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The Life of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
There rests my soul from matter free
Upon my Lover’s arms
Eternal peace and spirits love
Are all my chanting charms.
The object of this little book is to bring the holy life of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His precepts to the notice of the educated and religious people. Most of the books treating these subjects have hitherto been printed in the Bengali language. Hence, the life and precepts of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu have scarcely passed beyond the boundaries of Bengal. A book has therefore been printed in Sanskrit type for circulation all over India. Our educated brethren of Europe and America have taken, of late, to the study of the Sanskrit language, and it is our belief that this booklet will go to their hands in a very short time. This book contains 104 verses with copious commentaries. It makes a succinct mention of all the anecdotes of the life of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as related in the famous book Chaitanya Charitamrta by Krishna das Kaviraj Goswami. Verses 75 to 86 inclusive will give an outline of the precepts of that great personage, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. With a view to help our English-speaking readers in going through the book, we have here summarized in English the contents of the work.
Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was born in Mayapur in the town of Nadia, just after sunset on the evening of the 23rd Phalguna 1407 Sakabda, corresponding to February 18th, 1486 of the Christian Era. The moon was eclipsed at the time of His birth, and the people of Nadia were then engaged, as usual on such occasions, in bathing in the Bhagirathi (Ganges River) with loud cheers of “Haribol!” His father, Jagannath Misra, was a poor Brahmana (priest) of the Vaidic order, and His mother Sachidevi was a woman of ideal character. Both descended from Brahmana families originally residing in Sylhet. Mahaprabhu was a beautiful child, and the ladies of the town came to present Him with gifts. His mother’s father, Pandit Nilambar Chakravarti, a renowned astrologer, foretold that the child would be a great personage in time, and he therefore gave Him the name Vishvambhar. The ladies of the neighborhood called Him Gaurahari because of His golden complexion, and His mother called Him Nimai because there was a neem tree near the place where He was born. The boy was very beautiful and everyone loved to see Him every day. As He grew up He became a mischievous and frolicsome lad. After His fifth year He was admitted into a school where He mastered the Bengali language in a very short time.
Most of Lord Chaitanya’s contemporary biographers have mentioned certain anecdotes regarding Him, which are
simple records of His early miracles. It is said that when He was an infant in His mother’s arms, He wept continually, and when the neighboring ladies and His mother cried “Haribol,” He would stop. Thus there was a continuation of the utterance of “Haribol” in the house, foretelling the future mission of
the Lord. It has also been stated that when His mother once gave Him sweets to eat, He ate clay instead of the food. When His mother asked for the reason, He stated that as every sweet was nothing but clay transformed, He could eat clay just as well. His mother, who was also the wife of a scholar, explained that every element in a particular state was adapted to a special use. Earth, while in the state of a jug, could be used as a water pot, but in the state of a brick such a use was not possible. Clay, therefore, in the form of sweets was usable as food and not clay in its other states. The lad was convinced and admitted His foolishness in eating the clay and agreed to avoid the mistake in the future.
Another miraculous act has been related. A Brahmana on pilgrimage became a guest in the house of Jagannath Misra. The Brahmana cooked his food and said his grace while meditating on Krishna. In the meantime the lad came and ate up the cooked rice. The Brahmana, astonished at the lad’s act, cooked again at the request of Jagannath Misra. The lad again ate up the cooked rice while the Brahmana was offering the rice to Krishna by meditation. The Brahmana was persuaded to cook for the third time. This time, all the residents of the house had fallen asleep and the lad showed Himself as Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and he blessed the traveler. The Brahmana was then lost in ecstasy at the appearance of the object of his worship.
It has also been stated that two thieves stole away the lad from His father’s door, intending to steal His jewels,
and giving Him sweets on the way. The lad exercised His illusory energy however, and directed the thieves back toward His own house. The thieves, for fear of detection, left the boy there and fled.
Another miraculous act has been described of the lad’s demanding and getting from Hiranya and Jagadish all the offerings they had collected for worshiping Krishna on the day of Ekadashi. When only four years of age, He sat on rejected cooking pots which were considered unholy by His mother. He explained to His mother that there was no question of holiness or unholiness regarding earthen pots thrown away after the cooking was over. These anecdotes relate to Lord Chaitanya’s tender age up to the fifth year.
In His eighth year, He was admitted into the school of Gangadas Pandit in Ganganagar close to the village of Mayapur. In two years He became well read in Sanskrit grammar and rhetoric. His readings after that were of the nature of personal study in His own house where He had found many important books belonging to His father, who was a scholar himself. It appears that He read the smriti (scriptures) in His own study and the nyaya (logic) also, in competition with His friends, who were then studying under the celebrated Pandit Raghunath Shiromani.
After His tenth year of age, Nimai became a learned scholar in grammar, rhetoric, the smriti and the nyaya. It was after this that His elder brother Vishvarupa left home and accepted the ashram (status) of a sannyasi (ascetic). Though a very young boy, Nimai consoled His parents saying that He would serve them with a view to please God. Just after that, His father left this world. His mother was exceedingly aggrieved, and Lord Chaitanya, with His usual contented demeanor, consoled His widowed mother.
It was at the age of fourteen or fifteen that Maha
prabhu was married to Lakshmipriya, the daughter of Ballabhacharya, also of Nadia. By this time Nimai Pandit was considered one of the best scholars of Nadia, which was the renowned seat of nyaya philosophy and Sanskrit learning. What to speak of the smarta (caste) pandits, the logicians were all afraid of confronting Him in literary discussion. Being a married man, He went to eastern Bengal by the banks of the Padma river for the acquirement of wealth. There He displayed His learning and obtained a good sum of money. It was at this time that He preached Vaishnavism at intervals. After teaching Tapan Mishra the principles of Vaishnavism, He ordered him to go and live in Benares. During His residence in East Bengal, His wife Lakshmipriya left this world from the effects of a snake bite. On returning home, He found His mother in a mourning state. He consoled her by speaking about the uncertainty of human affairs. It was at His mother’s request that He married Vishnupriya, the daughter of Raj pandit Sanatan Mishra.
Nimai’s comrades joined Him on His return from touring. He was now so renowned that He was considered to be the best pandit in Nadia. Keshava Mishra of Kashmir, who had called himself the Great Digvijayi, came to Nadia to debate with the pandits of that place. Afraid of the so-called conquering pandit, the professors of Nadia left their town on the pretense of another invitation. Keshava Mishra met Nimai at Barokona Ghat in Mayapur, and after a very short discussion he was defeated by the boy, and humiliation obliged him to decamp. Nimai Pandit was now the most important scholar of his time.
At the age of sixteen or seventeen, Lord Chaitanya traveled to Gaya with a host of His students and there took His spiritual initiation from Ishvara Puri, a Vaishnava sannyasi and disciple of the renowned Madhavendra Puri. Upon His return to Nadia, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu began vigorous preaching of the Vaishnava principles. His divine nature became so strongly represented that Adwaita Prabhu, Shrivasa Pandit, and others, who had accepted the Vaishnava faith prior to the birth of Lord Chaitanya, were astonished at the change in the young man. He was no longer simply a contentious naiyaika, a wrangling smarta, or a criticizing rhetorician. He swooned upon hearing the name of Krishna and behaved as an inspired man under the influence of His divine sentiment. It was described by Murari Gupta, an eyewitness, that He showed His divine powers in the house of Shrivas Pandit in the presence of hundreds of His followers who were mostly well-read scholars. It was at this time that He opened a nocturnal school of sankirtan (congregational chanting of the Lord’s holy names) in the compound of Shrivas Pandit with His sincere followers. There He preached, sang, danced, and expressed all sorts of spiritual emotions. Nityananda Prabhu (an incarnation of Balaram, the first expansion of Krishna), who also was a preacher of Vaishnavism and had just completed His travels all over India, joined Him by that time. In fact, a host of pandit preachers of Vaishnavism, all sincere at heart, came and joined Him from different parts of Bengal. Nadia now became the regular seat of a host of Vaishnava acharyas (leaders) whose mission it was to spiritualize mankind with the highest influence of the Vaishnava creed.
The first mandate that Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu issued to Nityananda Prabhu and Haridas Thakur was to “Go friends, go through the streets of the town, meet every man at his door, and ask him to sing the name of Hari with devotion, and then come and report to Me every evening the result of your preaching.” Thus ordered, the two preachers went on and soon met Jagai and Madhai, two most abominable characters. They insulted the preachers upon hearing Mahaprabhu’s mandate, but were soon converted by the influence of bhakti (devotion to Krishna) inculcated by the Lord Himself. The people of Nadia were now surprised. They said, “Nimai Pandit is not only a great genius, but He is certainly a missionary from God Almighty.”
From this time to His twenty-third year, Mahaprabhu preached His principles not only in Nadia, but in all important towns and villages around His city. In the houses of His followers He performed miracles, taught the esoteric principles of bhakti, and sang His sankirtan with other bhaktas (devotees of Krishna). His followers in the town of Nadia commenced singing the Holy Name of Hari in the streets and marketplaces. This created a sensation and roused different feelings in different circles. The bhaktas were highly pleased. But the Smarta Brahmanas became jealous of Nimai Pandit’s success and complained to Chand Kazi, deprecating the character of Shri Chaitanya as un-Hindu. The Kazi came
to Shrivasa Pandit’s house, broke a mridanga (drum), and declared that unless Mahaprabhu ceased making noise about His unorthodox religion, he would be obliged to enforce Mohammedan-ism on Him and His followers.
This was brought to Maha-prabhu’s notice, at which time He ordered the townspeople to appear that evening, each with a torch in
their hand. This they did, and Mahaprabhu marched out with his sankirtan party divided into fourteen groups. Upon His arrival at the Kazi’s house, He held a long conversation with him and in the end communicated into his heart His Vaishnava influence by touching his body. The Kazi then wept and admitted that he felt a deep spiritual influence that had cleared his doubts and produced in him a religious sentiment which gave him the highest ecstasy. The Kazi then joined the sankirtan party. The world was astonished at the spiritual power of the great Lord, and hundreds and hundreds of heretics converted and joined the banner of Mahaprabhu after this affair.
It was after this that some of the jealous and low-minded Brahmanas of Kuliya picked a quarrel with Mahaprabhu and collected a party to oppose Him.
Mahaprabhu was naturally a soft-hearted person, though strong in His principles. He declared that party spirit and sectarianism were the two great enemies of progress, and as long as He continued to be an inhabitant of Nadia belonging to a certain family, His mission would not meet with complete success.
He then resolved to become a citizen of the world by cutting off His connection with a particular family, and with resolution, He took sannyas (vows of renunciation) at Katwa under the guidance of Keshava Bharati of that town in His twenty-fourth year. His mother and wife wept bitterly for His separation, but though soft in heart, Mahaprabhu was a strong person in principle. He left home to give the unlimited spiritual world of Krishna to all of humanity.
After His sannyas, He was asked to visit the house of Adwaita Prabhu in Shantipur. Shri Adwaita managed to invite all His friends and admirers from Nadia and brought Sachidevi to see her son. Both pleasure and pain invaded her heart when she saw her son in the attire of a sannyasi. As a sannyasi, Lord Chaitanya wore nothing but a kaupin (loin cloth) and a bahirbas (outer covering). His head was shaved, and His hands bore a danda (staff) and a kamandalu (ascetic’s water pot). The holy son fell at the feet of His beloved mother and said, “Mother! This body is yours, and I must obey your orders. Permit Me to go to Vrindavan for My spiritual attainments.” Mother Sachi, in consultation with Adwaita Prabhu and others, asked her son to reside in Jagannath Puri, so that she might obtain information about Him now and then. Mahaprabhu agreed to that proposition, and in a few days He left Shantipur for Orissa.
His biographers have described the journey of Shri Krishna Chaitanya (the name He received after taking sannyas) from Shantipur to Puri in great detail. He traveled along the side of the Bhagirathi river as far as Chattrabog, situated now in Thana Mathurapur, Diamond Harbor, 24 Parganas. There He took a boat and went as far as Prayag Ghat in the Midnapur District. Then He walked through Balasore and Cuttack to Puri, seeing the temple of Bhubaneswar on His way.
Upon His arrival at Puri, He saw Lord Jagannath in the temple and visited Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya at his request. Sarvabhauma was a great pandit of the day. His knowledge knew no bounds. He was the best naiyaika (logician) of his time, and was known as the most erudite scholar in the Vedanta philosophy of the school of Shankaracharya. He was born in Nadia (Vidyanagar) and taught innumerable pupils the nyaya philosophy in his school there. He had gone to reside in Puri some time before the birth of Nimai Pandit.
His brother-in-law, Gopinath Misra, introduced the new sannyasi to Sarvabhauma, who was astonished at His personal beauty, and feared that it would be difficult for the young man to maintain His sannyas vows for the duration of His life. Gopinath, who had known Mahaprabhu from Nadia, had great reverence for Him, and stated that the sannyasi was not a common human being. On this point Gopinath and Sarvabhauma had a heated discussion. Sarvabhauma then requested Mahaprabhu to hear his recitation of the Vedanta Sutras, to which He tacitly submitted.
Lord Chaitanya heard with silence what the great Sarvabhauma gravely spoke for seven days, at the end of which the Bhattacharya said, “Krishna Chaitanya! I think You do not understand the Vedanta, as You have not said anything after hearing my recitation and explanations.” Lord Chaitanya replied that He understood the sutras very well, but He could not make out what Shankaracharya meant by his commentaries. Astonished at this, Sarvabhauma said, “How is it that You understand the meanings of the sutras, yet You do not understand the commentaries which explain the sutras? Very well. If You understand the sutras, please let me have Your interpretations.”
Mahaprabhu thereon explained all the sutras in His own way, without touching on the pantheistic commentary of Shankara. With his keen understanding, Sarvabhauma saw the truth, beauty, and harmony of the explanations given by Lord Chaitanya, and he was obliged to admit that it was the first time he had found anyone who could explain the Brahma Sutras in such a simple manner. He admitted also that he felt the commentaries of Shankara never gave such natural explanations of the Vedanta Sutras as he had obtained from Mahaprabhu. He then submitted himself as Mahaprabhu’s advocate and follower. Within a few days, Sarvabhauma became one of the best Vaishnavas of the time. When news of this spread, all of Orissa sang the praises of Shri Krishna Chaitanya, and hundreds and hundreds of people came to Him and became His followers.
Some time later, Mahaprabhu visited southern India, accompanied on His journey by one Brahmana named Krishna Das. His biographers have given us details of the journey. He first went to Kurmakshetra, where He performed a miracle by curing a leper named Vasudeva. From there, He met with Ramananda Raya, the governor of Vidyanagar, on the banks of the Godavari, and had a philosophical conversation with him on the subject of prema bhakti. He performed another miracle by touching the seven Tal trees and making them immediately disappear. It was through these trees that Lord Shri Ramachandra had shot His arrow and killed the great king Vali. Mahaprabhu preached Vaishnavism and nama sankirtan throughout the entire journey.
At Rangakshetra, He stayed for four months in the house of Venkata Bhatta during the rainy season. There He converted the whole family of Venkata from Ramanuja Vaishnavas into Krishna bhaktas, along with the son of Venkata, a boy of ten years named Gopal, who afterward came to Vrindavan and became one of the six Goswamis or prophets serving under their leader Shri Krishna Chaitanya. Trained in Sanskrit by his uncle Prabodhananda Saraswati, Gopal Bhatta wrote several books on Vaishnavism.
Lord Chaitanya visited numerous places in South India as far as Cape Comorin, and returned to Puri in two years by Panderpur on the Bhima river. In this latter place He spiritualized Tukaram, who from that time became a religious preacher himself. (This fact has been admitted in the abhangas of Tukaram which have been collected in a volume by Mr. Satyendranath Tagore of the Bombay Civil Service.) Also along His journey He had discussions with Buddhists, Jains, and Mayavadis in several places, and converted His opponents to Vaishnavism. Upon His return to Puri, King Prataparudra and several pandit Brahmanas joined under the banner of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
In His twenty-eighth year, Mahaprabhu went into Bengal as far as Gauda in Maldah. There He picked up two great persons named Rupa and Sanatan. Though descended from the lineage of the Karnatic Brahmanas, these two brothers were essentially considered Muslims due to their continual association with Hussain Shah, the emperor of Gauda. Their names had been changed by the emperor to Dabir Khas and Sakar Mallik, and their master loved them dearly, as they were both learned in Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit and were loyal servants of the state. The two gentlemen had found no way to return to Hinduism and had written to Mahaprabhu for spiritual help while He was at Puri. Mahaprabhu had written in reply that He would come to them and extricate them from their spiritual difficulties. Now that He had come to Gauda, both the brothers appeared before Him with their long-standing prayer. Mahaprabhu ordered them to go to Vrindavan and meet Him there.
Lord Chaitanya returned to Puri through Shantipur where He again met His dear mother. After a short stay at Puri, He left for Vrindavan. This time He was accompanied by one devotee named Balabhadra Bhattacharya. He visited Vrindavan and came down to Prayag (Allahabad), converting a large number of Mohammedans into Vaishnavas using arguments from the Koran. The descendents of those Vaishnavas are still known today as Pathan Vaishnavas.
At Allahabad, Rupa Goswami met with Lord Chaitanya, who trained him up in spirituality in ten days and directed him to go to Vrindavan on two missions. His first mission was to write theological works scientifically explaining pure bhakti and prema. The second mission was to revive the places where Shri Krishnachandra had, at the end of Dvapara-yuga (a previous age) exhibited His spiritual lila (pastimes) for the benefit of the world.
After Rupa Goswami left Allahabad for Vrindavan, Mahaprabhu went to Benares. There He stayed at the house of Chandrashekar and accepted His daily bhiksha (alms) in the house of Tapan Misra. It was here that Sanatan Goswami joined Him and took instruction in spiritual matters for two months. The biographers, especially Krishnadas Kaviraj, have given us the details of Lord Chaitanya’s teachings to Rupa and Sanatan. Krishnadas Kaviraj was not a contemporary writer, but he gathered his information from the Goswamis themselves, who were the direct disciples of Mahaprabhu. Jiva Goswami, who was the nephew of Sanatan and Rupa, and who has left us his invaluable work the Sat-sandarbha, has philosophized on the precepts of his great leader. We have gathered and summarized the precepts of Shri Chaitanya from the books of those great writers.
While in Benares, Lord Chaitanya had an interview with the learned sannyasis of that town in the house of a Maharastrian Brahmana, who had invited all the sannyasis for a discussion. At this interview, Mahaprabhu exhibited His spiritual effulgence, which attracted all the sannyasis to Him. Then a conversation ensued. The sannyasis were headed by their most learned leader, Prakashananda Saraswati. After a short controversy, they submitted to Lord Chaitanya and admitted that they had been misled by the commentaries of Shankaracharya. It was impossible even for learned scholars to oppose Lord Chaitanya, as there was something special in Him that touched their hearts and made them weep for their spiritual improvement. The sannyasis of Benares soon fell at the feet of Lord Chaitanya and asked for His kripa (mercy). Lord Chaitanya then preached pure bhakti and instilled into their hearts spiritual love for Krishna, which obliged them to give up sectarian feelings. On this wonderful conversion of the sannyasis, the whole of Benares became Vaishnavas, and they all performed sankirtan with their new Lord.
After sending Sanatan to Vrindavan, Mahaprabhu again went to Puri, traveling through the jungle with His comrade Balabhadra. Balabhadra reported that Mahaprabhu had exhibited many miracles on His way to Puri, such as making tigers and elephants dance upon hearing the name of Krishna.
From His thirty-first year, Mahaprabhu continually lived in Puri at the house of Kasi Misra, until His disappearance in His forty-eighth year at the time of sankirtan in the temple of Tota Gopinath. During these eighteen years, His life was one of settled love and devotion. He was surrounded by numerous followers, all of whom were of the highest order of Vaishnavas, distinguished from the common people by their pure character and learning, firm religious principles, and spiritual love for Radha and Krishna.
Svarup Damodar, who had been known by the name of Purushottamacharya while Mahaprabhu was in Nadia, joined Him from Benares and engaged in His service as His secretary. No production of any poet or philosopher could be laid before Mahaprabhu unless Svarup Damodar had acknowledged it as pure and useful. Ramananda Raya was the second of His most intimate confidants. Both he and Svarup Damodar sang while Mahaprabhu expressed His sentiments on a certain point of worship. Paramananda Puri was His minister of religion.
Mahaprabhu slept little. His sentiments carried Him farther and farther into the firmament of spirituality every day and night, and all His admirers and followers observed Him throughout. He worshiped, communicated with His missionaries at Vrindavan, and conversed with those religious men who had newly come to visit Him. He sang and danced, taking no care of Himself, and often lost Himself in religious beatitude. All who came to Him saw Him as the all-beautiful God appearing in the material world for the benefit of mankind. He lovingly remembered His mother all along, and sent her mahaprasad (food offered to the Lord) now and then with those who went to Nadia. He was most amiable in nature and humility was personified in Him. His sweet appearance brought joy to all who came in contact with Him.
Lord Chaitanya appointed Nityananda Prabhu as the missionary in charge of Bengal. He dispatched six disciples (the Goswamis) to Vrindavan to preach in the upcountry. He punished all of His disciples who deviated from holy life. This He markedly did in the case of Chota (junior) Haridas. He never failed to give proper instructions in life to those who solicited them. This was seen in His teachings to
Raghunath das Goswami. His treatment of Haridas (senior) showed how He loved godly men and how He defied caste distinctions in the face of spiritual brotherhood.