Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura:
The Lion Guru
During the time of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s stay on this planet the pure religion of Vaishnavism taught by the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu was essentially lost and had come to be considered of the degrading standard of simply a sex religion, or at best a cult of religious fanaticism and sentimentalism. The Thakura was very sad in his heart to see this and with a desire to present the actual teachings of Sri Caitanya, he wrote and published many books in Bengali, Sanskrit and English which conclusively presented to the world and to the people of India specifically the real teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His genuine followers. He also traveled to many parts of India preaching and giving lectures to many people whose hearts became changed by seeing his pure character and shining example. Thakura Bhaktivinoda practically single-handedly revived the pure movement of Nama-sankirtana (the congregational chanting of the holy names of God) and presented the glories of Lord Caitanya to all learned men of the world.
However, so that this preaching of Nama-sankirtana [congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord] could go on nicely even after the Thakura left this world, he prayed to Lord Caitanya to send him an assistant and a successor from the Lord’s personal staff of preachers. Answering the prayer of the Thakura, a son was born to him on February 6th, 1874 while he was serving as the government magistrate in the holy city of Jagannatha Puri in Orissa. Through various signs the Lord showed Thakura Bhaktivinoda and his good wife that this was the great soul that had been sent by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to carry on the preaching work that Bhaktivinoda Thakura had started. It was witnessed by all present that when the child came out of the womb, his umbilical cord was wrapped around him like the sacred thread worn by brahmanas. Everyone was very amazed by this sign. Six months later at the annual Jagannatha Puri Rathayatra festival, the Jagannatha cart, being pulled by hundreds of people, came to a stop in front of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s house. When all the people were trying to get the cart moving again, Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s wife took the opportunity to take the child, whose name then was Bimala Prasad, out to see Lord Jagannatha and because she was the wife of Thakura Bhaktivinoda, who was the manager of the Jagannatha temple then, everyone respected her and she was allowed on the cart for darshana of the Lord. She then placed the child at the lotus feet of the Jagannatha deity and immediately one of the huge flower garlands hanging around the neck of the Lord fell down and encircled the child. Thakura Bhaktivinoda’s heart was filled with joy, for he knew beyond all doubt that this child was the answer to his prayers.
As the boy grew, the Thakura instructed him in the science of Krishna Consciousness. At the age of only seven Bimala Prasad Datta, who was later to be known as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, had memorized all seven hundred verses of the Bhagavad-gita and could explain each one.
One day the boy took an unoffered mango from the room of the family Deity and ate it. Thakura Bhaktivinoda chastised him for it upon catching him and told him that it was not proper Vaishnava behavior to eat food that had not first been offered to the Lord. At that time Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, taking his father’s words very seriously, made a vow to Thakura Bhaktivinoda that he would never eat mango again. Through his whole life he kept this vow very faithfully. Whenever someone would offer him a mango he would say, “No, I cannot take, I am a great offender”.
At the age of ten, while attending the Serampore Missionary School, he was initiated by his father into the Hare Krishna mantra and a Narasimhadeva mantra. In school he invented a novel kind of phonetic alphabet which he called Bikranti or Bicanto. Later on he attended a special Sanskrit college where he became expert in Sanskrit grammar, Vedic shastra and different views of philosophy.
Due to his lifelong celibacy he had such a clear memory that even in his last days he could reproduce word for word any passage of any book he had read fifty years back.
At college he read all of the books in the library and made private studies into higher mathematics, international history and philosophy and Vedic astronomy. At that time he attended a cultural association in Calcutta called August Assembly and in which the study of various philosophical and theological topics was conducted. He was such a powerful debater that no one’s arguments could stand up against his vast erudition and scholarship. At the age of twenty-three in the year 1897 he opened a school in Calcutta which he called Sarasvata Chatuspathi. It was here that he began teaching Vedic astronomy. Many prominent and scholarly Calcutta gentlemen were among his students. At this time he also edited two monthly journals, the Jyotirvid and the Brhaspati and published several authoritative documents on Vedic astronomy such as the Surya-siddhanta which he had written himself. He was offered a chair at the University of Calcutta by Sir Asutosh Mukherjee, but he declined thinking that it might be too much an impediment on his devotional life. Since 1895 Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was attending the meetings of his father’s Vishva Vaishnava Raja Sabha in Calcutta. In 1899 he was editing and writing for a weekly cultural magazine, the Nivedana. In 1900 he wrote and published a book on the society and different religious sects in Bengal called Bange Sama-jikata. In 1901 Srila Bhativinoda Thakura requested his son to become initiated in the Gayatri mantra and accept a spiritual master. The Thakura had one very beloved disciple, Srila Gaurakisora dasa Babaji Maharaja, a very renowned Vaishnava saint of Navadvipa. It was therefore he who the Thakura requested his son to take initiation from. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura then approached the babaji for getting initiated, but Gaurakisora dasa Babaji, who hadn’t any disciples, out of his infinite humbleness refused to accept such an erudite pandita as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, when he himself could not even write his own name. So, disappointed, Sarasvati Thakura went back to his father and related to him what had happened, but Thakura Bhaktivinoda sent him out again, and again Srila Bhaktisiddhanta came back with the same news. So this time the Thakura told his son, “Unless you take initiation from Gaurakishora dasa Babaji your life is useless and no longer may you enter this house”. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati then set off with great determination, and meeting Srila Gaurakishora dasa Babaji on a bridge along the road told him that he would jump off the bridge and kill himself if the babaji did not accept him as a disciple. He said to him, “My father has told me that human life is worthless without a spiritual master, so if you refuse to accept me as your disciple I must kill myself”. Upon hearing that and seeing the young man’s sincerity of purpose, the babaji accepted him as his only disciple.
From that year, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta traveled with Thakura Bhaktivinoda in his pilgrimages to all the principle holy places in India. During this time he compiled a Vaishnava encyclopedia named Vaisnava-manjusha. In 1900 he was staying in Puri where he began to publicly preach the holy precepts of Srimad-Bhagavatam. In 1904 Srila Sarasvati Thakura traveled in East Bengal. In 1905 he travailed to the far southern provinces of India, lecturing, preaching, writing, debating, fully absorbed in the fire of propagating the message of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. In the South he traveled to places such as Simachalam, Madras, Tirupati, Kanchipura and many other places of pilgrimage. His strong preaching gave him such a reputation that his very name would strike terror into the hearts of his philosophical adversaries. The perverted and immoral so-called religious activities of different nonsense cults and sects were doomed forever in the presence of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.
In 1911 at an All-India Conference of Panditas at Midnapore, presided over by Pandita Vishvambharanandadeva Gosvami, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, taking the place of Thakura Bhaktivinoda who was ill at the time, lectured to an astounded audience on the comparative position of a brahmana and a Vaishnava. After the discourse all the people came forward to offer him respect and touch his lotus feet. The president of the conference called him the other self of Sri Sukadeva Gosvami. The lecture was subsequently published as a book in Bengali.
In 1912 Srila Bhaktisiddhanta traveled and preached in different parts of Bengal. In 1913 he established the Bhagavat Press in South Calcutta which was later moved to Mayapur and then to Krishnanagar, where he began to publish his many carefully edited books. Altogether he published, edited and wrote about sixty-one works as well as eight different journals. Once when he was asked how it was possible to publish a journal every month just about God, he replied that here in this world there are thousands of newspapers and magazines reporting the stale repetitious happenings of this limited space, so for reporting the news of the unlimited spiritual realm concerning the eternal, ever-fresh Supreme Personality of Godhead, we could publish a magazine at every second, what to speak of monthly.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada made special studies of the Vaishnava literature of south India and was the first to introduce Bengali translations of the works of the Madhvacharya Sampradaya to the public in Bengal. In his teachings he has dealt with the relative positions of different Vaishnava and non-Vaishnava schools of philosophy and he has brought out the difference between empiric and revealed methods of spiritual understanding. He always stressed the importance of publishing and distributing Vaishnava literature as a means of educating the mass of ignorant humanity and in order to facilitate the printing of books and journals he established four printing presses: the Gaudiya Printing Works in Calcutta (1923), the Nadiya Prakash Printing Works at Mayapura (1928), the Bhagavat Press in Krishnagar (1914-15), and the Paramarthi Printing Works at Cuttack (1936). He called these presses the big mridungas (clay drums used for large congregational singing groups) because the sound that they would produce would be heard all over India.
In 1914 on the disappearance of Thakura Bhaktivinoda from this mortal world, the task to carry on the movement of Sri Caitanya now lay in the hands of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada. He took over as the editor of his father’s journal, the Sajjanatoshani, a monthly Vaishnava paper in Bengali. Later on in 1927 he converted it into an English fortnightly called the Harmonist.
In 1918 at the age of fourty-four, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati accepted the title Gosvami Maharaja by taking the renounced order of life, sannyasa. On that same day he established his first Vaishnava monastery, the Caitanya Math at Sridhama Mayapura which became his preaching headquarters. Later that year one important figure in a popular religious organization met Srila Bhaktisiddhanta SarasvatI Thakura and was so impressed by his power of purity that he immediately begged to become a disciple. He would arrange for Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s transportation between Mayapura and Calcutta and he rented him a small house for him in Calcutta for expanding the preaching of Sri Caitanya’s teachings. The house became known as “Bhaktivinoda Agana” and was later known as Sri Gaudiya Math when it was later moved to a large marble building in the Baghbazaar of North Calcutta in 1930. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura then in quick succession after that spread his Gaudiya Mission to every part of India attracting thousands of disciples to the banners of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. At the time of his passing from this world he had opened sixty-four Gaudiya Maths for the propagation of spiritual life and Bhagavata philosophy. In all these maths he established the worship of the archa-vigraha (Deity) form of the Lord so that his disciples wouldn’t become impersonalists. This deity worship was executed according to the principles of Sanatana Gosvami’s book of Vaisnava activities, Sri-hari-bhakti-vilasa.
One time a very important gentleman approached Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada and said that your Gaudiya Math is so nice you should open up temples in all cities of the world, and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta replied, “My real business is to establish temples in everyone’s heart”.
He was such a powerful and bold preacher that he became known as the lion guru. Sometimes on walks in the early morning he would come across some big Mayavadi (impersonalist) sannyasi and he would physically grab him and shake him while verbally chastising him. Thereafter whenever any Mayavadi’s saw him coming, they would flee in fear of him. One time a big impersonalist Vedanta society in Calcutta invited him to a debate, on the condition that he could not use Srimad-Bhagavatam as scriptural evidence and so he agreed to come to the debate. Then after a short time they called him again and said he could not speak on Mahabharata, Ramayana, or any of the Puranas or Pancharattnas. He also agreed to come on those conditions. Then they called him and said that he could not use as evidence any of the Vedas, Upanisads or smriti texts, but could speak only from the Vedanta-Sutras. And so he agreed to that also. Then they called him up and said that he could not come at all.
From the years 1919-1929 he was constantly traveling all over India lecturing to crowds of thousands, debating, destroying various bogus religious sects and performing parikrama (walks to the holy places) with his disciples to different sacred sites, seeking to improve and preserve them. During these travels he installed footprints of Lord Caitanya in one hundred and eight places where the Lord had traveled during His sannyasa life. At those spots he also recorded the date when Sri Caitanya had been there.
In 1919 he completed his preaching tour over North and East Bengal and in 1920 he toured more extensively in East Bengal. In 1920 he also toured the provinces of Bihar, Orissa and the Sonthal Parganas establishing temples in some of these places, and in 1922 he visited Vrindavana, the place of Lord Krishna’s pastimes. On this Braja Mandal Parikrama he went with hundreds of disciples and gave lectures at all the major temples and places of the Lord’s pastimes. In the year 1925 His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, along with a large group or disciples went on an extensive tour of Bengal. On this Gauda Mandala Parikram Srila Bhaktisiddhanta visited all the holy places connected with the pastimes of Sri Caitanya. In the early part of 1926 he toured in some places in Assam. His tours during the years 1926-1928 marked a very important place in the Gaudiya movement of Sri Caitanya and in the history of India as well. He brought about changes and improvements in various ways in all the sacred places as well as brought about a new spiritual insight in the minds and lives of many followers of different religious sects, and brought them all under the banners of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhn’s sankirtana movement. Wherever Srla Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura would go he was received as a savior, religious reviver and prophet by all who came in contact with him. In most states he was received as an honored state guest and in many places was presented with public addresses of reception.
From 1928-1929 he again traveled to places from Assam to Punjab. During these tours he gathered a large number of authentic manuscripts of ancient Vaishnava writings which he started publishing, but left unfinished.
All these tours were highly successful, but were not without their problems. Because many of Srila Sarasvati Thakura’s disciples, although initiated as brahmanas and sannyasis, were not born in brahmana families, along the way while traveling, the so-called brahmana shopkeepers would close their shops and refuse to sell provisions to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and his disciples. Srila Sarasvati Thakura would always preach very strongly against the nonsense philosophy of these proud and arrogant caste brahmanas. He always emphasized the needlessness of material qualifications to receive spiritual life. Anyone, regardless of caste, sex, nationality, past background, etc., who was sincere to have spiritual life, he would give it to them.
These caste brahmanas were very much in an uproar about his turning those not born in brahmana families into brahmanas better than them. The Nityananda-vamsas especially plotted to assassinate him and went to the local police magistrate to bribe him so he wouldn’t apprehend them after the murder. The police magistrate told them that although he usually accepts bribes, he could not be connected with the killing of a Sadhu, a holy man. The police magistrate then immediately informed Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and in this way Srila Saraavati Thakura’s life was saved.
In 1930 and 1931 a new kind of spiritual education was exhibited for the benefit of the public and especially the illiterate masses. Srila Bhaktisiddanta Sarasvati Prabhupada demonstrated the import and teachings of the Vedic literature by means of huge exhibitions in which pictorial representations by means of dioramas and dolls in life-like manner were employed. These wonderful exhibitions attracted thousands of people. One was on the property of the Calcutta Gaudiya Math in 1930 and in 1931 on the Calcutta corporation grounds. The exhibitions would draw at least one hundred thousand visitors daily during a month time period.
In 1933, eager to spread Lord Caitanya’s message beyond the borders of India, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Thakura sent some of his sannyasa disciples to England to preach and open up Gaudiya Maths in the West, but not being able to convince the Westerners to take up spiritual life, they returned to India unsuccessful. Fortunately for the benefit of all people of the world, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhuipada’s most beloved disciple, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada carried out his Guru Maharaja’s order and has spread Lord Caitanya’s Nama-sankirtana movement to every corner of the globe, and is now being assisted by thousands of disciples in this preaching work.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada has so glad to reveal the transcendental glories of Lord Krishna that whenever he found an eager listener he would go on speaking, not knowing the bounds of time and space. Disregarding the requests of his medical advisors, up to the last moment be continued to deliver the message of the Supreme Lord to all people. This was the only purpose of his divine appearance in this world. He did not appear here by being forced by the laws of nature as an ordinary living being appears. He worked until the last moment of his life without any reservation, disregarding physical pleasure, comfort or relief to himself. His whole life was absorbed in a mood of loving devotion to the Lord. He was fully devoted to the propagation of the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The noble example of his life and conduct, his powerful speeches and numerous publications are evidence to this fact.
In 1936 he was residing in Jagannatha Puri and on December 31st, 1936 at the age of sixty-two he left this mortal world and again re-entered the loving pastimes of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna in the sweetness of Braja Dham, the spiritual atmosphere.
Other articles in connection with this one that you may find interesting are:
You can also view a great video on Srila Bhaktisiddhanta called "The Universal Teacher" through the following link:
[This article and more information at www.stephen-knapp.com]
[Back to the "Articles" page]