18 February 1486
Nabadwip, Bengal Sultanate
(present-day West Bengal, India)
|Died||14 June 1534 (aged 48)|
Puri, Gajapati Kingdom
(present-day Odisha, India)
|Spouse||Lakshmi Priya (first wife) and Vishnupriya|
|Known for||Expounded Gaudiya Vaishnavism, kirtan|
|Founder of||Gaudiya Vaishnavism|
Achintya Bheda Abheda
|Philosophy||Bhakti yoga, Achintya Bheda Abheda|
|Guru||Swami Isvara Puri (mantra guru); Swami Kesava Bharati (sannyas guru)|
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Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (IAST: Caitanya Mahāprabhu; born Vishvambhar Mishra) was a 15th-century Indian saint who is considered to be the combined avatar of Radha and Krishna by his disciples and various scriptures. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's mode of worshipping Krishna with bhajan-kirtan and dance had a profound effect on Vaishnavism in Bengal. He was also the chief proponent of the Vedantic philosophy of Achintya Bheda Abheda Tattva. Mahaprabhu founded Gaudiya Vaishnavism (a.k.a. the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Sampradaya). He expounded Bhakti yoga and popularized the chanting of the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra. He composed the Shikshashtakam (eight devotional prayers).
Chaitanya is sometimes called Gauranga or Gaura due to his molten gold–like complexion. His birthday is celebrated as Gaura-purnima. He is also called Nimai because he was born underneath a Neem tree.
Chaitanya means "one who is conscious" (derived from Chetana, which means "Consciousness"); Maha means "Great" and Prabhu means "Lord" or "Master". Chaitanya was born as Vishvambhar Mishra, the second son of Jagannath Mishra. Jagannath and his wife, Sachi Devi, the daughter of Nilambara Chakravarti, were both Brahmins of Sylhet. Jagannath Mishra's family were from the village of Dhakadakshin in Srihatta (Sylhet) (now in Bangladesh). The ruins of their ancestral home still survive in present-day Bangladesh.
According to Chaitanya Charitamrita, Chaitanya was born in Nabadwip (in present-day West Bengal) on the full moon night of 18 February 1486, at the time of a lunar eclipse.
A number of stories also exist telling of Chaitanya's apparent attraction to the chanting and singing of Krishna's names from a very young age, but largely this was perceived as being secondary to his interest in acquiring knowledge and studying Sanskrit. When travelling to Gaya to perform the Śrāddha ceremony for his departed father, Chaitanya met his guru, the ascetic Ishvara Puri, from whom he received initiation with the Gopala Krishna mantra. This meeting was to mark a significant change in Chaitanya's outlook and upon his return to Bengal the local Vaishnavas, headed by Advaita Acharya, were stunned at his external sudden 'change of heart' (from 'scholar' to 'devotee') and soon Chaitanya became the eminent leader of their Vaishnava group within Nadia.
After leaving Bengal and receiving entrance into the sannyasa order by Swami Kesava Bharati, Chaitanya journeyed throughout the length and breadth of India for several years, chanting the divine names of Krishna constantly. At that time He travelled on foot covering a lot of places like Baranagar, Mahinagar, Atisara and, at last, Chhatrabhog. Chhatrabhog is the place where Goddess Ganga and Shiva met, then one hundred mouths of Ganga were visible from here. From the source of Vrindavana Dasa's Chaitanya Bhagavata, he bathed at Ambulinga Ghat of Chhatrabhog with intimate companions with great chorus-chanting (kirtan). After staying one night he set for Puri by boat with the help of Local Administrator Ram Chandra Khan. He spent the last 24 years of his life in Puri, Odisha, the great temple city of Jagannath in the Radhakanta Math. The Gajapati king, Prataprudra Dev, regarded Chaitanya as Krishna's avatar and was an enthusiastic patron and devotee of Chaitanya's recitation (sankeertan) gatherings. It was during these years that Chaitanya is believed by his followers to have sunk deep into various Divine-Love trances (samādhi) and performed pastimes of divine ecstasy (bhakti).
Vrindavan, the land of Radha Rani, the “City of Temples” has more than 5000 temples to showcase the pastimes of Radha and Krishna. The essence of Vrindavan was lost over time until the 16th century, when it was rediscovered by Chaitanya. In the year 1515, Chaitanya visited Vrindavan, with the purpose of locating the lost holy places associated with Krishna's transcendent pastimes. He wandered through the different sacred forests of Vrindavan in a spiritual trance of divine love. It was believed that by His divine spiritual power, he was able to locate all the important places of Krishna's pastimes in and around Vrindavan including the seven main temples or sapta devalay, which are worshiped by Vaishnavas in the Chaitanya tradition to this day.
There are numerous biographies available from the time giving details of Chaitanya's life, the most prominent ones being the Chaitanya Charitamrita of Krishnadasa Kaviraja, the earlier Chaitanya Bhagavata of Vrindavana Dasa (both originally written in Bengali but now widely available in English and other languages), and the Chaitanya Mangala, written by "Lochana Dasa". These works are in Bengali with some Sanskrit verses interspersed. In addition to these, there are other Sanskrit biographies composed by his contemporaries. There is also Caitanya Caritāmṛta Mahākavya by Kavi Karnapura and Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Carita Maha-Kavya by Murari Gupta.
Works on Chaitanya:
According to the hagiographies of 16th-century authors, on a number of occasions he exhibited his Universal Form in the same way that Lord Krishna had, notably to Advaita Ācārya and Nityānanda Prabhu.
When Rupa Goswami first met the Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, he saw the divinity in him and composed the following verse:
"O most munificent incarnation! You are Krishna Himself appearing as Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu. You have assumed the golden colour of Srimati Radharani, and You are widely distributing pure love of Krishna. We offer our respectful obeisances unto You."
The evidence for the belief that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is an incarnation of Lord Krishna is found in the Srimad Bhagavatam:
In the Age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Kṛṣṇa. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Kṛṣṇa Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions.— Canto 11, Chapter 5, Verse 32
In this way, my Lord, You appear in various incarnations as a human being, an animal, a great saint, a demigod, a fish or a tortoise, thus maintaining the entire creation in different planetary systems and killing the demoniac principles. According to the age, O my Lord, You protect the principles of religion. In the Age of Kali, however, You do not assert Yourself as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore You are known as Triyuga, or the Lord who appears in three yugas.— Canto 7, Chapter 9, Verse 38
Also in some other Scriptures like Vishnu Sahasranama, Bhavishya Purana, Padma Purana and Garuda Purana there are references of Chaitanaya Mahaprabhu being an incarnation of Krishna. Evidence such as the Krishna-varnam verse SB 11.5.32 have many interpretations by scholars, including Sridhara Svami who is accepted as an authority by Mahaprabhu himself.
Gaudiya Vaishnavas consider Chaitanya to be Lord Krishna himself but appearing in the covered form (channa avatāra) who appeared in the Kali Yuga as his own devotee to show the easiest way to achieve Krishna Consciousness. The Gaudiya Vaishnava acharya Bhaktivinoda Thakura also became aware of the rare manuscript known as the Chaitanya Upanisad of the Atharvaveda section, which reveals the identity of Chaitanya. There are various evidences in the Hindu scriptures to show that, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was non-different from Krishna. Unlike the other avatars of Krishna he did not kill any demon. Furthermore, Mahaprabhu revealed and propagated the great benefits of chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. According to Chaitanya Bhagavat, which gives a detailed description of Mahaprabhu's life, Mahaprabhu made a prediction that the holy name of Krishna would be sung in every town and village of the world. The fulfillment of this prediction was manifested through the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, which was started by Srila Prabhupada in the USA, as it has spread the ideas of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu through much of the world.
Main article: Gaudiya Vaishnavism § Philosophical concepts
Lord Chaitanya's direct teachings are recorded in Sanskrit verses called Siksastakam (though, in Vaishnava Padavali it is said: "Chaitanya himself wrote many songs on the Radha-Krishna theme").
Chaitanya's epistemological, theological and ontological teachings are summarised as ten root principles called dasa mula.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is said to be a disciple of Isvara Puri who was a disciple of Madhavendra Puri who was a disciple of Lakshmipati Tirtha who was a disciple of Vyasatirtha(1469-1539) of Madhvacharya's Sampradaya. Despite having been initiated in the Madhvacharya tradition and taking sannyasa from Shankara's tradition, Chaitanya's philosophy is sometimes regarded as a tradition of his own within the Vaishnava framework – having some marked differences with the practices and the theology of other followers of Madhvacharya. He took Mantra Upadesa from Isvara Puri and Sanyasa Diksha from Keshava Bharati.
Chaitanya is not known to have written anything himself except for a series of verses known as the Siksastaka, or "eight verses of instruction", which he had spoken, and were recorded by one of his close colleagues. The eight verses created by Chaitanya are considered to contain the complete philosophy of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in condensed form. Chaitanya requested a select few among his followers (who later came to be known as the Six Gosvamis of Vrindavan) to systematically present the theology of bhakti he had taught to them in their own writings. The six saints and theologians were Rupa Goswami, Sanatana Goswami, Gopala Bhatta Goswami, Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami, Raghunatha Dasa Goswami and Jiva Goswami, a nephew of brothers Rupa and Sanatana. These individuals were responsible for systematising Gaudiya Vaishnava theology.
Narottama Dasa, Srinivasa Acharya and Shyamananda Mandal were among the stalwarts of the second generation of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Having studied under Jiva Goswami, they were instrumental in propagating the teachings of the Goswamis throughout Bengal, Odisha and other regions of Eastern India. Many among their associates, such as Ramacandra Kaviraja and Ganga Narayan Chakravarti, were also eminent teachers in their own right.
In the early 17th century Kalachand Vidyalankar, a disciple of Chaitanya, made his preachings popular in Bengal. He travelled throughout India popularising the gospel of anti-untouchability, social justice and mass education. He probably initiated 'Pankti Bhojon' and Krishna Sankirtan in the eastern part of Bengal. Several schools (sampradaya) have been practising it for hundreds of years. Geetashree Chabi Bandyopadhyay and Radharani Devi are among many who achieved fame by singing kirtan. The Dalits in Bengal, at that time a neglected and underprivileged caste, readily accepted his libertarian outlook and embraced the doctrine of Mahaprabhu. His disciples were known as Kalachandi Sampraday, who inspired the people to eradicate illiteracy and casteism. Many consider Kalachand as the Father of Rationalism in East Bengal (Purba Banga).
The festival of Kheturi, presided over by Jahnava Thakurani, the wife of Nityananda, was the first time the leaders of the various branches of Chaitanya's followers assembled together. Through such festivals, members of the loosely organised tradition became acquainted with other branches along with their respective theological and practical nuances. Around these times, the disciples and descendants of Nityananda and Advaita Acharya, headed by Virabhadra and Krishna respectively, started their family lineages (vamsa) to maintain the tradition. The vamsa descending from Nityananda through his son Virabhadra forms the most prominent branch of the modern Gaudiya tradition, though descendants of Advaita, along with the descendants of many other associates of Chaitanya, maintain their following especially in the rural areas of Bengal. Gopala Guru Goswami, a young associate of Chaitanya and a follower of Vakresvara Pandit, founded another branch based in Odisha. The writings of Gopala, along with those of his disciple Dhyanacandra Goswami, have had a substantial influence on the methods of internal worship in the tradition.
From the very beginning of Chaitanya's bhakti movement in Bengal, Haridasa Thakur and others, Muslim or Hindu by birth, were participants. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the great sage of Dakshineswar, who lived in the 19th century, emphasised the bhakti marga of Chaitanya, whom he referred to as "Gauranga." (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna). This openness received a boost from Bhaktivinoda Thakura's broad-minded vision in the late 19th century and was institutionalised by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in his Gaudiya Matha in the 20th century.
In the 20th century the teachings of Chaitanya were brought to the West. For the first time, by Baba Premananda Bharati (1858–1914), author of Sree Krishna—the Lord of Love (1904)—the first full-length treatment of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in English, who founded in 1902 the short-lived "Krishna Samaj" society in New York City and built a temple in Los Angeles. He belonged to the circle of guru Prabhu Jagadbandhu with teachings similar to the later ISKCON mission. His followers later formed several organizations, including now defunct the Order of Living Service and the AUM Temple of Universal Truth. Another prominent missionary was A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), a representative of the Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati branch of Chaitanya's tradition. Prabhupada founded his movement known as The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) to spread Chaitanya's teachings throughout the world. Saraswata gurus and acharyas, members of the Goswami lineages and several other Hindu sects which revere Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, including devotees from the major Vaishnava holy places in Mathura District, West Bengal and Odisha, also established temples dedicated to Krishna and Chaitanya outside India in the closing decades of the 20th century. In the 21st century, Vaishnava bhakti is now also being studied through the academic medium of Krishnology in a number of academic institutions.
See also: Bengal Renaissance
Chaitanya's influence on the cultural legacy in Bengal, Odisha and Manipur, has been significant, with many residents performing daily worship to him as an avatar of Krishna. Some attribute to him a Renaissance in Bengal, different from the more well-known 19th-century Bengal Renaissance. Salimullah Khan (b. 1958), a noted Bangladeshi linguist, maintains, "Sixteenth-century is the time of Chaitanya Dev, and it is the beginning of Modernism in Bengal. The concept of 'humanity' that came into fruition is contemporaneous with that of Europe".
Noted Bengali biographical film on Chaitanya, Nilachaley Mahaprabhu (1957), was directed by Kartik Chattopadhyay (1912–1989). A Bengali film based on Chaitanya's demise, Lawho Gouranger Naam Re, will be directed by Srijit Mukherji where Parambrata Chatterjee will be seen portraying Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Note, Sarma Mamoni is a researcher at Gauhati University under Chakraborty Amalendu.