In his Laghu-Vaisnava-Tosani, Sri Jiva Goswami has mentioned their family lineage beginning with Sri Sarva, who was a yajur vedi brahmana, Bharadvaja gotriya, from Karnataka. His son was Sri Aniruddha deva who had two sons Sri Rupesvara and Sri Harihar-deva. There was apparently some altercation between the two brothers, who had different mothers (Aniruddha deva had two wives) as a result of which Sri Rupesvara along with his wife and eight horses, came to Paulastya desa, where he was befriended by the ruler of that land, Sri Sekaresvar. Sri Padmanabha deva, the son of Sri Rupesvar was extremely learned in all the Vedas. He came with his family to live at Naihati, on the banks of the Ganga. He had eight daughters and five sons. His five sons, following in the footsteps of their predecessors, were very expert in the study of Vedas. Their names were Purusottama, Jagannatha, Narayana, Murari and Mukundadeva. Mukundadeva's son, Sri Kumara deva, being oppressed by some of the other family members, came to live at Bakla Candradvip. Sri Kumaradeva had many sons, amongst whom Sri Amar (Sanatana), Sri Santosh (Sri Rupa) and Sri Vallabha (Anupama) were great devotees.
Sri Sanatana was born in the Christian year 1488 (Sakabda 1410). He, along with his brothers, began his studies from their maternal uncle's house, in a small village, Sakurma, near the capital of Gaura-desa.
The Badsa Hassain Shah, having heard of their profound scholarship and intelligence, decided to engage the two brothers as his ministers. Though they were unwilling, the order of the Badsa could not be entirely neglected. Thus they came to live at Ramakeli, the capital of Gaura-desa at that time, and were presented much wealth by the Badsa. Many brahmanas and pandits from distant lands would stay with Rupa and Sanatana whenever they would come to Ramkeli, specially, those from Karnataka and Navadwipa. There is still a house near the Ganga, called Bhattabati, which is said to have been their residence.
They had many instructors and professors. In rhetoric their teacher was Sri Vidyabhusanapada. They were trained in philosophy by the brother of Sarvabhyuma Bhattacarya, Sri Vidyavacaspati, as well as Sri Paramananda Bhattacarya, Sri Rampada Bhadrapada. Their names have been mentioned in the commentary of the tenth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam.
These three brothers were from childhood endowed with great devotion to the Lord. In memory of Sri Vrindavana, near their residence they planted many auspicious trees such as Tamal, Kadamba, Juthika and Tulasi. In the midst of these gardens constructed Shyama-kunda and Radha-kunda. In these auspicious surroundings they always remained absorbed in service to Sri Madana Mohana. Having heard something about the famous Nimai Pandita they became very anxious to have His darshana, and always meditated on when they might get such a chance.
One morning, Sanatana Goswami, saw a dream in which one brahmana was presenting the Srimad Bhagavatam to him. Suddenly he woke up, but seeing that no one was there, he felt sad. Later on, in the morning after he had finished his bath and performance of puja, one brahmana came to his house and presented him with the Bhagavata, instructing him to study it very thoroughly. Having received it in this way, he was beside himself with bliss, and from that day, considering the Bhagavata to be the essence of all scriptures, he began its thorough study.
"My only constant companion, my only friend, guru, wealth, that which has delivered me, my great fortune and the source of my good luck, the form through which I taste pleasure, my obeisances to you, Srimad Bhagavatam." [Sri Krsna-lila stava].
When the brothers learned that Nimai Pandita, the life and soul of Nadia, had accepted sannyasa and gone to stay at Puri, they fainted dead away, having lost hope of getting His darshana. They were a little pacified only after a celestial voice informed them that they would be able to see the Lord, here in Ramakeli itself.
After five years had passed, Mahaprabhu decided to come to Bengal to have darshana of his mother and mother Ganga. All of the devotees were in ecstasy and Saci mata was so overjoyed that she was not even aware of her own body. After spending a few days with Advaita Acarya in Santipur, He came to Ramakeli. [C. C. Mad 1.166]
Sakara Mallik (Sanatan) and Dabir Khas (Rupa), along with their brother Sri Ballabha (Anupama), who had a son who was just a small child (Sri Jiva), they offered salutations at the lotus feet of Mahaprabhu.
After Mahaprabhu had left Ramakeli to return to Puri, the brothers began to observe some vows and rituals in order to obtain shelter at His lotus feet. After sending the family members to their residences at Candradwip and Fateyabad, Sri Rupa and Anupama loaded a boat with their accumulated wealth and left Ramakeli. Sanatan remained there alone. Thereafter, Rupa and Anupama, having received news of Mahaprabhu's journey to Vrindavana, set out to meet Him. Arriving at Prayaga, their desire was fulfilled. At that time they informed Mahaprabhu that their brother had been incarcerated at Ramakeli. Mahaprabhu simply smiled and replied that he would get his freedom very soon.
Meanwhile, after the successful departure of Rupa and Anupama, Sanatan was planning how he also could make his getaway. The Badsa had entrusted Dabir Khas and Sakar Mallik with the main responsibility of managing the affairs of his kingdom. When Sanatana stopped attending his darbar on the plea of being ill, he sent his personal doctor to examine him. The doctor informed him that there was nothing wrong with Sakara Mallik, and so the Badsa personally came there to find out what was the matter. The Badsa addressed Sanatana Gosvami, "My doctor says that you are perfectly healthy. All my affairs depend on you, but you are simply sitting in your house, in the company of these pandits. Your brother has also left. In this way my kingdom will topple. I don't know what you are trying to do to me."
Sanatana Gosvami said, "We will no longer be able to assist you in the affairs of your government. You had better find someone else to do it."
The Badsa got up in great anger and declared, "You brothers have ruined all my plans."
Sanatan replied, "You are the independent ruler of Gauda. If you feel anyone has committed any misdeed, then you can punish him as you see fit."
The Badsa had Sanatan imprisoned. During this time the Badsa was preparing to go to Orissa to engage in warfare with the king of that country, so he requested Sanatana to accompany him. Sanatana refused, telling him, "As you will naturally try to give pain to the Deities in the temples and the sadhus, I will
not be able to accompany you."
Therefore the Badsa set out for Orissa leaving Sanatana imprisoned. At this time Sanatana received a letter from Sri Rupa, stating that he had depositied eight hundred gold coins with one grocer. With the help of this money, Sanatana should immediately arrange his release. The account of his escape and journey to meet Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Varanasi is found in C.c., Madhya-lila ch. 20. After that he went to Vrndavana.
In a kutir cottage made from leaves, Sanatana Gosvami lived for some time at Mahabon, the birth place of Sri Krsna. One day, he was walking along the banks of the Yamuna, going to beg some foodstuffs in a nearby village. Madana Gopaladeva was playing with some cowherd boys there, and when he saw Sanatana Gosvami he came running towards him, "Baba! Baba!". Catching hold of Sanatana's hand he told him, "I want to go with you!"
"Lala!" replied Sanatana, "Why do you want to go with me?"
"I want to stay where you live."
"If you stay with me, what will you eat?"
"Baba! Whatever you eat."
"But I only eat some dry capatis and chick peas."
"Then that is what I will eat."
"No that won't be enough for you. You should stay with your mother and father."
"Na. baba. na. I want to stay with you."
Sanatan Goswami patiently explained that the boy might feel difficulty if he stayed with him, and sent him home. Then he went to beg some capatis in the village.
That night, in a dream, he saw that boy again come to him. Smiling very sweetly, he caught hold of Sanatana's hand and said, "Baba! I am coming tomorrow to stay with you. My name is Madana Gopal". His dream ended and he woke up. Losing himself in great ecstasy, he said to himself, "What did I see? Such a beautiful boy!" Thinking of Lord Krsna he opened the door to his hut and saw standing outside a beautiful Deity of Gopal. His effulgence shone in all directions. For a few seconds Sanatana was completely stunned as he gazed upon Gopal's radiant smile. He expected that the Deity might say something or come towards him. Finally, tears of love gliding down his cheeks, Sanatana fell to the ground, offering his dandavats.
Gradually, he performed Gopala's abhiseka (bathed the Deity) and offered worship to Him. Sanatana's brother Rupa came there and, seeing the Deity, was deeply moved in ecstatic love. Sanatana kept the Deity with him in his leaf hut and began to worship Him in great happiness. Srila Rupa Gosvami immediately sent word of this auspicious event to Mahaprabhu, at Puri.
According to the different perspectives of vision of various devotees, Krsna's pastimes might sometimes be described in different ways, putting more or less emphasis on the external events that surround the internal moods and sentiments felt by Krsna and His devotees. In light of this, it has been described in the Prema-vilas that the Madana Mohana Deity resided at the home of one Mathura brahmana, Damodar Caube by name. Subsequent to the period of time during which He was worshipped by Sri Advaita Acarya Damodar Caube, his wife Ballabha and their son, Madan Mohan, used to worship the Deity in the mood of parental affection and friendship. Damodar Caube's son used to play together with Lord Madana Gopala. Sometimes, like naughty brothers, they would slight one another and then complain to the parents. Their parents would feed them together at the same time and lay them down to rest together.
Sanatana Gosvami used to sometimes beg chapatis from Caube's house. When he saw how the Deity was being worshipped he would instruct Damodara's wife Ballabhadevi in the rules and regulations of proper Deity worship. However, she found all of these rules very difficult to follow. One day when Sanatana saw the Deity Madana Gopala and the boy Madan Mohan eating their lunch together, he became moved by the transcendental mood there and the symptoms of ecstatic love appeared in his body. Then he told Ballabhadevi that she should worship Madana Gopala according to the dictates of her heart.
One night Sanatana Gosvami and Damodar Caube's wife both had a dream simultaneously in which Madana Gopala requested to be able to come and live with Sanatana Gosvami. In great happiness Sanatana received Madana Gopala from the family and Him to a small hillock near Surja ghat, where he constructed a small hut made of branches and leaves. Then he began to serve Madana Gopala, preparing offerings for Him from whatever he obtained by begging.
One day Madana Gopala refused to eat, complaining that there wasn't even any salt in the chapatis. Sanatana replied, "Today it's salt and tomorrow it will be ghee. But I am sorry. I don't have the time or the inclination to chase around after rich men requesting special items from them". Having silently listened to this reply Madana Mohana didn't say anything further, but rather arranged that Krsna dasa Kapoor would come that way, as will subsequently be described.
Sanatana Gosvami would beg some flour from the village and then with that prepare capatis for Madana Gopala. Sometimes he would collect some forest vegetables, roots or spinach and also prepare some vegetables. If sometimes there was no ghee or oil, or salt, then he would just cook dry capatis. But he felt very bad about this. On the other hand, he could not see an alternative. Mahaprabhu had ordered him to compile Bhakti-shastras (devotional scriptures) and the major portion of his time was devoted to that. Sometimes it simply wasn't possible to find time to beg some money with which to purchase salt and oil.
"Madana Mohana is the son of a Maharaj. Seeing that He is simply eating dry capatis Sanatana felt very sad; Madana Mohana, who is within the heart of everyone could understand, 'Sanatana wants to render greater service to Me.' Then Madana Mohana Himself desired that His service might be increased."
Within a few days a wealthy Kshatriya named named Sri Krsna dasa Kapoor came to Mathura to engage in trade and business. By chance, however, his boat became stuck on a sand bar in the Yamuna and by no means could he manage to free it. By the by, he came to learn that a sadhu by the name of Sri Sanatan Gosvami was living nearby. In order to seek the blessings of the sadhu, Krsna dasa Kapoor came to his hermitage and found Sanatana Gosvami engaged in writing.
Sanatana Gosvami's body was very lean and thin from the practice of great austerities and he was wearing only a kaupin. Krsna das offered his dandavats and Sanatana Gosvami in turn offered him a grass mat to sit on. Krsna dasa touched the mat with his hand and sat on the ground. He appealed to the Gosvami, "Baba! Please bestow your mercy on me."
Sanatana replied, "I am a beggar. What mercy can I bestow upon you?"
"I simply want your blessings. My boat is stuck on a sand bar in the Yamuna, and we can't free it by any means."
"I am completely ignorant about all these matters You can speak to Madana Gopala about it."
Krsna das offered his dandavats to Madana Mohanji and spoke to Him, "O Madana Gopala Deva! If, by Your mercy my boat is freed, then whatever profit is realized from the sale of its cargo, I will give to this Gosvami to be engaged in Your service."
Praying this way, Kapoor Seth took leave from Sanatan Gosvami. That afternoon there was such a downpour of rain that the boat very easily floated off the sand bar and on to Mathura. Krsna dasa could understand that this was the mercy of Lord Madana Gopala Deva. His goods were sold at a very handsome profit and with this money he constructed a temple and kitchen and made all the necessary arrangements for the royal execution of Sri Madana Gopala's worship. Seeing this arrangement, Sanatana Gosvami was very happy and after some period initiated Krsna dasa Kapoor as his disciple.
Sri Madana Mohana Deva is presently worshiped at Karauli, Rajasthan. When the daugher of the king of Jaipur was offered in marriage to the king of Karauli, she very insistently requested that her father send Lord Madana Mohana with her as a dowry, as she was very attached to Him. Her father was very reluctant and agreed only after stipulating one condition: "Madana Mohana would be placed in a room with many other Deities. Whoever she chose while blindfolded could go with her to Karauli."
Madana Mohana reassured her by telling her that she would be able to recognize Him by the soft touch of His arm. By this stratagem, she easily recognized Madana Mohana who still resides in Kaurali till this day. There is a direct bus to Karauli from Jaipur. Otherwise, one can go by train from Mathura to Hindaun and then from there to Karauli by bus.
One day Sanatana Gosvami came to Radha-kunda to meet Sri Rupa and Sri Raghunatha dasa Gosvami. Upon his arrival they both got up to greet him and after respectfully seating him, they immersed themselves in discussion of the nectarean pastimes of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna. At that time Srila Rupa Gosvami was composing some hymns in praise of Srimati Radharani, collectively known as "Catu Puspanjali". Sanatan Gosvami, while reading these, came across one verse:
anava gorocana gauri praba rendi barambaram
amani stavak vidyoti veni byalangana fanam
Here "byalangana fanam" means that the braids of Radharani's hair appeared very beautiful like the hoods of a snake. Sanatana Gosvami reflected, "Is that a proper comparison 'like the hood of a poisonous snake'?"
At noon Sanatan came to the banks of Radha-kunda, and after offering prayers there, he began to take his bath. Then, on the opposite bank of the kunda, he noticed some cowherd girls playing under the shade of a large tree. As he watched them from the distance, it appeared that a black snake, hanging from the tree, was about to wrap itself around the neck and shoulders of one of those cowherd girls. Sensing some danger he called out to her, "Ohe Lali! Look out! There is a snake just behind you!" But the girls were absorbed in their play and didn't take notice of him. So he immediately took off running to save them from the impending danger. Seeing him approaching them, Srimati Radharani and Her friends began to laugh. Then they disappeared. Sanatana was completely stunned but then gradually the understanding came to him that Sri Rupa's comparison was appropriate.
Coming to the banks of Pavan Sarovar, Sanatana Gosvami entered into some woods there, and giving up food and water, he became absorbed in intense meditation on the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha-Govinda. Sri Krsna, who is within the heart of everyone, could understand that His devotee was going without food, so He came there in the dress of a cowherd boy, with a pot of milk in His hand, and stood smiling before Sanatana Gosvami. [B.R. 5/1303]
"Baba! I brought some milk for you."
"Oh Lala! Why have you gone to such trouble for me?"
"I saw you are sitting here for so long without any food."
"How do you know that I am not eating anything?"
"I come here to pasture my cows and I watch you to see what you are doing. But you never take any food."
"You should have sent someone else, you are just a small boy. You have suffered some difficulty in bringing this milk here for me."
"Na, na, Baba. It was no trouble. At home everyone else was busy, so I was happy to be able to come myself."
Sanatan Gosvami requested the boy to sit down while he transferred the milk into another container.
"Na Baba! I can't sit down now. It is almost sunset. I have to milk my cows now. I will come to get the pot tomorrow."
When when Sanatana looked up there was no one there. He could understand Sri Krsna Himself had brought him this milk. With tears of love streaming down his cheek, he drank the milk. From that day he gave up fasting and would go to beg some food-stuffs from the Brijabasis. The Brijabasis also built him a small hut.
One day Rupa Gosvami had a desire to cook some sweet rice for his elder brother, Sanatana, but he had none of the necessary ingredients, Sri Radha Thakurani, who fulfills the desires of her devotees, could understand everything. Dressing Herself as a cowherd girl, she came there carrying a basket containing rice and sugar with a pot of milk in her other hand. "Svamin! Svamin! Please accept this offering which I have brought".
Hearing someone calling in such a sweet voice, he opened the door of the kutir and saw an extremely beautiful cowherd girl standing there with a present of rice, sugar and milk in her hands.
"Lali! What brings you here so early this morning?"
"Svamin, I came to bring you this present."
"Oh! But you have gone to so much trouble."
"What trouble? I have come to serve the sadhus."
Sri Rupa requested her to sit down, but she replied that there was much work at home, so she couldn't sit down just now. And then she was gone. Sri Rupa looked up and saw that there was no one there and was a little startled. "Now where did she run off to so quickly?"
He prepared the sweet rice and after offering to Sri Giri-dhari, he gave the prasadam to Sri Sanatana. Sanatana was in total ecstasy while accepting this prasadam and inquired, "From where did you get the rice and milk?"
Sri Rupa replied, "One cowherd girl brought everything."
Sanatana asked, "Just like that? Suddenly she brought every thing?"
"Yes. This morning I was thinking to make some sweet rice for you. Just after that I saw one cowherd girl standing before our kutir with all the ingredients in her hands."
As Sanatana heard this, tears began to glide down his cheeks. "The taste of this sweet rice is from another world. Who else could have brought such ingredients but Srimati Radha Thakurani herself. Don't desire like this again." [B.R. 5.1322]
Everyday Sri Sanatana Gosvami would circumambulate the fourteen mile circumference of Govardhan hill. As he became advanced in years this became somewhat difficult, but he was not inclined to give up his vow. Krsna, however could understand that it was difficult for him, so He came to him one day dressed as a cowherd boy.
"Baba! You have become old now, so I think it isn't necessary for you to circumambulate Govardhan hill anymore."
"No. Lala! This is my regular vow, my worship."
"You can renounce this vow in your old age."
"No Lala. One should never renounce his vows."
"Baba. I have a very good idea, if you will accept it."
"If it is acceptable surely I will accept it."
Then Sri Krsna presented him a stone from Govardhan hill with the imprint of His foot, a calf's foot print and the impressions of a stick and flute in it.
"Baba! This is a Govardhan sila."
"What will I do with this?"
"You can circumambulate this sila, and that will be the same as circumambulating Giri Govardhan." Saying this much the cow herd boy disappeared. Then Sanatana could understand that Giriraja Himself had presented His worshippable form to him and from that day he would circumambulate this sila.
Sometimes Sri Sanatana used to stay at Mahaban. One day he saw some cowherd boys playing on the banks of the Yamuna, and amongst them was one boy whom he thought was Madana Gopala.
"Is that my Madana Gopala playing there? No it must be one of the local village boys."
Then on another day as he was passing by the Yamuna, there again he saw that same boy and thought, "This time let me wait and see where he goes." Finally as the evening approached the boys finished playing and set out for their respective homes.
Following behind that particular boy, sure enough, Sanatana saw him enter the temple. Then he could understand that Madana Gopala goes every day to the banks of the Jamuna to play with the other boys.
Wherever Sri Sanatana and Sri Rupa would go throughout Vraja, in all the various villages the two brothers were much adored by the Brajabasis, who would feed them milk and yogurt. They in turn would see the Vrajavasis as Krsna's own family members and respect them in that way. Though it was not their business to engage in ordinary gossip, with the Brajavasis they would inquire about their well-being, e.g. how many sons and daughters they had and who had been married where, what everyone's various names were, how their cows were giving milk, how the bulls wewre working in the fields, how the harvest was going on, who had fallen ill and if they were getting better or not.
In this way Rupa and Sanatana became the life of the villagers and the Brijabasis also became the life of Rupa and Sanatana.
Sri Sanatana would sometimes stay at Cakleswar, near Govardhan. At that place there were many mosquitos, which was a great disturbance. When he was one day being harassed by these insects, Sanatan remarked, "I won't stay here anymore. It is impossible to concentrate on anything. Neither can I write, nor chant."
That night, Lord Siva came to Sanatan and told him, "Sanatan! Please continue your service here in a happy frame of mind. From tomorrow there will be no more disturbance from mosquitos."
After that there were no more mosquitos and Sanatana continued his bhajan free from disturbance.
Sri Sanatana Gosvami compiled many scriptures. These include: Sri Brhat-bhagavatmrta, Sri Hari-bhakti-vilas and its Dig-darsani-tika, Sri Krsna-lilastava (dasam carit), Sri Bhagavata- tipani, (commentary on Srimad Bhagavatam) and Brihat-vaisnava-tosani.
Sri Sanatan Gosvami was born - 1488 (Christian) 1410 (Sakabda). At the age of 27 he came to live at Braja where he remained for 43 years. He thus lived to be 70 years old. His disappearance was on the full moon day of Asar in the year 1558 (Christian calendar). His name in Braja-lila is Rati-manjari.