A King’s Spiritual Yearning
by Mathuresa Dasa
For the chance to meet Lord Chaitanya, the king of Orissa was ready to give up his opulent kingdom.
Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, known in His youth as Nimai Pandita, entered the renounced order of life in February 1510, at the age of twenty-four. He left His home, family, childhood friends, lifelong companions, and loving followers in Navadvipa, Bengal, and made His headquarters five hundred miles to the south at Jagannatha Puri, on the Bay of Bengal, in the state of Orissa. His departure, though abrupt and without warning, only heightened His affectionate dealings with all of His Navadvipa devotees.
“My dear friends,” He told a crowded farewell gathering at Advaita acharya’s house in Shantipura, “although I have suddenly accepted the renounced order, I still know that I shall never be indifferent to you. As long as I live, I shall never be able to neglect you or My loving mother.”
Lord Chaitanya’s elderly mother, Sachidevi, had requested her son to reside at Puri. Consoling herself and the assembled devotees, she explained, “Jagannatha Puri and Navadvipa are like two rooms in the same house. Pilgrims are always traveling back and forth between the two, and this coming and going will help carry news of my Nimai.”
For ten days Sachi cooked for her son and all the devotees. The Lord dined with His devotees, and at night He chanted the holy names of Krishna and danced in their company. Both as friend and as spiritual master, He gave Himself freely, meeting with each of the devotees who had come to see Him from Navadvipa and other towns. Looking at everyone’s face individually, He embraced each devotee warmly.
At last, with His mother and friends in tears at the house of Advaita acharya, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu departed resolutely, accompanied by only four associates, and traveled on foot and by boat to Puri, arriving in March of 1510. In April the Lord held lengthy discussions with Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, Puri’s leading monist scholar, convincing the Bhattacharya to apply his great learning to the practice of loving devotion to the supreme person, Lord Krishna. In May, Lord Chaitanya was on His way again.
The South Indian Tour
To the dismay of Sarvabhauma and many other new followers, who had known Him for only a matter of weeks, Lord Chaitanya for the second time in four months left everything behind. Taking only one traveling assistant, He departed on a walking tour of South India, to Cape Comorin and back, visiting hundreds of temples and holy places over the next two years.
As the hours and days slowly passed in Jagannatha Puri and Navadvipa, the Lord’s associates hungered for news of His travels and whereabouts. In their homes and on the streets they held congregational chanting of the holy names of Krishna, and they waited impatiently for the chance to see Him again.
Maharaja Prataparudra, the king of Orissa, was among Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s new admirers in Jagannatha Puri, even though he had never met the Lord. A member of the dynasty of the Ganga kings, Prataparudra was opulent and powerful, traveling his domain with a retinue of secretaries, ministers, soldiers, and officers, and living in palaces with his queens and servants. His kingdom extended from his capital in Cuttack south to Rajamahendri, where Ramananda Raya served as governor, and further down the coast to the area of modern Chennai, where Bhavananda Raya, Ramananda’s father, was in charge.
Prataparudra later shifted his capital to Khurda, a few miles from Jagannatha Puri, and he was sometimes addressed as the king of Puri. As a pious ruler, he took a personal interest and direct hand in managing Puri’s ancient Jagannatha Temple. Whenever he was in town he would daily visit the home of his priest, Kashi Mishra, massage Kashi Mishra’s feet, and eagerly hear from him the details of the opulent worship of Lord Jagannatha. It is said that King Indradyumna, who established the Jagannatha temple thousands of years ago, took birth again in his own dynasty as King Prataparudra.
Eager to meet the Lord, Prataparudra called for Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya.
“I have heard from many people,” the king told Sarvabhauma, “that an exalted saintly person has come from Bengal and shown you great favor. Now, being merciful upon me, please arrange for me to meet this great personality.”
“What you have heard is true,” Sarvabhauma replied, “but an interview is difficult to arrange. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is very much detached from worldly affairs. Even in dreams he does not grant interviews to a king.”
At this, Prataparudra was disappointed, but not surprised. Saintly persons as a rule negelected men too proud of their wealth and power. Prataparudra, however, was not fond of his royal position, and he was determined to meet Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
“I would try, of course, to arrange a meeting,” Sarvabhauma continued, “but the Lord has recently left to tour South India.”
The news shocked and disappointed the king.
“Why has He left Jagannatha Puri?” he asked in great anxiety. “Why did you allow Him to leave? Why didn’t you fall at His feet and beg Him to stay?”
“I tried very hard to keep Him here,” Sarvabhauma explained, “but because He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna Himself, He is completely independent.”
“You are a most experienced and learned scholar,” the king told Sarvabhauma, “so when you address Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as Lord Krishna, I accept this as the truth. Please, when the Lord returns, I wish to see Him just once to make my eyes perfect.”
Prataparudra joined the residents of Jagannatha Puri in anxiously awaiting the Lord’s return from South India. While waiting, he received a letter from Ramananda Raya, who had just spoken at length with Lord Chaitanya on the bank of the Godavari River. Impressed with Ramananda Raya’s vast and intimate knowledge of the science of devotional service, the Lord wanted him to retire from goveernment work in Rajamahendri and join Him in Puri upon His return there. Though Ramananda Raya stood to lose a lucrative government post, he wrote to eagerly submit his resignation. Hearing of the Lord’s desire from Ramananda’s letter, King Prataparudra not only accepted Ramananda’s request but also granted him a pension equal to his former salary so that he could serve the Lord without anxiety.
“Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is very merciful to you,” the king wrote Ramananda Raya. “Therefore please solicit my meeting with Him without fail.”
The Lord Returns To Puri
After two long years, Lord Chaitanya’s traveling assistant one day arrived in Puri to announce that the Lord had reached the nearby town of Alalanatha (Alarnath). The devotees in Puri were overjoyed and rushed to Alalanatha to greet the Lord, dancing along the way. In his capital at Cuttack, King Prataparudra soon heard the news and wrote to Sarvabhauma, again requesting an interview. The reply was not encouraging. Sarvabhauma wrote back that Lord Chaitanya had refused a meeting. For a person in the renounced order, the Lord had insisted, meetly a worldly person like a king was as dangerous as drinking poison.
“My dear Bhattacharya,” the Lord had warned, “if you should ever let another such request come from your mouth, you will never see Me again.”
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna Himself, in the role of His own devotee. Both as the Supreme and as a devotee, He was most mercifully disposed to all living entities, what to speak of a great devotee like Maharaja Prataparudra. Nevertheless, as a world teacher and a sannyasi, a person in the renounced order, He warned by His own behavior that pandering to a materialistic person is detrimental to spiritual life. Despite Sarvabhauma’s recommendation, Lord Chaitanya held firm, driving Maharaja Prataparudra to further take shelter of His servants.
Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, afraid of the Lord’s threat to leave forever, returned home to think carefully over the situation. Srila Prabhupada writes: “Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s activities were exhibited sometimes to reveal Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead and sometimes to show Him as a devotee. Both kinds of activity are mysterious and appreciated only by pure devotees.”
While Sarvabhauma was mulling over the matter, another letter arrived from Prataparudra. The king wrote: “Please appeal to all the devotees associated with Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and submit this petition on my behalf. By the mercy of all the devotees, one can attain shelter of the Lord. Without His mercy, my kingdom does not appeal to me. If Gaurahari, Lord Chaitanya, will not show mercy to me, I shall give up my kingdom, become a mendicant, and beg from door to door.”
In addition to soliciting the mercy of Lord Chaitanya’s associates in Puri, King Prataparudra again requested the help of Ramananda Raya, who had come to see him after relinquishing his duties in South India. Together they went to Jagannatha Puri, arriving in procession riding on horses and elephants along with their ministers and military commanders. Prataparudra went to visit the temple of Lord Jagannatha, while Ramananda Raya hurried with great pleasure to meet Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Having resigned his post as a government diplomat, Ramananda Raya now turned his diplomatic talents to softening the Lord’s heart towards Prataparudra.
Diplomacy in the politcal arena routinely entails duplicity and self interest, while in the field of devotional service diplomatic talents become an asset in assisting the Lord and His devotees. Although Lord Chaitanya had firmly refused to see the king, the diplomacy of Ramananda Raya, Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, and all the devotees would succeed in changing His mind. Devotees are always eager to recommend another devotee to the Lord or the spiritual master, and these recommendations are always successful.
“My dear Lord,” Ramananda Raya informed Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, “when I told Prataparudra of Your order for me to retire, he was pleased to relieve me of my duties. Upon hearing Your name, he rose from his throne and embraced me. He granted me a full salary as a pension so that I could serve You without anxiety. King Prataparudra said, ‘I am most fallen and unfit to see the Lord. I hope that in a future birth He will allow me an interview.’ “
Lord Chaitanya was pleased to hear of King Prataparudra’s service to Ramananda Raya.
“My dear Ramananda Raya,” He said, “Since you are the foremost devotee of Krishna, whoever loves you is certainly a very fortunate person. Because the king has shown so much love for you, Lord Krishna will certainly accept Him.”
Lord Chaitanya quoted a verse from the Adi Purana, whereLord Krishna tells Arjuna, “Those who claim to be My devotees are actually not My devotees. Those who are devotees of My servant are factually My devotees.”
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu indicated that He too is more accessible through service to His servants than by direct service to Himself. While the Lord and His great devotees make themselves available to everyone, the link created by direct approach is never as strong or as intimate as the link forged by service to their servants. Srila Prabhupada calls this the psychology of “If you love me, love my dog,” and it is present in all of us. Because we are part of the Supreme Lord and qualitatively one with Him, like Him we are most pleased and indebted when someone serves and pleases those who are dear to us. Even in dealing with an ordinary person, direct approach results in a comparatively formal relationship, whereas the indirect approach of pleasing a person’s loved ones at once captures a person’s heart. This phenome-non derives from the Supreme.
The Fault Of Being King
Prataparudra’s service to Ramananda Raya pleased Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and assured the fulfillment of Prataparudra’s dearmost desire to meet the Lord. Nonetheless, as a matter of form the Lord again refused the king an interview.
“Please see the king at least once,” Ramananda Raya asked forthrightly.
“My dear Ramananda,” the Lord replied, “how can you make such a request? A mendicant ruins himself in this life and the next by associating with a king. He loses all his spiritual credits for the next life. And in this life, as soon as the public finds a little fault in the behavior of a sannyasi, they advertise it like wildfire. A black spot of ink cannot be hidden on a white cloth.”
“But my dear Lord,” Ramananda respectfully protested, “You have delivered so many sinful people. This King Prataparudra is a servitor of Lord Jagannatha and Your devotee.”
“The king certainly possesses good qualities,” Lord Chaitanya agreed, “but simply by taking the name ‘king’ he has ruined himself.”
With Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s hard line unyielding, the unpleasant task of delivering the bad news to King Prataparudra again fell to Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya. Not only had Lord Chaitanya held firm against Sarvabhauma and Ramananda Raya, but a group of devotees headed by Lord Nityananda had also failed to obtain an interview for the king.
Having arrived in Puri with Ramananda Raya, and having humbly enlisted the help of all the devotees, Prataparudra had good reason to be hopeful.
When Sarvabhauma came to see him, he asked, “Have the devotees submitted my petition to the Lord as I requested in my letter?”
“Yes,” Sarvabhauma gently replied, “but the Lord has refused to see a king. He said that if He were asked again, He would definitely leave Jagannatha Puri.”
This time Prataparudra’s disappointment was boundless. Two years of waiting and submitting his requests appeared fruitless.
Distressed and forlorn, he cried, “Alas! Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has appeared to deliver all kinds of sinful persons. Has He decided to deliver everyone except a king named Prataparudra? Will He glance mercifully at everyone but me? If I do not receive Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mercy, my body and my kingdom are useless.”
“Do not worry,” Sarvabhauma comforted the king. “Because of your determination, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu will definitely see you. Ramananda Raya’s description of your love for Him has already changed His mind.”
Sarvabhauma reminded Prataparudra that Rathayatra, the Festival of the Chariots, was only a little more than two weeks away, and he suggested a plan.
“On the day of the festival,” he said, “the Lord will dance all day before the chariots in great ecstatic love. After dancing, He will rest in the Gundicha garden. At that time you should go there without your royal entourage, dressed as an ordinary man, and read to the Lord from Srimad-Bhagavatam about Lord Krishna’s pastimes. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu will be so ecstatic from your reading that I am sure He will embrace you.”
Resolving to follow Sarvabhauma’s advice, the king felt transcendental happiness. Now he had not only the support and mercy of the devotees, but a plan as well. He was elated until he heard, three days later, that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had suddenly left Puri alone and gone to Alalanatha. Lord Chaitanya had happily viewed the annual bathing ceremony of Lord Jagannatha, after which Lord Jagannatha retires to seclusion for the two weeks before Rathayatra. Unable to bear not seeing Lord Jagannatha, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had abandoned Puri.
Sarvabhauma and other devotees followed Lord Chaitanya to Alalanatha while Prataparudra waited in anguish. How would they bring Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu back to Puri as long as Lord Jagannatha was in seclusion? What could compete with the Lord of the universe, Krishna Himself, for Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s attention? Would Lord Chaitanya return at all, or was this the start of another endless pilgrimage?
The Devotees From Bengal
Sarvabhauma soon arrived at Prataparudra’s palace to allay the king’s fears. Lord Chaitanya had agreed to return to Jagannatha Puri after hearing that many of His devotees from Bengal were on their way to see Him. Having received news of the Lord’s return from South India, they had set out on the five-hundred-mile journey from Navadvipa almost at once and would be arriving soon. Since last seeing the Lord during the ten-day festival at Advaita acharya’s house two years earlier, they had anxiously contemplated their reunion with Him, their spiritual master and dearest friend. While Sarvabhauma was reassuring King Prataparudra, a devotee named Gopinatha acharya came to the palace and confirmed the news.
“About two hundred devotees are coming from Bengal,” Gopinatha acharya said to Sarvabhauma. “All of them are greatly elevated and specifically devoted to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. They have already arrived on the bank of Lake Narendra and are waiting there. I need to make arrangements for their lodging and meals.”
King Prataparudra jumped at the chance to serve Lord Chaitanya’s intimate friends and devotees.
“I shall give orders to the temple manager to arrange everyone’s residential quarters and prasada,” he promised.
Then, turning to Sarvabhauma with excitement, the king said, “Please show me, one by one, these Bengali devotees of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.”
“Actually I do not know any of them either, although I would like to,” Sarvabhauma replied. “Let us go up on the roof of the palace with Gopinatha acharya. He knows every one of the Bengali devotees and will identify them for us.”
From the roof of Prataparudra’s palace Gopinatha acharya began to point out the devotees. He identified Advaita acharya, Srivasa Pandita, Gadadhara Pandita, Vakreshvara Pandita, and Haridasa Thakura, while his two companions craned to see. All the arriving devotees were chanting and dancing as they approached the palace from Lake Narendra on their way to see Lord Chaitanya.
“Here are Vasudeva Datta and Sivananda Sena,” Gopinatha acharya continued. “And here also are Govinda Ghosha, Madhava Ghosha, and Vasudeva Ghosha and the residents of Kulina-grama, and the residents of Khanda.”
Gopinatha acharya went on and on, naming the Bengali devotees and describing their qualities and their service to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
“How many names shall I speak to you?” he asked. “All the devotees you see here are associates of Gri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is their life and soul.”
An associate of the Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is just what King Prataparudra wanted to be. Here were friends and disciples from the Lord’s childhood and youth, as well as older devotees who had known the Lord since His birth and had known His parents before that. Prataparudra absorbed himself in watching their arrival and in hearing their voices as they chanted the holy names.
Srila Prabhupada comments: “One who is intelligent understands that all the personal associates and devotees of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu are ever liberated. One should not think that because Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was personally present five hundred years ago, only His associates were liberated. Rather, Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura says that anyone is a liberated associate if he acts on behalf of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Simply by accepting the associates of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as ever liberated, one can very easily go back home, back to Godhead.”
Maharaja Prataparudra was astonished at the brightness of the Bengali devotees.
“I have never seen such an effulgence,” he said. “It is like the brilliance of millions of suns. Nor have I ever heard the Lord’s names chanted so melodiously.”
As king of Jagannatha Puri, Prataparudra had heard the congregational chanting of the holy names performed by the hundreds and thousands of pilgrims arriving in Puri from all parts of the world. He was not a newcomer to the chanting of Hare Krishna, but these followers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu surpassed everyone in their ecstatic performance of kirtana and in their attractive personal features.
“Such are the symptoms of pure devotees when they are chanting,” Srila Prabhupada explains. “All pure devotees are as bright as sunshine, and their bodily luster is very effulgent. If a devotee sticks strictly to the principles governing Vaishnava behavior, his bodily luster will naturally be attractive, and his singing and chanting of the holy names of the Lord will be effective.”
“The transcendental sweetness of their voices,” Sarvabhauma informed the king, “is a special creation of Lord Chaitanya known as prema- sankirtana, or congregational chanting in love of Godhead. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has descended to teach that the real religious principle for this age of Kali is the chanting of the holy names of Lord Krishna.”
Srila Prabhupada writes: “The members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness should go to India and perform sankirtana congregationally. This will attract the attention of all the important personalities in India, just as the beauty, bodily luster, and sankirtana performance by the associates of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu attracted the attention of Maharaja Prataparudra. The associates of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu were unlimited during the Lord’s presence on this planet, but anyone who is pure in life and devoted to the mission of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is to be understood as a nitya- siddha [liberated] associate of the Lord.”
From the rooftop of his palace, King Prataparudra noticed further unique qualities of the Bengali devotees. Practically all other pilgrims, the king knew, followed many regulations when arriving in Puri or any holy place. Pilgrims to Puri would normally fast for a day, shave their heads clean, bathe in the ocean, and then visit the temple of Lord Jagannatha. But the devotees of Lord Chaitanya were rushing to the Lord’s residence at Kashi Mishra’s house, passing the main gate of the Jagannatha temple along the way. For Maharaja Prataparudra, accustomed as he was to the age-old traditions of Puri, and responsible as he was for their maintenance, this was a potentially alarming sight.
“Instead of visiting the temple of Lord Jagannatha, all the devotees are running toward the residence of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,” Prataparudra remarked with surprise. “And Vaninatha, the son of Bhavananda Raya, has gathered seven men to carry a huge quantity of delicious maha-prasada to Kashi Mishra’s house. Why isn’t everyone fasting, shaving, and so on?”
“This is spontaneous love,” Sarvabhauma explained. “All the devotees are very anxious to meet Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu after long separation. And understanding that the devotees were coming, the Lord called for quantities of prasada. When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is distributing prasada with His own transcendental hand, who will bother with fasting and other regulations? First the devotees will meet Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and then take Him with them to see Lord Jagannatha. When one is inspired by the Lord from within the heart, he does not care for ordinary regulations and social customs.”
After watching Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Navadvipa devotees rush to meet their Lord, friend, and spiritual master, King Prataparudra came down from the roof of his palace. He called for Kashi Mishra and the temple manager and told them to provide comfortable living arrangements for everyone.
Hearing His devotees arrive, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu left Kashi Mishra’s house to meet them on the road. He embraced each one, inviting them into the house, where He continued to offer attention and respect to each devotee individually. Before lunch, which He served with His own hand, Lord Chaitanya and His guests bathed in the sea, and afterwards all the devotees went to rest at the residences provided by King Prataparudra and Kashi Mishra. In the evening they came again to meet Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu at Kashi Mishra’s house and went with Him to visit the temple of Lord Jagannatha, where Lord Chaitanya began congregational chanting of Hare Krishna. It was the Navadvipa devotees’ first kirtana with Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu since their meeting at Advaita acharya’s house two years earlier. The chanting, accompanied by eight drums and thirty-two pairs of cymbals, was tumultuous and lasted for several hours, the Lord and His devotees dancing in ecstasy and astonishing all the residents of Puri, who came running to see.
King Prataparudra too heard the uproarious kirtana and returned to the roof of his palace to watch and listen as night began to fall. Earlier in the day he had first noticed the sweet voices of the Navadivpa devotees as they had arrived in Puri and disappeared towards Kashi Mishra’s home. Now, looking down again from his rooftop, he was further astonished to see these eternal associates ecstatically chanting and dancing with Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in their midst. How they must be enjoying His association after so much time apart!
As the kirtana ended, Maharaja Prataparudra watched the devotees return with Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to Kashi Mishra’s house to again honor prasadam, and the fortunate king’s anxiety to join their company increased without limit.