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A SHORT, LIFE OF CHAITANYA

Navadwip, a town in the Nadia district of Bengal,


situated on the river Ganges, 75 miles north of Calcutta,
was a great trading centre and seat of Hindu learning
in the i5th century. Sanskrit logic (nydy) for which
Bengal is most famous among all the provinces of India,
was very highly developed and studied here, and the fame
of its scholars was unsurpassed in the land. But, if we
may believe the biographers of Chaitanya, the atmosphere
of the town was sceptical and unspiritual. There was a
lack of true religious fervour and sincere devotion. Proud
of their intellectuality, proud of the vast wealth they
acquired by gifts from rich Hindus, the local pandits des
pised bhakti or devotion as weak and vulgar, and engaged
in idle ceremonies or idler amusements. Vedantism
formed the topic of conversation of the cultured few ;
wine and goat s meat were taken to kindly by the majority
of the people, and such Shakta rites as were accompanied
by the offering of this drink and food to the goddess and
their subsequent consumption by her votaries, were per
formed with zeal and enthusiasm.
Jagannath Mishra, surnamed Purandar, a Brahman of
the Vaidik sub-caste, had emigrated from his ancestral
home in Sylhet and settled here in order to live on the
bank of the holy Ganges. His wife was Shachi, a daughter
of the scholar Nilambar Chakravarti. One evening in
February or March, 1485 A.D., when there was a lunar
eclipse at the same time as full moon, a son was born
to this couple. It was their tenth child ; the first eight,
X CHAITANYA
all daughters, had died in infancy, and the ninth, a lad
named Vishwarup, had abandoned the world at the age
of sixteen when pressed to marry, and had entered a
monastery in the Madras presidency.
The new-born child was named Vishwambhar. But
the women, seeing that his mother had lost so many
children before him, gave him the disparaging name of
Nimdi or short-lived/ in order to propitiate Nemesis.
The neighbours called him Gaur or Gaurdnga ( fair complexioned
) on account of his marvellous beauty. That
the child was born amidst the chanting of Hari s name
all over Navadwip on the occasion of the eclipse, was
taken to be an omen that he would prove a teacher of
bhakti. Passing over the lucky signs of his horoscope,,
and the miracles and Krishna-like antics with which pious
imagination has invested his boyhood, we may note that
he showed great keenness and precocity of intellect in
mastering all branches of Sanskrit learning, especially
grammar and logic.
On the death of his father, Vishwambhar, while still
a student, married Lakshmi, the daughter of Vallabh
Acharya, with whom he had fallen in love at first sight.
He now became a householder, and began to take pupilsr
like many other Brahmans of Navadwip. As a pandit he
surpassed the other scholars of the place and even defeated
a renowned champion of another province, who was
travelling all over India holding disputations. ,
On his return from a scholastic tour in East Bengal,,

in which he received many gifts from pious householders,


he found that his wife had died of snake-bite during his
absence. After a while the widower married Vishnu-priya,
At this time his head was turned by the pride of scholarCHAITANYA
S LIFE AT NAVADWIP xi
ship, and his victories in argument made him slight other
men. During a pilgrimage to Gaya, he met Ishwar Puri,
a Vaishnav monk of the order of Mddhavacharya and a
disciple of that Madhavendra Puri who had first introduced
the cult of bhakti for Krishna among the sannydsis.
Vishwambhar took this Ishwar Puri as his guru or spiri
tual guide. A complete change now came over his spirit.
His intellectual pride was gone ; he became a bhakta ,
whateyer subject he lectured on, the theme of his discourse
was love of Krishna. Indeed, he developed religious
ecstasy and for some time behaved like a mad man : he
laughed, wept, incessantly shouted Krishna s name,
climbed up trees, or raved in abstraction imagining himself
to be Krishna. He now made the acquaintance of the
elderly scholar and bhakta Adwaita Acharya, and was
joined by a sannydsi named Nityananda, who became to
him even more than what Paul was to Christ.
Many people of Navadwip now believed Chaitanya
to be an incarnation of Krishna and did him worship,
while Nityananda came to be regarded as Balaram, (the
elder brother of Krishna). Religious processions were
frequently got up, in which the devout, headed by the
two, went dancing and singing through the streets or
assembled in the courtyards of houses. This was the
origin of the ndm-kirtan ( chanting God s name ) which
has ever been the most distinctive feature of this creed.
Chaitanya s greatest achievement at this time was the
reclamation of two drunken ruffians, Jagai and Madhai,
who were a terror to the city. The apostles of bhakti
had also to face mockery and persecution from scoffers
and unbelievers (pdshandi), which were overcome by
supernatural signs. We pass over the scenes of ecstasy,
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tireless exertion in kirtan, madness and miracles, which
form the extant history of this period of Chaitanya s life.
But the conversions among the learned were few, and
Chaitanya at last in despair resolved to turn hermit for
their salvation, arguing thus, "As I must deliver all
these proud scholars, I have to take to an ascetic
(
life.
They will surely bow to me when they see me as a hermit,
and thus their hearts will be purified and filled with
bhakti. There is no other means." So, he induced
Keshav Bharati to initiate him as a sannydsi (1509) under
the name of Krishna-Chaitanya, usually shortened into
CHAITANYA, which we have anticipated in this sketch.
He was then 24 years of age. His mother, who had often
before urged him not to desert her as his elder brother
had done, was heart-broken at the loss of her sole survi
ving child, but Chaitanya consoled her in every possible
way, and bowed to her wishes in many points in his after
years as obediently as he had done before renouncing the
life of a householder.
The next six years were passed by him in pilgrimages

to Orissa, the Southern Land, and Brindaban, and in the


preaching of bhakti in many parts of India, as described
in detail in the present volume.
Thereafter, at the age of 30, he settled at Puri, and
spent his remaining days in the constant adoration of
Jagannath. Disciples and admirers from many places,
chiefly Bengal and Brindaban, visited him here ; and he
edified them by his discourses, acts of humility, and penan
ces. Towards the close of his life he had repeated fits
of religious ecstasy in which he acted in utter disregard
of his life, once leaping into the blue ocean, at another
time battering his face against the walls of his room.
DEVELOPMENT OF VAISHNAV CHURCH Xlii
At last in June-July, 1533, his physical frame broke down
under such prolonged mental convulsion and self-inflicted,
torments, and he passed away under circumstances over
which the piety of his biographers has drawn the veil of
mystery.
Jn his lifetime his disciples had organized a mission.
In Bengal the new creed was preached and spread far and
wide by Nityananda, who afterwards came to be regarded
as a p-gd, co-ordinate with Chaitanya. Modern Brindaban,
with its temples, Sanskrit seminaries and haunts for re
cluses, is the creation of the Bengali Vaishnavs, and it has
eclipsed the older city of Mathura. Here the brothers Rup
and Sanatan, descended from a Prince of Karnat who
had settled in Bengal and whose descendants had become
completely Bengalized, joined ChaitanyaJ
s Church. These
two and their nephew Jiv Goswami were great Sanskrit
scholars and their devotional works, commentaries, &c.
encouraged a revival of Sanskrit studies in general in that
Muslim age. These three, with Gopal Bhatta, nephew of
the celebrated Vedantist Prakashananda who was latterly
converted to bhakti by Chaitanya and changed his name
into Prabodhananda, and Raghunath Bhatta, son of an
up-country Brahman bhakta, and the last Raghunath-das, a
Kayastha saint of the Saptagram zamindar family of the
Hugli district and the guru of our author, formed the six
Fathers of Chaitanya s Church. Except Rup and Sanatan,
most of the other disciples of Chaitanya adopted the
Bengali tongue as their medium, and greatly enriched it
with their songs, biographies, poems, travels, and transla
tions of the bhakti literature from Sanskrit. The Vaishnav
Goswamis, both at Brindaban and Navadwip, have kept
up the study of Sanskrit to our own day. A classified
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list of Chaitanya s disciples is given in Book I. canto x
and those of Nityananda and Adwaita s disciples in cantos
xi and xii respectively.