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

Part 5 - Some Companions of Caitanya

A great favourite of Caitanya was Nityānanda. The exact date of his birth and death is difficult to ascertain, but he seems to have been some years older than Caitanya. He was a Brahmin by caste, but became an avadhūta and had no caste-distinctions. He was a messenger of Caitanya, preaching the Vaiṣṇava religion in Bengal during Caitanya’s absence at Purl; he is said to have converted to Vaiṣṇavism many Buddhists and low-caste Hindus of Bengal. At a rather advanced stage of life, Nityānanda broke the vow of asceticism and married the two daughters of Sūrjadās Sarkhel, brother of Gaurdāsa Sarkhel of Kalna; the two wives were Vasudhā and Jāhnavi. Nityānanda’s son Vlrachand, also known as Vira-bhadra, became a prominent figure in the subsequent period of Vaiṣṇava history.

Pratāparudra was the son of Puruṣottamadeva, who had ascended his throne in 1478, and himself ascended the throne in 1503. He was very learned and took pleasure in literary disputes. Mr Stirling, in his History of Orissa (published in 1891), says of him that he had marched with his army to Rameśwaram and took the famous city of Vijayanagara; he had also fought the Mahomedans and prevented them from attacking Purl. Caitanya’s activities in Purl date principally between 1516 and 1533. Rāmānanda Ray was a minister of Pratāparudra, and at his intercession Caitanya came into contact with Pratāparudra, who became one of his followers. The influence of Caitanya together with the conversion of Pratāparudra produced a great impression upon the people of Orissa, and this led to the spread of Vaiṣṇavism and the collapse of Buddhism there in a very marked manner.

During the time of Caitanya, Hussain Shaha was the Nawab of Gaur. Two Brahmins, converted into Islam and having the Mahomedan names Sakar Malik and Dabir Khas, were his two high officers; they had seen Caitanya at Ramkeli and had been greatly influenced by him. Later in their lives they were known as Sanātana and Rūpa; they distributed their riches to the poor and became ascetics.

Rūpa is said to have met Caitanya at Benares, where he received instruction from him; he wrote many Sanskrit works of great value, e.g.,

Sanātana wrote the following works:

Sanātana had been put in prison by Hussain Shah when he heard that he was thinking of leaving him, but Sanātana bribed the gaoler, who set him at liberty. He at once crossed the Ganges and took the ascetic life; he went to Mathurā to meet his brother Rūpa, and returned to Puri to meet Caitanya. After staying some months in Puri, he went to Bṛndāvana. In the meanwhile Rūpa had also gone to Purī and he also returned to Bṛndāvana. Both of them were great devotees and spent their lives in the worship of Kṛṣṇa.

Advaitācārya’s real name was Kamalākara Bhaṭṭācārya. He was born in 1434 and was thus fifty-two years older than Caitanya; he was a great Sanskrit scholar and resided at Śāntipur. He went to Nabadvīpa to finish his studies. People at this time had become very materialistic; Advaita was very much grieved at it and used to pray in his mind for the rise of some great prophet to change their minds. Caitanya, after he had taken to ascetic life, had visited Advaita at Śāntipur, where both of them enjoyed ecstatic dances; Advaita was then aged about seventy-five. It is said that he had paid a visit to Caitanya at Purl. He is said to have died in 1539 according to some, and in 1584 according to others (which is incredible).

Apart from Advaita and Nityānanda there were many other intimate companions of Caitanya, of whom Śrīvāsa or Śrīnivāsa was one. He was a brahmin of Sylhet who settled at Navadvīpa; he was quite a rich man. It is not possible to give his exact birth-date, but he had died long before 1540 (when Jayānanda wrote his Caitanya-maṅgala); he was probably about forty when Caitanya was born. As a boy Caitanya was a frequent visitor to Śrīvāsa’s house. He was devoted to the study of the Bhāgavata, though in his early life he was more or less without a faith. He was also a constant companion of Advaita while he was at Navadvīpa. When Caitanya’s mind was turned to God after his return from Gayā, Śrīvāsa’s house was the scene of ecstatic dances. Śrīvāsa then became a great disciple of Caitanya. Nārāyaṇī, the mother of Bṛndāvanadāsa, the biographer of Caitanya, was a niece of Śrīvāsa.

Rāmānanda Ray, the minister of Pratāparudra and author of th e Jagannātha-vallabha, was very much admired by Caitanya. He was a native of Vidyānagara, in Central India. The famous dialogue narrated in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta shows how Caitanya himself took lessons from Rāmānanda on the subject of high devotion. Rāmānanda Ray on his part was very fond of Caitanya and often spent his time with him.

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