Gangamata Math is situated to the south of the Jagannath temple on the bank of the Sweta Ganga tank in Jagannath Puri. This was previously the residence of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya. The initial encounter between Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has been described by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in the sixth chapter of ‘Amrita Pravaha bhasya’.
The deliverance of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya
On entering the temple of Jagannatha, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu immediately fainted. Seeing this, Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya took Him to his residence. Meanwhile, Gopinath Acarya, brother-in-law of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, met Mukunda Datta and spoke to him about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s sannyasa and His journey from Bengal to Jagannatha Puri. After listening about Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s fainting and Him being carried to the house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, people swarmed to catch a glimpse of the Lord. Nityananda Prabhu and other devotees visited the Jagannatha temple, and when they returned to the house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had regained His external consciousness. Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya welcomed everyone and distributed Jagannath Maha-prasadam with great care. The Bhattacharya then became acquainted with Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and arranged for His accommodations at his aunt’s house. His brother-in-law, Gopinath Acarya, proved that Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was Krishna Himself, but Sarvabhauma and his many disciples could not accept this. However, Gopinath Acarya convinced Sarvabhauma that no one can understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead without being favored by Him. Gopinath established through scriptural references that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was none other than Krishna. Yet, Sarvabhauma did not take these words very seriously.
When Sarvabhauma met Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, he asked Him to learn the philosophy of Vedanta from him. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu accepted this proposal, and for seven days He constantly heard Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya explain Vedanta-sutra. However, the Lord remained very silent. Because of His silence, the Bhattacharya eventually questioned Sri Chaitanya whether He was understanding anything at all. Lord Chaitanya replied, “Sir, I can understand Vedanta philosophy very clearly, but I cannot understand your purports”. Sarvabhauma was enraged to hear this and challenged Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to put forth His explanations to the verses. There was then a dialogue between the two concerning Vedic scriptures, specifically the Upanishads and Vedanta-sutra. The Bhattacharya was an impersonalist, but Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu proved beyond doubt that the Absolute Truth is Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He proved that the conceptions of the Mayavadi philosophers concerning the impersonal Absolute Truth are incorrect.
The Absolute Truth is neither impersonal nor without power. The greatest blunder made by the Mayavadi philosophers is in conceiving the Absolute Truth to be impersonal and without energies. In all the Vedas, the unlimited energies of the Supreme Absolute Truth have been established. It is also acknowledged that the Absolute Truth has His transcendental, blissful, eternal form. According to the Vedas, the Lord and the living entity are equal in quality but different quantitatively. The Supreme Lord is infinite whereas the living entity is infinitesimal. The real philosophy of the Absolute Truth states that the Lord and His creation are inconceivably and simultaneously one and different (achintya bheda bheda tattva). The conclusion is that the Mayavadi philosophers are actually atheists. There was much back-and-forth dialogue on this issue between Sarvabhauma and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, but despite all his efforts, the Bhattacharya was defeated in the end.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu then explained the ‘atmarama’ verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam in eighteen different ways. Sarvabhauma could gradually perceive that Lord Chaitanya was none other than the Supreme Lord. When the Bhattacharya came to his senses, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu disclosed to him His real identity revealing to him His sad-bhuja form (six handed form). The Bhattacharya then recited one hundred verses glorifying Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and offered his obeisances. After this, Gopinath Acarya and all the others, having witnessed the wonderful potencies of Lord Chaitanya and the transformations of Sarvabhauma, became very joyful.
Gangamata Goswamini & house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya :
Puthia is an Upazila of the Rajshahi District of Bangladesh. Located 23 km to the east of Rajshahi city, Puthia has the largest number of historic Hindu temples in the country. The temples were constructed by the erstwhile zamindars (landlords) of Puthia who were then-rulers of the land. Pitambara, the first landlord of the Puthia royal family, was a contemporary of Akbar. Mughal emperor Jahangir later awarded the title of ‘King’ to the rulers of Puthia. The royal family of Puthia has been later blessed with the appearance of a great devotee in their lineage. Saci Devi, who subsequently came to be known as Gangamata Goswamini, appeared in the year 1601 AD. She was the only child of King Naresh Narayana.
From her very childhood, Saci devi exhibited symptoms of intense devotion. She remained immersed in the service of her beloved Madana Gopala. She was indifferent to the affairs of the material world. In a very short period of time, she gained mastery over grammar, poetry, and different subjects. Noticing Saci devi’s indifferent mood, King Naresh Narayana soon decided to arrange for her marriage. However, Saci devi protested that she would not want to spend the rest of her life with a person who was destined to suffer disease and death. In other words, she did not want to get married to any human being. Her heart was stolen away by her beloved Lord Krishna.
After King Naresh Narayana and his wife passed away, Saci devi abandoned her royal palace and set out on an extensive pilgrimage. She spent some time at Jagannatha Puri. Thereafter she visited Vrindavana, where she found the ultimate treasure of her life.
Gangamata’s initiation at Vrindavan :
At Vrindavana, Saci devi received the association of Haridasa Pandita (not to be confused with namacharya Haridasa Thakura), who was one of the most prominent servants of Radha Govinda Dev jiu. Haridasa Pandita was a disciple of Sri Ananta Acharya, a close associate of Mahaprabhu. Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami has mentioned in Caitanya Caritamrta that it was Haridasa Pandita who had inspired him to compose Caitanya Caritamrta, a biography that would also contain the details of Mahaprabhu’s later pastimes in Puri (Tenho ati kripa kari ajna dila more, Gaurangera sesh leela barnibar tore). Sri Haridasa Pandita was very fond of Lord Caitanya’s pastimes and he used to recite Sri Caitanya Bhagavata every day in the assembly of the Vaishnavas.
Initially, Haridasa Pandita tested Saci devi saying that it would not be possible for a princess like her to observe the strict vows and lead the life of renunciation that is required for practicing bhakti. But Saci devi did not relent. Haridasa Pandita tested her again by instructing her to practice madhukari (begging food from door to door) in Vrindavana. Saci devi began begging from door to door and slowly became absorbed in the mood of serving Vrajendra-Nandana. The residents of Vrindavana could find spiritual effulgence within Saci devi and could understand that she was not very ordinary. She began spending her days doing madhukari, regularly taking bath in the Yamuna, circumambulating the holy temples, hearing Bhagavatam, etc. Being very pleased with Saci devi, Haridasa Pandita initiated her in the Shukla trayodashi tithi of Chaitra (March- April), in the temple of Radha Govinda dev jiu. She used to chant three lakh holy names a day and used to serve her spiritual master dutifully.
Gangamata starts residing at the house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya :
After a few years, Sri Haridasa Pandita instructed Saci devi to return to Jagannatha Puri and preach the message of Gauranga and Nityananda extensively. He also instructed her to protect and revive the house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, which was lying in ruins by then. It was in the house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya that Lord Caitanya had provided 18 explanations of the atmarama verse. It was in his house that Lord Caitanya had bestowed darsana of His sadbhuja form (six handed form) to Sri Sarvabhauma. Thus Sri Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s house is hence a very significant pastime place of Lord Caitanya and is one of the most worshipable for the Gaudiya Vaishnavas.
When Saci devi arrived at Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s house, she found nothing except an old broken temple housing the worshipable Radha-Damodara sila of Sri Sarvabhauma. Saci devi began reciting Srimad Bhagavatam every day. Such were the glories of her recitations that her name soon spread far and wide. Eventually, even the king of Puri, Sri Mukunda Deva, began regularly attending her Bhagavatam classes. Lord Jagannatha appeared in the king’s dream one night and instructed him to hand over the land where Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s house once existed, to Saci devi. The King made the necessary arrangements and approached Saci devi, the very next day. Remembering Gurudeva’s instructions, Saci devi happily accepted the piece of land as a donation.
How Saci devi became renowned as Gangamata Goswamini :
Once on a Madhu-Krishna Trayodashi tithi, seeing everyone leave Puri to bathe in the holy Ganges, Saci devi developed a keen desire to bathe in the Ganges as well. As Ganga does not flow through Orissa, people had to come over to Bengal in order to take their baths. However, Saci devi could not leave Puri as her spiritual master had instructed her to stay and serve in the holy dham. That night Lord Jagannatha appeared in her dream and instructed her to bathe in the nearby water body (It has since come to be known as Sweta-Ganga). Lord Jagannatha informed her that mother Ganga, desiring to associate with Saci devi and to enable her to fulfill her desire of taking the holy dip, had herself arrived in that water body (Sweta-Ganga).
As soon as she received this news, Saci devi immediately arrived and took her bath in that water. It was the middle of the night. Goddess Ganga appeared in person to welcome Saci devi. Her waves washed Saci devi and floated her away. Most miraculously, the waves washed her away and brought her right inside the Jagannatha temple at Puri.
Over there she saw how the eternal residents of Sri-kshetra were bathing together along with Lord Jagannatha. The loud joyful cries of the devotees created a tumultuous sound which awoke the guards of the temple. They, in turn, sent a message to summon the temple priests. On the instructions of the priests, the temple gates were then opened at night and there they saw Saci devi standing alone (the blissful bathing sight was not visible to the general populace).
Thinking that Saci devi might have broken into the temple at night, to steal the Lord’s property, the guards arrested her and she was sent to prison. But Lord Jagannatha could not tolerate such mistreatment of His dear devotee. Hence the temple priests soon began suffering from different diseases and misfortunes. Lord Jagannatha appeared in the king’s dream one night and revealed to him the exalted position of Saci devi. The Lord ordered the king to atonce free her and beg forgiveness at her lotus feet. King Mukunda Deva immediately set Saci devi free and he, along with the temple priests, begged forgiveness and accepted initiation from her. From that day onwards, Saci devi came to be known as Gangamata Goswamini.
The King wanted to give Guru-Dakshina to his Guru-Mata, but Gangamata did not want to accept anything. Finally, on the insistence of the king, she agreed to accept two pots of Jagannatha Mahaprasada, sabji, two offered garments and a trivial amount of around 160 paise (100 paise = 1 INR) as her Guru Dakshina. This practice has continued till this day and even today Jagannatha Mahaprasadam is brought and offered unto the samadhi of Gangamata Goswamini at Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s house. Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s house has since come to be known as Gangamata math.
What to See :
The place has been recently renovated. One can find beautiful deities of Lord Chaitanya and Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya conversing with each other. The temple hall is replete with pastimes of Lord Jagannath and Sri Chaitanya. One of the carvings exhibit Lord Chaitanya manifesting His sad-bhuja (six handed) form.
How to Reach :
Gangamata Math is situated to the south of the Jagannath temple on the bank of the Sweta Ganga tank in Jagannath Puri. It is hardly a 10 minutes walk from the Jagannath Puri temple. The place is quite renowned and one can avail cabs to reach here directly.
Accommodation – One can choose to stay in any of the prominent hotels of Jagannath Puri.
Nearest Railway station – Jagannath Puri Railway Station
Nearest major airport – Biju Patnaik International Airport, Bhubaneswar
At the time of writing this article, there is another airport presently being constructed at Jagannath Puri. However, this airport at Puri has not yet become operational.