Chaitanya Mahaprabhu ((also transliterated Caitanya Mahāprabhu); 18 February 1486 – 14 June 1534) was a Vedic spiritual leader who founded Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Chaitanya was the proponent for the Vaishnava school of Bhakti yoga (meaning loving devotion to God), based on Bhagavata Purana and Bhagavad Gita.] Of various incarnations of Vishnu, he is revered as Krishna, popularised the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra] and composed the Siksastakam (eight devotional prayers) in Sanskrit. His followers, Gaudiya Vaishnavas, revere him as a Krishna with the mood and complexion of his source of inspiration Radha.] His birthday is celebrated as Gaura-purnima. ]
Chaitanya is sometimes referred to by the names Gauranga or Gaura due to his fair complexion,] and Nimai due to his being born underneath a Neem tree.] He was very mischievous in his young days. His original name was Vishvambhar. He was a brilliant student and Nimai was his nickname. At an early age he became a scholar and opened a school.
Chaitanya means '"living force"; Maha means "Great" and Prabhu means "Lord" or "Master".
Chaitanya was born as the second son of Jagannath Mishra and his wife Sachi Devi. Mishra's family lived in the town of Dhaka Dakhhin, Srihatta, now Sylhet, Bangladesh.]] According to Chaitanya Charitamruta, Chaitanya was born on the full moon night of 18 February 1486, at the time of a lunar eclipse.]
Alternatively, Chaitanya is also believed to born in Mayapur. Mayapur is located on the banks of the Ganges river, at the point of its confluence with the Jalangi, near Nabadwip, West Bengal, India, 130 km north of Kolkata (Calcutta). Mayapur is considered a holy place by a number of other traditions within Hinduism.
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 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 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 Keshava 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 place like Baranagar, Mahinagar, Atisara at last Chhatrabhog. Chhatrabhog is the place where Goddess Ganga and Lord Shiva met, then hundred mouths of Ganga was visible from here. From the source of Vrindaban Das's Chaitanya Bhagavat 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 sankeertan gatherings. It was during these years that Chaitanya is believed by his followers to have sunk deep into various Divine-Love (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, including temples as old as 5500 years. The essence of Vrindavan was lost over time until the 16th century, when it was rediscovered by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. In the year 1515, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited Vrindavana, with the purpose of locating the lost holy places associated with Lord Sri Krishna’s transcendent pastimes. He wandered through the different sacred forests of Vrindavana 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.
Discovery of Birthplace Yogapith
In 1886 a leading Gaudiya Vaisnava reformer Bhaktivinoda Thakur attempted to retire from his government service and move to Vrindavan to pursue his devotional life there. However, he saw a dream in which Chaitanya ordered him to go to Nabadwip instead. After some difficulty, in 1887 Bhaktivinoda was transferred to Krishnanagar, a district center twenty-five kilometers away from Nabadwip, famous as the birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Despite poor health, Bhaktivinoda finally managed to start regularly visiting Nabadwip to research places connected with Chaitanya. Soon he came to a conclusion that the site purported by the local brahmanas to be Chaitanya's birthplace could not possibly be genuine. Determined to find the actual place of Chaitanya's pastimes but frustrated by the lack of reliable evidence and clues, one night he saw a mystical vision:
By 10 o'clock the night was very dark and cloudy. Across the Ganges in a northern direction I suddenly saw a large building flooded with golden light. I asked Kamala if he could see the building and he said that he could. But my friend Kerani Babu could see nothing. I was amazed. What could it be? In the morning I went back to the roof and looked carefully back across the Ganges. I saw that in the place where I had seen the building was a stand of palm trees. Inquiring about this area I was told that it was the remains of Lakshman Sen's fort at Ballaldighi.
Taking this as a clue, Bhaktivinoda conducted a thorough, painstaking investigation of the site, by consulting old geographical maps matched against scriptural and verbal accounts, and eventually came to a conclusion that the village of Ballaldighi was formerly known as Mayapur, confirmed in Bhakti-ratnakara as the actual birth site of Chaitanya. He soon acquired a property in Surabhi-kunj near Mayapur to oversee the temple construction at Yogapith, Chaitanya's birthplace. For this purpose he organized, via Sajjana-tosani and special festivals, as well as personal acquaintances, a massive and hugely successful fundraising effort among the people of Bengal and beyond. Noted Bengali journalist Sisir Kumar Ghosh (1840-1911) commended Bhaktivinoda for the discovery and hailed him as "the seventh goswami" – a reference to the Six Goswamis, renowned medieval Gaudiya Vaisnava ascetics and close associates of Chaitanya who had authored many of the school's texts and discovered places of Krishna's pastimes in Vrindavan.
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. Chief among them are the works, Sri Chaitanya Charitamritam Mahakavyam by Kavi Karnapura and Sri Krishna Chaitanya Charitamritam by Murari Gupta.
According to the hagiographies of 16th-century authors, he exhibited his Universal Form identical to that of Krishna on a number of occasions, notably to Advaita Ācārya and Nityānanda Prabhu.
Gaudiya Vaishnavas consider Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to be Lord Krishna himself, but appearing in covered form (channa avatar). The Gaudiya Vaishnava acharya Bhaktivinoda Thakura have also found out the rare manuscript of Chaitanya Upanishad of the atharvaveda section, which reveals the identity of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has left one written record in Sanskrit called Siksastakam. Chaitanya's epistemological, theological and ontological teachings are summarised as ten roots or maxims (dasa mula). The statements of amnaya (scripture) are the chief proof. By these statements the following ten topics are taught.
- Krishna is the Supreme Absolute Truth.
- Krishna is endowed with all energies.
- Krishna is the source of all rasa- flavor, quality, or spiritual rapture/emotions.
- The jivas (individual souls) are all separated parts of the Lord.
- In bound state the jivas are under the influence of matter, due to their tatastha nature.
- In the liberated state the jivas are free from the influence of matter, due to their tatastha nature.
- The jivas and the material world are both different from and identical to the Lord.
- Pure devotion is the practice of the jivas.
- Pure love of Krishna is the ultimate goal.
- Krishna is the only lovable blessing to be received.
Philosophy and Tradition
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 Acarya and Syamananda Pandit 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 traveled throughout India popularizing the gospel of anti-untouchability, social justice and mass education. He probably initiated 'Pankti Bhojon' and Krishna sankirtan in eastern part of Bengal. Several schools (sampradaya) have been practicing 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 neglected and underprivileged cast 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 Mishra 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 the participants. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the great sage of Dakshineswar, who lived in the 19th century, emphasized the bhakti marga of Chaitanya mahaprabhu, 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 by 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.
Chaitanya's influence on the cultural legacy in Bengal and Odisha 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).