August 20, 1896
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was born in Mayapur in the town of Nadia just after sunset on the evening of the 23rd Phalguna 1407 Shakabda, answering to the 18th of February, 1486, of the Christian Era. The moon was eclipsed at the time of His birth, and the people of Nadia were then engaged, as was usual on such an occasion, in bathing in the Bhagirathi [River] with loud cheers of “Haribol.”
His father, Jagannatha Mishra, a poor brahmana
of the Vedic order, and His mother, Sachi-devi, a model good woman, both descended from brahmana stock originally residing in Sylhet.
Mahaprabhu was a beautiful child, and the ladies of the town came to see Him with presents. His mother’s father, Pandita Nilambara Chakravarti, a renowned astrologer, foretold that the child would be a great personage in time; and he therefore gave Him the name Vishvambhara. The ladies of the neighbourhood styled Him “Gaurahari” on account of His golden complexion, and His mother called Him “Nimai” on account of the nimba (Neem) tree near which He was born. Beautiful as the lad was, everyone heartily loved to see Him every day. As He grew up, He became a whimsical and frolicsome lad. After His fifth year, He was admitted into a pathashala (grammar school) where He picked up Bengali in a very short time.
Most of His contemporary biographers have mentioned certain anecdotes regarding Chaitanya 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 neighbouring ladies cried, “Haribol,” He used to stop. Thus there was a continuation of the utterance of Haribol in the house, foreshewing the future mission of the hero. It has also been stated that when His mother once gave him sweetmeats to eat, He ate clay instead of the food. His mother asking for the reason, He stated that as every sweetmeat was nothing but clay transformed, He could eat clay as well. His mother, who was also the consort of a pandita, explained that every article in a special 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 sweetmeats was usable as food, but clay in its other states was not. The lad was convinced and admitted His stupidity in eating clay and agreed to avoid the mistake in the future. Another miraculous act has been related. It is said that a brahmana on pilgrimage became a guest in His house, cooked food and read grace, with meditation upon 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 Jagannatha Mishra. The lad again ate up the cooked rice while the brahmana was offering the rice to Krishna with meditation. The brahmana was persuaded to cook for the third time. This time all the inmates of the house had fallen asleep, and the lad shewed himself as Krishna to the traveller and blessed him. 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 with a view to purloin His jewels and gave Him sweetmeats on the way. The lad exercised His illusory energy and deceived the thieves back towards His own house. The thieves, for fear of detection, left the boy there and fled. Another miraculous act that has been described is the lad’s demanding and getting from Hiranya and Jagadisha all the offerings they had collected for worshipping 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 and unholiness as regards earthen pots thrown away after the cooking was over. These anecdotes relate to His tender age up to the fifth year.
In His eighth year, He was admitted into the tola (school) of Gangadasa Pandita in Ganganagara, close by 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 self-study in His own house, where He had found all-important books belonging to His father, who was a pandita himself. It appears that He read the smriti in His own study, and the nyaya also, in competition with His friends, who were then studying under the celebrated Pandita Raghunatha Shiromani.
Now, after the tenth year of His age, Chaitanya became a passable scholar in grammar, rhetoric, the smriti and the nyaya. It was after this that His elder brother Vishvarupa left his house and accepted the ashrama (status) of a sannyasi (ascetic, renounced monk). Chaitanya, though a very young boy, 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 sorry, and Mahaprabhu, with His usual contented appearance, consoled His widowed mother.
It was at the age of 14 or 15 that Mahaprabhu was married to Lakshmidevi, the daughter of Vallabhacharya, also of Nadia. He was at this age considered one of the best scholars of Nadia, the renowned seat of nyaya philosophy and Sanskrit learning. Not to speak of the Smarta panditas, the naiyayikas were all afraid of confronting Him in literary discussions. Being a married man, He went to Eastern Bengal on the banks of the Padma for 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 him the principles of Vaishnavism, he ordered Tapanamishra to go to and live in Benares. During His residence in East Bengal, His wife Lakshmidevi left this world from the effects of snakebite. On returning home, He found His mother in a mourning state. He consoled her with a lecture on the uncertainty of human affairs. It was at His mother’s request that He married Vishnupriya, the daughter of Raja Pandita Sanatana Mishra. His comrades joined Him on His return from pravasa (sojourn). He was now so renowned that He was considered to be the best pandita in Nadia. Keshava Mishra of Kashmir, who had called himself the Great Digvijayi, came to Nadia with a view to discuss with the panditas of that place. Afraid of the so-called conquering pandita, the tola professors of Nadia left their town on pretence of invitation. Keshava met Mahaprabhu at the Barokona-ghata in Mayapur, and after a very short discussion with Him he was defeated by the boy, and mortification obliged him to decamp. Nimai Pandita was now the most important pandita of His times.
It was at the age of 16 or 17 that He travelled to Gaya with a host of His students and there took His spiritual initiation from Ishvara Puri, a Vaishnava sannyasi and a disciple of the renowned Madhavendra Puri. Upon His return to Nadia, Nimai Pandita turned religious preacher, and His religious nature became so strongly represented that Advaita Prabhu, Shrivasa and others who had before the birth of Chaitanya already accepted the Vaishnava faith were astonished at the change of the young man. He was then no more a contending naiyayika, a wrangling smarta and a criticising rhetorician. He swooned at the name of Krishna and behaved as an inspired man under the influence of His religious sentiment. It has been described by Murari Gupta, an eyewitness, that He shewed His heavenly powers in the house of Shrivasa Pandita 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 kirtana (congregational chanting and singing of the Holy Name) in the compound of Shrivasa Pandita with His sincere followers. There He preached, there He sang, there He danced, and there He expressed all sorts of religious feelings. Nityananda Prabhu, who was then a preacher of Vaishnavism and who had then completed His travels all over India, joined Him by that time. In fact, a host of pandita 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 whose mission it was to spiritualise mankind with the highest influence of the Vaishnava creed.
The first mandate that He issued to Prabhu Nityananda and Haridasa was this: “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 a holy life, and you then come and report to Me every evening the result of your preaching.” Thus ordered, the two preachers went on and met Jagai and Madhai, two most abominable characters. They insulted the preachers on hearing Mahaprabhu’s mandate, but were soon converted by the influence of bhakti (devotion) inculcated by their Lord. The people of Nadia were now surprised. They said, “Nimai Pandita is not only a gigantic 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 shewed miracles, taught the esoteric principles of bhakti and sang His sankirtana with other bhaktas. His followers of the town of Nadia commenced to sing the holy name of Hari in the streets and bazaars. This created
a sensation and roused different feelings in different quarters. The bhaktas were highly pleased. But some brahmanas became jealous of Nimai’s success and complained to Chand Kazi, the ruling magistrate of the district, that Chaitanya was violating Hindu principles. The Kazi then went to Shrivasa’s house and broke a drum, declaring that unless Nimai ceased making noise about His strange religion, the Kazi would be obliged to enforce Mohammedanism on Him and His followers.
When this declaration was brought to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s notice, He ordered all the townspeople to return in the evening carrying torches. This they did, and Nimai marched out with His chanting party divided into fourteen groups. Upon His arrival at the Kazi’s house, He held a long conversation with the Kazi and in the end communicated into his heart His devotional influence by touching his body. The Kazi wept, admitting that the keen spiritual influence he had felt had cleared up his doubts and produced in him the highest ecstasy. The Kazi then joined the chanting party. The world was astonished at the spiritual power of the great Lord, and hundreds and hundreds of heretics converted and joined His banner after this affair. But some of the jealous and low-minded brahmanas of Kuliya picked a quarrel with Chaitanya and collected a party to oppose Him.
Departure from Family and Household Life
Nimai Pandita was naturally a soft-hearted person, though strong in His principles. He declared that party feelings and sectarianism were the two great enemies of progress and that as long as He should continue to be an inhabitant of Nadia belonging to a certain family, His mission would not meet with complete success. He then resolved to be a citizen of the world by cutting His connection with His particular family, caste and creed, and with this resolution He embraced the position of a sannyasi at Katwa, under the guidance of Keshava Bharati of that town, on the 24th year of His age. His mother and wife wept bitterly for His separation, but our hero, though soft in heart, was a strong person in principle. He left His little world in His house for the unlimited spiritual world of Krishna with man in general.
After His sannyasa, He was induced to visit the house of Advaita Prabhu in Shantipura. Advaita 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, Krishna Chaitanya put on nothing but a kaupina (undergarment or loin cloth) and a bahirvasa (outer covering). His head was without hair, and His hands bore a danda (staff or stick traditionally carried by sannyasis or renounced monks) and a kamandalu (hermit’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 Vrindavana for My spiritual attainments.” The mother, in consultation with Advaita and others, asked her son to reside in Puri (the town of Jagannatha) so that she might obtain His information now and then. Mahaprabhu agreed to that proposition and in a few days left Shantipura for Orissa. His biographers have described the journey of Krishna Chaitanya (that was the name He got after His sannyasa) from Shantipura to Puri in great detail. He travelled along the side of the Bhagirathi as far as Chatraboga, situated now in Thana Mathurapura, Diamond Harbour, 24 Parganas. There He took a boat and went as far as Prayaga-ghata in the Midnapura District. Thence He walked through Balasore and Cuttack to Puri, seeing the temple of Bhuvaneshvara on His way. Upon His arrival at Puri He saw Jagannatha in the temple and resided with Sarvabhauma at the request of the latter.
Converts and Followers
Sarvabhauma was a gigantic pandita of the day. His readings knew no bounds. He was the best naiyayika of the times and was known as the most erudite scholar in the Vedanta philosophy of the school of Shankaracharya. He was born in Nadia (Vidyanagara) and taught innumerable pupils in the nyaya philosophy in his tola (school) there. He had left for Puri some time before the birth of Nimai Pandita. His brother-in-law Gopinatha Mishra introduced our new sannyasi to Sarvabhauma, who was astonished at His personal beauty and feared that it would be difficult for the young man to maintain sannyasa-dharma during the long run of His life. Gopinatha, who had known Mahaprabhu from Nadia, had a great reverence for Him and declared that the sannyasi was not a common human being. On this point Gopinatha and Sarvabhauma had a hot discussion. Sarvabhauma then requested Mahaprabhu to hear his recitation of the Vedanta-sutras, and the latter tacitly submitted. Chaitanya heard with silence what the great Sarvabhauma uttered with gravity for seven days, at the end of which the latter said, “Krishna Chaitanya! I think you do not understand the Vedanta, for You do not say anything after hearing my recitation and explanations.” The reply of Chaitanya was 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 and do not understand the commentaries which explain the sutras? Ah well! If You understand the sutras, please let me have your interpretations.” Mahaprabhu thereon explained all the sutras in His own way, without touching the pantheistic commentary of Shankara. The keen understanding of Sarvabhauma saw the truth, beauty and harmony of arguments in the explanations given by Chaitanya and obliged him to utter that it was the first time that he had found one who could explain the Brahma-sutras in such a simple manner. He admitted also that the commentaries of Shankara never gave such natural explanations of the Vedanta-sutras as he had obtained from Mahaprabhu. He then submitted himself as an advocate and follower. In a few days Sarvabhauma turned out to be one of the best Vaishnavas of the time. When reports of this came out, the whole of Orissa sang the praise of Krishna Chaitanya, and hundreds and hundreds came to Him and became His followers. In the meantime, Mahaprabhu thought of visiting Southern India, and He started with one Krishnadasa Brahmana for the journey.
His biographers have given us a detail of the journey. He went first to Kurmakshetra, where He performed a miracle by curing a leper named Vasudeva. He met Ramananda Raya, the Governor of Vidyanagara, on the banks of the Godavari and had a philosophical conversation with him on the subject of prema-bhakti (pure love of Godhead). He worked another miracle by touching (making them immediately disappear) the seven tala trees through which Ramachandra , the son of Dasharatha, had shot His arrow and killed the great Bali Raja. He preached Vaishnavism and nama-sankirtana throughout the journey. At Rangakshetra He stayed for four months in the house of one Venkata Bhatta in order to spend the rainy season. There He converted the whole family of Venkata from Ramanuja Vaishnavism to Krishna-bhakti, along with the son of Venkata, a boy of ten years named Gopala, who afterwards came to Vrindavana and became one of the six Goswamis or prophets serving under their leader Sri Krishna Chaitanya. Trained up in Sanskrit by his uncle Prabodhananda Sarasvati, Gopala wrote several books on Vaishnavism.
Chaitanya visited numerous places in Southern India as far as Cape Comorin and returned to Puri in two years by Pandepura on the Bhima. In this latter place He spiritualized one Tukarama, who became from that time a religious preacher himself. This fact has been admitted in his abhangas (diary notes), which have been collected in a volume by Mr. Satyendra Nath Tagore of the Bombay Civil Service. During His journey He had discussions with the Buddhists, the Jains and the Mayavadis in several places and converted His opponents to Vaishnavism.
Upon His return to Puri, Raja Prataparudra-deva and several pandita brahmanas joined the banner of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He was now twenty-seven years of age. In His twenty-eighth year he went to Bengal as far as Gauda in Malda. There He picked up two great personages named Rupa and Sanatana. Though descended from the lines of brahmanas, these two brothers had become demi-Muslims by their continual contact with Hussain Shah, then the emperor of Gauda. Their names had been changed by the emperor into Dabir Khas and Sakara Mallik, and the Shah loved them heartily, for they were both learned in Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit and were loyal servants of the state. The two gentlemen had found no way to come back as regular Hindus 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 Vrindavana and meet Him there.
Chaitanya returned to Puri through Shantipura, where He again met His dear mother. After a short stay at Puri, He left for Vrindavana. This time He was accompanied by one Balabhadra Bhattacharya. He visited Vrindavana and came down to Prayag (Allahabad), converting a large number of Mohammedans into Vaishnavism by argument from the Koran. The descendants of those converts are still known as Pathan Vaishnavas. Rupa Goswami met Him at Allahabad. Chaitanya trained him up in spirituality in ten days and directed him to go to Vrindavana on missions. His first mission was to write theological works explaining scientifically pure bhakti and prema. The second mission was to revive the places where Krishnachandra had in the end of Dwapara-yuga exhibited His spiritual lila (pastimes) for the benefit of the religious world. Rupa Gosvami left Allahabad for Vrindavana, and Mahaprabhu came down to Benares. There He resided in the house of Chandrashekhara and accepted His daily bhiksha (meal) in the house of Tapana Mishra. Here it was that Sanatana Gosvami joined Him and took instruction for two months in spiritual matters. The biographers, especially Krishnadasa Kaviraja, have given us details of Chaitanya’s teachings to Rupa and Sanatana. Krishnadasa was not a contemporary writer, but he gathered his information from the Goswamis themselves, the direct disciples of Mahaprabhu. Jiva Gosvami, who was nephew of Sanatana 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 summarised the precepts of Chaitanya from the books of those great writers.
While at Benares, Chaitanya had an interview with the learned sannyasis of that town in the house of a Maratha brahmana who had invited all the sannyasis for entertainment. At this interview, Chaitanya shewed a miracle which attracted all the sannyasis to him. Then ensued reciprocal conversation. The sannyasis were headed by their most learned leader Prakashananda Sarasvati. After a short controversy, they submitted to Mahaprabhu and admitted that they had been misled by the commentaries of Shankaracharya. It was impossible even for learned scholars to oppose Chaitanya for a long time, for there was some spell in Him which touched their hearts and made them weep for their spiritual improvement. The sannyasis of Benares soon fell at the feet of Chaitanya and asked for His grace (kripa ). Chaitanya then preached pure bhakti and instilled into their hearts spiritual love for Krishna which obliged them to give up sectarian feelings. The whole population of Benares, on this wonderful conversion of the sannyasis, turned Vaishnavas, and they made a master sankirtana with their new Lord. After sending Sanatana to Vrindavana, Mahaprabhu went to Puri again through the jungles with His comrade Balabhadra. Balabhadra reported that Mahaprabhu had shown a good many miracles on His way to Puri, such as making tigers
and elephants dance on hearing the name of Krishna.
The Final Years
From this time, that is, from His 31st year, Mahaprabhu continually lived in Puri in the house of Kashi Mishra until His disappearance in His forty-eighth year at the time of sankirtana in the temple of Tota-gopinatha. During these 18 years, His life was one of settled love and piety. He was surrounded by numerous followers, all of whom were of the highest order of Vaishnavas and who were distinguished from the common people by their purest character and learning, firm religious principles and spiritual love of Radha-Krishna. Svarupa Damodara, who had been known by the name of Purushottamacharya while Mahaprabhu was in Nadia, joined Him from Benares and accepted service as His secretary. No production of any poet or philosopher could be laid before Mahaprabhu
unless Svarupa had passed it as pure and useful. Raya Ramananda was His second mate. Both he and Svarupa would sing while Mahaprabhu expressed His sentiments on a certain point of worship. Paramananda Puri was His minister in matters of religion. There are hundreds of anecdotes described by His biographers which we do not think it meet here to reproduce. Mahaprabhu slept short. His sentiments carried him far and wide in the firmament of spirituality every day and night, and all His admirers and followers watched Him throughout. He worshipped, communicated with His missionaries at Vrindavana, and conversed with those religious men who newly came to visit Him. He sang and danced, took no care of Himself and oft-times lost Himself in religious beatitude. All who came to Him believed in Him as the all-beautiful God appearing in the nether world for the benefit of mankind. He loved His mother all along and sent her maha-prasada now and then with those who went to Nadia. He was most amiable in nature. Humility was personified in Him. His sweet appearance gave cheer to all who came in contact with Him. He appointed Prabhu
Nityananda as the missionary in charge of Bengal. He dispatched six disciples (Goswamis) to Vrindavana to preach love in the upcountry. He punished all of his disciples who deviated from a holy life. This He markedly did in the case of Junior Haridasa. He never lacked in giving proper instructions in life to those who solicited them. This will be seen in His teachings to Raghunatha dasa Gosvami. His treatment to Haridasa (senior) will show how He loved spiritual men and how He defied caste distinction in spiritual brotherhood.
(Published in Back To Godhead Magazine, No 11-03/04, 1976)
Acharya—(lit. one who teaches by example) spiritual master.
Ashrama—social order; status.
Bhakta—one who practices bhakti-yoga, or devotion to Krishna.
Bhakti—devotion to God.
Brahmana—the intelligent class of men, according to the system of social and spiritual orders.
Dwapara-yuga—the previous age, at the end of which the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, appeared as Himself (5,000 years ago).
Ekadashi—eleventh day of the new moon and full moon phases, when no grains should be eaten (fasting from grains).
Goswami—(go=senses; svami=master) title of a sannyasi, who is supposed to have conquered the urges of the five senses and mind.
Haribol—exclamation, meaning “Chant the name of Lord Hari (Krishna)!”
Jagannatha—”Lord of the Universe,” the famous deity of Krishna, Balarama and Their sister Subhadra, residing in Jagannatha Puri, Orissa, India.
Kirtana—singing and chanting of the holy names of Krishna.
Mayavadi—those who follow the school of Mayavada, or the teaching that God has no form and is impersonal.
Maha-prasada—food which has been offered to Krishna (in this case, offered to the deity Jagannatha).
Naiyayikas—those who follow the nyaya school.
Nama-sankirtana—chanting of the holy names of Krishna.
Nyaya—a system of philosophy which examines metaphysical and physical realities according to the descending process, using facts and arguments to deduce conclusions; syllogistic approach comprised of five elements: assertion, reason for inference, evidence, argument leading up to summary, conclusion.
Pandita—one who is educated in Vedic knowledge; learned brahmana.
Ramachandra—Lord Rama, who appeared millions of years ago, together with His consort Sita Devi and Lakshman (hero of the Ramayana ).
Ramanuja Vaishnavism—devotion to Lord Vishnu, as taught by Ramanuja Acharya.
Shankaracharya—incarnation of Lord Shiva who interpreted the Vedic literatures to say that God is without form and features, essentially impersonal.
Sankirtana—congregational chanting of the holy names of Krishna.
Sannyasa-dharma—the strict rules and regulations of renounced life.
Smarta panditas—those who follow the smriti-shastra, strictly observing brahminical regulations and rituals.
Smriti—scriptures compiled by man under transcendental revelation and instruction by God.
Vaishnavism—devotion to Lord Vishnu.
Vrindavana—the place (in Mathura district, U.P., India) where Krishna performed his childhood pastimes 5,000 years ago.