Sri Sri Bama Khepa (Bamacharan Chattopadhyay) (1837–1911)
Bama Khepa was born to a poor Brahmin family in the village of Atla near the Tarapith temple (Birbhum district) in West Bengal. Sarvananda Chatterjee, his father, and Brahmamoyee Devi or Rajkumari Devi, his mother, were very pious and religious people. His family included a brother and four sisters eventually. A sister was also very religious, earning the name Ksepsi. At birth, his father gave him the name Bamacara. The name Bama Khepa arose because he was seen by Tantrics to be mad, in a divine sense, as in “divinely mad,” a great one.
One unique habit that Bama Khepa had was going into neighbors’ houses at night to take their images and or murtis (statues) of their deities, carrying them to a riverbank nearby. He would venerate the deities through the entire night. In the morning, the villagers could not find their family deities in the house. Later, Bama Khepa was found to be the culprit. However, no amount of scolding would stop Bama Khepa from taking the deities to the riverbank.
Bama Khepa was initiated by the family guru, receiving the sacred thread at age 16, per tradition, in 1853. Unfortunately, his father passed on soon after, so his mother urged him to find work to avoid poverty for the family. Neither was he happy with school, but nor with the world of work-a-day; he struggled to keep even simple jobs for any length of time. He really preferred to spend his time at Tarapith, the shrine of his devi Maa Tara, where his father took him before his sacred thread ceremony, and at the Maha-Samshan cremation grounds. He would spend days and nights there, singing devotional songs to Maa Tara.
He worked as a cook at the temple of Mauliksha Devi in Maluti for just one night. He left the job that night and went back to Tarapith. There, he talked to the main pujari of the temple and prayed to him that he would be given a job at the temple. He was picking flowers and collecting them for over a year. After working, he would worship Devi in informal mode in the evenings.
In 1864, Bama Khepa’s life took an interesting turn in the form of Brajabasi Kailashpati Baba, a Shakta trantic who came to Tarapith. He was very surprised to see him walking on the water of the river. He was a pishacha siddha (one blessed by the possession of siddhas, or powers). Bama Khepa would stand far away from the crowd who gathered around this tantric, listening intently to his discourses. This was where he learned of kundalini, which prodded him to ask Kailashpati if he could guide him to Maa Tara. His prayers to Kailashpati to take him on as his disciple was rejected several times before he relented.
Finally, Kailashpati would show him the correct path. Bama Khepa would meet and stay with him in the Maha-Shamshan (great cremation grounds). One New Moon day (Amavasya), Bama Khepa was asked to get permission from his mother to commit himself to tantra sadhana, as he wanted to teach Bama Khepa. However, his mother did not give him permission, so he had to let Kailashpati know that he could not do this as he hoped.
However, his mother accompanying him to the cremation grounds worked in his favor, as Kailashpati had reminded his mother of the time when Bama Khepa fell sick in the temple and her request for Bama Khepa’s well-being to Maa Tara. She then realized his power and gave permission for his diksha as a Samshan yogi, one who is specialized in cremation duties and the spiritual practices related to this, and one who lives in the cremation grounds.
Bama had to practice a variety of techniques along with the recitation of the Tara mantra. On the midnight of Kausiki Amavasya, he could finally view Maa Tara. She gave him the power of Jivita Kunda (from the pond where she was residing, which she filled with her powers). Bama Khepa also mastered the skills in tantra sadhana by the grace of his original guru, Kaulacarya Mokshadananda, another senior disciple of Kailashpati. Bama Khepa was conservative in giving diksha; he did not give it freely, but only if the person was right for diksha. He would give the mantra through touch or through his dreams. A notable disciple of Bama Khepa was Shri Kapalik Yoganand Maharaja.
Bama Khepa was in other words a Shakta tantric master, and many have come to regard him as the greatest tantric of our times. He was seen as the symbol of devotion through his love of his beloved Maa Tara as her ideal child.
Just before Bama Khepa left this world, he became withdrawn; he would spend most of his time in trance and meditation, and he ceased discussions with disciples. Bama Khepa entered Maha-samadhi in 1911. A pilgrimage site is the Maha-samadhi shrine located near Maa Tara Temple in Tarapith.
Sri Sri Bama Khepa is known for the following statement:
“My Father (Shiva) is naked; my Mother (Tara) is also naked. So, I am practicing that. Moreover, I don’t live in society. I live in the cremation ground with my Mother. So I have no shame or fear!”
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