Panihati, the festival of punishment
Panihati is the name of a village located in the state of West Bengal, on the banks of River Ganges (10 miles north of Kolkata). It was one of the leading trade centers in earlier days when the river route was the main means of communication. A special rice variety called Peneti was imported at this place from Jessore in Bangladesh. Probably the name Panihati might have been derived from this trade connection. Once upon a time, this place was the center of worship of the Buddhist Tantric and the Kapalikas. But later, in the sixteenth century, when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared to propagate the Sankirtana Movement, Panihati became a major centre of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas. The residential quarters of Sri Raghava Pandita (one of the associates of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) which still exists in Panihati.
Why is it known as The Festival of Punishment
Srila Raghunatha dasa Gosvami a personal associate of Mahaprabhu was a devotee of the highest order. He displayed a spirit of renunciation and detachment from the material world at a very early age. He wanted to leave home and join Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in His mission. But Chaitanya Mahaprabhu asked him not to do so and assured that Krishna would deliver him soon from the clutches of Maya. Two years later, Nityananda Prabhu came to Panihati and stayed there. Raghunatha dasa, who was staying in the nearby village of Srikrishnapura took permission from his father Govardhan Mazumdar and went to Panihati to meet Nityananda Prabhu.
At Panihati, he saw Nityananda Prabhu sitting on a rock under a banyan tree on the banks of the River Ganges. He was surrounded by many devotees. Raghunatha dasa was hesitant to approach the Lord and paid obeisances from a distance. But some of the devotees noticed him and informed Nityananda Prabhu. Lord Nityananda called Raghunatha dasa and said “Raghunatha dasa! You are hiding like a thief. Now I have caught hold of you. Come here. I shall punish you today.’’ Then Lord Nityananda forcibly caught him and put His lotus feet on the head of Raghunatha Dasa. He ordered Raghunatha to celebrate a big festival and serve all the devotees – with yogurt and chipped rice.
dadhi, ciḍā bhakṣaṇa karāha mora gaṇe”
śuni’ ānandita haila raghunātha mane
“Make a festival and feed all My associates yogurt and chipped rice.” Hearing this, Raghunātha dāsa was greatly pleased.
Raghunatha dasa immediately sent his men to the nearby villages to purchase all kinds of eatables. They brought chipped rice (chida), milk, yogurt, sweetmeats, bananas, sugar, and other eatables. The chipped rice was soaked in milk. Half of that was then mixed with yogurt, sugar and bananas. The remaining half was mixed with condensed milk and flavored with clarified butter and camphor. All the devotees received two earthen pots, one with chipped rice mixed with yogurt and another with chipped rice mixed with condensed milk.
The Chida-dahi Mahotsava is celebrated every year in commemoration of this wonderful pastime. This festival is also known as Danda Mahotsava (the Festival of Punishment). It is celebrated on the thirteenth day of the bright moon in the month of Jyeshta (May-June). To this day, pilgrims visit Panihati to celebrate the Chida-dahi Festival.
Nityananda Prabhu’s pastimes with Mahaprabhu in Panihati
When everyone had been served chipped rice, Lord Nityananda Prabhu brought Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu there in meditation. When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu arrived, Lord Nityananda Prabhu stood up and They saw the others enjoying the chipped rice with yogurt and condensed milk. From every pot, Lord Nityananda Prabhu took one morsel of chipped rice and jokingly pushed it into the mouth of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu too smilingly, took a morsel of food and pushed it into the mouth of Nityananda and laughed as He made Lord Nityananda eat it. In this way, Lord Nityananda walked through all the groups of eaters, and all the Vaishnavas standing there saw the fun. No one could understand what Nityananda Prabhu was doing as He walked about. Some, however, who were very fortunate, could see that Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was also present.
Then Nityananda Prabhu smiled and sat down. On His right side, He kept four pots of chipped rice that had not been made from boiled paddy. Lord Nityananda offered Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu a place and had Him sit down. Then together the two brothers began eating chipped rice. Seeing Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu eating with Him, Lord Nityananda Prabhu became very happy and exhibited varieties of ecstatic love. Lord Nityananda Prabhu ordered, “All of you eat, chanting the holy name of Hari.” Immediately the holy names “Hari, Hari” resounded, filling the entire universe. When all the Vaishnavas were chanting the holy names “Hari, Hari” and eating, they remembered how Krishna and Balarama ate with Their companions the cowherd boys on the bank of the Yamuna.
It was Raghunatha dasa’s great fortune that Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda accepted these dealings. The mercy and influence of Lord Nityananda is unfathomable. He is so powerful that He could induce Lord Chaitanya to join the festival at Panihati and eat chipped rice at the banks of the Ganga.