Since the beginning of time, avatars have descended from the spiritual world to impart transcendental knowledge. But none have ever distributed knowledge or love of God as freely as the golden avatar—Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
(Taken from “Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts,” a short work by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura first published in 1896.)
In the district of Mayapur, in the town of Nadia, just after sunset on the evening of February 18, 1486, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, advented Himself in the form of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The moon was eclipsed at the time of His birth, and the people of Nadia, as was usual on such occasions, were bathing in the Ganges and loudly crying, “Hari bol! Hari bol!” His father, Jagannatha Misra, was a poor brahmana of the Vedic order, and his mother, Sacidevi, was a model good woman.
Lord Caitanya was a beautiful child, and the ladies of the town came to see Him with presents. They named Him Gaurahari on account of His golden complexion, and His mother called Him Nimai on account of the nim tree near which He was born.
When Lord Caitanya was an infant in His mother’s arms, He wept continually, and when the neighboring ladies cried, “Hari boll” He would stop. Thus the words hari bol were always being uttered in the house, indicating the future mission of the Lord: to spread the chanting of the holy names of God throughout the world.
Once a brahmana on pilgrimage was taken in as a guest in the house of Jagannatha Misra. The brahmana cooked some rice and was reading grace with meditation upon Krishna when the infant Nimai came and ate the offering. The brahmana, astonished at the child’s act, cooked again at the request of Jagannatha Misra. Again Nimai ate the cooked rice while the brahmana was offering it to Krishna with meditation. Although thoroughly discouraged, the brahmana was persuaded that he should cook for a third time after everyone had gone to sleep. This time Nimai showed the traveler His form of Krishna and blessed him, and the brahmana became overwhelmed with ecstasy at the appearance of the object of his worship.
Beautiful as the child Nimai was, everyone heartily loved to see Him every day. As He grew up He became a whimsical and frolicsome lad, and after His fifth year, He was admitted into a primary school where He picked up Bengali in a very short time. In His eighth year, He was admitted into the school of Gangadasa in Ganganagara, close to the village of Mayapur. In just two years he became well read in Sanskrit grammar and rhetoric, as well as scriptural studies and logic.
At the age of fourteen or fifteen, Caitanya married Laksmidevi, the daughter of Vallabhacarya, also of Nadia. At this age Caitanya was considered one of the best scholars of Nadia, the renowned seat of logic and Sanskrit learning. All the scholars and logicians were afraid of confronting Him in literary discussions. At this time he would preach devotional service at intervals. During Caitanya’s residence in East Bengal, His wife, Laksmidevi, left this world from the effects of snakebite. On returning home, He found His mother in a mourning state. This time He consoled her with a lecture on the uncertainty of human affairs. Later, at His mother’s request, He married Visnupriya, the daughter of Sanatana Misra.
Caitanya was now so renowned that He was considered to be the best scholar in Nadia. At this time Kesava of Kashmir came to Nadia to discuss philosophy with the scholars there. Afraid of this scholar, the professors of Nadia left town on the pretense of an urgent invitation. Thus Kesava met Lord Caitanya on the banks of the Ganges in Mayapur, but after a very short discussion he was defeated by the boy and obliged to decamp out of shame. Nimai was now the most important scholar of His time.
At the age of sixteen or seventeen Caitanya traveled to Gaya with a host of His students, and there He took spiritual initiation from Isvara Puri, a renounced devotee and a disciple of the renowned Madhavendra Puri. Upon His return to Nadia, Nimai turned religious preacher. Indeed, His religious nature became so strongly represented that Advaita Prabhu, Srivasa, and others, who had before the birth of Caitanya already accepted the path of devotion were astonished at the change of the young man. He was now no longer a contending logician, a wrangling debater, and a criticizing rhetorician. Now He swooned at the name of Krishna and behaved as an inspired man under the influence of His religious sentiment. His secretary Murari Gupta has given an eyewitness account of how He showed His heavenly powers in the house of Srivasa in the presence of hundreds of His followers, who were mostly well-read scholars.
At this time He and His sincere followers opened a nocturnal school of chanting in the compound of Srivasa. There the Lord preached, there He sang, there He danced, and there He expressed all sorts of religious feelings. Nityananda Prabhu, a renowned preacher of devotional service who had just completed His travels all over India, joined Caitanya at that time. In fact, a host of preachers of devotion, all sincere at heart, came and joined Him from different parts of Bengal. Nadia now became the regular seat of many exalted devotees of Krishna, whose mission was to spiritualize mankind with the highest influence of the devotional creed.
The first mandate that Caitanya Mahaprabhu issued to Nityananda Prabhu and Haridasa, another of His intimate disciples, 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 and lead a holy life. Then come to Me every evening and report the results of your preaching.” Thus ordered, the two preachers went out and met Jagai and Madhai, two most abominable characters, who insulted them upon hearing Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mandate. Soon, however, the two rogues were converted by the influence of devotion inculcated by their Lord. The people of Nadia were now surprised. They said, “Nimai is not only a gigantic genius, but He is certainly a missionary from God almighty.”
From this time to His twenty-third year, Caitanya Mahaprabhu preached His principles not only in Nadia but in all important towns and villages around that city. In the houses of His followers He showed miracles, taught the esoteric principles of devotion, and sang the holy names of God with other devotees. His followers in 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 devotees were highly pleased. But some brahmanas became jealous of Nimai’s success and complained to Chand Kazi, the ruling magistrate of the district, that Caitanya was violating Hindu principles. The Kazi then went to Srivasa’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 Caitanya 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.
A tense moment of confrontation is resolved as Nadia’s city magistrate (the Kazi) accepts the divinity of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and pledges never again to obstruct the congregational chanting of the names of God.
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 ofKuliya picked a quarrel with Caitanya and collected a party to oppose Him. The Lord was naturally softhearted, 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 inhabit Nadia as a member of a certain family, His mission would not meet with complete success. He then resolved to become 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 sannyasa at Katwa, under the guidance of Kesava Bharati of that town, in His twenty-fourth year. After taking the renounced order, Krishna Caitanya, as He was now named, wished to go to Vrndavana and reside there. However, on the request of His dear mother, Sacidevi, He consented to live at Jagannatha Puri so that she could easily hear news of Him.
Upon His arrival at Puri, Caitanya Mahaprabhu saw Lord Jagannatha in the temple and then resided with Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya at the latter’s request. Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya was a gigantic scholar of the day. He was the best logician of the time and was known as the most erudite scholar in the Vedanta philosophy of the school of Sankaracarya. His brother-in-law Gopinatha Misra, who had known Mahaprabhu from Nadia, held Him in great reverence and declared that the renunciate 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-sutra, and the latter tacitly submitted. Caitanya heard with silence what the great Sarvabhauma uttered with gravity for seven days, at the end of which the latter said, “Krishna Caitanya! I think you do not understand the Vedanta, for you have not said anything after hearing my recitation and explanations.” Caitanya replied that while He understood the verses very well, He could not make out what Sankaracarya meant by his commentaries. Astonished at this, Sarvabhauma said, “How is it that You understand the meanings of the verses but do not understand the commentaries which explain the verses? Ahh, well! If You understand the verses, please let me have Your interpretations.” Mahaprabhu thereupon explained all the verses in His own way, without touching the pantheistic commentary of Sankara. The keen understanding of Sarvabhauma saw the truth, beauty, and harmony of Caitanya’s explanations. Sarvabhauma was then obliged to utter that it was the first time he had found someone who could explain the Vedanta in such a simple manner. He then submitted himself as a follower of Lord Caitanya.
In a few days Sarvabhauma turned out to be one of the best devotees of the time. When reports of this were circulated, the whole of Orissa sang the praise of Krishna Caitanya, and hundreds and hundreds came to Him and became His followers. In the meantime Caitanya Mahaprabhu thought of visiting Southern India, and He started with one Krishnadasa on the journey.
Touring the South
Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s biographers have given us many details of His journey to South India. First He went to Kurmaksetra, where He performed a miracle by curing a leper named Vasudeva. He then met Ramananda Raya, the governor of Vidyanagara, on the banks of the Godavari and had a philosophical conversation with him on the subject of love of God. He worked another miracle by touching (making them immediately disappear) the seven trees through which Ramacandra, the son of Dasaratha, had shot His arrow and killed the great Vali Raja. He preached devotional service and chanting the names of God throughout the journey. At Rangaksetra He stayed for the four months of the rainy season in the house of Vyenkata Bhatta. There He converted the whole family of Vyenkata to devotional service of Krishna, along with the son of Vyenkata, a boy of ten years named Gopala, who afterward went to Vrndavana and became one of the Six Gosvamis or prophets serving under their leader, Sri Krishna Caitanya.
Lord Caitanya reveals Himself as the combined form of Radha and Krishna to His pure devotee Ramananda Raya, who is overcome by ecstatic emotion at the sight. ·
Upon the Lord’s return to Puri, King Prataparudra and several brahmanas joined the banner of Caitanya 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 Lord Caitanya for spiritual help while He was at Puri. Caitanya had written in reply that He would come to them and extricate them from their spiritual difficulties. Now that Caitanya had come to Gauda, both the brothers appeared before Him with their long-standing prayer. Caitanya ordered them to go to Vrndavana and meet Him there.
“Revive the Holy Places”
When Rupa Gosvami finally met Lord Caitanya at Allahabad, the Lord trained him in spirituality for ten continuous days. Then the Lord directed him to go to Vrndavana to write theological works scientifically explaining pure devotion and to revive the places where Lord Krishna had at the end of Dvapara-yuga exhibited His spiritual pastimes for the benefit of the religious world.
After Rupa Gosvami left Allahabad for Vrndavana, Caitanya Mahaprabhu came down to Benares. Sanatana Gosvami joined Him there and took instruction for two months on spiritual matters.
While at Benares, Caitanya had an interview with the learned sannyasis of that town in the house of a brahmana who had invited them all. The sannyasis were headed by their most learned leader, Prakasananda Sarasvati. But after a short controversy, they submitted to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, admitting that they had been misled by the commentaries of Sankaracarya. It was impossible even for learned scholars to oppose Caitanya for long, for there was some spell in Him that touched their hearts and made them weep for their spiritual improvement. The sannyasis of Benares soon fell at the feet of Caitanya and asked for His grace. Caitanya then preached pure devotion and instilled into their hearts spiritual love for Krishna, which obliged them to give up sectarian feelings. The whole population of Benares became devotees after this wonderful conversion of the sannyasis and they performed a mass chanting of the holy names with their new Lord. After sending Sanatana to Vrndavana, Caitanya Mahaprabhu went to Puri again through the jungles with His comrade Balabhadra, who reported that the Lord performed many miracles on the way, such as making tigers and elephants dance upon hearing the name of Krishna.
From His thirty-first year, Caitanya Mahaprabhu continually lived in the house of Kasi Misra. During His last eighteen years, in this world, Lord Caitanya’s life was one of settled love and piety. He was surrounded by numerous followers, all of whom were exalted devotees distinguished from the common people by their pure character, deep learning, firm religious principles, and spiritual love of Radha-Krishna.
Caitanya Mahaprabhu slept short. His ecstatic 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 worshiped, communicated with His missionaries at Vrndavana, and conversed with those religious men who daily came to visit Him. He sang and danced, and oft times lost Himself in religious beatitude. He was most amiable in nature, and He was humility personified. His sweet appearance gave cheer to all who came in contact with Him. All who came to Him recognized Him as the all-beautiful God appearing in this world for the benefit of mankind.