By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Srikrsna Caitanya, ZrikrSNa Caitanya, shrikrshna Caitanya
The life of a eminent preachers has two faces, the external and the internal. External outlook can be traced and described while the internal perspective cannot be noticed since it is a matter of direct personal and mystical experience. Śrīkṛṣṇa Caitanya, also known as Caitanya Mahāprabhu, belongs to internal group. Śrikrṣṇa Caitanya lived in A. D. 1486-1533.
Birth and Early Life
He was born on a full-moon day. His birth date is February 4, 1486. He was born in the small town of Navadvip in Bengal as the tenth child of Jagannātha Miśra and Śacīdevī. He was given the name Viśvambhara. His mother called him ‘Nimāi’ since she had lost eight children and the ninth had run away to become a monk in the belief that the god of death would not touch him, he being ‘bitter’ like the neem leaves and it's fruits. Since his complexion was like that of gold and since he was extraordinarily handsome, he was given the name Gaurāṅga also.
As a child, his pranks and naughty behavior were very much reminiscent of those of Śrikṛsṇa himself. He manifested certain unusual signs of divinity also like demanding the food offering meant for Kṛṣṇa or humbling an elderly paṇḍit. He was admitted into a Sanskrit school where he made astonishing progress in his education especially because of his exceedingly sharp intellect and memory.
Meanwhile his father passed away. Mother Śacī took charge of his higher education. Very soon he matured into a great scholar of unsurpassed reputation. He also started his own tol. During this period he was married to Lakṣmī, the daughter of a reputed paṇḍit, Vallbhācārya. Being endowed with handsome features and immense scholarship, he now started on a tour of the nearby places to vanquish all the paṇḍits of the region and establish his supremacy over them all. When he returned he learnt that his wife had died of a snakebite. Maintaining his inner poise, he continued his teaching work at his tol. However his mother Śacī got him married to Viṣṇupriyā, the daughter of a wealthy paṇḍit of a great reputation.
Some time after his tour, he decided to visit Gayā, the famous pilgrim center of Gadādhara. During this visit, after he completed all the formal rituals he worshiped at the Viṣṇupāda where he had a strange mystical experience that changed his entire mood. He then begged īśvara Puri whom he had known earlier and who was then present there to initiate him into the mantra of worship of Kṛṣṇa, the beloved of the gopis. Puri obliged and Nimāi’s mood changed completely into one of pathos like that of the gopīs due to an inner feeling of separation from Kṛṣṇa, the beloved. Nimāi now became Kṛṣṇa Caitanya or Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the apostle of the love of Kṛṣṇa.
From now onwards, Caitanya started going into ecstatic moods, his behavior often making people doubt about his sanity and mental balance. However, the great spiritual power that manifested in him now and then, totally transformed persons whom he touched and also spoke of the revelation of his divinity. Śrīvās, a committed devotee, Advaitācārya the scholarly leader of the Vaiṣṇavas, Kāzi the Muslim Governor, Jagāi and Madhāi, the confirmed rowdies were some of the fortunate souls who gained from his infinite grace and compassion. During this period, he gathered a good number of followers like Nityānanda or Nitāi who became his inseparable companion, Haridās, Murāri and others.
Caitanya now decided to take sanyāsa and somehow managed to extract permission from his mother and wife. He then left Navadvīp and proceeded to Kaṭva where lived a great monk Keśava Bhāratī, with whom he had had contacts earlier. Keśava Bhāratī administered the monastic vows and changed his name to Srīkṛṣṇa Caitanya. Meanwhile his mother and the devotees met him and got the promise that he would live at Nīlācal in Orissa and not go to Vṛndāban as he had planned.
This was his first visit to Purī. The yearning to meet his Kṛṣṇa at Vṛndāban now turned towards Jagannātha of Puri. Here also the deity was Kṛṣṇa himself. One of the important events that took place at Purī was the conversion of Vāsudeva Sārvabhauma, the doyen of scholars at that time, who was made to give up his Advaita philosophy and turn to devotion for Lord Kṛṣna.
Caitanya then undertook a long pilgrimage to South India spread over two years visiting all the important holy centres including Kanyākumārī in Tamil Nadu and Uḍupi in Karnataka. During this visit he converted Rāmānanda Roy, the governor of Vidyānagara in Andhra Pradesh under the king Pratāparudra of Kaliṅga, to the sect of devotion to Kṛṣṇa. The king also became his disciple drawn by his magnetic personality.
After returning to Puri and taking part in the famous Rathayātrā of Lord Jagannātha, he traveled towards Vṛndāban and returned via other holy places in North India like Vārāṇasī in Kāśī and Prayāga in Allahabad. During this tour he made three important disciples Rupa Gosvāmin his brother Sanātana Gosvāmin and their nephew Jīva Gosvāmin. They were not only devotees of Kṛṣṇa but also great scholars who were instrumental in formulating the Acintyabhedābheda philosophy of the Caitanya sect.
At that time Vṛndāban, the place connected with the childhood days of Kṛṣṇa, was in a very bad shape. Caitanya commanded Sanātana to rediscover and reclaim all the important places and convert it into a good place of pilgrimage, especially for the devotees of Kṛṣṇa. Sanātana succeeded in the task admirably. It is said that Vallabhācārya the well-known Vaiṣṇava teacher of the puṣtimārga, met Caitanya here.
The last thirteen or fourteen years of life were spent by Caitanya exclusively at Purī. During this period he often used to be in ecstatic states of Kṛṣṇabhakti just like that of Rādhā towards Kṛṣṇa. Hence someone had to be with him always to take care of him. Though a great scholar, Caitanya never left any writings of his own, except two exquisitely beautiful hymns:
- The Caitanyaśiksāstaka
- The Jagannātha-stotra
Apart from the Bhāgavata, Caitanya was fond of the famous hymn Śrikṛṣṇa-karnāmrta and another work called the Brāhmasamhitā.
There are two versions of Caitanya’s end. According to the first, he entered into the image of Jagannātha in the temple. The second account describes that he entered into the waters of the sea and disappeared.
- Nimāi means the neem tree.
- Gaurāṅga means the white one.
- Tol means Sanskrit school.
- Gadādhara is an aspect of Viṣṇu.
- Viṣṇupāda is a place containing the imprint of God’s foot-prints.
- Puri is a sanyāsin disciple of a well-known saint Mādhavendra Purī.
- Haridās is a Muslim saint.
- Sanyāsa means monastic life.
- Nīlācal means Jagannātha Purī or Purī.
- It is in Orissa.
- Rathayātrā means car-festival.
- He lived in A. D. 1493-1568.
- He lived in A. D. 1481-1558.
- He lived in d. A. D. 1609.
- He lived in A. D. 1473-1531.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore