The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Kasi

BY: SUN STAFF - 22.10 2019


A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 73.

The next holy place on the 'Glossary of Places' is the famed Kasi dham, about which Srila Bhaktivinoda writes:

"Kasi - 'the city of light'; another name for Varanasi. This ancient city is located on the bank of the Ganga between Delhi (710 km) and Calcutta (680 km). Kasi is 125 km downstream from Allahabad. It is a famous place of pilgrimage, especially for the devotees of Lord Siva. Kasi is celebrated as a place of learning and is a center of Sanskrit scholarship, and particularly of advaita-vedanta and mayavada philosophy."

In one Jaiva Dharma translation the place name Kasi is used, while in the other it has been changed to the more modern Varanasi.

Chapter one opens with a narration by the very renounced sannyasi who comes to visit the novel's character, Prema-dasa Babaji. The sannyasi explains his recent whereabouts:

"Setting down his kamandalu, the regal sannyasi respectfully folded his hands and said, "O master, I am very unfortunate. I studied the sankhya, patanjala, nyaya, vaisesika, purva-mimamsa, and uttara-mimamsa philosophies. I studied the Vedanta, Upanisads, and many other scriptures also. I travelled on pilgrimage to Varanasi and many other holy places. I spent much time debating with others the meaning of the scriptures.

It is twelve years now since I accepted a sannyasi danda from Srila Saccidananda Sarasvatipada. After I accepted the danda I spent my time always travelling to all the holy places. Wherever I went in Bharata-varsa I always associated with the sannyasi followers of Sankaracarya. Passing through the stages of kuticaka, bahudaka and hamsa, after a few days I attained the stage of paramahamsa. Then I stayed always at Varanasi.

Observing a vow of silence, I took shelter of the sayings 'aham brahmasi' (I am Brahman), 'prajnanam brahma' (Brahman is consciousness), and 'tat tvam asi' (You are that), which Sankara declares are the maha-vakyas (most important statements of the scriptures). [ ]

After some days of thinking I decided that it would be best for me to take shelter of the feet of a Vaisnava. Then I left Varanasi and went to Sridhama Vrndavana.

There I saw many Vaisnavas. Every one of them was calling out the names, 'O Sri Rupa! O Sri Sanatana! O Sri Jiva Gosvami!' and lamenting. They were all meditating on Sri Sri Radha-Krsna's pastimes and in voices choked with love, calling out the name of Navadvipa.

From that moment I have yearned to see Navadvipa. After a 168 mile journey from Sri Vraja-dhama, I arrived in Mayapura a few days ago.

In Mayapura town I heard of your glories, so now I have come to take shelter of your feet. Please be merciful to me, accept me as your servant, and give my story an ending that is good."

In chapter three, Prema-dasa Babaji is found giving advice to another character in the story, Sri Kalidasa Lahiri. He urges him to go to Kasi and take up instruction from a learned devotee:

"Then Sri Prema dasa, the saintly paramahamsa babaji, mercifully said, "Stay with Sriman Vaisnava dasa. He is learned in all the scriptures. At Varanasi he deeply studied Vedanta-sutra and accepted sannyasa. By the limitless mercy of Sri Krsna Caitanya, who is the Lord of our lives, he was attracted to Sri Navadvipa. He knows all the truths of the Vaisnava religion. Deep love for Lord Hari's holy names has taken its birth within him."

In chapter six there is another storyline about the Vaisnava influence. which saved a devotee who had gotten absorbed in the teachings of the smrta-brahamanas. Here, several of the brahmanas who hoped to defeat the Vaisnavas are mentioned as having come from Kasi, which Srila Bhaktivinoda noted in his Glossary listing is a place famed for its advaitins and mayavadas.

Later in the chapter, Vaisnava dasa proceeds to defeat the smrtas, beginning with a strategy that unsettled his philosophical opponents:

"Without showing any pride, Vaisnava dasa declared, "Today's meeting in Navadvipa is just like a meeting in Varanasi. This is a source of great joy. Although I live in Bengal, I stayed for a long time in Varanasi. There I studied and I also spoke in many meetings. Therefore I am not accustomed to speak in Bengali. I wish that for today's meeting the questions and answers shall be in Sanskrit. Although Cudamani had laboured greatly in his scripture study, aside from memorising some verses he could not speak Sanskrit. Taken aback by Vaisnava dasa's proposal, he said, "Why? For a meeting in Bengal it is best to speak the Bengali language. I am not like the panditas in the western provinces. I cannot speak Sanskrit. Seeing this, everyone could understand the Cudamani was becoming afraid to debate with Vaisnava dasa. Speaking together with one voice, everyone requested Vaisnava dasa Babaji to speak in Bengali, and he agreed."


(Kasi, to be continued…)