Banamali Raibahadur and the Hookah-Smoking Radha-Binod

(by Vishakha Dasi): Rajarshi Banamali Raibahadur’s deities of Sri Radhabinod (better known as “Jamai Binod”) reside in Tarash Mandir down the road a piece from Ramkrishna Mission hospital in Vrindavan.  I´ve been wanting to visit this temple since I read Banamali Raiś story about five years ago, but somehow I never could find it.  Last night Binod Ji finally fulfilled my desire.

Binodji was found in the river Padma by a man named Vancharam, the manager of the Tarash estate (in present-day Bangladesh).  As he was taking his morning bath, he heard a voice saying, “Take me out of the water and bring me home!”  Vancharam said, “Who are you?  Where are you?” He looked around to see if perhaps a child had fallen into the water.  Then he felt a hand tugging at his leg.  He reached down and grabbed the hand, and pulled out the deity of Binod Ji.  As he spontaneously hugged the Deity to his chest the ashta-sattvika vikar (like trembling, horripolation, etc.) appeared on his body.    Dr. Kapoor writes, “Binod Ji alone knows how long and how intensely he had cherished the desire to be hugged by this devotee and to bathe in his tears of joy and love.  He did not even hesitate to touch his feet for its fulfillment!  Nothing is strange for him, for he is the Lord of Love.”  Vancharam took Binod Ji home and began to serve him with great care and love.  Binod Ji was very demanding.  Whenever he wanted something he would come to Vancharam in his dreams to tell him about it.

Once he told Vancharam, ¨I want subji made from mustard flowers. You must cook it for me!¨  Vancharam awoke wondering what to do, for there weren’t any mustard flowers growing in his locality.  But when he went to wake up Binod Ji he found sprigs of mustard flowers decorating both his ears, and a bunch of them tied in the corner of his pitambar.  He understood that Binod Ji has brought them himself from some far away place.  Another time, Binod Ji asked a wealthy devotee in a dream to offer him a hookah.  He brought a beautiful silver hookah which Vancharam would offer every day after Binod Ji’s morning and evening rajbhog offerings.

Jamai Vinod

On another occasion, some guests came to the house at night while Vancharam and his wife were sleeping.  Not wanting to disturb Vancharam’s sleep, Binod Ji took the form of a lala (young boy) and began to entertain the guests himself.  He told them, “My father is sleeping right now, but I can wake him.”  “No, no,” replied the guests, “we’ll cook for ourselves.”  Binod Ji went to the market to buy groceries for the guests to cook.  But the shopkeeper was reluctant to give this lala groceries on credit in Vancharam’s name.  Binod Ji said, “Take my golden bangles as surety for the goods. I promise Vancharam Ji will pay you back tomorrow.”  The shopkeeper agreed, and Binod Ji brought the groceries home for Vancharam’s guests.

The next day Vancharam asked his guests, “When did you come?  Who let you in?”

They replied, “We came quite late but your son let us in.  What a good boy!  He made all the arrangements for our supper.”  Vancharam was so suprised, he did not even think to mention that he did not have a son.  When the shopkeeper came at noon with Binod Ji’s bangles, his suspicions were confirmed.

Around this time the head of Tarash estate, Raja Banwari Lal, started coming for darshan of Vancharam’s now famous deity.  He also brought his wife and his ten year old daughter, Radha.  Radha loved Binod Ji, and as it turned out, Binod Ji loved her too.  He used to tease Radha, pinch her and even spit at her.  Radha saw these things clearly but her mother and father could not perceive it.  One night Binod Ji said to Vancharam in a dream, “Let me go and live with the Raja.  I am pleased with your seva but now I want to accept his seva.  Don’t be sad for you will soon realize me.”

Thus Binodji went to live with the Raja, and Radha served Vinodji with all her heart.  She decided what he would wear each day and what he would eat, and prepared various amazing ornaments made of flowers.  Her expertise in seva seemed impossible for such a young girl.  Binod Ji was very pleased with her, and showed it by teasing her even more than before.  During this period Radha experienced Binod Ji wiping his dirty hands on her clothes after taking bhog.  One day while Radha was offering Binod Ji a garland, he grabbed her anchal and said, “You must marry me.”  She told her mother but of course she didn’t believe her.

Soon after Radha became very ill.  Binodji appeared to Radha’s mother in a dream and told her, “Radha will not remain in this world much longer.  I can no longer live without her direct seva, so I will take her to me as my bride.  Make a murti of Radharani from the dried-up devadaru tree in the courtyard.  Your daughter will also enter into that murti and thus attain me.  When the murti is ready, marry it to me.”  When Radha’s mother told Raja Banwari Lal about the dream, they wept. But their tears were of a mixture of joy and sorrow, because their daughter would soon attain Binod Ji’s lotus feet, and that both of them would live in their house in the form of Sri Murtis.

Banamali Rai Bahadur

The devadaru tree was cut down and work on the murti started immediately.  As soon as the murti was ready, Radha left her body.  Arrangements for her funeral and her marriage in the form of the murti were made simultaneously.  After the wedding ceremony, Binod Ji began to be called Radhabinod or “Jamai Binod” (Binod, the son-in-law).  When Raja Banwari Lal died, his adopted son Banamali Lal took over his position as head of the estate.  But he was an adherent of the bramho-samaj.  Because he did not have much faith in Sri Murti, he had a negligent attitude towards the seva of Radha-Binod.  A hired pujari continued the worship as a matter of routine.

Then an amazing thing happened to Banamali.  One day he was going down the highway to Pabana on the back of an elephant, surrounded by attendants and royal guards armed with guns.  Suddenly Prabhu Jagadbandhu came with a huge Kirtan party.  Hundreds of devotees sang with khol and kartal, with Jagadbandhu dancing at the head. Banamali could not tear his ears and eyes from the sound of the Holy Name and the beauty of Jagadbandhu’s dancing.  It was something totally new for him and it was completely irresistible.  He did not know why he jumped down from the elephant, kicked off his royal slippers and started dancing in the midst of the kirtan.  He danced and danced until the kirtan party reached its destination.  There he bowed low before Jagadbandhu Prabhu, and requested him to come to visit his royal villa.  Prabhu came, and he did not withold his kripa from Banamali.  He stayed in the palace for a number of days explaining Bhakti yoga and instilling love for Sri Yugal Kishore in his heart.

After that Banamali Ray became enthusiastic about Radhabinod, and made the best possible arrangements for his seva.  But he discontinued the hookah seva, for it was against the sastras.  But Radhabinod made his own arrangements.  During this period a siddha-mahatma named Sri Krishnasundara Ray used to live with Banamali Ray.  He remained absorbed in lila-smaran day and night, but externally he smoked hookah out of habit.  Whenever Krishnasundara Ray lost external consciousness, which was frequent, Binod Ji would take the hookah from his hand and smoke it.  But after Krishnasundara Ray left the material realm, Binod Ji began to worry about his hookah-seva.  Binodi Lal (the youthful enjoyer) could not think of quitting something he had enjoyed for so long, thus he came in the pujari’s dream and said,

“Give me my hookah!  I used to smoke with Ray Prabhu.  Now that he is gone I have not smoked for four days!”

When Banamali Rai was informed of the dream, he made arrangements for the restoration of the hookah-seva.  But in his heart he doubted whether Binod Ji really smoked.

Hookah of Jamai Binod
Hookah of Jamai Binod

Dr. Kapoor writes, “Once Jagadbandhu Prabhu was staying in Banamali Ray’s palace in a room adjacent to the temple of Radhabinod.  After Raja-bhog he called Banamali Ray and said, “Today let’s enjoy the hookah-smoking lila of Lilamaya (the sportive Lord).  He took Banamali Ray with him and sat in the verandah of the temple.  After some time he said, “See, Binod Ji is smoking.  Listen to the hubble-bubble of the hookah.”  Simultaneously, Jagadbandhu granted Banamali spiritual ears to hear the sound of the hookah.  As he was listening to the sound, he went into bhava-samadhi and tears began to trickle from his eyes.”

Banamali Ray’s faith in Sri Murti had become firm. He could no longer tolerate any kind of talk suggesting that Sri Murti was a mere statue.  He was very eager to serve Radhabinod directly, but as he was not duly initiated he was not qualified for seva.  Then, in 1897 he went to Vrindavan and received diksha at the lotus feet of Prabhupad Sri Radhika Nath Gosvami, a direct descendent of Sri Advaita Prabhu.  After diksha he became so exculsively absorbed in Radhabinod’s seva that he had little time for anything else.  He entrusted the management of his estate to a worthy manager and went to Vraja.  In Vraja he constructed two buildings; Tarash Mandir in Vrindavan, and Rajbari in Radhakund.  He and Radhabinod divided their time between both places.

Banamali Ray was in the centre of the Vaishnav community in Vraja.  Many mahatmas graced his house with their presence, and he always made arrangements for Hari Katha, kirtan and other religious festivals.  He directed all the resources of his estate towards the service of the Vaishnavas.  He built a free hospital for sadhus, vaishnavs and Brijwasis, and a school for teaching bhakti-shastras providing free room and board for its students.  He also started a press which printed Srimad Bhagavatam with eight commentaries, and other bhakti literature which he distributed for free amongst the sadhu-vaishnavs.

He received the blessings of all the siddha-mahatmas of his day, but some particularly showered their mercy on him.  They were Sri Radhikanath Gosvami, Jagadbandhu Prabhu, Sri Radharaman Charan Das Babajii Maharaj, Sri Vijayakrishna Gosvami, Sri Gaurakishor Shiromani, Sri Ramahari Das Babaji, Sri Krishnasundara Ray, Sri Harisundar Bhaumika Bhuiyan, Sri Jagadish Das Babaji and Sri Ramakrishna Das Pandit Baba.

With the blessings of these mahatmas he easily attained the lotus feet and eternal loving seva of Sri Sri Radha-Binod in His eternal home Sri Dham Vrindavan.

(My eternal thanks and thousands of dandavat pranams to Sri Haridas Das Babaji Maharaj who dedicated his life to recording the stories of the saints and discovering lost literary treasures of Caitanya Vaishnavism, and to OBL Kapoor for translating some of those stories.  The bulk of this post was derived from Dr. Kapoor’s article on the life of Rajarshi Banamali Raibahadur found in his book The Saints of Vraja.  Thanks also to the present caretakers of Tarash Mandir for their friendly reception and for kindly allowing me to take as many photos as I wanted).

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