Published on April 13th, 2023 | by Harmonist staff0
Śrī Navadvīpāṣṭakam 1
tire ’ti-ramye iha puṇyamāyyāḥ
lasantam ānanda-bharṇea nityaṁ
taṁ śrī-navadvīpam ahaṁ smarāmi
In meditation I recall Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma, eternally shining, filled with ānanda—oh so charming!—here in Gauḍa-deśa on the side of the dīrghikā along the pure celestial Gaṅgā’s eastern shore.
In this aṣṭakam, Navadvīpa refers to nine (nava) islands (dvīpa) formed in the Gaṅgā delta, where the immortal Ganges enters the sea at what today is known as the Bay of Bengal. In his aṣṭakam, Śrī Rūpa shares two visions—spiritual and geographical—weaving effortlessly between them as if they are one. His Navadvīpa is shining with ānanda, yet located in Gauḍa-deśa, a geographical location known today as West Bengal. And in Śrī Rūpa’s vision, the town of Navadvīpa is located on the Gaṅgā’s eastern shore. This we know from the landmark mentioned in this verse: the dīrghikā, a large water tank established in the twelfth century during the reign of the Hindu king Ballāla Sen that is still visible today.
However, all nine of Navadvīpa’s islands could not have been on the eastern shore, nor are they described as such in later texts.1 But later in his aṣṭakam, Śrī Rūpa refers to bathing ghāṭas where Gaurasundara bathed and also to the residence of Jagannātha Miśra, where his son Viśvambhara was born. Thus, Rūpa’s reference to the eastern shore refers to Māyāpura centered in the island Antardvīpa, which is central to the entirety of Navadvīpa. And all Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas agree that Gaura Hari appeared in Navadvīpa/Māyāpura. But today, not all Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas agree on where Māyāpura and the birth site of Gaurasundara are located due to the shifting of the Ganges over the last five and a half centuries. And today the modern town of Navadvīpa is located on the western bank of the Gaṅgā.
But the modern town of Navadvīpa is undoubtedly a later development. Still, some devotees believe that Gaura’s birthplace is located on the Gaṅgā’s western shore. In this they obviously differ with Śrī Rūpa’s aṣṭakam.2 But if West Bengal’s history can be divided into two periods—pre- and post-Caitanya—as it should, there is no one person in the post-Caitanya era in modern times whose contribution to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism in the region and from there the world over exceeds that of Kedarnātha Bhaktivinoda. And Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda determined through his vision in samādhi and subsequent empirical research along with confirmation from his śikṣā-guru, Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī, that Māyāpura, Gaura’s birth site, is located on the eastern shore of today’s Gaṅgā, as did Rūpa in his aṣṭakam of yore.
After Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda passed on, his successor, Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura, followed the vision and instruction of Bhaktivinoda to develop the birth site of Śrī Caitanya and build a glorious temple (the prophesized adbhuta mandira) therein.3 And during the excavation of the Yogapīṭha temple site, a 20 cm black stone mūrti of Adhokṣaja unlike any from the twentieth century was discovered. Archeologists determined this Viṣṇu mūrti to be more than five hundred years old, and scripture tells us that Jagannātha Miśra worshiped such a deity in his home where Śrīman Viśvambhara Miśra—Gaura Hari—was born. The mūrti’s high cheekbones and square jaw mirror these characteristics of the inhabitants of the Sylhet area, indicating that he most likely was crafted in Sylhet, where the Miśra family lived before moving to Navadvīpa.
- Early Gauḍīya texts do not mention nine particular islands. The earliest references to them are found in the seventeenth century in Dhyānacandra Goswāmī’s Śrī Gaura-Govindārcana-Smaraṇa-Paddhati and Narahari Cakravartī’s Bhakti-ratnākara. [↩]
- By the late nineteenth century the exact birth site was lost to time and the changing course of the Ganges, although many assumed it was on the western side of the Ganges somewhere in the area of the present town of Navadvīpa. But it was from there on the rooftop of the Rānī Dharmaśālā in 1887 that Bhaktivinoda experienced a mystical vision of the actual site on the other side of the river. After supporting his mystical experience with empirical data and scriptural references, this site was honored. However, in 1914 Brajamohana dāsa objected and proceeded to posit an alternate site in the other side of the Ganges. I refer readers to Prof. K. N. Mukherjee’s 1985 article, “A Study for Sri Chaitanya’s Birthplace” in the Indian Journal of Landscape Systems and Ecological Studies, published by the University of Calcutta. This objective study (the only one of its kind) agrees with Bhaktivinoda that empirical and scriptural evidence favors the eastern side of the present-day Ganges. [↩]
- In his Navadvīpa-dhāma-māhātmya, chapter 5, Bhaktivinoda writes, “A glorious temple (adbhuta mandira) will appear from where Gauranga’s nitya-sevā will manifest.” [↩]