Friday, July 25, 2008

Prataparudra and Chaitanya (3)

Prataparudra’s disappearance

According to the Sarasvati-vilasa, Prataparudra had four queens: Padma, Padmalaya, Ila and Mahila. Some other wives are named in other sources. Dibakar Das says in the Jagannatha-caritamrita that the King’s chief queen, who became Jagannath Das’ disciple, was named Gauri Devi. Ishwar Das mentions a queen named Bhanumati, while Sudarshan Das says that he had a queen named Vidyutkanti. Jayananda also mentions a queen named Chandrakala in his Caitanya-mangala.

According to the Madala-panji, Prataparudra left thirty-two sons at his death. Sarasvati-vilasa names one of these, Purushottam. The Caitanya-caritamrita (3.9.99) and Bhakti-ratnakara (6.65) also speak of Purushottam Jana. (Jänä was the title given to the Orissan crown prince.) Other sources name three other sons: Kalua Deva, Kakharua Deva and Birbhadra Deva. The first two of these had short rules after the death of Prataparudra, lasting only a few months each, while Birbhadra is known to have been the governor of a southern province of the empire. Prataparudra’s daughter Jaganmohini, who was given in marriage to Krishna Deva Raya, has already been mentioned.

According to the Madala-panji, Prataparudra disappeared three years before Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. But other sources like Caitanya-candrodaya-nataka make it clear that Prataparudra suffered from Mahaprabhu’s separation after his disappearance. Historians give Prataparudra’s death as 1540.

It is said that Prataparudra turned over the kingdom to his son even while Mahaprabhu was present in this world, but after the Lord’s disappearance was so grief-stricken that he left Puri. According to Bhakti-ratnakara (3.213-221),

When the King heard that the Lord had departed, he fell to the ground and began lamenting. Hitting his head again and again, he fell unconscious and only the association of Ramananda Raya kept him alive. The King was unable to bear the absence of the Lord and so he left Puri, remaining elsewhere for the rest of his days. (Bhakti-ratnakara 3.217-19)

In Mayurbhanj district there is a town named Pratapur or Pratapapur, about eleven miles south of the district capital, Baripada. The town was once called Ramachandrapur after the king Ramachandra Bhanj Deo, but its name was changed when Prataparudra came to live there.

There is a temple in this town with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Jagannath and Dadhivaman deities. The priests of this temple say that when Mahaprabhu left Puri for Vrindavan, Prataparudra had a wooden murti of the Lord made. When Mahaprabhu disappeared, the King decided to retire to Vrindavan. He left with this Chaitanya deity, but when he arrived at Ramachandrapur, he fell ill and could not proceed. Knowing that his death was nigh, he made land endowments and engaged 54 Brahmin priests for the deities’ continued service. From this time onward, the town was known as Pratapapur.

The king of Mayurbhanj built a temple in Pratapapur, but Kala Pahar destroyed it during his raids on Orissa not long thereafter (1568). During those troubled times, the deities were hidden in the fort of Haripur or Hariharpur. When Hariharpur was destroyed during Maratha raids in the 18th century, the images were brought back to Pratapapur and Maharaja Jadunath Bhanja Deo subsequently had a temple erected there for the worship of Dadhivamana and the other images. This temple collapsed in the course of time and the images are now being worshipped in a small hut.[15] A building reputed to be Maharaja Prataparudra’s samadhi stood near the Pratapapur Dak Bungalow, but it slipped into the river during a flood.

Even so, many pilgrims still come to Pratapapur to worship the deity of Mahaprabhu on the his appearance day in the month of Phalgun.

Writings attributed to Prataparudra

Many books have been attributed to Prataparudra, such as Sarasvaté-viläsa, Pratäpa-märtaëòa, Kautuka-cintämaëi, and Nirëaya-saìgraha. In fact, the first two of these books were written by two of his court scholars, Lolla Lakshmidhara and Ramakrishna, respectively.

In the description of Bengali manuscripts in the Banga Sahitya Parishad library in Calcutta, a notice is given of a song with Prataparudra’s signature. There is some doubt as to whether the song is indeed his or not. A portion of that song goes as follows:

I will become an ornament on your body,
the ankle bells upon your feet.
I will become the chakora who gazes
at the moons of your fingernails,
the bee who buzzes around your lotus feet.
I will become the mirror you look into,
and the whisk that fans you.

And I have yet another desire:
Let me become a layer of fine dust on your feet.
If I cannot become the dust of your feet,
then be merciful and do with me as you please,
this is Prataparudra’s prayer.

Did Chaitanya cause Orissa’s political decline?

The Madala-panji says that he was succeeded by his son Kalua Deva, who rule for only one year, five months and three days. The young king was then assassinated by Govinda Vidyadhara, whose name has already been mentioned above in connection with treachery during the war with Hussein Shah, and replaced by his brother Kakhadua Deva. This brother’s reign did not last a year before he too was assassinated by Govinda Vidyadhara, along with any other possible heirs.

After assassinating King Prataparudra’s two successors, Govinda Vidyadhara sat on the throne himself in 1542 and founded the Bhoi Dynasty, also assassinating any other possible successors soon after his accession.[16] His reign lasted only eight years and his dynasty was also short-lived. Mukunda Deva Harichandan (1560-1568) overthrew the Bhois, but went down in history as the last independent king of Orissa. He made many efforts to fight off the attacks of the Muslims from the north, but was ultimately unsuccessful. In 1568, the Karabani Sultans of Bengal incorporated Orissa into their kingdom.

Thus in a mere 28 years after the death of Prataparudra, Orissa’s days of glory came to an end, most traumatically symbolized by the burning of the proud symbol of Orissan independence, Lord Jagannath’s image, by Kala Pahar.

No doubt influenced by Gibbon’s theories about the role Christianity played in the downfall of the Roman empire,[17] some historians have attributed the decline of Orissa’s imperial glory to Prataparudra’s adherence to the ecstatic and otherworldly religion of Sri Chaitanya. The first to present this argument was R. N. Banerjee, who wrote as follows:

Chaitanya was one of the principal causes of the political decline of the empire and the people of Orissa. Not only that—the acceptance of Vaishnavism, or rather neo-Vaishnavism, was the real cause of the Mussulman conquest of Orissa twenty-eight years after the demise of Prataparudra. […] Neo-Vaishnavism became fashionable and powerful officers of Prataparudra like Ramananda Raya, the governor of Rajahmundry before its final loss and Gopinath Barajena, that of the Majyatha Dandapat or Midnapore, were the most notable converts after the king himself. […] The decline of the power and prestige of Orissa is solely due to the national adoption of the sublime Bhakti-marga of Chaitanya.[18]

The crux of Banerjee’s argument is that Mahaprabhu’s religion gave people a too-optimistic view of human nature and made them reluctant to engage in the kind of military activity that was needed to maintain social discipline and a strong defence against invading armies.

The religious equality and love preached by Chaitanya brought in its train a false faith in men and thereby destroyed the structure of society and government in Bengal and Orissa, because in reality, no two men are born equal and government depends upon brute force, specially in a country like India in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A wave of religious fervor passed over the country and during this reformation, Orissa not only lost her empire, but also her political prestige.”[19]

More recently, the historian K. C. Panigrahi makes a similar argument. Though he absolves Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself, he argues that the culture of religion based on Radha and Krishna’s loving affairs as expressed in the Gita-govinda sapped the Orissan nation’s moral strength. He overtly calls Jayadeva’s masterpiece a Sahajiya text and places the blame for the disintegration of the Orissan empire on it.

The diversification of religious interest, the falsification of the Jagannath cult, and the general degradation of the moral conduct of the people were, more than other causes, responsible for the fall of Orissa. The fall was so great that her people have not recovered from it till now.[20]

Like Banerjee, Panigrahi feels that the type of religion that became popular throughout Orissan society during the reign of King Prataparudra undermined the disciplined Kshatriya culture that was at the root of Orissan greatness.

The entire population participated in the military system built up by the successive Orissan kings. During the reign of Kapilendra Deva, this militarization reached its peak, and was based on a stern discipline, an unquestioning obedience to the king and above all, on the single-minded devotion to Lord Jagannath, who was conceived to be the only source of all powers and inspiration. The slackness in discipline and the diversification of religious interest which slackened the single-minded devotion to Lord Jagannath started in the reign of Parataparudra Deva and these factors undermined the military character of the Oriyas who sank into obscurity after the loss of their independence in AD 1568.[21]

Sundarananda writes forcefully in response to these arguments, and what follows is a paraphrase of his response:

Nowadays, we measure our personal, community or national progress or decline purely in materialistic terms. This all-pervading materialism has introduced so many disease-carrying microbes into the body of human society, including the so-called educated circles. State nationalism is a symptom of this disease. If human society still cannot understand this after the experiences of the last century, then it is surely doomed to destruction. Do the last two world wars not give us sufficient warning about where this kind of so-called progress leads society and the nation?

Materialism is not fundamental to India, nor indeed is it inherent in any conscious entity. It is a foreign import that is an attack on our natural character that is leading to our destruction. India’s backbone is its spirituality; once that has been broken, everything else will go to ruin or be destroyed. Under the influence of foreign ideas, we take what is truly beneficial to be harmful. Thus we mistakenly think the culture of spiritual life—the development of our affinity for service to God – to be the cause of both our individual and collective downfall. In other words, we mistake our search for the means to survival to be a cause of death. In fact, the real cause of our personal, communal or social downfall comes from the absence of interest in cultivating awareness of the Supreme Truth, and that alone.

Those who say that Lord Chaitanya damaged anyone’s attempts at personal fulfillment, or that he caused a particular nation’s ruin are themselves in the mouth of the beast of their own ruin. Illuminated by the blessings of Lord Chaitanya, the Bengali king Hussein Shah’s ministers Dabir Khas and Sakar Mallik gave up their high political posts, Ramananda Raya resigned his position as governor, and Raghunath Das abandoned wealth like that of Indra and a wife as beautiful as a goddess. If Maharaj Prataparudra became indifferent to military conquest, then it is more likely that his action resulted in genuine benefits to his subjects rather than the opposite. Today’s researchers and those of the future would do well to look into the ways that his rule led to social advances.

In their lust for power, worldly leaders are ready to pay illegal bribes, sacrifice the lives of others, or even go to prison to gain a name for themselves. They make numerous sacrifices at the altar of personal and collective power. Srila Sanatan Goswami’s ultimate goal was the liberation of all living beings from the beginningless source of their bondage. This was the example he set when he accepted imprisonment and paid a bribe of 7,000 pieces of gold in order to get out of his entanglement in Hussein Shah’s government. His indifference to worldly power was a source of amazement even to the Shah.

The worldly possessions, worldly independence, material sense gratification, and variegated consumer choice of western countries are now seen by the people of India as the ideal to follow. But are we incapable of clearly seeing the nefarious consequences of their nationalism and so-called independence? Our modern civilization and prosperity seem to lead either to constant state of alert as we ready to fight another world war or making non-proliferation treaties or hoping in some other way to make an imaginary peace. It is impossible to calculate the value of one human being’s life, and yet modern civilization seems intent on finding ways of destroying hundreds and thousands of such priceless lives in a single explosion. This kind of civilization, this kind of politics, this kind of science, and this kind of economics and society both directly and indirectly teach us that our modern civilization is turning us all into a kind of sophisticated savage. Does such civilization not result in complete ruin?

Mahaprabhu taught a doctrine of genuine non-violence. After coming into contact with Mahaprabhu, Prataparudra refused to continue ruling his country in a destructive, violent manner. He surrendered his kingdom to Lord Chaitanya as a way of serving him, and by so doing, contributed to the genuine advancement of his people, his society and nation. The fact is that even today, the path shown by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his followers is the way to true auspiciousness, not only for Orissa, but for the entire world. All of Orissa’s civilization, education, culture, literature, arts, and sciences took a considerable leap forward as a result of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s influence. By casting aside the supreme truth or spiritual goal of life, no society or people can expect to attain true values.

The religious art and architecture of Orissa, such as the Lingaraj and Ananta Vasudeva temples in Bhubaneswar, the Jagannath temple in Puri and the Surya temple in Konark have impressed scholars from around the world. Raya Ramananda, Govinda Deva and other poets enriched Orissa’s cultural heritage with works inspired by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Impartial historians admit that even Jagannath Das, the Atibori whose poetic skill so inspired the people of Orissa, was in one way or another inspired by his contacts with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his associates. Madhavi Devi, [22] Ganga Mata and other women devotees showed the path of auspiciousness to all the people of the world. The intelligent observer can also see how the moral life of Orissa was purified by the influence of Chaitanya and his devotees. There is no room for narrow provincialism or nationalism in the liberated domain of spiritual truth.

The fact of the matter is that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s blessings, the teachings that elucidate the highest realms of spiritual realization, have spread throughout the world from Orissa. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu revealed this hidden storehouse of the ultimate, supreme wealth, one that is still unknown to the world’s most civilized and advanced peoples.

Consider the following: If Maharaj Prataparudra had not taken shelter of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, or if Mahaprabhu had not come to Orissa or had not even appeared in the world, would its history have been any different, either before or after? Take the example of Krishna Deva Ray, the king of Vijaynagar who defeated Prataparudra in the south. Does his “golden empire” still stand? his kingdom was swallowed up during the reign of his successors Achyuta Raya and Rama Raja. During the battle of Talikot (1565 AD), the Muslims defeated the Hindus, killed Rama Raja, and destroyed the city of Vijaynagar. The Muslims leveled its proud marble buildings and palaces and the hopes for a Hindu empire and Hindu prominence foundered—sic transit gloria mundi.

yadu-pateH kva gatA mathurA purI
raghu-pateH kva gatottara-kozalA
iti vicintya kuruSva manaH sthiraM
na sad idaM jagad ity avadhAraya

Just ask yourself, “Where has the Mathura of the Lord of the Yadus gone? And where is the Uttara Koshala of Ramachandra?” Your mind will become steady when you are reminded that the world is impermanent.

Great emperors like Prithu and Ambarish took shelter of the spiritual teachings of the Sanatan Dharma. Under the shelter of these teachings, the artistic masterpieces that adorn the temples of South India were produced. Under these teachings, great literary masterpieces like the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Srimad Bhagavatam came into being. And later, with the appearance of Mahaprabhu, inspired by these same spiritual teachings, the entire corpus of Gaudiya Vaishnava literature was written, bringing into being an immense goldmine of material from which both the rasa-çästra and popular songs could draw. If anyone says that this spiritual tradition could be the source of a society’s ruination, then he himself is no doubt a spiritual ruin himself. Nevertheless, we will admit that if one takes things meant for the enjoyment of the supreme to use as fuel for his own sense pleasure, it certainly can lead to his destruction.

Modern-day civilization, education, culture and so-called advancement or uplift, from the individual to the collectivity, dress the nation up as the supreme enjoyer, like a stool-eating crow dressed in the plumes of a peacock, and transforms it into an army for ever-new expeditions that lead to disaster. They provide it with fuel for its lusts, feeds it the bait of greed, and ultimately sacrifices its people into the fire of sense gratification. Is this kind of human sacrifice the religion of progress and civilization?

We have become incapable of assessing the truth because our heads have been filled with the notion that any religious path is as good as another. This, however, is a flawed concept of religion. People who follow the true concept of religious life are not spiteful toward humanity, but they do not approve of humanity’s disinterest in true spiritual life. If science produces dynamite that can be used to explode mountains that interfere with performing service to the Lord or preaching his message, then a genuine servant of the Lord has no difficulty in accepting it. If science produces an airplane that provides an opportunity to preach rather than serving as a way of killing thousands of people by dropping atom bombs, it helps them to achieve immortality; it helps the eternally unhappy jivas to become happy. Only the Bhagavata Dharma is capable of turning this untrammeled materialistic advancement and turning it toward the Lord, and as a consequence, to create auspiciousness for ever living being.

Some wise Orissans have observed that if King Prataparudra and his minister Ramananda Raya had not taken shelter of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and brought spiritual strength to the people of Orissa, they would not have been able to spiritually resist the powerful Muslim kings in the age of conflict that followed their disappearance. The outcome would have been the conversion of the entire people to Islam and the ultimate inclusion of Orissa in Pakistan at the time of India’s division in 1947. Broad-minded historians believe that by preaching Lord Chaitanya’s message, Prataparudra and Ramananda Raya both directly and indirectly created great benefits for the Orissan people. In other words, they protected the Orissan people from the reckless fanaticism and wholesale oppression of the enemies of the cows and the Vedas. Thus, the misdeeds of Kala Pahar and other fanatics of his ilk were able to conquer the land and destroy many temples, but were never able to implant their violent religion in the populace, despite all their concerted efforts.

One historian has argued point by point against R. D. Banerjee’s proposition in the following way:

The real cause of the fall of the empire was not the acceptance of neo-Vaishnavism, but the weakness of [Prataparudra’s] successors. It is a law of nature that no family can produce an uninterrupted line of geniuses. The tottering empire, surrounded by powerful foes, was like the “bow of Ulysses” which only a strong man could handle.

Prataparudra died in 1540 AD and within twenty-eight years no less than seven kings belonging to three different dynasties occupied the throne. Taking advantage of the weakness of the centripetal force, the Samanta chiefs, specially the Bhanjas, grew turbulent. Thus, in a country where the administration is autocratic, the succession of ill-conditioned kinglings spelled disaster.

Assassination, rebellion and the struggle for power brought about internal anarchy. Govinda Vidyadhara Bhoi murdered the sons of his master. His grandson Narasingha Jena had to atone for his sin: Mukunda Harichandan, the commander-in-chief, murdered him to pave his own way to the throne.[23]

Along with these traitors, there were others who were ready to sell out their mother country. Govinda Vidyadhara’s nephew Raghu Bhanja Chotaraya twice invaded Orissa with the help of Muhammad Khan Sur. Ramachandra Bhanja, the commander of Sarangarh, betrayed the case of Mukunda Deva at the darkest hour of the country’s history.

It is difficult to link this sickening tale of moral turpitude with the Chaitanya movement, which taught mankind to be faithful and honest. Similarly, centuries ago, senility crept into the spirit of the inhabitants of Nabadwip, long before Chaitanya was born there. The story of Bengal’s submission to Ikhtiyar-ud-din Khalji is a disgraceful one; and devotion to a religious movement serves as no more of an extenuating cause in that case.

Thus, Vaishnavism or no Vaishnavism, the succession of weaklings, the moral degeneration of high officials of the state and the decline in the military strength of the nation, would have brought about downfall, sooner or later. At this fateful hour of stupor appeared Kala Pahar, the Black Ogre, as the messenger of Nemesis. The treachery of the titled blackguards made any effective resistance impossible and Kala Pahar encountered no stiff opposition in his task of the conquest of Orissa.[24]

Those who are completely materialistic swallow everything that is fed them by empirical historians and researchers. Even the Orissan government has disseminated historical misinformation of this type in the past. Their basic message is that “whenever and wherever religion has had an influence on political life, it has spelt ruin for the country in question.”[25] When the above statement was made in an Orissan government publication, it caused a furor amongst straight-thinking people. Those who have experience in these matters can testify that wherever and whenever atheism and a purely this-worldly view of life has had an influence on a country’s political life, it has brought about its total ruin. This is a fact and will continue to be demonstrated in the future. This is the clear lesson of history. Cowardly fanaticism and the religion of devotion, the function of the Lord’s internal potency, stand in complete opposition to one another.

NOTES
[15] Pradeep Kumar Gan, “Jagannath Temples in Mayurbhanj District,” Orissa Review, July 2005, p.71.
[16] Cf. Gopinath Mohapatra, Jagannath in the history and Religious Traditions of Orissa. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1982, pp. 84-86.
[17] Sometimes called the first modern historian for his famous work on The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1789), Edward Gibbon was an influential apologist for what was then the nascent British empire, and therefore something of an imperial theorist. Imperial power was seen as a masculine trait, and those qualities that weakened this admirable masculinity as effeminate. The countries that were conquered by the Romans, and by extension, the British, were deservedly conquered because of their feebleness and effeminacy. This idea, which no doubt finds some form or another in all relationships between conquerers and the conquered, came into the Indian consciousness as well, and the characteristics attributed to effeminacy—sloth, luxuriousness, weakness, vice, etc., attributed to the Hindu personality. Gibbon held Christianity in contempt, in keeping with the general enlightenment critique. He equated it with superstition and suitable only to the ignorant masses. He was especially critical of monasticism, because of its otherworldiness, which so often led to hypocrisy, obsession with sexuality, and the accumulation of wealth. But even Christianity’s virtues—humility, pacifism, etc.—were seen as passive and effeminate. These critiques only became stronger in the 19th century, perhaps reaching their apogee in Marx and Nietzsche.
[18] R. D. Banerjee. History of Orissa. Vol. I. Calcutta: University of Calcutta Press, 1930. 330-1, 336.
[19] Ibid.
[20] history of Orissa (Hindu Period). Cuttack: Kitab Mahal, 1981. Page 262
[21] Ibid.
[22] Sikhi Mahiti’s sister Madhavi Devi wrote books in Sanskrit and many devotional songs in her native Orissan language. Ganga Mata was a member of the Puntiya royal family, but established a math on the banks of the Sveta Ganga where she preached the Srimad Bhagavatam.
[23] “The Harichandan brothers entered into the palace of the king in palanquins in the guise of women and killed the king with a dagger. Thus his rule ended after only one year (1558).” K. C. Panigrahi. op. cit., page 240.
[24] Prabhat Mukherjee. The history of medieval Vaishnavism in Orissa. Calcutta, 1940. 177-8.
[25] Nava Kalevara Smaraëé o Uåiñyä-pariciti. Orissa Government Public Relations Department, 1950. 27.

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