The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Bhagirathi


BY: SUN STAFF - 15.7 2019

Mother Ganga at Gangotri, source of the Bhagirathi 
Early Bengal School, c. 1890 
British Museum Collection

A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 25.

We begin this concluding segment on the Bhagirathi River with a narrative from Sri Chaitanya Bhagavat about Lord Chaitanya displaying transcendental ecstasies in the waters of Sri Bhagirathi, at Ambulinga ghat:

"The Lord traveled along the banks of the Ganga and arrived at a place known as Catrabhoga. Here the Ganga was flowing in one hundred separate streams for the benediction and joy of the people. Also situated here is a bathing place known as Ambulinga-ghat. Lord Siva is present here in his linga form known as Ambulinga in water. I shall now relate the history behind this form of Lord Siva. In the long past, Bhagirath had worshipped Gangadevi praying to her to descend to the earth. The waters of Ganga were the only means to bring back to life his ancestors. When Gangadevi complied and started flowing on the earth, Lord Siva was pining for her association.

Finally Lord Siva came to earth. Seeing her flow in Catrabhoga, he became overwhelmed with emotion and entered her waters, himself taking the form of water. Gangadevi on seeing Lord Siva began to worship him with great devotion. Lord Siva knows the depth of Gangadevi's devotion and attachment for the Lord, and Gangadevi is also aware or Lord Siva's highly elevated position. By the touch of Ganga water Lord Siva became water, and Gangadevi offered him prayers with deep reverence.

From that time, the place became famous as Ambulinga ghat. Catrabhoga also became an important place of pilgrimage with both Gangadevi and Lord Siva present there. And now the transcendental significance of this pilgrimage site was further enhanced by the foot marks of Lord Chaitanya. The Lord approached the pilgrimage spot with increasing ecstacy. He roared loudly the holy names and fell swooning only to be caught timely into Nityananda Prabhu's safe embrace. The devotees responded loudly taking the Lord's name, The Lord took everyone into the waters of the Ganga at the Ambulinga ghat and bathed. The Lord and the devotees enjoyed an exhilarating bath. All these descriptions will be compiled later in detail by Vedavyasa.

The Lord came out of the water feeling uncontrollable spiritual emotions storming in His heart. As He changed into fresh dry clothes, His clothes became soaked with tears of ecstacy. On the land Ganga was flowing in one hundred streams and the tears from the Lord's eyes also cascaded down in a hundred streams. The devotees were so amazed that they could only laugh at this extraordinary phenomenon."

(Sri Chaitanya Bhagavat, Antya-lila Chapter Two)

Mathura ghats

There is another famous ghat on the Bhagirathi mentioned by Srila Narahari Chakravati Thakur, in his Mathura-mandala Parikrama:

"The Padma Purana, Yamuna Mahatmya, states: "The Kalindi flows from the mountain Kalinda and flows through Mathura. The Ganges at Shukaratala flows westwards. The confluence of the Yamuna and Bhagirathi is known as the sangam. By bathing at any of these places one achieves highly pious results. But by taking bath in the Yamuna one can achieve a hundred times these results and, according to scholars, Shri Vishranti-tirtha can bestow millions of times these results on people."

Also in the Adi-varaha Purana it is stated: "Hey Devi! Vishranti-tirtha is renowned throughout the three worlds. A person becomes worshipable in Vaikuntha-dhama if he takes bath here. Lord Gatashrama is situated here at this beautiful place. By His darshana one achieves the results attained from visiting and taking bath at all other holy places."

In the Bhakti Ratnakara, Srila Narahari also writes:

"The Yamuna Mahatma of the Padma Purana states: it has been said that divine results can be gained from visiting the mountain Kalinda, from visiting Mathura, from the Ganga of Sukartala flowing westwards and from the meeting point of the Bhagirathi. According to scholars, only Sri Virasantai can bestow million of divine results on people. A person can attain Vaikuntha dham if he takes a bath in Tirtha. (Adi Varaha Purana)"

Finally, we offer this passage from Advaita Prakasha: Lord Advaita Acarya by Shrila Ishana Nagara (c. 1564). In this exchange between Advaita Prabhu and the brahmana Digvijayi, Srila Advaita's true spiritual form is revealed, along with the true nature and Person of the holy Bhagirathi.

Advaita Prakasha, Chapter Six

"All glories to Shri Chaitanya! All glories to Sitanatha! All glories to Nityananda, along with all the devotees!

Listen now as I give the wonderful description concerning how the Lord became known by the name Advaita. One brahmana, who was known as Digvijayi, had defeated in debate the leading scholars of many provinces before finally arriving in Shantipura. When the brahmana heard that Advaita Prabhu was known as Veda Pancanana, he joyfully approached Him.

Advaita Prabhu was sitting in yogasana near the tulasi platform and softly chanting the Shri Gopala mantra. At that time the Digvijayi arrived there before the Lord and recited a poem in glorification of tulasi.

"Pushkara, Prabhasa, Kurukshetra, and all other tirthas; Yamuna, Ganga, and all other holy rivers; Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, and all other demigods all reside on the leaf of tulasi.

darshita tulasidevi papa-sangha mardini sparshita tulasirani sarva-deha pavani vandita tulasidevi roga-vrinda-nashini snapita tulasi-krishna shakti-kala-damshini ropita tulasidevi krishna-sanga arpini arpita tulasi krishne jivan-mukti-dayini

"By seeing tulasi, one's sins are subdued. By touching tulasi, one's body is purified. By glorifying tulasi, one's diseases are destroyed. By watering tulasi, one overcomes death. By sowing tulasi, one attains Krishna's association. By offering tulasi to Krishna, one achieves liberation in this life. I offer my obeisances at the feet of Tulasidevi, without whom Lord Vishnu does not eat."

In this way the brahmana quoted various scriptures to describe the glories of tulasi. When the brahmana next began describing the glories of the Bhagirathi, Advaita Prabhu opened His lotus eyes. The Digvijayi said, "The glories of the Ganges are boundless. She emanates from the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu, therefore her name is Vishnupadi. She who sports in the matted locks of Lord Shiva, who is worshiped with many offerings by Lord Brahma, and who delivers the demigods headed by Indra—that Mandakini Ganga became the jeweled necklace of the earth. Knowing the essence of Ganga's glories by meditation, Jahnu Muni drank the Ganges on the pretext of performing acamana. Later, out of consideration for people's welfare, he let the Ganges pass out from his knee.

"Ganga is a devotee of Vishnu in the form of water. She is invested with the potency to deliver all living entities. Mother Jahnavi is the reservoir of mercy, for simply by taking bath in her waters one is relieved of the threefold miseries. One who drinks a palmful of Ganges water will certainly attain an exalted destination at the time of death. I offer hundreds of obeisances at the feet of Ganga. O Mahashaya, I have come here to debate with You."

On hearing the brahmana, Kamalaksha, Veda Pancanana, slightly smiled and in sweet words said, "You are highly experienced and the crest jewel amongst poets. Your fame reaches up to the heavenly planets. My heart is enrapt with loving sentiments on hearing you speak the transcendental glories of tulasi and the Ganges.

"But you have some misunderstanding about the truth of Ganga. You said that Ganga is a devotee of Vishnu in liquid form. But actually the Supreme Lord Himself has taken the liquid form of Ganga in order to deliver the living entities. The Puranas describe how one day Lord Narayana melted into liquid on hearing the singing of the five-headed Lord Shiva. That divine water became the Ganges River, which is directly Transcendence in the form of water. Indeed, simply by remembering her name, one is freed from the cycle of birth and death. The Lord's spiritual potency takes the form of Ganga. By sustaining the Ganga on his head, Lord Shiva has conquered death.

"Without the mercy of Ganga, no work will be successful. Even Lord Brahma achieved his desired result by worshiping the Ganges. The shrutis instruct one to consider all water as Ganges water, and they declare that Ganges water is as good as Narayana. Ganges water becomes stagnant only after one year. If one dies in the Ganges, he attains Vaikuntha. Krishna is purchased by one who offers some Ganges water with a tulasi leaf."

Hearing Advaita Prabhu's conclusions, Shyamadasa thought, "To hell with my name Digvijayi." He then said, "Is it established in the scriptures that the Absolute Truth has form? O Veda Pancanana, please listen and consider. The Vedas state that the Absolute Truth is all-pervading and beyond sense perception, without qualities or form. That Supreme Brahman performs no activity and undergoes no change. So how can You assume that the Absolute Truth has form? Anything that has form can be perceived by the senses."

Advaita Prabhu replied, "The Supreme Absolute Truth is never without form. The beginningless Absolute Truth has an eternal, blissful form of full of knowledge. He possesses all energies, so He is perfectly complete. He is the cause of all causes, beginning with creation. His body is transcendental, His mind is transcendental, His eyes are transcendental, and all His qualities are transcendental. He has no relationship with the material qualities, therefore the scriptures describe Him as nirguna, or free from qualities. There is no doubt that the Absolute Truth is beyond sense perception and can never be known through material senses. Although fruit has form, its juice is formless. Similarly, the Absolute Truth has form, but His effulgence is formless. The Absolute Truth is Krishna, the original Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He eternally resides in Vrindavana. He is ever-youthful and the embodiment of all loving exchanges. He is controlled by the topmost ecstasy of the internal potency. The devotees of Krishna are completely spiritual, and they can perceive the Lord's form with the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love. The devotees are the life and soul of the supremely merciful Lord Hari. He therefore bestows on them unalloyed devotional service. Krishna is rarely achieved by the path of dry speculation, but He is easily available by devotional service."

Advaita Acarya thus spoke many conclusive statements, which the Digvijayi was astonished to hear. Previously, as a student in Kashi, this Shyamadasa had worshiped Shiva. He satisfied Lord Shiva by practicing austerities for many days. At the close of one night Shiva came before Shyamadasa and said, "O brahmana, you have performed great austerities. As a result of those austerities, Sarasvati will reside on your tongue. You will conquer all scholars other than myself, and your name will be celebrated throughout Bharata as Digvijayi."

By the strength of Lord Shiva's benediction the brahmana had conquered all provinces until he finally arrived in Shantipura. Now he thought, "Advaita Prabhu has defeated me with these conclusive statements. It appears that Shiva's benediction has become ineffective."

At that time there was voice from the sky saying, "O brahmana, give up this consideration and listen. This Kamalaksha is directly Harihara. That is why He was named Shri Advaita."

On hearing this wonderful voice, the Digvijayi looked up in the sky but could not see anyone. He then thought, "He is indeed Harihara Himself. To argue with Him would be most sinful."

Thinking in this way the brahmana devotedly said, "O Advaita Prabhu, please be merciful to me."

Shri Advaitacandra then mercifully revealed His wonderful spiritual form to Shyamadasa the brahmana. On seeing that form, Shyamadasa exhibited various devotional symptoms like shivering, crying, laughing, and dancing. Then he began chanting the Hare Krishna mantra.

Shri Advaita Prabhu was jubilant to see the brahmana's detachment, and He said, "You are most fortunate. The holy name has unlimited potency. Go on chanting without stop. This morning has become most auspicious, and I feel refreshed after hearing the holy name."

Overwhelmed with loving ecstasy, Advaita exclaimed, "Chant the names of Shri Krishna Chaitanya and Nityananda!" After some time He regained His external consciousness. Only Advaita Prabhu can understand Himself. He is completely transcendental, and His activities, knowledge, fame, and prowess are all spiritual."

(Advaita Prakasha: Lord Advaita Acarya - Chapter 6, by Shrila Ishana Nagara, translated by HH Subhag Swami)