Saraswati Thakur’s Preaching Mission in Bangladesh
By Khonika Gope-Kumar[Translated and abridged from the Bengali Book “Gauda Mandal Parikrama: The Holy Tirthas in Bangladesh” by Patita Uddharan Das Brahmacari. Publisher: Hare Krishna Publications, ISKCON Swamibag]
A lot of Bengali devotees lament that even though A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada instructed a number of his senior disciples to preach in Bangladesh, he personally never visited Bangladesh. However, devotees would be happy to know that Prabhupada’s Guru, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur visited Bangladesh/East Bengal several times. His preaching pastimes in Bangladesh will be described herein.
Born on February 6, 1874, in the holy Jagannath Puri as the son of Srila Bhakti Vinod Thakur, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur was a brilliant personality since his childhood. He took Sannyasa in 1918 and revived a lot of forgotten holy Tirthas in Bangladesh thus reinvigorating the Bhakti movement there.
In the summer of 1918 (Bengali year 1325, the first week of the month Jaishtha), a Vaishnava assembly was organized in the residence of Banamali Podder in Doulatpur, Khulna. That was the first time when Bhakti Siddhatana Saraswati Thakur visited Bangladesh. No doubt, this was a very important event for the Vaishnavas of Bengal. During his stay, he did harinam Sankirtan day and night. He used to start his Harinam Sankirtan early in the morning and did not-stop Hari Katha till midnight. Assembled devotees were emerged in the Harinam forgetting their material thoughts – as if they had gone to a transcendental world. This impact was long-lasting. By hearing the transcendental glories of the Lord from an exalted devotee, a lot of people went through a complete transformation in their lives and commoners were astonished by the transformation. During his first visit to Bangladesh, Srila Prabhupada gave discourses particularly from Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya Caritamrita. He also explained from Sri Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu and Sri Rupa Siksha and Sri Sanatana Sikhsha from Sri Caitanya Caritamrita. He stayed in Khulna for 10 days from 4 Jaishtha till 13 Jaishtha.
Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Thakur arrived in Bangladesh for the second time in December 1918 (Bengali year 1325, early Poush). This time he brought 10-12 of his disciples to preach in different parts of Bengal. At first, he visited the home of the renowned lawyer of Jessore, Radhika Caran Dutta Bahadur. In every house of Jessore, the devotees did Harinam Sankirtan and preached the glories of Vaishnava philosophy. Mr. Roy Bahadur also invited devotees from different parts of the country to his house. A Vaishnava assembly was conducted under the leadership of Srila Saraswati Thakur. As a result, sincere devotees got an opportunity to ask various questions and get direction in their devotional life. One day he discussed the glories and teachings of Srila Haridas Thakur. The entire Jessore was then flooded with Harinam Sankirtan. Not only that, he preached the principles and teachings of Haridas Thakur through his own personal behavior.
During June 8 – 15, 1919, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur preached in different places in Jessore and Khulna. During the visit, he did Kirtan, gave discourses, conducted question and answer sessions, did Nagar Sankirtan etc. At first, he visited Jessore. There he gave a discourse on “Varnasram Dharma & Dikhsha Tattva” in a special seminar in a Vaishnava assembly. A lot of erudite and aristocratic gentlemen attended the seminar and highly appreciated his teachings. On June 10, along with his associates, he visited the prapannasrama in Doulatpur and encouraged the general population to take up the Yuga Dharma – Harinam Sankirtan. Next two days, there was Harinam Kirtan in Lohagara. There in his lecture in a Vaishnava assembly, by providing evidence from different scriptures and making logical inferences, he proved the point that, “Vaishnava Dharma is the only eternal dharma for the living entities”. In another public program, he gave a profound discourse on “the welfare of the living entities”. He came to Naldi via Vinod Nagar on June 12. There he presided over a Vaishnava assembly and lectured elaborately on the difference among Karmis, Jnanis, and Bhaktas. The next two days he stayed in the village called Chanchuri Purulia in Jessore. By accepting one cent and four lemons as a donation from an extremely poor local woman, Srila Prabhupada exhibited how an ideal Sannyasi should behave. On June 15, a huge Nagar Sankirtan was arranged keeping him on the forefront. In a Vaishnava assembly organized there, he gave a heart-touching lecture on the “common misunderstandings regarding Vedanta philosophy and the degeneration of Varnasram Dharma”. Next day, i.e. on June 16, 1919 (Bengali Ashad 1, 1326), he returned to Kolkata after the Harinam Sankirtan in the Prapannasrama in Doulatpur.
On October 4, 1919, on the appearance day of Madvacarya, the incarnation of Hanuman, Bhima, or Vayu, in other words, on the day of Vijaya Dasami, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur started for North and East Bengal for preaching activities. He reached Kushtia from Darshana rail station via Damurhuda of Chuyadanga.
On October 7, 1919, he arrived at Pabna. At 5 pm in the afternoon in the Gauranga temple of Dr. Vihari Lal Saha, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur gave a lecture on Rupa Goswami’s Nectar of Devotion and Daivi Varnasrama Dharma. Then on October 9, on the day of Lakshmi Purnima, he gave a lecture on Holy Name and Shikshastakam in the house of Anatha Bandhu Adhikari of Satberia. The next day, i.e. on Friday he reached Sagarkandi by boat. On Monday, October 13, he stayed at Belgachi in Faridpur district. On October 16, he reached Louhajang, Domshar. He stayed for three days there. On October 19, he attended a very large Vaishnava gathering and participated in the discussion on “Sanatana Dharma” in the Sri Gopinath Jeu temple in Tanbazar, Narayanganj.
On October 21 (Bengali Kartik 4, 1326), Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur came to Dhaka for the first time. He stayed at the house of Mr. Rasbihari Saha in Faridabad. He met with famous professor Satish Chandra Sarker of Jagannath College, Sub Judge Kailash Chandra Sen, Post Master Akshay Bhushan Gangopadhay among other dignitaries. Next day, he visited Sri Vihari Lal Jeu temple in Farashganj. On October 24, he joined the Annakuta festival in the village of Abirpada near Shirajdikhan. He left for Kolkata from that place.
He again visited the house of Sri Radhika Charan Dutta Bahadur in Jessore on December 28. He started for Kotachandpur the next day. He gave a discourse on “the teachings of Lord Chaitanya” at the house of Khudiram Mitra in the evening. He reached the Sripat of Sri Sundarananda Thakur, a close associate of Lord Nityananda in Maheshpur on December 30 in the morning and delivered a lecture on “Pure devotion and Ujjwal Rasa”.
On Thursday, April 1, 1920, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur arrived at the house of Mukunda Dutta Das in the Harinarayan village, 9 miles away from Kushtia. The next day, he attended the Vaishnava assembly in Shivpur village. He again visited Khulna on May 22. He returned to Kolkata on May 29 after preaching in Baramganj, Lohagara. The same year, on November 1, he visited the holy place of Narottam Das Thakur in Kheturi.
On the earnest request of Nilkanta Mishra, the manager (shompadok) of “Sri Shyamsundar Hari Sabha”, Srila Prabhupada came to the village named Ashikati near Chandpur on February 10, 1921. He arrived at Goyalanda by train from Kolkata, then went to Chandpur Sahatoli by steamer boat. From Sahatoli, he was brought to Ashikati by palanquin accompanied by a large Sankirtan procession.
On February 21, 1921, he took a steamer boat from Chandpur and reached Narayanganj. From Narayanganj, he took a train to visit Dhaka for the second time. He stayed in the house of Lalmohan Saha Sankhanidhi. It is to be mentioned that Mr. Sankhanidhi was the 10th in the disciplic succession of Bangabati Chaitanya Das, a branch of Gadhadhar Pandit. A huge crowd gathered in the lecture that day. An article was published on February 23 in the “Daily Herald” covering the event. The same day, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur delivered a three-hour long lecture on “Bhagvat Dharma” in the house of Hrishikesh Das. After the lecture, Professor Ramesh Chandra Chatustirtha of Shakti Aushadhalay excitedly commented, “We didn’t know that such convincing arguments exist in Vaishanava Philosophy and such a profound Acarya like Srila Saraswati Thakur exists among the Vaishnavas.” Srila Prabhupada gave a lecture in the Bar (Law) Library on February 24. He started from Dhaka on February 26 early morning and reached Krishnanagar Bhagavad press the next day.
He visited Dhaka on October 9, 1921, for the third time. This is the longest period that he stayed in Bangladesh. He stayed in an empty mess in 8 Kather Pool Lane. He rented another place in 90 Nababpur Road for 65 takas per month. on October 21, 1921 (Bengali Kartik 14, 1328 or Gaurabda Damodar 15, 435), on the day of Govardhan puja and Annakuta festival, the deity of Gaur Sundar was installed and Gaudiya math was established in that three-storeyed building. The festival was so gorgeous and such a huge crowd gathered that everyone said anonymously, “Today the lost Vrindavan has again manifested in Dhaka.” He lectured on the “Janmadasya” sloka of Srimad Bhagavatam (SB 1.1.1) in thirty different ways during the entire Damodar month in the Jhulan bari in Kather Pool.
He reached Mymensingh by train on November 23 at 4 pm. In the evening, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur recited the chapter called “Bhikshu Geeti” from Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 11 (SB 11.23) at Saci Kanta Ghosh’s house, known as “Bada Basa” (big house) located in the city center. He was supposed to start for Mayapur the next day. However, at the special request of Mr. Ghosh, he stayed back for a few more days. The next day, he did a Nagar Sankirtan in the town and took the darshan of the holy river Brahmaputra. That night, a Bhagavatam class was arranged in the “Durga Bari”. Present in the class was Professor Jatindra Mohan Ghosh M.A., B.L. of Ananda Mohan College along with his other prominent colleagues. So many people joined the class that the temple ran out of space and a lot of people had to stand on the road. At the request of the devotees present there, he stayed a couple more days and left for Krishna Nagar on November 26.
On September 29, 1922, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur came to Dhaka for the fourth time to join the annual festival of Madva Gaudiya Matha. He stayed in the Matha for two weeks. It was a very joyous and enthusiastic time for the devotees of Bengal. Because not only Dhaka but also adjoining cities and villages were buzzing with Hari Katha and Harinam. A lot of reputed and educated gentlemen got the opportunity to listen to the nectarine Holy name from his holy mouth.
However, the professional godmen and smarta Brahmanas were not very happy at the prospect of losing their business. They were actively planning some abominable acts on him. On November 14, 1922, when some miscreants were about to attack the preachers in a Vaishnava assembly, many surprised audiences commented, “Today we saw another act of Jagai Madhai attacking Nityananda Prabhu. The monks of Madva Gaudiya Matha are true servants of Nityananda Prabhu and Haridas Thakur. Otherwise, such tolerance is impossible in anyone.” Despite all these attacks, blasphemies and obstacles, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur kept preaching the holy name very diligently. Unlike the professional godmen, he never aspired for wealth, name, fame or glories. His only focus was to encourage more and more people to chant the holy name. The result of his dedicated work is still visible in Bengal.
At the end of February 1923, following his instructions, a group of devotees preached very enthusiastically at different parts of Dhaka, Vikrampur, Narayanganj, Madanganj, Louhajang etc. In the early May of 1923, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur sent some of his strongest preachers including Srimad Tirtha Maharaj to preach in Jessore. At that time, in the town hall of Jessore and other important places, a torrent of Harikatha flowed.
During the Durga Puja season of 1924, Srila Saraswati Thakur visited Banaripada village in Barishal. To encourage the villagers in pure devotional service, he gave Srimad Bhagavatam classes and did Nagar Sankirtan for six straight days thus submerging everyone in Hari Kirtan.
On Monday, October 6, 1924, he arrived at Madva Gaudiya Matha in Dhaka with 15 disciples. This was his fifth visit to Dhaka. The priests of the Matha and many dignitaries brought him from Dhaka station to the Matha with a huge procession and Nagar Sankirtan. The same day, he gave a public discourse on the appearance of Madvacarya. The next day, during the annual festival of Madva Gaudiya Matha, he discussed the real objective of Gaudiya Matha. The same day in the morning, he did a large Nagar Sankirtan surrounded by hundreds of devotees and personally carried a flag, the way Nityananda Prabhu carried the victory flag of Sriman Mahaprabhu. He gave discourses on various topics during the next four days. He reached Kolkata Gaudiya Matha on October 12.
On January 29, 1925, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur started the Gaura Mandal Parikrama for the first time. On the 20th day of the parikrama, he came to Kheturi Dham (Narrotam Das Thakur’s Lila Sthal). From there the procession reached Jhikargacha in Jessore on February 21 after visiting several other pilgrimage sites in Ramkeli and Maldaha. The same day he started for Bodhakhana, the Sripat of Kanu Thakur. The priest (Sevayet) Satish Chandra Goswami welcomed him with a beautiful congratulatory letter. On the 26th day of the parikrama, on February 26, he visited the birth place of Sri Sundarananda Thakur.
From December 31 to January 30, 1933, for one month, he stayed in Dhaka and preached to many educated and elite gentlemen. On January 6, in Purana Paltan, he inaugurated an unprecedented and innovative educational exhibition and delivered “the speech of the exhibitor”. This exhibition brought a revolution in the minds of the educated elites and common people alike.
On March 5, 1934, he, along with a number of devotees, arrived at the birth place of Srila Bhakti Vilasa Tirtha Maharaja in Chanchuri-Purulia in Jessore. He organized a five-day long Hari Katha Kirtan festival there.
On April 8, 1935, he laid the foundation stones for the new proposed Madva Gaudiya Matha in Narinda (the current temple location). On April 12, he installed Sri Vinod Vallabha deity in Jagannath Gaudiya Matha and preached in the nearby areas till April 15. He also established Sri Gopalji Matha in Kamalapur, Dhaka.
On June 9, 1936, he arrived at Baliati village in Manikganj by motorboat (launch) from Dhaka. The next day, the installed Sri Radha Govinda deity in the Gadai-Gauranda Matha. On June 27, he gave a discourse in front of an elite audience in Dhaka and organized an initiation ceremony. On July 24, when he reached Bogra, a pompous welcome was given to him by the local devotees. In his discourse in Bogra, he highlighted the importance of preaching the teachings of Lord Chaitanya in North Bengal, a place specially blessed by Narottam Das Thakur.
The tireless preacher winded up his material pastimes of 62 years and 10 months on January 1, 1937 (Bengali Poush 16, 1343 and Gaurabda Narayan 3, 450) at 5.30 am in the Bagbazar Gaudiya Matha in Kolkata. The marvelous examples of preaching that he set had been unprecedented in the history. This brief outline of his preaching mission in East Bengal is a solid example of his dedicated and systematic preaching activities. Following his footsteps, ISKCON, established by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, is trying to preach the Bhagavata Dharma in every town and village in Bangladesh.