For the past six years, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has sponsored Ratha-yatra festivals in major cities throughout the world. The devotees of the Krishna consciousness movement are introducing this ancient festival to the modern world because they are followers of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is pictured at the right. Lord Caitanya is an incarnation of Krishna who appeared 500 years ago to teach that the best way to achieve spiritual perfection in the present Age of Quarrel is to chant the holy names of the Supreme Lord. The following article recounts the miraculous dancing and transcendental pastimes performed by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu when He personally took part in the Ratha-yatra festival in Jagannatha Puri, India. The article is an excerpt from Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya-lila, Chapters 13-14), a work originally composed in Bengali, shortly after Lord Caitanya’s disappearance, by the great poet and spiritual master Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami. It has been translated into English by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who has supplemented the work with illuminating purports.
May the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna Caitanya, who danced in front of the cart of Sri Jagannatha, be all glorified! By seeing His dancing, not only was the ,whole universe held in wonder, but Lord Jagannatha Himself became very much astonished.
All glories to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Nityananda Prabhu, Advaita Acarya and all the devotees of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Glorifying the listeners of Caitanya-caritamrta, I request them to hear the description of the dancing of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu at the Ratha-yatra festival. This is very enchanting. Please hear it with great attention.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His personal associates got up in the dark and attentively took their early morning baths.
They then went to see the ceremony of pandu-vijaya. During this ceremony, Lord Jagannatha leaves His throne and gets up onto the ratha car.
King Prataparudra in person [the King of Orissa], as well as his entourage, allowed the pandu-vijaya ceremony to be seen by all the associates of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His prominent devotees—Advaita Acarya, Nityananda Prabhu and others—were greatly happy to observe how Lord Jagannatha was beginning the Ratha-yatra.
The very strongly built dayitas [carriers of the Jagannatha Deity] were as powerful as drunken elephants. They manually carried Lord Jagannatha from the throne to the car.
The word dayita refers to one who has received the mercy of the Lord. Lord Jagannatha has a number of stalwart servants known as dayitas. These servants do not come from very. high-caste families (brahmanas, ksatriyas or vaisyas), but because they are engaged in the service of the Lord, they have been elevated to a respected position.
While carrying the Deity of Lord Jagannatha, some of the dayitas took hold of the shoulders of the Lord, and some caught His lotus feet.
The Lord Jagannatha Deity was bound at the waist by a strong, thick rope made of silk, From two sides the dayitas caught hold of this rope and raised the Deity.
Strong, puffed-up cotton pads called tulis were spread out from the throne to the cart, and the dayitas carried the heavy Deity of Lord Jagannatha from one pillow-like pad to the next.
While the dayitas carried the heavy Deity, some of the pads broke, and the cotton contents floated into the air. When they broke, they made a heavy, cracking sound.
Lord Jagannatha is the maintainer of the whole universe. Who can carry Him from one place to another? However, the Lord moves by His personal will, just to perform His pastimes.
While the Lord was transported from the throne to the car, tumultuous sounds were made on various musical instruments. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was chanting “Manima manima,” but He could not be heard.
The word manima is used in Orissa to address a respectable person. Lord Jagannatha was being respectfully addressed by Sri Caitanya in this way.
While the Lord was being carried from the throne to the car, King Prataparudra personally engaged himself in the Lord’s service by cleansing the road with a broom that had a golden handle.
The King sprinkled the road with water scented with sandalwood. Although he was the owner of the royal throne, he engaged himself in menial service for the sake of Lord Jagannatha.
Although the King was the most exalted and respected person, he nonetheless accepted the menial service of the Lord. Thus he became a suitable candidate to receive the Lord’s mercy.
Upon seeing the King engaged in such menial service, Caitanya Mahaprabhu became very happy. Simply by rendering this service, the King received the mercy of the Lord.
Unless one receives the mercy of the Lord, he cannot understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead or engage in His devotional service,
athapi te deva padambuja-dvaya-
prasada-lesanugrhita eva hi
janati tattvam bhagavan-mahimno
na canya eko ‘pi ciram vicinvan
Only a devotee who has received a small fraction of the mercy of the Lord can understand Him. Others may engage in theoretical speculation to understand the Lord, but they cannot know anything about Him. When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu saw the King engaged in menial service for Lord Jagannatha, He became very happy. Thus the King became eligible to receive Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mercy. If a devotee accepts Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as the universal guru and Lord Jagannatha as the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna, he is benefited by the combined mercy of Krishna and guru. That is stated by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in His instructions to Rupa Gosvami (Cc. Madhya 19.151):
brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva
guru-Krishna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija
The seed of devotional service fructifies and becomes a transcendental creeper. Finally it reaches the lotus feet of the Lord in the spiritual sky. This seed is obtained by the mercy of the Lord and the guru. By the Lord’s mercy one gets the association of a bona fide guru, and by the mercy of the guru, one gets the chance to render devotional service. Devotional service, the science of bhakti-yoga, carries one from this material world to the spiritual world.
Everyone was astonished to see the decorations on the ratha car The car appeared to be newly made of gold, and it was as high as Mount Sumeru.
The decorations included bright mirrors and hundreds and hundreds of camaras [white whisks made of yak tails]. On top of the car were a neat and clean canopy and a very beautiful flag.
The car was decorated with silken cloth and various pictures. Many brass bells, gongs and ankle bells rang.
For the pastimes of the Ratha-yatra ceremony, Lord Jagannatha got aboard one car, and His sister, Subhadra, and elder brother, Balarama, got aboard two other cars.
The fine white sand spread all over the path before the car resembled the bank of the Yamuna, and the small gardens on both sides looked just like those in Vrndavana.
As Lord Jagannatha rode in His car and saw the beauty on both sides of Him, His mind was filled with pleasure. The pullers of the car were known as gaudas, and they pulled with great pleasure. However, the car went sometimes very fast and sometimes very slow.
Sometimes the car would stand still and not move, even though it was drawn very forcibly. The chariot therefore moved by the will of the Lord, not by the strength of any ordinary person.
As the car started, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu gathered all His devotees and, with His own hand, decorated them with flower garlands and sandalwood pulp.
Paramananda Puri and Brahmananda Bharati were both personally given garlands and sandalwood pulp from the very hands of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. This increased their transcendental pleasure.
Similarly, when Advaita Acarya and Nityananda Prabhu felt the touch of the transcendental hand of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, They both became very pleased.
The Lord also gave garlands and sandalwood pulp to the performers of sankirtana. The two chief performers were Svarupa Damodara and Srivasa Thakura.
There were four parties of kirtana performers, comprising twenty-four chanters. In each party there were also two mrdanga players, making an additional eight persons.
There was also a sankirtana party from the village known as Kulina-grama. Ramananda and Satyaraja were appointed the dancers in this group.
Another party came from Santipura and was formed by Advaita Acarya. Acyutananda was the dancer, and the rest of the men were singers.
Another party was formed by the people of Khanda. These people were singing in a different place. In that group, Narahari Prabhu and Raghunandana were dancing. Four parties chanted and danced in front of Lord Jagannatha, and on both sides were two other parties. Another was at the rear.
Thus there were seven parties of sankirtana, and in each party two men were beating drums. Thus fourteen drums were being played at once. The sound was tumultuous, and all the devotees became mad.
All the Vaisnavas came together like an assembly of clouds. As the devotees chanted the holy names in great ecstasy, tears fell from their eyes like rainfall.
When the sankirtana resounded, it filled the three worlds. Indeed, no one could hear mundane sounds or musical instruments other than the sankirtana.
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu wandered through all seven groups, chanting the holy name, “Hari, Hari!” Raising His arms, He shouted, “All glories to Lord Jagannatha!”
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu then exhibited another mystic power by performing pastimes simultaneously in all seven groups.
Everyone said, “Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu is present in my group. Indeed, He does not go anywhere else. He is bestowing His mercy upon us.”
Actually, no one could see the inconceivable potency of the Lord. Only the most confidential devotees, those in pure, unalloyed devotional service, could understand.
Lord Jagannatha was very pleased by the sankirtana, and He brought His car to a standstill just to see the performance.
King Prataparudra also was astonished to see the sankirtana. He became inactive and was converted to ecstatic love of Krishna.
When the King informed Kasi Misra of the glories of the Lord, Kasi Misra replied: “O King, your fortune has no limit!”
The King and Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya were both aware of the Lord’s activities, but no one else could see the tricks of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Only a person who has received the mercy of the Lord can understand. Without the Lord’s mercy, even the demigods, headed by Lord Brahma, cannot understand.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu became very satisfied to see the King accept the menial task of sweeping the street, and for this humility, the King received the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: He could therefore observe the mystery of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s activities:
The mystery of the Lord’s activities is described by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura: Lord Jagannatha was astonished to see the transcendental dancing and chanting of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and He stopped His cart to see the dancing. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu then danced in such a mystical way that He pleased Lord Jagannatha. The seer and the dancer were one and the same Supreme Person, but the Lord, being one and many of the same time, was exhibiting the variegatedness of His pastimes. That is the meaning behind His mysterious exhibition. By the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the King could understand how both of Them were enjoying each other’s activities. Another mysterious exhibition was Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s simultaneous presence in seven groups. By the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the King could understand that also.
Although the King was refused an interview, he was indirectly granted causeless mercy. Who can understand the internal potency of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu?
Since Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was playing the part of a world teacher, He had refused to see the King because a king is a mundane person interested in money and women. Indeed, the very name “king” suggests one who is always surrounded by money and women. As a sannyasi, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was afraid of both money and women. The very word “king” is repugnant to one who is in the renounced order of life. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu refused to see the King, but indirectly, by the Lord’s causeless mercy, the King was able to understand the mysterious activities of the Lord. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s activities were exhibited sometimes to reveal Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead and sometimes to show Him as a devotee. Both kinds of activity are mysterious and appreciated only by pure devotees.
When the two great personalities Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya and Kasi Misra saw Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s causeless mercy upon the King, they became astonished.
Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, performed His pastimes for some time in this way. He was personally singing and inducing His personal associates to dance.
According to His need, the Lord exhibited sometimes one form and sometimes many forms. This was being executed by His internal potency.
Indeed, the Personality of Godhead forgot Himself in the course of His transcendental pastimes, but His internal potency [lila-sakti] knowing the intentions of the Lord, made all arrangements.
As stated in the Upanisads: parasya saktir vividhaiva sruyate. “The Supreme Lord has multi-potencies, which act so perfectly that all consciousness, strength and activity are being directed solely by His will.” (Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.8)
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu exhibited His mystic power in presenting Himself simultaneously in each and every sankirtana group. Most people thought that He was one, but some saw that He was many. The internal devotees could understand that the Lord, although one, was exhibiting Himself as many in the different sankirtana groups. While Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was dancing, He forgot Himself and was simply absorbed in ecstatic bliss. However His internal potency arranged everything perfectly. This is the difference between the internal and external potency. In the material world, the external potency (material energy) can act only after one endeavors at great length, but when the Supreme Lord desires, everything is performed automatically by the internal potency. By His will, things happen so perfectly that they appear to be carried out automatically. Sometimes the activities of the internal potency are exhibited in the material world. In fact all the activities of the material nature are actually performed by the inconceivable energies of the Lord, but so-called scientists and students of material nature are unable to understand ultimately how things are happening, They evasively conclude that everything is being done by nature, but they do not know that behind nature is the potent Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is explained by Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-gita:
“This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and it is producing all moving and unmoving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.” (Bg. 9.10)
Just as Lord Sri Krishna formerly performed the rasa-lila dance and other pastimes at Vrndavana, Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu performed uncommon pastimes moment after moment.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s pastime, His dancing in front of the Ratha-yatra, could be perceived only by pure devotees. Others could not understand. Further examples of the Lord’s uncommon dancing can be found in the revealed scripture, Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Lord Sri Krishna expanded Himself into many forms while engaged in the rasa-lila dance, and He also expanded Himself when He married 16,000 wives in Dvaraka. The same process was adopted by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu when He expanded Himself into seven forms to dance in each and every group of the sankirtana party. These expansions were appreciated by pure devotees, including King Prataparudra. Although for reasons of external formality Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu refused to see King Prataparudra because he was a king, King Prataparudra became one of the Lord’s most confidential devotees by the Lord’s special mercy upon him. The King could see Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu simultaneously present in all seven groups. As confirmed in Srimad-Bhagavatam, one cannot see the expansions of the transcendental forms of the Lord unless one is a pure devotee of the Lord.
In this way Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu danced in great jubilation and inundated all the people with waves of ecstatic love.
Thus Lord Jagannatha got to His car, and Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu caused all His devotees to dance in front of the car.
Seeing the dancing and the ecstatic love of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, everyone became astonished. In their hearts they became filled with love of Krishna.
Everyone danced and chanted in ecstatic love, and a great noise resulted. Everyone was overwhelmed with transcendental bliss just to see the dancing of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Apart from the others, even Lord Jagannatha and Lord Balarama, with great happiness, began to move very slowly upon seeing the dancing of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Lord Jagannatha and Lord Balarama sometimes stopped the car and happily observed Lord Caitanya’s dancing. Anyone who was able to see Them stop and watch the dancing became witness to Their pastimes.
In his prayer known as the Caitanyastaka, Srila Rupa Gosvami has given a vivid description of the Lord’s dancing before the car of Jagannatha.
Srila Rupa Gosvami composed three prayers, each with the title Caitanyastaka. The verse next quoted is from the first of the Caitanyastaka prayers included in the book Stava-mala.
“Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu danced down the main road in great ecstasy before Lord Jagannatha, the master of Nilacala, who was sitting on His cart. Caitanya Mahaprabhu was overwhelmed by the transcendental bliss of dancing. He manifested waves of ecstatic love of Godhead, and He was surrounded by Vaisnavas who sang the holy names. When will Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu again be visible to my vision?”
Anyone who hears the description of the car festival will attain Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He will also attain the elevated state by which he will have firm conviction in devotional service and love of Godhead.