Vrindavan, 2017.02.09 (with input from Jagannath Poddar, VT): For one day every year, on the 13th day of the waxing moon in Magh, the center of attention for the Gaudiya Vaishnavas in Vrindavan is Shringar Bat. Though Nityananda Trayodashi, the appearance day of Lord Nityananda, is celebrated in all Gaudiya temples of Vrindavan such as Imlitala Mahaprabhu Mandir and Radha Gopinath, Shringar Bat, which is also known as Nityananda Bat, is the center for the veneration of Nityananda Prabhu in this town of Radha worship.
There is no Gaudiya Vaishnava in Braj who does not recognize that without Nityananda Prabhu’s grace, they would have never attained the shelter of the Dham, or ever attained the hope of entering the lila of Radha and Krishna. It was Nityananda Prabhu who established the methods of preaching of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s movement from town to town and door to door, falling down at everyone’s feet and begging them to chant the holy names of Krishna and Gauranga.
heno nitāi bine bhāī rādhā kṛṣna pāite nāi
dṛḍha kori dhoro nitāira pāya
nitāiera karuṇā hobe braje rādhā kṛṣṇa pābe
dhoro nitāi caraṇa du’khāni ||
Without Nitai, one cannot attain Radha Krishna, so hold on tight to Nitai’s feet. When Nitai is merciful you will attain Radha and Krishna in Braj, so hold on to those two feet. (Narottama Das, Prārthanā)
Krishnadas Kaviraj, whose summary of the life of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was written exactly 501 years ago, credited his coming to Vrindavan — his association with Rupa and Sanatan and Raghunath Das — all on Nityananda Prabhu’s mercy alone.
jaya jaya nityānanda nityānanda rāma
jāhāra kṛpāte pāinu vṛndāvana dhāma
Anupam Goswami, the current mahant of Shringar Bat and 13th descendant of Nityananda Prabhu, and 10th descendant from Rasikananda Goswami, the founder of the Shringar Bat temple and family line, proudly says, “I worship Nityananda Prabhu alone. Not even Radha. Nitai is the thakur for the Kaliyuga and all the tattvas reside in him, including Radha tattva!”
Anupam Goswami makes a point of saying emphatically “Joy Nitai!” even in response to the local greeting of “Jai Radhe!” And he is behind the signs painted on walls on the Parikrama Marg that say Nitai. And in this land of Radha it is indeed sometimes possible to forget Nityananda Prabhu. But on this one day at least, Shringar Bat beckons.
Goswamis from the Nityananda family and others from Radha Damodar participate in the abhishek or ritual bathing of Gaur Nitai and the Radha Krishna deities in panchamrita (milk, curd, sugar, honey and ghee) and pancha gavya, after which they were given a massage with scented oil.
The Lords were also bathed with the fruit juices and herbal extracts. This was followed by the offering of a feast of 56 items or chappan bhog — even though the devotees observe a fast on that day — and arti.
Hundreds of devotees, many from far off lands and different associations, participated in the suchak kirtan in glorification of Nityananda Prabhu. They avidly watched the abhishek while singing the Hare Krishna maha mantra being led by Acharya Sri Kanika Prasad Goswami of the Radha Damodar temple. After the abhishek and arti were complete, the crowd surged forward in eagerness to get a share of charanamrita.
One lucky woman from South America was given Nitai Prabhu’s prasadi cloth from the ceremony and was approached by an elderly Vaishnava from Bengal who asked to be able to touch it. Afterwards he marveled at her good fortune for receiving such glorious mercy.
As the crowds started to leave, we sat down with Anupam Goswami who glorified Nityananda to us before taking us into his inner temple where he keeps various relics that have come down to the family through the ages.
Dhruva Goswami displays the khunti, a symbol of the Muslim emperor adorned with tilak, which was given to Nityananda Prabhu’s sankirtan party to assure that they would not be harassed by the Muslim law officers. Photo by Rukmini Vittal Das.
Jiva Goswami Prabhu’s japa mala, which was gifted to Anupam Goswami’s father Birchandra Goswami by the Goswamis of Radha Damodar.
Sri Sringara (Bata) Ghata
North of the Imli Tala Ghat is the Sri Singara Ghata. On the bank of the Ghata is the most charming Sri Singara-Bata (Banyan-tree). When Sriman Nityananda Prabhu came to Sri Vrindavana he sat down at this place, beholding the supreme beauty of Sri Yamuna, who is also known as Amrta Vahini, the stream of nectar. Absorbed in His ecstatic childhood pastimes Lord Nitai Canda played in the dust here every day. His descenents are taking very nice care of the deity-service of Sri Nitai Gaura here. Anyone who lives at this place will get the grace of Sri Nitai Canda. When Sri Krshna sat down at this Ghata during the Rasa-night He arranged for Sri Radhika’s dressing.
The painting of Krishna braiding Radha’s hair with flowers after the Rasa that is displayed on the site. Photo by Rukmini Vittal Das.
In Bhakti-ratnākara Narahari Chakravarti describes Shringar Bat while recounting how Raghava Pandit took Shrinivas Acharya and Narottam Das on Braj 84 kos parikrama:
dekho apūrva baṭa yamunāra tīre
sakale śṛṅgāra baṭa kohoye ihāre
ethā śrī kṛṣṇera veśādi vilāsa
bādhāilā subalādi sakhāra vilāsa
ihāre-o nityānanda baṭa keho koy
je jāhā kohoye tāhā sab satya hoy
nityānanda ethā jaiche koilo āgamana
saṁkṣepe kohiye tāhā korolo śravaṇa
Translation: “Behold this wonderful banyan tree on the bank of the Yamuna, which everyone calls Shringar Bata. Sri Krishna played the different pastimes of dressing Radha, and the cowherd boy friends like Subala, increasing their joy. Others call this place Nityananda Bat, which is also true. Let me now tell you briefly how Nityananda came here. (Bhakti-ratnākara)
After this, Narahari recites the pastimes of Nityananda Prabhu, who was born twelve years before Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Ekachakra in Birbhum district of West Bengal, not far from Rampur Hat. In Narahari’s description, at the age of 12 Nitai realized that Nimai had taken birth, he made the decision to
Under the beautiful banyan tree Nityananda prabhu would sometimes sit down in meditation, sometimes he would decorate himself with flower in his hair. Sometimes he would cry, “where my beloved, where is kanay!”, and sometimes his eyes would fill with tears. This way he would pass his time in Vrindavan. Who can understand the pastimes of Nityananda Prabhu?
It was here that Nityananda realized that Nimai had started to manifest his sankirtan pastimes and made his decision to return to Nabadwip. Nityananda’s great grandson came here in the mid-1600’s to establish the temple and seva to Sri Sri Gaur Nitai. According to Anup Goswami, who is 13th in descendance from Srila Nityananda Prabhu
In the Vraja-rīti-cintāmaṇi (2.82), Vishwanath Chakravarti Thakur describes Shringar Bat in the following words.
śṛṅgāra-śāntau yad-adho nikuñje
śṛṅgārayāmāsa parāṁ priyā saḥ |
śṛṅgāra-nāmā sa baṭo’dhunāpi
saṅgīyate tat tad ivekṣate ca ||
Translation: “That Banyan-tree, under which was a nikuna in which Sri Krishna decorated his most beloved Sri Radhika, is even now known as Shringar Bata.”
Under the banyan tree a shrine has been built commemorating the nikunj where Krishna performed these intimate pastimes with Radha. It is said that at the time that Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakur wrote the above verse, there were still dense groves on this spot.
At present the buildings are in a somewhat dilapidated conditions. The original banyan-tree under which Krishna braided Radharani’s hair intertwined with flower garlands, has long since died. Little attention has been given to repairing and restoring the temple.
In 1973 some excavation was done here and a place for performing the rasa lila was discovered. According to some, this is one of several places marked by Harivamsa as sites for such rasa performances. Many sites in Vraja are said to be places where Radha and Krishna decorated each other after the rasa dance, but Sringara Bata has place of prominence among them all.