A brahmachari for his entire life, Shrila Narottama Dasa Thakur visited all the places of pilgrimage. He was on the highest platform of devotional achievement. (Bhakti-ratnakara 1.256)
Narottama Thakur was Champaka Manjari in Krishna-lila. Eternally assisting Rupa Manjari in her service to Radha and Krishna, Champaka Manjari had mercy on the conditioned souls of this earth and appeared as Narottama in the village of Kheturi, about twelve miles from Rampur Bowaliya in the Gopalpur subdivision of Rajshahi district. This took place on the full moon day of the month of Magh sometime around the middle of the 15th century of the Shaka era.
Narottama was born on the Maghi Purnima. From that day on he thrived and grew like the waxing moon. (Bhakti-ratnakara 1.281)
Narottama’s father was Raja Krishnananda Datta, the zamindar of the Gopalpur area. His mother’s name was Narayani Devi. Raja Krishnananda had a younger brother named Purushottam Datta, who had a son named Santosha. In order to show that His associates can take birth in any caste, Krishna had Narottama take birth in a kayastha family.
From his early childhood, Narottama began to display symptoms of his future greatness. Everyone was amazed to see his great intelligence and his devotional demeanor. He was constantly absorbed in meditation on the wonderful qualities of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu. The Lord and His associates appeared to him in his dreams.
As tears poured from his eyes, Narottama would offer prayers of surrender to Shri Krishna Chaitanya, Nityananda, Advaita and the other associates of the Lord. Finally, the Lord and His associates appeared to him in a dream and consoled him with kind words. (Bhakti-ratnakara 1.285-6)
Mahaprabhu Leaves Prema Behind for Narottama
According to the Premavilasa, when Mahaprabhu passed through Kanair Natashala, as He was dancing ecstatically in kirtan, He began to call out the name Narottama. When Nityananda asked Him why He was calling out this name, Mahaprabhu answered, "My Lord. You do not know your own glories. When we went to Jagannath Puri, you shed tears out of divine love, day after day. I managed to capture your divine love and save it. Now I wish to keep it here by the Padmavati River for Narottama Das."
Mahaprabhu then went on to the Padmavati River to the place known as Kutubpur, where He bathed and sang and danced in ecstasy. He then called out to the river, "O Padmavati! Take my love and keep it here. When Narottama comes and bathes here, give it to him."
The Padmavati inquired, "How will I recognize him?"
Mahaprabhu answered, "You will know it is Narottama, for when he enters your waters, you will overflow."
The place where Mahaprabhu placed prema for Narottama’s sake was later given the name Prematali. When Narottama was twelve years old, he had a dream in which Nityananda Prabhu told him to bathe in the Padmavati and take the prema which had been stored there for him. He went the next day to the Padma and as soon as he put his foot in the water, the river started to overflow. The Padmavati then remembered Mahaprabhu’s words and gave Narottama the prema which she had been safeguarding for him.
Narottama Leaves Home
As soon as he experienced the ecstasies of prema, Narottama’s character, his appearance, everything about him changed. His parents noticed the transformation and did everything they could to bring him back to his normal state, but failed. Having drunk the wine of divine ecstasy, Narottama had become intoxicated and the bonds of family life could no longer hold him back.
Narottama began to wonder how he could escape from his material entanglements. Finally, one day when his father and uncle were away on official business, he practiced some deception on his mother and tricked his bodyguards so that he could leave his family for Vrindavan. It was the full-moon day of Karttik when this event took place.
According to others, Narottama waited to go to Vrindavan until after the death of his father when his cousin Santosha was given the responsibility for the zamindari. Even though he was the son of a rich zamindar, in his desire to unite with the Lord, he was ready to abandon the pleasures of the body in a moment. Day and night, he cried, walking barefoot, forgetting to eat and to drink until finally he would fall unconscious under a tree. One golden-skinned Brahmin came and offered him a cup of milk and said to him in a sweet voice, "O Narottama, drink this milk. Your cuts and bruises will go away. Take it easy."
After saying this, the Brahmin vanished and the exhausted Narottama finally fell asleep. That night, he dreamt of Rupa and Sanatan Goswami. The two Goswamis placed their hands on his chest and fed him the milk that Mahaprabhu Himself had brought him. All of Narottama’s fatigue disappeared.
Narottama is Initiated by Lokanatha Goswami
The Prema-vilasa also describes how Narottama took initiation from Lokanatha Goswami. Narottama was born on Maghi purnima, his renunciation took place on the Karttik purnima, and he was initiated by Lokanatha on the Shravan purnima.
Lokanatha Goswami is considered to be a personal associate of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Indeed, he was the first Gaudiya Vaishnava to be instructed by the Lord to go to Vrindavan, along with Bhugarbha Goswami. Lokanatha set the standard for worship in a spirit of renunciation while in the dham. He was a viviktanandi Vaishnava, i.e., he took pleasure in worshiping the Lord in solitude. In this spirit, he had vowed not to take any disciples. Narottama Das too made a vow — to take initiation from no one other than Lokanatha. Though he was the son of a raja, Narottama’s desire to receive Lokanatha’s mercy was so great that he went in the middle of every night to clean the place he used as a toilet. He would also leave fine earth and water for him to clean himself afterward. This is described as follows in the Prema-vilasa:
He went to the place where the Goswami performed his bodily functions and did a special job of cleaning it. He sifted the earth to make fine, clean earth with which Lokanatha could clean his hands. He did this as a regular service. He would hide the broom of coconut leaves in the earth and each night take them out to sweep the place, his heart filled with joy. He considered himself fortunate and his body worthwhile. He would hold the broom to his chest, repeating, "This is the power that will help me attain my Lord’s lotus feet." As he said these words, he cried and torrents of tears washed over his chest.
Lokanatha was astonished to see that the place was daily being kept clean. He became curious to find out who it was and so, one evening, he went and hid in the jungle, chanting japa the entire night in wait for the anonymous benefactor. At midnight, he saw someone engaged in cleaning the place and asked him who he was. When he found out that Narottama, the son of a raja, was doing such a filthy task, he felt embarrassed and told him to desist. Narottama, however, immediately fell at Lokanatha’s feet began to cry. When Lokanatha saw Narottama’s humility and pain, his resolve softened and gave him initiation. Thus Narottama gave an outstanding example to the world of how one should behave in the service of one’s spiritual master.
At that moment, Narottama went there and with great enthusiasm, engaged in the necessary service to his guru. Lokanatha was pleased with his service and initiated him in the mantra, demonstrating the greatest mercy on Narottama. (Bhakti-ratnakara 1.345-6)
Without caring for his youth or his physical beauty, he left home on the full moon day of the month of Karttik. After wandering through many pilgrimage places, he finally came to Vrindavan where he became Lokanatha Goswami’s disciple. On the auspicious day of Shravani purnima, Lokanatha initiated Narottama.
Thus Narottama Das was Lokanatha’s one and only disciple. The founder of the world-wide Gaudiya Maths and the flagship monastery in Mayapur, the Chaitanya Math, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur, similarly demonstrated a determination and patience in service to his spiritual master in order to convince him to accept him as a disciple. Gaura Kishora Das Babaji, like Lokanatha, had vowed to take no disciples. He refused Shrila Prabhupada three times, but this did not break Prabhupada’s will. When Gaura Kishora saw his humility and intense desire, he finally relented and gave him mantra diksha. Shrila Prabhupada was Gaura Kishora Das’s only disciple.
After the disappearance of Rupa and Sanatan Goswamis, Shri Jiva Goswami became the undisputed intellectual leader of all Gaudiya Vaishnavas throughout Mathura, Bengal and Orissa and the chief-minister of the universal court of Vaishnavas at Vrindavan — the Vishva-vaishnava-raja-sabha. Shrinivas Acharya, Narottama Das, and Duhkhi Krishna Das all studied the scriptures under Jiva, receiving detailed personal instruction from him. When their studies were completed, Jiva gave them the titles of Acharya, Thakur and Shyamananda, respectively.
Narottama Returns to Bengal
After their studies were complete, Jiva sent his three students to Bengal with the Vaishnava scriptures. Shri Jiva heard the news that the books had been stolen in Bana Vishnupura and then later that they had been recovered. This story has been told in this book on pages 165 to 166 in the chapter on Shrinivas.
Lokanatha Goswami considered Narottama’s previous life as a wealthy zamindar to be particularly suitable for preaching in his home area of northern Bengal and thought that with his status he would be able to teach the standards of renounced devotional behavior. Out of compassion for that country’s people, he ordererd Narottama to return to his home town of Kheturi. Shrinivas was aware of Lokanatha’s intention, so when the books were stolen, he told Narottama to continue on his way to Kheturi. Shrinivas Acharya said, "Go quickly to Kheturi and carry out Lokanatha’s orders." (Bhakti-ratnakara 7.119)
Anchorite Devotees (viviktanandis), being absorbed in the intimate service of the Lord on the transcendental platform, normally have no taste for engaging in any welfare activity which brings only temporary succor to materialistic persons, bound by Maya and absorbed in their bodily identification. Materialistic welfare activities are considered to be of great value only when there is a misunderstanding about the real goal of life–service to Krishna. Lokanatha taught the world through his disciple, on the principle that "a housewife teaches the daughter-in-law by instructing the daughter." Though Narottama himself was distraught with separation from his spiritual master, he nevertheless took his order seriously and returned to Kheturi where he began preaching the doctrines of pure devotional service to the people of northern Bengal. Narottama revealed his emotional state somewhat in his Prarthana,
aneka duhkhera pare, layechile vraja-pure
kripa-dora galaya bandhiya
daiva-maya balatkare, khasaiya sei dore
bhavakupe dileka dariya
punah yadi kripa kari, e janare keshe dhari
taniya tulaha vraja-dhame
tabe se dekhiye bhala, natuba parana gela
kahe dina dasa narottame
After a great deal of suffering, you finally dragged me to Vraja-dham, tying the rope of mercy around my neck. But now, the forces of fate and illusion have loosened that rope and thrown me back down the well of material existence.
If you would only be merciful to me and grab me by the hair, pulling me back into Vraja-dham. Then everything will seem right once more, otherwise, Narottama says, his life is over.
On Lokanatha Goswami’s orders, Narottama installed six sets of Deities in his Temple in Kheturi: Gauranga, Vallabhikanta, Vrajamohana, Shri Krishna, Radhakanta, and Radharamana. The great festival which he held on that occasion is still remembered in the Vaishnava world.
Narottama arrived in Gauda-desha. He had been ordered by Lokanatha to establish the Deity service of both Gauranga and Krishna, to serve the Vaishnavas and to preach the congregational chanting of the Holy Names. He immediately dedicated himself to carrying out these orders. First he set about establishing the service of six sets of beautiful Deities, whose names, taken together, bring joy to the heart of the Devotees:
gauranga vallabhi-kanta shri-krishna vraja-mohana
radha-ramana he radhe radha-kanta namo’stu te
The Great Festival at Kheturi
Prior to the Kheturi-mahotsava, Narottama Das Thakur traveled throughout Bengal and Orissa, visiting various places where Mahaprabhu had performed His pastimes, meeting the Lord’s associates and receiving their blessings. Amongst the places he visited were Uddharan Datta’s home in Saptagram; Khardaha, where he met Parameshvari Das, and Nityananda’s shaktis, Jahnava and Vasudha; Khanakula Krishnanagara, the home of Abhiram Thakur; Shyamananda’s home in Nrisinghapura; the Shripatas of Narahari and Raghunandan in Shrikhanda; and the birthplace of Nityananda Prabhu in Ekachakra-dham; Gopinath Acharya’s home, Hari Das Thakur’s samadhi tomb, Gadadhara Pandit’s place of worship, the Jagannath Temple and Gundicha, the Jagannath-vallabha gardens, Narendra-sarovara, etc. in Jagannath Puri.
Most of the living associates of Mahaprabhu and other leaders of the sampradaya came to Kheturi on the occasion of the festival organized by Narottama Das. A list of these has been given by Narahari Chakravarti in his books, Bhakti-ratnakara and Narottama-vilasa: Shyamananda Prabhu, Jahnava Devi, Parameshvari Das, Krishna Das Sarkhela (Jahnava’s uncle), Madhava Acharya (Nityananda’s son-in-law), Raghupati Vaidya, Minaketan Rama Das, Murari Chaitanya Das, Jnana Das, Mahidhara, Shri Shankara, Kamalakara Pippalai, Gauranga Das, Nakarii, Krishna Das, Damodar, Balaram Das, Shri Mukunda, Vrindavan Das Thakur; Raghunandan Thakur and other Devotees from Shrikhanda; Shripati and Shrinidhi (Shrivasa’s brothers) came from Navadwip; Advaita’s sons, Achyutananda, Gopal Mishra and Krishna Mishra came from Shantipur; Hriday Chaitanya and other Devotees from Ambika Kalna, etc.
Shrinivas Acharya acted as the officiating priest at the festival and performed the rituals installing the Deities. In the kirtan led by Narottama which followed, Mahaprabhu and His associates themselves appeared.
Who can describe the joy of that kirtan? Mahaprabhu Himself and His associates all became incarnate just like lightning in a conglomeration of rainclouds. (Bhakti-ratnakara 10.571-2)
The kirtan was amazing: you could see Nityananda Prabhu and Advaita Acharya overcome with ecstasy and Gauranga, encircled by the Devotees. What wonderful compassion the Lord displayed on that day! Who can understand these wonderful pastimes? What blessings He poured on Narottama and Shrinivas, for they and their companions found the fulfillment of all their desires. (Bhakti-ratnakara 10.605-7)
After the Kheturi festival, Narottama’s fame spread throughout the Vaishnava world. Prominent Brahmins like Ramakrishna Acharya and Ganga-Narayan Chakravarti became his disciples.
Narottama’s Preaching Adventures
Narahari Chakravarti has described Narottama’s activities extensively in his Narottama-vilasa. One can understand his outstanding feats by reading this book.
In Gopalpura village, there was a Brahmin named Vipra Das. He had a poisonous snake living in his wicker grain-storage bin (gola). When Narottama visited Vipra Das’s house, the snake vanished, and in its place appeared Deities of Gaura and Vishnupriya.
Gaurasundara and His beloved Vishnupriya came out of the gola and climbed into Narottama’s lap in plain view of everyone. (Bhakti-ratnakara 10.202)
Everyone was quite amazed. These same Deities are today being served in Gambhila.
A certain smarta Brahmin scholar blasphemed Narottama, calling him a shudra. As a result he was attacked by leprosy. He later had a vision of the Goddess in a dream. He went and fell at Narottama Das’s feet and begged him for forgiveness, as she had told him to, and was thus freed from the terrible disease.
Harirama and Ramakrishna, the sons of Shivananda Acharya, were taking a goat and a buffalo to be offered as a sacrifice to the Goddess on the order of their father. They met Narottama and Ramachandra Kaviraj on the way and were attracted by their effulgent beauty. Narottama Thakur advised the two young Brahmins to abandon worship in the modes of passion and ignorance which entailed violence to animals and to worship the Supreme Lord without any desire. The brothers immediately let the goat and buffalo go and bathed in the Padma. They then took initiation from Narottama and dedicated their lives to the service of Lord Krishna and His Devotees.
When Shivananda Acharya heard about this, he became angry and called a Smarta scholar from Mithila named Murari to come and defeat Narottama’s Vaishnava philosophy. However, Harirama and Ramakrishna were given divine blessings by their guru and were able to defeat every one of the Smarta’s arguments with scriptural evidence. Defeated, Shivananda Acharya went to pray to the Goddess. She appeared to him that night in a dream and rebuked him for his enmity to the Vaishnavas and told him to cease all such behavior.
In the course of time, Ganga Narayan Chakravarti, Jagannath Acharya and other well-known Brahmins started to become Narottama’s disciples. This caused a stir in the Smarta community and they went to complain to Raja Narasimha: "Narottama is a shudra who makes disciples of Brahmins. He is using some kind of mystic powers or hypnotism to convert them. He should be stopped."
After discussions with Raja Narasimha, it was decided that a scholar named Rupa Narayan should be summoned to debate Narottama. This Brahmin had won numerous debates of this sort and was known as a digvijayi. The Raja himself set off with Rupa Narayan and a number of other Brahmins toward Kheturi.
Ramachandra Kaviraj and Ganga Narayan Chakravarti were upset to see the wicked intentions of the Raja and his pandita. When they heard that the Raja and his entourage were resting overnight in Kumarapura village, they went in disguise as a potter and a pan-seller and set up stalls in the village market. When the Brahmins came through the market, Ramachandra and Ganga Narayan spoke with them in Sanskrit. The Brahmins were astounded that even ordinary stall-keepers in the village were able to speak in Sanskrit. Ramachandra and Ganga Narayan began a debate with the Brahmins, defeating every Smarta argument that they put forward and establishing the pure doctrine of devotional service.
The Raja and his Digvijayi Pandit were rendered speechless by the scholarship of the two ordinary stall-keepers. When they learned that the two men were disciples of Narottama Das, the Raja said to his pandita, "If Narottama’s ordinary disciples can defeat you in debate, there is no need of going to see him." But once again, the Goddess appeared to Narasimha and Rupa Narayan and ordered them to go to Narottama and pray for forgiveness for their offenses. The two of them did so and became Devotees of Radha and Krishna.
Two Songs by Narottama
In the Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana, the following comments are found: "Narottama’s ashrama was in a place called Bhajanatuli, about two miles from his capital city, Kheturi. Narottama did his preaching through kirtan. He created the style of kirtan known as Garanahati. He wrote two books, Prarthana and Prema-bhakti-chandrika, which are like the very life of the Devotees. He has written songs which are appropriate for every devotional mood, and this is what touches the Devotees’ hearts. These two books are so popular that they have been published countless times. Narottama’s influence can be appreciated even in distant Manipura. Everyone agrees that the Vaishnava religion spread through Manipura through Narottama’s potency. His devotional songs are sung in every home throughout Manipura state.
Shrinivas Acharya’s disciple Ramachandra Kaviraj was Narottama’s dearest companion. Narottama received news of Ramachandra’s disappearance first; not long afterward he heard of Shrinivas’s disappearance, he wrote the following song in the mood of separation which is capable of melting even a stone-like heart.
je anila prema-dhana karuna pracura
hena prabhu kotha gela acarya thakura
kahan mora Svarupa rupa, kahan sanatana?
kahan dasa raghunatha patita-pavana?
kahan mora bhatta-yuga, kahan kaviraja?
eka-kale kotha gela gora nataraja?
pashane kutiba matha anale pashiba
gauranga gunera nidhi kotha gele paba
se saba sangira sange je kaila vilasa
se sanga na païa kande narottama-dasa
Where has Acharya Thakur gone, he who out of great mercy brought the wealth of love as a gift to the world. Where are my Svarupa and Rupa, where is Sanatan? Where has Raghunath Das, the deliverer of the most fallen, gone? Where are Raghunath Bhatta and Gopal Bhatta? Where is Krishnadas Kaviraj? Where has the king of the dance, Gauranga, suddenly disappeared to? I will beat my head against the rocks or enter the flames–but where can I go to find that ocean of virtue, Gauranga? Narottama Das is crying because he is deprived of the association of all those companions of the Lord.
Narottama Das Thakur was the topmost of the followers of Rupa Goswami, Mahaprabhu’s close associate. His devotion to Rupa Goswami can be recognized from the following song:
shri rupa manjari pada sei mora sampada
sei mora bhajana pujana
sei mora prana-dhana sei more abharana
sei mora jivanera jivana
sei mora rasa-nidhi sei mora vancha-siddhi
sei mora vedera dharama
sei vrata, sei tapa sei mora mantra japa
sei mora dharama karama
anukula habe vidhi se pade haibe siddhi
nirakhiba ei dui nayane
se rupa madhuri-rashi prana-kuvalaya-shashi
praphullita habe nishi-dine
adarsha /strongnbsp; na ahi garale jarala dehi
cira-dina tapita jivana
ha ha prabhu kara daya deha morekahan mora bhatta-yuga,
kahan kavira ja pada-chaya
narottama laila sharana
Rupa Manjari’s feet are my wealth; they are my worship, they are my ritual. They are what keep me alive, they are my ornament, they are the life of my life.
They are my ocean of nectar, they are the perfection of my desire, they are my Vedic religion. They are my vow, they are my austerity, they are the mantra that I chant on my beads. They are my religious duty.
Fate will be kind to me, and I will find my perfection by attaining her feet and will be able to see with my own eyes the beauty of Radha and Krishna’s form, the moon of the lily of my life.
The snake of your absence has burned up my body with its poison; I have suffered this pain for so long. O my lord, be merciful to me, give me the shade of your feet. Narottama has taken shelter.
Narottamashtaka by Vishvanath Chakravarti
namo namah shrila-narottamaya
I offer my repeated obeisances to Shrila Narottama Das Thakur, who destroys the darkness of ignorance with the nectarean rays of Krishna’s Holy Name which emanate from his moon-like face; to him who is the glorious follower of the divine Gauranga.
namo namah shrila-narottamaya
I offer my repeated obeisances to Shrila Narottama Das Thakur, who lights up every direction with the effulgence of his teeth, revealed as he laughs out of the joy of Harinama-sankirtan; to him who is bathed in torrents of tears and perspiration.
sadyah samudyat-pulakaya tasmai
namo namah shrila-narottamaya
I offer my repeated obeisances to Srila Narottama Das Thakur, whose lotus feet dance enchantingly, being set into motion as soon as he hears the sound of the mridanga; whose body is covered with horripilation.
namo namah shrila-narottamaya
I offer my repeated obeisances to Shrila Narottama Das Thakur, whose dance and song, indeed, every action in kirtan brings shame to the Gandharvas; whose fame has spread through the songs he has written.
yad-darshanam bhagya-bharena tasmai
namo namah shrila-narottamaya
I offer my repeated obeisances to Shrila Narottama Das Thakur, whose figure is decorated with the dust which covers it as he falls to the ground in an ecstatic faint; who can be seen only by one who has unlimited good fortune.
sthale vhale yasya kripa-prapabhih
nirmulita eva bhavanti tasmai
namo namah shrila-narottamaya
I offer my repeated obeisances to Shrila Narottama Das Thakur, who rains down mercy wherever he goes, causing every person’s desires, other than those for service to Krishna, to be uprooted.
sparshah punah sparsha-maniva yasya
pramanyam evam shrutivad yadiyam
tasmai namah shrila-narottamaya
I offer my repeated obeisances to Shrila Narottama Das Thakur, whose firm devotion is like a line scratched in a stone, whose touch is like that of the philosopher’s stone and whose every word is as authoritative as that of the Veda.
bhaktih kim ayam kim esha
vairagya-saras tanuman nriloke
sambhavyate yah kritibhih sadaiva
tasmai namah shrila-narottamaya
I offer my repeated obeisances to Shrila Narottama Das Thakur, who appears to some as devotion itself incarnate, or as the essence of renunciation in human form — this is forever the opinion of the wise.
bhrityam kritarthayatu mam phaliteshta-krityam
May the dancing of Shrila Narottama Das Thakur’s lotus feet, which follows every beat of the drum and hand cymbals and which incarnates the beauty of his intoxication in the songs glorifying Gauranga bring fulfillment to me, his servant, by bringing to fruition all his sacrifices.
Shri Jiva gave both Shrinivas Acharya’s disciple Ramachandra Sena and his brother Govinda the Kaviraj title.
[Excerpted from "Shri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates" by Shrila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj]