Top 10 Spiritual Gurus of Bengal
Guru Kripahi Kevalam
A guru is the guide of the spiritual world.
He/She holds a prominent place in Indian religions, including Hinduism, and in neo-religious movements. In all these religions, the companionship of the guru is considered essential for attaining enlightenment. An ideal guru is very necessary to receive God. Throughout the ages many ideal gurus have been born in Bengal. In this article I will talk about the top 10 spiritual gurus of Bengal.
1.Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (18 February, 1486-14 June, 1534)
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was one of the most popular Vaishnava saints and religious leaders of Bengal and a prominent social reformer of the sixteenth century. He was born in Navadvipa (now Nadia district of West Bengal, India) in Nadia, Gaur, in the house of Hindu Brahmin Pandit Sri Jagannath Mishra and Srimati Sachidevi. In Vaishnava society, he is considered to be an incarnation of Lord Krishna. He preached the worship of the Supreme Godhead in the form of Radha and Krishna.
Chaitanyadeva lost his father in adolescence. In his early youth he was a renowned scholar. His main interests were reading Sanskrit books and acquiring knowledge. The reputation of Nimai Pandit (Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) of Navadwip in logic was undisputed. He went to his ancestral home in Shrihatta once after marrying his first wife Lakshmipriyadevi. When Lakshmipriyadevi died of snake bites while traveling in East Bengal, he married Vishnupriya Devi at the request of his mother.
Afterwards, while going to Gaya to perform Pind Daan of his father and his first wife, met his mantra guru Swami Ishwar Puri. This incident had a profound effect on Nimai’s later life. On his return to Bengal, the local Vaishnava community, led by Advaita Acharya, was surprised to see his unexpected change of mind from an educated scholar to a Krishna devotee. Nimai soon became one of the leading leaders of the Vaishnava community in Nadia. Ignoring the caste distinctions of Hinduism, he would embrace the lower castes of the society and distribute the sound of “Hari Bal” and would go out in the streets of Navadwip with his followers with the help of Mridang (Srikhol) -Kartal to spread Harinam.
After being initiated in the monastery by Swami Keshab Bharati in Kanchan Nagar at the age of only twenty-four, Nimai Pandit Sriman Krishnachaitanyadev took the name Bharati. After taking sannyasa, he left his native Gaurbanga and Nadia and for a few years made pilgrimages to various places of pilgrimage in India such as: Nilachal, Deccan, Pandarpur, Vrindavan etc. During this time he used to chant the holy name of Lord Krishna with tears in his eyes and perform strict asceticism (giving up food and sleep and becoming a Kaupinsar). He spent most of the last twenty-four years of his life in Jagannathdham Puri. According to the devotees, towards the end of his life, Chaitanyadev used to chant Harinam and most of the time he remained in a trance. He passed away at the age of 46 in Puridham in 1533 AD.
2.Nityananda Prabhu (1474 AD-1540 AD)
Nityananda Prabhu (also known as Nitai) is the incarnation of Balarama, the elder of Lord Krishna, according to the Gaudiya Vaishnavism. He was the chief and intimate councilor or companion of Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu (Chaitanya Mahaprabhu). The two of them are collectively called Gaur-Nitai or Nimai-Nitai. Nityananda is one of the Vaishnava Panchatattvas. He was born in the house of Harai Pandit in Ekachakra village of Birbhum district. Leaving home at a very young age (12 years), he went on a pilgrimage with a monk. Nityananda married Basudha and Jannava, two daughters of Suryadas Sarkhel. He had a daughter and a son.
After meeting Gouranga Mahaprabhu in Navadvipa, both of them preached Krishna name / Harinam together. He is considered to be the most merciful incarnation of the Supreme Lord.
3.Loknath Brahmachari (31 August, 1730 -3 June, 1890 AD)
Loknath Brahmachari was a Hindu religious leader. He is also known as Loknath Baba and Baba Loknath. Loknath was born on 31st August 1730 (16 Bhadra, 1138 BS) on Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, in a Brahmin family in the village of Kachua, 24 Parganas, some distance from Kolkata. His father’s name was Ramnarayan Ghoshal and his mother was Kamaladevi. He was the 4th son of his parents.
Loknath’s father wanted him to be a celibate. But the mother did not want her son to go away. Eventually, Baba Loknath became a disciple of Acharya Ganguly for Upanayan. At the same time his dear friend, Benimadhab Chakraborty became a disciple of Bhagwan Ganguly. Bhagwan Ganguly / Bhagwan Chandra Gangopadhyay lived in the country for a few years as the initiation guru and came to Kalighat with two disciples named Loknath and Benimadhab Bandyopadhyay. Later Bhagwan Ganguly took them to Varanasi and left them in the hands of Trilangaswamy before his(Bhagwan Ganguly) death. At that time Loknath and his friend Benimadhab were 90 years old. Trailangaswamy is basically Pandit Hitlal Mishra. There they went on a yoga trip with Swamiji for some time. Baba Loknath’s followers believe that he had a lot of spiritual power. In many ways Baba Loknath was highly respected by all people irrespective of religion and caste.
4.Harichand Thakur (1812 AD-1877 AD)
Harichand Thakur was born in a Bengali Hindu Namasudra family on 11 March, 1812 in Orakandi of the Kashiani Upazila in the Gopalganj district, Bangladesh. The names of his parents were Yashomant Thakur and Annapurna Devi. At a very early age Harichand accepted the path of religious reformation and uplifting the untouchable persons of Bengal. Thakur was very meritorious but did not like to confine himself within the four walls of an educational institution. So, he left his school at an early age. He along with his rustic friends used to tend cattle in the field, play and sing songs. He had a very sweet voice. He was married with Shanti Devi and they had two sons and three daughters. One of them was Shri Guruchand Thakur.
Harichand Thakur formed the Hindu sect of Matua. His followers consider him as Purna Brahma (the complete God Head). While chanting God’s name the followers of Harichand or Matuas say ‘Hari Bol’ and plays drum in groups (watch video below). The central Hari Mandir (Hari Temple) or holy place for the followers of Matua sect is situated in Orakandi, Gopalganj, Bangladesh. Besides, many Hari temples have been established now in the sub-continent. Thakur’s Matuaism has now spread throughout the planet. Harichand Thakur died at Orakandi in 1877.
5.Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (18 February, 1836 – 16 August, 1886)
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was a prominent nineteenth-century Indian-Bengali yoga practitioner, philosopher and religious leader. His real name is Gadadhar Chatterjee. Swami Vivekananda, another famous religious guru of Bengal, established the Ramakrishna Mission with his(Ramakrishna) propagated religious thought. They are both pioneers of the Bengal Renaissance and the Hindu Renaissance of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is revered as an incarnation of God in his disciples, even in his modern devotee society.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was born into a poor Vaishnava Brahmin family in rural West Bengal. After assuming the priesthood at Dakshineswar Kalibari, he started worshipping Kali under the influence of Bengali and Indian power. Later, Ramakrishna attained Nirvikalpa Samadhi by practicing Advaita Vedanta. According to other religions, especially Islam and Christianity, Sadhana led him to the world of “jata mat tata path(As many faiths, so many paths)”. Though uneducated in the traditional view, Ramakrishna was able to earn the respect of the Bengali intelligentsia and the educated middle class. From the mid-1870s, he became a central figure in the Hindu renaissance to Western-educated intellectuals. He also organized a group of followers who took sannyasa after the death of Ramakrishna in 1886 and continued his work. Their leader was Swami Vivekananda. In 1893, at the World Congress of Religions in Chicago, Vivekananda made his (Ramakrishna) religious views known to the people of the West.
6.Sadhak Byamakshyapa (1837 AD-1911 AD)
Sadhak Byamakhyapa was a Hindu Tantric saint. He is deeply involved in the history of Tarapith, a pilgrimage site for Hindu Shakta devotees. In the nineteenth century, Bamakshyapa was born in Birbhum district, India. He lived in Tarapith. She was a devotee of Goddess Tara and called Goddess Tara “Bara Ma”. He used to perform Sadhana (meditation) at the crematorium near his temple. He was a contemporary of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
Bamakshyapa left home as a child and became a disciple of a saint named Kailashpati Baba. Kailashpati Baba lived in Tarapith. Bamaksyapa performed yoga and Tantrasadhana on the banks of the river Dwarka at Tarapith. Later he went to the nearby Mallarajas’ temple village of Maluti (now Jharkhand State) for yoga. There he stayed for about 18 months in the temple of goddess Moulakshi on the banks of river Dwarka.
He gradually became the main religious figure of Tarapith. His disciples believed he had miraculous powers. So they would come to him for medical treatment and other needs. Bamakshyapa did not follow the rules of the temple. He would even pick up an offering from the god’s plate and eat it. It is said that the goddess Tara received a revelation from the queen of Natore in a dream that Bamakshyapa should be fed first as the son of the goddess Tara. From then on, offerings were made to Bamakshyapa before worship at the temple and he was allowed to roam freely in the temple. It is further said that the goddess visited Bamakshyapa in a terrifying dress and later took him in her arms with motherly affection. There is a memorial of Bamakshyapa at Tarapeeth crematorium and Maluti village in Dumka district.
Famous personalities like Swami Vivekananda, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, Rabindranath Tagore, Mukundadas etc. had the opportunity to meet Sadhak Bamakshyapa.
7.Sri Sri Ram Thakur (2 February, 1860-1 May, 1949)
Sri Sri Ram Thakur ( Ram Chandra Chakraborty) was a 19th century Hindu religious leader and devotee.
Ram Thakur’s education began in his childhood by learning Bengali in a village school. As his father was a Tantric devotee, he became deeply involved in the study of Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas as a boy. His memory was keen. Gurudev, the father of Sri Sri Ramthakur, was Sri Mrityunjaya Nyayapanchanan. He was very fond of Sri Sri Ramthakur. Ramthakur lost his father when he was only eight years old. A few days after his father’s death, on hearing the news of Gurudev’s illness, his mother, Mrs. Kamaladevi, went to see him with her twin sons, Rama (Ram Thakur) and Lakshmana. Gurudev Sri Mrityunjaya Nyayapanchanan died in front of them. Within a few days, the death of his father, and later of Gurudev, caused a great stir in the mind of the boy Ram Thakur. Many questions centered on human life and death kept revolving in his mind. Gurudev appeared to him in a dream on the third day of Akshay Tritiya and gave him the perfect mantra. Then a new chapter began in his life. Like a perfect man, he sometimes became emotional.
Adolescent Sri Sri Ram Thakur, under the direction of his guru, crossed the mountains and deserts and sat in penance in the solitude of the deep forest. It is said that he attained Ashtasiddhi by performing austerities year after year in many unknown places in the Himalayas, sometimes at Kaushikashram, sometimes at Bashishtashram, and by spending time in the service of the ascetic sages. After that he returned to the locality under the direction of his guru and engaged in human service. For half of his life, Sri Sri Ram Thakur was engrossed in deep yoga practice behind the scenes. He spent the remaining 40 years (1908 to 1949) on the welfare of all, the great truth that he achieved through sadhana. According to Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism, by giving names based on need, he literally rose above discrimination. On May 1, 1949, at the age of 90, Sri Sri Ram Thakur passed away at the age of 90 in Chaumuhani, Noakhali, Bangladesh on the occasion of Akshay Tritiya.
8.Swami Vivekananda (12 January,1863 -4 July,1902 )
Swami Vivekananda was born on 12 January 1863 in a Kayastha Dutta family in North Kolkata. He was a Hindu saint, philosopher, writer, musician and a leading disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a nineteenth-century Indian mystic. His previous name was Narendranath Dutta. From an early age he was attracted to spirituality. After the death of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda toured the Indian subcontinent and gained first-hand knowledge of the socio-economic condition of British India.
He took a lead role in the propagation of Hinduism, Indian Vedanta and Yoga philosophy in the United States and Europe. Many credit Vivekananda for establishing good relations between different religions in the last half of the nineteenth century and promoting Hinduism as one of the major religions in the world. He was one of the pioneers of the Hindu renaissance in India. At the same time in British India he introduced the concept of Indian nationalism. Vivekananda established the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission. His most famous speech was the Chicago Lecture at the World Congress of Religions in Chicago, USA in 1893, through which he was the first to propagate Hinduism in Western society.
Vivekananda was a musician and singer. His two most famous songs are “Khandan-Bhav-Bandhan” (Sri Ramakrishna Aratrik Bhajan) and “Nahi Surya Nahi Jyoti”. Besides, some of his famous poems are “Nachuk Tahate Shyama”, “Towards 4th July”, “Song of Sannyasi” and “Towards Sakha”. The last stanza of the poem “Towards Sakha” –
These are His manifold forms before thee,
Rejecting them, where seekest thou for God?
Who loves all beings without distinction,
He indeed is worshipping best his God.
It is one of the most important quotes of Swami Vivekananda. He died on July 4, 1902. In India, Vivekananda is called ‘Veer Sannyasi’ and his birthday is celebrated as National Youth Day in India.
9.Thakur Anukul Chandra (14 September 1888 – 26 January 1969)
Anukul Chandra Chakraborty also known as Thakur Anukul Chandra was a Bengali religious leader. Anukul Chandra is the promoter of an organization called Satsanga. He was born in Himayatpur, Pabna district in the Indian state of Bengal, which now belongs to Bangladesh. His father is Shivchandra Chakraborty and his mother is Manmohan Devi. He died at Deoghar in Jharkhand, India.
Thakur Anukul Chandra wrote about 46 books. In these, ideals and advices on religious education, introduction of social reforms, etc. have been described. Notable among these are: Satyanusaran, Punyaputhi, Anushruti (6 volumes), Chalar Saathi, Shaswati (3 volumes), Vibaha Vidhayana, Samaj Sandipan, Yati Abhidharma etc.
10.A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1 September, 1896-14 November,1977 )
A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was born on September 1, 1896; That day was Janmashtami, which is one of the special days in Vaishnava society. He was fearless by surrendering at the feet of Lord Krishna. His father Gaur Mohan Dey and mother Rajini Dey were both Krishna devotees. Like a Bengali mother, Rajini Devi was at her father’s house during childbirth, and only a few days later Abhay went to her father’s house. His father’s house was at 151 Harrison Road, Kolkata. There he grew up and was educated.
He studied at the Scottish Church College, Kolkata. At that time it was famous. The children of many devout families used to study there. The college was in North Kolkata, not far from Abhay’s house. At that time he studied English as well as Sanskrit.
He owned a small pharmaceutical business before moving to Vanprastha in 1950. He was married and had children. He became a monk in 1959. He then concentrated on composing Vaishnava scriptures.
In the later stages of his life he became a wandering Vaishnava monk. He traveled to America by ship to spread the message of Gaur. ISKCON was established in 1986. He also established Sri Sri Radha-Londoneshwar Sri-Vigraha on 14 December 1969. Through his leadership in this organization he began to propagate the Gaudiya Vaishnava theory in India and especially in the West. As the founder of ISKCON, he “became one of the leading figures in Western alternative culture. He initiated thousands of young Americans into Vaishnavism.” Although anti-cult groups attacked him, J.P. Religious experts such as Stilson Juda, Harvey Cox, Larry Sheen and Thomas Hopkins welcomed him, praised his translated works and protected his group from media propaganda. Other Gaudiya Vaishnava communities also honored him in recognition of his work. Prabhupada passed away on 14 November, 1977.
He succeeded in recruiting disciples in the United States, Europe, India and elsewhere. This is why sociologist Max Weber called him a “charismatic leader.”