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(XIV) SHRI CHAITANYA BHAGAVATA
& SHRI CHAITANYA-CHARITAMRTA
From the Gaudiya Bhasya of Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura:
Previous to the composition of Shri Chaitanya-caritamrita, Shrila Vrindavana dasa Thakura wrote a book called Shri Chaitanya-bhagavata. Only those subjects which were not discussed by Shrila Vrindavana dasa Thakura in his Chaitanya-bhagavata have been taken up by Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami to be depicted in Shri Chaitanya-caritamrita. In his very old age, Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami went to Vrindavana, and by the order of Shri Madana-mohanaji he wrote Shri Chaitanya-caritamrita. Thus we are now able to relish its transcendental bliss.
(SP in Cc Adi 8 Intro)
Shri Chaitanya-bhagavata is the first half of Shri Chaitanya's pastimes; Shri Chaitanya-charitamrita is the second half. We request all readers to attentively and impartially study Shri Chaitanya-bhagavata and after completing it they will certainly be eager to hear and chant the topics of Shri Chaitanya glorified by Shrila Kaviraja Gosvaml. By this process a living entity will certainly achieve spiritual perfection- this is the request of this fallen soul.
Shri Chaitanya-caritamrita deals more with Shri Chaitanya's pastimes as a sannyasi in Nilacala and therefore may be accepted as a supplement to Shrila Vrindavana dasa Thakura's book. This great book is dvided into three parts-Adi, Madhya, and Antya. Adi-khanda extends up to the Lord's acceptance of initiation, Madhya-khanda extends up to the Lord's acceptance of sannyasa, and Antya-khanda describes some of the Lord's pastimes over a period of a few years in Nilacala. (SBSST Introduction to Cb Adi 1)
Sarasvati Thakura read both Chaitanya-bhagavata & Chaitanya-charitamrita 108 times and told others to do likewise, expecting everyone to do that. Of course, it's doubtful if anyone did, but the idea was meant to read again and again and absorb the mind in Gauranga just as Mahaprabhu liked to hear the stories of Dhruva and Prahlada Maharaja. Sarasvati Thakura said to read Chaitanya-bhagavata first then Chaitanya-charitamrita, and then Shrimad-Bhagavatam. The reason being that Chaitanya-bhagavata is very easy reading for all kinds of people because it has no difficult philosophy and is mostly lila. Chaitanya-charitamrita is also very attractive with some very difficult sections also. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam the language is difficult Sanskrit.
Gaudiya Vaishnava scholars generally consider Chaitanya-charitamrita to be the most important biography of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, even more so than Chaitanya Bhagavata, in as much as it deals with: (a) the philosophy of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in great detail and (b) the highest ecstasies of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, which are referred to only somewhat in Chaitanya Bhagavata.
Sarasvati Thakura himself would generally explain philosophy very deeply, but he said that Chaitanya Bhagavata is more important than Chaitanya-charitamrita for the common man because it is a lila-grantha. Without describing so much about philosophy, it describes the lila of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and is therefore easy for the common man to follow and understand the philosophy. Even though Sarasvati Thakura himself mostly explained philosophy, he said that philosophy is only for the greatly learned people, and for the common men Chaitanya Bhagavata is more important. So he said, "Read Chaitanya Bhagavata from time to time." If anyone came to him he would ask them if they had read Chaitanya Bhagavata. He often asked people this, including non-devotees. He recommended that for ordinary people, the first Vaishnava literature they read be Chaitanya Bhagavata. He recommended to everyone to first read Chaitanya Bhagavata, then Prema Bhakti Chandrika, then Shrimad Bhagavatam.
(From Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s notes on Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura)