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Haridasa Thakura, the Preceptor of the Holy Name
"The Nectarean Ocean of the Holy Name" is based on Srlla Bhak-tivinoda Thakura's Bengali text SrT Harinama-cintamani, which presents a long conversation on the chanting of the holy name between the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and the saint Haridasa Thakura. The life and the teachings of Haridasa Thakura serve as an example for the devotees until the present day.
Haridasa Thakura was one of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's most beloved associates. He appeared in Bengal, 30 years before the Lord, in the family of the influential Muslim Kazi Habibulla. From the earliest childhood on, the exceptionally handsome Haridasa was the object of all love and attention for his family. If we consider how at that time the Hindus were persecuted and forcibly converted to Muslims, it is an amazing fact that the Muslim born child Haridasa soon became the crown jewel of the Hindu society. But the pious Hindus loved him because the nectarean stream of the holy name was incessantly emanating from his heart.
At the age of eighteen, Haridasa renounced the world and went to the forest. Attracted by his sweet singing, hundreds of people came to see him and brought fruits as a donation. With a loud "haribol'n he would throw the fruits into the crowd. When children picked them up, he would encourage them to call ouf'haribol" themselves—which they did with pleasure, for as a reward they received even more fruits. Haridasa Thakura's reputation was ex¬panding from day to day and he was praised as a "great soul". Being disturbed by some enviers, he moved to another place. This time, a rich atheistic landowner, Raja Ramacandra Khan, wanted to dissuade him from his meditation and entrusted this task to a prostitute named Hira. One evening, she came to the hut of Haridasa Thakura and tempted him to enjoy the night with her. But he continued to chant, disinterested like a child, and asked her to stay and wait until he had chanted his prescribed number of holy names. By the spiritual power of his chanting, she became so purified that after three days she asked for initiation into the holy name. News spread that Haridasa Thakura had converted a prostitute to a topmost pure Vaisnavl, and his fame increased more and more.'
As a pure devotee, Haridasa Thakura exhibited extraordinary humility. This was illustrated by an incident which took place in Chandpura. The landlords Hiranya and Govardhana2 had invited Haridasa Thakura to their assembly, where they discussed philosophical topics.. When the debate turned to harinama3, he contradicted the scholars who were present in the meeting. He declared that the burning of sinful reactions and the liberation of material existence were only by-products of harinatna—the actual result was the attainment of deep love of God. Thereupon, he was severely criticized by Gopala CakravartI, a learned brahmana*. But Haridasa Thakura remained in a humble possition and did not consider the brahmana's offense. Whereas the other participants were highly upset, Haridasa just replied that Gopala CakravartI was not to be criticized, because the importance of the chanting of the holy name could not be comprehended by arguments but only through devotional practice. krishna, however, did not forgive the brahmana—after three days his nose melted away due to incurable leprosy.5
Haridasa Thakura was unhappy when he heard of the brah-mana's fate. Therefore, he went to Santipura, where Advaita Acarya1 lovingly took care of him. Sri Advaita gave him food which had been offered to the ancestors and was reserved for the brahmanas. But he declared that as a Vaisnava, Haridasa Thakura was transcendentally situated, and to feed him was as pious as to feed millions of brahmanas. That was intolerable for the brahmanas of Santipura, and they declared the Acarya to be an outcaste. Later, feeling great regret, they apologized and declared Advaita and Haridasa to be "perfected living beings", situated above the regulations of the four castes.
Haridasa chanted a daily quota of three hundred thousand holy names without fail. The first one hundred thousand names he chanted in the mind, the second one silently (as japa) and the last one in a loud resounding voice. Sometimes he would laugh, cry and dance, or he would faint and fall to the ground. At other times he behaved like a madman. But when he spoke out, he revealed deep knowledge and comprehension of the revealed scriptures. People came from far away to see him, and finally he became a political problem. The Muslims were eager to spread their influence, but now a member of a very respectable Muslim family had converted to Hinduism! Haridasa was arrested and brought to Hussain Shah. The Muslim ruler forbade him to chant the holy names under the threat of death sentence. Haridasa fearlessly re¬sponded, "I am not going to stop harinama, even if my body is to be cut into pieces."2 In prison, Haridasa immediately started to preach the glories of holy name to the other inmates. When they also started to chant, the Shah's anger increased even more. He gave the order for Haridasa to be beaten to death in twenty two market places. The policemen were pounding him until they got exhausted—but through krishna's mercy, his body remained uninjured. After this incident, the influence of harinama quickly spread, and even Hussain Shah became strongly touched by it.
Shortly thereafter, Advaita Acarya started his "Vaisnava asso¬ciation" in Navadvlpa1, and Haridasa joined immediately. And as soon as Caitanya Mahaprabhu began to perform sankirtana2 in Srlvasa Thakura's3 house, Haridasa Thakura became an important member of the sankirtana movement. Then Sri Nityananda Prabu4 arrived in Navadvlpa. Mahaprabhu confided the difficult task to preach in this most prestigious seat of learning to Him and Haridasa. Loudly chanting, they passed through the lanes, and those who considered them to be ordinary beggars, were told, "We do not want food or material alms—we want the alms of harinama: chant 'Hare krishna', that is our request, that is our instruction." In this way, they preached the performance of harinama to the inhabitants of Navadvlpa, who mostly were scholars or worshippers of Durga DevF. Even sinners like Jagai and Madhai6 were transformed into saints. At that time, Haridasa became known as namacarya, the preceptor and propagator of the holy name.
When Caitanya Mahaprabhu settled in Tagannatha Puri, He ac¬commodated Haridasa in a thatched cottage near a tree which later became famous as the the Siddha-Bakula tree. Here, Caitanya Mahaprabhu came to see Haridasa every day. Although Haridasa was very old at that time, he continued to chant 300,000 holy names daily. One day he felt too weak to chant his prescribed number of holy names. Lord Caitanya visited him and asked, "Ha¬ridasa, how is your health doing?" Haridasa answered, "Master! The body is well, but not the mind. Because of my age, I cannot finish my rounds." The following day, Haridasa Thakura passed away in a most glorious way, in the presence of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His devotees. This incident is wonderfully de¬scribed by Srila krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami:
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the other devotees came before Haridasa Thakura, who offered his respects to the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and all the Vaisnavas. Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu inquired, "My dear Haridasa, what is the news?" Haridasa Thakura replied, "My Lord, whatever mercy You can bestow upon me." Upon hearing this, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu immedi¬ately began great congregational chanting in the courtyard. As He described the transcendental attributes of Haridasa Thakura, He seemed to possess five mouths. The more He described, the more His great happiness increased. After hearing of the transcendental qualities of Haridasa Thakura, all the devotees present were struck with wonder. They all offered their respectful obeisances to his lotus feet. Haridasa Thakura made Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu sit down in front of him, and then he fixed his eyes, like two bumblebees, on the lotus face of the Lord. He held the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu on his heart and then took the dust of the feet of all the devotees present and put it on his head. He began to chant the holy name of Sri krishna Caitanya again and again. As he drank the sweetness of the face of the Lord, tears constantly glided down from his eyes. While chanting the holy name of Sri krishna Caitanya, he gave up his air of life and left his body. Seeing the wonderful death of Haridasa Thakura by his own will, which was just like a great mystic yogfs, everyone remembered the passing away of Bhlsma1. There was a tumultuous noise as they all chanted the holy names "Hari" and "krishna." Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, overwhelmed with ecstatic love, raised the body of Haridasa Thakura and placed it on His lap. Then He began to dance in the courtyard. Because of His great ecstatic love, all the devotees were helpless, and in ecstatic love they also began congregational dancing and chanting.
The body of Haridasa Thakura was then raised onto a carrier that resembled an airship and taken to the sea, accompanied by congregational chanting. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu bathed the body of Haridasa Thakura in the sea and then declared, "From this day on, this sea has become a great pilgrimage site." Everyone drank the water that had touched the lotus feet of Haridasa Thakura, and then they smeared remnants of Lord Jagannatha's sandalwood pulp over his body. After a hole was dug in the sand, his body was placed in it. With His transcendental hands, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu personally covered the body of Haridasa Thakura with sand, chanting "Hari bol! Hari bol!" They constructed a platform upon the site which was protected all around by fencing. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu danced and chanted around the platform, and as the holy name of Hari roared tumultuously, the whole universe became filled with the vibration.1 Haridasa Thakura's example continues to inspire devotees all over the world, even to the present day. His message is simple: In life and death fill your mouth with the Nectar of the holy name— which will provide you with the direct association of the Lord. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote a wonderful poem for Haridasa Thakura:2
He reasons ill who tells that Vaisnavas die when though art living still in sound
The Vaisnavas die to live and living try to spread the holy name around!