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The Gaudiya Math Split Post 1937 - Finn Madsen

Jagat - Mon, 26 Apr 2004 23:59:30 +0530

Dr. Madsen has provided this summary of Gaudiya Math history, which likely contains information that is new to many. The informants who are quoted here agreed to be interviewed under conditions of anonymity, which explains why they have not been named. You may comment on this article HERE.

The Split in the Gaudiya Math

Finn Madsen

Until January 1937 - when Bhakti Siddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (BSST) passed away - the Gaudiya Math, which was the name at that time, consisted of 64 Maths and centres which had been established by means of donated money. BSST’s sannyasins went out on bhikshu tours and sometimes returned with appointments with very rich people who wanted to donate. The most famous donation perhaps was the beautiful Bagbazar Math – marble temple, mansion and hall - which was all donated by one family. In other cases groups of families got together. One family would donate the building site, another the ground floor, a third family would donate the first floor; someone else would donate the painting work and someone else the movables. After donation, the buildings belonged to BSST. He was the owner of all property.

The management of the Gaudiya Math was organized as follows. BSST was the undisputed administrative and spiritual leader. Below him in the hierarchical structure was a trustee board with three members. By 1936, they were Jasodanandan Bhagavat Bhusana, Ananta Basudev Parabidya Basu (?) (APBB), and Paramananda Brahmachari. Furthermore there was a general secretary (Kunja Vihari Vidyabhusana, KVV) plus the secretary assistant (B. K. Audolomi).

Each member of the board had his own field of responsibility. APBB was in charge of the properties plus he was chief editor for all of Gaudiya Mission’s publishing businesses. This was quite a job since there were so many magazines, books and papers in different languages. ISKCON’s Ravindra Svarupa once described APBB as a man who remembered - i.e., a man who would remember everything he saw and read. He had very high demands on himself as well as on others, and this was the reason why everybody thought of him as quite a tough person. KVV was in charge of all movable property plus he had staff functions. As to his tasks, KVV had contact with many temple devotees daily and was considered less coarse than APBB. KVV was answerable to the acharya and to the three members of the trustee board - not the other way around.

Disruption in the Gaudiya Math had taken place since the beginning of the 1930’s and different wings were fighting each other. But from January 1, 1937, when BSST passed away, the disagreements came out in the open. The trouble began when KVV insisted upon continuing as the new acharya in Gaudiya Math. KVV maintained that BSST had appinted him as acharya in verbal instructions. However BSST’s verbal instructions given on December 23, 1936 (eight days before his demise) to the monks assembled in Bagbazar Math did not mention this. The instructions were written down immediately and the wording is rendered in several books. One author writes:
On 31st Dec. 1937 [misspelling should be 1936], the day previous to his disappearance Srila Prabhupad [=BSST] called for all his important disciple by his side and advised them to note down the following instructions for their Guiding Principles in future: Form a Governing Body of 10 to 12 persons for management of Mission work but Kunja Babu [=KVV] will manage as long as he lives. Kunja Babu’s sympathy for me brought me in connection with so many persons. His intelligence excelled all. His sympathy for me knows no bounds. I advise you (Kunja Babu) to be courageous and callous as I am callous to all. This should be your guiding principle. I told the other day and again I say Kunja Babu should be respected as long as he lives. Do not quarrel with one another. Vasudeva [=Ananta Basudev Basu-APBB] should engage himself in writing something and he should help the Professor (Nishi Kanta Sanyal) and Sundarananda in this respect.
According to APBB, KVV was appointed as leader of mission activities not as math acharya. And also according to APBB, BSST never wanted KVV as acharya simply because he was a grihastha, not a monk. Another reason was that APBB considered KVV to be a subordinate, a secretary, who in his eagerness to advance tried to bypass the board.

Since the post was denied KVV, he left the Bagbazar Math and accompanied by 31 of the assembled samnyasins. According to one informant:
'The samnyasins thought that if they followed KVV they would have to obey his order and he is very strict...but he was not as strict as this person [APBB].
As mentioned APBB had been a tough editor. And he did not deal differently with persons of higher or lower status when they handed in texts too late. Generally, it is agreed that it is improper for a grihastha to scold a samnyasin, but APPB did and so he lost the support of the samnyasins in Kalkota. However he did have some very important samnysasin supporters, but they were at locations where he was not physically present. APPB remained in Bagbazar with the rest of the tyagins still in full control of the property as in BSST’s days and suddenly the samnyasins who had followed KVV were without roof over their heads. KVV could not provide for them.

Acccording to one informant the samnyasins who left with KVV had misunderstood his role in the administration. BSST and KVV had always worked close together establishing temples, etc., plus they had a lot of contact because of KVV’s staff function. Furthermore they had a close personal relationship. “Outsiders” could easily get the impression that APBB’s areas of competence were less important. Moreover, the monks were not aware of the division of labour on the legal level. They did not know that KVV’s had jurisdiction over only the movable property and had nothing to do with plots, buildings and cultivated farmland. They simply followed the person they looked upon as being in control because of his close friendship with BSST and because they thought he had administrative authority. But in fact APBB was the only official administrator.

In time, with the tensions between the APBB and KVV wings growing, an official partition became unavoidable. The monks and their brahmacharis gathered in the temples where the wing they personally favoured was in majority, and from 1937 to 1942 a number of lengthy lawsuits were initiated. Basically these lawsuits were about ownership to farmland and properties. KVV and individual samnyasins demanded parts of the estate. For example, a samnyasin would say: “This math was donated due to my missionary efforts, so now I want this math or land or some other value.”

However, during 1940, APBB applied to Bengali High Court to have the Gaudiya Math as a whole registrated under Societies Registration Act of 1860 with amendments. The essence of this law is that non-profit organizations are benefited with tax exemption. In return for registration the organization must abide with a rule that no single person or group can claim ownership to any properties of the organization. And quite a few Indian religious groups are recorded under this law today. By 1942 APBB’s application was accommodated with retrospective effect to 1940.

Seen from an organizational point of view this was a wise move. Because even though someone personally might have provided a temple for the Math through bhiksu, it was now impossible for an individual to claim property on leaving the Gaudiya Math because the property was no longer private. Only monks who wanted to continue operating temples could hope for a share of the properties and even this only through court cases. So by 1942 a row of new cases had started. The chief court case was between the KVV and APBB wings. Altogether it spread over 12 years. But an important compromise was agreed to on January 1948. One informant explained to me that APBB was shocked to see KVV leave the Gaudiya Math after being denied the acharya post, an eventuality for which he had not been prepared at all.

Before APBB’s application for registration of the Math to the Calcutta High Court had been acommodated, he left for Vrindavan but soon went on to the Gaudiya Math in Gaya where his wing was in majority. When he received the news from Bagbazar that registration had been approved, he immediately took samnyas from Rupavilasa Brahmachari with the sannyas name Bhakti Prasad Puri Goswami. On the very same day he telegraphed Bagbazar to inform them that now that he was on the correct ashram level he would return as acharya.

After the 1948 compromise it took another three years to divide the 66 temples between the two wings. APBB managed to get two thirds of the properties for his side, while KVV had to settle for the remainder. The procedure was that APBB had first choice. One informant explained:
When the compromise was established, the other party [APBB] wanted the Bagbazar Math. It was a big math really and it was in Calcutta and it was widely renowned. So they wanted it. KVV said, “Let me have anything.” So he was given Chaitanya Math in Mayapur, but at that time the Chaitanya Math was not so well developed.
The two new lines took the names Gaudiya Mission and Sri Chaitanya Math, respectively.

Gaudiya Mission

At that time the Bagbazar Math was the most desired. And KVV had to settle for Yogapitha and Sri Chaitanya Math in Mayapur. Later, KVV built these places to the destination for pilgrimage we know today. Apparently Puri Goswami (APBB) thought he had now done his service. On March 1, 1951, he ordered the main gate of Bagbazar temple closed, and read aloud from the court documents that the division of property had now been concluded. Then, to everyone’s astonishment, he added that he wanted to retire. He appointed his brother Bhakti Pradip Tirtha Maharaja as his successor. However the post as acharya did not suit Tirtha Maharaja and by 1953 he wanted to stop. A delegation was sent to APBB who had moved to live in Allahabad (but not in Rupa Gaudiya Math since he had left his ashram). The delegation consisted of five persons: Aprema Dasa (?), secretary substitute Baba Bandashik Dasa, B. K. Audolomi Maharaj secretary Rupavilasa Brahmachari who later became Bhagavat Maharaja and acharya from 1982-1993, and Bhakti Pradip Tirtha Maharaja’s son Krishna Prasad Brahmachari. The delegation’s mandate was to request APBB to talk his brother into staying on as acharya in Bagbazar. However, Tirtha Maharaj passed away at the age of 76 before the delegation even reached Allahabad. When this became known APBB decided that B. K. Audolomi Maharaja - one of the very few persons who had taken samnyasa form BSST himself - should be appointed acharya in Baghbazar. He ordered Audolomi Maharaja to change his ochre samnyasa clothes to white ‘paramahamsa’ dress. As paramahamsa, B. K. Audolomi was acharya from 1953 to 1982. Gaudiya Mission today consists of about thirty Maths. Their homepage is HERE.

Sri Chaitanya Math

Immidiately after the loss of Bagbazar Math, KVV settled with his 31 samnyasins in Vrindavan and Mathura. Since income was scarce, the bhikshu trips got more frequent and several samnyasins left KVV for this reason. One by one they left KVV, but not to return to APBB. Rather they started their own organizations. However KVV did manage to get a big math going in Midnapur from where the samnyasins went on bhikshu tours in Bankura and Bishnupur. In the early 1940’s rooms vere rented in Lansdown, Calcutta, and later on Hazra Road and even later in the still existing Chetla Math. At about this time the financial pressure began to loosen up. But some of the sannyasins started to act as acharyas, and initiated disciples with diksha. One source says:
KVV protested against these, saying that a math cannot have so many acharyas. Outraged maharajas left in protest and renounced the math, and individually built maths of their own. They already had good savings so finance was no problem.
And this is the reason why there are so many little organisations today that go back to BSST.

KVV passed away in 1976 and new disputes broke out. This led to the division of Sri Chaitanya Math into northern (Mayapur/Kolkata) and southern (Madras) branches. KVV’s son and B.K. Sraman took over the southern temples and Bhakti Prajnan Yati Maharaja became acharya for the northern temples. By 1986 they joined forces only to separate again in the mid-nineties. At its height Sri Chaitanya Math reached a number of 35 temples.

If you want details about some of the minor groups you might not know I can suggest you to have a look at Swami B. A. Paramadvaita’s book Our Family the Gaudiya Math.