In The Name of the Lord
BY: STAFF CORRESPONDENT
Mar 12, CANADA (DECCAN HERALD) Chaitanya Mahaprabhu left behind a nonsectarian spiritual movement based on the chanting of Lord Krishna’s name that is practical and relevant even today, says Aparna Achar.
The orthodox Gaudiya Vaishnava community in India regards him as an esoteric incarnation of Lord Krishna himself. March 14 marks the 520th birth anniversary of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and is celebrated as Gaur Purnima in many parts of India. A spiritual leader who appeared in the 15th century, Lord Chaitanya spearheaded a powerful movement known as Sankirtana (the congregational chanting of the holy name of Krishna), and firmly believed that this was the yuga-dharma, the only means of salvation in Kaliyuga.
By the regular chanting of Hare Krishna Mahamantra, besides following the four regulative principles, namely no meat eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication and no gambling, one could revive one’s innate spiritual consciousness. This was the quintessence of Lord Chaitanya’s philosophy. Centuries later, A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, spread the teachings of Lord Chaitanya throughout the world by establishing the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
A descendant of the pre-historic Brahma-Madhva Sampradaya, Lord Chaitanya was born in Mayapur in the town of Navadip, about 65 miles north of present day Kolkata in the year 1486. His parents Jagannath Misra and Sachi Devi had lost their first eight daughters in infancy, and their ninth child had left home at a very young age to become an ascetic.
The new born baby, Vishvambar (later to be known as Chaitanya), was their tenth child. He was nicknamed Nimai (one who is born under a neem tree) in the fond hope that the antiseptic properties of neem would ward off any evil eye and protect the child. He was also given the name of ‘Gaura’ (meaning golden) because of his extremely fair complexion.
It is said that even as a child, Nimai possessed the 32 marks of divinity on his body, and astrologers predicted that he would become a preacher of a religion that would have a universal appeal. By the age of 10, Nimai had become a noted scholar in Sanskrit, mastering all branches of Sanskrit learning such as grammar, logic, literature, rhetoric, philosophy and theology and came to be known as Nimai Pundit.
He believed in grihasthashrama and at the age of 14, married Lakshmi Devi; after her death, he remarried Vishnupriya and settled down to a life of teaching and observance of Vedic rituals. His name spread far and wide and several scholars came to Navadip to engage in debates with Nimai Pundit.
A major turning point in his life occurred when Nimai went on a pilgrimage to Gaya with his companions in 1509. Here he met Ishvara Puri, a Sanyasin of the order of Madhvacharya, and took initiation from him into the chanting of the holy name of Lord Krishna. He became ecstatic chanting and singing, “Krishna, Krishna!” He was no longer interested in Sanskrit grammar and polemics as he was completely immersed in his devotion to Krishna. At the age of 24, he took sanyaasa initiation from Swami Keshava Bharati and became ‘Krishna Chaitanya.’
With raised hands and rhythmic dancing, Chaitanya went from town to town singing the names of Lord Krishna with great ecstatic love. He converted thousands of followers to the chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Rama. He disseminated the doctrines and principles of Vaishnavism, wherever he went. After travelling to temple towns of South India, he returned to Puri in 1516 and lived there for the next 18 years of his life. During this period, he is said to have conducted several miracles, winning the love and faith of the people.
Few people know that 500 years before Mahatma Gandhi, Chaitanya started a massive non-violent civil disobedience movement against the ruling regime of that time. He preached that Lord Krishna was accessible to one and all, irrespective of caste or colour.
He believed that everyone was eligible for salvation through the chanting of Lord’s names and thus brought in a socially inclusive movement.
The biographies of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu state that he merged into the deity of Lord Jagannath at Puri in the year 1534, and disappeared from this world, leaving behind a nonsectarian spiritual movement based on chanting of the Lord’s name that is practical and relevant even today.