Chaitanya's Life and Teachings

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CHAITANYA'S


LIFE AND TEACHINGS


From his contemporary Bengali biography
the Chaitanya-charit-amrita;

 

Translated into English
BY
JADUNATH SARKAR, m.a., i.e.s.


SECOND EDITION.
Revised and enlarged, with topographical notes.
1922

 

M. C. Sarkar & Sons, Calcutta,
Luzac & Co., London.

Rs. 2.

 

Published by S. C. Sarkar
M. C. Sarkar & Sons, 90/2A, Harrison Road, Calcutta.

 

Printer: S. C. Mazumdar
sri gouranga press

71/1, Mirzapur Street, Calcutta.

 

 

TO

Professor RAJA GOPALACHARIAR, m.a., b.l.,

who has done so much to make the vaishnav
saints of the South known to us.

I dedicate this attempt to place the original life of
Chaitanya—the greatest Vaishnav teacher of
the North—within the reach of all
readers of English who know
not the Bengali tongue.


Patna College,   J. SARKAR
10th April, 1913.
 

 

THE AUTHOR AND HIS BOOK

Krishna-das Kaviraj, the author of the Chaitanya-charit-ámrita, was born in the Vaidya caste, at Jhámatpur, a village of the Kátwá sub-division of the Burdwan district in Bengal, (1496 A.D.) Having lost his parents in early life, he was brought up by his late father's sister. He read Persian at the village school, and then began to study Sanskrit in order to qualify himself for practising Hindu medicine, the profession of his caste. Every part of his great poem bears evidence to his profound mastery of Sanskrit literature, particularly of the Bhágabat Purán. The young orphan, while still unmarried, was converted to Vaishnavism by Nityananda, and begged his way on foot to Brindaban, where he spent the remainder of his long life in religious study, meditation and worship. He was initiated as a Vaishnav monk by Raghunath-das, who along with Swarup Damodar had been body-servants to Chaitanya during that saint's stay at Jagannath. From his guru, Krishna-das learned the particulars of Chaitanya's life and teaching which he has embodied in the present biography.

His first efforts at authorship were in Sanskrit and dealt with the mysteries of bhakti and the service of Krishna. The great work of his life was the composition of his old age, and was undertaken at the request of the faithful. Every evening the Bengali Vaishnavs of Brindaban used to gather together and hear the acts of their Master read out from his poetical biography, the Chaitanya Bhágbat composed by Brindaban-das. But this book dealt with the saint's last years in too meagre and concise a fashion to satisfy the curiosity of his followers. They, therefore, led by Haridas Pandit, the chief servitor of the Govindaji temple, pressed Krishna-das to write a new and fuller life of the Master. The poet was old and infirm, but he regarded the request as a solemn charge which he was not free to decline. That very evening he prayed to the image of Madanmohan, and the god's approbation was shown by a sign,—a garland of flowers slipping down from his neck at the end of the prayer! On the bank of the Rádhá-kunda tank, the aged Krishna-das completed his Chaitanya-charit-ámrita in 1582 after nine years of unremitting toil. It is divided into three Books, the Adi Lilá, the Madhya Lilá, and the Antya Lilá, dealing respectively with the three stages of Chaitanya's life, viz., (i) the 24 years from his birth to the time of his entering the monastic order, (ii) the six years of his pilgrimage, and (iii) the last eighteen years of his life, which were spent in residence at Puri. In spite of its epic length, prolixity, and repetitions, the Chaitanya-charit-ámrita is a masterpiece of early Bengali literature, and has the further merit of making the subtle doctrines of the Vaishnav faith intelligible to ordinary people. Indeed, the older school of Vaishnav Fathers, as represented by Jiv Goswami, had at first objected to its publication, lest the merits and completeness of this vernacular work should cause the learned Sanskrit treatises on bhakti exegetics to be neglected by the public! The author's manuscript is still preserved in the Radha-Damodar temple of Brindaban, and worshipped as a holy relic.

The Second Book (Madhya Lilá), which is the longest and most detailed of the three and the foremost authority on Chaitanya's teachings, life and character, and contains the clearest and fullest exposition of Vaishnav philosophy,—has been here translated into English for the first time. In the second edition, many long extracts from the Third Book (Antya Lilá) have been added, to complete the story of Chaitanya's doings and sayings at Puri till his death. Readers to whom the Bengali tongue is unknown, will here find an unvarnished account of Chaitanya as his contemporaries knew him, without any modern gloss, interpolation or criticism. My version is literal; only, in certain places needless details have been curtailed, all repetitions have been avoided, and the texts so freely quoted by our author from the Sanskrit scriptures have been indicated by reference to chapter and verse, instead of being done into English. The word Prabhu, applied by the author to Chaitanya, has been rendered by me as Master.

There are three other contemporary lives of Chaitanya in old Bengali. The earliest of them is the Chaitanya Bhágabat, composed in 1535 A.D., by the Brahman Brindaban-das, a sister's son of Shribas Pandit of Navadwip. This author (b. 1507, d. 1589) was a votary of God as incarnate in Nityánanda; to him Chaitanya was almost a secondary object of adoration. His poem is encumbered with miracles and digressions, and far inferior to Krishna-das's work in wealth of philosophic exposition and description of men and events.

Trilochan-das (born 1523) wrote the Chaitanya-Mangal at the age of fourteen! It is full of marvellous incidents and should be classed with romances rather than with sober histories. Its text is still sung by wandering minstrels and is appreciated by the lower ranks of the Vaishnav community.

Jayananda Mishra (b. about 1511) wrote his Chaitanya-Mangal about 1568, and his poem gives us much new information about the saint and his family. He is our only authority for the narrative of Chaitanya's death, which I have translated at the end of this work.

****

In the second edition parts of two chapters of the first edition, viz., xviii. pp. 254-269 and xxii. pp. 290-303, have been omitted, as they can be understood only by very learned Sanskrit scholars, the remaining part of ch. xxii has been incorporated with ch. xxi, while ch. xxiii has been renumbered as xxii. In the present edition, all the chapters from xxiii to the end are taken from the Antya Lilá.

In preparing the second edition, the translation has been carefully compared with the text and minutely revised. Many mistakes have been detected and corrected; some of them came no doubt from the manuscript from which the first edition was printed, but most of the others were due to the inefficiency and carelessness of the press. In going through the original a second time I have in a few places modified my interpretation of the text made twelve years ago.

A long and important appendix has now been added, giving the exact situation and some description of the various holy places visited by Chaitanya, (with references to the best and most modern sources of information, such as Gazetteers and maps).

 

 

 

A SHORT LIFE OF CHAITANYA

Navadwip, a town in the Nadia district of Bengal, situated on the river Ganges, 75 miles north of Calcutta, was a great trading centre and seat of Hindu learning in the 15th century. Sanskrit logic (nyáy) for which Bengal is most famous among all the provinces of India, was very highly developed and studied here, and the fame of its scholars was unsurpassed in the land. But, if we may believe the biographers of Chaitanya, the atmosphere of the town was sceptical and unspiritual. There was a lack of true religious fervour and sincere devotion. Proud of their intellectuality, proud of the vast wealth they acquired by gifts from rich Hindus, the local pandits despised bhakti or devotion as weak and vulgar, and engaged in idle ceremonies or idler amusements. Vedantism formed the topic of conversation of the cultured few; wine and goat's meat were taken to kindly by the majority of the people, and such Shakta rites as were accompanied by the offering of this drink and food to the goddess and their subsequent consumption by her votaries, were performed with zeal and enthusiasm.

Jagannáth Mishra, surnamed Purandar, a Brahman of the Vaidik sub-caste, had emigrated from his ancestral home in Sylhet and settled here in order to live on the bank of the holy Ganges. His wife was Shachi, a daughter of the scholar Nilambar Chakravarti. One evening in February or March, 1485 A.D., when there was a lunar eclipse at the same time as full moon, a son was born to this couple. It was their tenth child; the first eight, all daughters, had died in infancy, and the ninth, a lad named Vishwarup, had abandoned the world at the age of sixteen when pressed to marry, and had entered a monastery in the Madras presidency.

The new-born child was named Vishwambhar. But the women, seeing that his mother had lost so many children before him, gave him the disparaging name of Nimái or 'short-lived,' in order to propitiate Nemesis. The neighbours called him Gaur or Gauránga ('fair complexioned') on account of his marvellous beauty. That the child was born amidst the chanting of Hari's name all over Navadwip on the occasion of the eclipse, was taken to be an omen that he would prove a teacher of bhakti. Passing over the lucky signs of his horoscope, and the miracles and Krishna-like antics with which pious imagination has invested his boyhood, we may note that he showed great keenness and precocity of intellect in mastering all branches of Sanskrit learning, especially grammar and logic.

On the death of his father, Vishwambhar, while still a student, married Lakshmi, the daughter of Vallabh Acharya, with whom he had fallen in love at first sight. He now became a householder, and began to take pupils, like many other Brahmans of Navadwip. As a pandit he surpassed the other scholars of the place and even defeated a renowned champion of another province, who was travelling all over India holding disputations.

On his return from a scholastic tour in East Bengal, in which he received many gifts from pious householders, he found that his wife had died of snake-bite during his absence. After a while the widower married Vishnu-priya. At this time his head was turned by the pride of scholarship, and his victories in argument made him slight other men. During a pilgrimage to Gayá, he met Ishwar Puri, a Vaishnav monk of the order of Mádhaváchárya and a disciple of that Mádhavendra Puri who had first introduced the cult of bhakti for Krishna among the sannyásis. Vishwambhar took this Ishwar Puri as his guru or spiritual guide. A complete change now came over his spirit. His intellectual pride was gone; he became a bhakta; whateyer subject he lectured on, the theme of his discourse was love of Krishna. Indeed, he developed religious ecstasy and for some time behaved like a mad man: he laughed, wept, incessantly shouted Krishna's name, climbed up trees, or raved in abstraction imagining himself to be Krishna. He now made the acquaintance of the elderly scholar and bhakta Adwaita Acharya, and was joined by a sannyási named Nityánanda, who became to him even more than what Paul was to Christ.

Many people of Navadwip now believed Chaitanya to be an incarnation of Krishna and did him worship, while Nityananda came to be regarded as Balaram, (the elder brother of Krishna). Religious processions were frequently got up, in which the devout, headed by the two, went dancing and singing through the streets or assembled in the courtyards of houses. This was the origin of the nám-kirtan ('chanting God's name') which has ever been the most distinctive feature of this creed. Chaitanya's greatest achievement at this time was the reclamation of two drunken ruffians, Jagái and Mádhái, who were a terror to the city. The apostles of bhakti had also to face mockery and persecution from scoffers and unbelievers (páshandi),—which were overcome by supernatural signs. We pass over the scenes of ecstasy, tireless exertion in kirtan, madness and miracles, which form the extant history of this period of Chaitanya's life. But the conversions among the learned were few, and Chaitanya at last in despair resolved to turn hermit for their salvation, arguing thus, "As I must deliver all these proud scholars, I have to take to an ascetic life. They will surely bow to me when they see me as a hermit, and thus their hearts will be purified and filled with bhakti. There is no other means." So, he induced Keshav Bhárati to initiate him as a sannyási (1509) under the name of Krishna-Chaitanya, usually shortened into chaitanya, which we have anticipated in this sketch. He was then 24 years of age. His mother, who had often before urged him not to desert her as his elder brother had done, was heart-broken at the loss of her sole surviving child, but Chaitanya consoled her in every possible way, and bowed to her wishes in many points in his after years as obediently as he had done before renouncing the life of a householder.

The next six years were passed by him in pilgrimages to Orissa, the Southern Land, and Brindaban, and in the preaching of bhakti in many parts of India, as described in detail in the present volume.

Thereafter, at the age of 30, he settled at Puri, and spent his remaining days in the constant adoration of Jagannáth. Disciples and admirers from many places, chiefly Bengal and Brindaban, visited him here; and he edified them by his discourses, acts of humility, and penances. Towards the close of his life he had repeated fits of religious ecstasy in which he acted in utter disregard of his life,—once leaping into the blue ocean, at another time battering his face against the walls of his room. At last in June-July, 1533, his physical frame broke down under such prolonged mental convulsion and self-inflicted torments, and he passed away under circumstances over which the piety of his biographers has drawn the veil of mystery.

In his lifetime his disciples had organized a mission. In Bengal the new creed was preached and spread far and wide by Nityananda, who afterwards came to be regarded as a god, co-ordinate with Chaitanya. Modern Brindaban, with its temples, Sanskrit seminaries and haunts for recluses, is the creation of the Bengali Vaishnavs, and it has eclipsed the older city of Mathura. Here the brothers Rup and Sanátan,—descended from a Prince of Karnat who had settled in Bengal and whose descendants had become completely Bengalized, joined Chaitanya's Church. These two and their nephew Jiv Goswámi were great Sanskrit scholars and their devotional works, commentaries, &c. encouraged a revival of Sanskrit studies in general in that Muslim age. These three, with Gopal Bhatta, nephew of the celebrated Vedantist Prakáshánanda who was latterly converted to bhakti by Chaitanya and changed his name into Prabodhánanda, and Raghunáth Bhatta, son of an up-country Brahman bhakta, and the last Raghunath-das, a Káyastha saint of the Saptagrám zamindar family of the Hugli district and the guru of our author, formed the six Fathers of Chaitanya's Church. Except Rup and Sanátan, most of the other disciples of Chaitanya adopted the Bengali tongue as their medium, and greatly enriched it with their songs, biographies, poems, travels, and translations of the bhakti literature from Sanskrit. The Vaishnav Goswámis, both at Brindaban and Navadwip, have kept up the study of Sanskrit to our own day. A classified list of Chaitanya's disciples is given in Book I. canto x and those of Nityananda and Adwaita's disciples in cantos xi and xii respectively.

 

 

GLOSSARY

Abadhut—an ascetic who has renounced the world.

Acharya—a family name or title of Brahmans, lit., teacher.

Adwaita Acharya—an elderly scholar of Shantipur and associate in Chaitanya's devotions before he became a sannyási.

Arati—divine service performed to a god in the early morning or after dusk, with lamps, incense, and instrumental music, especially bells.

Balarám—the elder brother of Krishna; the images of the two with that of their sister Subhadrá between them, are worshipped in the temple of Jagannáth.

Baniá—grocer, (also acts as banker).

Bhágabat—an adorer of Bhagabán or Vishnu as God; the Bhágabat, the name of a Puran, regarded by the Vaishnavs as their Scripture.

Bhakta—a devotee, who seeks salvation through faith.

Bhakti—faith, devotion.

Bhárati—the title of an order of monks.

Bhattáchárya—a title of Brahmans.

Bhog—see prasád.

Dhoti—a sheet of cloth worn round the lower limbs by Hindu males.

Gandharva—a class of celestial musicians.

Garuda—a bird ridden by Vishnu, sacred to the Vaishnavs.

Gaur—(1) a city in the Malda district, the capital of Bengal during the Pathan period; also applied to the whole country of Bengal, (Gaur). (2) or Gauránga, a title of Chaitanya.

Gauriyá—a native of Bengal.

Ghághar—a musical instrument.

Ghát—bathing stairs in a river, usually sacred.

Ghee—melted butter.

Gopis—milk-maids of Brindaban with whom Krishna disported.

Goswámi—a title of respect, usually given to spiritual leaders among the Vaishnavs.

Govardhan—a sacred hill near Brindában.

Guru—spiritual preceptor, initiator into learning or a faith.

Haridás—a Muhammadan who had turned Vaishnav under Chaitanya's influence. There was another Haridás, a born Hindu, among Chaitanya's followers.

Jagannáth—or 'Lord of the Universe,' name of the idol of Krishna worshipped in the temple at Puri; also applied to the town of Puri.

Jhárikhand—'the jungle country,' Chota Nagpur and the Santhal parganas.

Kali yug—the present or iron age of the world.

Katak—the capital of Orissa and the seat of King Pratap Rudra of the Gajapati dynasty.

Khol—an instrument of music, being a long earthenware drum covered at both ends with leather; distinctive of the Bengali Vaishnavs.

Kirtan—or sankirtan, chanting God's name to the accompaniment of dance and song.

Kulin—(1) a man of blue blood (kul), descended from a mythical ancestor of high character or social position in a very far-off age. (2) the name of a village in Bengal.

Kunda—a pool of water, sacred to some god or saint.

Lilá—the antic or sport of a god, particularly of Krishna.

Mádhav Puri—also Mádhavendra, a monk, the spiritual guide of that Ishwar Puri who was the guru of Chaitanya.

Mahá-pátra—minister of the Rajah of Orissa.

Mahá-prasad—food offered to Jagannáth and thereafter considered as holy.

Mangal-árati—early morning worship, see árati.

Mantra—spell, sacred verse (usually in Sanskrit).

Mahánta—the abbot of a Hindu monastery.

Niláchal—'the Blue Mountain,' name of the mound on which the temple of Jagannath at Puri is situated.

Nimái—a nick-name of Chaitanya.

Nupur—bells tied to the feet in dancing.

Odhra—Orissa.

Pándás—attendants at a temple (such as Jagannáth); they act as guides to pilgrims for a consideration.

Pandit—scholar, one versed in Sanskrit.

Parichhá—the highest servitor of the temple of Jagannath.

Prasád—food dedicated to a god at his worship, and thereafter eaten by the faithful as something holy.

Prayág—the town of Allahabad, at the junction of the Ganges and the Jamuna.

Prem—love, the highest form of bhakti or devotion.

Puri—(1) a town on the sea-coast in Orissa, containing the temple of Jagannáth. (2) the title of an order of monks.

Purushottam—a title of Vishnu; usually applied to the temple of Jagannath at Puri.

Rárh—the upland of Burdwan and Birbhum districts, west of the Ganges.

Sankirtan—see kirtan.

Sannyási—ascetic, monk, religious mendicant.

Sárvabhaumai.e., "universal doctor," a man of encyclopædic knowledge. In the book this title is applied to a great scholar and Vedantic philosopher of Navadwip, who had settled at Puri and was held in high honour by the local king. His father was the scholar Vishárad, a fellow-student of Chaitanya's maternal grandfather. His sister's husband was Gopináth Acharya, who, too, lived at Puri. Also called 'the Bhattáchárya', and Bhatta; not to be confounded with the Bhattáchárya (i.e., Balabhadra) of ch. xv-xxiii.

Shálgrám—a round dark pebble, worshipped as an emblem of Vishnu, (found in the Gandak river).

Shántipur—a town on the Ganges, some miles below Navadwip.

Shástra—Scripture.

Shikdár—the revenue collector of a district, local governor.

Shloka—a complete verse, couplet or quatrain.

Shripád—a title of respect, here applied to Nityánanda.

Shri-Vaishnav—one of the four main sects of the Vaishnavs; they adore Náráyan and Lakshmi (=Shri), instead of Krishna and Rádhá.

Shudra—the lowest caste among the Hindus.

Subhadrá—the sister of Krishna.

Thug—a class of professional robbers who used to strangle or poison their victims, after mixing with them on the way, disguised as travellers.

Tirtha—sacred place, usually containing a bathing place.

Tulsi—(1) the Indian Basil plant, sacred to Vishnu, and venerated by the Vaishnavs as almost divine. "She is the Indian Daphne" (Birdwood). (2) the name of a minister of the king of Orissa.

Vaikuntha—the heaven of Vishnu.

Vaishnav—worshipper of Vishnu, the preserver, one incarnation of whom is Krishna. The Shaivas are the worshippers of Shiva the destroyer, while the Shaktas are the worshippers of Shakti or energy, the wife of Shiva.

Varáha—the "Boar," the 3rd incarnation of Vishnu.

Vidyá-nagar—Rajmahendri, in the Madras presidency.

Vrihaspati—the teacher of the gods; hence, a man versed in all the branches of learning.

Vishwarup—Chaitanya's elder brother, who turned a sannyási under the title of Shankaráyana and died in the monastery of Pandharpur in Southern India.

Yug—era or cycle of time.

 

Chaitanya's Life and Teachings p28.png

King Pratap Rudra bowing to Chaitanya
(From an old painting in the possession of the Zamindar of Kunjaghata).