Last time I was in Vrindavan I picked up a book called Nāgarī dāsa kī vāṇī (ed. Vrajavallabha Sharan, Vrindavan: Sri Sarvesvara Press, 1966). Nagari Das was a Nimbarki virakta who lived in the mid-18th century (b. 1699, d. 1765).
Some of you may have read my article on Prabodhananda Saraswati. What really struck me about the research I did for that article is the extent to which sectarian feeling dominated the Vaishnava world and how historical accounts differ, preserving the extensive prejudices and resentments that exist in one or the other factions. Not that these may not have foundation.
For instance, for all of my appreciation of the Radha-vallabhi tradition, I take it that the evidence points to the kind of ingratitude and inability to acknowledge the human avenues of divine mercy I wrote about in a previous post. The Radhavallabhi tradition says that Harivamsa wrote the Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi when he was five years old. Do I have any takers for that one? They say he got mantra from Srimati Radharani directly when he was seven. And so on.
I don't want to go into that any further here. I did want to say that unless and until we have an awareness and openmindedness about history, our own Gaudiya history included, and are ready to face prejudices and so on that exist on our own side of various conflicts, there is a kind of insufficiency in our own spiritual maturity that will hold us back from advancing. It is the problem of transcending designations, even while being dependent on them for progress.
Nagari Das turns out to be an interesting character and there are many things in the introduction to this book, which discusses his life, that though not mentioning Gaudiya Vaishnavism, do in fact have an indirect bearing on GV, and contains many things that are worthwhile knowing.
Nagari Das is the Vaishnava name of Raja Sawanta Singh of Kishangarh (Ajmer, Rajasthan). This kingdom was closely related to those in Ajmer and Jaipur, etc. The kings of Kishangarh were supporters of the Nimbarka sampradaya and were connected to the nearby Salemabad seat (Nimbarka Pith) of the Nimbarka sampradaya. This seat was founded by Parashuram, one of Hari Vyasa's 12 principal disciples and is accepted as being the most important site for Nimbarkis outside of Vrindavan.
I am not going to say anything about Sawant Singh's involvement in Gaudiya affairs, I don't get much information in this book, but he is definitely the same fellow who is mentioned in the Bengali Bhakta-mala as participating in judgments involving certain thorny disputes amongst or within sampradayas. Shrivatsa Goswami knows a lot about these Rajasthani kings and even had a book published on the subject at the IGNCA. So it would probably be worth checking that out.
It seems that Sawanta Singh also got involved in his own sampradaya's politics around 1741 when the Salemabad gaddi was about to be vacated with the approaching demise of Vrindavan Devacharya. Though many disciples were qualified, one individual, Jairam Sesh, was favored by the Jaipur king, Jai Singh, as well as by the princely rulers of Udaipur, Kota, Karauli, Shyopur and Barauda, etc. Maharaja Jai Singh had come to the conclusion that all renounced sadhus and acharyas everywhere should become householders. [I assume he had good reason, but nothing here is mentioned.] Sesh had been a householder before taking vairagya and this is why the king favored him. On the other hand, the Vaishnavas and general populace did not agree with these ideas and held fast to the rule that only lifelong celibates should sit on the gaddi.
When Vrindavan Devacharya died, the plans of the kings came to nought when the sants and vairagis' candidate, Govinda Devacharya, was place at the head of the math. However, there was a schism as Jai Singh gave Seshji shelter and put him in charge of all Nimbarki ashrams and temples in his jurisdiction. Many of the other kings, including Sawant Singh's father Raja Singh in Kishangarh did the same.
Bad feeling between the Salemabad pith and the royal families grew and other Vaishnava sampradayas tried to take advantage to fill the void. However, good sense returned to the king of Jaipur and subsequently to the kings of Kishangarh and Rupanagar. They went to Govinda Devacharya and asked his forgiveness. All, that is, except for Sawant Singh's younger brother Bahadur Singh.
Bahadur Singh even gathered an army and tried to take Rupanagar, and an army of 500 Vaishnava nagas was sent to counter him. Somewhere during this time, Bahadur Singh broke with the family tradition and took initiation from the Vallabha Goswamis. So vehement was he in his rejection of the Nimbarkis that he insisted everyone in the court follow his example. Instead of the Nimbarki tilak, they had to wear the Ballabhi vermilion colors. The story is told that one courtier, Mahonota Hathasingh, came in the next day with his gopi chandan urdhva-pundra and was immediately taken to task by the king. Mahonota’s response was to uncover his belly and point to the red tilak on it, saying, "Your Highness, I have given my head to my guru. But since you own my belly, I have put the Vallabhi tilak on it."
Jai Singh died in 1745, which helped to calm the Salemabad controversy. The king of Jodhpur intervened with Sawant Singh and encouraged him to appease Bahadur Singh by giving him 13 villages. This calmed things between the two brothers for a time. Sawant Singh went to live in Delhi with the Mughal emperor, Mohammad Shah, but he died in 1748, followed two days later by the death of Raja Singh. Sawant Singh was made king, even though he was still in Delhi.
Bahadur Singh took the opportunity to make a play for the kingdom and in 1749 attacked both Rupanagar and Kishangarh. Sawant Singh came with a force to meet him, but decided that it would be improper to incur the loss of any life to pay for this worldly struggle and turned to Vrindavan. He went to Govardhan and did a parikrama with his entire retinue, accompanied by the beating of drums and blowing of bugles. He came to Radha Kund where he camped at Srinivas's baithak and enjoyed kirtan (Srinivas was a direct disciple of Nimbarka who wrote an expanded commentary on the Vedanta).
There is a verse that Nagari Das wrote when he arrived in Vrindavan. When the Vaishnavas heard that Sawant Singh Raja had come, nobody came to see him. When it was announced that Nagari Das had come, then everyone flocked to see him.
On hearing my worldly name, everyone stayed away, indifferent. But when they heard the name Nagari Das, they came running to meet me and fill their eyes.
Mughal rule in India was weakening at this time and the Marathas were on the rise. Sawant Singh decided to ally himself with them. But he was told by one saint Haridasji to retire from royal duties and live in Braj, so he decided to follow this advice and sent the reinforcements taken from the Marathas to his other brother Sardar Singh. Sardar Singh immediately attacked Kishangarh and a vicious battle took place in which many men were killed. Bahadur Singh came to his senses and pleaded for a truce. The kingdom was split and Bahadur Singh took Kishnagarh, while Sardar Singh took Rupanagar on behalf of his older brother. This was now 1757.
In order that peace be maintained between the brothers, Sawant Singh and Bahadur Singh went to Salemabad to receive Govinda Devacharya's blessings. With that, Nagari Das returned to Vrindavan and became a complete tyagi and engaged in bhajan until he died in 1765.
Now, what makes this interesting is that after his death, a controversy arose about whether Nagari Das was a Nimbarki or a Vallabhi saint. Several publications, including the Krishna Bhakti Kavya Mem Sakhi Bhava book that I have refered to from time to time, have taken the position that despite his "his poetry bears the imprint of the Haridasi and Radhavallabhi sects, even though he was initiated in the Vallabha sect." (688)
Vrajavallabh Sharanji argues against this mistaken idea, and indeed the above account shows that it was most unlikely. What is quite shocking is that there seems to have been a systematic attempt to erase all references to Nimbarki gurus, etc., from Nagari Das’s writings and wherever possible to interpolate others to Vallabhi saints and gosais. I will not present all the arguments, which are based as much on historical records from the royal houses as on manuscripts that have not been so altered. Furthermore, Sawant Singh was also an artist and he drew portraits of many of the Salemabad acharya and other Vaishnavas. [He is know for his patronage of these arts as well.]
Vrajavallabha Sharan dryly suggests that the family feud was not all that peaceful and that Bahadur Singh still bore a grudge against his older brother and the Nimbarka sect, which took this [rather childish] form.
Some things that Vrajavallabhaji points out that are of interest are that Nagari Das was a strong believer in the Chari Sampradaya idea. In one work, Bhakti-maga-dipika, he translates the famous verse, sampradaya-vihina ye, into Brijbhasha.
That is pretty clear, I think. What is interesting is that these lines were cut out of the Vallabhi revision of the text and replaced by a single couplet:
Instead of saying that one should take initiation in any one of the four sampradayas, it says that one should take initiation in a "prasiddha" sampradaya and not follow any "invented" doctrines. Vrajavallabha Sharanji points out here that the Vallabha sampradaya only grudgingly accepted affiliation with the Vishnuswami sampradaya, and in fact many people still (as with the Gaudiyas and Madhva) do not recognize this connection at all.
That is not very hard to understand if you look at this quote from Vallabhacharya's own Bhagavata commentary:
Three kinds of bhakti-yoga have been spoken of here, namely that in the modes of ignorance, passion and goodness. These are represented nowadays respectively by the followers of Vishnuswami, the Tattvavadis, and the Ramanuja sampradaya. The doctrine we are setting forth, however, is beyond the modes of material nature. (Subodhini to 3.29.37)
This quote reveals two principal facts. One is that Vallabha did not identify himself as a follower of Vishnuswami. Nor, did he even recognize the existence of four sampradayas. Furthermore, he did not know or give any importance to Nimbarka. I cannot think of a quote that is more likely to scupper any attempt to argue that the four sampradaya idea existed at the time of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his contemporary Vallabhacharya.
Another interesting little tidbit I picked up is that the Nimbarki tilak is based on the idea that the two lines represent a Hari mandir. The black dot symbolizes Sarveshwar Hari. The Vallabhi interpretation of the tilak is that the two lines represent Shiva and Brahma and the empty space between (akasha) is Vishnu. If I am not mistaken, both these interpretations can be found in the Hari-bhakti-vilasa.
It is interesting to note that this sectarian feud, the origins of what are not really known at all (Why were the kings insisting that only householders should be gurus?) and which led to loss of life (though surely Bahadur Singh's motives could not have been entirely motivated by moral outrage or sectarian piety), shows that Hindus and Vaishnavas have some blemishes of this kind on their history, too.
Nagari Das wrote the following song:
Tentative translation. [My Brajabhasha still not all that good.]: We are unable to understand shastra. We don't understand, we still don't understand. One who does understand can explain it simply. The four acharyas are the knowers of the supreme dharma and we follow their doctrines. [Something about being in stream of the Nimbarka sampradaya, which is also said to be descended from Hamsa avatar.] We drink the rasa of Braja nectarean pastimes and don't waste our time in arguments about doctrines. Nagari Das lives in Vrindavan and never gives up singing of the Nitya Vihara.
Vrindavan Devacharya Maharaja giving sangita lessons to Sawant Singh (Nagari Das), and two disciples, Virajananda and Ghanananda.