Thursday, November 26, 2009

Calcutta : 300 : Kolkata - Memoirs of a Diverse City

Calcutta : 300 : Kolkata
Memoirs of a Diverse City - Overseas Tribute to Calcutta on Her Tercentenary
Edited by
Sachi G. Dastidar
Published by
South Asia Forum, U.S.A.
October 16, 1992
ISBN 0-9634363-0-9

Bangladesh Muslim Cartoonist Gets Hard Labor

Bangladesh: Muslim cartoonist gets hard labor for hurting religious feelings of Muslim community

Name (Naam) by Arifur Rahman
[Frame #1]
Man: Hey boy, What's your name?
Boy: My name is Babu
[Frame #2]
Man: Before your name you have to say Mohammad
[Frame #3]
Man: What's your father's name?
Boy: Mohammad Daddy
[Frame #4]
Man: What's that in your arm?
Boy: Mohammad Cat

A court in southwestern Bangladesh yesterday found a cartoonist guilty of “hurting the religious feelings of the Muslim community” and sentenced him to two months of hard labour,.
Arifur Rahman, 25, was tried in absence over the drawing, which sparked street clashes and riots in the capital Dhaka when it appeared in a satirical magazine two years ago. Rahman, who was arrested but later bailed, said that he was unaware of the trial. The cartoon appeared in Bengali newspaper Prothom Alo’s weekly and now defunct magazine Alpin. “He has been given a two-month, hard labour jail sentence and a 500-taka ($7.40) fine,” said magistrate Kaisarul Islam, who presided over the case in the city of Jessore. “I am not on the run and have not been told about the case,” Rahman said in Dhaka. “I will speak to my lawyers.” ~ end

An interview with Arifur Rahman at Cartoon News here.

The government confiscated all copies of the now-defunct satire magazine in which the cartoon was printed. Amid a protest by Islamic groups, Prothom Alo’s editor and publisher apologised for printing the cartoon, and fired the cartoonist.

On Feb 4, the High Court ruled Arif’s detention illegal and ordered his immediate release. He was freed on Mar 20 this year. The cartoonist’s arrest and detention also earned criticism from local and international rights groups. In January, human-rights watchdog Amnesty International demanded Arif’s release, terming him “a prisoner of conscience”.

In one of his cartoons published in Alpin (17th September, 2007 issue), an old man was asking the name of a child with a cat in his lap. The boy answered and was scolded for not putting Mohammad before his name, as he was Muslim. Then the man asked about the animal and the scared boy put the holy prophet’s name before the cat as suggested by the elder. Things turned bad the moment it hit the stands. The furious mullahs were on rampage and Arif was suddenly the enemy of the state! His story really starts from here:

So what was the idea behind the cartoon? Why did you draw it?

Well, i never thought this was going to be such a big issue. The joke I used is a common one in our locality, infact in that zone. I heard it when as a kid and even when I grew up. My idea was to highlight the faulty religious teachings by some of our elders where they advise to put the name of our holy Prophet before every name, when they should also clarify where it shouldn’t be used. What surprised me, I learnt after my release that the same joke was used in a publication of Islami Chatra Shibir name Kishorekantha (November, 1998 Issue).

Are you safe? Do you feel the JMB are done with you?That’s the thing still haunt me even in my dreams. I usually keep a low profile; never in anywhere have I introduced myself as Arif. But still I don’t feel safe; they can be anywhere and even kill me if they want. I don’t even work in the shop where I used to.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Ai Bangla, Oi Bangla (This Bengal, that Bengal)

Ai Bangla, Oi Bangla (This Bengal, that Bengal)

a collection of short stories based on lilfe of monorities in Islamized Bengal


Dr. Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar

Published by:

Tulat Publilshers

13B Sree Krishna Lane, Calcutta 4, India

Publication Date: Mahalaya B.S. 1398; October 1991

Price: Rs. 50; $10 in the U.S.

Book review:

Desh: Ai Bangla, Oi Bangla : This Bengal, that Bengal

Desh (Bengali Weekly), Calcutta, India
19 August 1989
Oi Bangla, Ai Bangla (This Bengal, that Bengal)
Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar


Unnatural Disaster: Pogroms have KIlled Hundreds of Bangladeshi Minorities

Cultural Survival, 1992

Unnatural Disasters: Pogroms have Killed Hundreds of Bangladeshi Minorities; Millions more are Refugees in India

G. R. Chowdhury


A Aamar Desh: This is My Home

A Aamar Desh (This is My Home)

a collection of 24 Bengali essays and short stories by

Dr. Sabyasachi Ghosh Dasstidar

on Bangladesh, West Bengal - India and the United States


Samiran Chowdhury

College Street Publishers (Private) Limited

13 Bankim Chantterjee Street,

Calcutta 700 073, West Bengal, India

January 1998 Calcutta Book Fair

Price: Rs. 40; $7 in the U.S.

2012 papperback

2012 low-cost paperback, modified edition published by Milita and Five Star Printing, Kolkata 9, India.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Hindu Monk’s Pilgrimage to Bajitpur, Bangladesh

A Hindu Monk’s Pilgrimage to Bajitpur, Bangladesh
Swami Amarnathananda

I first visited Bajitpur in 1992 and my experience was not a pleasant one. At that time I was living in Delhi, India so I had to come to Kolkata by train and then to Bangaon border by road. Crossing the border between India and Bangladesh and then another long road journey to Bajitpur of Madaripur District (of former Faridpur District) of Bangladesh (former East Bengal, India) was troublesome. I accepted that journey as part of my spiritual practices and I said to myself that this will be it; I am not coming back here in this lifetime anymore.

Small Bajitpur village is the most important pilgrim center for us, for our monks, for our devotees and to all who love Bharat Sevashram Sangha. In meditation, in jap (japa), in religious discourses and in all other spiritual thoughts Bajitpur village come to our mind as part of all these practices. Because it is the holy birthplace of Acharya Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj, it is the place of his tapasya and it is the place of the beginning of Bharat Sevashram Sangha monastic order and social work (meaning Order in Service of India-Mankind.) It is the place that gives us the divine touch of the presence of Acharya Sreemat Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj.

After living for such a long period of time in the West, it is not an easy thought to visit Bajitpur in Bangladesh again, so I gave up the thought to visit there anymore. But recently Swami Subhranandaji was insisting that I must visit Bajitpur once again, he said that he will make sure that my journey will be a pleasant one and spiritually motivated.

According to our plan, I flew out of John F. Kennedy International airport in New York on Wednesday, February 4, 2009 by Emirates Airlines to Dubai. As I was waiting for my flight from Dubai to Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, I was surprised to see the huge number of people waiting to board the same flight. I realized that many people from Bangladesh work in the Middle-Eastern countries and were going back to visit their motherland. The unfortunate thing was after repeated announcement by the airline authority that all passengers has a booked seat and should board the flight quietly and orderly, nobody was ready to listen. As a result, you can imagine the unpleasant situation at the boarding gate. It was a very tiresome boarding for me.

I reached Zia International airport, Dhaka by evening and Swami Subhranandaji who already reached Dhaka from India was at the airport with Brahmachari Swapan Maharaj who was waiting to receive me. Our Meghna’s Barra JamaiBabu (eldest brother-in-law) Mr. Abinash Paul arranged a car to pick me up from the airport. At Dhaka, I was expecting a small airport and lots of hassle, but surprisingly, as soon as I landed at the airport I fell in love with Bangladesh. The airport was huge, clean and the officers and people were very friendly. Honestly speaking, I fell in love with Bangladesh immediately.

Arriving at Dhaka airport from Dubai

Dhaka is the national capital and the largest city of Bangladesh. Here you can find many universities, academies, intellectuals, writers, politicians, business people and it is also the place of origins of many movements. The city witnessed the presence of British, the Pakistanis, its own independence movements and the killings of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the creator of independent nation of Bangladesh. I was shocked to see the present-day Dhaka City. The city has beautiful high rise buildings, well maintained roads, new modern cars, beautiful apartment buildings and I also recognized mass use of mobile phones. Next day we all went to visit some important historical places in the city such as Dhaka University, Ramna (Kali Bari Temple) Maidan (green), Dhakeswari Durga Bari (Hindu temple), overcrowded book fairs, modern parliament house, famous Dhanmandi area and the house of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman where almost his entire family was killed.

Our Ashram in Bangladesh is known as “Shri Shri Pranab Math (Mott).” The office of Dhaka Pranab Math is situated in Tikatuli area. It is actually based at a portion of Dhaka Bholagiri Ashram. With many years of experiences and for some practical reason, I am sure that Swami Digvijoyanandaji who is the in-charge of our Dhaka Center thought it will be in the best interest of the Ashram to lease a place for our office there, and so he didn’t go ahead to purchase a property for our own in Dhaka city.

Entrance of Sri Sri Pranab Mott at Bajitpur
Maghi Purnima was on Monday, February 9th 2009, so without any delay we left for Bajitpur by road. Mr. Abinash Paul and his family very kindly arranged a mini van for us to travel. I must say that since the independence of Bangladesh, I could see that the country has improved tremendously. The transportation system, new roads and new bridges are delightful to look at and the people are very hospitable. This was a great opportunity for me to see the real Bangladesh. Its green rice field, many rivers and canals, mud houses, coconut, mango and kathahar trees, and peaceful village people made the country extremely beautiful. Over all, it was a joy listening to beautiful sweet Bengali languages. It was almost six hours of road journey from Dhaka to Bajitpur. On our way we had to cross the famous Padma River by ferry boat. And crossing the Padma River by ferry boat was a wonderful experience. We have heard so much of Padma River, its destructive nature, its huge size and its inseparable nature from Bangladesh country. It’s indeed a unique experience to be on the ferry boat on the Padma River.

Ferry Boat at Padma River

It is almost sixteen years since I first visited Bajitpur. Now I am finally at the gate of our Ashram. Nested in mango, jackfruit, supari and coconut trees and surrounded by a canal, Bajitpur village is one of the most beautiful villages in entire Bangladesh. Here is where Bharat Sevashram Sangha started in 1917. It is the birth place of Guru Maharaj and his mortal body is resting here too. In the Ashram compound and the entire village of Bajitpur you can feel the touch of that great saint. The dust on the roads of Bajitpur are sanctified with his holy foot print, the air of this village is purified by the touch of the divine body of Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj and the sky up above is the witness of the many wonderful human leela of that great son of this soil.

On the occasion of Maghi Purnima, there were three days of celebration, and tens of thousands of people will be visiting this place. They will be attending puja, havan (fire worship) and partaking of maha prasadam (blessed food.) There were almost twenty five swamijees who came from India to attend this year’s festival. My heart was filled with joy to see them after one year. If I was not away from India, I wouldn’t understand the greatness of India and if I was not away from my brother monks, probably I wouldn’t understand how sweet and dear they are to me.

I did not go to Bajitpur Ashram this year just to attend the festival. I went there for my own spiritual purposes. It was a soul-searching mission for me. I went there to seek the blessings of Shri Shri Guru Maharaj and to be present where our divine Guru Maharaj spent many of his priceless years doing his own tapasya (silent meditation.) All those holy places inside the Ashram such as the Samadhi Bedi (mausoleum), Rajmancha, Pranab Kunda, Dhyana-gumpha (meditation cave), Havan Kund, Ashirvad Manch, Big Tin Chala, Bura-thakurani Sthan, Radha Krishna Mandir, Abhisek Mancha, Guru Maharaj Bishram Mandir, are there where you can feel the divinity of Guru Maharaj. Among all of these, at the Samadhi Bedi Guru Maharaj’s divine body is resting permanently is the most spiritually uplifted place in the entire Ashram compound. Just imagine, to whom we have been worshiping and praying daily, whose divine appearance we have been meditating upon daily and to whom we are offering all of our unuttered prayers, that Swami Pranavanandaji’s divine mortal body is resting right here in this temple of Bajitpur and in this Samadhi Bedi. To all of us monks, devotees and visitors, this is the most sacred place to sit quietly and pray.

Birth place of Sri Sri Guru Maharaj

Famous Tulsi Mancha at the birth place of Sri Sri Guru Maharaj
Then there is the parental home “Bhuiya-bari” of Guru Maharaj. This is the house where Acharya Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj was born. That famous Tulsi Mancha (holy tulsi-plant pedestal), Chile Kotha (attic room) everything is still there and well maintained. One of the main activities of this three-day Maghi Purnima (full moon on the winter month of Magh) Festival is a religious procession in and around Bajitpur village. The procession usually stops at those places and houses where Guru Maharaj visited and also meeting village people. This was a good opportunity for me to see real Bajitpur village. The first day when we took part at the religious procession, we visited ‘Prince Edward High School’ where Guru Maharaj attended and we also visited Bajitpur Bazar where Guru Maharaj’s name is connected for subduing a bully on the way to Bazar. We also visited many houses and every home we visited people treated us with great affection. At one point Bajitpur was a Hindu-majority village, but the number of Hindus has declined rapidly. The bad side of this procession is that we had to cross couple of bridges made of bamboos. As you know we usually do not walk on bamboo bridges, as we were crossing one of these bridges, I fell down. People took the opportunity to make a joke, they said that “Bangladesh is standing but America fell down.” “America parchhe Bangladesh darraiya ache.” It was very difficult for me to accept that joke.

Second day of the festival was full of activities like Acharya-varon (head-teacher adoration), Abhisekam (installation), lectures, annakut (food grain offering) and arati at several places. On the third morning was the Ashirbad (blessing) ceremony, havan and in the afternoon there was full Dol Mahotsav (festival of colors). Thousands of people attended these three days of festival. They came from far and near to listen to the wonderful words of Guru Maharaj and at the end of the festivity each day they took prasadam (blessed food). Another attraction of Bajitpur Maghi Purnima festival is the mela or village fair. At the mela, people usually get an opportunity to buy many rare village productions. And there are big size rosgollas (syrup-dipped round cheese-balls) and many other essential items.

I observed there were lots of changes in our Bajitpur Ashram. When I first visited Bajitpur Ashram in 1992, apart from the mandir, there were some small houses made from hogla (tall) grasses. There were no proper sanitation and bathroom facilities. Now in 2009 there are almost 100 rooms with attach baths. The entire Ashram compound has concrete wall, a water pond and a beautiful flower and vegetable garden. Thanks to pujya Sreemat Swami Ramanandaji Maharaj, the vice president of the sangha, for his continuous efforts for this great improvement.

Bajitpur gave us the touch of Sri Sri Guru Maharaj. All Guru Maharaj’s children want to visit Bajitpur at least once in their life time to see where Guru Maharaj was born, where he did his tapasya, where the Sangha started and finally where his divine mortal body is resting. As I see the situation, with friendly Bangladesh government, it is easy for us to visit all these memorable places now and have darshan. With the divine blessings of Guru Maharaj, Bajitpur also give you sweet coconut water, fresh khejur rosh (date-palm juice) and famous Bajitpur patali (hard flat molasses bar).
I am with pujya pada Sreemat Swami Ramanandaji
Maharaj the vice president of Bajitpur Ashram

Madaripur is one of the main cities in the former district of Faridpur. I heard that Madaripur became a district now. Madaripur Ashram was the second Ashram Guru Maharaj built. This Ashram has many memories of Guru Maharaj. The entire Ashram and surroundings is sanctified by the foot print of Guru Maharaj. Unfortunately, after partition of India, the Ashram deteriorated badly. When I came here in 1992 there was couple of sheds only made of bamboos and tin. But with strong determination, good fortune and hard work of our Swami Satyapriyanandaji Maharaj the entire Ashram is now changed to a very beautiful, clean and organized place. It has temple, monk quarter, student hostel and flower and vegetable garden, all these made the Ashram very divine.

In front of Madiripur Ashram, Bangladesh

We all heard of the huge ‘Kandari’ boat of Guru Maharaj and his preaching mission in the interior villages. Bangladesh is full of rivers and canals. With low lands and lots of rainfall, these rivers and canals overflow with water. Road connections were almost impossible in many villages. Guru Maharaj made a huge boat and named it ‘Kandari’ (leader). He and hundreds of monks used to go from village to village on preaching mission with Kandari boat reaching out to the people all over the country.

Swami Gitatmananda of SriRamKathi Ashram is another dynamic and intelligent monk. He is a visionary too. To reach out to the villagers, he designed a boat with a temple, space to sit down and pray, his living quarter, preaching library, sound system and cooking facilities. In this way he dose not depend on anyone and he could go freely into the deep interior villages for his preaching mission of rural Bengal.

With some devotees, Swami Gitatmananda brought this ‘Kandri’ boat to attend Maghi Purnima festival in Bajitpur. Plan was made that we the Swamijees will travel with this boat to SriRamKathi so that we can feel the touch of real Bangladesh. In this way we can experience how Guru Maharaj used to travel and crossed so many rivers, canals and villages while he was on his preaching mission to many places.

Accordingly, almost eleven of us monks with some devotees started our journey by the ‘Kandari’ boat on the river Kumar. Guru Maharaj travelled this river Kumar many times, so there were lots of memories of Guru Maharaj here. We were all very happy with this Kandari boat journey. It was altogether eight hours of journey by river. On our way we crossed many villages and green farmlands. What we saw at the two sides of the rivers was amazing and it will stay in our memory forever. What shocked me the most is that there are always religious tension between the Hindus and Muslims, but when we saw these simple village people and their families, we did not feel that way at all poor. They were very loving and caring people and were curious to know who we are, because they have not seen so many holy men at one place in a very long time. There were many bamboo bridges across the Kumar River and the adults and children walked on these bridges with no difficulties. I often wondered how difficult life must be for them.
People crossing bamboo bridge over Kumar River
We reached near SriRamKathi Ashram in Pirojpur (former Barisal) district by evening. To our surprise, there were lots of people waiting for us by the canal side where our boat will dock. It was a touching moment to see the school children waiting for us with their band and music. SriRamKathi Ashram is one of the most beautiful ashrams you can imagine. It consists of a mandir (temple), rooms for monks and guests, and a beautiful primary school for the village children. The Ashram is surrounded by devoted neighbors. There are lots of mango, supari and coconut trees and rivers around. It gives the Ashram a serene and divine environment. I need to mention here that the main assets of this Ashram are the dedicated devotees. The way they treated us with unconditional love, respect and gave us what little they have, it is indeed incomparable. Under the leadership of our dedicated Swamiji and the dedicated devotees, one day, surely our SriRamKathi Ashram will be a pride of the organization.


On February 12, 2009 we started in the afternoon for our journey to Khulna by road. We were about thirteen people in our group. We rented two mini vans for this trip, which usually takes about six hours to reach Khulna. On our way we again passed through the villages which were full of coconut and supari trees. Bangladesh changed tremendously since it gained independence. The government built many beautiful bridges and highways. The highways are built in such a way that it made traveling by road very easy. To reach Khulna Ashram we had to cross Bhairav River by ferry.

Khulna Ashram played a very important role at the beginning stage of Bharat Sevashram Sangha. This Ashram produced many famous monks of the organization and Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj himself visited this Ashram many times. It has a long history and endless memories of the divine leela of Guru Maharaj. Swami Suddhatmananda, the present Swamiji in-charge, is a young intelligent and vibrant monk. He is trying his utmost to preserve and protect this Ashram. The Ashram is situated at the bank of the Bhairav River. It has a serene environment and is a very beautiful place for tapasya. Khulna main city is at the other side of the river. If you stand on the roof of our Ashram and look at the other side of Khulna city, it will remind you so much of famous KashiDham (Varanasi). I know that KashiDham is the heart of Hinduism and a prominent pilgrim center in India. On the other hand, Khulna is a commercial city in Bangladesh, but it has its own beauty. Unfortunately, we could not spend a long time in Khulna Ashram as our plan was to go to Noagoan. Myself, Swami Subhranandaji and few devotees from Jamshedpur left for Noagoan next morning. Swami Suddhatmananda, the monk-in-charge of Khulna Ashram accompanied us to Khulna railway station. But before we get to the railway station, we had to cross the Bhairav River once again by boat. When we reached Khulna the night before it was dark, but now it was morning, very sunny and bright. We were able to see the real beauty of the Bhairav River. It is really similar to KashiDham (Varanasi), except, there are many commercial big boats waiting to carry passengers and goods to other cities of Bangladesh. It is a very busy commercial area.

We are in the boat crossing Bhairav River, Khulna

We left for Naogaon by Rupsa express train. Swami Subhranandaji was kind enough to book a first class AC chair car seat for me. I must say, after the British left in 1947, there is hardly any improvement in the entire railway system. Road transportation system improved rapidly, but there is hardly any investment in the railway system. Though, many people like me think railway journey is much safer and pleasant. It was almost eight hour journey from Khulna to Naogaon. In-fact, train do not go directly to Naogaon, it stops at a distant station. Swami Digvijoyanandaji Maharaj, the monk-in-charge of Dhaka and Naogaon Ashram arranged to pick us up from the railway station. Swami Digvijoyanandaji is a dynamic leader and an eloquent speaker in Bangladesh. People, especially youth, look up to him as a source of inspiration and for good spiritual guidance. He travelled frequently in and around Bangladesh speaking on the glories of Hinduism. Naogaon Ashram is one of the largest ashrams we have in Bangladesh. It has a hostel to accommodate collage students, then there are guest house, mandir and monks quarter. I heard that Naogaon collge is one of the prominent colleges in Bangladesh. And I also heard that the Hindu and Muslim communities live in harmony and peace for a long time here, even though in other cities there are sometimes religious tensions. In the evening, there was a public gathering, so we were asked to speak for few minutes.

Naogaon Ashram, Bangladesh
Next morning Swami Digvijoyanandaji took me to meet some of the prominent devotes of the Ashram in the city. Swamiji and the devotees were not happy that we left Naogaon so early. But because of limited time, we had to leave for Dhaka by bus. Swapan Maharaj who was always with us came to Naogaon and joined us for our trip to Dhaka. We booked our tickets for Shyamali bus service. I must say that long route bus services are very good in Bangladesh. The highways are up to standard and you have beautiful bridges across Meghna, Yamuna and other rivers. On our way from Naogaon to Dhaka, we crossed one of the longest and most beautiful bridges in the world. We passed through famous Tangil district of which Tangil saris are very much liked by sari lovers. We passed many villages and besides the road I noticed many new garment factories. There were huge number of men and women working in those factories. Most of the productions from those factories are exported to many countries around the world.


Dhaka-Chittagong is one of the very popular bus routes in Bangladesh. Since the country has built bridges on almost all major rivers, journey by road became very easy. Many private companies also introduced luxury bus services. There are also Dhaka-Chittagong rail services, private taxies and if one wishes they can fly also. We decided to travel by bus and accordingly we booked our tickets on Shyamali Paribahan Bus sevice. Chittagong is one of the largest cities in Bangladesh and naturally it is one of the busiest bus routes in the entire country. Chittagong port is one of the prominent seaports in Asia.

On our way, we passed Feny, Comilla, and other towns and we noticed many modern facilities around the road side. This time before I left for Bangladesh, I requested Mr. Jai Prakash Biswas of New Jersey, USA, if he can help me to see Chittagong properly since he came from that city. Accordingly, Mr. Biswas spoke to his brother Dr. Sri Prakash Biswas who is a well known eye specialist in the city, so they arranged everything for us. Mrs. Biswas is also a doctor at a local hospital.
It took us six hours from Dhaka to reach Chittagong. We reached very late, but Dr. Biswas waited for us at his clinic. He received us at the bus stand and we became his guest for three days. Dr. Biswas already planned a detailed tour program for us. He also requested Mr. Basudev Saha, a prominent resident of Chittagong as well as a business man of the city to accompany us and guide us so that we can see everything in and around Chittagong. The Biswas family gave lots of donations to many charitable and religious organizations. The entire family is well known in the city for their charitable work. Dr. Biswas arranged a car for us to travel and also arranged our lunch with few well known organizations.

We first visited Seeta Kund, Chandranath Shiva Mandir, Swayambhu Shiva and Sankar Math. I think among all Hindu holy places in Bangladesh, Chandranath Shiva Mandir is the most famous pilgrim center. It is situated on top of a mountain and to reach there you have to climb many stairs in the mountain. As a matter of fact, the entire Seeta Kund is full of Mandirs, Ashrams and other religious places. Among all the Ashrams here, Sankar Math is one of the most beautiful Ashram. It is situated on top of the mountain and has all kinds of facilities including accommodations for guests. Basudev babu was with us always and he is a very social and friendly person. Most of the people know him and loved him very much. All the organizations we visited, they knew Basudev babu and Dr. Biswas family very well. According to the arrangement Dr. Biswas made, we took our lunch that day at Sankar Math. I learned that at the time of Shiva Ratri almost 200,000 people gather at the Seeta Kund area. It is a very serene and peaceful environment here, and an area where you can be spiritually uplifted. Understanding that it will be difficult for me to climb the high mountain, Basudev babu took me to the other side and we drove through the Botanical garden and all the way to the closest parking place near Chandranath Shiva temple. We climbed almost 50 stairs to reach the temple.

After visiting some of the prominent places of Seeta kund, we went to see Chittagong seaport. Because of the presence of the seaport, Chittagong is not only a large city in Bangladesh, but one of the richest city in the country. Chittagong seaport is very huge and we saw innumerable ships docking here and there. We took a short walk on the seashore, the massive waves were trying to reach us. It was indeed a joyous experience.

Chittagong is well known for its participation of the independent movement to free mother India from the British rule. Among all freedom fighter here, Masterda Surya Sen and his seazer of weapon storage of British is very famous. Basudev babu took us to some of the places where his name was related.
It was an entire day tour, so we were a little bit tired. But our tour continued and while hearing the many past and present stories of Bangladesh from Basudev babu, we reached Kalbalyadham. Kalbalyadham is one of the most famous pilgrim center for all who love Sri Sri Ram thakur and his divine teachings. It is a huge compound and it has many divine memories related to the divine leela of that great saint. This place was vandalized many times whenever tension grew for many reasons in the country. We also met the president of the entire organization. He was very busy answering many letters, but he was kind enough to spend some time with us and offered prasadam.
I am in front of the Chandranath Shiva Mandir situated on top of a mountain, Chittagong
According to the plan of Dr. Biswas, on the second day of our tour we left to see the famous Medha Rishi ashram. It was a long journey, it took almost four hours by road to reach there and the roads were very bad. But the delightful company of Basudev babu and all the information he was giving us made our journey pleasant. We were all happy when we reached at the foot of the mountain. We began to climb well constructed stairs to reach at the top of the Ashram. While we were climbing, we were listening to the past and present history of this place.

Hindus all over the world worship mother Durga as the most regarded Goddess. But Bengali people has a different place in their heart for ma Durga. Durga Puja is the national festival of Bengal and Chandi Path is the very essential part of Durga Puja. Medha Rishi and his Ashram are the center point of Durga Puja and Chandi Path. I had no idea that Medha Rishi Ashram is situated at Chattal mountain of Chittagong. Before I left U.S.A. Mr. Jai Prakash Biswas shared this information with me.
A king and a business man were kicked out of their Kingdom and home by their own people. Even though they were thrown out of their home mercilessly by their own people, they constantly thought of them. They wondered what could be the reason for them to think for those people who were so cruel to them. While they were wandering in the jungle and mountain area, they noticed an Ashram nearby, and a saint performing puja to some Devi. The King and the Businessman entered the Ashram and bow to the saint and asked him if he can tell them why they were still attached to these cruel people who threw them out of their home and Kingdom. The saint replied, it is maya, it is the illusive power of maha maya Durga. The saint described the origins of the Devi, her abode and the divine actions of the Goddess. He also taught them how to worship her. According to the instructions of the saint, the king and businessman made a murti of ma Durga from mud and they began to worship her. Finally, one day the mother appeared in front of them and fulfilled their desire. The King wanted bukti or bhoga. He wanted to re-capture his lost Kingdom and in his next birth he wanted a Kingdom of unchallenged. The businessman wanted mukti, completely annihilation of material desires and continuous bhakti. The mother fulfilled both of their desires.

The saint was none other than the famous Medhas rishi of Saptasati Chandi and the king and businessman were famous King Surath and Samadhi Baisya. It is the place of origin of modern Durga puja into our society and this present Ashram compound where we are standing here today is that ancient place of Medhas rishi. This Ashram is situated on top of the mountain and we had to walk up many stairs to reach on top. The first thing we saw was a beautiful shed called ‘nut mandir’ and at one corner was a memorial statue of the late Mr. Biswas, the noble father of Mr. Jai Prakash and Dr. Sri Prakash Biswas. He donated a large sum of money to re-construct the ‘nut mandir’ and the entire Ashram compound after it was destroyed by the enemy army at the time of 1971 war.

We then entered the main lovely Ma Durga mandir, Shiva mandir and some other mandirs situated at the top of the mountain. While we were walking on the path of these mountains, my mind went back to history of Durga Puja and Medhas rishi Ashram. Many Hindus probably don’t know of this important holy place. While myself and our friendly guide and mentor Basudev babu were exchanging our thoughts, it was time for us to take maha prasadam. Dr. Biswas has already called the people at the Ashram and made arrangement for our prasadam.

From Medhas rishi Ashram, we drove about three hours through villages to reach Aaochia-gram. There we reached at the main gate of a most beautiful temple, we then noticed lots of people waiting at the gate with flowers and garlands in hand to receive us. Many important people of the village were also waiting to meet us. There were beautiful murtis of Mother Kali, Radha Krishna, Shiva Lingam and other Gods and Goddesses in the temple. After few minutes of prayers, we sat down in a room upstairs and discussed many aspects of the temple, future for Hindus in Bangladesh, Hinduism around the world and many other things. After distributing prashad to everyone, I expressed a desire to come here once again and read seven days of Bhagavat Maha Puran Katha.

From Mandir we went to visit Jhuma’s father-in-laws ancestral home. Juma is one of my God daughter presently living in Atlantic City, U.S.A. We spent some time with the remaining family members of Juma and quench our thurst by drinking real Bangladeshi coconut water. It was late and it was time for us to go back to Dr. Biswas home. Later that evening we went to meet all of Juma’s family at their residence in Chittagong city. We spent some time with them and then returned to Dr. Biswas residence. Dr. Biswas and Mrs. Biswas were still waiting for us, we sat down togetherly for a while and discussed a little about Bharat Sevashram Sangha. Dr. Biswas told us about his active involvement with the Lions club and he mentioned that through the Lions club they are doing many social welfare services for the local people.
On the third day of our tour in Chittagong, we started our journey by visiting local Krishna mandir and then we went to Chatteswari Devi Mandir. As Kalighat is famous in Kolkata, as Dhakeswrai Durgabari is famous in Dhaka, similary Chatteswari temple is famous in Chittagong. After that we went to visit Pravartak Krishna mandir, Krishnananda Math and local Kali temple. After a long drive through many villages, we reached the birth place of Annada Thakur, the founder of Adya Peeth Dham in Kolkata, India. Local Maharaj was waiting for us. It was a serene and peaceful environment. The organization has built three temples there, among them one is dedicated to Adya Ma. We also saw the hostels they built for boys and with the financial help of Mr. Jai Prakash and Dr. Sri Prakash family, they built a charitable dispensary inside the Ashram compound. Here we felt the real village environment of Bangladesh. We took Adya Mata maha prasadam there and then took leave to visit Baba Loknath mission.
Adya Ma Mandir at the birth place of Sri, Sri Annada Thakur
It was another long journey from Adyapeeth to Baba Loknath mission. Many people says that Northern India is the place of sadhus and sanyasis, but honestly speaking it is true that Haridwar, Rishikesh and Uttarkashi are loved by the holy men, but Bangladesh is also gifted with holy men: Swami Pranavanandaji, Ramthukur, Baba Loknath, Anandamayi Mata, Annada Thakur, Sadhu Nag Mahasaya, Swami Swarupananda Paramhansa and many other famous saints were born in Bangladesh/East Bengal. These are the names of Hindu saints, surly there are many Muslim pirs and fhakirs who are spiritually enlightened, were born in Bangladesh too.

An entire group of young vibrant people were waiting at the gate of Baba Loknath mission to receive us. I am sure Dr. Biswas and Basudev babu informed them before. Thought came to mind, an organization which has such vibrant volunteers and followers will surely grow rapidly. As we entered the campus, my thought came to reality. The organization is very huge, it has a beautiful Loknath Mandir, Shiva Mandir, prayer hall and a huge building for hospital and school. Here also with the help of Dr. Biswas family, the hospital is under construction. After visiting every corner of the Ashram, we attended a reception ceremony which was organized to honor the guests. They also presented us a beautiful plaque describing our visit to Loknath mission in Chittagong.
On the same night we had railway reservation to travel back to Dhaka. We came back to Dr. Biswas home and took dinner together. We were only three of us traveling, but Dr. Biswas booked all four sleepers in coup compartment, so that nobody can bother us. Dr. Sri Prakash Biswas, Mrs. Biswas, BasudevBabu and some other people accompanied us to the railway station to see us off.

We reached Dhaka next morning. We then attended a family program at the home of Mr. Abinash Paul, the Bara JamaiBabu (older brother-in-law) of our Meghna. Meghna’s three sisters live in Dhaka, so Meghna called her Bara JamaBabu and informed them of our visit to Dhaka. With the help of our Meghna and her entire family in Dhaka, we were able to visit some important places in Dhaka city. We also visited our Uma’s sister Seema’s home in Dhanmandi area. Seema’s husband took us to see the famous Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s house in the area again. The bullet mark’s painful picture of Bangabandhu was at the stairs, it was very pathetic. It looked like a rain of bullets went into his body before he died. We also saw many bullet holes in the wall of the house.

It was time for us to leave Bangladesh and go to Kolkata to attend Shiva-Ratri festival. It would have been impossible for me to travel around Bangladesh without the help of Swami Subhranandaji, Swami Digvijoyanandaji, Swapan Maharaj, swamijis of Bajitpur, Madaripur, Sreeramkathi/Barisal, Khulna and in Chittagong Mr. Jaiprakash Biswas, Dr. Sri Prakash Biswas and his family, Mr. Basudev Saha, Meghna’s family in Dhaka, Mr. Abinash Paul and Uma’s family. My sincere gratitude to all of these wonderful souls.

In conclusion, I have a request for the present Bangladesh government and the people of Bangladesh nation. Our physical appearance are same, we speak same Bengali language in both parts of Bengal, our food habits are also the same, and it is true we pray in different ways, but that cannot or should not make a barrier between us. Let us together live in peace and harmony. Let us respect each other’s culture and let us make this land a more peaceful place to live for our future generations. Let everyone enjoy the great Bangladesh, the gift of God.
See: Pushpanjali, journal of Bharat Sevasram Sangha of North America, New Jersey; September 2009