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Mapping the Gaudiya Vaishnava Cultural Heritage of Navadwip

The town of Nabadwip is located on the western shore of the Hugli-Bhagirathi River, a distributary of the Ganges, approximately 130 kilometres north of Kolkata. From the 15th to the end of the 19th century, Nabadwip gradually rose in public renown, not only for being a major centre of Hindu learning but also for being the birthplace of Kṛṣṇa Caitanya (1486-1534), the most important figure of the Bengali or Gaudiya Vaiṣṇava tradition. At the turn of the 20th century, however, the local boundaries of the region’s sacred geography were challenged and permanently transformed by the apparent discovery and subsequent development of an alternative to Nabadwip as the location of Chaitanya’s birth. This alternate birthplace is situated in an area known as Mayapur, which is located on the eastern shore of the River Bhagirathi, almost opposite and within viewing distance of Nabadwip. It was established in the late 19th century by two colonial Bengali Vaishnava reformers Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda (1837-1914), extensively developed between the years 1919 and 1936 by his son Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī (1874-1937) and has continued to grow in sacred geographical and religious prominence ever since—even to the point of having achieved unprecedented international involvement and monetary support after the 1970s through the leadership of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad (1896-1977). Today, Mayapur is a sprawling religious site that is the location of the headquarters of ISKCON and is building the Sri Chaitanya Chandrodaya Mandir, projected to be the largest temple complex in the world when it is completed in 2022.

Caitanya Vaishnavism1 (also known as Gaudiya Vaishnavism) is one of the most widespread branches of Hinduism, with followers and centers in many countries of the world. According to the Gaudiya tradition Sri Chaitanya is Krishna himself. Thus his native place, Navadwip, is as sacred to his followers as is Vrindavan, the place where Krishna spent his childhood and performed his ‘līlās,’ including some that are held in the Chaitanya’s tradition theology as the most important (‘Rāsa-līlā’ being one of them). Within Bengali Vaishnava traditions, for instance, there has always been a tendency to consider Chaitanya as an incarnation of Krishna/Radha and hence a ‘cosmological homology’ was traced between Nabadwip and Brindaban. An entire range of Hindu/Vaishnava sacred spatial terminologies have evolved within textual traditions by the pre-colonial era such as tirtha2, dham3, lila-sthal4, mandal5 and sripats6. Morinis had considered that traditions underlying the establishment of Vaishnava holy places seem to be most explicit in linking the holiness of certain geographical locations to the presence of revered or divine individuals. An individual leading an exemplary life according to the norms of Vaishnava doctrines is considered to imbue his environment with the holiness that accrues from these practices.7But what was so specific about the colonial Vaishnava tendency to discover, identify, publicize, and even, appropriate sacred sites at both the sub-regional as well as the supra-regional level?

I locate this Vaishnava urge at the crossroads of several parallel developments during the colonial era. In the first place, the colonial urge to effectively administer their new conquests and gain ‘on the ground’ knowledge of the territories under their authority generated a voluminous range of literature like District Gazetteers, memoirs and administrative reports. Such efforts to comprehend provincial/local diversity also contributed in an era of incipient national passions at the turn of the twentieth century to a new found sense of intimacy/attachment among educated Bengalis for initiating ‘local’ histories relating to particular districts, towns and even villages.8 In the second place, as improved modern communications based on railways and metalled roads enabled people to travel at a faster pace, at lower risk and at cheaper rates, regions and sub-regions within the subcontinent and the people inhabiting those places were linked up. Older modes of travel by boat or carriages did not disappear but more and more people began to travel by rail for a variety of reasons notably for pilgrimages. This improved connectivity, as Ian J. Kerr has recently contended, had a profound impact on increasing popular participation in pilgrimages to different sacred sites across the subcontinent.9

The third factor is the emergence of a vernacular literary genre of travel narratives and pilgrim manuals in the colonial period. Scholars like Kumkum Chatterjee have noted how the emergence of travel narratives by middle class Bengalis in colonial times led to new conceptions of Indian history and nationhood. The tirtha bhraman genre was sufficiently popular to involve individual writers, institutions like the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad and even the Railway Department to publish such tracts.10 Although travel narratives by individuals was by no means absent in the pre-colonial period it became a separate genre altogether in colonial times disseminating varied information such as the ritual significance of a place, the means of travel, the rates of expenses, the local sites worth visiting and places to stay. It was supposed to stand in as a guide for future travelers and pilgrims. As Brajamohan Das mentioned his Brajadarpan (1915) was intended to ‘enable the reader at home the unique opportunity to meditate upon these places. For the pilgrim this booklet was like a friendly companion. If one has it in hand he will not have to ask any panda [local guide] for directions to any sacred site.’11 It was in this context that a large number of pilgrim manuals were published on Nabadwip, Brindaban and Puri in the early twentieth century. 12

While a vibrant tradition of sthan-mahatmya (place-significance) literature existed as a part of Hindu traditions even in the pre-colonial era, this genre evidently became popular in the print domain during colonial times. The cusp of the twentieth century saw a rapid publication of the mahatmya genre which was earlier usually reserved for gods of the Hindu pantheon such as Markandeya Purane Devi Mahatmya (1873). Most mahatmya texts printed in the colonial period related to pilgrim centres notably the Kasi and Prayag Mahatmya (as contained in the Matsya Purana) on Benaras13; the Tarakeshwar Mahatmya on the Shaivite pilgrim centre of Tarakeshwar and Gaya Mahatmya on Gaya among a host of others. Many mahatmya texts published in the early twentieth century related specifically to Vaishnava sacred places, temples and personalities.14 It seems that Chaitanya’s life and sojourns served as a model template on which Bengali Vaishnavas in particular and Bengalis in general tended to creatively map, imagine and domesticate a range of sripats at the sub-regional as well as supra-regional sacred sites such as Brindaban and Puri as repositories of ‘Bengali heritage’, ‘sacrality’, and religious devotion. The Vaishnava ‘place-making’ venture thus emerged at the juncture of diverse historically evolving processes.

I try to trace the historical evolution of the Chaitanya birthplace controversy from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. Pilgrimage manuals in the early twentieth century began absorbing Vaishnava sacred locales in a modern discourse of railway travel. All this evolved in a context of mapping of sub-regional pilgrim sites along with tracing supra-regional connections with Puri and Brindaban could also be seen in the colonial period. I contend that this search for sacred spatial zones ‘sanctified’ through Chaitanya’s visits in the early sixteenth century and as a network of birth sites (abirbhab lilasthals) of Chaitanya’s disciples and followers was symptomatic of a modernizing tendency in colonial times.

Etymology of the name “Navadwip”

Traditional accounts and legends offer three different versions of the origin of the name Navadwip.15 One of them takes nava to mean “new” and explains that in ancient times a new island was formed in the old bed of the Ganges River and gradually people started settling there, thus naming their new settlement “Navadwip,” “New Island.”16 According to another, less popular legend, a yogi came to live in the secluded place where Navadwip now lies. At night he would light nine lamps to practice his sādhana. People from nearby villages would call that place “[a place of] nine lamps”—“Nava-dīpa.” According to this legend in course of time “Navadīpa” transformed itself into “Navadwip.” The third version is offered by later Vaiṣṇava writers among whom Narahari Cakravartī (early 18th cent.) may have been the first to record it. He writes in his Navadwip-parikramā:17 naya dvīpe Navadwip nāma | pṛthak pṛthak kintu haya eka grāma || [“Navadwip is so called because there are nine islands in it. Although separated, they constitute one village.”] In this explanation nava means “nine” thus making “Navadwip” “nine islands.” Navadwip has also been known under the name “Nadia,” which is a corrupt form of the word ‘Navadwip’.18 It appears for the first time in the Persian chronicle Tabaqat-i-Nasiri written by Minhaj-i-Siraj Juzjani in 1260. There Lakṣmaṇa Sena’s capital is referred to as ‘Nūdīah.’19 Nadīyā or Nadiyā is frequently seen in almost all Bengali hagiographies of Śrī Chaitanya. The present-day Nadiya district of West Bengal in which Navadwip (Nabadwip) town is situated takes its name from this version of the word “Navadwip.”20 Currently, Nabadwip town is situated on the western bank of the Bhāgīrathī (Ganges) River.

The Historical Pasts of Navadwipa/Nadia

Nabadwip was also known as Nadia which was incidentally the name of the district as well. As a district its boundaries were defined by rivers- the Padma in the north, the Jalangi (Kharia) which divides itself into the Ichamati and the Churni in the North-west, the Bhagirathi in the west, and the Kabadak (Kapotaksha) in the south-west.21 Located in a vast level alluvial plain, dotted with villages and clusters of trees it was intersected by several rivers, with numerous channels, backwaters, minor streams, and swamps. According to legend, Gaudeswar King Adi Sur had his capital at Surnagar to the south of Nabadwip in the 8th century. 22 According to works such as Kula-kārikā by Eḍu Miśra (presumably 13th century) and Ballālacarita of Ānanda Bhaṭṭa (1510) Navadwip was supposedly founded by the Bengali king Ballāla Sena of the Sena dynasty (reigned c. 1160-1179), who established his palace on the sacred banks of the Ganges River near present-day Māyāpur village.23 However, as some scholars have remarked, there are several reasons to identify Vijayapura town founded by Ballāla’s father Vijaya Sena (reigned c. 1098–1160 AD) with Ballāla’s residence Navadwip.24 Navadwip, however, rose to prominence from the reign of Ballāla’s son Lakṣmaṇa Sena (ca. 1179-1205) who converted it into his capital.25 Lakṣmaṇa Sena’s father Ballāla Sena was a literary man himself and wrote two scholarly works—a dharma digest named Dāna-sāgara and an astrological treatise Adbhuta-sāgara (completed by Lakṣmaṇa Sena).

By the early thirteenth century, however, it fell into the hands of the invading Turkish armies of Md. Bin Bhaktiyar Khilji, the Khalji slave commander of the Ghurid emperor Muhammad Ghori and as a consequence Lakshman Sena fled from the capital. Rarhi shows that effective rule during Muslim rule was excercised by Hindu zamindars such as Krittibas who wrote the Ramayana was a courtier of the court of an anonymous King named Harihar who ruled in the north of Nabadwip.26 Yet, it was from the 15 th century onwards that Nabadwip excelled as a flourishing center of Navya Nyaya logic under Basudeb Sarbabhauma, Raghnath Sarbabhauma and a host of other scholars.27 It was these centuries that saw the rise of Smriti sashtra (Hindu scriptures) in Nabadwip under Raghunandan Bhattacharya, Rambhadra Nyayalankar and Chandrasekhar Bachaspati and Tantra under Purnanandagiri Paramahansa and Krishnananda Agambagish.28 Two residents of Navadwip, Vāsudeva Sārvabhauma (ca. 1450–1540) and Raghunātha Śiromaṇi (ca. 1477–1547) in particular were responsible for the final development of this school. Vāsudeva Sārvabhauma later became a prominent follower of Śrī Chaitanya.

Another important resident of Navadwip who became famous as a great authority on smṛti was Raghunandana Bhaṭṭācārya (ca. 1510–1580). His 28 treatises on a variety of topics related to civil law and rituals are still very popular in Bengal. The Sanskrit tols of the city and the fame of Nadia as a great centre of learning led colonial authorities like Sir William Jones, Dr. Carey, and H.H. Wilson ‘appear as pilgrim at this shrine of learning’.29 Around the occupation of British power in 1757 Nadia was held by a single zamindar, the Maharaja of Nadia, but this became split up into 261 estates and was held by 205 registered proprietors (talukdars) by 1790.

Thus, Nabadwip had always featured in historical administrative records on three different registers- as a seat of lost imperial glory of the Hindu Sena Kings; as a centre of great Sanskrit learning of Sanskrit tols and the school of Navya Naya (Logic), and as a place where Chaitanya was born.

Retrieving an eternal scared space at Navadwipa

Bengali Vaishnava traditions are conventionally steeped in a sense of ‘cosmological homology’ and notions of sacred territoriality.30 As a result sub-regional locales connected with the lives of Chaitanya’s primary followers and supra-regional sites such as Brindaban in North India came to be linked in some way or the other with Krishna/Chaitanya in Vaishnava scriptural narratives as sacred centres. Since divine activities sanctify an entire territory the primary aim of the pilgrim is not the mere worship of the Lord at the physical site of pilgrimage but also, through this act participate in the eternal divine lila of the lord.31 Tirtha, Kshetra or Lila-Kshetra, Dhama and mandal are standard concepts that have been deployed in Hindu religion at large and Vaishnavism in particular.32 As complete spiritual equivalence was accorded within Vaishnava scriptures to Krishna/Radha and Chaitanya even their abodes were considered to be cosmologically identical.33 In fact, the entire range of personalities in the Chaitanya lila were traced within Bengali Vaishnava scriptures as reincarnations of one or the other characters of Krishna’s Brindaban lila. The perimeter and circumference of sacred zones did not always coincide but they shared a common imagery. Thus, Brindabandham and Nabadwipdham were regarded to have a perimeter of approximately thirty-two miles (16 krosas). Followers of the Chaitanya tradition usually refer to Navadwip (as well as Vṛndāvana) as dhāma and not as tīrtha. This is directly related to the Gaudiya theological concept of prema, love of God, as being the fifth and highest goal of life (pañcama-puruṣārtha), higher even than the concept of liberation (moksha) established by other Hindu traditions. According to Chaitanya Vaiṣṇava theology there is a tangible trace of selfishness in a desire for mokṣa (because one is primarily interested in one’s own salvation), whereas prema is a total surrender and service to God for his pleasure, disregarding one’s own pleasure or distress, performed according to God’s will either in the material creation or in the spiritual world.

Tīrtha is derived from the verbal root tṝ, which has dual meaning of “swimming” and “crossing over.” Thus, tīrtha means “that by which one can cross over material existence.” But dhāma means “[God’s] abode,” where the Lord, the object of practitioner’s love, performs his pastimes with his devotees. Therefore, Chaitanya Vaiṣṇavas traditionally refer to Navadwip as dhāma, implying that just like Kṛṣṇa’s līlās in Vṛndāvana are eternal but not manifested for the imperfect practitioner, so are Chaitanya’s līlās in Navadwip. This understanding is corroborated by the statement of Vṛndāvana dāsa Ṭhākura (second half of 16th century), one of the earliest and most well-known of Chaitanya’s biographers. He writes in his Chaitanya-bhāgavata: adyāpiha Chaitanya e saba līlā kare / yakhane yāhāre kare dṛṣṭi adhikāre/ sei dekhe āra dekhibāre śakti nāi / nirantara krīḍā kare Chaitanya gosāñi [“Chaitanya performs these pastimes even today. Only when he gives one the ability to see these pastimes can one see them. Others have no capacity to see them. Chaitanya Goswami performs his deeds all the time.”34 ] This understanding is reflected in the official name of the main train station in Navadwi—“Nabadwip Dham.”

Śrī Chaitanya’s Life in Navadwip

Navadwip is sacred for Chaitanya-Vaiṣṇavas because Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu was born here on February 18, 1486 and spent here exactly half of his life—24 years from 1486 to 1510 AD. In his early years he lived more or less like a normal brāhmaṇa boy in Navadwip—pursuing his studies and even becoming an accomplished logician and grammarian with his own ṭola. 35However, his life dramatically changed after he went to Gayā to perform a śrāddha ceremony for his deceased father. There he met a sannyāsī by the name Īśvara Purī and accepted dīkṣā from him. After dīkṣā Nimai (as he was known in his youth) gradually gave up his studies and devoted all his time to discussing topics related to Kṛṣṇa with his companions and to congregational chanting of Kṛṣṇa’s names (saṅkīrtana) that he introduced in Navadwip shortly after coming back from Gayā.

His street processions with kīrtan were of immense importance for the future mission of Śrī Chaitanya and his followers. In fact, they constitute a very characteristic, most recognizable feature of his followers worldwide who are known for singing the “Hare Kṛṣṇa” mantra and dancing in the streets of all major cities around the world. Saṅkīrtana has become so central to their tradition that after reading its detailed descriptions in his biographies one can easily be inclined to think that Śrī Chaitanya spent a major part of his life in Navadwip performing street chanting with his devotees.36 Although all biographers mention his nightly kīrtans that he and his followers had for a whole year in the house of Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita, in which only selected “pure” devotees were allowed, only Kavi Karṇapūra (born c. 1526 AD) provides some chronological data that can set a timeline for these highly important episodes of Śrī Chaitanya’s life. In his Chaitanyacaritāmṛta-mahā-kāvya (finished in 1542 AD) Karṇapūra writes: “The merciful Lord, who destroyed the suffering of all beings, returned home at the end of Pauṣa month [December-January]. At the beginning of Māgha month [January-Fenruary] he constantly, daily, began spreading knowledge and devotion through the rasa of his kīrtana to the world.”37 Then Kavi Karṇapūra states: “He would bathe at dawn, perform worship and eat prasādam daily in joy. He taught excellent, pure brāhmaṇas boys. In this way, four months starting with Māgha [January-February] passed.” (5.14) “The Lord spread the nectar of his deep mercy from Jyaiṣṭha [May-June] month for eight months till Pauṣa [December-January], with the rasa of dancing, during summer, monsoon, autumn and winter.” (5.125) Chapters 5-10 of Chaitanya-caritāmṛta-mahā-kavya describe events that happened after Śrī Chaitanya returned from Gayā till he accepted sannyāsa in the end of Māgha month 1431 Śaka era (corresponding to January 1510 AD). Thus he performed saṅkīrtana in Navadwip for only 13 months.38

This is alluded to by other biographers, including Vṛndāvana dāsa Ṭhākura: “In the middle section [of the book] Mahāprabhu’s night chanting [is described] that he continuously performed for one year in Navadwip.”39 and Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja: “Then the Lord performed
nightly saṅkīrtana in the house of Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita continuously for one year.”40 This one year from the life of Śrī Chaitanya in Navadwip was so important for his biographers (as well as for his followers) that they devote major parts of their works to describe it in great detail. As stated earlier, six out of twenty chapters of Kavi Karṇapūra’s Chaitanya-caritāmṛta-mahākavya are devoted to it and practically the entire middle part (Madhya-khaṇḍa) of Vṛndāvana dāsa Ṭhākura’s Chaitanyabhāgavata is nothing but a detailed description of the events of Śrī Chaitanya’s last year in Navadwip. The following is a partial list of some of the well-known events of this year:

  • meeting with Nityānanda, a chief associate of Śrī Chaitanya, who is considered by Gaudiya-vaiṣṇavas to be a manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s elder brother Balarāma;
  • inauguration of the saṅkīrtana movement with his students in his ṭola;
  • regular nightly kīrtan in the house of Śrīvāsa for an entire year;
  • special ecstasy of Chaitanya Mahāprabhu that lasted for twenty-one hours during which he revealed himself as Viṣṇu (known as sāt-prahariyā bhāva or mahāprakāśa-līlā);
  • deliverance of sinners Jagāi and Mādhāi;
  • Śrī Chaitanya’s wandering around Navadwip and giving his mercy to various
    devotees there;
  • chastisement of Devānanda Paṇḍita, a non-Vaiṣṇava teacher of Bhāgavata Purāṇa;
  • saṅkīrtana movement in opposition to the Muslim Kazi’s prohibitions of loud chanting and Kazi’s subsequent conversion into Vaiṣṇava tradition;
  • bringing back Śrīvāsa’s son who died during saṅkīrtana in his house, etc.

Śrī Chaitanya left Navadwip In late January 1510 and went to Katwa to accept the renounced order of life (sannyāsa) from Keśava Bhāratī. After renouncing the world he went to live in Puri, returning once again to Navadwip a few years after taking sannyāsa (in October 1514 AD) when he was on his way from Puri to Vrindavan. After that he never returned to Navadwip. Instead, his devotees from Navadwip and other parts of Bengal (except for his mother and wife) would come to Puri every year to see him and stay with him there for the four months of the rainy season.

Navadwip in Gaudiya Theology and its Relation to Vṛndāvana

Navadwip is revered among Gaudiya-Vaiṣṇavas as nondifferent than Vraja. This adoration is based on the understanding that Śrī Chaitanya is Kṛṣṇa himself who incarnated in this age of Kali-yuga to spread yuga-dharma, harināma-saṅkīrtana (chanting of Kṛṣṇa’s names) and to teach people how to serve Kṛṣṇa and develop love for him in the mood of vrajavāsīs, Kṛṣṇa’s associates in Vṛṇdāvana. Because Kṛṣṇa and Chaitanya are one and the same, their dhāmas, abodes, are also one.

However, theologically they are not completely identical—in line with the Gaudiya-Vaiṣṇava concept of acintya-bhedābheda, simultaneous oneness and difference, there are some particular differences between them too. Just as the spiritual power of Kṛṣṇa’s name is non-different from that of Chaitanya’s name (Chaitanya being none else but Kṛṣṇa), the latter is distinguished from the former by its disregarding offenses (nāmaparādha) committed by a chanter18 (since Chaitanya is Kṛṣṇa, but in his most merciful manifestation). Similarly, Navadwip is non-different from Vraja, but at the same time it is a more merciful manifestation where even offenders and Kṛṣṇa’s adversaries are forgiven and become eligible to serve him. This aspect of Chaitanya-Vaiṣṇava theology was succinctly stated by Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura in one of his songs: śrī-gauḍa-maṇḍala-bhūmi, jebā jāne cintāmaṇi, tāra haya braja-bhūme vāsa “One who knows that Śrī Gauḍa-maṇḍala [the area where Śrī Chaitanya performed his activities] is spiritual [lit. “made of wish fulfilling stones”]—such person is eligible to live in Vraja.” (Prārthanā, song 38) This merciful aspect of Navadwip is known in Gaudiya-Vaiṣṇava teachings as audārya (“magnanimity,” from Sans. udāra, “liberal,” “munificent”), while Vraja’s highly esoteric human-like mood is known as mādhurya (Sans. “sweetness”).

Kavi Karṇapūra in his Gaura-ganoddeśa-dīpikā (1576 AD) describes the high spiritual position of Navadwip in Chaitanya theology in the following way: “Knowers of rasa, those who are greatly learned, say that the placed called Vṛndāvana, which some people call Goloka, which others call Śvetadvīpa, and which others called the spiritual sky, is Navadwip, possessing the most astonishing greatness.”41

The spiritual center of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes with young gopīs of Vṛndāvana is called yoga-pīṭha in Gaudiya theology, which can be translated as “meeting place” or “place of union.”20 It is situated near present Govindaji Temple. Viśvanātha Cakravartī (second half of 17th cent.–early 18th century) in his Vraja-rīti-cintāmaṇi (2.70) explains that yoga-pīṭha is a secluded place where Kṛṣṇa meets with Rādhā and they enjoy conjugal pastimes: “Purāṇas glorify this place as Govinda-bhūmi and tantras call it yoga-pīṭha. It is a place where Śrī Kṛṣṇa unites with Śrī Rādha and so we call it the king of arbors.’”42

Since according to Gaudiya theology Śrī Chaitanya is a combined form of Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā,43 his birthplace, where they united to appear as Chaitanya, is also called yoga-pīṭha in Bhakti-ratnākara: “Just as there is a very pleasant yoga-pīṭha in Vṛndāvana, in the same way Māyāpura [Śrī Chaitanya’s birthplace] is yoga-pīṭha in Navadwip.44

Navadwip-parikrama and Nine Islands

In Gaudiya theology, the Sanskrit word parikramā (lit. “walking around”) refers to a highly popular practice of circumambulating holy places, temples or deities. It is a sign of respect and submission and brings about devotion to God, even if done unintentionally.45 When used in relation to a tīrtha, parikrama also refers to visiting (and/or worshiping) the sacred shrines within it as well as simply walking around a holy place. According to an outstanding Gaudiya-Vaiṣṇava theologian of the 16th century, Jīva Gosvāmī, parikrama is included within one of the nine primary processes of bhakti, namely pāda-sevanam, “serving the feet of the Lord.”46

The practice of Navadwip-parikrama seems to originate with several famous devotees of the second generation: Śrīnivāsa, Narottama and Rāmacandra, who, according to Bhakti-ratnākara (12th chapter), came to Navadwip sometime after Śrī Chaitanya’s demise and met the elderly Īśāna Ṭhākura, a life-long servant in Śrī Chaitanya’s house. He took them to various places around Navadwip that were connected with Śrī Chaitanya’s life and activities .This presumably was the very first Navadwip-parikrama in history. While describing it Narahari Cakravartī introduces the concept of nine islands (nava-dvīpa), which was apparently modelled on Vraja’s twelve forests. Some of them are on the eastern side of the Ganges, while others are on the western side: “When one hears the names of these islands all his miseries are destroyed. Situated on the eastern and western banks of the Ganges there are nine islands in total. In the east there are four islands: Antardvīpa, Sīmantadvīpa, Godrumadvīpa and Madhyadvīpa. Whereas Koladvīpa, Ṛtudvīpa, Jahnudvīpa, Modadrumadvīpa and Rudradvīpa—these five are on the western side.”47

Narahari Cakravartī also introduces48 a correspondence between nine islands of Navadwip and nine processes of bhakti described in Bhāgavata Purāṇa (7.5.23-24): “[Prahlāda said] I consider that the best knowledge that I learned is to offer to Viṣṇu directly such bhakti which is characterized by the following nine processes: hearing about Viṣṇu, glorifying him, remembering him, serving his feet, worshiping him, offering him prayers and obeisances, serving him, making friendship with him and giving him everything including one’s own body and soul.”49

However, it is to be noted that these islands in Narahari’s concept of Navadwip were not exactly islands in the usual sense of the term but rather different areas within and around Navadwip  that surrounded Māyāpura, the birthplace of Śrī Chaitanya, just as lotus petals surround the central part of the flower. As stated in the Ūrdhvāmnāya-tantra quoted in Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s Navadwip-dhāmamāhātmya (1890 AD): “Navadwip has the form of a lotus flower. Antardvīpa is the pericarp of that lotus while Sīmantadvīpa and the other islands are its eight petals.”50 Much of this cosmological frame of Nabadwipdham remained at the conceptual level, the area being projected as a conglomeration of nine islands [naba (“nine”) and dwip (island”)] which are named as Antardwip, Simantadwip, Godrumadwip, Madhyadwip, Koldwip, Ritudwip, Jahnudwip, Modrumdwip and Rudradwip.51 This rendering of a theological paradigm for geographical space was first made in a text titled Bhaktiratnakar by Narahari Chakravarti (also known as Ghanshyam Chakrabarty) around the early 18th century.52 The Bhaktiratnakar made a direct connection between sacred conception and physical location with Mayapur in Antardwip.

Just as Chaitanya-Vaiṣṇava theologians had developed Kṛṣṇa’s eight-fold daily pastimes in Vṛṇdāvana (aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā) as a meditation for practitioners of rāgānuga-sādhana, so did they also develop Śrī Chaitanya’s eight-fold daily pastimes in Navadwip. Some of the works on this topic are Dhyānacandra Gosvāmī’s Gaura-govindārcana-smaraṇa-paddhati, Verses 72-77 (16th century), Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s poem of 11 Sanskrit verses named “Śrī Mahāprabhor-aṣṭa-kālīya-līlāsmaraṇa-maṅgala-stotram” (late 17th century–early 18th century), its poetic Bengali translation by Viśvanātha’s disciple Kṛṣṇadāsa known as Gaurāṅga-līlāmṛta, and Narahari Cakravartī’s Paddhati-pradīpa (18th century).

This entire meditation on Mahāprabhu’s aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā focuses solely on the Lord’s
activities in Navadwip. A sādhaka should meditate on it before his meditation on Rādhā-
Kṛṣṇa’s eight-fold pastimes in Vraja. This will allow him to enter Vṛndāvana meditation in
the proper mood, having accrued the blessings of Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu and his
benevolent Navadwip-dhāma.

Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and the evolution Navadwip-Dhama

Theological significance of Navadwip-dhāma was further developed in the 19th century by Kedāranātha Datta ‘Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’ (1838–1914), who was a deputy magistrate in Nadia district and a prolific Vaiṣṇava writer and theologian. He wrote three books on Navadwip: the monumental Navadwip-dhāma-māhātmya (1890) in two parts, Navadwip-bhāva-taraṅga (1899) and Navadwip-śataka (1894).

The first of them is a development and expansion of Narahari Cakravartī’s Navadwip- parikramā. Thus, contrary to the popular belief, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was not the first Chaitanya Vaiṣṇava theologian who described different pastimes of Kṛṣṇa’s incarnations and their devotees that took place on each of the nine islands of Navadwip. It was Narahari Cakravartī who in his Navadwip-parikramā and Bhakti-ratnākara provided extensive
information regarding this. Taking these two books as a basis for his Navadwip-dhāma-
māhātmya, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura expanded Narahari’s descriptions and provided further
theological explanations for Navadwip as the topmost Gaudiya-Vaiṣṇava tīrtha.

In October 1893, Bhaktivinoda founded the Navadwipdhāma Pracāriṇī Sabhā (Society for Popularisation of the Sacred Site of Nabadwip), which promoted an alternative birthplace that he had seen in Mayapur during a mystical experience. i Mayapur was at this time populated by a Muslim settlement of fishermen and Bhaktivinoda embarked upon pioneering historical, textual and archaeological studies to prove its legitimacy. To that end he published the Śrī Navadwip Dhāma Mahātmya in 1888 and the Navadwip śataka by Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī and gained the support of important Nadia landowners such as Nafarchandra Pal Chauduri (1838-1933) and the prestigious royal family of Tripura. ii At the suggestion of another supporter, Sisir Kumar Ghosh, Bhaktivinoda decided to make his theories public, and he arranged a meeting in the A. B. School in Krishnanagar, the administrative centre for the Nadia district, where he presented the evidence for his claim. The meeting was well attended and well received, and with support from members of the middle and upper class, Mayapur grew as an alternative pilgrimage site. Despite this promising beginning, Bhaktivinoda’s project was firmly opposed by prominent bhadraloka such as Akhsay Chandra Sarkar, who worked for a Hindu revival through the Bangabasi press and edited three journals, the Sadharani, the Nabajiban, and Purnima. Another opponent was Kanti Chandra Rarhi, who argued against Bhaktivinoda on the basis of historical-empirical evidence.

Among various lineages of Chaitanya Vaiṣṇavas, Bhaktivinoda is first of all known for his discovery of Māyāpura on the eastern bank of the Ganges River (opposite Nabadwip town) and proclaiming it the actual birthplace of Śrī Chaitanya. This discovery seriously challenged the authority and income53 of the orthodox Vaiṣṇavas and brāhmaṇas across the Ganges at Nabadwip. This gave birth to a controversy that continues to this day. Bhaktivinoda started searching for the actual birthplace after he saw Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu in a dream in Tarakeshwar who told him not to go to Vrindavan but “to do some work in Navadwip.” After that, Bhaktivinoda came to Nabadwip town and there he had another mystical experience—one night while on the roof of Rāṇī Dharmaśālā with his fifteen-year-old son Kamalā Prasāda Datta and a clerk he had a vision of a shining palace in the north on the other side of the Ganges. His son also saw it but the clerk did not. The following Saturday Bhaktivinoda went to the place on the other side of the Ganges where he saw the light and again had the same mystical experience. Old-residents of the area told him that this was the actual site of Mahāprabhu’s birth. Bhaktivinoda then consulted maps of the period and analyzed descriptions from Śrī Chaitanya’s biographies and other books such as Narahari Cakravartī’s Bhakti-ratnākara and they confirmed his findings and the mystical experience he had.54 In 1894 he and his supporters (among whom there were many respectable bhadralok and reputed Vaiṣṇava scholars) built a small temple and installed deities of Gaura and Viṣṇupriyā. Bhaktivinoda named the place “Yoga-pīṭha” in accordance with Bhakti-ratnākara’s descriptions.

The opposition from Nabadwip published several books and booklets trying to refute Bhaktivinoda’s claims. Initially, as the alternative to the new-found Māyāpura, they offered an idea that was widespread at that time, that the actual birthplace was deep down in the waters of the Ganges River after it changed its course and flooded the area.55 In 1916 AD, after  Bhaktivinoda’s demise, a bābajī from Rādhā-kuṇḍa named Vraja-mohana Dāsa, a retired engineer, came to Navadwip in 1916 to search for the actual birthplace. After some time he came to the conclusion that the actual birthplace was in Nabadwip town in the area known as Ramchandrapur, where, according to a popular account, Lord Hasting’s dewan named Gaṅgā Govinda Simha (died in 1800) built a 60-foot-high temple in 1792 AD that was washed away by the Ganges around 1821.33 However, Dinesh Chandra Sen (1866–1939), an eminent scholar of Bengali history and folklore, indicated that the temple was actually a Rāma temple in an appropriate place for such a structure —Rāmacandrapura, the town of Rāmacandra. In an article in Viṣṇupriyā Patrikā Bhaktivinoda himself stated that Gaṅgā Govinda Simha erected the temple in Ramchandrapur erroneously thinking it to be Mahāprabhu’s birthplace because Simha couldn’t ascertain where the Ganges flowed during Mahāprabhu’s times and didn’t investigate the issue.56

Bhaktivinoda’s son and successor Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī (1874–1937) was entrusted by him with the development of Māyāpura, where he erected a big temple in 1934, styled in publications of that time as Adbhuta mandir, “amazing temple.” Between 1909 and 1913 Saraswati constructed a bhajan kunja (meditation house) at Mayapur near the the ruins of Ballal Sen’s palace termed Ballal Dhibi (Mound of Ballal Sen) and named it Brajapattan considering it to be the banks of the Radhakunda of Brindaban.57 Prior to that, in 1918 Bhaktisiddhānta founded an organization in Māyāpura aimed at propagation of Śrī Chaitanya’s teachings in India and worldwide, named Gaudiya Maṭha. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati began organizing four-day parikramas of Nabadwipdham along with his Gaudiya Math disciples from 1919 onwards seeking to ‘revive’ a lost tradition. In 1925 he started annual nine-day-long Navadwip parikrama in which hundreds of his followers from different parts of India participated. During eighteen years of his active preaching (1918–1936) he and his students founded 64 branches of Gaudiya Maṭha around India and abroad,58 fourteen of which were established on different islands within Navadwip area.

It was Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura who shortly after discovering Mahāprabhu’s birthplace predicted that foreign people will soon start visiting Navadwip and will become the devotees of Śrī Chaitanya: “Very soon the unparalleled path of harināma-saṅkīrtana will be propagated all over the planet. . . . O for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, Prussian, and American people will take up banners, mṛdaṅgas, and karatālas and perform kīrtana through their streets and towns! When will that day come? O for the day when the Western fair-skinned men, from one side, while chanting “Jaya Śacīnandana ki jaya!” will extend their arms and, embracing the devotees of our country coming from another side,treat us with brotherly feelings. When will that day be? On such a day they will say, “Our dear Āryan brothers, we have taken shelter at the lotus feet of Lord Chaitanya, who is the ocean of transcendental love. Kindly embrace us.” When will that day come? That day will witness the holy transcendental Vaiṣṇava-prema to be the only dharma, and like rivers meeting the ocean, all narrow creeds will mix with the unlimited Vaiṣṇava dharma. When will that day come?”59

Bhaktivinoda’s longing came to pass as all Navadwip area is abundant with the foreign as well as Indian Gaudiya Vaiṣṇava devotees throughout the year, every year, especially in Māyāpura around the time of Śrī Chaitanya’s birth festival in the spring. This is mainly due to the efforts of Bhaktivinoda’s son Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and the latter’s disciple, A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda (1896–1977), who in 1966 founded International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and in 1972 made Māyāpura its world headquarters. As of the writing of this article, ISKCON is building there a huge Temple of Vedic Planetarium in Māyāpura as well, which, among other things, will present the Vedic conception of cosmology and will accommodate several thousand people at once.


Unlike other traditional centers of pilgrimage in Bengal like Tarapith or Tarakeshwar, where devotional activity is centered on a single temple, Nabadwip has a large sacred zone whose parikrama measures sixteen kros or roughly thirty kilometers. The birthplace debate as it originated in the late nineteenth century as well as the trajectories it took in the early twentieth century reveals that Vaishnava sacred spaces began to be linked up and vigorously projected within the public sphere. Both sides resorted to a range of arguments and selective reading of ‘sources’ to stake their claims to legitimacy that ranged from sacred scriptural evidence, topographical data including colonial maps, administrative treatises, land revenue agreements, along with letters and personal memoirs. This desire by colonial Vaishnavas for sacred ‘place-making’ by locating and establishing connectivities led to a surge for map-making, historical fact-finding, intensive study of Vaishnava scriptures for unearthing ‘geographical’ data, along with the deployment of strategies of identification-through-revelation or visions. But such practices of identification were given a more tangible material dimension through the construction of religious institutions over such sites and inauguration of annual practices of circumambulation. This may be taken as a form of co-option and conversion of a physical landscape into a sacred zone. It is this that formed a part of the modernization of Vaishnava traditions. Thus, religio-cultural sites were sought to be vested with renewed significance and organized within networks of reformed religiosity.

The debate between the two sides was to an extent bound to remain indecisive since the garnering of ‘facts’ was made in a way that targeted the chinks in the armour of the opposite camp without clarifying the doubts raised by them. The historicity of facts was culled from roughly the same amalgam of literary and cartographic sources to argue for varying interpretetions. To an extent the debate was ultimately bound to be redundant for it was not ‘fact’ but ‘belief’ that was the ultimate cornerstone for sacred spaces. It is ‘divine vision’ and the devotion of an individual devotee that enables him/her to ‘perceive’ the osmological homology between Brindaban and Nabadwip, a belief that could possibly never be decisively proved in an empirical manner.

A simplistic economic explanation for the shift of birth site due to the clash between vested rights of neo-Vaishnavas and traditional goswamis may appear attractive, and even somewhat probable. Again, it is also evident that some members of the traditional classes began to co-ordinate their activities to promote Nabadwip as the site of Chaitanya’s birth but no single reaction pattern emerges. Brajamohan Das faced the wrath of Saratchandra Goswami, the temple priest of the Mahaprabhu temple of Nabadwip as much from the Mayapur group. By the mid twentieth century, however, we find affiliate maths of the Gaudiya Math cropping up in Nabadwip as well.60

It seems that the Nabya versus Prachin Mayapur controversy breaks a number of stereotypes relating to religious resuscitation. For one it was possible for Kedarnath, a person educated in the rationalist historicist tradition of western knowledge, a civilian within the colonial bureaucracy and a member of the Royal Asiatic Society to fall back upon a mytho-narrative construction of sacred space at Nabadwip. At the same time it was also possible for a person like Brajamohan Das, an initiated Vaishnava who had the mandate of the traditional  religious classes of Brindaban to construct his version within a historicist paradigm of ‘evidence’- of maps, colonial documents, letters, and land revenue papers. It is this divergence in the evolution of the controversy over Chaitanya’s birthplace that seems to offer a vista into varied strategies of historicization within the colonial Vaishnava resuscitation process. Placed within the context of other attempts by Gaudiya Vaishnavas to link up with sub-regional and supra-regional pilgrim centres around the same period there seems to have existed immense potential in the ‘place-making’ venture. It was this historicizing desire that marked later attempts by Haridas Das in the 1950s which included alphabetical listing of Gaudiya sites across India along with maps of Brajamandal, Gauramandal, and a pilgrimage map showing places visited by Chaitanya and Nityananda. He also provided an appendix listing an inventory of objects used by Vaishnava saints housed in various sripats. By 1975 this process of identification and inclusion of sacred sites led to as many as one hundred and eighty five sites by Kishoridas Babaji in his SrisriGaudiya Vaishnava Tirtha Paryatan.61

What all this enthusiastic debate produced was an increased public knowledge and recognition for the town. New maths and religious institutions began to grow and participate in legitimizing the power of the place- a process that in turn legitimized it as the place of power. Later in the 20 th century the headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness [ISKCON] was founded at Mayapur by Siddhanta Saraswati’s disciple Bhaktivedanta Swami. The Mayapur-Nabadwip zone lent itself to the proliferation of new rituals of performance through nagar samkirtans and parikrama during annual celebration of Ras lila that portrayed itself as an age-old practice. This ‘invention of tradition’ has led to ritual elaboration through the organization of parikramas over the span of almost a month covering the nine sacred islands.


1. The term gauḍīya is derived from Gauḍa and indicates anything related or connected with it, thus effectively becoming synonymous with “Bengali.” So “Gauḍīya-Vaiṣṇavism” essentially means “Bengali Vaiṣṇavism.”

2. The word Tirtha literally means a ‘ford’ or a “crossing place”-a place where one can easily cross from one side of a river to the other. Tirthas mostly refer to sacred sites associated with the bank of water bodi s especially rivers. Metaphorically, tirthas are regarded as places where the boundaries between the everyday world and the sacred become permeable and where one can easily “cross over” or communicate between the two. Diana L. Eck, “India’s Tirthas: ‘Crossings’ in Sacred Geography”. History of Religions 20,4: p.323-344. See Surinder M. Bharadwaj and
James G. Lochtefeld, “Tirtha”, in Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby, edited, The Hindu World, Routledge, First Indian Reprint 2005, p.479.

3. Similarly the term Kshetra refers to a holy precinct or a sacred field. This precinct may denote either an analogue or an actual physical abode. In common parlance, kshetra refers to a location with a holy temple or where a person or event of religious importance has taken place.

4. Lila (‘divine sport or activity’) and Lila-Sthala (‘places connected with such divine sports’) are contiguous concepts that mean divine abodes.

5. Mandala means a ‘circle’ in Sanskrit and as a graphic representation refers to a symbolic spiritual construction with concentric circles around a core. See Tony Stewart, ‘Replicating Vaisnava worlds: Organizing devotional space through the architectonics of the mandala’ in Rosalind O’Hanlon & David Washbrook eds., Religious Cultures in Early Modern India: New Perspectives, New Delhi, 2011, pp.244-290.

6. The term Dhama or Dhaman in Sanskrit means ‘prime support’ or ‘to nurture’, while the suffix dhama refers to the residence of the gods. Vaishnavas define this eternal home of the gods and the goal of all living beings as Baikuntha. Gaudiya Vaishnavas conceive that Chaitanya is supposed to have shown that the supreme godhead’s personal dhama is identical with his own spiritual nature. Thus, all material forms reflected in a place identitfied as a dham are considered to be reflections of activities and forms of the divine realm. All self-realized devotees of god can actually ‘see’ the holy dhama by the grace of the supreme Lord.

7. Morinis cites references of this individual relation to a sacred place from the ancient Sanskrit Vaishnava text, Sri Narada Pancharatnam: The Jnanamrita Sara Samhita (translated by Swami Vijnananda, 1921. p.81) that “He who daily eats (sic) the water used in washing the feet of Hari (Vishnu) and his naivedyam [offerings] and takes his mantra, he becomes liberated while living. O Narada! The Earth becomes instantaneously pure by the dust of his feet and the tirthas become sanctified.” Ibid, p.32.

8. Among the vast array of district histories that were produced in the early twentieth century included Anandachandra Ray’s Faridpurer Itihas; Radharaman Saha’s Pabnar Itihas, ; Nikhilnath Ray’s Murshidabader Itihas 1902; Rajanikanta Chakrabarti’s Gauder Itihas; Kalikaprasad Datta’s History of Coochbehar; Jatindramohan Ray’s Daccar Itihas; Achyutacharan Chaudhuri’s Srihatter Itibritta; Bidhubhushan Bhattacharya’s Haora o Huglir Itihas; Abhaypada Mallik’s Bishnupurer Itihas; Trailokyanath Pal’s Tamluker Itihas; Jogeshchandra Basu’s Mednipurer Itihas, (Calcutta, 1921); Satishchandra Mitra’s Jessore Khulnar Itihas, (Calcutta 2 Vols (1914-1922); Kedarnath Majumdar’s Maimansigher Itihas 1903; and Sibratan Mitra’s ‘The History of Birbhum: The Name and Borders of the District’, Birbhumi, 1, 3, Poush (1899) among a host of others.

9. Ian J. Kerr, ‘Reworking a Popular Religious Practice: The Effects of Railways on Pilgrimage in 19 th and 20th Century South Asia’, in Railways in Modern India, ed. by Ian J. Kerr, Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp.304-327.

10. Banglay Bhraman: a ‘Travelogue’ on historical documents and legends, published by Eastern Bengal Railway, 1940 [(3 rd ed. 1997) Calcutta: Shaivya prakashan]. Other tracts included Gosthobihari Dhar, Tirtha Bhraman Kahini, Calcutta, Bengal Medical Library, 1910;

11. This reference regarding Brajadarpan is mentioned in the preface to the Nabadwip Darpan.

12. These include the SrisriJagannath deva Mahatmya o Puri Yatri Sahachar (1901) on Puri; Bipin Bihari Goswami’s Brajamandal Parikrama (1915); Pulin Bihari Datta’s Brindaban Katha (1919) and Mathura Katha (1926); Pyarimohan Chakrabarty’s Ban Parikrama:Braja Rahasya o Mahatmya (1914) and Ban-jatra (1921); and Purnachandra Biswas’s Brajadarshan (1933) among many other texts.

13. See the chapter ‘Maps and Myths in the Matsya Purana’, in Ariel Glucklich, The Strides of Vishnu, New York, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp.145-162; and Axel Michaels, ‘Mapping the Religious and Religious Maps: Aspects of Transendance and Translocality in Two Maps of Varanasi’, in Martin Gaenszle & Jorg Gengnagel eds., Visualizing Space in Benaras: Images, Maps, and the Practice of Representation, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp.131-144.

14. For a representative sample we may cite the reference of the; Purushottam Kshetra Mahatmya (1911) by Maheshchandra Ray; the Rahgab Pandit o Panihati Mahatmya by Amulyadhan Ray (1915) on the vaishnava centre of Panihati in 24 Parganas; the Shyamray Mahatmya by Abhaycharan Ghosh (1915) on the sanctity of a shrine of Krishna at Dacca; Ajay Nadir Mahatmya: Jayadeb-Padmabatir Bibaran (1918) by Manulal Mishra in on the sanctity of the River Ajay on whose banks was located the birth site of the medieval vaishnava poet Jayadeva; Bishnupurer Madanmohaner Mahatmya (1920) by Nibaranchandra Smrititirtha on the significance of the shrine of Madanmohan established by the Malla kings of Bishnupur; Ramkeli Mahatmya (1921) by Krishna Keshav Goswami on the sanctity of Ramkeli village in the Malda district where Chaitanya converted Rupa and Sanatana to Vaishnavism; and Sri Sri Madangopal Mahatmya (1924) by Bholanath Pramanik on the family deity of Jaygopal Goswami of Santipur, among a host of others.

15. These versions are mentioned in: J. H. E. Garrett, Bengal District Gazetteer (Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1910), pp.179-180; Nagendranath Basu (ed.), Viśvakoṣa (Calcutta: 1898), vol.9, pp. 633-634; Kumudnath Mallik, Nadīyā-kāhinī (Ranaghat: 1910), pp. 4-5; Kānticandra Rāḍhī, Navadvīpa-mahimā (Nabadwip: 1937, 2nd edition), pp. 24-29, and others.

16. The earliest known source for the “New Island” etymology may be Kula-kārikā which is said to have been written by Eḍu Miśra in the early 13th century. It is quoted in Mandiramaya Navadvīpa Dhāma (Navadvīpa: Navadvīpa Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Samāja, 2016), p. 8. Kavi Karṇapūra, one of the first biographers of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, also mentions Navadvīpa as a “New Island” in his Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta-mahā-kāvya (6.23).

17. These verses from Nadadvīpa-parikramā are quoted by the famous compiler of the Viśvakoṣa, the first encyclopedia in an Indian language (in Bengali), Nagendranath Basu in vol. 9, pp. 633-634. As was noticed by Mihirkumar Kamilya in his doctoral thesis entitled Narahari Cakravartī: Jivani o Rachanavali published from Burdwan University in 1976 (pp. 201-207) there are two versions of Narahari Cakravartī’s Navadvīpa-parikramā.

18. cf. Suniti Kumar Chatterji, The origin and development of the Bengali language (New Delhi: Rupa & Co, 2002), p.701. Standard dictionary of the Bengali language Bāṅgālā Bhañāra Abhidhāna edited by Jñānendramohan Dās (2nd edition, Calcutta: Sāhitya Saṁsada, 1986, vol. 1, p. 1072) gives two meanings for the word dīyā: 1) a village (derived from Persian (dīh), “village”) and 2) island (as a corrupted form of Sanskrit dvīpa). Kānticandra Rāḍhī in his Navadvīpa-mahimā (Nabadwip: 1937, 2nd edition), p.26, argues that diyā is a corrupted form of dīpa, lamp, thus na-diyā has the same meaning as nava-dīpa, “nine lamps.”

19. Maulana, Minhaj-ud-Din, Abu-Umar-i-Usman, Tabakat-i-Nasiri: A general history of the Muhammadan dynasties of Asia, translated by H.G. Raverty (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1881), vol. 1, p. 554.

20. W. W. Hunter, A Statistical Account of Bengal (London: Trubner & Co, 1875), vol. 2, p. 18.

21. W.W. Hunter, A Statistical Account of Bengal, Vol.II, Districts of Nadiya and Jessor, London: Trubner and Co., 1875, pp.18-19.

22. Rarhi, Nabadwip Mahima, pp.35-42.

23. Kula-kārikā as quoted in Śrī Gaurāngadevera janmasthāna (Kolkata: Śrī Gaurāṅgajanma-bhūmi-nirṇaya-samiti, 1344 B.S. [1937 AD]), p. 19.

24. Pramode Lal Paul, The Early History of Bengal (Calcutta: The Indian Research Institute, 1939), vol. 1, p. 97 and R. C. Majumdar (ed.) The History of Bengal (Patna: N. V. Publications, 1971), vol. 1, p. 252.

25. Being a great patron of arts and learning he honoured several scholars and poets at his court. Among these famed people were Śūlapāṇī, the author of Smṛti-viveka; Halāyudha, the author of several works on different classical disciplines (Smṛti-sarvasva, Brāhmaṇa-sarvasva, Mīmāṁsa-sarvasva and Nyāya-sarvasva); the poet Jayadeva who wrote the Gīta-govinda and Śrīdhara Dāsa, who compiled the anthology of didactic Sanskrit verses called Sad-ukti-karṇāmṛta, was the son of Lakṣmaṇa Sena’s general Baṭū Dāsa. See Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana, A History of Indian Logic (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2006 reprint of the first Indian edition of
1920), p. 524.

26. Rarhi, Nabadwip Mahima, p.106-111.

27. Rarhi, Nabadwip Mahima, pp.120-147.

28. Ibid., pp.199-209.

29. Hunter, Ibid., p.107.

30. Tony Stewart, ‘Replicating Vaisnava worlds’, pp.244-290.

31. For details see Alan W. Entwistle, Braj: Centre of Krishna Pilgrimage, Groningen. Egbert Forsten. 1987; and David L. Haberman, Journey Through the Twelve Forests: An Encounter with Krishna, New York: OUP, 1994.

32. Pika Ghosh shows how the mandala concept was utilized in depicting the raslila of Radha-Krishna in the terracotta temple architecture at the ‘secret Brindaban’ (Gupta Brindaban) of Bishnupur. It was secret Brindaban since only initiated Vaishnavas could comprehend its significance. For details see Pika Ghosh, ‘Tales, Tanks and Temples: The Creation of a Sacred Center in Seventeenth-Century Bengal’, in Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 61, No. 2, 2002, pp. 193-222.

33. It was thus believed that one can attain spiritual liberation by circumambulating Navadwipa dham, where the Lord’s most munificent pastimes are eternally enacted. Moreover, if he does so while chanting the holy name and hearing hari-kathä, he receives unlimited benefit.

34. Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata with the Gauḍīya-bhāṣya by Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura,ed. by the editorial board of the Caitanya-vāṇī Patrikā (Kolkātā: Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, 1986), p. 594 (Madhya-khaṇḍa 10.283-284).

35. ibid., p. 197, (Ādi-khaṇḍa 10.38).

36. This pervasive but incorrect information was popularized in many Bengali books on Śrī Caitanya, one of the most prominent being Vaiṣṇava-digdarśanī by Murālilāla Adhikāri (Kolkata: 1925, p. 38). It provides chronological frames for the different events related to Gauḍīya tradition, many of which are, however, completely inaccurate. No critical analysis,
evidence or references provided for the dates.

37. Verse 4.76. All verses quoted from Kavi Karṇapūra’s Caitanya-caritāmṛta-mahākavya are taken from an unpublished manuscript translated by Bhanu Swami.

38. cf. B. B. Majumdar, Caitanya-caritera upādāna (Kolkata: Sanskrit Book Depot, 2016), p.25-26.

39. Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata, Op. cit., p. 45, (Ādi-khaṇḍa 1.137)

40. Caitanya-caritāmṛta with Amṛta-pravāha-bhāṣya of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Anubhāṣya of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, ed. by Bhakti Śrirūpa Bhāgavata Mahārāja (Kalikātā: Gauḍīya Mission, 1990), p. 292, (Ādi-līlā 17.34).

41. Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā (Kalikātā: Sadeśa, 2007), p. 5 (Verse 18).

42. Śrī Vraja-rīti-cintāmaṇiḥ (Sāurī: Saūrī Prapannāśrama, 1973), p. 103

43. cf. Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi-līlā 1.5.

44. Bhakti-ratnākara (Kolkātā: Gauḍīya Mission, 2004), p. 453 (12.84)

45. Cf. the narrations from Nārada Purāṇa cited in Jīva Gosvāmī’s Bhakti-sandarbha (152).

46. From Jīva Gosvāmī’s commentary to Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (7.5.23): asya śrī-mūrtidarśana-sparśana-parikramānuvrajana-bhagavan-mandira-gaṅgā-puruṣottama-dvārakāmathurādi-tadīya-tīrtha-sthāna-gamanādayo’py antarbhāvyāḥ: “Seeing, touching, circumambulating, following after the deity of the Lord, as well as going to the Lord’s temple, the Ganges, Purī, Dvārakā, Mathurā and other holy places associated with the Lord—all these are included within pāda-sevanam.”

47. Verses 12.50-52. Bhakti-ratnākara (Kolkātā: Gauḍīya Mission, 2004), p. 451

48 ibid., Verses 12.39-42, p. 450.

49. Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa, Critical Edition (Ahmadabad: B. J. Institute of Learning and Research, 1998), vol. 3, p. 19.

50. Navadvīpa-dhāma-māhātmya, ed. by Śrī Kedāranātha Datta Bhaktivinoda (Kalikātā: Bhakti Bhavana, 1889), p. 143. (Pramāṇa-khaṇḍa, 4.22).

51. Specific attributes of these places were also delineated in the scriptures. Navadwipdham is thus considered as the abode of the nine types of devotional service as follows: Antardwip– self-surrender, Simantadwip– hearing, Godrumadwip – chanting, Madhyadwip – remembering, Koldwip – serving the Lord’s lotus feet; Ritudwip – worshipping, Jahnudwip – offering prayers; Modrumdwip – engaging as a servant; and Rudradwip – serving as a friend.

52. He was born at the now ‘lost’ Rneyapur village in Jangipur division of Murshidabad district sometime around 1690. He is considered to have been a disciple of Srinivasa Acharya by some and of Biswanath Chakrabarti and others. He was proficient in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Hindi, Apabhramsa, received a scriptural education and went to Brindaban where he composed a number of vaishnava treatises such as Narottama Vilas, Gitachandrodaya, Chhandasamudra and Bhaktiratnakar to name a few. For the details of Narahari Chakrabarti and his Bhaktiratnakar
I have consulted Mihir Choudhury Kamilya, Narahari Chakrabarty: Jibani o Rachanabali, Burdwan, University of Burdwan, 1981, (2 nd ed. 2008), pp. 39-58.

53. There are numerous accounts of how the priests serving in the Vaiṣṇava temples at Nabadwip in 19-20 centuries would solicit money from pilgrims for darśana of the deity or even for the entry to the temple. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura himself writes in his autobiography that when he came to Nabadwip in 1887 he was utterly disappointed with the local people: “Every Saturday I would go to Navadvīpa to search for the places of the Lord’s pas times and didn’t find anything. Therefore I was very unhappy. At the present time people of Navadvīpa can relate only to their stomachs etc. They do not make any efforts in relation to the Lord’s places of pastimes.” (Svalikhita-jīvanī, Kolkata: Lalitāprasāda Datta, 1916, p. 180). Another similar account is given in Viṣṇupriyā Patrikā (ed. by Rādhikā Nātha Gosvāmī and Kedāranātha Datta Bhaktivinoda, vol. 1, No. 2, 15 Caitra 405 Caitanyābda [March 1891]) where an anonymous author describes his bitter disappointment with the materialistic people of Nabadwip.

54. Svalikhita-jīvanī, p. 181.

55. Bholanath Chandra, a member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, recorded his visit to Nabadwip on February 20, 1845, in his book Travels of a Hindoo: “To nothing does Nuddea owe its celebrity so much as for its being the scene of the life and labours of Choitunya. On inquiring about the spot of his birth, they pointed to the middle of the stream which now flows through Old Nuddea. The Brahmins here revere him as an extraordinary man, but deny his incarnation. His own followers regard him as an Avatar, and pay to him divine honours.” (Bholanauth Chunder, The travels of a Hindoo to various parts of Bengal and Upper India, London: Trubner & Co.: 1869, vol. 1, p. 35).

56. Viṣṇupriyā Patrikā, vol.2 (1892), no. 5, p. 4. Bhaktivinoda further states that because of Simha’s mistake the Gaṅgā soon washed his temple away.
57. Ibid., p.109.
58. Three centers outside India were established by his disciples in London, Berlin and Rangoon.

59. ”Nitya-dharma-sūryodaya” in Sajjana-toṣaṇī, vol. 4, no. 3 (June 1892), pp. 42-43. Translation taken from Bhakti Vikāsa Swami, Śrī Bhaktisiddhānata Vaibhava (Surat: Bhakti Vikas Trust, 2009), vol. 1, p. 4-5.

60. Swami B.A. Paramadvaiti, Our Family the Gaudiya Math: A study of the expansion of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and the many branches developing around the Gaudiya Math, Vrindavan, VRINDA – The Vrindavan Institute for Vaisnava Culture and Studies, 1999.
i. Bhaktivinoda, Sajjanatoṣaṇī 5.11 (1893) pp. 201-207.
ii. This was a time when a significant number of literatures in praise of sacred sites were produced in Bengal. See, for example (Stewart and Manring 1996-97, p. 118ff). Regarding the Navadvīpa-śataka, Jan Brzezinski writes: ‘A further work, Navadvīpa-śataka, appears to be a pastiche of Prabodhānanda’s style written to vaunt the glories of Chaitanya’s birthplace’ and thus he questions its authenticity (Brzezinski 1992, p. 54).

61. Kishoridas Babaji, SrisriGaudiya Vaishnava Tirtha Paryatan, Halishahar, 1975 (2 nd ed. 1984).

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