His Divine Grace Paramahamsa Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Maharaja, the great leader of the Gaudiya movement throughout the world made his appearance in Jagannatha Puri on the fifth day of the dark lunar fortnight of the month of Govinda, at 3:30 pm. He was born because His father Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākura had prayed to Lord Caitanya for a ray of Viṣṇu, an assistant and a successor from the Lord’s personal associates as he knew how important it was to keep the movement of Nama-sankirtana going on. At the time of his birth all thirty-two bodily symptoms of a great personality were pointed out by an experienced astrologer. He was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck like a Brahmin’s thread. The astrologer commented at his birth, “I have done many horoscopes in my life, but I have never before seen such a horoscope filled with all the signs of a great personality. This child will become world famous as a brilliant teacher of life’s ultimate goal.”
He was the son of a very big government officer, magistrate and in charge of the Jagannatha temple, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and mother Sriyukta Bhagavati Devi. In those days a magistrate was a big officer in the government, practically next to the governor. When Maharaj was six months old, Lord Jagannatha’s Rath Yatra festival was in procession and that time Ratha-yatra cart halted in front of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s house for three days. Being a magistrate’s wife Sriyukta Bhagavati Devi took the opportunity to place the child on the lotus feet of Lord Jagannath and that time an offered garland fell from the neck of the Lord, encircling the boy. This was taken as a sign of special favour and a confirmation of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s divine descent. At that moment the grain ceremony was also observed on the cart with Jagannatha prasada. The first grain for Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur was Jagannatha Prasada thus he is named as Bimala Prasada because Vimala devi is offered the ‘prasada’ after Jagannatha takes. When during the ‘Anna-prasna’ ceremony the child is shown the ‘shastra’ and coins to give some indication of his nature he immediately embraced the Srimad-Bhagavatam as opposed to the gold coins indicating his future as a preacher. Therefore, from the very beginning Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura exhibited all the signs of an exalted, eternal associate of the Lord.
Even as a child, he was extremely strict about Krsna consciousness. Once when he had eaten a mango that was not first offered to the Lord, he had vowed to never eat mangoes again and he observed it throughout his whole life. This is the characteristic of the acarya. They teach by their life’s actions. He was a very expert student. However his preference was to study the Vaishnava books of his father, but never fell behind in school. By the age of seven he had committed the entire Bhagavad-gita to memory and could wonderfully explain the verses as well. His teachers were astonished, and his father was very pleased. Later on he was trained in publishing and proof-reading at Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s printing press. He also wrote essays on spiritual topics and strongly condemned various religious malpractices which had become prominent in society. He was offered a chair in astronomy at the University of Calcutta, but he declined it, thinking it an impediment to his spiritual life. He used to debate everyone he met on all sorts of subjects. No one who argued with him was ever able to defeat him. Just as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu had defeated a great scholar, Kesava Kasmiri at a young age, so similarly Bimala Prasad once, during his later college days, debated a very famous scholar named Panchanana Sahityacharya. After some discussion the scholar became so mortified that he could not check the calls of nature and had to accept defeat.
When he was 13 years old, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura brought Tulasi beads from Jagannatha Puri and gave him his first initiation and the name Siddhanta Saraswati and Nrsimha mantra to chant which he executed very faithfully, along with the worship of his Kurma Deity, but according to etiquette, a father does not give actual diksa to his son. So Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura instructed him to approach Srila Gaurakisora dasa Babaji, a great maha-bhagavata, a fully self-realised, liberated soul for diksa. But Srila Gaurakisora dasa Babaji was a renounced bhajananandi and was not inclined to accept disciples. Yet at Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s urging, Sri Siddhanta Sarasvati approached Srila Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji for initiation. Gaurakisora dasa Babaji hesitated to accept him knowing him to be a great scholar. Disappointed, Sarasvati Thakura went back to his father and related to him what had happened, but Thakura Bhaktivinoda sent him out. Again and again he came back with the same answer. At this point Bhaktivinod Thakur said, “Unless you take initiation from Gaurakishora dasa Babaji your life is useless, and no longer may you enter this house”. He went back and met Gaurakisora dasa Babaji and exclaimed, “if you refuse to accept me as your disciple I must kill myself”. After this, Babaji could see the sincerity in his heart and gave Siddhanta Sarasvati the name: Sri Varsabhanavi-devi-dayita dasa. It shows how eager and determined one must be for the mercy of a pure devotee of Krsna.
In 1905, at the age of 31, he had vowed to chant at least three lakhs holy names daily, following in the footsteps of Namacarya Haridasa Thakura. At that time he constructed a grass hut at the yoga pith in Mayapur Dham, where Caitanya Mahaprabhu was born. He lived there very simply and chanted day and night. If rain water would leak through the thatched roof, he would just hold up an umbrella and continue chanting. He strictly followed his vow and observed Caturmasya by cooking rice and eating it from the floor in the manner of a cow. He would sleep on the ground without any bedding or pillow and constantly chant and study the scriptures. Seeing his renunciation, his Gurudeva said, “I observe that the renunciation of Sri Rupa-Raghunatha is manifested in my Prabhu.” He used to address his disciple as “my prabhu.”
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaj was staunch brahmachari. Once one girl proposed to speak with him secretly, but he refused to talk with a young girl in a secret place even though that girl was just like his granddaughter by age calculation. He was a tremendously powerful writer and successful preacher who fearlessly spoke the truth. Thus he was known as ‘simha’ (lion) ‘guru’ due to his fearless and ferocious preaching. If an impersonalist saw him on the street, the impersonalist would cross the road in fear, or turn off onto another street. His pure preaching inspired hundreds of thousands of people to follow, but he was the enemy of falsehood, and well-wisher of everyone, even of people who were inimical to him. Once, when he and his party were performing navadvipa-parikrama, the caste brahmans hired goondas, thugs, who let loose with a volley of stones and boulders on the party, aiming to take his life. But one of his disciples cleverly exchanged his white dress for his saffron robes, so he emerged disguised and escaped. It was a terrible scene. Some devotees suffered gashes and fractures, but by Krsna’s grace none were killed.
When his guru Srila Gaura Kishora dasa Babaji Maharaj left the planet, he had a desire to have his body dragged through the streets by his disciples. So the babajis had gathered to do that, but Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur stopped them, saying “None of you are his disciples. I am the right claimant to perform these last rites.” They said, “But he was a ‘babaji’, and you are not.” Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati answered, “If you are Babajis, then you are fully sense controlled. So the one of you who has not engaged in any illicit activities in the past 1 year, come and do the last rites.” No one stood up. “One month? One week? 24 hours?” No one stood up. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati then placed Gaura Kishora dasa Babaji Maharaj’s body in ‘samadhi’.
In 1918 he took ‘tridandi sannyasa’ from a picture of Gaura Kishora dasa Babaji Maharaj. He did ‘nagara kirtana’ with disciples and attended programs everywhere to establish Lord Caitanya’s teachings as the most excellent spiritual philosophy and to fulfil the desire of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu expressed in Caitanya Bhagavata Antya-khaṇḍa 4.126,
pṛthivīte āche yata nagarādi-grāma
sarvatra pracāra haibe mora nāma
He predicted that, “All over the world, as many towns and villages are there, everywhere My name will be known,”
Śrī Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura took up this affair, business very seriously. Following the order of his Guru, he established the Bhagavat Press in Krsnanagar in 1915. He established 64 Gaudiya Maths during his lifetime. He revolutionised the Krsna consciousness movement by initiating people from different castes, gender, and backgrounds. He accepted everything favourable for the execution of preaching Krsna consciousness.
He started the Gaudiya Mission in the midst of war and national liberation agitation. In this period the aristocratic young Abhay Charan De visited him on the rooftop at Ultadanga Road. At this time Abhay charan De was adherent of the national liberation movement, but Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati convinced him in one sitting of the vital necessity of Lord Caitanya’s mission over everything else. In 1933, he told Srila Prabhupada, “Rather I would prefer to take out the marbles and stone and sell it and publish some books.” Srila Prabhupada carried on the legacy of his spiritual master to distribute books and print them whenever he had money and also passed on this legacy to his disciples and other members of the movement, so that the sound of the Brihat Mridanga would reach far and wide.
When Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur reached the age of sixty-two, his health declined. He got very sick and knew that he would soon be going to his Master, and therefore he wrote his last instruction: “Somehow we must become qualified to attain the shelter of Rupa and Raghunatha. Always chant Hare Krsna, always preach Krsna consciousness, and stay away from Vaishnava-aparadha. In this way become qualified to get the shelter of the lotus feet of Sri Rupa and Raghunatha.” Two days after that he wrote his letter to Srila Prabhupada, “I think you should try to push our movement in English. And that will do good to you and to the people who will help you.” That was his instruction. And then in 1936, on the 31st December–that means just after writing this letter a fortnight before his departure–he left this mortal world to again return to the loving pastimes of Sri Sri Radha Krsna. Srila Prabhupad took that order of spiritual master very seriously. If we strictly try to serve the spiritual master, his order, without caring for our personal benefit or loss,then Krsna will give us all facilities. That is the secret.
News of his departure was broadcasted and an official day of mourning was observed in Bengal. The Corporation of Calcutta held a special meeting in tribute to his memory and issued a resolution expressing its members’ deep sorrow. Devotees performed kirtana throughout the entire separation festival. His disciples took the transcendental body anointed with fragrant oils and flowers to Mayapur and established his samadhi. Where he used to do his bhajana. He will continue to do his bhajana, for he is still alive. He will be in samadhi and living with his Lord, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, he will guide us forever.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur’s whole life was spent in a mood of loving devotion to the Lord. He was fully devoted to spreading the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. That is the determination of the devotee of the Lord. They don’t care for personal comforts. Because they love Krsna, therefore they love all living entities because all living entities are in relationship with Krsna. May Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada inspire pure bhakti in our hearts, so that we can practice and distribute this to others.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura ki jaya!
Srila Prabhupada ki jaya!