From Back to Godhead
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was always absorbed in thoughts of Sri Vrindavan, often enquiring in a deep devotional mood, “Where is Vrindavan?” On several occasions, His devotees, fearing separation from Him, diverted, discouraged, or dissuaded Him from visiting Vrindavan.
The Lord’s first attempt to go to Vrindavan occurred shortly after He accepted sannyasa, the renounced order, at age twenty-four. Nityananda Prabhu, His chief associate, tricked Him into thinking that the Ganga, which flows through Navadvip, West Bengal, where the Lord lived, was Vrindavan’s river Yamuna. Mahaprabhu was so intensely absorbed in thoughts of Vrindavan that He jumped into the Ganga. But Advaita Acharya, another leading associate, was waiting close by with a boat, and upon seeing Advaita, Mahaprabhu realized that this could not be Vrindavan. Advaita Acharya took Mahaprabhu to nearby Shantipur, where the Lord’s mother, Sacimata, was awaiting His arrival. On her request the Lord proceeded to Jagannatha Puri, to live His renounced life there.
From Puri, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu soon traveled to South India, and when He returned, His desire to visit Vrindavan was revived. He decided to first go to Bengal to visit His two mothers – mother Ganga and mother Saci – and the other devotees there. From Bengal He would make His way to Vrindavan.
In Navadvip, Mahaprabhu informed the devotees that He would be walking to Vrindavan. A devotee named Nrisimha Brahmacari wanted to ease the Lord’s journey by creating a picturesque path for Him. He meditated on constructing a beautiful jeweled road, flanked by bakuls, rare flowering trees. In his mind he put up beautiful trees on the banks of the lakes on the roadside. But he could not meditatively construct the road beyond Kanai Natashala, near the border of Bihar. He concluded, therefore, that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would not be going to Vrindavan after all. As it turned out, because thousands of devotees wanted to accompany Him to Vrindavan – an inappropriate way for Him to visit that holy place – Mahaprabhu returned to Jagannatha Puri.
After some time in Puri, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu yet again strongly expressed His desire to go to Vrindavan, and gently requested His followers not to use any tricks to keep Him back. King Prataparudra (the king of Puri) and other devotees dissuaded Mahaprabhu from leaving, citing as reasons the rainy season and the upcoming Rathayatra festival. Therefore, after the rainy season and the Rathayatra, Mahaprabhu began His journey to Vrindavan with a servant, Balabhadra Bhattacharya.
Lord Chaitanya Travels to Vrindavan
Lord Chaitanya’s journey was filled with transcendental events. Leaving Orissa, He passed through the forest of Jharikhanda, inhabited by wild animals. Tigers, elephants, and deer were all attracted to Him, and He made them chant the holy names and dance in ecstasy. Even the elephants reared up on their hind legs and danced. Deer and tigers, natural enemies, embraced and kissed one another. When all the tigers and deer and elephants danced and jumped, Balabhadra Bhattacharya was struck with wonder.
Seeing the animals around Him, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu remembered Vrindavan. The atmosphere He had created in the forest and the consciousness of the forest residents made Him feel that He had already reached Vrindavan. He then recited a verse about Vrindavan: “Vrindavan is the transcendental abode of the Lord. There is no hunger, anger, or thirst there. Although naturally inimical, human beings and fierce animals live together there in transcendental friendship.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.13.60)
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu smiled on seeing the behavior of the animals, and He continued on His way. His mind had been absorbed in ecstatic love at Jagannatha Puri, but when He passed along the road to Vrindavan, that love increased a hundred times. He reached Varanasi and then several other towns, continuously dancing and chanting as He journeyed through Prayag and headed towards Mathura and Vrindavan.
In 1515, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu arrived in Vrindavan and revealed the pastime places of Lord Krishna. His visit must be understood in terms of His identity and mood. The descriptions of His visit are captured in scriptures like Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, by Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, who puts forward an esoteric reason for it – Lord Chaitanya’s desire to experience Srimati Radharani’s love for Lord Krishna. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna Himself, but in the golden complexion and deep devotional mood of Srimati Radharani. Therefore He is known as the Golden Avatar, or Gauranga (“golden body”). Vrindavan evoked in Him deep transcendental mellows as He reenacted the pastimes He, as Krishna, had performed there five thousand years ago.
Upon reaching Mathura, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu first bathed in the Yamuna River at Vishram Ghat and went for darshana of the Krishna deity (Keshava) at Janmasthan, the holy birthplace of Krishna, after which He performed the parikrama (reverential walk) around Mathura. The Lord?s ecstatic love increased a thousand times when He visited Mathura, but it increased a hundred thousand times when He wandered in the forests of Vrindavan, beginning with Madhuvan, Talavan, Kumudavan, and Bahulavan. It was on Karttika Purnima, the full-moon day of that holy month, that Lord Chaitanya reached Vrindavan and began to visit its twelve sacred forests.
While Mahaprabhu was passing though the forests, the cows, being greatly attracted to Him, surrounded Him and licked Him. When He caressed them, they were unable to leave His association. All the birds began to sing the glories of Radha and Krishna, and the peacocks danced. As if offering a gift to a friend, the trees shook, bathing the Lord in flowers and presenting their fruits to Him. Throughout His parikrama, Lord Chaitanya displayed a flood of happiness that drenched all who came in contact with Him.
While walking, the Lord saw two parrots in dialogue and was eager to hear their conversation. On cue, the parrots flew down near Him. Krishnadasa Kaviraja describes their conversation in detail. First the male parrot glorified Krishna’s beauty and the effect He had on the gopis. The parrot then said that Krishna’s company was so alluring that even Lakshmi Devi underwent penance to take part in Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis – because Krishna is Jagat Mohana, the one who attracts everyone in the universe. The female parrot in turn spoke of Sri Radhika’s glorious beauty, Her delightful singing, and Her admirable intelligence, calling her Sushilata (“of excellent morals”) and Cittamohini (“attractor of the mind”). The male parrot continued Krishna’s glorification, calling Him Vamshidhari (“holder of the flute”), Chittahari (“stealer of the mind”), and Madana Mohana (“attractor of Cupid”). The female parrot’s response was a more intense veneration of Radharani. In this way Chaitanya Mahaprabhu relished the sweet glorifications of Radha and Krishna.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu then arrived at Arishta Gram, where Krishna killed the demon Arishtasura five thousand years ago. This episode led to the manifestation of Syama-kunda and Radha-kunda. With the passage of time, however, these holy lakes had almost disappeared, and none of the local residents could help Lord Chaitanya find them. Being the abode of knowledge, He found two paddy fields called Kali Badi (black field) and Gauri Badi (white field) whose waters had reduced to the size of two small ponds. He entered them and bathed while offering them prayers.
Lord Chaitanya had rediscovered Syama Kunda and Radha Kunda. As Srimati Radharani is dear to Krishna, so is Her kunda, or lake. There Lord Krishna had performed water sports and the rasa dance with Srimati Radharani and the other gopis. Nearby are the kundas of the ashta-sakhis, Radha-Krishna’s eight closest gopi friends. Overwhelmed by ecstatic love, Lord Chaitanya danced on the bank of Radha Kunda and drew tilaka marks on His body with the lake’s clay.
At Govardhan Hill
Then Chaitanya Mahaprabhu proceeded to the Govardhan parikrama path. When He saw Govardhan Hill, He was overwhelmed with joy and offered obeisances by falling to the ground like a rod. He embraced a Govardhan rock and became mad with ecstatic love. When He arrived at the village of Govardhan, He offered obeisances to the Krishna deity named Harideva. Frenzied with ecstatic love, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu danced before Harideva. People were astonished to see the Lord’s beauty and ecstasy. He bathed in Brahma Kunda and that night stayed at the Harideva temple.
In another temple, on top of Govardhan Hill, resided Gopala Raya, the beautiful deity of cowherd-boy Krishna discovered by Srila Madhavendra Puri. During the night, Lord Chaitanya wondered how He would be able to see Gopala Raya without climbing Govardhan Hill, which He considered too sacred to climb. Gopala Raya understood His desire and reciprocated. A rumor spread among the villagers that Turkish soldiers were coming to destroy their temples. So the villagers rushed to protect the deities and moved Gopala Raya to a village named Ganthuli Gram. The next day, Lord Chaitanya bathed in Govinda Kunda and then saw Gopala at Ganthuli Gram. He was so overwhelmed by ecstatic love that He chanted and danced continuously for three days and three nights. On the fourth day, Gopala Raya returned to His own temple.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu then continued with the Govardhan parikrama. At the sight of Govardhan He became rapturous with love of Krishna. While dancing, He recited a verse from the section of the Tenth Canto of the Bhagavatam known as the Venu Gita (“The Song of the Flute”): “Of all the devotees, this Govardhana Hill is the best! O my friends, this hill supplies Krishna and Balarama, along with Their calves, cows, and cowherd friends, with all kinds of necessities – water for drinking, very soft grass, caves, fruits, flowers, and vegetables. In this way the hill offers respects to the Lord. Being touched by the lotus feet of Krishna and Balarama, Govardhana Hill appears very jubilant.” (10.21.18)
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu displayed deep transcendental emotions, and His profuse tears fell on Govardhan as if in an abhisheka (bathing of the Lord).
The Lord then visited Kamyavan and other forests one after the other. He bathed in Pavana Sarovara and climbed the hill called Nandisvara, the site of the house of Maharaja Nanda, Krishna’s father. After inquiring from local people, He found three deities in a cave on the hill: Nanda, his wife (Yashoda), and between them the beautiful child Krishna, His body charmingly curved in three places. After offering respects, Lord Chaitanya touched Lord Krishna with great love. He chanted and danced the entire day and then went to Khadiravan, where Krishna killed Bakasura, a gigantic crane demon.
The Chaitanya-charitamrita states that when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited the temple of Sesha-shayi (Vishnu reclining on His serpent bed) and His consort Lakshmi Devi, He recited a verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.31.19), spoken by the gopis when Krishna left them during the rasa dance: “O dearly beloved! Your lotus feet are so soft that we place them gently on our breasts, fearing that Your feet will be hurt. Our life rests only in You. Our minds, therefore, are filled with anxiety that Your tender feet might be wounded by pebbles as You roam about on the forest path.”
Thereafter, the Lord arrived at Khela Tirtha and then Bhandiravan. After crossing the Yamuna River, He went to Bhadravan. Then he visited Srivan, Lohavan, Mahavan, and Gokula, the place of Krishna’s early childhood pastimes. Upon seeing the spot where Krishna freed two demigods who had been cursed to live as trees, Lord Chaitanya felt tremendous ecstatic love. Finally He returned to Mathura.
In search of solitude, Lord Chaitanya soon moved to Akrura Ghat. He then visited Seva Kunj, the location of the rasa dance in the present town of Vrindavan. He was so overwhelmed by love of Krishna that He fainted. Regaining consciousness, He rolled on the ground in ecstasy. Thereafter He visited Keshi Tirtha and then returned to Akrura Ghat in the evening.
The next morning, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu returned to Vrindavan and bathed at Chira Ghat, where Krishna had teased the gopis by stealing their clothes while they bathed in the Yamuna. Lord Chaitanya rested under a tamarind tree that had been there since the time of Lord Krishna’s pastimes. Because the river Yamuna flowed nearby, a cool breeze was blowing. Lord Chaitanya beheld the beauty of Vrindavan and the river. He performed kirtana there, His absorption in thoughts of Krishna causing His golden complexion to turn bluish.
Quoting the Brihan-naradiya Purana, Lord Chaitanya told everyone of the importance of chanting the holy name: “In this age of Kali, the only means of deliverance is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. There is no other way, no other way, no other way.”
Has Krishna Returned to Vrindavan?
At this time, everywhere Lord Chaitanya went the talk of the town was that Krishna had again appeared in Vrindavan. Some people who had come from Vrindavan to Akrura Ghat reported that they had seen Krishna dancing on the hoods of the serpent Kaliya in the Yamuna, just has He had done fifty centuries earlier. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s traveling companion, Balabhadra Bhattacharya, wanted to go see the reported Krishna. But Mahaprabhu rebuked him, saying that those who were supposedly seeing Krishna were mad.
Why would Krishna appear in Kali-yuga? asked Lord Chaitanya. The scriptures, He explained, say that He appears in only three of the four ages.
In fact, since Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna, there was no need for Balabhadra Bhattacharya to go elsewhere. The supposed appearance of Krishna at Kaliya Ghat was an illusion, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s appearance was the reality. The so-called Krishna turned out to be a fisherman standing in his boat.
As the Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya 18.118-19) shows, the people then understood the real identity of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu: “By Your bodily features we can see that You are none other than the son of Nanda Maharaja, although the golden luster of Your body has covered Your original complexion. As the aroma of deer musk cannot be concealed by wrapping it in a cloth, Your characteristics as the Supreme Personality of Godhead cannot be concealed by any means.”
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stayed for many days at Akrura Ghat and revived the Krishna consciousness of many people. One day, He recalled the celebrated pastime that had occurred there when Akrura was taking Krishna and Balarama away from Vrindavan. While in the river chanting the Gayatri mantra, Akrura saw Vaikuntha, as well as Lord Vishnu reclining on Ananta-shesha. As Chaitanya Mahaprabhu recalled Akrura’s vision, He fell into the Yamuna and almost drowned. Balabhadra Bhattacharya jumped into the river and rescued the Lord.
After this incident, both the Lord’s host and Balabhadra Bhattacharya thought that it would be unsafe for the Lord to go alone to the Yamuna and that it would be better to take Him away from Vrindavan. The Lord and Balabhadra Bhattacharya then returned to Jagannatha Puri.
In Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya 17.228?229), Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami writes, “When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was elsewhere, the very name of Vrindavan was sufficient to increase His ecstatic love. Now, when He was actually traveling in the Vrindavan forest, His mind was absorbed in great ecstatic love day and night. He ate and bathed simply out of habit.” The Vrindavan pastimes of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu demonstrate His absorption in the mood of separation from Krishna, the esoteric reason for His appearance in this world around five hundred years ago.