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Boro Oriya Math - re: Panchasakha, The Five Friends

Kamala - Sun, 30 Jan 2005 15:31:37 +0530
The material below was posted by Jagat in 2001 on another forum, I thought it would be helpful to add it here in light of a new thread on the topic "The Panchasakha, The Five Friends".

[Jagat writes: From the upcoming book on Puri from Mandala Media. This article is based primarily on Sundarananda Vidyavinoda's Sri Kshetra, with added research by yours truly. The tone is decidedly Sundarananda's. Please note that Sanskrit, Orissan and Bengali text is in Balaram font, so to see the diacritics as they are, you will have to convert the tANotext on your own word precessor:]

Boro Oriya Math

The Boro Oriya Math was established by Atibori Jagannath Das, who is known in Orissa as one of the Pancha Sakhas, or “five friends.” Jagannath Das was an associate of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who translated the Bhagavatam into the Orissan language. He did immeasurable service to the spreading of Vaishnavism in Orissa, but because of certain deviations from the teachings of Mahaprabhu, his followers are considered by the Gaudiya Vaishnavas to be an apasampradaya, or heterodox sect.

From the accounts given by the residents of the Boro Oriya Math, its original buildings were formerly the palace of Maharaja Prataparudra’s chief queen, Gauri Devi, one of Jagannath Das’ disciples, who made him a present of it. This version has been confirmed in Jagannätha-caritämåta, Dibakar Das’ biography of Jagannath Das. Even now, when one enters the Math, it gives the impression of being an old palace or fort, with many walls to pass through before reaching the inner sanctum.

The Math’s deities are Radha and Krishna, Jagannath and Lakshmi Devi. Subhadra and Baladeva do not accompany Lord Jagannath. Deities of Shyama Raya, Gopinath and Lord Chaitanya in his six-armed form stand in the Jagamohan. There is a large courtyard containing Lord Krishna’s swing, or jhulan. During the Jhulan Yatra, Subhadra Devi comes from the main temple to visit the Boro Oriya Math.

One thing that distinguishes the Boro Oriya Math from Gaudiya Vaishnava maths is the placing of the deity of Mahaprabhu, which is not kept on the altar in the deity house, but in the Jagamohan. In the Gaudiya Vaishnava maths of Puri, the murti of the spiritual master (such as Gopal Guru, Hari Das Thakur, or Mamu Thakur) is generally placed on a separate altar or shrine on the porch, while Mahaprabhu is placed on the main altar with other Vishnu tattva deities or on a separate altar equal to those of Radha Krishna and Lord Jagannath.

The Boro Oriya Math is still one of the wealthier traditional maths in Jagannath Puri. In 1950, it had an annual income of Rs. 50,000 from various rent-free land holdings. It is also one of the maths most involved in the Jagannath temple’s rituals; its duties are enshrined in the temple record, the Madala-panji. The Boro Oriya Math thus supplies the twenty liters of polanga oil needed every day for the temple lamps, at a cost of almost Rs 1,000. During the Anasar, the Math supplies a new applique canopy called Trimunda Chandua, and is also vested with the duty of cleaning the Ratnavedi before Rathayatra. Besides these services, it also supplied the pillows that were used in Pahandi, the black cloth to mother Bimala, and a special bhoga at the time of Rukmini’s marriage to Krishna. The mahant of the Boro Oriya Math dresses as a woman to clean the Gundicha temple, a tradition that, according to math authorities, was started by Jagannath Das himself.

Jagannath Das’ life

Jagannath was born on the Radhashtami day in 1490 in the village of Kapileshwarpur, about six miles west of Puri town. This village is one of the sixteen Shasans, that is, it is one of the Brahmin villages surrounding Puri founded by the Gajapati king Kapilendra Deva, whose leaders sit in the Mukti Mandap.

Jagannath Das was a Brahmin family of the Kaushika Gotra, which had the family title “Das.” Jagannath Das’ mother was named Padmavati. His father Bhagavan Das attained considerable renown as a speaker on the Bhagavatam in Orissan. King Purushottam Deva was particularly pleased with his delightful explanations of the Bhagavata philosophy and gave him the “Purana Panda” title. Bhagavan Das trained his son to follow in his footsteps as a Purana Panda. He started making arrangements for Jagannath Das’ marriage when he was twelve years old, but Jagannath asked to put off the wedding until after he had finished studying the scriptures. He never married.

Jagannath Das became an expert in his work as a speaker of the Bhagavatam. He went to the Sri Mandir and set up a place inside the Kurma Berha by the Bata Ganesh deity near the southern entrance where he could reach a large number of pilgrims visiting the temple. Because of his handsome appearance, sweet voice and wide learning, he was able to attract a substantial following.

Jagannath Das was still a young man at the time that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu took sannyas and came to Sri Purushottam Kshetra with His associates in order to teach the world to seek out love for Lord Krishna. According to the Jagannätha-caritämåta, Jagannath Das’ first meeting with Mahaprabhu came when the Lord was visiting the temple. The Lord saw him lecturing on Lord Brahma’s prayers from the Tenth Canto. Jagannath Das got up from his seat and followed Lord Chaitanya as He and His other companions circumambulated the temple.

Not long thereafter, Jagannath Das went to Kashi Mishra’s house to ask Mahaprabhu to give him initiation. Since Mahaprabhu did not give initiation, He sent him to an Orissan devotee named Matta Balaram Das, another one of the Pancha Sakhas, who gave him diksha in Kashi Mishra’s house.

According to another account, Jagannath Das met Mahaprabhu in Jajpur while the Lord was on His way to Puri for the first time. Mahaprabhu took Jagannath Das with Him to Puri and after some time had Hari Das Thakur initiate him in the chanting of the Maha Mantra. After this, Jagannath Das returned to Jajpur where he started making disciples and translating the Bhagavatam into Orissan verse. While here, he began developing an independent vision of Vaishnava philosophy, in particular giving up following the example set by Hari Das Thakur, the acharya of the Holy Name. Gaudiya Vaishnavas cannot understand why Jagannath Das reversed the order of the Maha Mantra, chanting the names of Rama before those of Krishna, in contradiction to the teachings of the fathers of sankirtan, Gauranga and Nityananda Prabhus, and the acharya of the Holy Name, Hari Das Thakur.

Jagannath Das’ Bhagavata

Jagannath Das’ Orissan Bhagavata is considered by many to be the jewel of early Orissan literature. It had a great influence in the standardizing of the Orissan language of Orissa, through its judicious combining of Sanskrit and local words. Its popularity in Orissa is comparable to that of Tulasi Das’ Räma-carita-mänasa in North India and it is still worshiped in many Orissan homes. Every Orissan village used to have a small house or room known as bhagavata tungi, where villagers would gather to listen to recitations of Jagannath Das’ Bhagavata. Many of its verses have become proverbial and are cited frequently by people throughout Orissa.

The Boro Oriya Math continues to supply the Sri Mandir with copies of Jagannath Das’ Bhagavata and its members recite it to groups of pilgrims inside the temple every day. This Bhagavata has also been published in Bengali characters in the Midnapore district, which was politically a part of Orissa at many different times in history and where the culture and language are something of a hybrid of Bengali and Oriya.

Jagannath Das’ Bhagavata is not an exact translation. He added several chapters and in many place contradicts the meaning of the original text, allowing elements of Mayavada to enter. In fact, the introduction of Mayavada into Jagannath Das’ writings can be explained by the general background of Orissan religious history. Buddhism had been very strong in Orissa for many centuries, and even after the turn to Vaishnavism with Ganga dynasty in the 12th century, elements of Vajrayana Buddhism persisted in the society, just as it did in other parts of Eastern India. The Orissan Buddhists considered Jagannath to be a manifestation of the Buddha. It seems that Maharaj Prataparudra even persecuted the vestiges of overt Buddhism in Orissa during the early part of his reign. Many of these Buddhists took shelter of Vaishnavism as a way of escaping persecution, but the Buddhist philosophy of shunya-vada found a home in the teachings of the Pancha Sakha, who combined Mahaprabhu’s path of bhakti with jnana and yoga.

Many elements of the Pancha Sakha doctrine have similarities to Baul and Sahajiya beliefs in Bengal. Like the Nath Yogis, they hold that the body is a microcosm of the universe in which the cosmic dance of the Supreme Lord plays itself out. They identify Radha and Krishna with the individual soul and the paramatma in the body. They conceive of the ultimate truth as Void, or shunya, which becomes manifest in creation as Maha Vishnu. In his Bhagavata, Jagannath Das refers to Lord Jagannath as shunya-niranjana, alekha-niranjana, nirguna brahma and avatari.

On the Pancha Sakha path, devotional practices like chanting the Holy Name are to be combined with the physical disciplines of Hatha Yoga and the cultivation of knowledge. In their writings, the Pancha Sakha identify Chaitanya Mahaprabhu with both the Buddha and Lord Jagannath. Jagannath Das does not overtly present all of the Pancha Sakha doctrines in his Bhagavata, though they are found in some of his other works.

Jagannath Das is said to have written a number of books besides his verse translation of the Bhagavata. These include Shola-caupadi (“Sixteen quatrains”), Shaivagama-bhagavata (“The story of the Lord in the Shaiva Agama scriptures”), Gundicha-bije (“The trip to Gundicha”), Satsanga-varnana (“A description of saintly companionship”), and Goloka-saroddhara (“Extracting the essence of Goloka”) and Tulabhina. There are also a few titles of Sanskrit books that are claimed, to various degrees of credibility, to Jagannath Das.

The title “Atibori”

Jagannath Das’s hagiographer, Dibakar Das tells how he was given the title “Atibori.” One day Chaitanya Deva asked Jagannath Das to tell him who he had been in his previous life. Jagannath Das answered, “You are the Supersoul, O Lord, and so you know everything already. Even so, I will tell you what I believe. Once I was meditating on Radha and Krishna and completely forgot my material body. I saw Radha and Krishna ecstatically gazing into each other’s eyes. They started to laugh and out of Krishna’s laughter I saw You appear. Then I was born out of Radharani’s laughter.”

äpaëa çré-aìga pächoåi kaçä basan aìgu käåi
däsaìka çire bändhi dele atibaåa boli boile
atibaåa kathä kahile teëu atibaåa hoile

Mahaprabhu then took His upper cloth and wrapped it around Jagannath Das’ head and said, “You have said something very profound. Thus you shall be known from now on as ‘very great’ or Atiboro.” (Jagannätha-charitamrita, chapter 3)

Orthodox followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu remember that He ostracized Vallabha Bhatta for showing pride in his achievements as a scholar and superiority to Sridhar Swami, the great commentator on the Bhagavatam. Mahaprabhu disapproved of the Mayavadi custom of addressing a renunciate or sannyasi as “Narayan.” If anyone formally addressed Him in that way, or being overwhelmed by His spiritual power called Him “Krishna,” He would cover His ears and say,

viñëu viñëu ihä nä kahibä
jévädhame kåñëa jïäna kabhu nä karibä
jei müòha kohe jéva éçvara haya sama
sei to päñaëòé haya daëòe täre yama

“O Vishnu, Vishnu! Don’t say such things. Never consider an ordinary conditioned soul to be Krishna. The fool who takes an ordinary living being to be the same as God is nothing more than an atheist who will be severely judged at the time of death.” (CC 2.18.111, 116)

When Prakashananda Saraswati called Mahaprabhu “Bhagavan” and tried to touch His feet, the Lord showed how a jiva should behave when spoken to in this way:

viñëu viñëu ämi kñudra jéva héna
jéve kåñëa mäne ei aparädha cihna
jéva viñëu buddhi kare je brahmä rudra sama
näräyaëe mäne täre päñaëòe gaëana

“O Vishnu! O Vishnu! I am an ordinary, fallen jiva. Anyone who thinks a jiva like Me is Krishna is committing an offense. The scriptures say that anyone who thinks even gods like Brahma or Rudra to be on the same level as Narayan is an atheist. This is true for someone who thinks any jiva is Vishnu.” (CC 2.25.75-77)

Mahaprabhu made statements like these in order to give fair warning to those who confuse the individual soul with the Supreme Being. He did this despite being the Supreme Lord Himself. It is very hard to accept that He would have rewarded anyone for publicly claiming to be a manifestation of the Lord’s svarupa shakti, Srimati Radharani. Gaudiya Vaishnavas therefore do not accept the truth of Dibakar Das’s account. If Mahaprabhu did indeed say any such thing to Jagannath Das, it was surely sarcasm or deception. The Gaudiyas thus interpret Mahaprabhu’s words as meaning, "My dear sir, you have become too great (ati boro). An insignificant and fallen soul like Me can have nothing to do with you."

Schism of Bengali and Orissan Vaishnavas

Dibakar Das writes that Mahaprabhu’s Bengali devotees became jealous of Jagannath Das because of the special favor that their master was bestowing on him. He goes on to say that the Bengali devotees made efforts to stop Mahaprabhu from giving the title Atiboro to Jagannath Das. The reason for this was that if he were to be somehow singled out in this way, their own status would be diminished. When the Bengali devotees were unable to convince Mahaprabhu to do as they asked, they asked Him to leave Puri. When Mahaprabhu refused, they themselves left Jagannath Puri to go to Vrindavan. Though from time to time they would return to meet Mahaprabhu during the Rathayatra, they were unable to abide seeing the influence Jagannath Das had over Him and so never remained there for long.

The feeling that Mahaprabhu’s Bengali devotees were jealous of His Orissan followers like Jagannath Das remains a source of friction to the present day. Sundarananda quotes the following article from the English-language newspaper, New Orissa, published in 1945:

“Mahapurush Jagannath Das was a personal friend of Chaitanya. It is written in Dibakar’s Jagannätha-caritämåta that Gaudiya Vaishnavas did not like that Chaitanya should hold Jagannath Das, the Oriya Brahmin saint, in high esteem. It was at their insistence that Chaitanya asked Balaram Das to formally initiate Jagannath Das, though as a perfect being he required no formal initiation. After that, when they saw Chaitanya still loving Jagannath Das and addressing him all the while as atibaåé, the Gaudiya Vaishnavas had to leave Puri in a rage and go back to Bengal. They stayed for some time at Jajpur. Chaitanya went there to bring them back, but to their surprise they found Jagannath Das accompanying Chaitanya. They were so arrogant that they did not listen to Lord Chaitanya and so had to go to Bana Bishnupur and from there to Vrindavan. It is a pity that there is no mention of the names of Jagannath Das and the four Mahapurushas in Chaitanya Charitamrita by Krishna Das Kaviraj, Chaitanya Bhagavata by Vrindavan Das and Chaitanya Mangal by Lochan Das. They were all Bengali Vaishnavas. The Gaudiya Vaishnavas go so far as to say that Jagannath Das was a “Mayavadi” and was driven out by Chaitanya Chandra from his fold.”

More recently, the Orissan historian K. C. Panigrahi has been even more explicit in leveling the same accusation:

The aforesaid great Vaishnava Oriya poets have not found mention in the Bengali Gaudiya literature. This narrow outlook of the Bengali Vaishnavas was the cause of antagonism between the Bengali and Oriya followers of the great saint, echoes of which have found mention in the Jagannatha-charitamrita of Dibakar Das.

Mahaprabhu’s biographers were amongst His spiritually most advanced followers, and in their writing they demonstrated all the Vaishnava virtues, including freedom from envy. They showed no reticence in glorifying other Vaishnavas, whatever their race or caste, and repeatedly did so with great energy. Not being conditioned souls with all their lamentable characteristics, they showed no signs of misplaced nationalism or racial discrimination when writing about Mahaprabhu’s associations. In their love for Mahaprabhu, they transcended all these differences and created an atmosphere of harmony conducive to the service of the Lord.

Mahaprabhu’s Bengali followers never hesitated to glorify Orissa and its people, both directly and indirectly. Sanatan Goswami glorified Mahaprabhu in his Lélä-stava as néläcala-vibhüñaëa – “the ornament of Nilachala,” and Rupa Goswami writes in his Stava-mälä that he desires to see Mahaprabhu as Nilachala-vihari, “enjoying life in Nilachala.” In the Stavavali, Raghunath Das worships Mahaprabhu standing behind the Garuda pillar in the Jagannath temple and describes many of the Lord’s extraordinary activities in Nilachala in his Gauräìga-stava-kalpa-våkña.

In the Sarva-samvadini to the Tattva-sandarbha, Jiva Goswami glorifies Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, stating that He was worshiped by devotees from Gauda, Varendra, Banga, Suhma and Utkala (Orissa). In Chaitanya-chandrodaya, Kavi Karnapur writes that Mahaprabhu accepted the philosophy of Ramananda Raya, an Orissan, as being the only one that was wholly consistent (niravadya siddhänta).

Kaviraj Goswami goes even further in highlighting the Orissan devotees when he says that of Mahaprabhu’s four most intimate devotees, three were Orissans – Ramananda Ray, Sikhi Mahiti (a Deul Karan, or temple record keeper) and his sister Madhavi Devi. Krishna Das describes the conversations between Ramananda and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu on the highest esoteric level of devotional understanding. He called Bhavananda Ray the incarnation of Pandu, his wife Kunti, and their five sons the five Pandavas.

Krishna Das identified Kanai Khuntia and Jagannath Mahanti as Lord Chaitanya’s eternal associates, imbued with the spirit of Krishna’s parents, Nanda and Yashoda (CC 2.15.19). He named many of the Lord’s Orissan devotees, never shying away from glorifying them liberally: Maharaja Prataparudra, Kashi Mishra, Krishna Das, who would walk in front of Lord Jagannath holding a golden cane, Tulasi Paricha (the temple manager), Janardan (another temple Brahmin), Harichandan Mahapatra (a military officer and minister), Murari Mahiti (a temple accountant), Pradyumna Mishra (the head cook in the temple kitchen), Shivananda, Krishnananda, Paramananda Mahapatra, Singheshwar, Svapneshwar, Chandaneshwar and many others. But Krishna Das did not stop here; he even wrote with approval of an aged Orissan widow, who in her excitement to gaze upon the lotus-eyed Lord Jagannath, placed her foot on Mahaprabhu’s shoulder!

Far from leaving Nilachala in frustration with Mahaprabhu’s favoritism, the Bengali Vaishnavas flocked to Nilachala, as Vrindavan Das states in the Chaitanya Bhagavata:

pratäparudrera prabhu sahita darçana
ihä je çunaye täre mile prema-dhana
néläcale janmilä jateka anucara
sabe cinilena nija präëera éçvara
paramänanda mahäpätra mahäçaya
jäìra tanu çré-caitanya-bhakti-rasa-maya
käçé miçra parama vihvala kåñëa-rase
äpane rahilä prabhu jäìhära äbäse
ei mata prabhu sarva bhåtya kari saìge
niravadhi goìäyena saìkértana-raìge
jata jata udäséna çré-caitanya-däsa
sabe karilena äsi néläcale väsa

Anyone who hears about Mahaprabhu’s meeting with King Prataparudra will attain love for Krishna. All of Mahaprabhu’s eternal servants who took birth in Nilachala were able to recognize their lord and master. Amongst them were Paramananda Mahapatra, whose body was permeated with devotion to Lord Chaitanya, and another ecstatic devotee Kashi Mishra, in whose house Mahaprabhu made His residence. Mahaprabhu gathered all these devotees together and spent His time engaged in chanting the Holy Names in their company. All of Mahaprabhu’s sannyasi disciples came to Nilachala to reside near Him there. (Cbh 3.5.208-10, 212-5)

Mahaprabhu’s sannyasi disciples included Svarupa Damodar Goswami, who had previously lived in Nabadwip but came to serve Mahaprabhu by staying near Him in Puri, where the two of them could share the most esoteric experiences of devotional life. There is no evidence anywhere that Svarupa Damodar ever thought of leaving Puri for Vrindavan.

Ishwar Puri’s disciple and servant, Govinda Das, came to Puri on his spiritual masters order in order to serve Mahaprabhu there. Paramananda Puri and other devotees who were Mahaprabhu’s seniors, including Namacharya Hari Das Thakur, came to live permanently in Nilachala. Gadadhar Pandit Goswami, Mahaprabhu’s shakti, took the vow of Kshetra sannyas – to never leave Jagannath Puri for even a day.

It is true that Mahaprabhu ordered Rupa and Sanatan Goswamis to go to Vrindavan in order to discover the lost sites of Krishna’s pastimes, establish deity worship, clarify the doctrines of Vaishnava theology and the standards of Vaishnava ethics and devotional practice. He thus “gave” them the land Vrindavan, which they never left, as it had become their prabhu-datta-desh. It is difficult to understand how anyone could think that they or any other of Mahaprabhu’s followers would have gone to Vrindavan simply as a result of a personality clash with Jagannath Das or because Mahaprabhu had shown favoritism to him.

Another incident from Jagannath Das’ life

In Ram Das’ Dadhyata Bhakti, a later Orissan text of the Atibori sampradaya, another story is told about Jagannath Das that clearly illustrates the difference between the Atibori way of thinking and that of the Gaudiyas. After Jagannath had completed his Oriya translation of the Bhagavatam, he travelled throughout Orissa giving discourses in his sweet, musical voice. He attracted large numbers of people to his emotional performances and especially charmed the womenfolk, who flocked to hear him. These women showered him with money and gifts and often invited him into their homes for private Bhagavata classes, something that was clearly against the custom of the time. Hearing him sing and speak on the highest aspects of Krishna’s pastimes in the privacy of their own quarters, these women would be overcome with ecstatic symptoms, rolling on the ground and in general lost all sense of decorum despite being in mixed company. Furthermore, they served Jagannath Das in various other ways, by fanning him and massaging his feet. In particular, two extraordinarily powerful women named Medha and Sumedha became his close disciples.

The men in these women’s lives became uncomfortable with such goings-on and complained to Maharaj Prataparudra. The king sent his police to arrest Jagannath and bring him to court. He asked Jagannath angrily,

kope boile däsa çuna, eki tumbhara viòambana
chädiëa puruña saìgata, stiré madhyare gäa géta
niçi dibasa sabu bele, kebala thäa näri mele

“What’s going on here, Jagannath Das? It seems that you no longer keep the company of men, but sing in the midst of women. You mix with them without any restriction, day and night. Is all this true?”

Jagannath answered Prataparudra with the following words,

svarüpa çuna daëòa-dhäré, ämbhe ta aöu brahmacäré
puruñe puruña boläuì, stiréìka saìge saìgé heuì

“Here is the truth, O King. You have the power to punish me if you will, but my vow of celibacy is unbroken. When I am amongst men, I am a male, and when amongst women, I am one of them.”

The king did not accept this argument as an adequate defense; indeed it confirmed his suspicions. He challenged Jagannath to show him proof of his female form and threw him in prison. Many of Jagannath’s women followers became quite distressed with the turn of events and stopped food and drink and even threatened to commit suicide if he were not released.

That night Jagannath Das fell to prayer, asking the Lord to save him from this calamity. Finally Lord Jagannath appeared to him in a dream and fulfilled his desire to have a female form whenever he liked.

boile bäïchä siddha heu
puruña tanu tora jäu

“May your wish be fulfilled and your male body be gone.”

The next morning Jagannath Das astonished the Gajapati by appearing before him with feminine features. According to this account, it was then that the king asked Jagannath Das to initiate his chief queen, Gauri, in this female form.

Other accounts say that Jagannath appeared as a woman to the prison guards, who released him, thinking that a mistake had been made. In either case, though this tale is told in glorification of Jagannath Das’ spiritual attainments, those who are advanced in their understanding of Gaudiya siddhanta have misgivings about them. For them, the female spiritual body is something that is extremely private and meant for one’s most personal dealings with the Lord. It is most certainly not something to be publicly displayed for the sake of achieving personal goals like adoration, prestige or even personal freedom. It is for such flaunting of his spiritual achievements that Jagannath Das’ critics consider the title “Atibori” to be veiled mockery.

The question really comes down to this: if Jagannath Das could accept the title Mahaprabhu bestowed on him, why did he not wholeheartedly accept Mahaprabhu’s teachings? The sarcastic use of a word like “very great” is not unknown. Sanskrit dictionaries give mahA paNDita (“great scholar”) as a synonym for “fool.” In Bengal, Rupa Kaviraj was another person who was condemned by such a title. Srinivas Acharya’s daughter Hemalata Thakurani broke his tulasi necklace and named him ati-bori. Thenceforth he wore but one strand of tulasi beads around his neck. The Orissan Atibori Sampradaya similarly wore only one strand of beads for many centuries and have only taken to wearing three strands in recent years.

The essence of Mahaprabhu’s teaching about Vaishnava praxis is humility – sarvottama haiyä äpnake mäne tåëädham – “Though superior to all, he considers himself lower than the straw.” Rupa, Sanatan, Hari Das Thakur, Krishna Das Kaviraj and Narottam Das – these devotees all personified this teaching. There is no evidence anywhere that any of Mahaprabhu’s devotees went about calling himself “very great.” Indeed, they consistently did the opposite. Despite the brilliance of his virtues, Krishna Das even said, “I am lower than a dung beetle; I am a greater sinner than even Jagai and Madhai.”

When Mahaprabhu complimented them or heaped praise on them, as He so often did, these devotees responded by showing an even more profound humility. If we are to believe the legends that have found life in the Atibori tradition, then the founder of their line was evidently an avid seeker of personal aggrandizement. If we believe or accept the truth of tales that say he took pride in a title that mocked such avidity, or that he made a public display of his intimate spiritual realizations and mystic achievements, then we do not glorify him as a truly great Vaishnava.

Jagannath Das’ disciplic succession

There are differing opinions amongst the Atiboris about Matta Balaram Das’ disciplic succession, but Dibakar Das writes in his Nitya-gupta-maëi (19.19-20) as follows –

çrémac-caitanya-devasya gauré-däsäkhya-paëòitaù
tasya çiñyas tu gosvämé hådayänanda-paëòitaù
tac-chiñyo matta-pürvas tu balaräma iti småtaù
mahän api jagannätha-däsas tat-paricärakaù

This verse gives the disciplic succession as (1) Chaitanya Deva, (2) Gauri Das Pandit, (3) Hridayananda Pandit Goswami, (4) Matta Balaram Das, and (5) Jagannath Das. In Ishwar Das’ Orissan Caitanya-bhägavata, Vakreshwar Pandit is named as Hridayananda’s spiritual master.

Dibakar’s version of the Boro Oriya Math’s disciplic succession is confirmed inside the temple itself. There, on one of the inner walls, paintings of the gurus in the line have been hung on the wall with their identities. The line of Mahants of the Math are given as follows:

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Gauri Das Pandit
Hridayananda Pandit
Balaram Das
Atibori Jagannath Das
Ramakrishna Das
Murari Das Goswami
Purushottam Das Goswami
Mukunda Das Goswami
Madhavananda Das Goswami
Srinath Das Goswami
Vamshidhar Das Goswami
Shyamcharan Das Goswami
Niladri Das Goswami
Rasa Bihari Das Goswami
Ramakrishna Das Goswami
Vrindavan Das Goswami (Mahant during Sundarananda’s visit)

This disciplic succession is obviously problematic. The relationship of Gauri Das to Hridayananda is well known, as Shyamananda, the great apostle of the Goswamis’ message in Orissa, was his disciple. But it is also well known that Hridayananda never witnessed Mahaprabhu’s pastimes. If Jagannath Das was truly the grand-disciple of Hridayananda, he would have been Shyamananda’s junior, and certainly not a direct associate of Lord Chaitanya himself. We are left with two alternatives: either the disciplic succession as given is false, or the customary dates ascribed to Jagannath’s life (1490-1550) are incorrect. If the disciplic succession has been falsified, it still indicates that the Atibori line found it necessary to create a disciplic connection to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu for legitimation. If this line is genuine, then almost everything that has been written about Jagannath Das must be called into question. A third alternative – that the Gauri Das Pandit and Hridayananda named here are different from those found in Shyamananda’s guru parampara -- seems too great a coincidence to be considered.

Members of the Atibori sampradaya say that Jagannath Das’s name is mentioned in Devakinandan’s Vaishnava-vandana, one of the earliest sources of information about Mahaprabhu’s life. There the names of both Oriya Balaram Das and sangita pandita Jagannath Das are found. This seems to be incontrovertible evidence that these two were Mahaprabhu’s associates in Puri. However, tradition at the Siddha Bakul Math holds that a Siddha Jagannath Das was the first Mahant there after the departure of Hari Das Thakur. This Jagannath Das established the six-armed form of Mahaprabhu that is worshiped there as well as the image of Hari Das. Who is to say that this Jagannath is not the expert musician named in the Vaiñëava-vandanä? According to the Siddha Bakul traditions, this Jagannath Das was indeed an expert musician and often sang for Lord Jagannath in the temple.

The accusations of Jagannath Das’ followers that the universal absence of his name from all the accounts of Mahaprabhu’s life is due to friction between him and Mahaprabhu’s Bengali followers becomes meaningless if Jagannath Das was not Mahaprabhu’s contemporary, as indicated by the Boro Oriya Math’s disciplic succession.

Why was Jagannath Das not mentioned in Mahaprabhu’s biographies?

Mahaprabhu’s biographers named many religious leaders of the period who met with Mahaprabhu, even those whose opinions differed from Mahaprabhu’s -- Vallabha Bhatta, Keshava Kashmiri, Ramadas Vishwas, Mukunda Saraswati, Prakashananda Saraswati, to name some of them. Kaviraj Goswami did not hesitate to speak the plain truth about all of these individuals, so what was to stop him from dealing with Jagannath Das if there were historical fact there?

There are many Orissan devotees described in the biographies of Chaitanya Deva and in the subsequent generations – Gopal Guru, Dhyana Chandra, and the Oriya poet Govinda Deva, to name but a few – who have accepted orthodox Gaudiya siddhanta in these matters. If Kavi Karnapur and other biographers of Mahaprabhu have not mentioned Jagannath Das’ name, it must be because He never met him, contrary to his biographers’ accounts. The proof is the guru pranali given in the Boro Oriya Math itself.

It is also a historical truth that for many generations, the Vaishnavas of the Atibori line were ostracized by the Gaudiya Vaishnavas of Puri. They would not share Maha Prasad with them, even in Jagannath Puri. If the Atiboris were such great friends of Mahaprabhu, then why this great division?

Succession to Jagannath Das

Jagannath Das had sixteen chief disciples. In Jagannätha-caritämåta, the following verses name them,

uddhavo rämacandraç ca gopénäthaç ca çré-hariù
nandané vämané gaurä gopäläkhaëòalas tathä
janärdana-patiù kåñëa-däsaç ca vana-mälikaù
govardhanas tathä kähnu-khuëöikä na kramaà vadet
punaù çiño jagannätha-däsaç ca madhusüdanaù

(1) Uddhava, (2) Ramachandra, (3) Gopinath (4) Hari Das, (5) Nandani Acharya, (6) Vamani Mahapatra, (7) Srimati Gaura, (8) Gopal Das, (9) Akhandala Mekap, (10) Janardana Pati, (11) Krishna Das, (12) Vanamali Das, (13) Govardhan Das, (14) Kanai Khuntia, (15) Jagannath Das, (16) Madhusudan Das.

One of Mahaprabhu’s followers, the author of Mahäbhäva-prakäça, was also named Kanai Khuntia. Krishna Das Kaviraj has mentioned him in several places and states that Mahaprabhu respected him like a father (CC 2.15.19, 29). It is unlikely that Jagannath Das’ disciple of this name is the same person. Krishna Das Kaviraj does not mention Jagannath Das’ name in the Chaitanya Charitamrita, so it seems unlikely that he would name his disciple.

Sundarananda heard from the Math’s mahant, Vrindavan Dasji, that Purushottam Das, who was sixth in line of descent from Jagannath Das, had five principal disciples. Chief of these was Mukunda Das, who became the Mahant of the Boro Oriya Math. The other four disciples established branch maths, which are known as Sana (small) Oriya Maths. These are named (1) Sana Oriya Math, (2) Rama-Hari Das Math, (3) Vanamali Das Math, and (4) Bhagavata Das Math.

In the Kundhei Bent and Dandimal Sahis, there are between ten and twenty other maths belonging to this line, all of which accept the preeminence of the Boro Oriya Math. When it comes time for a new mahant to be ordained in any of these minor establishments, it is the head of the Boro Oriya Math who wraps the silk sari around his head. This sampradaya of Vaishnavas who follow Jagannath Das are spread throughout Orissa and connected maths who recognize its authority are found in the towns of Khandpara, Tigiria, Nilgiri, Athgarh, Barhamba, Narasinghapur, Dashpalla, Talcher, Dhenkanal, Nayagarh, Mayurbhanj, Ganjam and Midnapore.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bishikishan

When Bhaktivinoda Thakur was a deputy magistrate stationed in Jagannath Puri in the early 1870's, he arrested, judged and jailed a pseudo-incarnation of Maha Vishnu named Bishikishan, who claimed to belong to the Atibori apasampradaya. This man had mystic powers: he would sit near a fire and lean into the flames, then lift his head and make flames come out of his hair. He had two companions who went by the names Brahma and Shiva. Many wealthy and influential Hindus of Orissa came under his sway and sent him funds for constructing a temple; they even provided him with women for “rasa-lila.” Bishikishan boasted that he would drive the British out of Orissa and rule it as a divine king.

The incident prompted Bhaktivinoda to investigate the Atiboris as a result of which he wrote a letter, dated August 18, 1871, addressed to the editor of Progress, a Cuttack newspaper, in which he described the origin, philosophy and practices of the Atibori sect. Other than the points already covered above, the Thakur also questioned the genuineness of the Atiboris’ devotion to Lord Jagannath. He wrote,

“It is a source of pride among this group to claim that Lord Jagannath has personally revealed some truth or prophecy to them. Thus every respected Atibori can recite what they call their mälikä, or series of revelations from the Lord. A common prediction one will hear from them is the year the world will end...

“The Atiboris are mystics. They practice yoga and sometimes work magic, to cure diseases, for instance. They form a secret brotherhood, like the Freemasons in the West, and are also involved with drugs like marijuana and opium.”

The Thakur reckoned there were 15,000 Atiboris in Orissa during his stay there. At that time, they were often engaged in conspiracies against the government.

Sat Lahari Math

The Sat Lahari Math is situated not far from the Hari Das Samadhi Math near the Swarga Dwar. It is the burial place of Atibori Jagannath Das. A shrine with an image of Jagannath Das once stood on this site. The followers of the Atibori Sampradaya say that this murti self-manifested twelve days after his disappearance, but it appears to have been installed much later. This figure was lost or stolen half a century ago and is no longer there.

The math is currently in serious difficulty and has been placed under the management of a committee under the chairmanship of the Puri district collector. When Sundarananda reported on it in Çré Kñetra, it was a totally abandoned to itinerant ascetics and stray dogs.

It is said that Jagannath Das once engaged a Mayavadi sannyasi named Brahmananda in debate and defeated him. He won recognition from Prataparudra who rewarded him with a math south of the Markandeya Sarovar, which became the Boro Oriya Math. Some critics of Jagannath Das say that Prataparudra became displeased with him and took this gift back, forcing him to go elsewhere. In view of the continued influence of the Boro Oriya Math in the Sri Mandir, this account seems unlikely.

The name of the math means “seven waves.” It comes from a legend that Jagannath Das used his mystic powers to move back the ocean the distance of seven waves in order to make room for a place to building.

According to legend, Jagannath Das lived at Sat Lahari Math until he was sixty years old (1550 AD). He then called all his disciples together and gave them last instructions and spiritual directions. He gave his wooden sandals to his chief disciple, Hari Das, and appointed him his successor. He then sat in a yogic posture and went into deep meditation and then left his body. His disciples buried his remains there and built a samadhi shrine in his memory.