Caitanya Mahaprabhu's Tirtha-yatra - Part 5


Krtamala (Vaigai) River in Stormy Weather
[Photo by Oochappan]

Jan 31, CANADA (SUN) — A serial exploration of the holy sites visited by Lord Caitanya.

Krtamala River

In the introductory summary of Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya lila 9, HDG Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur notes that during His South India travels, the Lord took His bath in the River Krtamala.

    "Finally the Lord went to Sri Ranga-ksetra, where He converted a brahmana named Venkata Bhatta, who, along with his family, became a devotee of Krsna. After leaving Sri Ranga, Caitanya Mahaprabhu reached Rsabha-parvata, where He met Paramananda Puri, who later arrived at Jagannatha Puri. Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu then proceeded farther, arriving at Setubandha Ramesvara. At Sri Saila-parvata, the Lord met Lord Siva and his wife Durga in the dress of a brahmana and brahmani. From there He went to Kamakosthi-puri and later arrived at southern Mathura. A brahmana devotee of Lord Ramacandra's talked with Him. Then the Lord took His bath in the river Krtamala.

    On the hill known as Mahendra-saila, the Lord saw Parasurama. Then the Lord went to Setubandha and took His bath at Dhanus-tirtha. He also visited Ramesvara, where He collected some papers connected with Sitadevi, whose illusory form was kidnapped by Ravana. The Lord next visited the places known as Pandya-desa, Tamraparni, Naya-tripadi, Ciyadatala, Tila-kanci, Gajendra-moksana, Panagadi, Camtapura, Sri Vaikuntha, Malaya-parvata and Kanya-kumari."

Later in Madhya 9 we read about this pastime in a little more detail:

    Madhya 9.180

    kritamalaya snana kari' aila tanra ghare
    bhiksha ki dibena vipra, -- paka nahi kare

    "After bathing in the river Kritamala, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu went to the brahmana's house to take lunch, but He saw that the food was unprepared because the brahmana had not cooked it."

    Madhya 9.197

    tanre asvasiya prabhu karila gamana
    kritamalaya snana kari aila durvasana

    "After thus assuring the brahmana, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu proceeded further into southern India and finally arrived at Durvasana, where He bathed in the river Kritamala."

    Presently the Kritamala River is known as the river Bhagai or Vaigai. This river has three tributaries, named Suruli, Varaha-nadi and Battilla-gundu. The river Kritamala is also mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.5.39) by the sage Karabhajana."

Krtamala River

Like the great rivers Tamraparni and Kaveri, the Krtamala River also flows eternally in the holy dhama of Navadvipa. This is described in Chapter 3 of Sri Navadwip Dham-mahatmaya by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur:

    "Within the sixteen krosas circumference of Navadvipa there exists eternally sixteen streams. On the eastern bank of the main Ganga are four islands and on the western bank there are five islands. The different tributaries of the Ganga surround these islands and give the Dhama its splendor. The main Ganga rests in the middle, while in the tributaries are present other pious rivers. Near the Ganga flows the Yamuna, and elsewhere is the Sarasvati River. East of the Yamuna are the long streams of the Tamraparni, the Krtamala and the Brahmaputra. The Sarayu, the Narmada, the Sindhu, the Kaveri, and the Gomati flow swiftly along with the Godavari crosswise. All these streams intersect to form the different islands of Navadvipa.

    Following the desires of the Lord, sometimes the streams dry up, and then again by His wish they flow again with water; by the Lord's wish sometimes places become covered with water and by His wish they again become visible. The Dhama enacts its lila endlessly in this way, but at the same time, that Dhama is permanently visible to the fortunate living entity. If a devotee has acute desire in his heart, all the islands and all the streams will be visible. By devotion the Dhama is visible in dreams, in meditation, and to the naked eye."

The Krtamala River is made famous in sastra from very ancient days, long before the advent of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. For example, Krtamala-theertham features prominently in the story of Matsya Avatara. It was the holy Krtamala in which Satyavrata was offering oblations when a small fish swam into his cupped hands. This pastime was nicely summarized in Dasavatara - The Ten Manifestations of God by Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaja:

    "During the Caksusa-manvantara, a devotee of Lord Narayana named King Satyavrata performed severe austerities by drinking only water. One day, Satyavrata was offering oblations in the Krtamala River when he saw a tiny fish in the water cupped in his palms. Satyavrata, the king of Dravida, threw the fish into the water. The small fish then said in great distress, "O merciful king! I am a small fish; big fish will eat Me. Knowing this, why did you throw Me into the river? I am very scared. Please protect Me." Hearing the distressful words of the fish, the king placed the fish in his water pot and went back to his asrama. Within one night, the small fish grew so much that it was difficult for it to remain in the water-pot. The fish again offered prayers expressing that it did not want to remain in that difficult condition. It wanted to be kept in a bigger pot where it could move about freely; so the sage put the fish into the water of a big wok. But in that place, within one muhurta (forty-eight minutes), it again expanded to the length of three hands.

    Upon the repeated prayers of the fish, it was placed in a pond, then a large freshwater lake, and finally the ocean. While entering into the ocean, the fish spoke to King Satyavrata in a humorous way, "There are many large crocodiles and other creatures in the ocean; they will eat Me. It is not proper to leave Me here." Hearing the sweet words of the fish, the king understood that it was not an ordinary fish. This wonderful entity was the Supreme Lord Himself in the form of a fish. The king replied, "You are making fun of me in Your form as a fish. Who are You actually? Within one day You have occupied the entire area of this huge freshwater lake, 800 miles long. I have never seen or heard of such an amazing and powerful aquatic. You must surely be the Supreme Lord Hari. You have taken the form of an aquatic to favor all the living beings. I am taking shelter of You. Please grace me."

Throughout Puranic literature we find descriptions of the source and path of the River Krtamala, and it's relationship with other geographic elements, such as the Malaya hills. In Studies in the Geography of Ancient and Medieval India by D.C. Sircar (pp. 243) we read the following:

    "It is well known that the Markandeya, Vayu, Kurma, Matsya, Vamana, and Brahmananda Puranas contain a long list, and the Visnu, Brahma and Siva Puranas a short list of the Indian rivers. According to both these lists, the rivers Krtamala and Tamraparni issue from the Malaya mountain. Even the shortest list of rivers found in the Agni Purana speaks of the Krtamala as rising from the Malaya.

    Of the two rivers mentioned above, Timraparni, still practically known by that name, flows from the southern part of the Western Ghats to the Bay of Bengal. The celebrated ports of Korkai and Kayal stood on its banks. The identification of the Krtamala with the modern Vaigai running by Madurai or Daksina-Mathura is corroborated by the Caitanyacaritamrta, an old biography of the Bengali Vaisnava saint Caitanya (1485-1534 A.D.) It is clearly stated in this work that Caitanya took his bath in the waters of the holy Krtamala at Daksina-Mathura in the course of his tours of pilgrimage in South India.

    The evidence of the Puranas definitely locates the Kul-acala or Kula-parvata (literally, a mountain associated with certain tribes) called Malaya, which was the source of the Tamraparni and Krtamala (Vaigai) rivers running through the Pandya country, at the extreme southern end of the Western Ghats."

Because academics have long argued over the position of the Malaya hills and various waterways associated with it, quite a lot has been written on the subject. We are glad to see that even modern historians are taking up Caitanya-caritamrta as a defining text on the subject.

Krtamala River

In India in Kalidasa by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (1947), we find this interesting passage, which gives a colorful description of the lush forests and valleys surrounding the area where the Krtamala originates, among the Malaya hills. This gives us an added sense of the environment in which Lord Caitanya's Krtamala pastimes may have taken place:

    "Malaya mountain are encircled by the river Cauvery. The Malaya abounds in sandal trees and is proverbially famous for its cool breezes. The Malaya includes the mountains bordering Malabar abounding in aloe trees.

    The raja-tall forests being shaken by the cool breezes have been noted by Kalidasa. "The sting-mouthed black bees abounded among the punnaga flowers and the date trees grew around in abundance. The dates of the Malaya mountain over-spread with tamala leaves, where the sandal trees were encircled with cardamom creepers, and where the betel-nut trees were enclosed within a ring of tambula creepers."

    The valley of the Malaya mountain was covered with the black-pepper forests, where flocks of green parrots flew about, and the dust of ela (cardamom) rose up and clung to the sweating temples of elephants.

    The Malaya is also one of the Kulaparvatas of India. Dardura is the Nilgiri hills in the Madras Presidency. Kalidasa describes the Malaya and Dardura as the breasts of the southern region. The two mountains have been mentioned together in the Markandeya Purana also. Dardura, therefore, must be that portion of the Ghats which forms the south-eastern boundary of Mysore. The sources of four rivers, namely Krtamala, Tamraparm, Puspaja and Utpalavatl are placed in the chain which includes both the Malaya and the Dardura mountains."

    (Chapter 113)

Lord Balarama and the Krtamala:

As was the case with Lord Caitanya's pastimes at the River Kaveri, where Lord Balarama also visited, in the case of the Krtamala River we find that Lord Balarama also took bath here:

    Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.79.16-17

    tatrayutam adad dhenur
    brahmanebhyo halayudhah
    krtamalam tamraparnim
    malayam ca kulacalam
    tatragastyam samasinam
    namaskrtyabhivadya ca
    yojitas tena casirbhir
    anujnato gato 'rnavam
    daksinam tatra kanyakhyam
    durgam devim dadarsa sah

    "There at Setubandha (Ramesvaram) Lord Halayudha gave brahmanas ten thousand cows in charity. He then visited the Krtamala and Tamraparni rivers and the great Malaya Mountains. In the Malaya range Lord Balarama found Agastya Rsi sitting in meditation. After bowing down to the sage, the Lord offered him prayers and then received blessings from him. Taking leave from Agastya, He proceeded to the shore of the southern ocean, where He saw Goddess Durga in her form of Kanya-kumari."

And just as the Sri Balabhadra-sahasra-nama gives the Kaveri as one of Lord Balarama's names, so, too, He is named for the holy Krtamala:

    Text 61

    krtamala maha-punya kaveri ca payasvini pratici suprabha veni triveni sarayupama

    "He is the Krtamala, Maha-punya, Kaveri, Payasvini, Pratici, Suprabha, Veni, Triveni, and Sarayupama rivers."

Further details of Nityananda Prabhu's pastimes at the Krtamala are found in Caitanya Bhagavata Adi-lila 9:

    "The great Nityananda Prabhu then had a view of Karttika and went to the mountain of Sri, where Siva and Parvati dwell. In the forms of a brahmana and his wife, Siva and Parvati resided on the top of the mountain known as Sri. Both of them recognized their own cherished Deity, Nityananda Prabhu, who had thus journeyed to the holy places disguised as an avadhuta. Both of them rejoiced upon beholding their guest, and the goddess Parvati herself, with her own hands, joyfully cooked prasadam for Nityananda Prabhu. As Siva and Parvati made offerings of food to Nityananda Prabhu with great regard, he smiled and offered his obeisances to both of them.

    The confidential talks which they held between one another can be understood only by Krsna Himself. Taking his leave, Nityananda Prabhu went to Dravida. After visiting Vyenkattanatha, Kamakosti-puri, and Kanch, he arrived at the famed stream of the Kaveri and from there went to the holy place of Sri Rangam, where he stayed for some time. From there he went to Hari-ksetra, and then visited Mount Rsabha. Then he travelled to South Matura, Krtamala, Tamraparni, and then journeyed northward to the Yamuna, where he visited the home of Augustya on Malaya mountain."

Contemporary life along the Krtamala, commonly known today as the Vaigai,
can be seen in this slide show


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