The following is a transcription of a discourse on the glories of Śrīmati Gaṅgāmātā Ṭhākurāṇī delivered by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in Murwillumbah, Australia on January 14, 2000
There was a beautiful girl in East Bengal named Śacī-devī, and she was the daughter of the King of Puṭiyā. From the beginning of her life she heard about Lord Kṛṣṇa, and from that time onward she gave her entire heart to Him. From the time she was about five years old, she used to worship Kṛṣṇa, sing to Kṛṣṇa, play with Kṛṣṇa, and do everything with Him. When she was about sixteen years old she became maddened for Him.
Śacī-devī was not only beautiful, but she was very intelligent and used to study Sanskrit and Bengali. Her father and mother were worried about her marriage, but she refused to marry. She told her father, “My marriage has already been done. There is no need for another marriage. Don’t be worried. I will go to Vṛndāvana and I will meet my beloved there.”
She took her Deities and was ready to go to Vṛndāvana alone, on foot, which was a three-to-four-thousand-mile journey. There were no aeroplanes or any modern conveniences in those days. She was preparing to go on foot, but her father arranged everything for her travel.
Having come to Vṛndāvana and being completely infatuated and controlled by the desire to meet Kṛṣṇa, she began searching for Him everywhere, wandering here and there. She would go to Vaṁśīvaṭa and ask that Vaṁśīvaṭa banyan tree, “Where is Kṛṣṇa? Can you tell me where is Kṛṣṇa?”
There was a disciple of a very exalted devotee, named Haridāsa, who was in the line of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī. He was always chanting and remembering Kṛṣṇa. He was also giving classes, just as I give in the evenings, and all Vrajavāsīs and saints and sādhus in our line would attend. Śacī-devī also used to hear the classes, and she was attracted. She told Haridāsa, “I am taking your shelter. Please give me initiation, otherwise I will die. I want to see Kṛṣṇa, and I want to serve Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā.” Hearing this, he was so much happy. Though he had never wanted to initiate anyone, he initiated that beautiful princess.
Haridāsa then gave Śacī-devī instructions on how to chant, how to remember, how to practice in the line of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, how Kṛṣṇa is her beloved, and how she would be able to serve Rādhikā. He told her that her guru was a manifestation of Śrīmatī Viśākhā-devī and Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī.
Śrī Haridāsa did not want her to be alone. He told her that there was an elderly lady of about fifty years who was very mature in hari-bhajana. He placed her under the care of that devotee, just as Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu placed Śrīla Raghunatha dāsa Gosvāmī under the care of Śrī Svarūpa Dāmodara.
After her initiation, Śacī-devī was always weeping for Lord Kṛṣṇa. She used to chant more than one hundred thousand names (sixty-four rounds) of harināma daily, and she was fully absorbed. Her guru never gave her any bhajana-kuṭīra (small house or room or hut, used for chanting and remembering Kṛṣṇa). Rather he told her, “Oh, you should arrange this yourself. I have nothing to do with these things. You should manage that part of your life.”
Śacī-devī used to live in a broken-down temple on the Yamunā-ghāṭa, and there she would perform her sadhana-bhajana. She never made arrangements for prasāda, but rather she would go from door to door, taking very little mādhukarī (prasāda alms). She would eat only one-fourth of one capātī in a meal, not taking all or even half of it. Everyone loved her and wanted to give her foodstuffs, but she never accepted them. She never wore nice clothing. She wore only worn and torn white cloth and was satisfied by this. She had no electricity, and no facilities at all.
By continually hearing, and developing her Kṛṣṇa consciousness, she became completely renounced. When she became twenty-five years old her gurudeva told her, “It is time for you to go to Rādhā-kuṇḍa, to the place of Śrīla Raghunatha dāsa Gosvāmī, and do bhajana like him. And also take that nice elderly devotee.”
For the next twenty-five years Śacī-devī remained in the renounced order, doing mādhukarī (begging) and somehow maintaining her life. There was no problem in maintaining herself, and therefore she used to perform bhajana day and night. She did not sleep, even at night.
After twenty-five years her guru, now very old, called her and said, “You should now go to Nīlācala, Jagannātha Purī, near the Gambhīrā of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, and then remain there for some time. There you will become siddha, perfect; so don’t delay. Also, I would like you to renovate the place of Śrī Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya. At present it is in ruins. No one is taking care of it and practically no one knows about its existence. So go and discover it, make a very simple temple there, worship there, live there, and take the prasādam of Jagannātha.
That elderly lady was now gone, and therefore Śacī-devī went there alone. Somehow she came in the same way that Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī came from Vraja Maṇḍala to Jagannātha Purī, travelling for many days on foot. You cannot imagine how she came.
Once in Purī, Śacī-devī discovered the place of Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya. She made a hut of leaves and began to live there, chanting and remembering Lord Kṛṣṇa. In the evenings she gave classes on Rāsa-pañcādhyāyī (the five chapters of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10th Canto regarding Lord Kṛṣṇa’s līlās with the gopīs of Vṛndāvana). Sometimes she spoke on Veṇu-gīta, and sometimes on other essential subjects of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
When giving class, tears would come to Śacī-devī’s eyes. All the residents of Purī were attracted, and even the King used to come in disguise to hear from her. The King proposed, “I want to give something to you. I want to build you a nice hut, and I want to give you a donation.” Śacī-devī refused the donation and said, “I don’t want a donation from a king.”
One day, on Makara-saṅkrānti, millions of Indians were going to take a bath in the Ganges, which was hundreds of miles away from Purī. At that time Śacī-devī decided, “I must also go to the Ganges to take a bath.” She made this determination in her mind, and she was going to go, but at midnight she saw, “Oh, the Ganges is coming.” There was a very heavy, roaring current, and as though by magic, she found herself in that Ganges, where millions of persons were taking baths. The current in the Ganges took her to the temple of Lord Jagannātha, and then it entered and touched the feet of Jagannātha. [The Ganges originally came from the feet of Jagannātha-deva, because He is Kṛṣṇa Himself. When Śrī Vāmanadeva took the universe away from Bali Mahārāja, His foot went through the universal covering and touched the Causal Ocean. A drop of that Causal Ocean thus came into the universe as the Ganges. It is also said that the Ganges is originally a sakhī of Śrīmatī Rādhikā from Goloka Vṛndāvana. It can therefore be said that Jagannātha Himself, in the form of the Ganges, had picked up Śacī-devī and brought her to His lotus feet.] She was now there at Lord Jagannātha’s feet, and the door was closed. No one else was there.
In the morning the priest came, opened the door, and thousands upon thousands of persons came in to take darśana. The priest saw that lady and said, “Oh, why did you come here? To steal the ornaments of Jagannātha?”
Śacī-devī was absorbed in Kṛṣṇa, thinking, “Kṛṣṇa is so merciful. Ganges came to me, made me take a bath, and her current took me to the lotus feet of Jagannātha.” She could not answer that priest, however. It is prohibited for a devotee to reveal his or her realizations, and no one would have believed her. She was thus taken to jail as if she were a thief.
During the night Jagannātha gave a dream to the King, and also to the prominent pujārī. Śacī-devī would now become famous as Gaṅgāmātā Ṭhākurāṇī or Gaṅgāmātā Gosvāminī, due to her being carried by the Ganges. Jagannātha told them, “Go at once and beg forgiveness. Bring Gaṅgāmātā Ṭhākurāṇī in a golden chariot, with drums and all other paraphernalia, to make a royal reception and royal procession. Also, you should become a disciple of that lady, along with your priests and all other prominent persons.”
The king awoke and at once went to the jail with golden chariots, a large crowd, and a royal reception. He brought her to her cottage and said, “Jagannātha has told me, “You should go and take shelter of that devotee. If you do not take initiation from her, I will destroy your entire dynasty.” Along with all his councillors and others, he now began to fast and pray, “Be pleased to give us initiation very soon.” Gaṅgāmātā Ṭhākurāṇī replied, “My guru has not told me to do this. I don’t want to make any disciples.” Jagannātha then ordered her, “For Me, to please Me, you must make disciples.” She then accepted them.
The king promised, “I will give some land for Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya, and I will make a very good temple there. I know that you have come from your gurudeva for this.” He made a temple, but Gaṅgāmātā Ṭhākurāṇī was always living in the temple of her heart. Her temple was there.
She continued to give classes, and all the residents of Purī, as well as the highly elevated devotees, used to attend. One day, while she was absorbed in chanting and remembering the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa, a brāhmaṇa from Jaipur came to her. That brāhmaṇa had been serving the Deity of Rāya-kiśora, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself.
Kṛṣṇa had told him in a dream, “Please take me to Purī and give me to Gaṅgāmātā Ṭhākurāṇī. She will serve me. If you don’t do this I will curse you. You are not rendering proper service. Sometimes you give Me offerings and sometimes not. You sometimes bathe Me and sometimes not. You are not doing service as you were before. So please go there and give Me to her. Otherwise, I will curse you, and your dynasty will also be finished.”
That brāhmaṇa then took the very beautiful Ṭhākurajī (Deity) in a basket and walked on foot for many months until he came to Purī. Now he approached Gaṅgāmātā Ṭhākurāṇī and requested her, “Ṭhākurajī has come. Please take Him and serve Him.” She refused and said, “I am doing mānasī-sevā (worship of Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa by meditation) in the line of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī. I cannot do all this. I have no time to worship with external paraphernalia.”
The brāhmaṇa became very worried and thought, “What shall I do?” Gaṅgāmātā Ṭhākurāṇī had a Tulasī garden. That night the brāhmaṇa left the Deity in her Tulasī garden and fled. At four the next morning, Rāya-kiśora, that is, Śyāma-rāya, Vrajendra-nandana Śyāmasundara, said to Gaṅgāmātā, “You are neglecting Me. I came to have your service, your love and affection, and you are neglecting me. I’m thirsty; I’m so hungry. So please take me. Prepare something and offer that to Me.” Gaṅgāmātā Ṭhākurāṇī then went to see that Deity. Charmed, she took Him in her arms. She brought Him inside the temple and began worshipping Him there, and still now that vigraha (Deity) is there.
When the king heard about this, he thought, “I am fortunate to be the disciple of this great devotee.”
All the ladies should try to be like Gaṅgāmātā Ṭhākurāṇī. She never even dreamed of marrying any worldly person. I have come to help you to become a devotee like this. The world is like a fire, a burning forest fire. We have seen such a big fire in Florida. It burned for miles, and the government could not do anything. The burning forest fire of material existence is greater than this. We are in that fire and can never be saved as long as we are in material consciousness. If someone puts ghee in the fire, what will happen? It will become bigger. You will not be able to be saved.
The father of Yadu Mahārāja, Yayāti, had so many very beautiful wives, but he was not satisfied. When he was old he wanted to take the youthful age of his son, but Yadu Mahārāja refused and told him, “This life is only meant to serve Kṛṣṇa. If you were a pure devotee, I would have been happy to give you my youth.” Yayāti then asked his second son, Puru. He said, “Puru, you are my very dear, darling son. Please give me your youth. I want to further taste material pleasure. My thirst has not been quenched.” Puru replied, “O father, I came from you, and so I’m giving you my youth.” Yayāti thus became young, and for many thousands of years he engaged in sense gratification. He was not satisfied, however, and one day he thought, “What silly things am I doing?” He quickly returned his youth to his son, and then left every material consideration and went into the forest.
This history shows that the world is a burning fire. The fire in the ocean [of material existence] is thousands of times greater than the forest fire, and we are in that fire. We should try to know all these truths. Don’t waste your time. Try to develop your Kṛṣṇa consciousness. If you are married, there is no harm in that. Along with your wife and children you should try to be detached. There must be some sense of duty, but no attachment at all. You should think, “I must serve my wife (or husband) and children because they are eternal servants of Kṛṣṇa. For this reason, so that they may develop their Kṛṣṇa consciousness, I should help them.”
Male devotees should try to become like Śrīla Raghunatha dāsa Gosvāmī, Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī, and Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī. Lady devotees should become like Gaṅgāmātā Ṭhākurāṇī, Jahnavā Ṭhākurāṇī, and Hemalatā Ṭhākurāṇī. Sometimes Jahnavā Ṭhākurāṇī exhibited four arms. [Jahnavā Ṭhākurāṇī is the eternal potency of Lord Nityānanda. Nityānanda has two potencies, Jahnavā and Vasudhā. The son of Vasudhā devī is the incarnation of Godhead, Vīrabhadra, He was searching for a Guru and was recommended to take shelter of Jahnavā Ṭhākurāṇī, but he thought, “She is my mother. How can she be my Guru?” One early morning, after passing and just before taking her bath, Jahnavā Ṭhākurāṇī was undressed from the waist up, as was the custom for Indian ladies. Vīrabhadra saw her in that condition, standing by a well, and became shy. She immediately manifested two more arms, and with them she covered her breasts. Vīrabhadra then offered his praṇāma (obeisances) to her and took initiation.]
Don’t waste your time. Remain in your position, and if you are married, that is okay. If you are not married, if you are renounced, that is okay. If you are not renounced, that is okay. But hear hari-kathā wherever you are and in whatever position you are. Offer praṇāma to that place where hari-kathā is being spoken. Offer praṇāma to the organisers, and offer sāṣṭāṅga-praṇāma to the speaker and the whole audience. Then, very soon you will have sādhana-bhakti, bhāva-bhakti and prema-bhakti. Try to realize all these things. These are truths.
Gaura-premānande hari hari bol.
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Unless indicated differently, all verse translations and quotes are from the books by Śrīla Prabhupāda (Vedabase.com)