“I Have Found the Future of Vaishnavism”
The Story of Rasikananda Prabhu
by Satyaraja Dasa
Rasika Murari Patniak, also known as Rasikananda Prabhu, was born in 1590, fifty-six years after Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu had ended His earthly pastimes. Rasikananda was born into a powerful zamindar (landowner) family in Royni, on the Suvarnarekha River in what is now the Medinipur district of southwest Bengal. This was a glorious time in the history of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the disciplic succession of devotees of Lord Krishna in the line of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: The six Goswamis of Vrindavana had built a veritable storehouse of Sanskrit literature, in the form of poetry, history, aesthetics, and philosophy, unlike any the world has ever seen.
At this time, too, Jiva Goswami had established a large Vaishnava community in Vrindavana and had sent his three best disciples—Narottama Dasa Thakura, Srinivasa Acharya, and Syamananda Prabhu—throughout northern India to spread the Goswamis’ teachings. While on this noble mission, Syamananda met eighteen-year-old Rasika Murari and initiated him into Krishna consciousness, giving him the name Rasikananda. The Goswamis’ teachings touched the heart of this pious young landowner, who gave his life to Krishna the moment he met his illustrious guru.
The meeting of Syamananda and the youthful Rasikananda is retold in Gopijanavallabha’s Rasika Mangala, a standard seventeenth-century text about the life of Rasikananda. Basically, Syamananda and Rasikananda saw each other and recognized a connection that transcended time itself.
Rasika ran up to his future guru and fell flat at his feet, saying, “You are my eternal savior, and Krishna has finally sent you to redeem me.”
Syamananda Prabhu smiled with great pleasure. “I have found the future of Vaishnavism!”
Rasikananda, like his guru, was a married man, and so his wife, Iccha Devi, also took initiation from Syamananda Prabhu, receiving the name Syama Dasi. Syamananda told them to always chant the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Soon after Syama Dasi’s initiation, the couple left Royni for nearby Kashipur, a popular city with a large influx of wealthy people. Sometime later, Syamananda visited his two disciples in Kashipur and brought a beautiful Deity of Krishna for them: Gopijanavallabha.
Seeing how much his disciples loved their newly installed Deity, Syamananda renamed the city Gopiballabhpur (“Gopivallabha’s town”) and blessed all of the townspeople to develop the same love for the Deity that Rasikananda and his wife had. He asked Rasikananda to spread Krishna consciousness vigorously and made Syama Dasi head priest of the temple.
Syamananda then left, but he had planted a seed. Rasikananda thrived, building an unparalleled organization for spreading Krishna consciousness. He and his wife worked as a team, and together they are said to have brought hundreds of thousands of pious people to the teachings of Lord Krishna.
According to historian Ramakanta Chakravarti, “Rasikmurari was perhaps more successful in converting people into Vaishnavism than any other Vaishnava leader of his time.” His enthusiasm was so pronounced that by the time of his passing away, the region of Medinipur had developed a distinct sect of Vaishnavas in the mood of Shyamananda, his guru. These “Shyamanandi Vaishnavas,” as they came to be called, developed their own style of dress, cooking, tilaka markings, and temple construction. Rasikananda popularized Vaishnavism to the point of creating an entire subculture based on its principles.
With Gopiballabhpur as the seat of Shyamanandi Vaishnavism, Rasikananda spent forty years helping people see the good sense of Krishna consciousness. He made disciples among great kings and impious rogues, among the brahmanas and lowborn shudras. He completely ignored caste and outer qualifications (or disqualifications) and gave everyone a taste for Vaishnavism.
The classic histories of the period, such as Shyamananda Prakasha and Rasika Mangala, tell how he and his wife, with the help of influential disciples, put an end to animal sacrifice in non-Vaishnava areas and convinced people throughout Orissa and its bordering villages of the validity of Mahaprabhu’s message. With his knowledge, purity, and charisma, he engaged Muslims, Buddhists, and various sects of Hindus in the service of Krishna.
Late in his life Rasikananda wrote a Sanskrit epic about the life of the person who had taught him all he knew. It was called Syamananda Satakam, and it remains the most authoritative work on Shyamananda’s life. Radhananda, Rasikananda’s eldest son, who inherited the Gopivallabha temple (from his mother), wrote a famous book called Radha- Govinda Kavya, a beautiful devotional poem modeled after Jayadeva’s Gita-govinda. His eldest son was Nayananda, who, although like his grandfather an enthusiastic teacher, left no literary work for posterity.
Toward the end of his life, Rasikananda settled in Remuna, Orissa, where he was fascinated by the Deity of Gopinatha (Krishna). It is said that he would spend day and night just gazing at the beautiful Deity. He would utter the maha-mantra and sit transfixed, stuttering, shedding tears of love. He would point to the Deity as if to say to others, “Don’t you see?” But no one could see what he saw. After having spent his life spreading the teachings of Lord Chaitanya and establishing a firm basis for the future of Vaishnavism, he was content to spend his time in the company of the Lord of his life.