Thursday, January 8, 2009

Monday and Tuesday in Calcutta


The day started out with a very pleasant walk with B.R. Sharma, whom I quite like. We walked up Gariahat Road to the Birla temple, about a 15 minute walk. They have nice Radha-Krishna deities in the main garbha mandir, Durga and Shiva in the two flanking temples.

Sharma came into my room afterwards, just before leaving, and sang a Shiva bhajan for me. He has a very sweet voice besides his other talents. He says that he taught Sanskrit at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Mumbai before going to Lonavla, where he is only paid 20K Rs a month, which seems astonishingly low for a person with his credentials and responsibilities. Nevertheless, his two children are both going through university and doing well.

After breakfast I walked to Kalighat towards the Metro, but made a detour to the Kali temple, which I had never visited before. The actual area around the temple has all the characteristics of a traditional tirtha sthan, with hundreds of stalls selling souvenirs like beads, pictures, pint size Shiva lingas and other sacred mementos. I could feel a kind of spiritual tingle as I approached the temple, and there is no doubt that this is Calcutta’s spiritual center.

Kalighat is one of the 52(?) Siddha Piths, where if I remember correctly, part of Sati’s foot fell. I was shown around by a stuttering young panda and ended up giving generously to both Ma Kali and the panda, all for the welfare of my family members—ex-wife, son, daughter, grandchildren. I guess Ma Kali wanted to bless them. I more or less went through it as if in a dream, with no attachment to any part of it.

The temple itself was built by Man Singh, who built half the Hindu temples in North India, it seems. It is covered in what looks like bathroom tile. The deity itself is nothing more than a decorated black stone, much like a Shiva linga. It has the trademark huge silver tongue and four arms—a sword in the upper left, the lower left for holding severed heads, the other two in vara (blessing) and abhaya (bestowing fearlessness).

From there I visited two Gaudiya Maths that are nearby—Chaitanya Gaudiya Math and Chaitanya Research Institute. I was given a friendly reception in the latter; I passed unnoticed in the former. Neither was particularly impressive as an institution. It is clear that the Ramakrishna Mission has gained greatly by remaining solidly dedicated to Vivekananda’s mission without excessive political infighting—at least not to the point of a significant schism. They certainly have benefited from the single successor acharya system they adopted. The last eight or ten “presidents” have all been aged men in their 80’s and 90’s, most of them with very high scholarly credentials, like Ranganathananda and Gambhirananda.

From there I went to the Bangla Sahitya Parishad to pick up a copy of Sri Krishna Kirtan by Boru Chandidas. They have published a new edition with an expanded introduction, so that will be well worth perusing. I also picked up a copy of Bankim’s Ananda Math, which was probably the first “secular” Bengali novel that I ever read.

From there I walked to Vidhan Sarani along Sahitya Parishad Street. Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar has reprinted Haridas Das’s BRS, UN and Madhava-mahotsava. They have made the margins a little bigger and the quality is even better than the original editions. I forgot to pick up a copy of Vivarta-vilasa, though. Completely slipped my mind for some reason. Sanskrit Book Depot has reprinted Caitanya Caritera Upadana, also in a nicely done edition.

Across from the Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar is Vivekananda’s “ancestral home,” which has been done up in great style by the RKM. It is all full of marble, glass and light and is a cultural center, offering courses, etc. This is really the historical part of Calcutta. Scottish Church College, which is celebrating 150 years of existence is a bit north of there, the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj just south. Jora Sanko, where Rabindranath lived, is a bit west of there. A little further south is Calcutta University. Not as many book stalls as there used to be. Vidhan Sarani was more like Delhi’s Daryaganj-Naya Sarak when I was here last. No longer.

Got on the metro at Mahatma Gandhi Road and just headed straight back to RKIC.


I was waiting for the internet place to open—Calcutta in general seems to open around between 10.30-11. No change there from the old days.

Went to the Asiatic Society on the corner of Park Street and Chowringhee. The highlight, I guess, was meeting Ramakanta Chakravarti. I asked some qeustions about the Kheturi date. So his opinion is after 1600 because Rasikananda’s name is there and Rasikananda’s birthdate is known to have been from the 1580’s or so. He said something about him being at least 19 at the time. Dinesh Chandra Sen says 1602 to 1606. But that does not clear up the mystery too much. Even so, I really do have to revise my dates up, as the 1570’s does seem way to early. Whatever the case, some information has to be rejected, particularly where Srinivasa Acharya is concerned. He clearly could not have been in Puri and met Gadadhar Pandit and still have attended Kheturi in 16-hundred whatever. And what about Kavi Karnapur. There is no chance he could have been there. There were other Chaitanya parshads present, and even if you say that the youngest parshad was, say, seven years old, i.e, born in 1527, that makes early 1600’s possible.

The problem is that Prema Vilasa, if written in 1612, would likely not have recounted a so recent event in such a past tense. This question really needs to be looked at again in depth.

I also asked RKC about the Rasaraja philosophy, which he says had taken on characteristics of the Sahajiya doctrine. I pressed him on this, and all I could get was that the idea of svakiya rasa was what he considered sahajiya! I said that would make the Radhavallabhis sahajiyas and he said no, they were deviants but not sahajiya. Then I asked whether any sexual practices were there in Vamshi-siksha and he said, no, no “orgiastic practices” in the Baghnapara line. “Otherwise, how would Bhaktivinoda Thakur have accepted the Rasaraja concept?” And he quoted the exact line from Sajjanatoshani.

I checked the ASB manuscript catalogue, which I understand from Bibek Bannerjee is being upgraded. And it certainly needs to be—it attributes Gopala Champu to someone called Jivaraja and assigns Govinda-lilamrita to Raghunatha Das, even while quoting the colophon which clearly says that GLA arises from the blessings of Raghunath Das (raghunAtha-varaje). They have two MSS of Danakelikaumudi, none of Mukta-charita, and two of Gopala-tapani, but I did not have time to check the details. Besides these, they seem to have a number of still unpublished works— I noticed a couple of commentaries on the Sruti-stuti, and Bhagavata shloka collections, some Nimbarki works I have never seen before, etc.

Since I knew that the Iskcon temple is not too far from there, I walked down Park Street, asking for directions until I got there, just in time for arati. Mayapur may have grown exponentially in the last two decades, but Calcutta Iskcon is pretty much in a time warp. Probably something to do with ritvik politics. Quite a few people came to arati, however, including a large number of young Bengali men, who danced through the kirtan from beginning to end. I left before the end of the kirtan, but was quite happy at the chance to chant in front of the deities. Iskcon is in a well-to-do and hip area of town—lots of American franchises like Pizza Hut and their knockoffs.

On my return, I was paid a visit by a gentleman named Pravir Kumar Hui, a former professor of English with whom I talked a bit about rasa philosophy. He gave me a gif of a book about Gopinath Kaviraja written by Paritosh Das, who has written three rather (I am sorry to say) unsatisfying books about Sahajiyaism. Gopinath Kaviraj’s commentaries about


  1. Aaahhh!
    Jagadananda, my God, where's your archive gone?
    Please tell us there's been some mistake and all your great posts from 2006 onwards are still there somewhere?

  2. Was the Chaitanya Research Institute founded by Sundarananda Vidyavinode? I have had this assumption for many years.


  3. Sorry I missed this comment. CRI was founded by Bhakti Vilasa Tirtha Maharaj. It is a branch of the Chaitanya Math. It is their main center in Calcutta.

  4. tell us how did you feel reading anadamath ? i find it a very inspiring novel .

    a curious blend of nationalism and spirituality too . but then , indian nationalism was mostly spiritual .

    i knew a man , who was a retired freedom fighter by the name of gopal chakravarty . after independece he settled in an impoverished part of nadia district and devoted his life to its upliftment from whatever little earnings he had during his past days as a school master .

    he bought pulses and gave them to the village widows asking them to make papadums out of them . after it was made he collected them back , packaged them and sold them in the market and then distributed the profits to those poor ladies . this way he started his noble work .

    slowly admirers gathered in and they formed a trust . today it is a model village for the whole of the area !

    it has solar lights on streets , biogas , ayurvedic firms , honey and lac cultivations , cotton saree making projects . village library , internet etc etc .

    grants come in for their noble cause and many american and german gentlemen from western NGOs come in to make a study on the success story .

    then in 2006 gopal chankrabarty , the man behind all these was suddenly missing . after a tedious serach of one year he was discovered from somehere in himalayas . he wanted to spend in last days in contemplations of god . such was his unattached nature !

    and all the while that he lived in that village , his home was never more than a baked tiled two roomed hut !!! but with the ambience of an ashram with a meditation hall . pictures of chaitanaya ramakrishna vijay krishna goswami aurobindo etc hung on the walls .

    a true saint among men . he passed away in 2008 .

  5. namaste jagat ji .

    i was wondering what do you think of padavali kirtans of bengal . im a great fan of authentic padavali kirtan .

    kirtan sangeet along with panchalis and mangal kavyas enjoyed widespread popularity throughout greater bengal since ages.

    however their decline in popularity started in the 80's .

    presently there is hardly any kirtan singer left . the last one was geetashree chhabi bandopadhyay .

    heres a link to traditional bengali kirtan song . the first one is of chandidas sri krishna kirtan ( radhar ki hoilo antare byatha ) ----------!v=GTcnv0ObGaA

    the other is an assorted extract from chhabi bandopadhyay kirtan on raas leela --------!v=E46dAdVL9tw

    jagat ji please take look and let me know what you think of this dying artform . i just love kirtans . i am sending you these because you can appreciate art and bengal's ancient heritage .