Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sri Chaitanya’s Sikshastakam: Comparing the original with two translations.

This article was published in Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Details not available. It was also on Gaudiya Discussions, but I did not have a copy on the blog. So here it is for the record. I have just recorded myself singing the Śikṣāṣṭakam and you can see it on YouTube. I have embedded the video at the end of this document. This article is fairly long for a blog, but I have not split it up. Notes are at the end, but there are no internal links. 

No short account of Krishna Chaitanya’s life fails to note something like, “Chaitanya only left eight verses by which we can know his belief system.” But the authorship of even these verses has been cast into some doubt by scholars on the basis of statements by Karnapur and others, who declare unequivocally that Chaitanya wrote nothing at all.(1) Over time, a number of a number of works have been attributed to Chaitanya, but few of these claims are credible.(2) Even the most consistently attributed text, the Radha-prema-rasāyana-stotram,(3) has not been accepted as Chaitanya’s own writing by the tradition.(4) In any case, a perusal of the works in question, where they are available, shows little of interest that would strike the hearts of the devotees as the work of the Supreme Lord himself.(5)

On the other hand, the verses known to us as the Śikṣāṣṭakam (“eight verses of teaching”) have had a resilience that has not only endured, but continues to grow, with several new commentaries, primarily in Bengali, being published in recent decades. The power of these eight verses is in great part attributable to the genius of Krishna Das Kaviraj, the author of Chaitanya’s most influential biography, Caitanya-caritāmṛta. Certainly Chaitanya himself never wrote these verses as a single coherent work, for they are found scattered throughout Rupa Goswami’s collection of verses, Padyāvalī, where they are subsumed under various different categories(6) and are not singled out for particular attention, praise or veneration.(7)

Even in the form and sequence given to them by Krishna Das Kaviraj, they do not immediately convey a single coherent theme. Unlike most hymns of the aṣṭaka genre, they are not composed in the same metre, nor do they have a refrain repeated in the fourth strophe of each verse, nor is the work concluded with a ninth verse containing a śruti-phala. Nevertheless, in the context of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, they take on a cohesiveness that teaches, at the very least, the importance of having good editor. Krishna Das Kaviraj, in fact, shows decided brilliance in making this selection of eight verses the centerpiece of the concluding chapter of his hagiography, arraying them in a manner that summarizes both the essential teachings as well as the spiritual career of the avatar. Thus the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition can be summarized in the statement of Manindranath Guha, who argues that the reason he wrote nothing other than these eight verses was that he had no need to: they above all and in a nutshell perfectly summarize his entire teachings, identified as nāma-prema—the holy name and love of Krishna.(8)

Krishna Das, to whom we have credited the arrangement of the eight verses as well as their naming as Śikṣāṣṭakam, presents them in the context of his description of Caitanya’s progressive ecstasies, which show a deepening absorption in devotional trance colored by an ever-increasing anxiety of separation in love from Krishna. Krishna Das’s language is heavily influenced by Rupa Goswami’s analysis of emotions in accordance with the terminology of Sanskrit dramatics. Thus his opening verse contextualizes the eight verses as ecstatic utterances:

lapitaṁ gauracandrasya
bhāgyavadbhir niṣevyate
The words that Gauracandra gushed in a mixture of emotions born of love—enthusiasm, jealousy, anxiety, humility and pain—are served by those who are most fortunate.(9)
The word niṣevyate, “served,” means listened to again and again with veneration. So that the point is not lost on the reader, Krishna Das repeats the point twice in the next several verses and then again introduces each individual verse with the particular emotion or mixture of emotions that gave birth to it. In this way, he both reminds us of the guiding principle that determines Chaitanya’s status as an incarnation—his devotional ecstasies—and uses these to validate the only utterances that he left his followers as “the word of God.”

Amazingly, the first real commentary on the Śikṣāṣṭakam appears to have been the 19th century revivalist Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s Bhajana-rahasya (1903). Bhaktivinoda’s engagement with the eight verses began with his translations of the as Bengali songs in Gītāvalī (1893), but in Bhajana-rahasya he uses the eight verses as a heuristic guide to Chaitanyaite theology by combining them with two other celebrated “eights” in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, namely the eight times of day in which Krishna’s pastimes take place and which form the central guiding principle of nāma-bhajana within the tradition, and the nine levels of progressive advancement in devotional life, which are adjusted somewhat to fit his eight-step schema.(10) Manindranath Guha, in his much later but learned discourse on the eight verses, also follows the expanded fourteen-level analysis given by Vishwanath Chakravarti in his commentary to Bhāgavata-purāṇa 1.2.21.(11) Though this may not have been Krishna Das’s exact intention, there is certainly a hierarchical progression in the eight verses that provides it with an enduring dynamism and possibilities for continued exegesis, the task of which is to find the essence of all Gaudiya Vaishnava teachings in them.

Though it would be interesting to provide a detailed comparative analysis of the various commentaries made on the Śikṣāṣṭakam (including Radha Govinda Nath’s elaborate explanation in his Caitanya-caritāmṛta), we will simply give English renderings of the original verses and the Bengali translations of Krishna Das and Bhaktivinoda.



The cleansing of the mirror of the mind

The first verse is prefaced by Krishna Das’s reminder of the “external reason” for Chaitanya’s descent: to teach the religious practice for this age, which is the loud glorification of Krishna’s name. In this spirit he cites the all-important verse from the Bhāgavata-purāṇa, Chaitanya’s followers’ pramāṇa-śiromaṇi, or most authoritative text, that is given as evidence of this. (12) The chanting of the holy name is specified as a yajña or sacrificial performance. The ruling emotion is harṣa, or elation.

ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanaṁ bhava-mahā-dāvāgni-nirvāpaṇaṁ
śreyaḥ-kairava-candrikā-vitaraṇaṁ vidyā-vadhū-jīvanam
ānandāmbudhi-vardhanaṁ prati-padaṁ pūrṇāmṛtāsvādanaṁ
sarvātma-snapanaṁ paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam
All glories to Sri Krishna sankirtan!
It cleans the mirror of the mind;
It extinguishes the blazing conflagration of material life;
It spreads the moon rays that make
the white lotus of auspiciousness bloom;
It is the life of spiritual knowledge; (13)
It increases the ocean of divine ecstasy
and at every moment gives a full taste of ambrosia,
bathing the entire soul. (14) (CC 3.20.12)

Krishna Das Kaviraj’s translation :

saṅkīrtana haite pāpa saṁsāra nāśana
citta śuddhi sarva-bhakti-sādhana udgama
kṛṣṇa-premodgama premāmṛta āsvādana
kṛṣṇa-prāpti sevāmṛta samudre majjana
From sankirtan comes the destruction of sin and material entanglement, the purification of the mind and heart, the arising of all the other practices of devotional life. It then leads to the awakening of love for Krishna, the relishing of the flavors of that love, and then to the attainment of Krishna, where one plunges into the nectarean ocean of service to the Lord. (CC 3.20.13-14) (15)

Bhaktivinoda’s Gītāvalī:



The power of the holy name

Krishna Das introduces the second verse with Chaitanya’s mood, which has now turned to viṣāda (remorse) and dainya (feelings of inadequacy). Having explained the powers of Krishna’s name in the first verse, an answer is given to the question about ritual restrictions of purity and so on. The answer is given that it is not restricted like other practices. Nevertheless, in spite of this, one’s fallen nature prevents one from taking it up. (16)

nāmnām akāri bahudhā nija-sarva-śaktis
tatrārpitā niyamitaḥ smaraṇe na kālaḥ
etādṛśī tava kṛpā bhagavan mamāpi
durdaivam īdṛśam ihājani nānurāgaḥ
You have expanded your names into so many forms
And in them, you have invested all your personal potencies;
no rules have been made about when one can remember them.
Such, O Lord, is the greatness of your mercy,
and yet my misfortune is such
that I have developed no attraction for them.
Krishna Das Kaviraj’s translation —

aneka lokera vāṣchā aneka prakāra
kṛpāte karila aneka nāmera pracāra
khāite śuite yathā tathā nāma laya
deśa-kāla niyama nāhi, sarva siddhi haya
There are so many different people with such a variety of different desires. So in your compassion, you have made known that you have so many different names.

One can chant your name in any condition at all, whether eating or lying down. There are no rules governing the time and place for chanting; one can attain all perfections in any case. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.20.18)
Bhaktivinoda Thakur:

You are the ocean of compassion, and in order to deliver the living beings, you have appeared to teach them your innumerable names.

In each of these names you have placed all your potencies and yet placed no restrictions as to where or when they can be chanted.

The holy name is the most valuable gem. It is not different from you and yet out of your great mercy, you distribute it freely throughout the world.

How great is your charity! How great your compassion! And yet how great my misfortune, how pitiable am I!

O Lord, no taste for chanting these Names has arisen within me. Thus Bhaktivinoda says: “My heart is full of distress.” (17)


Who is qualified to chant?

The question of qualification is a great concern in all Sanskrit philosophical texts. Normally, the adhikāra for devotion is very broad—nṛ-mātrasyādhikāritā (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.60), though faith (śraddhā) is generally given as the minimum requirement for devotional activity (ibid. 1.2.14-19). Here and in the next verse, however, faith is being assumed and certain ethical or behavioral norms are stipulated. This verse in particular is social, while the next concentrates on personal morality. This verse in particular is probably the most frequently quoted of the eight verses in the Vaishnava literature. Certainly Krishna Das gives it special mention in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, telling all devotees to “string this verse on the thread of the holy name and wear it around your neck.” (1.17.32)


tṛṇād api sunīcena
taror iva sahiṣṇunā
amāninā mānadena
kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ
One who is lower than even the grass,
who is as tolerant as the tree,
who has no desire for personal honor
but is ready to give honor to all others,
can sing the glories of the Lord constantly. (18)
Krishna Das Kaviraj’s translation —

je rūpe laile nāma prema upajaya
tāhāra lakṣaṇa śuna svarūpa rāma-rāya
uttama hañā āpanāke māne tṛṇādhama
dui-prakāre sahiṣṇutā kare vṛkṣa-sama
vṛkṣa yena kāṭileha kichu nā bolaya
śukāñā maileha kāre pānī nā māgaya
jei je māgaye tāre deya āpana-dhana
gharma-vṛṣṭi sahe ānera karaye rakṣaṇa
uttama hañā vaiṣṇava habe nirabhimāna
jīve sammāna dibe jāni kṛṣṇa-adhiṣṭhāna
O Svarūpa and Rāmānanda, listen to the way you must chant the holy name so that love for Krishna awakens. Even though you may be the best of human beings, you should still think of yourself as lower than the grass. You should engage in two kinds of tolerance, following the example of the tree. A tree does not protest, even when it is being cut, and it asks no one for water, even if it is drying up and dying of thirst. The tree also gives all its riches to whoever asks for them and through rain and heat provides shelter to whoever takes it. A Vaishnava may be the greatest person, but he is without pride. He respects all living creatures, knowing them to be the abodes of Lord Krishna. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.20.20, 22-24)
Bhaktivinoda Thakur:

If you desire to engage in chanting Krishna’s names and glories, then do everything you can to gain the qualifications necessary to do so.

Give up false ego and think of yourself as very lowly and wretched, more insignificant than grass.

Practise the virtue of tolerance by emulating the trees. Give up revenge and look after other creatures.

Do not give distress to any other being in order to maintain your body; forget your own selfish concerns by serving others.

Even if you possess all good qualities, do not try to profit from it by looking for prestige. Keep your heart simple.

Know that all living beings carry Krishna in their heart and so you should offer them respect in all circumstances.

Cultivate the four qualities of humility, compassion, respect for others and indifference to worldly honors, and chant the holy name.

Bhaktivinoda cries out the following plea at the Lord’s lotus feet: “When, O when will you make me qualified to chant your holy name?”



The only desire of the pure devotee

This verse contains a key word used to define bhakti in the Bhāgavata-purāṇa, ahaitukī – “without any motivation.” True love seeks the pleasure of the other. A devotee seeks nothing but devotion that has no ulterior motive. Here again, Krishna Das states that dainya is Chaitanya’s principal emotion while speaking this verse. Indeed, as humility has been stressed in the previous verse, Krishna Das reiterates, “Love for God is such that anyone who has the slightest connection to it feels that he is completely bereft of any devotion to the Lord.” (verse 28)

na dhanaṁ na janaṁ na sundarīṁ
kavitāṁ vā jagad-īśa kāmaye
mama janmani janmanīśvare
bhavatād bhaktir ahaitukī tvayi
I ask not for wealth, nor followers,
Nor beautiful women, nor for poetry or wisdom. (19)
All I ask, O Lord of the Universe,
is that I may have unmotivated devotion
to you, God, birth after birth. (20)
Krishna Das Kaviraj’s translation :

dhana jana nāhi māgoṁ kavitā sundarī
śuddha bhakti deha more kṛṣṇa kṛpā kori
I ask not for wealth or followers, nor beautiful poetry. O Krishna, be merciful and give me pure devotion only.
Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s couplets in Bhajana-rahasya: (21)

gṛha dravya śiṣya paśu dhānya ādi dhana
strī putra dāsa dāsī kuṭumbādi jana
kāvya alaṅkāra ādi sundarī kavitā
pārthiva-viṣaya madhye e saba bāratā
ei saba pāibāra āśā nāhi kari
śuddha-bhakti deha more kṛṣṇa kṛpā kari
Household affairs, possessions, disciples, farm animals, crops or whatever else one may call wealth; wife, sons, servants and relatives, and whomever else one calls one’s friends; well-written poetry or whatever else one calls beautiful literature—all these are nothing but material things. I want none of them, O Krishna! All I desire is that you mercifully give me pure devotional service.
Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s song in Gītāvalī:
O Lord! I make this submission at your lotus feet: I desire no bodily pleasure, great learning, wealth or followers. I ask not for heaven, nor for liberation; I ask not for mystic power. In whatever birth I obtain as a result of my good and bad deeds, all I ask is that I be able to glorify your name and attributes. This is my only hope and I pray to your lotus feet that such causeless blessings will awaken in my heart at all times.

May the kind of attraction I currently have for material sense pleasures be converted into an attraction for your service. In success or failure, wealth or poverty, may I remain steadfast and unchanged. May the power of the holy name always have an increasing hold on me. Bhaktivinoda prays; “Whether I take birth as a bird or a beast, or whether I am born in the heavenly worlds or the nether regions, may devotion to you always dwell in my heart.”


Praying to realize one’s spiritual identity

The bhakti path of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas is fundamentally conceived of as the culture of a particular identity, the minimum definition of which is “servant of Krishna.” This is seen as the “eternal constitutional position” of the individual soul, but one that nevertheless requires cultivation through practice or sadhana. In the Bhajana-rahasya, Bhaktivinoda elaborates on this verse as the sadhaka’s prayer for knowledge of this eternal spiritual identity in the way further elaborated in Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, namely that of a maidservant engaged in serving the divine couple, Radha and Krishna.

ayi nanda-tanuja kiṅkaraṁ
patitaṁ māṁ viṣame bhavāmbudhau
kṛpayā tava pāda-paṅkaja-
sthita-dhūli-sadṛśaṁ vicintaya
O Krishna, son of Nanda, I am your eternal servant,
but I have fallen into this dreadful ocean of material existence.
Please be merciful and think of me
as a speck of dust at your lotus feet.(22)

Krishna Das Kaviraj’s translation —

tava nitya-dāsa āmi tomā pāsariyā
paṛiyāchi bhavārṇave māyā-baddha hañā
kṛpā kari kara more pada-dhūli-sama
tomāra sevaka karoṅ tomāra sevana
I am your eternal servant, yet I have forgotten you and fallen into this ocean of material existence, bound by illusion. Please be merciful to me and make me a speck of dust at your feet so that I may be your servant and serve you forever. (CC 2.20.33-34)
Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s song from Gītāvalī:
As the fruit of beginningless entanglement in karma, I have fallen into the ocean of material existence. I see no means to escape from it.

My heart burns day and night from the poisonous effects of sense gratification; I thus find no peace of mind.

The bonds of desire are infinite and they give me constant trouble. Whatever actions I take are to no avail, for they simply produce more waves in that ocean.

The six enemies such as lust and greed are pirates that intimidate me. And if I think there is refuge on some shore, then knowledge and ritualistic religion are two thugs that beat me up and throw me back into the water. At such a time, Krishna, you are the only one who is powerful and compassionate enough to save me.

Bhaktivinoda prays, “O merciful one! I am your eternal servant, but somehow I have forgotten this and become bound in ropes of illusion. Take this fallen servant of yours and make him a speck of dust at your feet. Give me refuge there.”



The external signs of success in devotional practice.

This verse and the next one reflect the importance Gaudiya Vaishnavas give on ecstasies as a concrete and objective sign of spiritual success. Krishna Das once again only singles out dainya as the predominanting mood.

nayanaṁ galad-aśru-dhārayā
vadanaṁ gadgada-ruddhayā girā
pulakair nicitaṁ vapuḥ kadā,
tava nāma-grahaṇe bhaviṣyati
When will my eyes be filled with tears
my throat block with a faltering voice
and all the hairs on my body stand erect
as I chant your holy name? (23)

Krishna Das Kaviraj’s translation

prema-dhana vinā vyartha daridra jīvana
dāsa kari betana more deha prema-dhana
Without love for Krishna, my life is trivial and without meaning. Therefore I pray that you make me your servant and pay me in the coin of ecstatic love for you. (CC 3.20.37)

Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s song in Gītāvalī:
Due to offenses, my heart has become hard as a thunderbolt. Therefore no ecstatic transformations take place when I chant your name. I have become desperate, O Lord, and so again and again I call out your name as loud as I can.

O most merciful treasure house of compassion! Give me a few drops of feeling for you and save my life.

When will my eyes flood with torrents of tears as I utter your names? When will my throat block the words I try to pronounce, only allowing me to utter incomplete sounds?

When will my entire body be covered with goose bumps, and when will I perspire, tremble or become motionless? When will I lose color and even faint, remaining alive only by the grace of the holy name?

When will the day come when all these symptoms manifest? Bhaktivinoda cries out this prayer, losing all composure.



Prema is first experienced in separation

Continuing the theme of ecstasies begun in the previous verse, the element of separation is added as the principal trigger to such ecstasy. The awareness of the incredible gulf of difference between the divine ideal and the human reality are felt so acutely that the soul’s night appears unbearably and irredeemably dark. The allegory of love here becomes dominant and for the first time in the Śikṣāṣṭakam we start to get overtones of the erotic love of Radharani after Krishna has left the cowherd village for Mathura. This is indeed the context where Rupa Goswami places this verse in the Padyāvali.

Krishna Das observes this change of context with the word rasāntarāveśe. The overriding mood of dainya continues to be present, but with the addition of viṣāda (remorse) and udvega (anxiety). (24)

yugāyitaṁ nimeṣeṇa
cakṣuṣā prāvṛṣāyitam
śūnyāyitaṁ jagat sarvaṁ
govinda-viraheṇa me
A blink of the eyes has become equal to an age,
my eyes have become like monsoon clouds,
and the entire universe has become void
to me in the absence of Govinda.(25)
Krishna Das Kaviraja’s translation—

udvege divasa nā jāya kṣaṇa haila yuga-sama
varṣāra megha-prāya aśru variṣe nayana
govinda-virahe śūnya haila tribhuvana
tuṣānale poṛe jena nā jāya jīvana
In my suffering, the days seem never to pass. Each moment is as long as an age. Tears pour out of my eyes as though they were clouds in the rainy season. The three worlds have become void in Govinda’s absence. I burn in the fire of separation, and yet I am unable to die. (CC 3.20.40-41)
Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s songs from Gītāvalī: (26)

What is happening to me as I repeatedly chant the holy names? I have come to understand that I am Krishna’s eternal servant.

I have realized that I am trapped in the bonds of illusion within this material world and am suffering in so many ways due to my separation from Govinda.

This worldly life no longer brings me any pleasure. The only thing I want to know is what I must do in order to see Krishna.

My eyes fill with tears, from which they pour like torrents of rain, like the downpour of the monsoon season.

Every moment seems like a hundred ages. I can no longer tolerate this separation from my Lord.


Looking in every direction, I see the world as completely empty and this has made me indifferent to life. What should I do? What on earth should I do? I am no longer capable of living.

O residents of Vrindavan! Please grant me life by showing me Radharani’s beloved Lord. Please accept the prayers of Bhaktivinoda and take me with you.

I can no longer bear this separation from Krishna. I think it is only a matter of days before my life abandons me.


As I sang the names of the Lord, various ecstatic moods have started to rise up inside me. I saw Krishna standing on the bank of the Yamuna, accompanied by the daughter of King Vrishabhanu, playing the flute under the kadamba tree, looking like an actor about to go on stage.

When I saw this Divine Couple, my mind became unsteady and I lost consciousness. I don’t know how long it was, but when I came back to consciousness, I could no longer see them.


O sakhi ! How can I go on living? A moment has become as long as an age.

My eyes are flowing like the downpours of the rainy season and the world has become a void. In Govinda’s absence, my life airs no longer stay within me. Tell me how can I go on living?

I have become so anxious. Even so, taking shelter of the holy name again, Bhakivinode calls out to the Lord of Radharani: “Please show yourself to me. Please save me, or I am sure to die.”



Total dependence on Krishna

Bhaktivinoda characterizes the last verse as love for Krishna (prema) in union, whereas the previous verse was love in separation. This love is characterized by total dependence, knowing that Krishna is fickle and is not subject to the desires of his devotee, which are always subject to a degree of selfishness, even in the most noble moments. This is the lesson of the rāsa-līlā, where Krishna tells the gopIs that the only way that he can reward them for their love is by playing with their sentiments through sometimes being present with them and sometimes absent. Their staunch commitment to him throughout it all makes it possible for them to experience the ecstasies of love.

Krishna Das has given the most importance to this verse, giving it a longer introduction and a translation of sixteen tripadi verses. After the transitional verse seven, the transformation of Chaitanya into an incarnation of Radha’s love has become complete and the voice of the mortal aspirant for devotion most clearly expressed in verse five has been totally subsumed in that of Radha. Krishna Das’s introduction is as follows:
“Krishna has absented himself in order to test you. Just ignore him,” say the sakhis. The pure-hearted Radha thinks this suggestion over and her natural love for Krishna wells up. Jealousy, eager hope, humility, boldness and modest supplication all welled up in her simultaneously, causing her to lose composure. Finally, she spoke a verse in which mature self-confidence (prauḍhi) dominated.”

āśliṣya vā pāda-ratāṁ pinaṣṭu mām
adarśanān marma-hatāṁ karotu vā
yathā tathā vā vidadhātu lampaṭo
mat-prāṇa-nāthas tu sa eva nāparaḥ
Krishna is a debauchee, who may tightly embrace me, who am devoted to his lotus feet, or who may torment my heart by never appearing before me. Whatever he decides to do with me, he is the lord of my life and I will have no other. (Śikṣāṣṭakam, 8) (27)
Krishna Das Kaviraj’s translation :

āmi kṛṣṇa-pada-dāsī teṅho rasa-sukha-rāśi
āliṅgiyā kare ātma-sātha
kibā nā deya daraśana jārena mora tanu-mana
tabu teṅho mora prāṇa-nātha
I am Krishna’s maidservant and he is the storehouse of all joy. Whether he should embrace me and make me his own or not allow me to see him and cause my body and mind to suffer, he is still the only lord of my life. (CC 3.20.48)
Krishna Das’ expanded translation:
My dear friend, please hear what I have decided: Whether Krishna returns my love, or whether he makes me so unhappy that I die, he alone is the lord of my life.

Sometimes, when he leaves all his other women and gives himself to me, body and mind, Krishna makes me feel like the most fortunate woman in the world. At those times, he makes all the others suffer by showing off to them while dallying with me.

Then, at other times, that unfaithful cheater, that shameless rascal womanizer goes off with his other girlfriends and dallies with them right in front of my eyes. Even so, he is still my only love.

I don’t mind the pain he gives me. All that concerns me is his pleasure. My greatest joy is to see Krishna happy. If that happiness comes at the expense of my suffering, it still gives me joy. That pain is my greatest pleasure.

If Krishna is attracted by another woman, lusting for her beauty, and feels unhappy because she is unattainable, then I fall down at that woman’s feet, take her by the hand to Krishna’s side and make him happy by having them enjoy together.

Sometimes Krishna gets pleasure when his mistresses are angry with him. he enjoys being chastized and told off. When it is fitting, I get angry with Krishna, knowing that he enjoys it, but he can always always appease me without much effort.

The woman who continues to be uncompromisingly angry with Krishna when she knows that it gives him pain is living in vain. She thinks that her own pleasure is the goal. May a thunderbolt strike her dead! All I want is to see Krishna satisfied.

If a gopi is envious of me, but satisfies Krishna and Krishna desires her, I do not hesitate to go to her house and become her slave. That indeed will bring me the greatest happiness. The wife of a Brahmin suffering from leprosy proved to be the most chaste of all women by serving a prostitute in order to please her husband. She thus stopped the movement of the sun, brought her dead husband back to life and satisfied the three principal gods--Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Krishna is my life and soul. Krishna is the treasure of my life. Krishna is the very life of my life. I cherish him always in my heart and try to please him by rendering service. That is my constant meditation.

My happiness comes of serving Krishna, whereas his pleasure is in union with me. So, I give him my body. He makes me his mistress and calls me his divine goddess; I, however, think of myself as his slave.

Service to my lover is the essence of happiness and is even more pleasurable than union itself. The goddess of fortune herself is witness to this, for although she dwells on Lord Narayan’s chest, her mind is always on her service to his lotus feet. She thus serves him as a maidservant.

Gauranga relished these words spoken by Radha, which show the characteristics of the purest love for Krishna. In his ecstasy, the Lord lost his composure and various transformations spread throughout his entire body so that he became completely unsettled in body and mind.

The pure devotional service in Vrindavan is like the gold nuggets found in the Jambu River. There is not a trace of personal sense gratification in Vrindavan. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu wrote this sloka to announce this purest love to the world and I have here explained in Bengali verse. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.20.49-62)
Bhaktivinoda’s translation (28)


My friends! Listen to my words: When I am immersed in meditation, then the thief of my heart appears to me.

But if I think I will be clever and find a way to see him, he always disappears. When this happens, my heart screams in pain and my misery knows no limits.

Sometimes the Friend of the Universe takes me with him, but whatever he decides to do with me, he remains the master of my life.

He is the treasure of my life, whether he bestows on me the joy of his vision, brings happiness into my life by whispering loving words to me, or whether he sets fire to my heart by remaining invisible, and thus threatens to put an end to my life.

My happiness is in what brings him happiness. I am indifferent to my own pleasure or pain.

Bhaktivinoda declares: In union or in separation, Krishna is the lord of my life. My joy is in his happiness. He is mine and is never a distant stranger.
In the centre of the Vrindavan forest is the heart of the divine world, the Yoga Pitha. There Krishna sits with Radha, surrounded by the eight sakhIs, playing his flute and enchanting the world with his beauty. My life is at his feet.

ī serve the Divine Couple on the orders of the sakhīs, and I think of myself as a maidservant, whose destiny is in their hands.

Sometimes they take me by the hand and speak sweet, compassionate words. They take the tambula I offer them and they wear the garlands I have strung.

Then sometimes they play a trick on me and disappear. Not seeing the two of them, my heart burns to a cinder.

But wherever they are—in or out of my presence—I am their maidservant. In union I feel joy, in separation pain, but that is all the same to me.

Radha and Krishna are my life and soul, in life or in death. They can keep me or kill me, as long as they are happy.

I, Bhaktivinoda, know nothing other than this. I fall down at the sakhī’s feet and declare that I want nothing but to be a member of Radharani’s group and to render service to the Divine Couple.

Thus, success in spiritual life is achieved in a stable identification relative to the Other. It is not one’s identity in this world that counts, no matter how prestigious or successful. Though Krishna Das did not choose to include it in the Śikṣāṣṭakam, the one other verse that can be attributed to Chaitanya with some assurance, confirms this very conclusion:

nāhaṁ vipro na ca narapatir nāpi vaiśyo na śūdro
nāhaṁ varṇī na ca gṛhapatir no vanastho yatir vā |
kintu prodyan-nikhila-paramānanda-pūrṇāmṛtābdher
gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ ||
I am not a Brahmin, nor am I a Kshatriya;
Not a Vaishya, nor a Shudra am I.
I am neither brahmachari, nor householder, nor retiree,
nor am I a monk who has renounced the world.

Instead, I make this claim: I am a servant to the servant
to the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Krishna,
who is the lover of the gopis,
the overflowing ocean of nectar
and the only source of supreme and immortal joy.


(1) Caitanya-candrodaya 1.13-14: pāripārśvikaḥ: bhāva ! kiṁ teneha tene hariṇā svābhimata-mata-vyāñjako granthaḥ ? sūtradhāraḥ: yadyapi ko na veda veda-kartṛtvaṁ bhagavatas tathāpi khalv antaryāmI yām Ihate preraṇām | na khalu sā bāhyopadeśato deśato vā kālataś ca paricchinnā bhavitum arhati | The answer to the direct question whether Chaitanya wrote anything is to say that he inspired others to do so, and that this is how he (i.e. God) composed the Vedas.

(2) S.K.De “Doubtful works ascribed to Chaitanya.” Indian Historical Quarterly, 1934, 310-317.

(3) (ed.) Krishnadas Babaji. Kusuma Sarovara, n.d.

(4) Cf. Sādhana-dīpikā, Saptama-kakṣā, where it is said that Gadadhar Pandit was the true author and that Chaitanya appropriated it as a token of his appreciation of it.

(5) The one exception is Padyāvali 74, which is also quoted in Caitanya-caritāmṛta, 2.13.80.

(6) Verses 1-2, nāma-māhātmyam (22,31); verse 3, nāma-kīrtanam (32); verse 4 and 6, sotkaṇṭhā-prārthanā (94, 93); verse 5, dainyoktiḥ (71); verse 6, sotkaṇṭhā-prārthanā (93), verses 7-8, harer mathurā-praveśe (324, 337).

(7) Outside the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, the quotation history of the eight verses in the early Gaudiya literature is also rather limited. Verse 3 is quoted in Jiva Goswami’s Bhakti-sandarbha (269) and verse 8 in Rupa Goswami’s Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, 13.79, where it plays a rather minor role as an example of the vyabhichāri-bhāva, mati. Nor did second generation Vaishnava authors show much interest in these verses, being more preoccupied with aspects of Radha Krishna mythology than with fundamentals. Nor did the verses seem to form a significant part of the early doxology, which was dominated by Bengali hymns rather than Sanskrit.

(8) Śrī-Caitanya-śikṣāṣṭakam, 4.

(9) Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.20.1.

ādau śraddhā tataḥ sādhu-saṅgo’tha bhajana-kriyā
tato’nartha-nivṛttiḥ syāt tato niṣṭhā rucis tataḥ
tathāsaktis tato bhāvas tataḥ premābhyudañcati
sādhakānām ayaṁ premṇaḥ prādurbhāvaḥ bhavet kramaḥ
“The progressive development of prema goes through the steps of faith, association with the saintly, undertaking devotional practice, the dissipation of contamination in the consciousness, firm commitment, relish, attachment, deep emotion and then ecstatic love.” (BRS 1.4.14-15)
Bhaktivinoda divides these as follows: (1) śraddhā, (2) sādhu-saṅga, bhajana-kriyā and anartha-nivṛtti; (3) niṣṭhā; (4) ruci (5) āsakti, (6) bhāva; (7) prema in separation, and (8) prema in union. This schema reveals clearly that Bhaktivinoda’s preoccupation here was not to provide an elementary summary of Vaishnava theology, but to explore the higher reaches of devotional experience.

satāṁ kṛpā mahat-sevā śraddhā guru-padāśrayaḥ
bhajaneṣu spṛhā bhaktir anarthāpagamas tataḥ
niṣṭhā rucir athāsaktī ratiḥ premātha darśanam
harer mādhuryānubhava ity arthāḥ syuś caturdaśe
(1) One first receives the blessings of a devotee; (2) one then engages in service to such a great soul (mahat-sevā); (3) one develops faith; (4) one takes shelter of a spiritual master in initiation; (5) one begins trying to perfect the performance of devotional practices; (6) one starts to experience devotion; and (7) one’s anarthas begin to disappear. Next one proceeds through the stages of (8) steadfastness in devotional practice (niṣṭhā), (9) taste (ruci), (10) attachment (āsakti), and (11) bhāva. Then one comes to (12) the stage of ecstatic love (prema), followed by (13) the direct vision of the Lord, and (14) a full experience of the Lord’s sweetness.

(12) Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.20.10. Bhāgavata 11.5.32.

(13) The words vidyā-vadhū-jīvanam literally mean “the husband of knowledge,” the husband being the “life” of the wife; i.e., that which is served or followed by knowledge.

(14) Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati builds on the analogy of the sacrifice by likening the seven actions of the Name given in this verse to the seven-tongued sacrificial fire. (Cf. Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad 1.2.4 and Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, 2.92ff.)

(15) Krishna Das has not attempted to follow the verse exactly, so there is no one to one correspondence to the Sanskrit verse. In verse 11, he names three most important results that come from chanting: the destruction of anarthas or sin, the manifestation of all auspiciousness (sarva-śubhodaya) and the joy of love for Krishna.

(16) These are the second and third of the vyabhicāri-bhāvas, described in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 2.4.14-20 and 21-25 respectively.

(17) Elsewhere Bhaktivinoda clearly states daśa aparādha āmāra durdaiva “The ten offences are my misfortune.” (Śaraṇāgati, 8) This verse thus provides the opportunity for discussing the ten offenses, which are breaches in orthodoxy and ethical norms, which seemingly contradict the liberal tenor of the verse. The next two verses, however, do to some extent confirm the paradox. There is a quid pro quo—God freely gives his benedictions and mercy, but requires that his devotee become transformed into his image.

(18) Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.20.19.

(19) The two words kavitāṁ sundarīṁ have given rise to different interpretations, since sundarī could either be an adjective describing kavitā, or a noun meaning “beautiful woman.” The latter seems more likely, as that is the way the Krishna Das appears to be taking it in his translation. The absence of a fourth na to separate these two is the basis of the argument for seeing them as a single item. However, the desires for worldly gain, fame and sex are so customarily joined as pitfalls on the spiritual path that it seems unlikely for this third choice to be left behind here. Kavitā can mean either poetry or wisdom. Poetry is an unusual object of desire, though a possible one. Liberation, the customary consequence of wisdom in Indian philosophy, is generally the fourth pitfall and likely the one being intended here also.

(20) Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.20.29.

(21) Bhaktivinoda has generally used Krishna Das’s translations in Bhajana-rahasya. This is an exception.

(22) Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.20.32.

(23) Padyāvali 93; Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.20.36.

(24) Udvega is not usually listed amongst the 33 vyabhicāri-bhāvas, but is specifically used to designate one of the ten states of separation, of which it is the second, i.e., an early stage. The last of these ten stages is death, the danger of which always seems to be present in the darkest moments of separation, allusions of which are brought out more fully in Bhaktivinoda’s Bengali version of the verse below.

(25) Padyāvalī 324; Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.20.39.

(26) Though there is only one signature verse, the following song is unusual in the realm of Vaishnava padāvalī in that it improvises along four different themes arising from the Śikṣāṣṭakam verse. They describe the passage from sādhaka-deha to siddha-deha, i.e., from the aspirant’s external consciousness of his worldly situation to an inner consciousness shaped by the mythical realities of Vrindavan.

(27) Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.20.48.

(28) Once again, Bhaktivinoda has given two interpretations of the verse, appropriate to two differing attitudes (adhikāra-bheda).

Friday, August 21, 2015

Keeping Faith with Kheturi, Part IV

So what do I mean "keeping faith with Kheturi"?

The primary significance I take out of the above account is in its implications for initiation. Kheturi, as Chaitanya Vaishnavism's first major council, was an exercise in what is called, in religious-historical terms, the routinization of charisma. In short, it was a major development in the organization of the Chaitanya Vaishnava “church.”

It is common for people to characterize this kind of institutionalization as a murder of the religious spirit. It’s what we could call the "St. Paul ruined Jesus" school of thought. Ramakanta Chakravarti, like Hitesranjan Sanyal and many other leftist Bengalis, see Kheturi and the establishment of the Goswami scriptures as a historical disaster because it reaffirmed Brahminical social dominance and its values instead of furthering the emancipation of the lower classes that had been started off by Nityananda Prabhu with his egalitarian ethos. Thus it was the victory of conservative forces over the dynamic spiritual movement started by Chaitanya.

There are many reasons why this point of view is shortsighted. Different forms of institutionalization are necessary steps in the growth, development and maturing of a religious community. The church, or social aspect of a religion, must neither be overemphasized at the expense of individual spiritual culture, nor must it be rejected out of hand, as Simone Weil did, as just another domain of the "Prince of the Earth." In the understanding of the Goswamis, the association of devotees, sādhu-saṅga, is the second stage in the life of devotion. It follows śraddhā, which is the conversion experience that reorients one from the mundane to the spiritual. The kind of institutionalization we are talking about puts in place the fundamental parameters of devotional association, or entry into this “communion of saints."

This sādhu-saṅga is of course a “second” sādhu-saṅga. The first, which is considered the root cause of śraddhā, is more or less accidental. The second is intentional. It is a necessary response to conversion. The beginning of sādhu-saṅga, it is agreed by most members of the Chaitanya Vaishnava sampradaya, is largely defined by initiation. One who has faith naturally seeks out like-minded people, who share not only the same goal of prema, but the means for achieving it. Initiation is the price of admission into the community of devotees. Initiation thus has more than a purely spiritual meaning, it also has social and institutional significance.

The first elements of bhajana-kriyā are all related to sādhu-saṅga and initiation—

guru-pādāśrayas tasmād dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam
viśrambheṇa guroḥ sevā sādhu-vartmānuvartanam
First, take shelter of a spiritual master; then take initiation and instruction from him. Serve the guru with trust and follow the path of saintly behavior. (BRS 1.2.74)
The significance of Kheturi is to be sought in these elements of devotional life. Let us look at the background to this a little. People habituated to the "we are not this body" starting point for all discourse leading to bhakti may find my reasoning here a little original, to say the least. I humbly ask for indulgence.
The great wonder for the Vaishnavas at Kheturi was the awareness that a momentuous historical moment had just been missed. God himself had appeared in the world as Gaura Nataraj, and not only had he now left the vision of mortals, but all those who had actually seen him, who had beheld those wonderful moments, were nearly all gone. A few verses from the Prarthana of Narottam Das Thakur, which even though probably composed after Kheturi, seem to capture this mood: 
dhana mora nityānanda pati mora gauracandra
prāṇa mora yugala kiśora
advaita ācārya bala gadādhara mora kula
narahari vilāsa-i mora
My wealth is Nityananda, my master/husband is Gaurachandra. My life-breath is the Divine Couple. Advaita Acharya is my strength, Gadadhar my family, Narahari my act of sweet self-indulgence.
vaiṣṇavera pada-dhūli tāhe mora snāna keli
tarpaṇa mora vaiṣṇavera nāma
vicāra kariyā mane bhakti-rasa āsvādane
madhyastha śrī-bhāgavata purāṇa
The dust of the Vaishnavas’ feet is my playful bath; my satisfaction is in the Vaishnavas’ names. And when I seek to understand matters related to the relishing of devotional rasa, my arbiter is the Bhāgavata Purāṇa.
vaiṣṇavera ucchiṣṭa tāhe mora mano-niṣṭha
vaiṣṇavera nāmete ullāsa
vṛndāvana cautārā tāhe mora mano-gherā 
 kahe dīna narottama dāsa
My source of satisfaction is the remnants of the Vaishnavas; hearing their names my source of joy. The land of Vrindavan is my mind’s enclosure, so says the lowly Narottam Das.
There are a number of things that could be said about this song, besides the interesting naming of the members of the Pancha Tattva with the inclusion of Narahari in the place of Srivas Pandit and the somewhat mysterious ascription of different relationships to each of them, but that discussion will have to wait for another day. What I would like to point out is the prominent place given to the names of the Vaishnavas.

One of the things that is remarkable about this period of Chaitanya Vaishnava history is the appearance of lists of Vaishnava names—Devakinandana’s Bengali Vaiṣṇava-vandanā (likely the first of the genre) and another of that name in Sanskrit and attributed to Jiva Goswami, Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā, and the “revised list” in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, which comes a few years later. There are also other lists, such as those naming all who came to Kheturi (see the bottom of this document), or those who were leading disciples of various other leading Vaishnavas. It appears that the remembering of Vaishnavas’ names, especially those associated with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, became an integral part of devotees’ sādhana, either as a result of Kheturi, or as part of the general culture that was being confirmed at that great meeting.

Devotees were called prātaḥ-smaraṇīya, “to be remembered in the morning,” as a kind of purifying ritual. Part of this glorification of Vaishnavas is a general principle that can be found even in the Bhagavatam, but Narottam draws a deeper implication when he equates Gauranga with Krishna in one song (gaurāṅgera duṭi pada):
gaurāṅgera saṅgi-gaṇe nitya-siddha kori māne
se jāy brajendra-suta-pāś
śrī-gauḍa-maṇḍala-bhūmi jeba jāne cintāmaṇi
tāra hoy braja-bhūme bās
Whoever considers the companions of Gauranga to be eternally perfected beings will attain the company of Krishna in Vrindavan. And whoever recognizes that this land of Gauda is the divine realm verily resides in Vraja-bhumi.
One cannot see Chaitanya as Krishna without giving due honor to those who associated with him. After listing some of the Vrindavan Vaishnavas he had the good fortune to associate with, Narottam prays—

se saba bhakata saṅge je karila tāra saṅga
tāra saṅge kene nahila vāsa
ki mora duḥkhera kathā janama goṅāinu vṛthā
dhik dhik narottama dāsa
Why have I not had the fortune to live with those who associated with those who have associated with all these devotees? How can I express my misery? My life has been wasted! A pox on me, cries Narottam Das.
And again,

pāṣāṇe kuṭibo māthā anale paśibo
gaurāṅga guṇera nidhi kothā gele pābo
se saba saṅgīra saṅge je koilo vilāsa
se saṅga nā pāiyā kāṅde narottama dāsa
I will strike my head against a stone, I will enter the flames. What must I do, where must I go to attain the company of that ocean of virtue, Gauranga? Narottam cries out in distress at having been deprived of the association of those who associated with him and his companions.
Clearly, these two verses show the idea of parampara in an organic fashion: Not just those who came in touch with Chaitanya, but those who came in touch with those who knew them, and further on, all are blessed.

ṭhākura vaiṣṇava-pada avanīra su-sampada
śuna bhāi hañā eka mana
āśraya laiyā bhaje tāre kṛṣṇa nāhi tyaje
āra saba mare akāraṇa
The feet of the saintly Vaishnavas are the greatest treasure of this world. Listen, my brother, and worship them single-mindedly. One who worships Krishna after taking refuge in the Vaishnavas is never abandoned by him. Everyone else is unnecessarily doomed.
“Taking refuge” means taking initiation and becoming a part of this Vaishnava community. So this is the mindset of Kheturi: Chaitanya was God in this world. All his companions were his eternal associates, a part of Vrindavan as much as of Nabadwip. Anyone who had known their association received the magic of their touch, which was transferred to them organically, as it were. So when those in the Gaudiya Math speak disparagingly of a “body parampara,” as Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaj so eloquently put it, they are actually right. The disciplic successions which formed and continue to form the backbone of the Chaitanya Vaishnava world consider the connection back to the members of the “avatar generation” to be the touchstone of membership to the community. Through the process of acceptance, one enters into a special relationship with its founding members. Breaking faith with Kheturi means saying that this kind of connection is no longer necessary. Now the question is, is there any validity to this way of thinking? Or is this a superficial understanding? Let’s start with the texts of the Chaitanya Vaishnava tradition.


The first great mystery that needs clarification is the question of the “incarnation” itself. The other day I was talking to Mangala Maharaj, a disciple of Madhava Maharaj, the founder of the Chaitanya Gaudiya Math. He said that Bon Maharaj told him not to use the word “incarnation,” but “descent.” Why, because when God descends into this material world, he never becomes a flesh and blood mortal (in carne) like the rest of us. In Christianity, this is called the “Docetic heresy.” Though I am not going to argue for or against Docetism, I think that we need to examine the idea of “God-in-human-form” and the implications that it has for us. How could anyone say that God, wholly spiritual, infinite, eternal and full of consciousness and bliss, appears in a finite or material body? In fact, we are quite accustomed to responding to this question by denying the very premise: God has a form of sac-cid-ānanda, and though he appears like an ordinary man, he is never such—
avajānanti māṁ mūḍhā mānuṣīṁ tanum āśritam
paraṁ bhāvam ajānanto mama bhūta-maheśvaram

On careful examination, however, the language of this verse (Gita 9.11) is not so unambiguous, for mānuṣīṁ tanum āśritam (or mānuṣīṁ deham āśritam , Bhagavatam 10.33.37), clearly mean “taking a human body.” The Vaishnava commentaries all concentrate on the theme that, “taking” a body in this case is figurative. God himself has human form, eternally, despite being possessed of a supreme nature ( paraṁ bhāvam ), being the glorious lord of all creatures (mama bhūta-maheśvaram), etc.
gopīnāṁ tat-patīnāṁ ca sarveṣām eva dehinām
yo'ntaś carati so'dhyakṣaḥ krīḍaneneha deha-bhāk
The one who is the witness and controller within all beings, as well as the gopis and their husbands, appeared here in this world in a human body. (10.33.36)
There is no reason to go into all the commentaries, however much fun that would be. They make hundreds of interesting points, but as far as Krishna’s body is concerned, the principal point is always to counter Mayavada on the one hand—God is ultimately not formless, and pure materialism on the other—God’s body is not mundane like ours, it’s spiritual. There is no difference between Krishna and his body. And yet, we have a problem that repeating this mantra does not resolve. The reason that Krishna, the personal God is considered superior to the impersonal forms of Deity is precisely the expanded facility for rasa that comes with the human body. In fact, the more human God becomes, the more subject to limitations (within the realm of love), the more we “forget” his divinity, the happier he is. During his incarnation, such as that of Mahaprabhu, he presumably did the things that ordinary humans do—he bled when he scratched himself, his body was covered in bruises as a result of his ecstasies, he even went to the toilet, as we know from the Gopal Guru story. So where is the dividing line between a material body and a spiritual one? What exactly is the difference?

Let me take this another step further, when we talk about the guru’s physical defects, we are told not to be distracted from his spiritual nature, any more than we should stop believing in the transcendental nature of the Ganges, even when filled with bubbles, foam and silt. As sādhakas, we aspire to attain a “spiritual body” or siddha-deha, but we do so in a dualistic way that minimizes the spirituality of this sādhaka-deha, and we often hear devotees denounce the lower nature, the pull of sensuality coming from this “material body,” but this ignores the promise of Chaitanya himself, made to Sanatan:

dīkṣā-kāle bhakta kare ātma-samarpaṇa
sei kāle kṛṣṇa tāre kare ātma-sama
sei deha kare tāra cid-ānanda-maya
aprākṛta-dehe tāṅra caraṇa bhajaya
At the time of initiation, when a devotee surrenders to the spiritual master, Krishna makes him equal to himself. He transforms the devotee's body into spiritual substance; the devotee then worships the Lord in that spiritualized body. (CC 3.4.192-3)
In other words, initiation transforms this material body into a spiritual one. This is a vital fact about this religion of grace that has been stressed over and over again, and yet is submerged again and again in the karma and jnana mentality. That is, divine grace is immediate and final. One cannot chant the Holy Name with material senses—therefore when one has the slightest desire to chant Krishna’s name, it mercifully spiritualizes the tongue so that it can appear there. No one can worship God without become a god oneself. Initiation thus means being transformed through the ritual to become member of this select club that stretches back, organically, through to the avatar generation.

Thus the words sambandha visea (“special relationship”) in Jiva Goswami’s famous formulation of the definition of dīkṣā, take on a very real meaning. Narottama Das’s words-- hethā pābo gauracandra sethā rādhā-kṛṣṇa also take on a new significance. Just as the members of the Nabadwip lila inwardly relished their identities as participants in Vrindavan, the “special relationship” there is also cemented through the process of initiation. Thus arises the expression, siddha-praṇāli—“the channel of perfection,” or the firmly established channel.  In other words, the channel is siddha because it connects to those nitya-siddhas.
āśraya laiyā bhaje tāre kṝṣṇa nāhi tyaje
āra saba mare akāraṇa


There is a lot of confusion about initiation in the Vaishnava world as a result of this breaking of faith with Kheturi. Rather than taking initiation to be entry into a relationship with Gauranga and the whole of the Vaishnava world, it is seen as very much a relationship with one individual, upon whom the entire responsibility for one’s salvation is dumped. That person becomes the lightning rod for all the disciple’s aspirations and doubts rather than a facilitator and representative of the founding member of the disciplic line. Thus the doubters point and accuse, “What realization did this one or that one have?” They had the one realization that was necessary, “I am Gauranga’s servant and I belong to him and his.”

By simply giving the mantra, they were passing this on. Those who have broken faith with Kheturi confuse conversion (śraddhā) with initiation (dīkṣā). Śraddhā is an epiphany, a radical transformation of orientations, an adoption of an entire new framework for spiritual understanding. It is, one may well say, the full manifestation of Krishna’s mercy because, indeed, everything is present in the Holy Name. The ecstatic experience of conversion is Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s free gift of prema. This does not mean that one does not have to follow the process of devotional life that leads from śraddhā through sādhu-saṅga, anartha-nivṛtti, niṣṭhā, ruci, āsakti to bhāva and prema. Thus, we often hear the misinterpretation of the famous verse from the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa defining dīkṣā, where people say that any kind of divya-jñāna, or as Sri Jiva says, “Knowledge of Krishna’s true identity (svarūpa) and of one’s special relationship with him (sambandha-viśeṣa),” means that one is initiated.
divyaṁ jñānaṁ yato dadyāt kuryāt pāpasya saṁkṣayam
tasmād dīkṣeti sā proktā deśikais tattva-kovidaiḥ

An analysis of this verse shows, however, that it is not describing an unknown named "dīkṣā," but rather telling us why the known thing, dīkṣā, has been given that name. It is like the difference between saying "a beautiful woman is my wife" and "my wife is a beautiful woman." In other words, "Dīkṣā, i.e. the transmission of mantra by guru to disciple, is known by this name because it is meant (use of vidhi-liṅ) to bring divine () knowledge and destroy sins (kṣā)." Not, "Anything that gives knowledge and destroys sins is dīkṣā."

 When one is married, one knows for certainty that one has a certain relationship to another person. Of course, in our age of dubious legal relations, there is a deep impermanence to all things, including one’s spiritual relationships through initiation. And the fact is that the Holy Name enters into a relationship with everyone who utters it even once. However, in order to transcend the offenses to the Holy Name, one must surrender to Guru Tattva through taking initiation. But more significantly, it came to mean a connection with the theophany of the avatar through the disciplic chain.


The following Vaishnavas are known to have attended the Kheturi festival. (These names are found in Prema-vilāsa, ch. 19, Narottama-vilāsa, and Bhakti-ratnākara, ch. 10, and were compiled by R.K. Chakravarti.

1. The Vaishnavas of Khardaha led by Jahnava Devi.

1. Chaitanyadasa of Nabadwip-Baghnapara. Son of Vamsivadana Chatta.

2. Damodara. He attended the Katwa festival. BRK.

3. Gauranga. CCM, p. 137, Nityananda branch.

4. Hridayacaitanya. Disciple of Gauridasa Pandit and guru of Shyamananda.

5. Jahnava Devi.

6. Jagaddurlabha. Son of Virabhadra.

7. Jnanadasa. Celebrated Vaishnava poet.

8. Jiva Pandit. GGD. p. 46, verse 169.

9. Kamalakara Pippalai. Gopala of Mahesh.

10. Kanai Pandita. BRK. p. 394. He attended the Katwa festival.

11. Krishnadasa. BRK. p. 393. He attended the Katwa festival. He might have been Kala Krishnadasa, Gopala of Akaihat.

12. Krishnadasa Sarkhel. Uncle of Jahnava Devi.

13. Madhavacarya. Husband of Ganga Devi, Nityananda's daughter.

14. Manohara. CCM. p. 137. Nityananda branch.

15. Mahidhara. CCM. p. 139. Nityananda branch.

16. Minaketana Rarnadasa. CCM. p. 137. Nityananda branch.

17. Murarichaitanya. CCM. p. 136. Nityananda branch.

18. Mukunda. VAD. p. 343.

19. Nakadi. CCM. p. 137. Nityananda branch.

20. Nayana Bhaskara. Noted sculptor of Halisahar, 24 Parganas.

21. Nrisimhachaitanya. CCM. p. 137. Nityananda branch.

22. Pararamesvara Dasa. Gopala of Tara-Atpur.

23. Raghupati Vaidya Upadhyaya. CCM. 1.136. Nityananda branch.

24. Raghunatha Acharya. Son of Khanja Bhagavan Acharya, of Gosvami-Malipada, Hooghly.

25. Sankara. CCM. p. 128. Chaitanya branch.

26. Suryadasa. Suryadasa Sarkhel, Jahnava Devi's father?

27. Balarama Dasa, or Nityananda Dasa, Jahnava's disciple, and said to be the author of Premavilāsa.

28. Vrindavan Dasa. Author of Chaitanya Bhagavata.

29. Other numerous Vanik-disciples of Nityananda.

2. Vaishnavas of Nadia (Nabadwip)

30. Madhavacharya. Nephew of Vishnupriya Devi, Chaitanya's wife.

31. Srinidhi. Brother of Srivasa Pandit.

32. Sripati. Another brother of Srivasa Pandit.

3. Vaishnavas of Shantipur

33. Achyutananda. Eldest son of Advaita Acharya.

34, Banamali.

35. Gopala Acharya. Another son of Advaita Acharya.

36. Janardana.

37, Kanu Pandit.

38. Kamadeva.

39. Narayana Dasa.

40. Purusottama. Possibly Purusottama Nagara.

41. Vishnudasa Acharya. Influential disciple of Advaita Acharya.

4. Vaishnavas of Burdwan and Murshidabad

42. Bhagavan Kaviraj. Srinivasa Acharya's disciple.

43. Chandra Haldar.

44. Devidasa. Famous mridanga artist.

45. Divyasimha. Son of Govindadasa Kaviraja.

56. Dvija Ramakrishna.

47. Govindadasa Kaviraja. Celebrated Vaishnava poet, and brother of Ramachandra Kaviraja.

48. Gopaladasa of Budhuipara, Murshidabad.

49. Gokula of Kanchangaria, Murshidabad.

50. Gaurangadasa.

51. Gokuladasa. Narottarna's disciple.

52. Gokula, of Shergarh, Pancet.

53. Krishnavallabha.

54. Karnapura. Disciple of Srinivasa Acharya, and resident of village Babadurpur.

55. Kavicandra.

56. Krishnadasa of Akaihat, (Kalakrishnadasa, the Gopala).

57. Krishnananda Majumdar.

58. Kumuda.

59. Locana Dasa, author of Chaitanyamangala.

60. Mangala Thakura of Birbhum. He belonged to the Gadadhara Pandit branch.

61. Mitu Haldar.

62. Narayana Kavi.

63. Nimai Kaviraj.

64. Premananda.

65. Raghunandana, nephew of Narahari Sarkar of S'rikhan4a.

66. Rupa Kaviraja.

67. Ramacharana. Srinivasa's brother-in-law and disciple.

68. Rupa Ghataka. Affluent disciple of Srinivasa.

69. Srinivasa Acharya.

70. Sanjaya.

71. Shubhananda.

72. Shasthivara. A Mahanata and noted klrtan singer.

73. Vyasacharya. Court scholar of Vishnupur; Srinivasa Acharya's disciple.

74. Vamsidhara.

75. Vallabhadasa.

76. Vallabhikanta Kaviraja. Disciple of Srinivasa Acharya.

77. Yadunandana of Katwa.

5. Vaishnavas of Midnapur.

78. Rasikananda, chief disciple of Shyamananda.

79. Shyamananda. Leader of the Midnapur Vaishnavas.

6. Important Mahantas and Vaishnavas.

80. Baninatha Vipra.

81. Chaitanyadasa. Perhaps Vira Hamvira, king of Vishnupur.

82. Hari Acharya. A disciple of Ramacandra Kaviraja. Resident of Goas village in Murshidabad.

83. Jagannatha. He was known as Kasthakata, the wood-cutter. He was a disciple of Gadadhara Pandit. He came to Kheturi from Vikrampur Pargana in the Munshiganj sub-division of Dacca.

84. Jita Mishra.

85. Kavi Karnapura. Presumably the noted Bengali theologian and poet.

86. Kashinath Pandit.

87. Laksmikanta Pandit.

88. Nartaka Gopala.

89. Nayanananda. Poet of the "Gadai-Gauranga" sub-sect.

90. Puspagopala.

91. Raghu Mishra.

92. Raghunatha. Youngest son of Gauridasa Pandit, the Gopala of Kalna.

93. Uddhava. Possibly Shyamananda's disciple.

94. Shivananda. Was he Shivananda Sena, father of Kavi Karnapura? [I doubt it.]

95. Vallabha. Grandson of Vamsivadana Chatta of Nabadwip.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Keeping Faith with Kheturi, Part III

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Here is some more from Chakravarti’s summary of the Kheturi preparation. This is not a pure quote as I have cut or edited here and there. I have highlighted a few points to comment on:
The big Vaishnava festival was held in Kheturi for several reasons. It would have been relatively easy for the Vaishnavas of East and North Bengal to attend the festival if it was held in Kheturi. The planners of the festival certainly attached some importance to the prospect of a necessary liaison with them. It was really necessary for the leaders of the Chaitanya movement to build up bases in North Bengal and East Bengal. It was expected that the festival would serve the purpose of an assault on the locally prominent Shakta cult. In Narottama-vilāsa there is a vivid description of the barbarous behavior of the local Tantrikas. They immolated human beings on the altar of the goddess, raped virgins and created a reign of terror.

Fifty messengers were sent to different parts of Bengal. Innumerable letters of invitation were despatched. Raja Santosh Datta built many cottages for the accommodation of the guests, made arrangements for their safe transportation across the broad expanse of the Padma River, and stored provisions for them. The devout Raja and his men labored very hard to make the festival a grand success.
A huge number of Vaishnavas attended the festival, representing all the major groups. Lists of their names can be found in no less than three different books: Prema-vilāsa, Narottama-vilāsa, and Bhakti-ratnākara. (See the end of this document.)
Almost all of the Mahantas who had attended the earlier festivals in Katwa and Srikhanda participated in the Kheturi festival. For some unstated reasons Virabhadra did not attend, but his son Jagaddurlabha did. Only two Gopalas, or possibly three, attended. The other Gopalas were either no more when the festival was held, or unwilling to attend it.

The Kheturi festival was held with a view to propagating the Vrindavan dogma. But Vrindavan is not known to have sent to it any delegate. Only three important Vaishnavas of East Bengal were invited to attend the festival. They were Purushottam Nagara, 'wood-cutter' Jagannatha, and Pushpagopal.

The following programme was adopted for the festival :

  1. Installation of the stone images of Chaitanya, Vallabhikanta, Vrajamohana, Sri Krishna, Radhakanta and Radhamohan.
  2. Singing of kirtan.
  3. Observation of Chaitanya's birthday and Holi.
  4. Holding of community feasts.
  5. Finalization of the arrangements for the year-long recitation of the Bhāgavatam, Caitanya-bhāgavata and Caitanya-maṅgala
Kheturi was selected as the permanent venue of annual Vaishnava gatherings and festivals. In Kheturi the Vrindavan dogma was finally accepted as the unalterable Gaudiya Vaishnava creed. Chaitanya was indeed worshiped as a God. But the significant point was that Nityananda and Adwaita were consigned to the limbo. Chaitanya and Krishna were worshipped "according to the rituals delineated in the works of Rupa Goswami," using the twin-mantra (yugala-mantra) of Radha-Krishna, and with the recitation of the ten syllables of the Gopala mantra. 
śrī rādhāra-bhāve magna śrī-gaurāṅga-candra
sei bhāvera gīta gāyā pāiyā ānanda
śrī kṛṣṇera janma-yātrā vidhi anusāre
pūjaye gaurāṅga-cānd hariṣa antare
kṛṣṇa gaura eka ebe bheda buddhi jāra
se jāya narake tāra nāhika nistāra 
The Kheturi congregation recognised the validity of two theories. The first was the theory of the embodiment of Radha Krishna conjugality in Chaitanya. The second theory was that of Krishna's incarnation as Chaitanya. Chaitanya’s birthday was observed as Krishna's birthday. Anybody who tried to distinguish between the identities of Krishna and Chaitanya was loaded with a terrible curse. The smaraṇa-maṅgala formula was followed during the worship of the deities. The proceedings noted above were followed by a nightlong debate, the details of which are not stated.

The first Kheturi festival created a trend in kirtan music which was known as the Garanhati or Garerhati mode of kirtan. The Garerhati style, named after the Pargana Garerhat, to which Kheturi belonged, was the kirtan approximation of the classical Dhruvapada of North Indian music. The most significant feature of the style was the Gaura-chandrika. The kirtan on the sports of Krishna was prefaced by singing of songs on the lila of Gauranga in Nabadwip. Gaura-chandrika and Chaitanya worship in Kheturi signified a realistic attitude of the Vrindavan goswamis and their Bengali supporters towards the deification of Chaitanya in Bengal. 
But the problem was created by the smaraṇa-maṅgala time-schedule. The time-schedule prescribed for the sports of Krishna could not be easily adopted for those of Gauranga in Nabadwip. The problem was solved by Duhkhi Krishnadasa Babaji. The Gaura-chandrika possibly signified a concession to the Gaura-nagara Vaishnavas or the Gaura-paramya theologians who believed in the primacy of Chaitanya. But the so-called "Gadai-Gauranga" subsect remained unhonored, because the theory of Radha Krishna conjugality in Chaitanya militated against the idea that Gadadhara Pandit was the incarnation of Radha.  
The stupendous labor of Jahnava Devi, Srinivasa Acharya and Narottama Datta ultimately resulted in the dominance of the Vrindavan versions over the prevalent mystic and deviant ideas. This development certainly made the Chaitanya movement in Bengal cohesive and disciplined. But bhakti became self-centered to a considerable extent. It gradually lost its collective characteristics.  
After the Kheturi festival bhakti became deeply rooted in what a foreign student of Indian culture describes as "dependent psychology." That there was possibly a connection between the development of this psychology and the leadership of the aristocratic elements in the Vaishnava movement in Bengal may be stated as a cliché. But it is very difficult to identify the exact methods adopted by the Vaishnava leaders to plug the collective effusion of bhakti which was perhaps the most prominent feature of the religious movement launched by Chaitanya in Nabadwip. (R.K. Chakravarti, Vaishnavism in Bengal, 231-238)

Though I can agree almost entirely with the above assessment of what transpired at Kheturi, and the account could certainly be embellished with colourful references to the original accounts, there are some things that need to be said, in particular by way of reference to the Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā, which as I have said, would have played a significant role at the Kheturi festival, at which Karnapur was no doubt among the most highly venerated guests. Karnapur’s work contains the first textual instance of the Pancha Tattva verse that was attributed to Swarup Damodar Goswami’s Kharcha. If it is indeed Swarup Damodar’s verse, it was likely brought to Bengal by Srinivas et al from Vrindavan school, or perhaps Karnapur learned of it on one of his own visits to Braj.

pañca-tattvātmakaṁ kṛṣṇaṁ bhakta-rūpa-svarūpakam
bhaktāvatāraṁ bhaktākhyaṁ namāmi bhakta-śaktikam

The very presence of so many Vaishnavas in Kheturi, from so many groups, indicates that something monumental was taking place. To say that "Nityananda and Advaita were consigned to limbo" or that "Gaura-Gadai worshipers were not honored" is a rather odd way of describing what happened. The Pancha Tattva verse fixes these Vaishnava leaders’ tattvas into a hierarchy. They cease being competitors in the fight for charismatic superiority and become cooperators in the divine mission. What the Caitanya-bhāgavata failed to do by way of exhortations to stop fighting, the Pancha Tattva mantra accomplished by giving them all their own unique stature. I have explained some of this in my article "Gadadhar Pandit: Bhakti Shakti" [Part I, Part II, Part III].

By placing everything in the context of the rasa tattva, the Pancha Tattva were seen as part of Mahaprabhu's external lila. However, when seen again in the light of the Vrindavan doctrines, they all were re-envisioned as participants in that aspect of the pastimes--Advaita as Yogamaya (through his energy, Sita Devi, who is Paurnamasi in GGD), Nityananda through Jahnava, who is Ananga Manjari, Gadadhar either directly as Radha, or as Radha experiencing sakhi-bhāva.

Furthermore, as I also showed in the Gadadhar article, the Gaura-candrikā is a huge concession to the Gaura-nāgaras, as most of those padas approach Radha-Krishna lila through the Gaura-nāgara route, rather than through the sannyāsi-Gaura route. Nabadwip and not Puri is the scene of Gaura's nitya-lilā. So how R.K. Chakravarti can say that the Gaura-Gadai worshipers were shunned is not clear. After all, Srinivasa was a next-door neighbor to Srikhanda; how could he have escaped their influence? Ramachandra Kaviraj, Narottam's best friend, and his brother Govinda were both Khandavasis. Caitanya-maṅgala was read at Kheturi, so where were the Gadai-Gaura worshipers neglected? It is just that a place was found for them in a coordinated, persuasive ontological scheme.

Just as important, however, was the place given to Mahaprabhu's other associates--Gaura-bhakta-vrinda. Whereas their personal claims to charisma had been neglected in the big competition between the Big Two or Three, they were now all given recognition. Anyone who had associated with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, for even a second, was recognized as glorious. gaurāṅgera saṅgi-gaṇe nitya-siddha kori māne. It is no accident that this line comes from a song by Narottam Das. This, more than anything else, established the method by which Gaudiya Vaishnavas identified their connection to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu--via an organic relationship through his associates.


Keeping Faith with Kheturi, Part II

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

In the accounts of the lives of the three second-generation saints, Shrinivas Acharya, Narottam Das and Shyamananda, we are informed right away that this was the situation: Shrinivas, especially, is described wandering from one holy site to another, hoping to get the association of one or the other of Mahaprabhu’s companions, and each time missing the opportunity by a few days or months. Though most of these near-misses were no doubt exaggerated, authors like Narahari Chakravarti and Nityananda Das are simply trying to tell us that Mahaprabhu’s associates were quickly disappearing, and that this was a terrible disappointment to him and everyone else. In their search for leadership and guidance, they eventually turned to Braj where Rupa, Sanatan and the other Goswamis had been diligently establishing a disciplined theology.

According to the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Mahaprabhu instructed Rupa and Sanatan to write scriptures on philosophy and sad-ācāra, but clearly writing these works was only a first step—finding worthy students to master them and then disseminate them was also necessary.

Shrinivas, Narottam Das and Shyamananda spent several years in Braj, studying, doing bhajan, and imbibing the Vrindavan mood. We should not underestimate the effect that residence in the dry, hot climate of Braj had on these young Bengalis. This was a foreign land for them, and though the Goswamis were leading contributors to the Braj Krishna bhakti culture, they were not alone in it.

Krishnadas shows a bit of Bengali chauvinism in the CC when he rather haughtily quotes Mahaprabhu saying that the Westerners (i.e., Hindustanis) were mūḍha-anācāra (Cc 1.10.86) and that one should not mingle with them too much, but in fact, it is more likely that, at least in some respects, the Bengalis like Rupa participated in the flourishing of the Braj culture which was in full ferment at the time; they made important contributions to it and were in turn influenced by it, especially in the early period (before ca. 1550). The Bengali Vaishnavas took on a certain different spirit in contact with the Vallabhis, Radhavallabhis, Nimbarkis, Haridasis, etc., one that concentrated marvellously on Radha Krishna, that challenged and consequently changed their perspective on Chaitanya by casting it in the Radha-Krishna mood. [Of course it is possible to see this development as being completely internal to Chaitanya and his followers.] This mood was rather different from the somewhat diffuse Vishnu/Krishna bhakti of the Caitanya-bhāgavata, for instance.

As travellers went back and forth from Vrindavan, some of these influences began to show in the texts of Gaudiya writers like Lochan Das, but the real power of the Braj influence began to show when Jahnava herself went to Vrindavan and spent some time studying with Jiva Goswami.

Two of the mystery dates of Gaudiya Vaishnava history are (1) when did Narottam, Srinivas and Shyamananda return from Braja with the Goswami books, an important bit of information that would make clear exactly which books were in that first shipment, and (2) in exactly what year the Kheturi festival took place.

Rupa Goswami disappeared probably in 1568 [some accounts say 1558], before any of this famous triumvirate arrived in Braj. We know that all of Rupa and Sanatan’s books must have thus been available to the three acharyas, and probably the six Sandarbhas of Jiva. However, the Prema-vilāsa reports the Caitanya-caritāmṛta to have been in this shipment, which would have been impossible. A number of other works by Jiva, such as Gopāla-campū, as well as Krishna Das’s Govinda-līlāmṛta, etc., were not in this first instalment of Goswami literature.

It seems almost certain that two or three years separate the arrival of Shrinivas et al in Bengal from the Kheturi festival, enough time for Jahnava and Narottam Das to travel all around Bengal and as far as Puri in order to drum up interest in Goswami scriptures.

R.K.Chakravarty places Kheturi in about 1580. Although I originally thought this is a little too late, I am now convinced that it was held to commemorate the first centenary of Mahaprabhu's appearance in 1585. Though Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā seems to have been a major contributing factor to the kinds of conclusions that became integral to the way the Gaudiyas conceived of Chaitanya and his incarnation and legacy. It was written in 1576 and the writing of Caitanya-maṅgala and Caitanya-candrodaya at around the same time (1572) seems significant. These works must have been in composition for some years before, but it seems that their completion had some direct relation to the festival, which was, after all, convened on the “Gaura Purnima,” or celebration of Mahaprabhu’s appearance day. In Narottama-vilāsa, it is said that Caitanya-bhāgavata and Caitanya-maṅgala readings/performances formed part of the festivities. [Had Caitanya-caritāmṛta come East with Shrinivas et al, surely it would have been recited at this time also.]

This is important, as it is not yet clear exactly how complete the Chaitanyology* [*I coin the term as a calque on Christology, as I have Prabhupadology, in order to designate the body of discussions establishing the ontology of Chaitanya, i.e. answering the questions “Who and what was Chaitanya?”] found in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta already in place at the time of Kheturi, but Svarupa Damodar's verses clarifying the status of the Pancha Tattva are a significant element in Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā. Nevertheless, Kavi Karnapur does not cite the two most influential Chaitanyological verses by Svarupa Damodar, nor does he have any citations from the stotras of Rupa and Raghunath that are quoted in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta and are supportive of them.

At any rate, the tireless efforts of Jahnava, Srinivas and Narottam made clear to the Vaishnavas of Bengal that something special was going on. Their presentation of Sanatan and Jiva’s commentaries on the Bhāgavata and Rupa Goswami’s discourses on rasa theory were clearly powerful and convincing. There was nothing in Bengal Vaishnavism at the time that could hold a place in comparison. Thus though Rupa and Sanatan are mentioned in the Caitanya-bhāgavata, in the Caitanya-candrodaya, they are glorified:

kālena vṛndāvana-keli-vārtā
lupteti tāṁ khyāpayituṁ viśiṣya
kṛpāmṛtenābhiṣiṣeca devas
tatraiva rūpaṁ ca sanātanaṁ ca
In the course of time, tidings of Krishna’s divine sports in Vrindavan had been lost. To make them known again in detail, the Lord drenched Rupa and Sanatan with his mercy in that very land. (CCN 9.38)
The principal idea of the Goswami interpretation of the Bhāgavatam was the institution of a hierarchy in the different forms of God based on rasa. Of course, they shared the wider philosophical basis of Hinduism and participated in its debates—but the idea of understanding the hierarchy of divine manifestations according to rasa was both startlingly novel and persuasive.

It is hard to imagine the charismatic power that Jahnava, Srinivas and Narottam must have had to be able to convince their respective constituencies of the Goswamis’ vision, which ultimately won the whole Gaudiya Vaishnava world over.
The role of Jahnava Mata at the Kheturi festival should be properly highlighted. Within the Gaudiya sampradaya, diverse philosophical conceptions were coming to force, such as Gaura-nagara-bhava, Rasaraja, Gaura-paramyavada, Nitai-paramyavada, Adwaita-paramyavada, and other variations as well. …Jahnava, as the leading Vaishnava of the time, mediated on behalf of all these camps and resolved their differences to the satisfaction of the Gaudiya orthodoxy. (Steve Rosen, The Lives of the Vaishnava Saints, 91-92)

Jahnava Devi’s importance in the post-Chaitanya Vaishnava movement is evidenced by the leading role she played in organizing the Kheturi festival sometime after 1580. Three Vaishnavas organized the festival—Narottam Das of Kheturi, Shrinivas Acharya of Jajigram, and Jahnava Devi of Khardaha. It is indeed significant that all three of them had been trained by the goswamis of Vrindavan. Jahnava Devi was regarded as a goddess (īśvarī). She tried very hard to remove the sectarian and regional differences. Just before the Kheturi festival she ceaselessly travelled to and fro. She consulted the leaders of the different groups. She scrupulously refrained from building up a subsect of her own, though she had many disciples. The unifying character of her efforts is best seen in the Prema-vilāsa of Nityananda Das, who was her disciple. The Prema-vilāsa in its present form is considered apocryphal, but the work is absolutely free from sectarian bias. It puts emphasis on the activities of all groups and group leaders. (R.K. Chakravarti, Vaishnavism in Bengal, 176)

Keeping Faith with Kheturi, Part I

I have been invited to speak at the Rupa Goswami Conference, which is held annually at Gopinath Bhavan (August 27-28 this year) as a part of the celebrations of Rupa Goswami's disappearance day and Jhulan Purnima. Manjari Tennant, the organizer of the conference, has asked me to speak on the Kheturi festival. I have written several articles on this subject, and even though I am a bit rusty on the subject and my research is far from complete [in fact I disagree with some of the things I wrote here], I thought alright, why not? As I did a bit of preliminary rummaging around, I noticed that this old article from Gaudiya Discussions is not on the blog. It is a bit long for a blog, so I split it into four segments. It looks like it is in serious need of some editing. I will try to do that before the conference begins.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Most of the world’s major religions held councils that played an important role in their historical development. Buddhists held three significant councils that had a great impact on the Sangha’s organization, on its canon and doctrine, and which confronted heresies, other doctrinal controversies or schisms. Christianity also had many such councils in its early days, the most important of which was the one held at Nicea, which settled once and for all the questions about the exact nature of Christ and the Trinity and formulated the fundamental Christian doctrines in its famous Creed.

As with most new religious movements, the center of spiritual inspiration for the Gaudiyas was a person, Chaitanya himself, and even though he was far away in Jagannath Puri, the Bengali Vaishnavas’ yearly pilgrimages kept their focus clearly on him. The preachers of the new religion could glorify him and place their attention primarily on Harinam sankirtan as a revolutionary new way of organizing their society spiritually. Nityananda Avadhut and Adwaita Prabhus both had their own personal charisma, as did many other leaders like Narahari Sarkar who had come into contact with Mahaprabhu.

Even so, Gaudiya Vaishnavism never developed any central ecclesiastical authority. It had three basic geographical poles or mandalas—Nabadwip (or Gauda), Puri, and Vraja—each with its own culture and ethos. But Bengal (Gauda) was always the most important of these, because it was the principal source of converts and of spiritual leadership.

Orissan Chaitanya Vaishnavism quickly fell under the dominance of the Pancha Sakhas, and although the Orissans continued to revere Mahaprabhu and the Bhāgavatam, their spiritual and cultural connection to the Gaudiya Vaishnavas was, with a few exceptions, mostly arm’s length. And, as the Gaudiyas considered the Pancha Sakha to be heterodox, the two cultures developed independently of one another. Thus, for instance, most in Orissa think of Jagannath Das as Radha, and have little or no reverence for Nityananda, Adwaita, or Gadadhar.

Vrindavan was mostly important as a destination for renounced Bengali Vaishnavas, and although there were always a certain number of non-Bengalis entering the sampradaya, its domination by Bengalis is indisputable. This may be one of the reasons that some distance developed between them and some important non-Bengali converts in Braj, like Prabodhananda, Harivams and others. Even today, though Bengali and Hindustani Chaitanya Vaishnavas show public respect for one another, social interaction is minimal and the cultures of the two groups are quite different.

Nevertheless, Bengal was the place where the most significant conversion activity took place. But even here, we must remember that Mahaprabhu had only remained in Nabadwip a mere thirteen months after inaugurating the sankirtan movement. His main group of followers was still restricted to a fairly small circle of close associates, many of whom subsequently formed their own circles.

According to the Chaitanya-bhāgavata, even though Murari Gupta, Srivas Pandit and Gadadhar Pandit were the first to “discover” Mahaprabhu, they made a point of informing the seniormost and most respected of the local Vaishnava sympathizers, Adwaita Acharya, as soon as possible, and he was the one who came and, with the namo brahmaṇya-devāya verse, gave approval to the idea that Nimai was the yugāvatara. Nityananda came along a short time later, and in this case, it was Mahaprabhu who offered him recognition in the Vyasa Puja celebration, which is described in Caitanya-bhāgavata (Madhya 5).

But look at the difference in mood between Murari Gupta’s account in his Kharcha and Vrindavan Das’s Caitanya-bhāgavata, written twenty or thirty years later. The latter is full of warnings not to criticize or condemn, nor to think that there is enmity between Gadadhar, Nityananda and Adwaita. And yet, though Vrindavan Das seems to be seeking some conciliation between the factions, he never mentions Narahari Sarkar once, even though he was an important leader of the Srikhanda branch of the Chaitanya movement, and also speaks unfavorably about the “Gaurāṅga-nāgara” doctrine, the particular mode of worship that has its spiritual home in Srikhanda. (Murari himself only mentions Narahari once, 4.17.13) Little wonder then that Lochan Das found it necessary to write another biography of Chaitanya in which Narahari could find a place.

Prema-vilāsa, written by Nityananda Das, a disciple of Jahnava Mata, also writes somewhat disparagingly about Adwaita Prabhu and his penchant for reading and lecturing from the Yoga-vasiṣṭha. Vrindavan Das had told that Mahaprabhu criticized Adwaita for this practice when he was in Nabadwip, but Nityananda Das indicates that he continued doing so even after Mahaprabhu had gone to live in Puri and that many Vaishnavas had been puzzled by this behavior and complained about it. He further spins the story that this was one of the causes of the advent of Srinivasa Acharya and Narottam Das.

Complaints about Nityananda, whose unorthodox behaviour is documented approvingly by Vrindavan Das, were also manifold. Adwaita Acharya, who according to the Caitanya-bhāgavata asked for prema to be given even to the lowborn and the outcastes, seemed to have some problem with Nityananda’s level of sadācāra. Moreover, when Nitai returned to grihastha life, especially one that was conspicuously opulent in style, he attracted the criticisms of many Brahmins. One reason for this, which still affects Nityananda’s descendants, was his exact caste status. Nityananda’s father was an Ojha, or “medicine man,” living in an area that was quite likely marginal to Brahminical culture.

Birbhum is near the Santal Paragana and Jharkhanda areas, which is strongly tribal even today, what to speak of 500 years ago. Despite travelling with a sannyasi from childhood, Nityananda's Brahminical credentials were suspect. Establishing them eventually became necessary in order to gain respectability for the Chaitanya sampradaya in general. Marrying into a Brahmin family would have been an easy way for him to establish a Brahmin identity, for if one segment of the Brahmin community accepted him, it would mean de facto acceptance everywhere.

Nevertheless, it is clear from Caitanya-caritāmṛta and elsewhere that Adwaita, at least, was not altogether comfortable with Nityananda’s caste status, and even though statements of this sort are passed off as good-humored banter among friends in the biographies, a certain real underlying tension can be detected. Caste as an issue in Gaudiya Vaishnavism has always been an underlying problem; such prejudices remained despite dogmatic scriptural assertions opposing them.

But these were the likely criticisms levelled against Adwaita and Nityananda by partisans, some of whom seemed to want to attribute their own leaders with equal or even superior status to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself.

In all this, the position of the Gaura Nagaras, for whom Gadadhar was the symbolic (rather than real) leader, was not negligible. And then there were many other minor leaders with their own charisma who were also building up their own bases and claims to guruship, but whose individual expressions were challenged by those (such as Nityananda’s disciples) who claimed some kind of monopoly on access to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

By the 1570’s, 35 years had passed since Mahaprabhu’s disappearance; most of the senior leaders from his time had already departed and those who remained were not much longer for the world. [The accounts of Narottam et al play up this by recounting how they travelled to Nabadwip and Puri to meet with these personalities only to be disappointed.] It became clear that something needed to be done, for the sampradaya was in great risk of splintering into quarrelling factions and falling into irrelevance.

If we look at the written material that would have been available at this time, the texts representing these various schools, we get a bit of a better idea of the problem. They are generally philosophically very thin. In the Gadadhar article and above, we find many indications of the hold that the Yoga-vasiṣṭha seemed to have over Bengali Hindus of the time. Though Vrindavan Das clearly indicates that the Nityananda Vaishnavas rejected the impersonalist doctrine, I would venture to say that in the interactions with the expert Nyaya and Vedanta philosophers of Nabadwip and elsewhere, they, and even the Brahmin converts following Srivas and Adwaita, and even those who had studied the Bhāgavatam according to Sridhar Swami's commentary, would have had a hard time presenting a persuasive competing vision. All they had was their enthusiasm and their faith in their charismatic leaders.

As such, the Chaitanya movement was principally one of piety and zeal. We could say that it was overbalanced toward religion’s emotional or sentimental side. Claims of superiority and inferiority, as the above cursory discussion and the Gadadhar article show, were more about jockeying for ontological position through interpreting Chaitanya’s role as avatar and the specifics of a particular associate’s type of relationship to or degree of intimacy with Chaitanya.

With the departure, one by one, of these charismatic leaders, it became clear that there was a crisis.