A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 4

Indian Pluralism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1949 | 186,278 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the life of caitanya: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the second part in the series called the “caitanya and his followers”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 2 - The Life of Caitanya

I shall attempt here to give only a brief account of Caitanya’s life, following principally the Caitanya-bhāgavata, Caitanya-candrodaya-nātaka and Caitanya-caritāmṛta.

There lived in Navadvīpa Jagannātha Miśra and his wife Śacī. On a full-moon day in Spring (the month of Phālguna), when there was an eclipse of the moon, in śaka 1407 (a.d. 1485), Caitanya was born to them. Navadvīpa at this time was inhabited by many Vaiṣṇavas who had migrated from Sylhet and other parts of India. Thus there were Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita, Śrīrāma Paṇḍita, Candraśekhara; Murārigupta, Puṇḍarika Vidyānidhi, Caitanya-vallabha Datta. Thus the whole atmosphere was prepared for a big spark of fire which it was the business of Caitanya to throw into the combustible material. In Śāntipura, Advaita, a great Vaiṣṇava very much senior to Caitanya, was always regretting the general hollowness of the people and wishing for someone to create new fire. Caitanya’s elder brother Viśvarūpa had gone out as an ascetic, and Caitanya, then the only son left to his parents, was particularly cherished by his widowed mother Śacī Devī, the daughter of Nīlāmbara Chakravarti.

Navadvīpa was at this time under Moslem rulers who had grown tyrannical. Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya, son of Viśārada Paṇḍita and a great scholar, had gone over to Orissa to take refuge under the Hindu king there, Pratāparudra.

Caitanya studied in the Sanskrit school (tol) of Sudarśana Paṇḍita. His study in the school was probably limited to the Kalāpa grammar and some kāvyas. Some later biographers say that he had also read Nyāya (logic); there is, however, no proper evidence in support of this. He had, however, studied at home some Purāṇas, notably the great devotional work, Śrīmad-bhāgavata. As a student he was indeed very gifted; but he was also very vain, and always took special delight in defeating his fellow-students in debate. From his early days he had shown a strong liking for devotional songs. He took a special delight in identifying himself with Kṛṣṇa.

Among his associates the names of the following may be mentioned:

Caitanya had received some instruction in the Vedas also from his father. He had also received instruction from Viṣṇu Paṇḍita and Gaṅgādāsa Paṇḍita. At this period of his life he became intimately acquainted with Haridāsa and Gadādhara.

Caitanya’s first wife, Lakṣmī Devī, daughter of Vallabha Miśra, died of snake-bite; he then married Viṣṇupriyā. After his father’s death he went to Gayā to perform the post-funeral rites; there he is said to have met saintly persons like Paramānanda Puri, Īśvara Puri, Raghunātha Puri, Brahmānanda Puri, Amara Puri, Gopāla Puri, and Ananta Puri. He was initiated by Īśvara Puri and decided to renounce the world. He came back, however, to Navadvīpa and began to teach the Bhāgavata-purāṇa for some time.

Nityānanda, an ascetic (avadhūta), joined him in Navadvīpa. His friendship further kindled the fire of Caitanya’s passion for divine love, and both of them, together with other associates, began to spend days and nights in dancing and singing. It was at this time that through his influence and that of Nityānanda, two drunkards, Jagai and Madhai, were converted to his Vaiṣṇava cult of love. Shortly after this, with his mother’s permission, he took the ascetic life and proceeded to Katwa, and from there to Śantipur to meet Advaita there. From this place he started for Puri with his followers.

Such is the brief outline of Caitanya’s early life, bereft of all interesting episodes, and upon it there is a fair amount of unanimity among his various biographers.

Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja’s Bengali work, Caitany a-caritāmṛta, is probably one of the latest of his biographies, but on account of its recondite character has easily surpassed in popularity all other biographies of Caitanya. He divides Caitanya’s life into three parts: Ādilīlū (the first part), Madhya-līlā (the second part) and Antyalīlā (the last part). The first part consists of an account of the first twenty-four years, at the end of which Caitanya renounced the world. He lived for another twenty-four years, and these are divided into two sections, the second and the last part of his life. Of these twenty-four years, six years were spent on pilgrimage; this marks the middle period. The remaining eighteen years were spent by him in Puri and form the final period, of which six years were spent in preaching the cult of holy love and the remaining twelve years in deep ecstasies and suffering pangs of separation from his beloved Kṛṣṇa, the Lord.

After his renunciation in the twenty-fourth year of his life, in the month of Māgha (January), he started for Brṛdāvana and travelled for three days in the Rādha country (Bengal). He did not know the way to Bṛndāvana and was led to Śāntipura by Nityā-nanda. Caitanya’s mother, along with many other people, Śrīvāsa, Rāmai, Vidyānidhi, Gadādhara, Vakreśvara, Murāri, Śuklāmbara, Śrīdhara, Vyaya, Vāsudeva, Mukunda, Buddhimanta Khan, Nandana and Saṅjaya, came to see him at Śāntipur.

From Śāntipur Caitanya started for Puri with Nityānanda, Paṇḍita Jagadānanda, Dāmodara Paṇḍita and Mukunda Dutta by the side of the Ganges, by way of Bāleśvar (in Orissa). He then passed by Yājpur and Sākṣigopāla and came to Puri. Having arrived there, he went straight to the temple of Jagannātha, looked at the image and fell into a trance. Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya, who was then residing at Puri, brought him to his house; Nityānanda, Jagadānanda, Dāmodara all came and joined him there. Here Caitanya stayed for some time at the house of Sārvabhauma and held discussions with him, in the course of which he refuted the monistic doctrines of Śaṅkara[1].

After some time Caitanya started for the South and first came to Kūrmasthāna, probably a place in the Ganjam district (South Orissa); he then passed on by the banks of the Godāvari and met Rāmānanda Ray. In a long conversation with him on the subtle aspect of the emotion of bhakti Caitanya was very much impressed by him; he passed some time with him in devotional songs and ecstasies. He then resumed his travel again and is said to have passed through Mallikārjuna-tīrtha, Ahobala-Nṛsiṃha, Skanda-tīrtha and other places, and later on came to Śrīraṅgam on the banks of the Kāveri. Here he lived in the house of Veṅkaṭa bhaṭṭa for four months, after which he went to the Ṛṣabha mountain, where he met Paramānanda Puri. It is difficult to say how far he travelled in the South, but he must have gone probably as far as T ravancore. It is also possible that he visited some of the places where Madhvācārya had great influence, and it is said that he had discussions with the teachers of the Madhva school. He discovered the Brahma-saṃhitā and the Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta, two important manuscripts of Vaiṣṇavism, and brought them with him. He is said to have gone a little farther in the East up to Nāsika; but it is difficult to say to what extent the story of these tours is correct. On his return journey he met Rāmānanda Ray again, who followed him to Purl.

After his return to Puri, Pratāparudra, then King of Puri, solicited his acquaintance and became his disciple. In Puri Caitanya began to live in the house of Kāśī Miśra. Among others, he had as his followers Janārdana, Kṛṣṇadāsa, Śikhī Māhiti, Pradyumna Miśra, Jagannātha Dāsa, Murāri Māhiti, Candaneśvara and Simheśvara. Caitanya spent most of his time in devotional songs, dances and ecstasies. In A.D. 1514 he started for Bṛndāvana with a number of followers; but so many people thronged him by the time he came to Pāṇihāti and Kāmārahāti that he cancelled his programme and returned to Puri. In the autumn of the next year he again started for Bṛndāvana with Bālabhadra Bhaṭṭācārya and came to Benares; there he defeated in a discussion a well-known teacher, Prakāśānanda, w'ho held monistic doctrines. In Bṛndāvana he met Śrī-rūpa Gosvāmī, Uddhavadāsa Mādhava, and others. Then he left Bṛndāvana and Mathurā and went to Allahabad by the side of the Ganges. There he met Vallabha bhaṭṭa and Raghupati Upādhyāya, and gave elaborate religious instruction to Śrī-rūpa. Later on Caitanya met Sanātana and imparted further religious instruction to him. He returned to Benares, where he taught Prakāśānanda; then he came back to Purī and spent some time there. Various stories are narrated in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, describing the ecstatic joy of Caitanya in his moods of inspiration; on one occasion he had jumped into the sea in a state of ecstasy and was picked up by a fisherman. It is unfortunate, however, that we know nothing of the exact manner in which he died.

Footnotes and references:


There is considerable divergence about this episode with Sārvabhauma; the Sanskrit Caitanya-caritāmṛta and the Caitanya-candrodaya-nātaka do not agree with the description in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta in Bengali of Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja as given here.

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