Adapted from “Sri Panca-tattva: The Five Features of God,” by Satyaraja Dasa
Nityananda Prabhu appeared in the village of Ekachakra, in West Bengal, India, around 1474. In the Caitanya Caritamrita and other scriptures He is declared to be the avatar of Lord Balarama, the direct expansion of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna.
As a child He was called Nitai and had a close circle of friends. Together they used to imitate the pastimes of Krishna and His associates. All the adults of Ekachakra were fascinated by this unique little boy, and they loved Him as their own. Seeing His total absorption in Krishna and the avatars of Vishnu, they suspected that He might be some sort of incarnation Himself. He was relentless, day after day enacting a different pastime, and did it so skillfully that His neighbors wondered, “How is it that He is so talented? How does He know the stories so well? No one has explained all these details to Him.” On one occasion, one of the boys dressed as Akrura and took Krishna and Balarama away from Vrindavana on the order of Kamsa. Nitai cried in grief, feeling the separation of the cowherd girls who loved Krishna with their whole being. Tears of love flowed from His eyes. His acting was so authentic that it made all who watched question whether He was merely acting or in some way experiencing the part He played. This was true whether He was playing Krishna, Balarama, or even Vamana and other Incarnations of the Lord. When questioned, Nitai would respond: “They are My own divine pastimes, and I am allowing you to see them.”
Among His most convincing roles was that of Lakshmana, the brother of Rama, which intimated His divine identity as Balarama. For His first twelve years, Nityananda Prabhu stayed in Ekachakra and shared loving pastimes with His neighbors.
Traveling on Pilgrimage
Just before His thirteenth year, however, a traveling mendicant came to His home and was welcomed as a guest by Hadai Pandita, Nityananda’s affectionate father. With deep respect and brahminical hospitality, Hadai Pandita offered his eminent guest all that he had. “Please feel free to take whatever you like,” he said. “My home is your home.” The visiting ascetic explained that his was a simple life, and that his needs were minimal. However, he said, he needed a traveling companion, and young Nitai would be an appropriate person for such a service. Nitai was eager, and reluctantly, Hadai Pandita agreed to let his son go.
Nitai traveled from holy place to holy place for the next twenty years, until He was thirty-two, receiving instruction and friendship from His elderly sannyasi companion. He journeyed the length and breadth of India and sanctified the subcontinent by His presence, making holy places even holier. As Nitai continued to travel, feeling the ecstasy of these sacred areas, He more and more took on the character of an avadhuta, or a spiritually elevated person who appears crazy to the uninformed. His mode of activity and general behavior became increasingly unexplainable and erratic; no one could understand what motivated Him or why He behaved in the way that He did. For example, He was known to dance ecstatically with the cloth meant to cover His loins wrapped instead around His head.
In Pandarapura (in present-day Maharashtra), Nityananda Prabhu met Lakshmipati Tirtha. It is said that Lakshmipati was given to intense dreams about Lord Balarama, and when he met Nityananda in Pandarapura, he was convinced that this beautiful young Nityananda was none other than Balarama Himself. As they developed a deep, loving relationship, Nityananda became increasingly more and more dear to Lakshmipati Tirtha, and Lakshmipati Tirtha became dear to Him.
According to some authorities, Lakshmipati initiated Nityananda Prabhu at this time, giving Him the brahmachari name “Svarupa.” Lakshmipati’s most famed disciple was Madhavendra Puri, who is credited with having established the sweet truth of the amorous relationship with Krishna, which later became an integral part of Lord Chaitanya’s teachings, and also with being the first to openly articulate the preeminent position of Radharani. Because Madhavendra Puri was His senior, Nityananda Prabhu always treated him as though he were His spiritual master.
Soon Nityananda Prabhu reached Vraja (Vrindavan.) His ecstasy increased one million times. Visiting the many places associated with Krishna’s pastimes, He shouted, danced, rolled around, laughed, and howled like a madman. With overflowing intensity, He cried out, “Where is Krishna? Where is My very life and soul?” As these words emanated from His anxious lips, He shivered uncontrollably and tears of love poured from His eyes like torrents of rain. At that moment, He was seized with a startling inner vision, which showed Him that Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had completed His childhood pastimes. Mahaprabhu was now overtly engaged in His mission. This realization made Nityananda chortle with unbridled affection for His spiritual brother, and so from Sringara-vata He proceeded to Navadvipa to join in Mahaprabhu’s pastimes.
nityanandam aham vande karne lambita-mauktikam caitanyagraja-rupena pavitri-krta-bhutalam
“Salutations to Sri Nityananda Prabhu, Who has a single pearl suspended from one of His ears, Who is the elder brother of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and Who is the purifier of the world.”
Uniting With Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
The year was 1506, and after arduous travel through dense forests in the trance-like state of frantic devotion, Nityananda Prabhu reached the land of Nadiya, where Chaitanya Mahaprabhu resided. When the two Lords finally saw each other for the first time, they were immediately overtaken by waves of ecstasy. Nitai was roughly thirty-two-years-old, and Mahaprabhu was twenty. They each felt that their lives were now perfectly complete. Embracing, they cried rivers of ecstasy.
Soon after their initial meeting, Mahaprabhu took Nityananda to Srivasa Thakura’s home to offer Vyasa-puja, or guru-worship, to Nitai, who is the original guru for all mankind. However, Nityananda grabbed all of the worship articles from Mahaprabhu and worshiped Him instead. Nitai kept repeating, “Nimai Pandita [Mahaprabhu] is my Lord and master! Nimai Pandita is my Lord and master!” There was constant competition as to who would serve whom. Their love for each other is indescribable. From this point until Mahaprabhu left Navadvipa for Jagannatha Puri, Nitai was always at His side. Both Virndavanadasa Thakura and Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami unequivocally assert that Nitai holds the key to Mahaprabhu’s heart. The teaching of the Chaitanya tradition is emphatic: One who thinks that he can attain love of God without first attaining the mercy of Nityananda Rama is living in a hallucination.
The Liberation of Jagai and Madhai
Mahaprabhu asked Nityananda Prabhu and Haridasa Thakura to serve as His door-to-door preachers, spreading the message of love of God to every home in Navadvipa. It was at this point that Nitai and Haridasa met the two brothers Jagai and Madhai. They were the descendents of an illustrious brahmana dynasty but had abandoned the pious ways of their forefathers for a life of debauchery.
When the two emissaries of Mahaprabhu’s mercy first met them, Jagai and Madhai were in a drunken stupor, creating havoc throughout the village. Nitai felt compassion on these fallen souls and reasoned that if they could be rectified, then Mahaprabhu’s mission would become even more well received in Navadvipa. Approaching the two wayward brothers on the street, Nitai begged them to chant the holy name of Krishna and to taste the sweet nectar of Krishna consciousness. But the two villains just chased Nitai down the road, shouting profanities and calling Him foul names. Madhai threw a broken clay pot that came crashing down on Nitai’s divine head, causing Him to bleed. (Although Nitai’s body is perfectly spiritual, He manifested this pastime so that Jagai and Madhai could attain liberation.)
When Mahaprabhu heard what had happened, He became infuriated and rushed to the area Himself. How could anyone harm a gentle soul like Nitai? Summoning His divine disk-like weapon, which is flaming and radiant, Mahaprabhu was prepared to kill the two repellent brothers on the spot, forcing them to taste the wrath of God. His anger, however, was assuaged by Nitai, who reminded Him that the majority of people in this age are as fallen as Jagai and Madhai, and that it is His mission to liberate them with love, not with violence.
Hearing Nitai’s words, Mahaprabhu was willing to forgive Jagai, for he had tried to protect Nityananda Prabhu, but Madhai, who perpetuated the most evil deed of harming Nitai, needed to be forgiven by Nitai Himself. Nitai’s mercy knows no bounds, and He quickly forgave Madhai for all he had done.
When Jagai and Madhai saw the loving exchange between Mahaprabhu and Nityananda and, observed Nitai’s forgiving nature toward them, their hearts were changed. They resolved to become devotees and enthusiastic supporters of Mahaprabhu’s sankirtana mission. Seeing their sincerity, Mahaprabhu took all of their sins on His own head. For a few brief moments, His beautiful golden body turned into an unsightly blackish color. Indeed, when Yamaraja’s assistant Chitragupta tried to tally Jagai and Madhai’s collective sins, he could not do so, and he collapsed from sheer exhaustion. After the incident with Nitai, however, Jagai and Madhai set the highest standard of devotional service by constantly chanting the holy name of Krishna (at least 100,000 times daily) and instructing others in devotion to Krishna.
Spreading the Sankirtana Movement
After Chaitanya Mahaprabhu took on the renounced order of life, sannyasa, to spread the sankirtana movement, the two brothers moved to Jagannath Puri, on the east coast of India, where Mahaprabhu left Nityananda and proceeded on a tour of South India that was to last for two years. When Mahaprabhu returned, He was pleased to see that Nitai had developed the movement in Puri with the help of the local devotees. However, the movement in Navadvipa had been sorely neglected, and so in 1511, Mahaprabhu requested Nityananda, His most reliable sankirtana commander, to return to Bengal.
When Nitai first returned to Bengal, He began His mission in Panihati, a village four miles north of Calcutta. For almost five months, He preached and gathered followers in this area, until thousands chanted and danced in ecstasy under His able supervision. It was at this time that Raghunatha dasa Goswami, then a young boy, approached Nityananda Prabhu as a surrendered servant. Since Raghunatha was born into a wealthy family, Nitai asked him to hold a huge festival in which all the devotees could have as much yogurt and chipped rice as they desired. The festival at Panihati was a grand success, drawing pilgrims from miles around to participate in various ways. This naturally enhanced the sankirtana movement and pleased Nityananda very much.
In Panihati, Nityananda used the house of Raghava Pandita as a headquarters, and from there He taught Krishna consciousness to thousands of people from both sides of the Bhagirathi River. From there, He moved on to Varahanagara, where he stayed in the house of Gadadharadasa. He transformed this small dwelling into another huge center for the movement. It is said that He moved the people of this area so thoroughly that even the young children were allowed to come from neighboring villages, even on school days, just to join the kirtana.
After a fruitful period in these places, founding self-sufficient, ongoing preaching centers, Nityananda Prabhu arrived in Saptagrama, one of the wealthiest towns in Bengal. Many of this town’s inhabitants were considered outcastes. Although they were untouchable by Hindu standards, Nityananda viewed all souls equally and lovingly spread Mahaprabhu’s teachings to everyone He met.
After staying in Saptagrama for some time, Nityananda Prabhu traveled on, visiting Shantipur and Navadvipa, where He went door-to-door and begged people to surrender to Mahaprabhu’s sankirtana mission. He carried this request to Thanajora, Baragachi, Dogachiya, Fulia, and all villages on both sides of the Ganges. At Khardaha, He is said to have converted no less than 1,200 male and 1,300 female Buddhists.
Nityananda Prabhu’s most important followers joined Him at this time. With their help, Nityananda Prabhu was successful in spreading Krishna consciousness throughout Bengal.
Household Life and Final Pastimes
When Nitai returned to Bengal at Mahaprabhu’s request, He decided to abandon His avadhuta status and get married. A village leader named Suryadasa Sarakhel had two daughters who were great devotees; their names were Jahnava and Vasudha. As qualified girls who felt great affection for Nityananda Prabhu, they were chosen to marry Him, and He, in turn, loved them dearly. According to Kavi Karnapura, the two girls were incarnations of Revati Devi and Varuni Devi respectively, the wives of Lord Balarama.
After some time Vasudha gave birth to two children – a boy named Virabhadra and a girl named Ganga-devi. Virabhadra, especially, became a great leader in the Vaishnava community and continued to spread Lord Chaitanya’s teachings in the mood of His distinguished father. Soon after the birth of her two divine children, Vasudha passed away, and Jahnava vowed to raise them as her own.
As the years went by, Jahnava developed a reputation as a superlative Vaishnava, embodying the ideals of devotion in Lord Chaitanya’s line. She initiated her son Virabhadra as well as many other male and female members of the Vaishnava community. Major figures in Mahaprabhu’s lineage took shelter at her lotus feet, and personalities like Narottama Dasa Thakura, Srinivasa Acarya, and Syamananda Prabhu accepted her as the most prominent Vaishnava in Bengal.
In Ekachakra, not far from Nityananda Prabhu’s birthplace there is a Krishna deity known as Bankima Raya, established by Nityananda Himself. On the right side of this deity is a deity of Jahnava and on the left is Sri Radha. The priests of this temple say that Nityananda Prabhu merged into the form of Bankima Raya to leave the earth for His eternal pastimes in the spiritual sky. There are no other stories of Nitai’s departure, and so this one is generally accepted by the orthodox Vaishnava community. Be that as it may, His presence is always felt in the presence of one’s own guru, for the guru is considered a living manifestation of Nityananda Prabhu’s love, and His power is what gives a true disciple the ability to perform devotional service and to experience the bliss of devotional life.
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