Sri Sanatana Gosvami appeared in 1488, five years before Sri Rupa Gosvami, in a Sarasvata brahmana family in Bengal. Sanatana and his two brothers, Rupa and Anupama, were always absorbed in bhava bhakti from early childhood. Remembering Vrndavana, they named the forests in which they played after Vraja’s twelve forests (Talavana, Madhuvana, Kamyavana, Mahavana). They called their favorite bathing ponds Radha-kunda and Syama-kunda.
In his youth, Sri Sanatana dreamt that a beautiful brahmana boy gave him a Srimad Bhagavatam. Feeling ecstatic he awoke. But seeing neither the boy nor the Bhagavatam he felt sad. When Sanatana began his puja that morning, however, Krishna Himself, disguised as a beautiful brahmana boy, came and said, “Take this Srimad Bhagavatam from Me, always study it, and you will attain perfection.”
Forced to submit to the ruling Muslim government, Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana became ministers and lived at Ramakeli. But their real engagement was teaching sastras which they learned from Vidyavacaspati, brother of Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya. Pandits and brahmanas from all over India came to study under the two brothers. Sri Rupa and Sanatana were acclaimed as the “crest jewels of the Gaudiya Vaisnava scholars.”
After the Lord visited Ramakeli and freed them, they renounced everything for Lord Gauranga’s service. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu ordered Sri Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis to move to Vrndavana and perform four services: (1) Uncover Sri Krishna’s pastime places. (2) Install Deities, arrange for Their puja. (3) Compile bhakti scriptures. (4) Propagate the rules of devotional life. “Entering Lord Caitanya’s service, they resolutely gave up power, riches, and position to live in Vrndavana as humble beggars absorbed in bhajana.
To maintain himself Sanatana would beg some wheat flour, roll it into a ball by adding a touch of Yamuna water, and drop it in smoldering coals to cook. He would offer this bati(salt-free, baked bread ball) to his Deity of Madana Mohana. Giving up all kinds of material enjoyment, the Gosvamis accepted the poorest way of life as mendicants. They ate just enough to maintain their bodies.
The Radha-Madana Mohana mandir established by Sanatana Gosvami was the first one opened in Vrndavana by the six Gos-vamis. Described as “the personal extension of the body of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu,” Sri Sanatana is the ideal spiritual master because he gives one shelter at the lotus feet of Madana Mohana.
The three Vrndavana Deities (Madana Mohana, Govindaji and Gopinatha) are the life and soul of the Gaudiya Vaisnavas. The Deity of Madana Mohana has the specific quality of helping the neophyte devotees understand their eternal relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna.
Sri Sanatana Gosvami spent forty-three years wandering from village to village in Vrndavana. The Vrajavasis would affectionately care for him treating him like their father. With patience and concern he listened to their problems. Then he would please all the villagers by his preaching and practical advice on everything from increasing crop yields to solving family quarrels.
In his last years, he left his beloved Deity of Madana Mohana with Krishna Dasa brahmacari, his disciple. He did bhajana on the banks of Manasi Ganga next to Cakalesvara Mahadeva at Govardhana. Daily he walked the twenty-four mile parikrama (original longer route) of Govardhana Hill. Although he was sixty-five years old, he kept his daily vow of offering 1,008 obeisances to Govardhana Hill and to any Vaisnava whom he met.
Understanding the difficulty of His pure devotee, Sri Madana Mohana appeared one day and said, “Baba! you are too old. Don’t take so much trouble to walk around Govardhana Hill everyday.”
Sanatana replied, “This is one of the daily activities of my bhajana: I must maintain it.”
“Since you are old,” said Madana Mohana, “you may now give up this vow.”
Starting to walk again, Sanatana replied, “I will never give up my religious principles.”
Sanatana Gosvami’s firm determination to complete his daily devotional vow pleased Sri Madana Mohana (Krishna). But in the loving dealings between the Lord and His pure devotee, Krishna’s desire to please His devotee often defeats the devotee’s desire to please Him. So out of loving compassion for His devotee, Sri Krishna stood on a large flat stone (Govardhana sila) taken from Giriraja. He played His irresistable flute. The Govardhana sila melted in ecstasy, capturing the impression of Krishna’s lotus feet.
Presenting this to Sanatana, Krishna said, “If you circumambulate this sila everyday it will be the same as going around Govardhana Hill everyday. You will keep your vow intact and not compromise your religious principles.” Seeing that Giriraja Himself (Sri Krishna) had given the sila, Sanatana Gosvami gratefully accepted. One can still see that Govardhana sila in the Radha Damodara temple.
In the form of Labanga manjari Sanatana Gosvami serves Srimati Visakha sakhi in Radha-Madhava’s nitya nikunja-lila. Sanatana Gosvami’s samadhi is behind Radha Madana Mohana’s temple.