The land of Panihati is very holy, as it is here where Netai and Gour once dwelled. Beside the holy river Ganges, in this very land of Panihati, one may still see, the Banyan Tree, the house of Raghab Pandit and his favourite Madhabikunja . The village of Panihati was the abode of Raghab Pandit. He used to worship this very idol of Sri Sri Madan Mohan Ji. Such an act of service had pleased Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who along with Nityananda Mahaprabhu had lived for some time here and this place is famous for Danda Dan Utsav or Chida utsav and Raghaber Jhali detail are given in Chaitanya Charitamrita by Sri Krishnadas kaviraj Anya Lila.
This land has been immortalized by the words of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had once quoted:
It is here in four places, where I dwell,
In the kitchen of Sri Shachi Maa,
In the dance of Sri Nityananda,
In the courtyard of Sribas,
In the house of Raghab”
One can still feel even to this day, the blessings and the presence of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the land of Panihati.
The main relation between Bengal and Rathayatra of Puri was played by Raghab Pandit and his sister Damayanti Debi. When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had permanently started to live in Puri, once every year various foodstuffs, condiments and articles of daily usage were sent to Puri from Panihati. This is known as Raghab’s Jhali (Raghaber Jhali). It was made by Sri Damayanti Debi who was the Sister of Raghab Pandit and a devout disciple of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Every year till date it is sent to Puri from Panihati.
Raghava Pandita and his sister Damayanti of Panihati, were particularly famous for their devotion, care, and skillful cooking, and always traveled to Puri carrying several bags (that became famous as the raghavera jhali) filled with food and packed with the utmost care. One devotee named Makaradhvaja Kara was entrusted with carrying these bags as if his life depended on them. Chaitanya kept the bags in a corner of his dining room and nibbled through these foods along the entire year.
Among the many preparations, there were hundreds of various types of kasandi (pickle, also called achar in Hindi), mango preserved in mustard oil, dried karela and other dried vegetables, and snacks made with natural medicinal ingredients. For example, she cooked powdered ginger or powdered anise and coriander seeds with sugar and made small confectioneries. She also made berry preserves (koli sunthi, koli khanda etc), dried coconut laddus that stayed fresh a very long time, preserved cheese, and various sweets made from condensed milk and cream. Also she packed a very large bag of chida (flat rice) made from first quality paddy, as well as puffed rice, and laddus made with puffed rice fried in clarified butter and then cooked in sugar. Top quality rice was also fried and ground to powder to make wonderful laddus with clarified butter, sugar, camphor, black pepper, cardamom, cloves and other sweet spices. There were also laddus made with various types of legumes and pulses, and medicinal confectioneries made with pure Ganges clay mixed with aromatic ingredients.
All the other devotees also brought some food from home, or arranged for special food to offer to Chaitanya during their stay in Puri – coconut burfi, laddu, pancakes, sweet rice pudding, and other costly preparations. Usually Chaitanya instructed Govinda to store the items, and did not actually eat all that stuff, so after some time the accumulated food filled up a considerable space in the room. Govinda, however, was unhappy because the devotees were asking whether Chaitanya had tasted their food, and he did not like lying to them. So one day Chaitanya told him to bring all the food to him and started to eat, while Govinda spoke the names of the person who had given each item – Advaita, Srivasa, Acharyaratna, Acharyanidhi, Vasudeva Datta, Murari Gupta, Buddhimanta Khan, Shivananda Sena, Sriman Pandita, Nandana Acharya, and so on. Although the food had been sitting there for one month and there was enough stuff to feed at least 100 people, Chaitanya consumed everything, including the sweet drinks, as if it was perfectly 249 Parama Karuna Devi fresh and tasty.
In the end, only Raghava’s bags had remained, and Chaitanya said, “We will see them later on”. On the next day, Chaitanya opened Raghava Pandita’s bags and tasted a little from each preparation, praising them all very much. Then he consumed everything gradually, a little every day, sometimes at night, enjoying the faith and love of the devotees. From time to time, Advaita and others would invite Chaitanya for lunch or bring lunch to him, mostly home-cooked rice and various vegetables. Some preparations were sweet and sour, others were seasoned with black pepper or ginger. There were at least 2 types of spinach preparations, a karela soup, dal soups, dal vada, eggplant with nim leaves, fried patolas and many types of sabjis made with milk, yogurt and cheese. Also, many devotees purchased the mahaprasada of Jagannatha from the Ananda Bazar and offered it to Chaitanya. Once, Chaitanya complained that Shivananda Sena had given him too much food, and Shivananda’s son, named Chaitanya, arranged special light food for the next day – soft vada, rice with yogurt and ginger – so Chaitanya very happily accepted his invitation and gave him some leftovers, too. We need to remember here that leftovers from Chaitanya and great saints were highly prized for their spiritual “infection” quality.
Once Chaitanya sent Jagadananda Pandita to Bengal with some mahaprasadam for Mother Saci and the devotees. Jagadananda was very happy to carry news from Chaitanya to Navadvipa, and all the devotees were very happy of his company. While he was there, the devotees arranged for a large jug of pure medicinal quality sandalwood oil to be sent as a gift to Chaitanya, and Jagadananda was glad to carry it back to Puri. However, when he reached there and presented Chaitanya with the medicinal sandalwood oil, Chaitanya refused to accept it. Although the oil was to be used as a medicine, Chaitanya did not want people to think that he was indulging in sense gratification, and told Jagadananda to take the oil to the temple of Jagannatha and donate it for the lamps there. Jagadananda became very upset. He threw the oil jug to the ground in front of Chaitanya, then went inside his room and bolted the door. Three days later, Jagadananda had not showed up yet, so Chaitanya went to see him. “Please, Pandita, get up,” he called. “I am going to the temple, but I want you to cook personally for me today. I will be back at noon.” After Chaitanya left, Jagadananda got up from his bed, bathed and helped by Ramai (Srivasa’s brother) and Raghunatha Bhatta, began to cook a feast – a large heap of very 250 La vita di Krishna Chaitanya good quality rice seasoned with clarified butter placed on a banana leaf, and surrounded by many leaf containers filled with various vegetable dishes. He also served sweet rice pudding, pancakes and other mahaprasada preparations from Jagannatha temple. “Even when you cook in an angry mood,” commented Chaitanya jokingly, “your food is delicious. This is because Krishna is very pleased with you.” Then he consumed all the food that Jagadananda was giving him – eating 10 times more than usual – because he wanted to make him happy. Every time Chaitanya tried to get up, Jagadananda put more vegetables on his plate, and Chaitanya continued eating, without having the courage to refuse. So deep and affectionate was Jagadananda’s love for Chaitanya, that he was always worried about his comfort. When Chaitanya became older, his body became thinner and frailer, and his bones were giving him pain when he was resting on the dry bark of the banana trees – as it is customary for sannyasis. Sannyasis are forbidden to sleep on beds or mattresses, but they can only use bark and other parts of plants to make a bedding for themselves. The devotees were extremely unhappy about this situation, and Jagadananda purchased some simli cotton (a very soft type of fiber from a pod growing on the simli tree) and made a mattress covered with red cloth. He also made a blanket and a pillow. When Chaitanya saw the arrangement, he became very angry. But he was told that it was Jagadananda’s idea, and he became silent because he did not want to hurt him. He asked his servant to put the mattress and pillow aside, and he lay down on the usual banana bark. Govinda explained the situation to Jagadananda and Svarupa Damodara. Then they took a large quantity of dry banana leaves and tore them into very fine fibers, stuffing them into two of Chaitanya’s clothes. After a lot of discussion, Chaitanya agreed to use the mattress and the pillow made in this way.