Ula Birnagar – The Birthplace of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura

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Sri Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who is sometimes also referred to as the seventh Goswami, is an eternal associate of the Supreme Lord. His contribution to the Brahma-Madhva Gaudiya Sampradaya is invaluable.At a time when the science of pure devotional service (Bhakti)  had almost become lost due to the cultural and religious chauvinism of the ruling British, and the essence of Vaishnavism largely discredited due to the perverted actions and lifestyles of a few non bonafide Vaishnava sects, Srila Bhaktivinoda was largely responsible for rescuing and unearthing the timeless teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. In Fact it was he who ,after conducting a painstaking research, had rediscovered the long lost birthsite of Sri Gaurasundara (refer – ‘YogPeeth, Mayapur, Navadvipa – The birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’). Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, was not only a magistrate, but also a renowned and recognised scholar in his days, with vast knowledge in english,bengali,hindi,oriya and sanskrit.He was also a member of the royal asiatic society of London. Such was the degraded state of affairs during those days, that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura could not find a bonafide copy of Sri Caitanya Caritamrta, the most important literature for understanding Lord Caitanya’s life and teachings, anywhere. It was only after several enquiries and a long wait, that he received a copy of this book. He subsequently published it along with his commentaries (Amrta-pravaha-bhasya). Likewise, he was instrumental in unearthing several ancient manuscripts like Caitanyopanishad ( portion of Atharva Veda) ,Sri Krishna Vijaya, etc. ‘The Gaudiya Treasures of Bengal’ considers itself an insignificant servant of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, whose causeless mercy has enabled us fools to get a glimpse of his elevated stature and pen a few lines in his glorification. We have dedicated a separate article covering the details of the Thakura’s later life (Remembering Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura at Svananda Sukhada Kunja & Surabhi Kunja, Navadvipa (Godrumadvipa)). In this article however, we shall mainly focus upon the birth and the early childhood of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.

Birth and Early childhood :

Sri Kedarnath Datta, who came to be subsequently known as Bhaktivinoda Thakura, was born on the 2nd of september, 1838 in this ancient village of Birnagar, situated in Ula (Nadiya District). Kedarnath was born of rich and illustrious parents, Sri Ananda Chandra Datta and Jagat Mohini Devi. In his book Datta-vamsa-mala, Srila Bhaktivinoda explains that he was born into a family who had descended from Purushottama Datta, foremost of the five renowned kayasthas who had come to the Gauda region on invitation of the king Adisura.His family lineage has also been graced by the birth of the great vaishnava acharya Sri Narottama Das Thakura, whose devotional compositions are glorified all over the three worlds.Sri Govinda-sarana Datta ,one of the cousins of Narottama Das Thakura, was once granted a huge piece of land on the bank of the Ganges, by the sultan of Delhi.This piece of land was named after him and came to be known as Govindapur.It was this land of Govindapur that was later merged with Sutanuti and kolikata, to form the modern city of Calcutta (kolkata) as we know today. Such is the great lineage of our dear thakura.

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Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura attended his first school on the lawn of his maternal grandfather’s opulent residence, here at Ula. The teacher Kartika Sarkar was very strict and used to beat the students with his cane.The place where all the students used to gather for education was otherwise utilised for performing different religious ceremonies all throughout the year. Srila Bhaktivinoda here mentions that his maternal relatives were mainly shaktas and hence they mostly worshipped Durga Devi or her other manifestations like goddess Jagaddhatri, Sitala ,etc.We have posted pictures of this lawn where Bhaktivinoda Thakura used to once attend his classes. Srila Bhaktivinoda recounts in his biography, that during festivals,there even used to be sacrifices of goats and buffaloes that took place here ,at his maternal grandfather’s house.

Subsequently he joined a bengali medium school where he studied upto class six. Srila Bhaktivinoda recounts that the teacher was just as strict and cruel as Yamaraja and the other senior students of the school were just like Yamadutas. Thereafter he joined an english medium school which had opened again at his maternal grandfather’s home, where a frenchman named Dijor Baret imparted english lessons unto his students.At the age of seven Srila Bhaktivinoda ,along with his brother, was admitted into the school run by the king of Krishnanagar, wherein the sons of all the prominent people from the neighbouring areas were invited to study. The classes were held at Krishnanagar , where they both stayed, and palanquins were arranged to carry them back to Ula on the weekends.Srila Bhaktivinoda excelled in his studies and received a class promotion and scholarship. But after the sudden demise of Kaliprasanna ,his elder brother, due to cholera, he left this school and joined another one at Ula itself. The Thakura didn’t mind this and was actually very happy to study from home.

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The Thakura was very inquisitive since his very childhood.He liked to spend his time talking to the gatekeepers, who used to recite to him stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Thakura’s maternal grandfather ,Mustaphi Mahasaya, was very rich. His grand residence housed a beautiful temple of Sri Radha krishna, a huge temple of Maa Durga (with 9 peaks), a temple of Maa Kali (with 5 peaks) and 10 separate temples of Lord Shiva. Mustaphi Mahasaya had employed 56 gatekeepers to guard the village.On certain festivals, buffalo-elephant fights were organised. The buffaloes had their horns tipped with iron. Similarly the elephants also had their tusks tipped.The elephants would win at times, and sometimes the buffaloes would win.The village was a very happy place and no one lacked anything. If anybody was in need, he would simply seek for help from Mustaphi Mahasaya.

A few years down the line, the opulences of this family gradually declined. His maternal grandfather lost all of his wealth and similar was the fate of his paternal grandfather as well. They slowly lost all their properties,money and grandeur.His maternal uncle died, and many inauspicious things started to happen.Mustaphi Mahasaya, gradually fell into debt. His elephant died and the horse was sold off.The once opulent festivals could now only survive on loans.When the Thakura was eight years old, two of his younger brothers Haridas and Gauridas passed away.That left only him and his younger sister, Hemlata.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura recounts in his biography that he had wondered since his very childhood as to ‘What is this world? Who are we?’ He had this inquisitive nature from the very beginning.He used to chant the holy names of Lord Rama continuously, when he went out at dusk, in order to drive away the ghosts. He even recalls to have chased away a ghost who used to live in a sacrificial building.When he was just 11 years old, his father left his body and Bhaktivinoda was now all alone in this world with his mother.After his father had passed away, and the fortunes of his family had drastically declined, life was not very easy for the Thakura.At the age of 12 his mother arranged his marriage with a five year old girl named Sayamani who was a resident of Ranaghat.Thereafter, on the suggestion of Kashi Prasad Ghosh,the famous bengali poet and his maternal uncle, Srila Bhaktivinoda left Ula and came over to Calcutta for his studies. Soon  an epidemic struck the town of Ula killing people in hundreds. The whole town of Ula became almost deserted owing to this epidemic and the Thakura’s sister ,Hemlata, also passed away during this time. Srila Bhaktivinoda rescued his mother and grandmother and brought them over to stay with him in Calcutta.The Thakura went through a very bad phase of financial crisis during this time.His maternal grandmother and his paternal grandfather, soon passed away. The Thakura’s mother had to frequently sell off her Gold ornaments to manage the expenses. Not much help came in from the relatives during these harsh times.

One interested to relish the subsequent events of the Thakura’s life is requested to go through our article entitled ‘Remembering Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura at Svananda Sukhada Kunja & Surabhi Kunja, Navadvipa (Godrumadvipa)’.

Ula, Birnagar Today :

Once the epidemic broke out, the residents of Birnagar deserted their homes in large numbers. Several people died and the rest fled. In due course of time, the huge palace of Mustaphi Mahasaya, the renowned zamindar of Ula and the maternal grandfather of Srila Bhaktivinoda, collapsed. It was only after several years that Sri Lalita Prasad Thakura, one of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s sons, recovered these ancient pastime places. When the team from ‘The Gaudiya Treasures of Bengal’ visited Ula, we found that the birthplace of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has now been nicely renovated. A beautiful temple has also now been constructed at the site and the deities of Sri Radha krishna, Gaura Nitai, Jagannatha Baladeva Subhadra, Nrsimhadeva are worshipped here with due diligence. We also noted that the ‘Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity Trust’ (managed by ISKCON) has donated handsomely for the construction of this temple kitchen and the preservation of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s birthplace. We are very thankful to Sri Hari Gopal Das babaji, who currently oversees this temple, for being very kind and taking us around this exalted dham.

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What to See :

  • The birthplace of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, which lies within the temple compounds. The site has now been nicely renovated and preserved.
  • The remains of the once opulent residence of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s maternal grandfather, Sri Mustaphi Mahasaya. The palace contained a beautiful temple of Sri Radha krishna, a huge temple of Maa Durga (with 9 peaks), A temple of Maa Kali (with 5 peaks) and 10 separate temples of Lord Shiva.
    Unfortunately, only a few of these remain to be seen today.
  • An ancient Ashoka tree and a Tamal Tree graces the compounds of this sacred site.
  • The devotees taking care of this dham presently , are disciples and grand disciples of Sri Lalita Prasad Thakura.

We worship the lotus feet of our spiritual master ,whose causeless mercy has empowered us ineligible fools ,to gain entrance and take up service in this transcendental abode of Birnagar. We seek shelter of this holy land, and pray that its glories remain forever imprinted in our heart.‘The Gaudiya Treasures of Bengal’ offers millions of obeisances and humbly prays to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura that we advance in our Krishna consciousness, develop attachment unto the lotus feet of Lord Gauranga and are able to serve Sri Guru & Vaishnavas, by our honest and sincere efforts. We seek his blessings and compassion , in successfully rendering this humble service of reciting the pastimes and revealing the pastime places of the Supreme Lord and His beloved associates.We shall consider ourselves greatly fortunate and our existence meaningful if Lord Gaurahari and our dear spiritual master are kindly pleased with our endeavours.

How to Reach :

One travelling from kolkata is advised to board a Krishnanagar local train from the Sealdah station. Thereafter one needs to get down at Birnagar, which arrives a few stops before the terminal station of Krishnanagar. One can avail a rickshaw from outside the Birnagar station to reach the birthplace of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. The local people usually refer to this place as ‘Bhaktivinoda Ashrama’.The journey from Kolkata should not take more than 2.5 hours.

Accommodation – One can opt to put up at any of the good hotels at Ranaghat. Ula is not very far from Ranaghat city.Alternatively, one can choose to avail the guest house facilities of Iskcon Habibpur (+91 97321 85553 / 03473-281150), which is also not very far from this place.

Nearest major airport – Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport (Kolkata)

Nearest major Railway station – Birnagar

(Please note that we neither necessarily recommend these hotels/accommodation centers mentioned above nor do we guarantee that they will provide the required facilities/services to the visiting pilgrims. We are not in any way related to the governance of these hotels/accommodation centers. The visiting pilgrim is advised to choose an accommodation as per his own discretion)

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