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The Gem Of Navadwip

Updated: Mar 13, 2022

Nimai Pandit


Dola Utsav is celebrated in the month of Falguna, welcoming spring. The dola procession led by the village drummers, pipers and sankirtana mandali halts in front of every household and the deity is offered bhog. The final day, Dola Purnima, culminates in a swing festival for the deities Radha and Krishna. On this auspicious day, amidst loud bhajans and brilliant colours, a deity of Krishna and his beloved Radha, richly adorned and besmeared with colored powder, Abir, is taken out in procession in a swinging palanquin, decorated with flowers, leaves and coloured clothes. In the year 1485, the full moon day of the month of Falguna, was a lunar eclipse. When the devotees were immersed in carrying the procession of the deities to the accompaniment of music, blaring of conch shells, trumpets and shouts of 'Hari Bol', Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared as the son of Sri Jagannath Mishra and Maa Sachi Devi. Since he was born under a Neem tree, he was fondly called Nimai.

Navadwip was a prominent seat of learning during the appearance of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Scholars from all over India assembled in Navadwip. Students gained in-depth knowledge on Vyakaran (Grammar), Sahitya (Literature), Alankar Shastra (Rhetorics) and Nyaya Shastra (Jurisprudence). During that period, a scholar adept in Nyaya Shastra was held in high esteem. The goal of every scholar was to defeat the opponent in scholarly debates. The ones who won the arguments were awarded and respected. In earlier times, before Navadwip rose into prominence, Mithila was a well-known centre for the study of Nyaya Shastra.

Vasudeva Sarvabhouma, a Bengali Brahmin had been to Mithila to study Nyaya Shastra. He was a brilliant mind with impeccable memory. Since no one was allowed to carry back text books from Mithila, he memorized all the Shastra from all the books he read. On returning to Navadwip, he wrote down the scriptures that he had memorised in detail and helped to spread the knowledge earned. He explained the most complicated theories in an easy and simple manner.

After completing his primary education, Nimai joined the school of Pandit Ganga Dash to study grammar. The teacher was in awe of his genius. He graduated with flying colours at a small age and even wrote a commentary on the principles of grammar. He then proceeded to join the school of Vasudev Sarvabhouma. He mastered the Nyaya Shastra in just a few days. As a student, he even started writing a commentary on one of the famous scriptures of Nyaya Shastra. The students and teachers were all astonished at his intellect. Discussing Nyaya Shastra and writing commentaries on it was the goal of every scholar, and this mere child had already began accomplishing in such a short time.

Raghunath, Nimai’s childhood friend was also a student in the same school. He was a bright scholar but was nowhere in comparision to Nimai. He always saw Nimai playing and hanging around throughout the day and wondered when he found the time to study!

“When do you study, Nimai?”, he asked.

“I study at night”, came the prompt reply.

“Who guides you?”

“Maa Saraswati”, answered Nimai with a grin.

Raghunath knew he was joking and became even more determined to get an answer.

Once the teacher gave Raghunath a difficult problem to solve. Raghunath spent the entire day trying to find the solution. He stayed glued to the task, forgetting to eat and drink. Nimai came over in the evening and was worried to see his friend looking so tired and worn out.

“What’s wrong?”, asked Nimai.

Raghunath explained how frustrated he was, working on the problem throughout the day without any result. Nimai took a look at the question and in a moment, explained the solution, so simple and uncluttered. Raghunath looked at him in wonder. Was he human or some divine being?!

Raghunath was writing a commentary on the Nyaya Shastra. He yearned for position and respect in the society. His sole aim was to become an unparalleled authority on the Nyaya Shastra. He came to know that Nimai was also writing a commentary on Nyaya. One day, on their way to school, while both friends were crossing the Ganga on a boat, Raghunath expressed his interest to listen to Nimai’s work so far. Nimai took out the manuscript of the commentary that he had written and started reading it out cheerfully. Raghunath was stunned. While Raghunath had taken up around ten pages to describe his interpretation, Nimai had done the same so lucidly in one or two paragraphs. The more Nimai read, the more anxious Raghunath became. He realised that if Nimai’s work got published then his work will lose its worth. He felt devastated. Tears rolled down his eyes. Surprised at this unexpected behavior of his friend, Nimai stopped reading and looked at his friend. He asked Raghunath why he felt so hurt. Raghunath replied that he has also written a commentary on Nyaya but it seemed that once Nimai’s work would be completed, his analysis would appear so insignificant. He understood that Nimai’s work was unique, beyond any comparision and his work faded away in that glow. Nimai smiled after hearing him out. Nimai took his work and without a second thought, tore it into pieces and threw it in the waters of Ganga. Raghunath was stunned. He stood there with his mouth open, unable to believe what had just happened. When he came back to his senses, burdened with guilt, he couldn’t lift his head up. Tears rolled down his eyes. Nimai hugged Raghunath and cheered him up, gave him all the support and encouragement he needed to complete the commentary that he was working on. This well know commentary on Nyaya by Raghunath was given the name ‘Didhiti’.

Years passed by. When Nimai was sixteen he completed his studies and opened his school. Everyone was amazed at his scholarly acumen and intellectual genius. His fame spread far and wide. Students from distant places came to study in his school. His school grew and became well known. Nimai won every debate and was noted as an authority on Nyaya. Nimai was unparalleled as a scholar and a teacher.

During that time, the goal of every scholar was to engage in intellectual debate and earn a victory certificate. The scholars used to travel from place to place, challenging others in a battle of shastras. After winning they acquired their certificate of victory. The aim was to gain victory over all the learned men and reign as the greatest scholar. Keshav Kashmiri was such a celebrated scholar. He travelled throughout India, defeating all the scholars and arrived in Navadwip. He was the uncontested scholar from Kashmir, revered as the most favoured son of Maa Saraswati. After defeating the scholars of Navadwip, he would be regarded as the greatest scholar of the world. He was affluent and wherever he went, a procession of people, elephants, horses and carriages used to follow. He camped in Navadwip, flew his flag on the banks of Ganga and declared, “I will engage in debate with the scholars of Navadwip. If I win, the opponent will have to sign a document declaring me victorious and if I lose, I will hand over all my wealth and belongings to him.”

The scholars of Navadwip were worried. Pandit Keshav Kashmiri was an exemplary intellectual. Maa Saraswati, pleased with his invocation, stood beside him. Who would dare face him? The pride of Navadwip was at stake. Everyone, in every corner was talking about this challenge. The words reached the ears of Nimai. Pride and ego cannot stand grace. The Pandit’s ego had to be crushed. Nimai found out the whereabouts of Keshav Kashmiri. That evening, Nimai, along with his students sat down on the banks of Ganga discussing various scriptures. As Keshav Kashmiri was walking up the ghats, he overheard the discourse and asked for the introduction of the young pandit who sat there surrounded by his students. He became curious when he found out that the pandit was Nimai. He introduced himself to Nimai and said, “You are young but I have heard about your reputation.” Nimai bowed down to him and replied politely, “I am not that capable. I only teach grammar. You have conquered the world with your genius and I am an ignorant kid in front of you. I have the desire to listen to you. Please come and sit down here, on the banks of the Ganga and grace us by reciting some shlokas on the greatness of this mighty river.”

Keshav Kashmiri was pleased. His head held high, chest expanded with pride, he started reciting. One hundred shlokas unfurled from his mouth within an hour, back to back, without a pause like a storm that wouldn’t cease. Overwhelmed, Nimai said, “There is no one like you in this entire world.” His students gathered over there reiterated his statement and praised the pandit saying such scholarly outpouring is beyond any common man.

Nimai continued politely, “Hardly anyone is proficient enough to understand and appreciate your shlokas. Only Maa Saraswati and yourself have the ability to comprehend them. I will be grateful if you would be kind enough to make us understand any one of them.”

With an inflated ego, oozing with pride he replied, “Tell me which shloka you want me to explain.”

Nimai recited one of the hundred shlokas keshav Kashmiri had recited in one go.

It was then the Pandit’s turn to be amazed. He thought, “I delivered shlokas, one after another without a pause. How did this young man recall one from them?” Quite pleased, he started explaining.

“O great soul! We have already discussed the strengths. Now let’s discuss where this shloka falls short.”

Keshav Kashmiri was blind with rage.

“You have only learnt the grammar, that a child’s play. Analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of a shloka comes under Alankar Shastra. How dare you point out defects in my shloka. It is filled with simile, alliteration and imagery.”

Nimai answered humbly, “It’s true that I have not studied the Alankar Shastra, but I have heard. If you give me permission, I will evaluate the faults.” Then he pointed out five mistakes. He analysed every point and explained it clearly. If a shloka has ten alankars, figures of speech but one mistake, then its beauty diminishes.”

Keshav Kashmiri was stuck to the spot and stood there lifeless, like a log of wood. Ashamed, the Pandit felt insulted and couldn’t raise his head.

Nimai continued, “It’s not uncommon to have faults in one’s work. Even Kalidas and Bhababhuti’s works had faults. You are also a genius. So, please don’t feel sorry.

Keshav Kashmiri returned to his place of stay. Anguished and pained, he spent the whole night sleepless. He was siddha in Maa saraswati’s mantra and so he sat there meditating on Maa Saraswati. Just before dawn, when he was lost in trance, Maa Saraswati appeared before him and pronounced, “The one from whom you were defeated today is no mere mortal. He is the lord of the whole universe. I’m powerless in front of him. Last evening’s incident was only to subdue your pride and arrogance. Go and surrender at His feet.”

The all merciful Lord had mercy and granted Keshav Kashmiri freedom from the poisonous clutches of vanity, haughtiness, arrogance and pride. The Lord embraced him, granting him the nectar of His grace.

Such is the greatness of the Lord!

Nirmana moha jita sanga dosha

Adhyatma nitya vinivritta kamah

dvandvair vimuktah sukha duhkha sanjnair

gachchhanty amudhah padam avyayam

-Bhagavad Gita

- Those who are free from vanity and delusion, who have overcome the evil of attachment, who dwell constantly on the self and on God, who are free from the desire to enjoy the senses, and are beyond the dualities of pleasure and pain, such liberated personalities attain My eternal Abode.

Inspired by Krishnapriya Mohanty's essay, 'Nimai Pandit'.

Image Courtesy: Pratipanna Dash

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