Sri Caitanya's Nectarian River Pastimes, Part 29


Jhansi Ghat – the Narmada River at Jabalpur

Dec 02, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — Sri Caitanya's transcendental pastimes with rivers.

The Narmada River

While discussing Lord Caitanya's pastimes at Narmada-tira in a segment from our Tirtha-yatra series, our research into the holy Naramada River led us on an interesting exploration of semantics and the effects of changes made to Srila Prabhupada's books.

At the start of Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya Lila chapter nine we find the following Summary, written by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. This description is taken from his Amrta-pravaha-bhasya, a commentary in Bengali (1895) on Krsna dasa Kaviraja's Sri Caitanya-caritamrta:

    "At Pandarapura the Lord received news from Sri Ranga Puri that Sankararanya (Visvarupa) had disappeared there. He then went to the banks of the Krsna-venva River, where He collected from among the Vaisnava brahmanas a book written by Bilvamangala Thakura, Sri Krsna-karnamrta. The Lord then visited Tapi, Mahismati-pura, the Narmada River and Rsyamuka-parvata."

When one clicks on the term 'Narmada', which is hyperlinked in the Vedabase, we come to a reference page with these items:

    narmada — Narmada; SB 5.19.17-18
    narmada — by the name Narmada; SB 9.7.2

But where is the reference to Mahaprabhu's visit to the Narmada River? Well, it's not there. The original Sanskrit term provided by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur in his Amrta-pravaha-bhasya says something different: . We find the correct version of the Madhya 9 Summary in Srila Prabhupada's unedited 1st edition of Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya Lila, Volume 3 (1975). And interestingly enough, the correct version also appears in the old DOS-style Folio (c. 1990, Provo). Yet in the BBT's online Vedabase, we find that the words of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur have been changed by the editors. This elevates the practice of "posthumous editing" to a new level.

In order to find Narmada-tira in the current Vedabase, one would have to search for narmadara tire ("on the bank of the river Narmada; CC Madhya 9.310). One might also happen across the term tira, for which the Vedabase includes various citations, although Narmada-tira is not among them.

The Sanskrit terms tira or tire refer to 'the banks of a river', i.e., the riverside, or shore. But according to the new edited version of Madhya Lila 9, the focus in the chapter Summary is now on the river itself, not on the banks of the river. Perhaps the BBT editors had a mistaken conception that Lord Caitanya's pastimes took place in the Narmada River, rather than on the river's banks, and they felt that Thakur Bhaktivinoda's designation 'tira' had nothing to tell us. If that had been the case, of course, Srila Bhaktivinoda would not have used the term tira. He might have instead used the term veni, or a similar word meaning 'river'. This is confirmed later in the article, in the example given from Madhya Lila 9.310.

In his Amrta-pravaha-bhasya, which Srila Prabhupada chose to include in the Summary of his Caitanya-caritamrta, Srila Bhaktivinoda used tira, and the difference can be significant. For example, the importance of Lord Caitanya's pastimes with Ramananda Raya at Godavari-tira – on the banks of the Godavari – would not be as accurately described by simply referring to the Godavari River where He also took bath. Bathing in the river is not the same as sitting on the riverbank.

We see further evidence of this distinction in Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.19.17-18, in which the Narmada is included in a long list of sacred rivers. The term tira is not used, because the sloka refers to the bodies of moving water, the rivers, not to a stationary place along a river's banks.

So for our part, we conclude that by changing narmada-tira to Narmada River, the BBT editors have eliminated a nuance that had importance, and they have thus done more harm than good.

Although we intended to focus this segment on the glories of Caitanya Mahaprabhu's pastimes only the holy Narmada, we'll take this opportunity to continue our exploration of the importance of terminology regarding holy rivers. In fact, the many sastric references to the Narmada provide us with a wealth of information that reveals the sacred nature of this river visited by Lord Caitanya. We not only find references to the significance of India's river theerthams, we also find the specific qualities of the holy Narmada River and the transcendental personalities who've associated with it. Further, we discover the many important nuances of meaning contained in the terms used to describe the Narmada River, and in the contextual references.

Let us begin with Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.17.1. This sloka describes how Vamanadeva pierced a hole in the covering of the universe with the nail of His big toe. Through the hole, the pure water of the Causal Ocean entered, as the Ganges River. In his purport, Srila Prabhupada emphasizes the importance of living on the banks of such a holy river:

Narmada River at Omkareshwar

    Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.17.1 Purport

    "In this verse, Sukadeva Gosvami describes the glories of the Ganges River. The water of the Ganges is called patita-pavani, the deliverer of all sinful living beings. It is a proven fact that a person who regularly bathes in the Ganges is purified both externally and internally. Externally his body becomes immune to all kinds of disease, and internally he gradually develops a devotional attitude toward the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Throughout India, many thousands of people live on the banks of the Ganges, and by regularly bathing in her waters, they are undoubtedly being purified both spiritually and materially. Many sages, including Sankaracarya, have composed prayers in praise of the Ganges, and the land of India itself has become glorious because such rivers as the Ganges, Yamuna, Godavari, Kaveri, Krsna and Narmada flow there. Anyone living on the land adjacent to these rivers is naturally advanced in spiritual consciousness."

Srila Prabhupada specifically mentions the Narmada as one of the holy rivers akin to the Ganges. And here we find the differentiation between, for example, tira and veni: one can live on the banks (tira) of a holy river such as the Narmada, engaging in fruitive activities, or one can take bath in the river (veni), and be purified.


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