Apasampradayas: Ativadis

BY: SUN STAFF - 3.7 2018

Jagannath Procession

The first Ativadi sect was founded by an Oriyan-brahmana named Jagannatha Dasa, who lived during Lord Caitanya's time. Jagannatha Dasa was a professional Bhagavatam reciter, and his sweet voice attracted many followers. He claimed to be a disciple of Srila Haridasa Thakura, but later broke with Haridasa and began to preach his own concocted philosophy.

Jagannatha Dasa wrote his own translation of Srimad-Bhagavatam, and attempted to get an audience with the Lord to recite it for him. His translation was in Oriyan, and it contained five new chapters of Jagannatha Dasa's own invention. In order to avoid hearing this concocted philosophy, Lord Caitanya told him: "A fallen jiva such as Myself is not worthy to hear the Bhagavatam composed by a poet like you. You have become too great, ativadi. An insignificant soul like Me can have nothing to do with you."

Jagannatha Dasa, who was covered over by false pride took Lord Caitanya's sarcastic statement to be one of praise rather than condemnation, and he and his followers propagated this Bhagavatam throughout Orissa. This Bhagavatam is rejected by true Vaisnavas.

In the early 1870's Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, as a deputy magistrate stationed at the holy city of Jagannatha Puri, arrested, judged, and jailed a self-styled incarnation of Maha-Visnu named Bisa Kisen. Bisa Kisen, by his mystic power, used to lean into fire and then lift his head and make flames come out of his hair. He had two companions who presented themselves as Brahma and Siva.

Many wealthy and influential Hindus of Orissa came under Bisa Kisen's sway. They sent him money to build a temple and provided him women for his "rasa-lila." Bisa Kisen belonged to the Ativadi-apasampradaya.

In a letter dated August 18, 1871, addressed to the editor of Progress, a newspaper in Cuttack, Orissa, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura described the origin, philosophy, and practices of the Ativadi sect. The Ativadis claim to be Vaisnavas, but they are quite opposed to the principles of Vaisnavism. What follows is a synopsis of the most pertinent points of Bhaktivinoda's letter, along with other details gleaned from Apasampradaya-svarupa, a Bengali booklet by Bhakti-vilasa Bharati Maharaja.

The Ativadi apasampradaya (spurious sect) was started by one Jagannatha Dasa when Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu stayed at Puri as a sannyasi. Jagannatha Dasa pretended to be a disciple of Srila Haridasa Thakura, one of Lord Caitanya's close associates. But he later broke his connection with the Thakura and began preaching his own ideas. For instance, he had his followers cover their mouths while chanting the maha-mantra and told them to chant the second half (Hare Rama) first.

Once Jagannatha Dasa arrogantly approached Lord Caitanya, ignoring Svarupa Damodara Gosvami, who would screen visitors so that they might not disturb the Lord. Jagannatha Dasa wished to recite his Oriya translation of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which included five chapters of his own invention. He also wanted to explain his independent manner of chanting Hare Krsna.

To avoid him, Lord Caitanya said, "A fallen soul like Me is not worthy to hear the Bhagavatam composed by an author like you."

Then Jagannatha Dasa declared Lord Caitanya to be Krsna, and himself Radharani.

The Lord replied, "Sir, you have become too great [ativadi]. An insignificant and fallen soul like Me can have nothing to do with you."

Jagannatha Dasa and his followers took the Lord's statement as praise instead of what it really was-condemnation. Thus this apasampradaya views itself as more well-read in the scriptures than Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates, and likewise better in judgment and logic.

Jagannatha Dasa had a sweet singing voice, which attracted women whom he engaged in massaging his body. When brought to the court of King Prataparudra for indecent behavior, he said to the king, "I don't see any difference between men and women." For conduct unbecoming a Vaisnava sadhu, or saintly person, the king had him imprisoned.

Jagannatha Dasa and his followers had been living in an asrama donated by the king. But when Jagannatha Dasa rejected Haridasa Thakura and started his own movement, the property was taken back. He then founded his own asrama on the seashore. It is called the Satlahari Matha and can still be seen today.

Ativadi priests sometimes dress up as women on certain religious occasions, and they are known for loosely mixing with women. The Ativadis are influential in Orissa because Jagannatha Dasa's translation of Srimad-Bhagavatam is widely read, especially by simple, undiscriminating people.

The Ativadis appear very devoted to Lord Jagannatha, the famous form of Krsna worshiped in the Puri temple. They proudly claim that Lord Jagannatha has personally revealed some truth or prophecy to them. Thus every respected Ativadi can recite what he will speak of as his Malika, or series of revelations from the Lord. A common prediction is the year the world will end.

Yet despite the devotion the Ativadis profess for Lord Jagannatha, the scriptures they received from their founder put forward many impersonal ideas. Though the Ativadis worship the Lord's form in the temple, they believe that when they die they will realize Him as formless. Worshiper and worshiped will then merge into oneness.

Ativadis are mystics who practice yoga and sometimes work magic to cure diseases and bring people under their control. They form a secret brotherhood, Bhaktivinoda Thakura says, like the Freemasons in the West, and use drugs like marijuana and opium. Bhaktivinoda Thakura reckoned there were fifteen thousand of them in Orissa during his stay there. He noted that they often engaged in conspiracies against the government.

Bisa Kisen was only one of many self-proclaimed avataras hailing from this apasampradaya. Lord Caitanya taught, avatara nahi kahe ami avatara: "The real incarnation of the Lord never claims to be one."