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The Vital Question

Updated: May 1, 2022

Sharanagati: Haridas Thakur And Siddha Bakula


That one vital question: What should I do? It keeps hounding me at every crossroad in my life. I grew up in an environment where we were encouraged to practice humility, tolerance, simplicity and to keep pride at bay. I devoted most of my time to dance as it was my path to pure joy and release. But after a certain stage of my career, as I got praised for my art, there developed a need to stay above competition, to be better - better than the rest. My well-wishers started advising me that to carry on dancing, dancing well was not enough. It had to be compounded with meeting the right people in the right positions who could help jet set my career. I was fortunate to have my wishes fulfilled, but there seemed to be no end to my desires. After performing on one stage, I wanted a bigger stage; after a good review, I wanted everyone to be singing my praises. As I pursued this career, I had to be noticed, which meant that I had to be seen with people who called the shots in this industry. And soon it became clear that acquaintances mattered, critics, more often than not, needed to be pleased to write a good review and even awards were bought. The closer I got to artistes whom everyone revered, the more I was exposed to their insecurities. Attending gatherings, being with artistes who always craved to be in the limelight, quoting writers to show off my knowledge, smearing a fake smile on my face, longing to be photographed with the divas, and saying only what the greats would love to hear was not my cup of tea. I was quite disturbed when I learnt that to survive, I had to emulate the subtle art of making people praise me by wrapping my inflated ego under the garb of humility. I knew I was getting entangled in the dungeons of hypocrisy trying to live up to the demands of the trade, going far far away from my cherished goal of freedom and self realisation. My younger self didn’t want to be seen as a recluse, giving up without trying. I felt sorry for not living up to the expectations of my well-wishers. But going against my inherent true nature was stressful. The most important question, ‘What to do and what not to do” kept popping up in my mind, time and again. At the same time, I was fortunate enough to be visiting and performing in temples, in the gathering of devotees, offering my art at the lotus feet of the Lord. During every such performance, my heart would be filled with an unexplainable joy, rising above the mundane into the realm where one existed only to serve the Lord. I felt blessed to have embraced dance which led me to such experiences where every cell in my being danced in unison, singing His praise, and took me to a state so serene and beautiful. One day I was listening to a discourse on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s ‘Sikshashtaka’ and one message that seemed to be repeated again and again was about the importance of humility. He had given this clear instruction:

तृणादऽपि सुनीचेन तरोरऽपि सहिष्णुना अमानिना मानदेन कीर्तनीयः सदा हरिः

tṛiṇad api su-nichena taror api sahiṣṇuna amanina mana-dena kirtaniyaḥ sada hariḥ

(One can chant the Holy Name of the Lord with humility, thinking himself lower than a straw in the street, more tolerant than the tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer respect to others. Only in such a state of mind one should chant the Holy Name of the Lord constantly.) This line struck a chord in my heart and made me reflect on my journey and how I felt about everything I had experienced. Haridas Thakur was an embodiment of this instruction. He was so humble that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself was enamoured of this great devotee and considering him as his own, personally brought him to the garden of Kashi Mishra, which is now known as Siddha Bakula.

I was awestruck when I first visited Siddha Bakula in Puri which is located near Radhakanta Math, also known as Gambhira on Bali Sahi Road. Siddha Bakula is the bhajan kutir of Haridas Thakur, where he chanted 3,00,000 names of Krishna every day. He was born in a Muslim family and later followed the path of Vaishnavism. There is a small temple featuring an altar of Namacharya Srila Haridas Thakura in a sitting pose chanting japa. In another altar Sadbhuja Gauranga (six-armed Gauranga) is worshipped along with Sri Nityananda Prabhu and Advaita Acharya. There is also a deity of Lord Narasimhadeva. The site has an extraordinary bakula tree winding and climbing around the courtyard. The tree is hollow inside with only the bark around and looks like it is completely dead. Yet lush green leaves and fragrant flowers are seen blooming.

Sri Haridas Thakur considered himself so low that he avoided coming in front of the sadhus and sanyasis. He used to stay far away and keep chanting, looking at the Neelachakra at the top of Sri Jagannath temple. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, during his stay in Puri, lived in the house of Kashi Mishra. He asked Kashi Mishra for the solitary house in a garden near his place. Kashi Mishra was happy to grant his wish. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu then went to Sri Haridas Thakur and was elated to see him engrossed chanting the holy name in great ecstasy. On seeing Mahaprabhu, Haridas fell at his lotus feet. In spite of Haridas Thakur’s reluctance, Mahaprabhu embraced him and tears ran down both their faces. Mahaprabhu took Haridas to the flower garden and requested him to stay there and chant peacefully. Thereafter, every day, after having darshan of Lord Jagannath, Mahaprabhu used to visit Haridas Thakur and get him Mahaprasad. Haridas Thakur would always be engrossed in chanting the name of Krishna, day and night, oblivious of the world around him, relishing the ambrosia of the divine name and hence he was widely known as ‘Namacharya’, the teacher of the holy name. One day, looking at Haridas Thakur chanting outside in the hot sun, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu planted a used tooth stick of Lord Jagannath. Suddenly, the stick grew and branched into a bakul tree, as if ready to carry out the order of the Lord and provide shade to the great devotee. The tree has provided shade to Mahaprabhu and his many devotees. Rupa Goswami recited Lalitha Madhava and Vidagdha Madhava under this tree before Sri Gauranga and his followers. During his stay in Puri, Sanatana Goswami lived with Haridasa Thakur here.

Once during Lord Jagannath’s Ratha Yatra, there was a need for wood to build the three chariots. The King of Odisha ordered his officers to cut down this tree. When the officers arrived to cut it down, the devotees pleaded with them not to do so since Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had planted this with his own hand to give shade to Haridas Thakur. But the officers had to carry out the king’s order and went back informing that the tree will be cut the next day. That night, an unbelievable event occurred. The tree became hollow as if by a miracle. The trunk still stood but there was nothing inside. The next morning, the royal officers were shocked to see the tree empty inside and returned without cutting it. The tree was no ordinary tree. It was used as a tooth stick by Lord Jagannath and had been planted in the ground by Chaitanaya Mahaprabhu to provide shade to Namacharya Haridas Thakur. The tree had attained siddhi and henceforth known as Siddha Bakula.

People feel that the tree is kalpataru (wish fulfilling tree) and even tie stones to this tree and make wishes. But sitting under the tree and listening to the tales of the great seer cleanses one’s heart and mind. The only wish left is to pray to the Lord to lift oneself above the mundane and to be able to surrender one’s ego at the lotus feet of the Lord.

In this world, one is bound to be overcome by the six enemies that he nurtures within, the Shat Ripus, which are: Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Moha (delusion), Mada (egotistic pride) and Matsarya (jealousy). Lust or selfish desire arises when an individual is ignorant of his true nature, feels incomplete and runs after the desired object. When he stumbles upon an obstacle in the path of acquiring the desired object, and the desire remains unfulfilled, he becomes angry. But when the desire gets fulfilled, he yearns for more, leading to greed. Both fulfilled and unfulfilled desires lead to delusion. The delusion of joy or the delusion of disappointment. When desires are fulfilled, it leads to pride, a sense of superiority while unfulfilled desires give rise jealousy. These six vices are detrimental to progress in the spiritual path.

The only way out is satsang, right association, as advised by Adi Shankaracharya:

सत्सङ्गत्वे निस्सङ्गत्वं निस्सङ्गत्वे निर्मोहत्वम्

निर्मोहत्वे निश्चलतत्त्वं निश्चलतत्त्वे जीवन्मुक्तिः

Satsangatve nissangatvam niḥsangatve nirmohatvam Nirmohatve niscalatattvam niscalatattve jivanmuktiḥ

In good company one develops non-attachment to the uncontrolled pleasures. From non-attachment comes freedom from delusion. With this freedom from delusion one attains self-enlightenment. With self-enlightenment one attains the ultimate peace or salvation.

In the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Arjuna in delusion, plagued with doubts, surrenders and Sri Krishna shows him the path. So can we, when we are bewildered, lost, breaking our heads trying to find our way out. The simplest thing is to surrender to Him.

The six aspects of complete surrender as stated by Srila Sanatana Goswami in Hari Bhakti Vilas:

अनुकूलस्य संकल्प: प्रतिकूलस्य वर्जनम् |

रक्षिस्यतीति विश्वासो, गोप्तृत्व वरणं तथा

आत्मनिक्षेप कार्पण्यं षड्विद्या शरणागति:।।

anukulyasya sankalpaḥ pratikulyasya varjanam rakṣhiṣhyatiti vishvaso goptṛitve varaṇam tatha atmanikṣhepa karpaṇye ṣhaḍvidha sharaṇagatiḥ

(Accepting everything that is conducive to spiritual growth, rejecting all which is detrimental, having complete faith that the Lord will protect you, always being grateful, to see everything we possess as belonging to God and to give up the pride of having surrendered are the six aspects of complete surrender.)

Siddha Bakula, from My Travel Diaries

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