A Brief overview of Srinivas Acharya's life
SRINIVÄSA ÄCÄRYA - The Embodiment of Lord Caitanya’s Love - by Satyaraj dasa ACBSP
Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja took pleasure in writing the infrequent passages which glorified Gopala Bhatta, and he never told Sri Bhatta how he had written them. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ226.)
I cannot write extentively about the depth of knowledge of Sri Gopala Bhatta during his life in Vrndavana for fear the book will become too large. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ227.)
Sri Bhatta had given many comments on the book ”Krsnakarmamrta• which gave much pleasure to all the Vaisnavas. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ228.)
Sri Gopala Bhatta, a remarkable person in the path of pure devotion had performed many supernatural activities. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ229.)
At a much later time, Srinivasa met him and got his desires fulfilled. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ230.)
On the order of Prabhu, Srinivasa took his initiation from Gopala Bhatta and later propagated the Gosvami scriptures in Gauda. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ231.)
Prabhu empowered Sri Rupa and others to write and compile scriptures on Vaisnava religion, for the propogation of those scriptures he empowered Srinivasa. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ232.)
Acarya and Sri Thakura Mahasaya were of the same soul in their devotion to Prabhu. Thakura Mahasaya had revealed the powers of both Rupa Gosvami and Srinivasa in his slokas. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ233.)
The slokas by Thakura Mahasaya say: "When shall I be able to find Sri Caitanya deva, the ocean of kindness, within the range of my vision? His aim was to create many Vaisnava scriptures through the intellect of Sri Rupa and others to later disseminate those scriptures to the people of the world through the efforts of Srinivasa." (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ234.)
Srinivasa Acarya was a grea scholar who benedicted the world by distributing those valuable Vaisnava books.(Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ235.)
”The favor of Lokenatha to Narottma" At that time Narottama arrived in Vrndavana and immediately engaged himself in the continous service of Sri Lokenatha. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ345.)
Lokenatha was satisfied with Narottama's attitude and gave him Diksha mantra. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ346.)
Sri Gopala Bhatta and the other Vaisnavas accepted Narottama as an intimate friend. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ347.)
Narottama got the title Thakura Mahasaya along with the affection of Sri Jiva Gosvami. (Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ348.)
Srinivasa Acarya met narottama in Vrndavana and gradually a dynamic new circle of Vaisnavas was established there.(Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ349.)
Srinivasa also met Shyamananda
in Vrndavana.(Bhakti-ratnakara. KHÄ350.)
[From The Lives of the Vaishnava Saints © 1991 by Steven Rosen (Satyaräja Däsa). All rights reserved. Order from Folk Books, P.O. Box 400716, Brooklyn, NY 11240.]
It was the middle of the sixteenth century. Aspiring for perfection in spiritual life, young Çréniväsa had tried to meet Lord Caitanya and His disciple Gadädhara. But Çréniväsa came too late—they passed away before he could become their student. And so too did the great Rüpa Gosvämé and Sanätana Gosvämé. But as Çréniväsa journeyed to the holy town Våndävana, Rüpa and Sanätana appeared to him in a dream. Go on to Våndävana, they told him, and learn from the great gosvämés Jéva and Gopäla Bhaööa.
ÇRÉNIVÄSA ÄCÄRYA is one of the most important personalities in the religious history of Bengal, perhaps the most important Vaiñëava teacher in the generation immediately following Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu. He is chiefly remembered as the illustrious disciple of Gopäla Bhaööa Gosvämé and Jéva Gosvämé. His achievements include delivering the writings of the Gosvämés from Våndävana to Bengal, converting King Birhambir to Vaiñëavism, and originating the Manohar Shoy style of kértana. At Kheturi, Bengal, he co-organized the first Gaura Purëéma Festival (celebrating the anniversary of Caitanya Mahäprabhu’s appearance in this world), which Narottama, Çyämänanda, and thousands of other Vaiñëavas attended.
Çréniväsa Äcärya’s parents—the brähmaëa Gaìgädhara Bhaööäcärya and his wife, Lakñmé Priyä—lived in the small village of Cakhandi, on the bank of the Ganges in the Burdwan district of Bengal. They longed to raise a child who would be a great devotee, but until the birth of Çréniväsa, they were child-less for many years.
Gaìgädhara was himself a great devotee of the Golden Avatära, Lord Caitanya Mahäprabhu, the incarnation of Çré Çré Rädhä and Kåñëa predicted in the scriptures. Lord Caitanya had appeared in Navadvépa and was currently in the world. Gaìgädhara spent much of his time hearing and retelling the stories of Lord Caitanya’s pastimes (lélä) with the Lord’s intimate associates. He wanted to see Lord Caitanya, but social and familial obligations kept him at home, so he resolved to meditate on the Lord in separation. In 1510, however, he could not tolerate the separation any longer. He set out for Navadvépa to see the Lord of his life. After only seven miles, as far as the village of Katwa, he learned that Nimäi of Nadiyä—Caitanya Mahäprabhu—was in that very village taking sannyäsa, the renounced order of life.
“What?” cried Gaìgädhara.
“Why must my Lord take the renounced order? This austerity is reserved
for human beings like me so we can overcome our attachments to this world.
Certainly there is no need for Çré Nimäi, the Supreme
Personality of Godhead, to live the harsh life of an ascetic.”
But Gaìgädhara’s reservations were mixed with excitement: he would soon see his Lord face to face. When he approached the sacrificial area where Çré Nimäi was taking sannyäsa, he saw the Lord’s intimate associates—Nityänanda Prabhu, Candraçekhara Äcärya, Mukunda Datta, and many others. He saw Madhu Çilä, the barber, preparing to cut Nimäi’s beautiful locks of raven black hair.
“No!” the onlookers were saying. “Please stop!” They, like Gaìgädhara, could not conceive of the Lord in the renounced order of life. Even Madhu, who had the good fortune to touch the Lord’s head, could cut His hair out of duty only, weeping profusely. Madhu and the others knew that the Lord had decided to set an example for the entire religious world and stress the importance of renunciation. There was nothing they could do.
Keçava Bhärati, the sannyäsa-guru, gave Nimäi His new sannyäsa name, “Çré Kåñëa Caitanya.” The crowd was in shock: “Beautiful Nimäi is really taking sannyäsa!” They couldn’t believe their eyes, from which tears were flowing incessantly. But the deed was done.
Madhu fainted. Why had he shaved the Lord’s head? It was as if he had been controlled by the Lord’s own hand to fulfill the Lord’s own desire. “Caitanya! Caitanya!” said Gaìgädhara Bhaööäcärya to himself. “Caitanya! Caitanya! Caitanya!” he repeated again and again. His eyes pleaded with everyone there: he wanted to understand what had just happened, but all he could do was mutter in a stupor of mixed emotions.
Gaìgädhara found himself calling the Lord’s names aloud with uncontrollable enthusiasm—“Caitanya! Çré Kåñëa Caitanya! Çré Kåñëa Caitanya!”
He returned to Cakhandi, half mad with ecstasy, unable to stop repeating the Lord’s names. He told his wife what had happened, and she too was overcome with ecstasy. As the days passed, their ecstasy increased, and the whole town of Cakhandi marveled at Gaìgädhara’s transformation. Seeing Gaìgädhara’s absorption in Çré Caitanya’s name, his wife and the other villagers began calling him Caitanya Däsa.
Journey To Puré
Caitanya Däsa and his wife went to Jagannätha Puré, where Lord Caitanya had gone after accepting the renounced order. When the couple arrived, they went to Çré Caitanya and surrendered at His feet.
“Lord Jagannätha is very happy that you have come here,” the Lord said. “Go to the temple and see His Deity form. The lotus-eyed Lord is extremely merciful, so please go see Him.”
Govinda, Lord Caitanya’s personal servant, accompanied Caitanya Däsa and his wife to the temple, where they offered many prayers at the feet of Lord Jagannätha. Weeping tears of divine love, the happy brähmaëa couple were soon escorted to the luxurious accommodations Lord Caitanya had arranged for them. They spent several happy days with Çré Caitanya in Jagannätha Puré.
One day Lord Caitanya told His servant of His plans for the couple. “Govinda,” the Lord said, “although Caitanya Däsa and his wife have not mentioned it to Me, I know they would like to have a child. They said so in front of Lord Jagannätha, who is nondifferent from Me. They have prayed sincerely, and I know their hearts. Their desired offspring will soon appear. His name will be Çréniväsa, and he will be a greatly beautiful child. Through Rüpa and Sanätana I will manifest the bhakti-çästras, and through Çréniväsa I will distribute them. Caitanya Däsa and his wife should quickly return to Chakandhi.”
The Appearance of Çréniväsa
In Cakhandi the couple had a beautiful baby boy, whom they named Çréniväsa. He was born in the second or third decade of the sixteenth century on the auspicious full-moon day of the month of Vaiçäkhä (April–May). Lakñmé Priyä’s father, Balaräma Vipra, a learned astrologer, told the happy couple that their son was a mahäpuruña, a divinely empowered soul.
The boy had a broad chest and a long, elegant nose, and his beautiful eyes extended like lotus petals. Like Lord Caitanya, he had a bodily luster resembling molten gold and arms that extended down to his knees. According to custom, Caitanya Däsa and Lakñmé Priyä gave charity to the brähmaëas, and the brähmaëas blessed the child.
Lakñmé Priyä would constantly sing the glories of Lord Caitanya into the child’s ears, and the melodious sounds made him joyful. As Çréniväsa grew, he learned to chant the names of Caitanya Mahäprabhu and Rädhä-Kåñëa. Soon this small crescent moon known as Çréniväsa grew full and was known as the brightest and most beautiful boy in Cakhandi. He studied under the famed Dhanaïjaya Vidyäväcaspati, who taught him all branches of Vedic learning, including religion, logic, poetry, political science, grammar, and Äyurveda.
According to the Prema-viläsa, Dhanaïjaya Vidyäväcaspati said that he had nothing to teach Çréniväsa. The Prema-viläsa also relates that the goddess of education appeared to Çréniväsa in a dream and told him she would make him proficient in all areas of learning, especially the scriptures. Still, Çréniväsa became known as Dhanaïjaya Vidyävacaspati’s prize pupil, and as such he was the pride of Cakhandi. He was loved by all the townspeople, who saw him as a precious gem.
Narahari Sarakära Öhäkura
Because of Çréniväsa’s popularity, he met Narahari Sarakära, an intimate associate of Lord Caitanya from nearby Çrékhaëòa. Narahari Sarakära’s intense devotion had pleased Lord Caitanya, and Narahari had the distinction of being allowed to sing the Lord’s glories in the Lord’s presence, although the Lord, out of humility, would not let anyone else do so. This distinction impressed young Çréniväsa, and he accepted Çré Narahari as his first instructing guru.
After meeting Narahari Sarakära, Çréniväsa began to show signs of ecstasy. Narahari told Çréniväsa to go to Puré to see Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu. While Çréniväsa was considering how to execute the instruction, his father passed away from this mortal world after seven days of fever. It was a shock to the family, and Çréniväsa did all he could to console his mother.
Meanwhile, the omniscient Çré
Caitanya Mahäprabhu was preparing His associates for Çréniväsa’s
arrival. He had already written to Rüpa, Sanätana, and Gopäla
Bhaööa Gosvämés requesting them to teach Çréniväsa
spiritual life. And He asked Gadädhara Paëòita in Jagannätha
Puré to teach Çréniväsa the Çrémad-Bhägavatam.
Narahari Sarakära advised Çréniväsa to see to his mother’s care in Jajigram, where her father and brothers had moved from Cakhandi. Then Çréniväsa was to proceed to Puré to associate with Lord Caitanya. Çréniväsa asked Narahari to initiate him into the chanting of Kåñëa's name, but Narahari told him that Lord Caitanya wanted him to take initiation from Gopäla Bhaööa Gosvämé.
Meeting with Gadädhara Paëòita
Still a boy, Çréniväsa set out with a companion for Puré. On the way, he learned that Çré Caitanya had left this world. Then Lord Caitanya—along with Nityänanda Prabhu, who had also passed away—appeared to Çréniväsa “on the pretext of a dream” and consoled him. The phrase shopna chaley (“on the pretext of a dream”) appears frequently in Bengali literature of the period and is usually taken to mean “in a spiritual vision.”
Still, Çréniväsa remained grief-stricken. He went to the Gopénätha temple in Puré to take shelter of Gadädhara Paëòita. The Paëòita was overcome with separation from Lord Caitanya, and tears always flowed from his eyes. Çréniväsa bowed at Çré Gadädhara’s feet and introduced himself.
Gadädhara Paëòita became joyful. “I’m glad you have come and introduced yourself,” he said. “Just before passing away, Caitanya Mahäprabhu told me to teach you the Bhägavatam. He knew you would arrive in Puré one day, and He asked me to explain Kåñëa-lélä to you.”
Gadädhara Paëòita’s joy—he could now fulfill this order of the Lord—again turned to sadness. “I cannot teach you Bhägavatam at this time, O young Çréniväsa,” he said, “for the manuscript in my possession has become illegible from the tears I have cried onto its pages.”
Çréniväsa touched the sacred book to his head and felt ecstasy arise within himself. Nonetheless, the problem of studying a book that had been rendered illegible remained. But Çré Gadädhara and Çréniväsa would not be swayed from their purpose. The will of Mahäprabhu could not be obstructed. Çré Gadädhara sent a message to Narahari Sarakära in Bengal asking him to secure another manuscript of Çrémad-Bhägavatam. Narahari replied that another copy was available and that a messenger should be dispatched immediately. Gadädhara sent Çréniväsa himself and told him to hurry. The separation from Lord Caitanya was intolerable, he said, and he didn’t know how long he could stay in this world.
Before leaving, Çréniväsa fulfilled a long-cherished desire to see Lord Caitanya’s associates. He went to the homes of Rämänanda Räya, Çikhi Mähiti, Särvabhauma Bhaööäcärya, Vakreçvara Paëòita, Paramänanda Puré, Gopénätha Äcärya, and many others. He also went to see King Pratäparudra, but according to the Bhakti-ratnäkara the king had gone away in solitude to lament the Lord’s passing.
Çréniväsa reminded the great personalities in Puré of Lord Caitanya. Seeing his intense and unprecedented love of Godhead, the devotees could understand that he was Gaura Çakti, the embodiment of the energy of Caitanya Mahäprabhu. According to the Prema-viläsa, Çréniväsa is an incarnation of Lord Caitanya’s ecstasy. The Lord’s intimate associates could naturally perceive this and could understand that through Çréniväsa the eternal message of Lord Caitanya—the message of the Vedic literature—would be widely distributed.
Lord Caitanya had broken open the storehouse of nectarean love of God, and the Gosvämés, by writing books, had taken that nectar and placed it in tangible vessels. Çréniväsa would see that these vessels were circulated among all sincere souls. The intimate associates of the Lord gave Çréniväsa instructions and advice for carrying on the mission.
When Çréniväsa arrived in Bengal and received the copy of the Bhägavatam from Narahari Sarakära Öhäkura, he learned that Gadädhara Paëòita had passed away. The news was a terrible blow, and Çréniväsa lamented. Then Gadädhara Paëòita appeared to him on the pretext of a dream and encouraged him to go forward.
Çréniväsa reflected on the inconceivable will of the Lord. Why had He taken away the person who was to teach him the Bhägavatam? Was there a new plan? Was someone else to teach him the sacred scriptures? Some say that Çréniväsa fell despondent at this time, but not much is known about the years that followed Çré Gadädhara’s passing from this world. It is generally assumed that Çréniväsa spent this time at first in a heartbroken state and then in serious meditation. He probably continued his studies, as he was still in his teens.
When Çré Jähnavä Devé, the wife of Nityänanda Prabhu, went to Våndävana, Rüpa Gosvämé asked her to send Çréniväsa to Våndävana as soon as possible. On her return to Bengal, she relayed the message to Narahari. Çré Caitanya had told the Gosvämés of Vraja to train Çréniväsa, and Narahari advised him to hasten to Våndävana so that the Lord’s command should not be violated.
The request heightened Çréniväsa’s desire to study bhakti literature with Rüpa and Sanätana. Had he gone to Våndävana then, he would have met Rüpa and Sanätana. But he decided to visit the homes of Lord Caitanya’s principal associates on the way, stopping at Navadvépa to visit Çré Caitanya’s home.
Association with The Navadvépa
This was the second time Çréniväsa delayed a journey: first the journey to see Gadädhara Paëòita, and now Rüpa and Sanätana. Perhaps Çréniväsa’s enthusiasm to associate with Lord Caitanya’s direct followers in Puré and Navadvépa was so overwhelming that he was unable to heed the advice of his forebears. Some say that all of this was the will of providence, so that Çréniväsa would take initiation from Gopäla Bhaööa Gosvämé. Others say that Çréniväsa, by his example, was teaching the importance of pilgrimage and association with devotees.
Çréniväsa was enthralled with the home of Çré Caitanya in Navadvépa (Mäyäpur), where he met Viñëupriyä Devé, the Lord’s revered widow, and her esteemed servants, Vaàçivadana Öhäkura and Éçäna Prabhu. They all blessed Çréniväsa, and he stayed with them for several days, hearing the pastimes of Lord Caitanya.
During those days he watched Viñëupriyä Devé perform severe austerities. For example, she would chant the mahä-mantra—Hare Kåñëa, Hare Kåñëa, Kåñëa Kåñëa, Hare Hare/ Hare Räma, Hare Räma, Räma Räma, Hare Hare—over each grain of rice she was to eat. When she was finished with her daily chanting, she would eat only the grains she had set aside.
"Truly," Çréniväsa said, "this is a wife who was worthy of Çré Caitanya."
Çréniväsa also met Damodara Paëòita, Çuklämbara, Muräri Gupta, and other early friends and intimates of Lord Caitanya in Navadvépa. From there Çréniväsa went to nearby Çäntipura, where he was warmly greeted by Çré Advaita’s wife, Sétä Öhäkuräëé, and her sons Acyuta and Gopäla.
Then Çréniväsa visited the house of Nityänanda Prabhu in Khardaha, where Jähnavä Devé, her son Bérabhadra, and others greeted Çréniväsa as if he were part of their own family. But Jähnavä Devé encouraged him to start for Våndävana without delay because Rüpa and Sanätana would soon rejoin the Lord in the spiritual world.
On the way to Våndävana, Çréniväsa stopped at the well-known Abhiräma Öhäkura’s house in Khanakul Krishnanagar to deliver a letter from Jähnavä Devé. The Öhäkura greeted him with three loving lashes from an extraordinary whip, but this unusual greeting was a benediction. The whip, known as Jai Maìgala, would bestow love of God on anyone it touched. Çré Abhiräma and his wife, Mäliëé, showed deep affection for Çréniväsa. Not only did they bless him with their famous whip, but they gave him valuable instructions and reiterated the importance of going to Våndävana as soon as possible.
While continuing his journey, Çréniväsa stopped in Katwa, where his father had seen Lord Caitanya adopt the renounced order. Next he passed through Agradvépa, where the three famous Ghosh brothers—Väsudeva, Govinda, and Mädhava—had established their temple, and then he proceeded to Ekacakra, the birthplace of Nityänanda Prabhu. Finally, Çréniväsa made one last stop in Jajigram to say farewell to his aging mother and to visit Narahari Sarakära, his beloved guru. Narahari was concerned about Çréniväsa's delay in going to Våndävana and asked him to leave immediately.
And so, without further delay Çréniväsa set out for Vraja. By this time he had achieved adulthood.
The Journey to Vraja
Meanwhile, Sanätana Gosvämé had left this mortal world, and Rüpa Gosvämé could not bear the separation. Çré Rüpa felt that he, too, might not survive to instruct Çréniväsa, so he asked his distinguished disciple (and nephew) Jéva Gosvämé to care for Çréniväsa.
Traveling in those days, mostly by foot, was difficult. Nonetheless, Çréniväsa was making determined progress, stopping briefly on the way in Benares to visit the house of Candraçekhara Äcärya, where Lord Caitanya had lived for two months. Here Çréniväsa met an elderly disciple of Candraçekhara who invited him for a meal and showed him the places associated with Çré Caitanya.
Next, Çréniväsa reached Prayag (known today as Allahabad) and spent the night there. Four days before arriving in Våndävana, he heard that Sanätana had passed away four months earlier. And when he reached Mathurä, he learned that Rüpa Gosvämé had passed away only three days earlier. Çréniväsa fell to the ground, crying like a madman. He felt himself the most unfortunate person in the universe. He had failed to meet Lord Caitanya and to study the Bhägavatam with Gadädhara Paëòita. Now he had failed to meet Rüpa and Sanätana.
While Çréniväsa sat beneath a tree wishing for his own death, Rüpa and Sanätana appeared to him on the pretext of a dream and told him he was the embodiment of Lord Caitanya's love. They encouraged him to proceed to Våndävana to take shelter of Gopäla Bhaööa Gosvämé and to study under Çré Jéva with all his life and soul.
Jéva and Gopäla Bhaööa
THE WORDS OF Çré Sanätana and Rüpa somewhat relieved Çréniväsa’s heavy heart. He could travel again, and soon he felt the dust of Våndävana beneath his feet. He approached Rüpa Gosvämé’s Govindadeva Temple hoping to find more solace at Lord Govinda’s lotus feet.
As Çréniväsa sat before the Deity, Jéva Gosvämé and his many followers entered the temple. Çréniväsa introduced himself, and Çré Jéva greeted him with warmth and loving hospitality. Çréniväsa spent the night in comfortable quarters at Çré Jéva’s temple, Çré Çré Rädhä-Dämodara. The next day, Çréniväsa offered his homage at the tomb of Çré Rüpa in the temple courtyard.
Then Jéva introduced Çréniväsa to Gopäla Bhaööa Gosvämé, who greeted him with kind words and expressed his disappointment that Çréniväsa had not arrived sooner, as Rüpa and Sanätana had been anxious to meet him. Gopäla Bhaööa took Çréniväsa to his Rädhä-Ramaëa Temple and asked the Deity there to bless him. Gopäla Bhaööa Gosvämé and Jéva Gosvämé gradually introduced Çréniväsa to the inhabitants of Vraja.
Narottama and Duùkhé
Gopäla Bhaööa Gosvämé initiated Çréniväsa and taught him. And as Jéva Gosvämé was the preeminent Vaiñëava philosopher of the period, Gopäla Bhaööa directed Çréniväsa to him for higher instruction, all in accordance with the desires of Lord Caitanya and Rüpa and Sanätana Gosvämés. The Prema-viläsa states that Çré Jéva took care of Çréniväsa and gave him a thorough spiritual education.
Another young scholar, the illustrious Narottama, had been studying under Jéva for one year when Çréniväsa arrived in Våndävana. Narottama had been initiated by Lokanätha Gosvämé, who had sent him to Çré Jéva for additional spiritual instructions. Then young Duùkhé Kåñëadäsa came, sent by his guru, Hådaya Caitanya. The three young devotees studied under Jéva Gosvämé with the utmost enthusiasm and became his best students. They were widely known as inseparable friends. Jéva Gosvämé ordered them to study the forests of Våndävana with Räghava Paëòita, who knew all the sacred groves and their significance.
Eventually Çréniväsa, Narottama, and Duùkhé Kåñëadäsa were given a special mission. They were to distribute the books of the Gosvämés—the bhakti-rasa scriptures—in Bengal and other areas. Vaiñëavism was widely embraced in Bengal, but literature explaining the Vaiñëava philosophy was wanting. Nityänanda Prabhu’s wife, Jähnavä Devé, had visited Rüpa and Sanätana in Våndävana some years earlier and was well aware of the prolific spiritual literature the Våndävana Gosvämés were producing, so she contacted Jéva Gosvämé and suggested that the books be sent to Bengal. To comply, Çré Jéva summoned his three best men.
The Mission Begins
In a large assembly of Vaiñëavas, Çré Jéva called forth Narottama Däsa: “From this day forward, you will be known as Narottama Öhäkura Mahäçaya.” Then he called Çréniväsa: “You will be known as Çréniväsa Äcärya.” And finally, Duùkhé Kåñëadäsa: “Because you have brought so much pleasure [änanda] to Rädhäräëé [Çyämä], you will now be called Çyämänanda.” Then Çré Jéva told them of their mission to Bengal, Orissa, and other provinces of India.
Çréniväsa, Narottama, and Çyämänanda did not want to leave Våndävana, but they understood the importance of their mission. They went to their initiating gurus, who gave their blessings, instilling in them the necessary enthusiasm for the task.
Çré Jéva began the preparations for the long and arduous journey. These devotees were his best students, and he would spare no pains for their welfare. He had a rich merchant disciple from Mathurä supply a large cart, four strong bullocks, and ten armed guards. The manuscripts—original works by Rüpa, Sanätana, Gopäla Bhaööa, Raghunätha Däsa, Jéva, and others—were placed in a large wooden chest, which was bolted and covered with a waxed cloth. Çré Jéva also secured a special passport from the king of Jaipur that his three students would need to show as they traveled to eastern India. Then Çréniväsa, Narottama, and Çyämänanda left Våndävana.
The Journey to Bengal
As they began traveling, Çré Jéva and several other devotees accompanied them, unable to bear being separated. As the caravan neared Agra, the well-wishers stayed behind. Now the journey was underway. There could be no turning back.
After many months, the party reached a small village named Gopälapura, just within the boundaries of the Malla kingdom of Vana Viñëupura, in Bengal. When they retired that night, they felt confident that their mission was almost complete.
Viñëupura is in the district of Birbhum, bounded on the north by the Santhal Pargannas and on the south by Midnapura. The king of Viñëupura, Vérhamvér, was the leader of a strong group of bandits who were the terror of the adjoining countries. He had employed a large number of thugs and assassins who infested the highways and killed and robbed wayfarers. The astrologers of the court were ever ready to submit to him confidential reports as to what fortunes the stars would grant him if he carried on robberies in particular localities.
Stealing the Books
The king’s dacoits had been following the cart from afar. This cart was especially interesting because the king’s astrologers had said that it held a great treasure. Although the dacoits had been following the cart for quite a distance, they thought it wise to wait until the cart reached their own kingdom.
The dacoits saw only fifteen men escorting the cart—ten armed soldiers, two cartmen, and three holy men. The band of dacoits, numbering over two hundred, inflamed one another’s imaginations with the astrologers’ words: “This cart is filled with jewels more valuable than gold.” They almost overtook the party in a village named Tamar, but circumstances did not permit it. They followed the party through the towns of Raghunäthapura and Païcävati.
Finally, in Gopälapura, the party spent the night near a beautiful lake. All fifteen men slept soundly, tired from the journey. When they awakened, their worst nightmare had come to pass: the manuscripts had been stolen.
They could not contain their tears. Çréniväsa, the leader of the party, advised Narottama and Çyämänanda to proceed to Bengal and Orissa with the teachings of the six Gosvämés. He would take it upon himself to retrieve the manuscripts. He wrote to Jéva Gosvämé and told him all that had happened.
The King’s Regret
Meanwhile, as King Vérhamvér was rummaging through treasures stolen from various travelers, his servants appeared with the court’s most recent acquisition—Çréniväsa’s carefully wrapped chest of “the most precious jewels.” Vérhamvér dropped everything else and feverishly unwrapped his latest prize. Having heard the prophesies, he could scarcely imagine what splendors awaited him. In one suspenseful moment, he removed the cloth covering and opened the trunk to reveal—manuscripts.
Where was the priceless treasure? Lifting out the top manuscript in disbelief, the king saw the signature “Çré Rüpa Gosvämé” written on a palm leaf. When he examined further and began reading Çré Rüpa’s beautiful exposition of Vaiñëava philosophy, he felt something change deep within. He reverentially returned the book to the trunk and retired for the evening, aware of the grave sin he had instigated.
in a Dream
That night, the king had an unusual dream. He saw a beautiful and effulgent person whose body was filled with divine energy. “Do not worry,” the person said with a loving smile. “Soon I will come to Viñëupura and we will meet. I will retrieve my manuscripts, and you will be relieved of all sinful reactions. Your joy will be boundless. Know for certain that you are my eternal servant and I am your eternal well-wisher.”
The next morning the king awoke and started his life anew, waiting for the day when the mysterious prediction of his dream would come to pass.
Meanwhile, Çréniväsa Äcärya made his way to the outskirts of Viñëupura, where he met a brähmaëa resident named Çré Kåñëa Vallabha. The two became friends, and Kåñëa Vallabha invited Çréniväsa to be a guest in his home. Gradually, Kåñëa Vallabha realized Çréniväsa’s exalted position and surrendered to him as a disciple. In due course, Kåñëa Vallabha mentioned that the king regularly convened a Bhägavatam study group for all who were interested. Çréniväsa was curious about the nature of the Bhägavatam presentation and asked Kåñëa Vallabha to take him to the next meeting.
When they arrived, Vyäsäcärya, the court paëòita, was reciting and commenting upon the Bhägavatam. Çréniväsa was unimpressed but said nothing. The next day, they found Vyäsäcärya pontificating in the same fashion. After two weeks of the court paëòita, Çréniväsa could not contain himself, and after the meeting he spoke to Vyäsäcärya.
“You, sir, do not follow the text,” said Çréniväsa, “nor are your commentaries in line with Çrédhara Svämé or the other standard exponents of Bhägavata philosophy.”
Vyäsäcärya listened to Çréniväsa’s comments but ignored his advice. The king, however, who was nearby, overheard what was said and found it interesting.
The next day at the recital Vyäsäcärya again attempted to elucidate the esoteric section of the Bhägavatam that delineates Çré Kåñëa's räsa-lélä.
Respectful but firm, Çréniväsa interrupted with a question: “Sir, how can you comment on such confidential subjects without referring to the statements of Çrédhara Svämé? You are obviously unfamiliar with his work.”
Vyäsäcärya became angry. He disliked being challenged in front of his sycophantic assembly, who were accustomed only to his peculiar rendition of Bhägavatam commentary.
Before another word was said, however, the king began to defend Çréniväsa’s position: “How is it that this brähmaëa scholar finds fault with your explanations? Perhaps your interpretations are questionable.”
“Who can interpret the texts better than I?” the arrogant Vyäsäcärya replied. “This newcomer is an upstart, and he dares to question me in the presence of Your Majesty.”
Then he turned to Çréniväsa. “If you are such an authority on the Bhägavatam,” he said, “why don’t you come sit here and explain these verses in a better way?”
Çréniväsa rose to the challenge. He sang the Bhägavatam verses beautifully and then commented upon them with great verve and authority. He drew upon existing Vaiñëava explanations and yet offered his own unique presentation. No one had ever heard such a masterly enunciation of Bhägavata philosophy.
The king encouraged him to go on, allowing him to speak for several hours. When he finished, the whole assembly applauded, ecstatic with Çréniväsa’s contagious love for Kåñëa. Vyäsäcärya could not believe his ears. He was defeated, but he was happy.
King Vérhamvér was greatly moved. “No one has ever come to this kingdom and shared so much love and scholarship in the way you have,” he said to Çréniväsa. “Please, tell me your name and where you come from.”
“My name is Çréniväsa and I am a native of this country,” said Çréniväsa. “I came here to see your magnificent court and to relish the Bhägavatam.”
The king then gave him the best accommodations in the palace and asked him to stay as long as he liked.
The King Surrenders
Later that evening, the king asked Çréniväsa to dine with him, but Çréniväsa said that he took only one humble meal per day and had already eaten. Nonetheless, Vérhamvér encouraged him to have some fruit, and he complied, not wanting to offend his distinguished host.
As Çréniväsa ate his fruit, the king sat at his side like a humble servant. The king had never felt this way about anyone: Çréniväsa was that effulgent person he had seen in his dream—his guru—and he wanted to render some menial service.
That night, he heard Çréniväsa repeating the name of Kåñëa in his room. It seemed as if Çréniväsa did not sleep. “Here is a genuine saint,” thought the king. “He is simply absorbed in the name of God.” With this pleasant idea, the king fell asleep, listening to Çréniväsa Äcärya’s blissful voice in the next room.
The following day in the great assembly Çréniväsa again spoke from the Bhägavatam. Once again, the eager, expectant audience relished every word. Çréniväsa astonished all who listened. Chroniclers of the event have reported that “even the stone walls of the hall seemed to melt with emotion.” Çréniväsa spoke with erudition, sensitivity, and devotion, honoring his Vaiñëava predecessors, and everyone present agreed that the wisdom of the orator far exceeded his years. One by one, people came and bowed at Çréniväsa’s feet, hoping to become his disciples.
Later, the king submitted himself to Çréniväsa as a lowly beggar: “You are the real king,” he said, “for you have love for Kåñëa. I am not even worthy to be in your presence.”
Çréniväsa, with all humility, merely shook his head; he was not able to accept his own exalted position.
But the king persisted: “Allow me to be your servant. Please! How can I serve you? My entire kingdom is at your disposal.”
“I came from the holy city of Våndävana with a mission from Gopäla Bhaööa Gosvämé and Jéva Gosvämé,” Çréniväsa replied. “I was to bring their writings to Bengal. But unfortunately this treasure was robbed within your kingdom. If I cannot retrieve these books, I would prefer to lose my life. Can you help me get them back?”
The king burst into tears. “A poor worm am I,” he said, “lost hopelessly in this land of birth and death. My own men pillaged for years and years under my order, and then they came upon your party. We were told you carried the greatest treasure in the universe, and we naturally pursued it. I cannot express my sorrow.”
Reflecting for a moment, the king said, “But there is a positive side to all of this. Our meeting would not have otherwise occurred. I would commit these sins again and again for but a moment of your association.”
Çréniväsa laughed and reassured the king that sinful life was unnecessary for attaining his association. Çréniväsa then forgave the king for all his sins and asked him to sin no more.
The Books Are Safe!
The king led Çréniväsa to the room where his treasures were kept, and Çréniväsa saw the trunk with the Gosvämés’ literature. Çréniväsa felt ecstasy and took the garland of flowers from his own neck and placed it on King Vérhamvér. Çréniväsa asked the king to bring him tulasé leaves, flower garlands, sandalwood paste, and other items to worship the sacred books. The king brought everything, and his own initiation ceremony followed. By reciting into the king’s ear the mahä-mantra—Hare Kåñëa, Hare Kåñëa, Kåñëa Kåñëa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—Çréniväsa initiated him.
According to the Prema-viläsa, Çréniväsa gave him the name Haricaraëa Däsa. Jéva Gosvämé later showed the king special mercy by writing a letter in which he renamed him Caitanya Däsa. The king’s wife, Queen Sulakñaëä, and their son, Prince Dhäré Hamvér, also became Çréniväsa Äcärya’s surrendered servants. The queen’s initiated name is unknown, but the boy was named Gopäla Däsa. Kåñëa Vallabha and Vyäsäcärya also became dedicated disciples.
Viñëupura as a Vaiñëava
The initiation of the king and his loyal subjects was an important event in the history of the Gauòéya tradition. Viñëupura soon became a great center of Vaiñëavism. In all of India, only in Vana Viñëupura did Gauòéya Vaiñëava culture and art develop without foreign or distracting influence. Even the Muslim intrusion was minimal. Consequently, the architectural and sculptural art of Bengal, from the beginning of the seventeenth century onwards, is nowhere found in such abundance and in such pristine form as in the Vaiñëava monuments of Viñëupura. This is one of the many virtues of royal patronage.
King Vérhamvér reigned from 1596 to 1622 and in that time wrote many songs in praise of Kåñëa, Lord Caitanya Mahäprabhu, and Çréniväsa Äcärya. Much of his exquisite poetry can be found in the Bhakti-ratnäkara and the Päda-kalpataru. The king’s beautiful voice, reflected in his literary work, helped him in his mission of spreading Vaiñëavism throughout his domain.
Çréniväsa had thus accomplished his mission in Viñëupura. He wrote to Jéva Gosvämé that not only had the books been retrieved but the main bandit, a king, had taken up Gauòéya Vaiñëavism. All of Våndävana rejoiced and sang the glories of Çréniväsa Äcärya. King Vérhamvér and his entire kingdom were now converted to Vaiñëavism, and Çréniväsa was developing an important center there.
PART III (Conclusion)
Thieves working for the king of Viñëupura stole priceless manuscripts Çréniväsa and his friends were bringing to Bengal. Çréniväsa therefore sent his companions ahead while he stayed in Viñëupura. He recovered the manuscripts, made the king his disciple, and inspired him to spread Kåñëa consciousness throughout the kingdom.
NOW ÇRÉNIVÄSA needed to see his dear friends Narottama and Çyämänanda again. He had written them of the developments in Viñëupura, but he knew little of what his friends were doing. He had heard that his teacher Narahari Sarakära Öhäkura was ill and getting ready to die, so he wanted to go to Çrékhanda to see him and to nearby Jajigram to see his own aging mother.
Bidding farewell to King Vérhamvér, Çréniväsa took the chest of books to Jajigram. Upon arriving there, he told the devotees what had happened. All the holy town’s people, especially his mother, rejoiced in his company. But they had heart-breaking news for him as well: Çrématé Viñëupriyä had left this world. Çrématé Viñëupriyä was Çré Caitanya’s widow, an important person in the preaching mission of Bengal. On hearing of her passing, Çréniväsa fainted, and the devotees had to revive and console him.
A few days later, a message came from Narahari Sarakära and Raghunandana Öhäkura asking Çréniväsa to come to Çrékhanda. Çréniväsa left at once to see these two well-wishers who had guided him in his youth. During this meeting, Narahari suggested that Çréniväsa get married.
“Your mother is a great devotee,” Çré Narahari said. “She has been rendering valuable service in Jajigram for many years. You should fulfill whatever small desire she might have. I know she would be happy to see you married. Since she is a great devotee, you should comply.”
Hearing this, Çréniväsa resolved to marry and raise a family.
After a few more days in Çrékhanda, Çréniväsa left for Kanthak Nagara to visit the great Gadädhara Däsa, one of the personal associates of Caitanya Mahäprabhu. When Çréniväsa arrived, Gadädhara Däsa embraced him with affection. He asked Çréniväsa about the devotees of Våndävana, especially the Gosvämés: How were they able to live in separation from the Lord and His confidential devotees? Where were they living and under what conditions? Gadädhara Däsa and Çréniväsa talked about Caitanya Mahäprabhu and the plight of His devotees in His absence.
After several days, Çréniväsa was to return to Jajigram. Before he left, Gadädhara Däsa blessed him: “One day you will taste the nectar of congregational chanting in the company of the Lord Himself, and in the company of His intimate associates. For now, you have my blessings to marry. May it bring you all good fortune.”
The words of Gadädhara Däsa touched Çréniväsa. Meditating on their import, he returned to Jajigram, where he met Gopäla Cakravarté, an elderly brähmaëa with a beautiful and devoted daughter named Draupadé. Observing that Çréniväsa and Draupadé were attracted to each other, Çré Raghunandana Öhäkura arranged the wedding.
After the marriage, Draupadé was called Éçvaré (some say it was her initiated name), honoring her devotion to God and acknowledging her marriage to a great saint. Her father, Gopäla Cakravarté, soon accepted Çréniväsa as his spiritual master, as did her two brothers, Çyäma Däsa and Rämacandra. Çréniväsa quickly became one of the most prominent gurus in all of Bengal.
After some time, Éçvaré bore a son, and when Çréniväsa wrote about the event to Jéva Gosvämé in Våndävana, Jéva sent back an exuberant reply and named the boy Våndävana Vallabha. Some time after, Çréniväsa married again (polygamy was common then). His second wife, Padmavaté, was also a great devotee, and after initiation she was known as Gauräìga Priyä.
One may wonder why Çréniväsa took a second wife. Most of the standard biographies do not elaborate, stating merely that the second marriage followed the first by a few years. But the Anurägavalé informs us that his most intimate disciples asked that he remarry upon the death of his two sons from Éçvaré. They are said to have died young.
Içvari had three daughters—Hemlatä, Kåñëa-priyä, and Kaïcana, also known as Yamunä. Gauräìga Priyä had a son, Gati Govinda. Both Éçvaré and her daughters later had many disciples, and Çréniväsa’s bloodline is still said to continue in Våndävana from Gati Govinda.
The Passing of Narahari Sarakära
Some time after Çréniväsa’s marriage, Narahari Sarakära Öhäkura left the world, having seen Çréniväsa one last time. Çréniväsa organized a massive festival to honor Narahari’s memory. Everyone from Çrékhanda and neighboring villages attended, and Vaiñëava festivals soon spread throughout the region. Ceremonies to install Deities of Kåñëa took place with elaborate festivities, including singing, dancing, and sharing of sacred food (prasädam). By such festivals the Hare Kåñëa movement spread throughout Bengal.
In due course, Çréniväsa decided to return to Våndävana. Rämacandra Kaviräja, one of his most renowned followers, went with him on this trip. Rämacandra was considered Çréniväsa’s “other eye and other arm.” Rämacandra and his brother, Govinda, who was also Çréniväsa’s disciple, were the sons of an intimate associate of Lord Caitanya. Both Rämacandra and Govinda were celebrated scholars, artists, and poets, but Rämacandra came to be widely accepted as Çréniväsa’s most noteworthy disciple. This was in some measure due to Narottama Däsa Öhäkura, who at Çréniväsa’s request took charge of Rämacandra and forged an intimate friendship with him while schooling him in all the details of Vaiñëava philosophy.
With the help of King Vérhamvér of Viñëupura, Çréniväsa spread his preaching in Bengal to the districts of Birbhum, Bankura, Burdwan, and as far as Tripura in the East. He taught all over Bengal and made hundreds of disciples.
To the list of his prominent disciples, Hemlatä Öhäkuräëé, his daughter, is often added. Although as a blood relation she is not properly counted a disciple, she was one of his most notable followers. A highly educated and vigorous preacher, she has been compared to the revered Jähnavä Devé in spreading the movement throughout Bengal. She was a gifted and devoted leader, initiating both men and women into the Gauòiyä Vaiñëava tradition. One of her disciples, Yadunandana Öhäkura, became a famous scholar and poet. He composed simple Bengali versifications of Gauòiyä literature, some at her personal request.
In time she married a great devotee and had several children. Today her descendants live in the villages of Maliati and Budhaipad, in the Murshidabad district of Bengal, where she revolutionized the preaching of Gauòiyä Vaiñëavism.
Çréniväsa had not been to Våndävana since recovering the stolen books. The Gosvämés were eager to show their appreciation, and when Çréniväsa arrived they did so gloriously. And now Çréniväsa had come to Våndävana with Rämacandra Kaviräja. Such a worthy disciple showed Çréniväsa’s merit as a preacher. So Gopäla Bhaööa Gosvämé, who had wanted Çréniväsa to take over the worship of the Rädhä-Ramaëa Deity in Våndävana, gave the duty to his other disciple, Gopénätha Püjäré, and insisted that Çréniväsa keep preaching in Bengal. The descendants of Gopénätha’s brothers are still in charge of the Rädhä-Ramaëa temple.
Çyämänanda Paëòita returned to Våndävana about the same time as Çréniväsa, so they were able to deepen their friendship. Together they resumed their studies. Gradually, Çréniväsa began to reveal his mystic potency, and it became apparent he was fully absorbed in the most intimate love of God.
Back to Viñëupura
But the missionary work was incomplete, and after several months Çréniväsa and others returned to Bengal, encouraged by the Våndävana Gosvämés. On the way, they stopped in Vana Viñëupura to see King Vérhamvér, who was delighted by the presence of his guru and the other devotees.
The king’s devotion showed throughout the kingdom. In the words of D.C. Sen:
Raja Vira Hamvira would not do anything without the advice of his guru [Çréniväsa Äcärya], even in political matters. His [Çréniväsa’s] voice prevailed alike in the court and in the domestic circles of Vishnupura. We find that repeating the name of God a fixed number of times was made compulsory by penal law in the State. Sacrifice of animals at the altar of the gods was also discountenanced, though not actually prohibited by law. Worldly dignity attended the guru who had brought spiritual glory to the country. We find that on every occasion of Vaishnava festivities of any importance, valuable presents were given to Çrénivasa, while Raja Vira Hamvira was ever ready to minister to his physical comforts in every possible manner. But true to the traditions of a brahmin scholar and saint, Çrénivasa contented himself with living in a strawroofed hut, though he might have built palaces with the help of the Raja and other influential disciples. The money he received was mainly spent in feeding his disciples, of whom there was always a large number residing at his house. 1
The Glories of Viñëupura
The pervasiveness of Kåñëa consciousness in Bengal, especially in Viñëupura, lasted well after the time of Çréniväsa and into the following centuries. King Vérhamvér’s successor, Raghunätha Singh I, built Vaiñëava temples in many distant villages to make Kåñëa consciousness popular with the tribal people. In fact, the kings of Viñëupura from the time of Vérhamvér onward assumed great responsibility for the material and spiritual wellbeing of their subjects.
According to Dr. Sambidananda Das:
In short, the Vaishnava kings, from Vira Hamvira downwards, developed Vaishnava culture in all its branches. The practical religious lives of the kings … made the people of Vishnupura God-fearing, virtuous, humble, and courteous in manner and pure in heart. It is not an easy matter to make the whole population happy and pious. [But] the people regarded their kings as their gurus. To this day it is their custom to offer edibles to Çré Caitanya’s altar in the name of the king, on the occasion of public worship. Thus did Çrénivasa, through Raja Vira Hamvira, start a new epoch in the religious life of the country.2
The activities of Çréniväsa Äcärya can fill volumes, and they have. Several books offer details of his daily life in Viñëupura and Jajigram.
In the early morning he would read from scriptural books, explaining and interpreting them for his disciples. The study of these books would occupy him until ten o’clock in the morning. Then, till two in the afternoon, he would chant on beads in solitude, occasionally worshiping Krñëa according to his inner meditation. From four o’clock to six in the evening he would perform congregational chanting with his disciples. The form of kértana for which he became famous is called Manohar Shoy. Some say it is the only authentic classical style that has survived. At night he used to instruct his disciples and talk with them of Kåñëa's pastimes.
His Literary Work
It is said that Çréniväsa composed only five songs. He also wrote a commentary—studied and respected to this day—on the four essential verses of the Çrémad-Bhägavatam. His other works include the famous Gosvämy-añöakam (“Eight Prayers to the Six Gosvämés”). Though his literary work is spare, its content and style are nectarean. It has left a unique mark on the Gauòiyä tradition.
Just as the authorized biographers of Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu leave aside the details of His passing from this world, Çréniväsa’s followers are silent about Çréniväsa’s disappearance. But although his divine ascension remains a mystery, his life remains an inspiration.
1. D. C. Sen, The Vaishnava Literature of Mediaeval Bengal (Calcutta University, 1917), pp. 156–157.
2. Sambidananda Das, The History and Literature of Gaudiya Vaishnavas and Their Relation to Medieval Vaishnava Schools, Unpublished Ph. D. Thesis (Calcutta University, June 1935), p. 819.
Satyaräja Däsa is a disciple of Çréla Prabhupäda and a regular contributor to Back to Godhead. He has written several books on Kåñëa consciousness. He and his wife live in New York City.