching the festival bonfire

known as Merapora.

 

Playing in the gardens, the ponds and the grain shed was not

enough [for my brothers, who were inclined to get into trouble].

Seeing this, I left their association, and at midday I would sit

close by the outer gatekeepers.

 

The gatekeepers where western soldiers. They would all eat rotis

made from a whole measure of atar wheat and a whole bati of urhad

dahl, after which they would sit down and eat on cots on the

ground by the front gate. Thereafter, some of them would recite

Tulsidas's Ramayana. Although the language was unfamiliar [to me]

it sounded very sweet. One day, being charmed by the reading of

one soldier named Srital Teoyari, I asked him to make the meaning

of what he was reading clear. He told the story of the cheating

crow [Bhushanti Kaka]. That story seemed very sweet to me. In the

evening I retold this story to my mother and maidservant. [My

mother was very pleased] and showed her appreciation to Teoyari

by giving me chewing tobacco to bring to him. Out of affection

for me, Teoyari would give me merotis, dahl and kichari. I would

eat them and become very happy.

 

Sometimes I used to wake up late at night and sit by the

window. At the forth watch [3 A.M.] Officer Naph and Officer

Sannasi would be carrying lanterns in the courtyard and pathways

around the estate and would shout out the watch calls. Sometimes

I used to call Officer Naph over [to the window] and would

question him about many things. Naph was very old but still used

to carry his lantern, stick, club and sword. Previously he was a

prominent dacoit. His residence was at my maternal grandfather's

estate in the district of Murshidabad. Fearing an attack at some

time by dacoits my grandfather kept many Dvarabans from the west,

stick guards, Muslim guards, and sepoys. Even though [he had all

of these guards] my grandfather gave Officer Naph and two of

three other guards the task of protecting the inner grounds.

Once, when Naph was a Dacoit, during a raid, he [accidentally]

cut off the head of his own guru, and since that time the sound

of 'Haribol' always issued from his lips. I used to call him over

to my upper story window and ask him to tell me stories from his

childhood and youth. I was only 6 or 7 years old and could not

understand half of what he told me, but I used to like to hear

these tales.

 

The buffalo elephant fights were the most entertaining. Numerous

elephants were brought there from many places. The Mukhopadhyayas

had a particularly huge buffalo and the horns of this buffalo

would be covered in iron. One immense elephant would also have

his tusks covered with iron. First there would be an announcement

that the buffalo and the elephant would be set free in the middle

of the town. Some times this buffalo, being very strong, would

wound the elephants. Sometimes the elephants used to overcome the

buffalo. We would be on the second floor roofs to watch it all.

On certain days we would ride atop our elephant named

Shibchandra, who would carry us to various places for

entertainment [during the festivities].

 

In those days there was no suffering at all in Ula. There

were fourteen hundred good brahmana families, and there were many

kayastha and vaidya families too. The Mushtaphi Mahasaya family

was the most wealthy. No one in that village went without food.

One could get on with very little in those days. Everybody was

very happy people used to sing, make music, and tell nice

stories. You could not count how many jolly [fat] bellied

brahmanas there were. Almost everybody had a good wit, could

speak sweetly and was skilled in making judgements. Everyone was

skilled in the fine arts, song and music. Groups of people could

be heard all the time making music and singing, playing dice and

chess. That village was a very happy place. If anybody was in

need they could go to the home of Mushtophi Mahasaya and get

whatever they required without any difficulty. Medicine oil and

ghee were aplenty. The village was so large that at that time it

took 56 men to maintain it. The good people in Ulagram did not

know the need of finding work in order to eat. What a happy time

it was!

 

At that time I never saw any of the villages [beyond Ula.] It

is not possible to compare the excellence of Ula. Not a single

day went by without some festival being observed.

 

Part #2 -

We all would play under that building . My father used to

keep a collection of different kinds of caterpillars. He kept the

Korabi, the Akanda, the Kal Kasanda and many other kinds of

caterpillars in a box. He raised them by feeding them the

respective types of leaves. Best of all was the caterpillar which

lived on the leaves of the Ishu Mul tree. When the caterpillars

had grown and become butterflies he would let them go. Sometimes,

in the afternoon, if I saw any of the different types of

caterpillars I would save them and give them to my father.

 

At that time there were many beehives in the garden. We used

to break the hives and eat the honey. Eating so much honey would

make our bodies hot and my mother would be able to understand

[what we had done] and would punish us. I was a little

restrained, but my brothers would show no restraint whatsoever.

One day the honey bees stung us. My older brother, Kaliprasanna,

was an innocent fellow, but the bees stung him so much that he

had a fever for several days.

 

We lived in a two story house in the midst of the Bazar in

Krishnanagar. Our sleeping quarters were upstairs and we cooked

on the lower floor. The bazar and the street were at the front

[of the house]. Above the stairs was a statue of Ganesha. There

was a storage room for cooking oil downstairs, more specifically,

to the side of the kitchen rooms. The door was kept closed, but

seeds used to fall through the cracks in the door and we would

fry them and eat them. Our main diet would be] rice and dahl.

The cooking was done by a brahmana, but his cooking was not good.

From time to time our nursemaid would bring us a light lunch

which we would eat. Sitting on the stairs, we could see into the

room of the oil press man. He was very old and would sit on a low

seat. Because he was going to die soon he would have the

Mahabharata read. A seat was arranged for the reader in his

courtyard by means of an auspicious tent [a canopy]. From his

raised platform a speaker would read the Bharata. A garland would

be placed over the head of the speaker, who would from time to

time make his recitation and sing a particular song. I very much

liked to hear the Mahabharata and the stories about Bheema would

especially attract my mind.

 

On certain days the speaker would get a lot of things to eat,

and on those days he would be most eloquent. On those days when

he received nothing his heart would be very depressed.

 

Every Saturday we would return to our house in Ula. Hired bearers

would carry us on a palanquin with great haste. We would be very

happy on that day. Mahesa Babu, Kali Dada, and myself would go

together on one palanquin. Soon we would reach our home and after

seeing the feet of my mother we would feel great joy. On Sundays

there would be no end to the stories [we heard]. Very early on

Monday we would go to the residence of Goyara and after eating

we would return to the college.

 

I made some effort and again began learning my A,B,Cs, and my

previous learning quickly returned. On account of this, everyone

considered me a good boy. I thus gained a good reputation and my

honourable teacher showed me a great deal of affection. The

scented tuber rose used to bloom at this 'parlour' school, and I

liked its fragrance [vary much]. Cricket was often played at the

school. Oneday the bat struck me on the brow, causing blood to

flow, and since that occurrence I stopped playing cricket. I had

many friends at that school. I excelled in reading and reciting

up to the third level.

 

Now the Jagaddhatri pooja and and Durga festival were

celebrated by taking out loans. Even so, 30 to 35 western guards

were employed, and many respectable gentlemen would come and sit

in my father's parlour. Girish Mukhopadhyaya, Ramesh Raya, Nabin

Bhaduri and other good friends would come and sit. They would

sing different songs. Mohan Datta, who was a drunkard, would come

during the day and begin to sing a lot. When there was recitation

of the Mahabharata, Ramayana etc. at the old house I would go to

hear. I used to like to hear about Hanuman crossing the ocean to

Lanka and about the demoness Simhika. The honourable reader would

speak along with the specific gestures and in my mind a great

love would arise. I would make a regular habit of going to hear

the reading after school. By hearing over and over again the

reading of stories from the scriptures, we learned many things.

At this time my younger brothers Haridas and Gauridas

successively died. There was much grief in the mind of my mother,

and my father fell into deep suffering.

 

Thereafter, there was only my sister, Hemlata, and myself. Our nanny would go around holding Hemlata on her hip and me by the hand. Because of [the death of my brothers] my mother was afraid none of her children would survive. In order to protect us] she put many talismans about our necks.

 

Many poojas were performed in the house of a brahmachari [who resided in Ula]. There was a nice mandir outside his and inside there was a garden and homa area. The worship of the brahmachari was performed according to the doctrine of tantra. Cups made from skulls were kept hidden away in a small room [in his house]. Some people said that if you gave Ganges water and milk to a skull it would smile. I tried to see this by giving water and milk to a skull but saw nothing. In that

same place was the home of a learned man and I would go there to

hear songs.

 

During the Durga festival there would be much eating and

celebration at the homes of brahmanas. Sometimes, in the hope of

getting some nice prasada, I would accept an invitation to eat.

In some homes I would get good dahl along with vegetable curry

and rice. In other homes I would get khichari and dahl cooked

with jackfruit and other things. One could get the best curry at

the house of Visvanatha Mukhopadhyaya. At every house you could

get goat curry. All of the non brahmana residents of Ula would go

to the homes of the brahmanas for three days and get prasadam. No

one would eat at his own house. During the Durga festival giving

food and eating were the highlight and not so much music and

song. In other festivals specific arrangements for song and music

were observed.

   

 

 

Part 3

 

To the extent the Mustophi family declined to that extent

the families of Ramanadas Babu and Sambhanath Mukhopadhyaya

increased in prestige. In their homes, during the Jagadhatri

pooja, their affluence was exhibited with dance and song. They

had horses and elephants, and at their gates they kept increasing

numbers of western guards. As a man increases his material

possessions he shows off his increase. At night we would go to

their houses to hear the loud celebration of song. In the houses

of Deoyan Mukhopadhyaya and Krishna Mukhopadhyaya Babu 

I saw that that was very little fanfare.

 

In that village joy was full and thus everyone had a happy

face and was free of worry. Everyone was expert at buffoonery,

therefore many people got a name for being crazy. Many

respectable people were known by names such as Ishe Pagal [the

'Madman'], Ganga Pagal, Pesha Pagal, Sambha Pagal and so on. They

would go around [both] local and distant places and collect money

by tricky means for the public poojas.

 

At nine year of age I went to Jagat Bhattacarya in order to

study astrology. Kailash Datta also was making an effort to

practise this art. I kept notes. Whatever Bhattacarya taught us

we wrote down and memorized and tried to understand.

 

Two of three days after returning from Mollahati Kuti to Ula

my father came down with a fever. By that time my grandfather's

family had broken up and my father was the only [surviving] son.

Umacharan Kaviraj made medicine [for my father]. My grandfather

[also] gave him medicine made of eighteen ingredients, but gradually the disease worsened. After eight days there was a change for the worse. Many people came to see [him]. Many kinds of medicines were administered.

 

Nothing worked. Finally my father was brought from the inner

bedroom and sat on a chair in the Simri room [room with stairs?]

of the Pooja Bati. Haru Mama, Parasuram Mama, Mahendra Mama and

many others began to arrive. At that time it was four dandas. At

dusk, at the time of [his] coming downstairs, my father's mother

was brought from the rented house of Girish Mitra. She was crying

and crying and falling down saying, Where will Babu go?" The

entire house was filled with crying. My father stayed in the

outer building. I stayed with my father all the time. Late at

night I fell asleep. My father was brought to the bank of the

Ganges at Santipur [while I slept].

 

When I rose at dawn I could not see father. There was no one

around. At that time Lalu Chakravarti and Paramesvara Mahanti

had come from Orissa, and they had carried my father to the bank

of the Ganges. Seeing everybody crying, I also began to cry.

My honourable mother, being in anxiety, was crying, and many

people were trying to console her. By the second prahara

everybody returned. Loud sounds of crying filled the house. My

honorable grandfather closed the door.

 

Even while father was living I began to become a little

thoughtful. “What is this world? Who are we?" These two questions

were in my mind when I was ten years old. On some days I thought

I had the answers, on other days I had none. One day, in the

evening, as the moon was rising, while I was wandering about on

the roof of my father's parlour, I noticed that the moon was

moving with me. I thought this must be the same moon that we saw

in Krishnanagar, and that this small circular thing exists

everywhere in the same fashion. I previously thought that in

different places there was a different moon. But now, seeing the

moon move, I concluded that it was the same moon everywhere. Some

of the women used to say that the moon  and the sun gods were two

brothers, and would accept invitations to dinner. Their mother

would say, Bring some excellent food."The moon brought sandesa

on the tip of his finger, but the sun brought nothing at all."

Therefore, their mother gave an immortal benediction to the moon

and she pronounced the curse on the sun, saying, "You will dry up

the urine and stool of the world."

 

After a short time I came to know that these stories of the

women were complete nonsense. I would read the Ramayana,

Mahabharata, Kali Purana, Annada Mangala etc. from Bengali

manuscripts and learned much lore in this way. I would discuss

these edifying subjects with whomever I met who was a little

learned. Haladhara Misra would worship Durga, Kali and Siva etc.

I thought that Haladhara spoke to the gods. One day I asked him

about this matter and he said that sometimes he did talk to them.

I believed him and enquired of him, saying, Very well, Mr.

Misra; Vachaspati Mahasaya stays day and night in the deity

house. Is there talk between him and the Diety?" He said, "There

is." I asked Vachaspati Misra about this conversation. He said

that Haladhara Misra was lying, and that there is no talk between

man and the gods in Kali yuga.

 

Vachaspati Mahasaya was fat and learned and I had no faith in

Haldhara Misra. Some days at noon during the second prahara, when

no one was around, I would talk to the moortis at different Siva

temples that were open. There would be an echo only. I thought

that perhaps Siva was teasing me. I would touch Him and then run

away. I reasoned that if Siva was real then he would catch hold

of me, give me some pain or harass me [in some way]. Siva did

nothing and I understood that [the moorti of] Siva had no

substance within.

 

One day I went to eat gamarul fruit in the garden near my

grandfather's parlour. I heard that a ghost lived in the fruit

tree and on that day I ran away in fear of the ghost. Another day

I thought that if some remedy could be effected then I could go

and eat the fruit without fear of the ghost. In the hot weather

the gamarul fruit is very tasty. I made inquiries of many people

about how to deal with ghosts, and no one said there was no such

thing as ghosts. Being very disturbed, I asked Vachaspati

Mahashaya, who said that ghosts were a particular form of living

being. Their form is of the wind and their eyes are like the

Kuncha fruit [very small and red]. Hearing the words of

Vachaspati Mahasaya I became even more afraid of ghosts. But

where there is no gamarul, there is no eating. The mother of

Chiba was very expert in the occult. She was an exorcist for some

people and she oversaw the storage room of my grandfather.

 

Upon questioning her she informed me that there is no fear of

ghosts while one chants the name of Rama. She called for

Jayakali, and a servant appeared who said the same thing. By way

of experiment I went to the site of the Gamarul tree calling the

name of Rama over and over again, and I saw no evidence of a

ghost in any fashion. Knocking down some fruit, I ate two

quarters. I understood that the name of Rama was protection

against the ghost. At dusk I would always utter Rama Nama. When

walking about in the streets and alleys I always chanted Rama

Nama. I obtained great satisfaction in my mind and for many days

after I took this medicine against the ghost. I heard that a

ghost lived in the homa building. Uttering the name of Rama I

chased the ghost away from the pooja building. Now I would not

be afraid to go outside at dusk.

 

There was an old carpenter who made backdrops for the goddess

Jagaddhatri. I would go to him and ask him about many things. He

would give answers to all my questions. One time I asked him,

"When does the goddess enter the statue?" He said that on the day

when the eyes are made the goddess resides in the statue. So on

that day I eagerly went to see the goddess come but I did not see

her take up residence in the statue. I said [to the carpenter]

that Goloka Pal made the statue first with straw then with clay.

Thereafter one uses chalk and dye. At no time did the goddess

actually come. Then the old carpenter said that  the goddess

appears in the statue when the brahmanas chant the mantras. I

tried to see [her come] at this time but saw nothing. Returning

to the house of the old wise carpenter I asked him about all 

this. He said, “I have no faith in the worship of statues. I

think that these brahmanas are cheating. They are acquiring money

by means of social custom."

 

I had special regard for the words of this old sculptor. I

asked him to tell me about Paramesvara and he said, "Let anyone

say whatever (he may], I have confidence in no one but

Paramesvara. The gods and goddesses are imaginary. Everyday I

worship the Paramesvara." I had faith in the words of this old

man. 

 

I became even more inquisitive. There was a guard, Golama

Khan, who would watch the door of the Koshadhan [the room where

the valuables are kept]. I inquired of him and he said that God's

name was Khoda. He was One and there was none other. Khoda took

some stool [mala] from his own body and shaped it into a 'ruti'

and tossed it into the water of the seas. The upper portion of

that ruti] became the sky, the lower portion became the earth. In

this form the world was created and in the creation of Adam and

Eve man was created. We are all the decendents of Adam. Hearing

all these stories, I asked, “Please tell who Rama was." He said

that Rama and Rahim were one, and He is Khoda. I then received

confirmation on the mantra for [repelling] ghosts. Golam Khan

spoke about ghosts and said that all ghosts were sons of Satan.

They fear the name of Rahim. My thoughts on the truth of the

matter of the Holy Name of Rama were satisfied. 

 

I was meditating a good deal [on the cause of the world

etc.]. At one time I thought that this world was false and that

Isvara alone was real. And I appeared to be Isvara. Like a man

dreaming in his sleep I [only] imagined that I was suffering.

When the sleep broke I laughed at this understanding of Isvara.

Then I thought that I alone was the creator. I would frequently

forget my position and then would fall into this suffering

condition. Then I thought that I was Isvara and this was my

leela. By the force of this leela all mistakes and forgetfulness

would take form. 

 

At the old house lived the father of Uncle Parasuram, Akhil

Mushtophi. In the morning he would arise come and take a seat and

read Vedanta. Thereafter, unfastening his kacha [the back part of

the dhoti] he would recite the Kalma [a Muslim prayer] After that

he would kneel down and worship Isvara [as a Christian]. He did

not believe in the clay gods at all. Many people would say that

he was very wise and others would say that he was less than a

Christian. Once I went to him and asked him questions. He said

the Isvara alone was Purusha. The Vedas know him as Brahman, in

the Koran he is Allah and in the Bible he is God. I believed him.

He warned me not to go to Parasuram, who was an atheist. 

 

to part 4, here


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