What is Chhoti?

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This is a part of the book Choti; The Native Place of Śrīla Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda (1999) by Dr. Fakir Mohan Dās.

Chhoti is the śrīpāt of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. A śrīpāt is the native place of a great saint. Such places are considered worshipable by all the followers of that saint. According to the tradition in India, the village where one’s paternal ancestors resided is considered to be one’s native place. 

Thus, in the case of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, although he took birth on 2nd September 1838 in his maternal uncle’s house in Ula, West Bengal, his native place is the village Chhoti in Kendrapara (Odisha).

The name of the village Chhoti has had some changes: It used to be Choti Mangalpur. After that it was changed to Choti. The official spelling of the name, however, is Chhoti.

Krishnananda Dutta moves to Choti
From the historical ślokas of the Dutta family of Andul, West Bengal, and also from the local people of Choti, it is learnt that in the 16th century Krishnananda Dutta, a disciple of Sri Nityananda Prabhu and a forefather of Thakur Bhaktivinode, left his home in Andul and lived in Puri as a Vaishnava sannyasi. There, he daily chanted 300,000 names of the Lord, worshipped his deities Sri Sri Radha Madhava, and observed a vow of silence. At the request of the King of Aul, Krishnananda left Puri and along with his deities Radha Madhava and Jagannath (Dadhi Baman) moved to the village of Choti, nearly 10 km from Kendrapara. The King of Aul established the Dutta family as the landlord of 9/16ths of Choti and another family, named Ray, as the 7/16ths landlord. The King also donated many landed properties for the worship of Krishnananda’s deities. Although the descendants of Krishnananda Dutta resided in Calcutta as rich landowners, they maintained their connection with Choti. However, in the 7th generation from Krishnananda, serious legal problems besieged the family and all the family properties in Bengal became lost. Thakur Bhaktivinode’s grandfather, Rajaballav Dutta, thus left Calcutta and lived permanently with his family in his paternal land at Choti. Rajaballav’s son, Ananda Chandra, though, chose to live in Ula, West Bengal, at his fater-in-law’s house, as educational opportunities for his family were not available in Orissa at that time. This is where Thakur Bhaktivinode was born.

Ananda Chandra was not present in Ula at that time of the Thakur’s birth in 1838. Some quarrel had developed in Choti between the Ray family and Rajaballav Dutta and the Ray family was forcibly collecting the rent due to Rajaballav. One of Rajaballav’s tenants, Sri Kurupi Sahoo, refused to pay rent to the Ray family and went to Ula, bringing Ananda Chandra to Choti to help Rajaballav. The Rays filled a case against the Sahoos and Rajaballav, but the case was dismissed and out of gratitude Thakur Bhaktivinode’s grandfather donated one acre of land to Kurupi Sahoo.

Choti Mangalpur (Nowadays: ‘Choti’)
When Ananda Chandra died in 1849, his wife, Thakur Bhaktivinode’s mother, came under severe financial hardship. But somehow she was able to arrange for the completion of her son’s education, and then, in 1857, Thakur Bhaktivinode brought his mother and the rest of the family from Calcutta to Choti, living there with his grandfather until his grandfather’s death in 1858. The landed property and zamindari of Choti Mangalpur were then recorded in the name of Thakur Bhaktivinode. The Thakur acknowledged this in his book Maths of Orissa:

‘‘I have a small village (Choti Mangalpur, six miles from Kendrapara) in the country of Cuttack, of which I am the proprietor.’’

He also describes his place in his autobiography:

In Choti Mangalpur [now known as Choti] we have six or seven big thatched houses. Thakur Radha Madhava and Jagannath are being worshiped in one of these houses. Behind these houses there was a pond named Uasa Pokhari. There was a fence of kantā bāuṁśa [thorny bamboo] around the gaḍa [palace]. We did not think about our food, only because grandfather Rajaballav Dutta had nine parts (9/16) of the paternal zamindari here and the rest seven parts (7/16) belonged to the Ray family.

So, though Thakur Bhaktivinode took birth on 2nd September 1838 in his maternal uncle’s house in Ula, West Bengal, yet his native place is village Choti in Kendrapara. After his divine demise in 1914, the landed property there was transferred into the name of his son, Bimala Prasad Dutta, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, and it still stands in that name. From the local people it is learned that Srila Bimala Prasad Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur came to Choti three or four times and he was regularly sending his brahmacari disciples from the Gaudiya Mission in Calcutta to collect the rents from the tenants. During his visits there, though, he would not enter into his father’s house, but he would stay in the adjacent Dasahara Mandap. As he considered Choti to be his native place and his hereditary property, and as he was leading the life of a Vaishnava sannyasi, he considered all his property to be dedicated to the service of Sri Sri Radha Madhava and Dadhi Baman (Jagannath), and thus it was not meant for him to enjoy.