Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 – 1533), was an ascetic Vaishnava monk and social reformer in 16th century Bengal, (present-day West Bengal and Bangladesh) and Orissa in India. Chaitanya was a notable proponent for the Vaishnava school of Bhakti yoga (meaning loving devotion to Krishna/God) based on the philosophy of the Bhagavata Purana and Bhagavad Gita. Specifically he worshipped the forms of Radha and Krishna and popularised the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra. His line of followers, known as Gaudiya Vaishnavas, revere him as an avatar of Krishna in the mood of Radharani who was prophesised to appear in the later verses of the Bhagavata Purana.

He was also sometimes referred to by the names Gaura (Sanskrit for “the fair / golden one”) due to his light skin complexion, and Nimai due to his being born underneath a Neem tree. 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 Goswami and the earlier Chaitanya Bhagavata of Vrindavana Dasa Thakura (both originally written in the Bengali language but now widely available in English and other languages) and the Chaitanya Mangala, written by Lochana Dasa Thakura.

According to the biography, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Nimai was born on the full moon night of February 18th 1486 at the time of a lunar eclipse. His parents named him ‘Visvambhar’ – he was the second son of Jagannath Mishra and his wife Sachi Devi who lived in the town of Nabadwip in Nadia, West Bengal. Chaitanya’s ancestry is a contentious issue between the people of Orissa and West Bengal with Chaitanya having family roots in Jajpur, Orissa, from where his grandfather, Madhukar Mishra had emigrated to nearby Bengal.

In his youth, Chaitanya was primarily known as an erudite scholar, whose learning and skills in argumentation in his locality were second to none. 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 traveling to Gaya to perform the shraddha 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 Mahaprabhu’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 Nadiya.

After leaving Bengal and receiving entrance into the sannyasa order by Keshava Bharati, Chaitanya journeyed throughout the length and breadth of India for several years, chanting the names of Krishna constantly. He spent the last 24 years of his life in Puri, Orissa, the great temple city of Jagannath. The king of Orissa, Maharaja Prataparudra, regarded him as Krishna incarnate and was an enthusiastic patron and devotee of Chaitanya’s sankirtan party. It was during these years that Chaitanya is believed by his followers to have sank deep into various meditational trances (samadhi) and performed pastimes of divine ecstasy (bhakti).
Deities of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (right) and Nityananda (left) at Radha-Krishna temple in Radhadesh
Deities of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (right) and Nityananda (left) at Radha-Krishna temple in Radhadesh, Belgium

rss    blog