On 27-2-1486, a saint was born in Nabadwip in today’s West Bengal state of India. Millions of devotees consider him as an incarnation of God. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is a revered soul who practiced the highest form of love for God (madhura prema bhakti) in his life. His parents were Sri Jagannath Mishra and Srimati Sachi Devi, a righteous Brahman couple.
He was born during a Lunar eclipse. Srimati Sachi Devi’s father was an astrologer and observing the qualities of his daughter, he was able to predict that a great saint was to be born. During this time, his parents Srimati Sachi Devi and Sri Jagannath Mishra had many divine experiences.
After 13 months of pregnancy, Gouranga Chandra was born on a Full moon day in the month of Phalguna. He was named Gouranga, as he was fair, bright and glowing like a full moon. He was also fondly called as Nimayi as he was born under a lemon tree.
Depictions about the life of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu can be found in treatises like Chaitanya Charitamrita authored by Sri Krishna Das Kaviraj, Chaitanya Bhagavata authored by Sri Brindavan Das Thakur, Chaitanya Mangala authored by Sri Lochan Das Thakur. These books have been translated into many languages including English.
Like the life of any other great soul, it is hard to narrate his life in a few pages. Few devotees consider him to be an incarnation of Sri Krishna who was in deep love with Radha Devi and few others consider him to be an incarnation of both - mesmerizing Sri Krishna and love filled Radha Devi.
As a youngster he mastered the subjects of Sanskrit, Vyakarana (grammar) and Tarka Shastra (science of logic and reasoning). In those days, Nabadwip was known for its strong roots in literature and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was regarded as the best among the scholars of Nabadwip. He was initiated into Gopala Krishna mantra by his Guru Ishwar Puri at Gaya when he went to perform his father’s final rites. After his return to Nadiya, people noticed surprising changes in him. He considered scholarship as mere waste and would always be immersed in ecstatic love for god.
Later he renounced his family life and took up Sri Krishna Chaitanya as his monastic name. His monastic guru was Sri Kesava Bharati. He belonged to the sect of Bharati in the Dasanami tradition. He took initiation of mantra in Madhva tradition and took monastic life in Shankara tradition. He lived in the sacred city of Puri during the last 24 years of his life. He preached the path of madura bhakti by singing the mantra ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ and dancing in ecstasy with love for God.
There are three different types of manifestations in Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu namely,
a love filled devotee of Sri Krishna
a Jagadguru who taught Krishna bhakti
an incarnation of Supreme love, a combined form of Sri Krishna and Radha Devi
It is stated in his biography that he revealed his true form as Krishna to his disciples Adwaita Goswamy and Nityananda Goswamy. His philosophy is known as achintya bhēdha abhēda which means one can be in communion with Krishna as well as be distinct from him. This state cannot be understood by mind.
When bhakti (devotion) matures it turns into bhava (absolute self-forgetfulness) and when bhava matures it turns into maha bhava (great bhava) and when maha bhava matures it turns into prema (Supreme love). Ordinary souls can reach the state of bhava. Only few with extremely pure and mature minds can attain maha bhava and are called as the Ishwarakoti who belong to the family of divine incarnation.
Nowadays, the word ‘Love’ is used by people in very lighter sense. There are only three or four people in the human history who have experienced True Love. It is a highly superior feeling that cannot be perceived by ordinary human minds steeped in the usual love-hate mechanism.
So far, the divine state of true love has been experienced only by Srimati Radha Devi, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Ramakrishna. This state cannot be attained by ordinary souls. It is the highest state of pure love filled with divine consciousness which cannot be comprehended by ordinary human beings.
Sri Ramakrishna thus says bhakti - bhava - maha bhava - prema.
In this world, men struggle to attain bhakti. Only few can attain pure bhakti. Bhakti when matured becomes bhava.
The seeker who attains the state of bhava experiences Savikalpa Samadhi. He will be immersed in ecstasy and tears of joy keep rolling down his cheeks. The body of the seeker then feels horripilations. Kundalini awakens by itself. He will have supernatural visions, can hear divine sounds and can smell divine fragrances. He will have the vision of his chosen deity. Life comes to an end for most people by the time they reach this state. Their life is considered to be a virtuous and auspicious one.
The supernatural state above this is called maha bhava. Ordinary souls cannot attain this state. Only souls who belong to the Ishwarakoti can sustain this state. Sri Ramakrishna says that ‘the seeker will give up his body after being in the state of bliss continuously for 21 days as the body cannot handle such a state for too long.’
The state above this is prema. It is the divine state beyond imagination. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu could experience this extreme blissful state of Love as he was an incarnation of Sri Krishna.
He authored the famous Siksha Ashtakam in which he praised and preached that nāmnāmakāri bahudhā tava sarvaśakti statrārpitā meaning the name of God is the most powerful one. He instructed that singing Lord’s name with love is the highest form of spiritual practice.
The six great Goswami's were his disciples. He is the founder of Bengal Vaishnava tradition which is based on the principles of living a pure life, singing divine glories, and chanting the name of god with devotion. It is known as the Goudiya sect. In later years, Srila Bhakti Vedanta Prabhupada Goswamy who belonged to the same tradition spread the Hare Rama Hare Krishna organization in many countries.
There are many theories on how Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu left his body. One theory is that, in a state of divine ecstasy he drowned in the Bay of Bengal at Puri and gave up his body. Another is that he merged in the idol of Jagannath at Puri. There is yet another theory that he was killed by the priests of Puri temple. During his trip to South India, he climbed the Mangalagiri hill and prayed to Narasimha Swamy. We can find his footsteps on the way up the hill. ISKCON built a small temple over there in his memory.
Whatever it might be, we will be relieved of our sins if we remember such souls who purified the earth by leading a pure, divine and love filled lives. Are we not supposed to tune ourselves with their divine consciousness?
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