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Shri Kholabeca Shridhar Thakur;
All glories to Shri Kholabeca Shridhar Thakur, who is full of compassion and tenderness. His bananas and radishes were eaten by the Lord Himself, Shri Shri Gauranga Ray.
Kholabeca Shridhar Thakur lived just on the border of Nadiya (Mayapur). He maintained himself by selling bananas, vegetables, banana leaves and cups. Whatever little income he had, fifty percent went for worship of Mother Ganges, and with the rest he somehow or other maintained himself.
Towards the end of night, during the early morning hours (brahma muhurta), he would loudly chant Hari Nam. His atheistic Hindu neighbours who were devoid of devotion couldn't tolerate this and so used to berate him with abusive language, "This clumsy, boorish knave couldn't get enough rice to fill his belly, but it is we who have to suffer, as he keeps us awake by his loud moaning in hunger."
Shridhar however, didn't bother with their ranting and raving. Rather, in great happiness, he simply carried out his own business. In the bazaar at Bamonpukkur he had a store. He was extremely honest and asked a fair price for his banana leaves and vegetables. He didn't like to haggle over the prices, so he simply asked a fair price to begin with. Thus saving valuable time and energy, he used it to remember the Holy Names. He didn't like to waste time speaking so much. The customers would simply hand him the correct price and take their goods in exchange. Whatever money he got from selling the various parts of the banana plant, bananas and radishes, he would use half for purchasing flowers and sweets for worship of Mother Ganges. Whatever remained he used for maintaining his household.
Sometimes, as instructed by His mother, Lord Gaursundor would come to the bazaar to purchase bananas, radishes and spinach. He used to barter with Shridhar, all the while cutting jokes. Shridhar would sell his goods at a fixed price, so Shri Gaursundor would offer half that much. Then Shridhar would get up and try to snatch away the vegetables from Shri Gaursundor's hands. But He wouldn't let go. Finally it would end up that the two of them were pulling the vegetables back and forth. Then many people would crowd around to see the fun.
One day Mahaprabhu was haggling over the price of a banana flower with Shridhar. When Shridhar tried to snatch back the banana flower, Mahaprabhu chided him, "Why do you behave like this, My dear brother Shridhar? Some think that you are renunciant, but I know that you have so much hidden wealth. You are trying to snatch these things out of My hand, but after so many days you still don't know Who I am? I am the Father of the Ganges whom you worship. I am only telling you the truth."
Shridhar then cried, "Bisnu! Bisnu!", and put his hands over his ears. Hearing the Pandit's seeming blasphemy, he thought that perhaps Nimai had gone crazy. But Shridhar then reflected upon Shri Gaursundor's character very carefully.
"His form is beautiful enough to bewilder Cupid himself (madanamohanarupagaurangasundara). The beautiful tilak on His forehead steals one's mind away. His dhoti looks very beautiful tied in three places and His hair is very wavy. Two things are very restless, His nature and His eyes. The white brahman thread encircling His body looks so beautiful, as though a subtle form of Ananta is residing on His body. His lips, red from chewing pan, He laughs and looks at Shridhar. Then again He takes some bananas, picking them up Himself."
As they conversed, Shri Gaursundor played with the bananas, setting them back down on the ground and then, laughing, picked them up again.
Shridhar said, "Please listen to me, Thakur! I am Your dog. So kindly forgive me. You don't have to pay anything. Take them for free!"
Mahaprabhu replied, "You are very clever, Shridhar! By selling bananas you have become quite wealthy."
Then Shridhar, as if to get rid of Him, asked, "My dear Thakur, are there no other stores in this bazaar?"
"There are so many, but what is that to Me? You are My regular supplier! Why should I give you up?"
"Yes, yes, dear Thakur, now I fall at Your feet. I am defeated by You. From today, I will give You whatever You want. You can take things for free."
"But you'll just give Me old, rotten things!"
"Dear Thakur, why should I give you bad vegetables?"
"Then it's all right. Very well, that sounds good."
After disputing in this way for a while, Mahaprabhu went home. Shridhar sat transfixed, gazing after Him, "Someday this boy will be a great liberated soul. How sweetly He speaks and what wonderful expressions He makes! Though He behaves with me in such a fickle manner, still I feel no remorse in my mind. He doesn't go to any other shop in the market but comes only to me. I am so fortunate!"
Every day Shri Gaursundor used to eat vegetable preparations of Shridhar's banana stalks and banana flowers from his banana leaf plates and cups. "The Lord eats what is offered by His devotees. He doesn't even look at what may be offered by non-devotees even though there may be ten million varieties of preparations."
Every day, Shri Gaursundor would go for walks and wander throughout the town with His disciples. One day He came to Shridhar's house. Shridhar knew the Lord very well, having seen Him so many times in the marketplace. Without cutting jokes with Shridhar, Gaursundor would not leave his shop. Shridhar offered Shri Gaursundor a seat.
Sitting down, Shri Gaurahari told Shridhar, "All day you chant Hari, Hari. You worship Shri Shri LakkiNarayan as well. But how is it you are so poor? You have so little to eat and your clothes are so meagre!"
"But Thakur, though I may eat little I am not fasting; and as for my clothes, whether they are few or many, still I wear something."
"My dear Shridhar, you may indeed be wearing some cloth but I see that it is patched in at least ten places. And though you live in a house, there is no thatching on the roof.
Just see, the people of Nabadwip worship Goddess Candi and Durga. They get so much material happiness from this. Isn't that so?"
"You have spoken correctly, dear Thakur. Still, everyone's days are passing the same. The king lives in a jewelled palace and eats dainty foodstuffs and wears the most excellent apparel while the birds simply live in the treetops. But tomorrow they will become equals, because everyone has to reap the results of his own activities according to the will of the Lord."
Then Mahaprabhu began to joke again. "Shridhar! I know you have so much wealth, but you are simply hiding it! I am going to tell everyone! I see how you cheat the people!"
"Thakur! You should go home now! I don't want to quarrel with You."
"Just one more thing, Shridhar. Whatever you want to give Me, please bring it now. Unless you give me something, I cannot leave here"
"Look, Pandit! I am a poor man. By selling banana stalks and bananas, I am not even able to feed myself properly. I just don't have anything suitable to give You."
"All right, let your buried riches remain hidden. For now, just give Me some banana stalks, bananas and banana flowers."
Shridhar thought to himself, "This brahman youngster might be somewhat touched in the head. If I answer back too much He might even beat me. And, because He is the son of a brahman, if He beats me, I won't be able to retaliate. Then again, I can't afford to give vegetables and bananas away to Him for free everyday. Yet because He is a brahman and thus an expansion of the Lord, whatever service I can render to Him is actually my great fortune."
Then he spoke, "You don't have to pay me anything today, Thakur. Here, take these bananas, banana stalks and banana flowers! But don't quarrel with me any more."
"If you give away nice things, my dear Shridhar, who can quarrel with you? But give nice ones. Don't give a blind cow in charity to a brahmana!"
Thus having again enjoyed some joking words with Shridhar, Shri Gaursundor, along with His disciples, got up to leave for His house. Just as He was about to leave, he again asked Shridhar, "What do you think of Me? If you tell Me truthfully, then I'll go."
"You are the son of a brahman. An expansion of Bisnu."
"Shridhar! I'm surprised you still don't know who I am! I am a cowherd boy! The glories of your Mother Ganges are also due to Me."
"You don't even respect Mother Ganges! As people get older, they become subdued and temperate, but at Your age You are getting more and more restless. Now You had better go home. Don't fight with me any more."
Hearing Shridhar's parting words, Shri Gaursundor laughed and went home. For as long as the Lord chooses not to reveal Himself, no one can recognize Him.
For a few more days, Shri Gaursundor continued with His daily pastimes of learning and education. But then He went to Gayadham where His mood radically changed. By the time He returned home He was completely intoxicated with love for Krishna. He was now intensely absorbed in the moods of transcendence. The courtyard of Shribas Pandit's house was the principal place where these manifestations of divine rapture blossomed forth with the outpouring of His heart. It is not possible to describe the ecstatic transformations which occurred in His person. They gradually increased with the passage of day to night and night to day.
One day, Mahaprabhu decided to reveal His true Self. Sitting on the throne of Lord Bisnu within Shribas Pandit's temple, He began to display His divine potencies. At that time He called His devotees, one after another, "Bring Shridhar here! Let him see My divine form. He has executed so many penances and austerities and tolerated so much trouble in order to have My darshan."
Though it was the middle of the night, as the devotees approached Shridhar's house, they could hear him chanting the Holy Names. As they arrived, they called out, "Shridhar! Shridhar!" But he was so much absorbed in loudly chanting the Holy Names of Hari that at first he didn't hear them. After a little while he became conscious of their presence and came out of his house. Seeing their shining faces in the moonlight he asked them, "What brings you here in the middle of the night?"
"Shridhar! Hurry up! Mahaprabhu is calling you. He sent us to bring you!"
Simply to hear mention of Mahaprabhu, Shridhar fainted to the ground in a swoon of ecstatic love. The devotees picked him up and brought him to see Mahaprabhu.
Seeing His dear devotee, Mahaprabhu called out, "Shridhar! Come here, come here! In order to get a glimpse of Me, you have performed so much worship in so many births, and in this life as well you have served Me so much. With great satisfaction have I tasted your vegetables, bananas and banana flowers, eaten with rice from your banana leaves.
Shridhar! Have you forgotten all this?! Shridhar!! Just get up and see My divine form. This form even the personified Vedas are not qualified to see."
Shridhar very slowly got up and began to gaze at the divine form of the Lord.
tamal shyamal dekhe sei Bishwambhar|hate mohan basi dakkhine Balaram Mahajyotirmoy||
sab dekhe biddaman Kamala tambul dei hater upare|catur mukh pancamukh age stuti kore||
"He saw his Lord Biswambhar, but with a bluish bodily complexion, holding in His hand the flute and accompanied by Balaram standing on His right. Emanating from the Lord and His associates he saw an effulgence illuminating the temple. The goddess of fortune was handing Him betel and pan leaves, while Lord Brahma and Lord Siva continued to recite hymns."
Seeing his Lord Gaursundor in His form of Syamsundor, Shridhar again fell to the ground in a swoon of love of God. By His touch, Mahaprabhu brought him back to consciousness and told him to offer hymns in praise of Himself.
Shridhar replied, "Thakur! I don't know anything."
"My dear Shridhar, whatever you say will be a hymn in praise of Me and I bless you that the goddess of learning, Mother Sarasvati, be present on your tongue."
Shridhar proclaimed, "Joy joy Mahaprabhu, joy Bisvambhar, (the Maintainer of the universe). Joy joy Nabadwip Purandar (Who is full with all beauty). Joy joy ananta brahmanda kotinath (the Lord of tens of millions of universes) Joy joy Saci punyabati garbhajat (Who took birth from the womb of the pious and chaste Saci). Joy joy bedgoppa joy dwijaraj (Who is hidden within the Bedas and is the Lord of the brahmanas). Juge juge dharmapal kari nana saj (Who comes in various forms to uphold religions during the different ages).
In this way Shridhar offered prayers for almost an hour and a half. Being very pleased, Mahaprabhu told him, "Now ask any benediction from Me."
"Thakur, I don't want any benediction. But if You want to bless me some way then this is my request,
ye brahman kari nilo mor kholapat se brahman hauk mor janma janma nath|
ye brahman mor sange karilo kondol mor prabhu hauk tar caran yugal||
"That brahman Who snatched away my banana leaves and cups, may He be my Lord birth after birth. That brahman Who would wrangle with me over the price of my bananas, may His lotus feet always be my object of worship." Having requested this blessing, Shridhar began to cry very loudly.
Seeing his tears of love, the devotees also began to cry. Mahaprabhu replied, "Shridhar! You are My servant birth after birth. I have tested you in so many ways, but I am extremely pleased with your conduct. I have become indebted to you by your service and love for Me."
Hearing these loving words from Mahaprabhu the devotees made the sky reverberate with the sounds of "Hari! Hari!"
"Neither wealth nor followers or scholarship do they desire. Who can understand these servants of Shri Chaitanya? What is the effect of learning, wealth, beauty, fame and aristocratic birth, other than to simply increase one's false ego and thus bring about one's end. What Shridhar gained, simply by selling bananas and radishes, is unattainable by the richest of men in tens of millions of ages." [C.B.Madhya 9]
After they left the Kaji's house Lord Chaitanya brought His kirtan party by way of the neighbourhoods where the sankha vaniks (conch shell craftsmen) and the tanturays (weavers) lived, to Shridhar's house. Along the way they chanted Hari bol Mukunda Gopal Banamali . Prabhu laughed to hear everyone chanting the Holy Names of Hari. Dancing and dancing He brought them to Shridhar's house.
Shridhar lived in a broken down single room house into which Mahaprabhu disappeared. Just then Prabhu saw by the door an old iron jug, cracked and mended in so many places that even a thief wouldn't bother to steal it. The Lord was still dancing when He happened to see this broken old pitcher. In order to preach the glories of His devotees' love, Shri Saci Nandan picked up that pitcher and while dancing in the courtyard of Shridhar's house He drank, in great happiness, some water therefrom. Who has the power to prevent Him from doing so?
Shridhar called out, "I've died. I've died!"
(Which meant that, "He (Prabhu) has killed me!" ie. by implicating me in this offence).
"He has come here to my house to destroy me," said the virtuous Shridhar as he fainted to the ground.
Prabhu exclaimed, "Today My body has become purified. Today I have received devotion to Krishna's lotus feet. Just as I drank Shridhar's water I have felt Myself totally imbued, completely enriched with Bisnu bhakti."
As He spoke these words tears flowed from His eyes. Prabhu Gauranga mercifully made everyone understand, that by drinking the water of a Baisnab one attains Bisnu bhakti.
"A learned person, for the most excellent means of purifying himself of all of his sinful reactions, should go to a Baisnab and with great perseverance request him for some Bhagavat prasad (that which the said Baisnab has offered himself) or some of the remnants of that Baisnab's food. At least he should try to obtain some water which has been tasted by that Baisnab or the water which has washed his feet and drink that.
[Padma Puran / Adi 31.112]
When the devotees saw these activities and heard these words spoken by Prabhu, they began to cry in ecstatic love. Nityananda and Gadadhar fell down crying as did Adwaita and Shribas. In fact they were all crying: Hari das, Ganga das, Bakreshwar, Murari, Mukunda, Shri Candrashekhar, Gobinda, Gobindananda, Shri Garbha, Shriman, Kasisvar, Shri Jagadananda, Ram, Jagadish, Gopinath, Nandan, Suklambor, Garur. Hundreds of thousands of devotees were crying as they put their hands to their heads. "Krishna! You are the only Master for those who have no one else."
What happened that day at Shridhar's I cannot properly describe. Only I can say that ecstatic love flowed very freely and thus the entire universe became happy as the devotees continued to cry while saying, "Krishna! Krishna!" The purpose of Gaurcandra had been achieved and so He smiled.
"All of you, my brothers, just see the glories of the Lord's devotee. He Who is gracious to His faithful followers (Bhakta Batsal) has today gone to the furthermost limits in bestowing affection on His devotees. The water in that iron jug was used for washing after going to answer the calls of nature, yet the Lord very reverently drank it all. When for His transcendental purpose that Lord became thirsty, then the purifying nectar of His devotees water made itself available. To educate everyone in the value of devotion and devotees, such water as that He drank to show that in the greatest interest the things of a Baisnab are all spotless, that is, free from any contamination.
In spite of being thirsty, if someone proud and arrogant offers celestial water from a bejewelled pitcher and heavenly cushions to sit on, the Lord doesn't even look in that direction. However, those things which His servants eat, He also eats, if necessary by force, without waiting for or depending on how the proper procedures for offering foodstuffs are executed. Even those things which are not offered at all He takes. The brahmana who brought the broken rice to Dwaraka bears testimony to this. Even the remnants of his servants He sometimes comes to grab. The instance of this is when He came to taste some of the vegetables eaten by Yudhisthir when he was in the forest. The Lord's servants are His father, mother, wife and brothers. Other than His servants He has no one else. However His servants consider something to be, that is how it becomes. If they like they can even sell Krishna wherever they like. The four Bedas sing His praises as Sevak Vatsal, (One Who is affectionate to His servants). Krishna always remains manifest to His devotees. Just try to fill up your vision with this sight of the influence of a devotee. This mood of a servant makes the Lord attached to that devotee and that devotee attached to the Lord.
Even such a slight thing as naming someone as Krishna das or Gobinda das, you are not prepared to accept?! Similarly the Lord is not prepared to accept someone as His servant who is not sufficiently fortunate. That person who for tens of millions of lifetimes has performed his occupational duties, free from envy and with a simple and sincere purpose, who night and day prays to become the servant of the Lord, is blessed and thus repeats the name of Narayan as he breathes his last. He achieves his proper destination through the waters of the Ganges and is said to be liberated, all of his material bondage having been destroyed. Those who are already liberated can be said to be Gobinda das,( the servant of Gobinda). This is the explanation given by the commentators on the scriptures. After liberation one worships Krishna in a spiritual body fit for associating with Him in His pastimes (lila).
[Bhag.10.87.21 / Shridhar Swami's commentary]
Therefore the devotee is as good as the Supreme Lord Himself. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is even prepared to be subjugated by His devotees. Nevertheless, the devotee never wants to hear himself praised. Even Lord Brahma and Siva are most pleased to consider themselves as servants of the Supreme Lord Bisnu. The earth and her husband (Dharendra) want the right to become the Lord's servant. Though they are comparable with the Lord Himself, their normal behaviour is that of a devotee and they are fond of becoming devotees.
But these other sinful rascals who call themselves God simply for the purpose of filling up their bellies are nothing more than stupid and indolent fellows really. In the company of their disciples who are like asses and foxes they announce, "I am an incarnation of Raghunath."
While inhabiting a body that is only meant to be eaten by dogs they say that they are God due to the influence of the Lord's illusory potency (Bisnumaya).
Just see the power of the Master of all masters, Gaurcandra Shri SaciNandan. Just by drinking the water of Shridhar a festival of ecstatic love was inaugurated. The three worlds cry to see the affectionate love of Bhakta Batsal as they roll about on the ground with their hair loose."
Shridhar cried while holding a piece of grass in his teeth, loudly calling out "Hari! Hari!" While tears streamed from his eyes he exclaimed, "What has He done?! The Deity of immortal beings! What water did He drink?!" Shridhar danced and cried while exclaiming, "Hai! Hai! (Oh my! Oh my!)"
Prabhu Bishwambhar with Nityananda and Gadadhar on either side of Him looked very beautiful as He continued to dance in the courtyard of Shridhar's house, He Who is the Supreme Controller of Baikuntha. His beloved and very dear devotees surrounding Him on all sides sang of the mellows of devotion.
Just see the great fortune of Shridhar, who sells banana bark. Lord Brahma and Siva cry while considering his glorious position. One cannot obtain the Supreme Lord by accumulation of wealth, followers or learning but only by devotion can one hope to charm Chaitanya Gosai. [C.B.Madhya 23]
After performing various pastimes with His devotees in Nadiya nagar, the Lord then desired to perform the pastime of accepting sannyas, in order to deliver all the living entities. The day before His departure He spent in ecstatic dancing and chanting of the Holy Names, and in the evening returned to His house, accompanied by His devotees.
"Today how unprecedentedly beautiful Prabhu looks! Smiling so sweetly He is presenting His flower garlands to His various devotees, who are floating in oceans of bliss. Adwaita Acarja is here, Shribas Pandit, Shri Bakreswar Pandit, and here comes Shridhar with a bottle gourd (lau) in his hand to offer to Mahaprabhu."
Taking the gourd in His hand Mahaprabhu began to laugh. He thought to Himself, "How will I go to take sannyas without first eating Shridhar's bottle gourd? I can't refuse the offerings of My devotees."
He called His mother, "Ai! Shridhar has taken the trouble to bring this gourd! Cook it and offer it to Krishna."
Just at that time another devotee brought some milk so Saci Mata prepared halavah from the gourd and milk and after offering to the Deity she brought it before her son. While feeding His devotees He honoured the prasad Himself also.
"Shridhar! How can I refuse what you have brought for Me? But tell Me if you will honour My request."
"Thakur! Just say whatever it is. Why shouldn't I be able to keep Your request?"
"Then please come here to My house every day so that I can see you."
After enjoying some joking words with His devotees He instructed them to always engage in Shri Krishna sankirtana. Then He prepared to take rest. In the dead of night He left to accept sannyas. [C.B.Madhya 28]
During the time when Mahaprabhu resided at Puri, Shridhar used to come every year with the other Bengali devotees to see Him.
In Braja lila Shridhar was Krishna's friend Madhu Mangal.