Srinivasa Acarya: Part Two

The Embodiment of Lord Chaitanya’s Love

It was the middle of the sixteenth century. Aspiring for perfection in spiritual life, young Srinivasa had tried to meet Lord Chaitanya and His disciple Gadadhara. But Srinivasa came too late—they passed away before he could become their student. And so too did the great Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami. But as Srinivasa journeyed to the holy town Vrindavana, Rupa and Sanatana appeared to him in a dream. Go on to Vrindavana, they told him, and learn from the great Goswamis Jiva and Gopala Bhatta.

Jiva and Gopala Bhatta Goswamis

The words OF Sri Sanatana and Rupa somewhat relieved Srinivasa’s heavy heart. He could travel again, and soon he felt the dust of Vrindavana beneath his feet. He approached Rupa Goswami’s Govindadeva Temple hoping to find more solace at Lord Govinda’s lotus feet.

As Srinivasa sat before the Deity, Jiva Goswami and his many followers entered the temple. Srinivasa introduced himself, and Sri Jiva greeted him with warmth and loving hospitality. Srinivasa spent the night in comfortable quarters at Sri Jiva’s temple, Sri Sri Radha-Damodara. The next day, Srinivasa offered his homage at the tomb of Sri Rupa in the temple courtyard.

Then Jiva introduced Srinivasa to Gopala Bhatta Goswami, who greeted him with kind words and expressed his disappointment that Srinivasa had not arrived sooner, as Rupa and Sanatana had been anxious to meet him. Gopala Bhatta took Srinivasa to his Radha-Ramana Temple and asked the Deity there to bless him. Gopala Bhatta Goswami and Jiva Goswami gradually introduced Srinivasa to the inhabitants of Vraja.

Narottama and Duhkhi Krishnadasa

Gopala Bhatta Goswami initiated Srinivasa and taught him. And as Jiva Goswami was the preeminent Vaishnava philosopher of the period, Gopala Bhatta directed Srinivasa to him for higher instruction, all in accordance with the desires of Lord Chaitanya and Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis. The Prema- vilasa states that Sri Jiva took care of Srinivasa and gave him a thorough spiritual education.

Another young scholar, the illustrious Narottama, had been studying under Jiva for one year when Srinivasa arrived in Vrindavana. Narottama had been initiated by Lokanatha Goswami, who had sent him to Sri Jiva for additional spiritual instructions. Then young Duhkhi Krishnadasa came, sent by his guru, Hridaya Chaitanya. The three young devotees studied under Jiva Goswami with the utmost enthusiasm and became his best students. They were widely known as inseparable friends. Jiva Goswami ordered them to study the forests of Vrindavana with Raghava Pandita, who knew all the sacred groves and their significance.

Eventually Srinivasa, Narottama, and Duhkhi Krishnadasa were given a special mission. They were to distribute the books of the Goswamis—the bhakti-rasa scriptures—in Bengal and other areas. Vaishnavism was widely embraced in Bengal, but literature explaining the Vaishnava philosophy was wanting. Nityananda Prabhu’s wife, Jahnava Devi, had visited Rupa and Sanatana in Vrindavana some years earlier and was well aware of the prolific spiritual literature the Vrindavana Goswamis were producing, so she contacted Jiva Goswami and suggested that the books be sent to Bengal. To comply, Sri Jiva summoned his three best men.

The Mission Begins

In a large assembly of Vaishnavas, Sri Jiva called forth Narottama Dasa: “From this day forward, you will be known as Narottama Thakura Mahashaya.” Then he called Srinivasa: “You will be known as Srinivasa Acarya.” And finally, Duhkhi Krishnadasa: “Because you have brought so much pleasure [ananda] to Radharani [Syama], you will now be called Syamananda.” Then Sri Jiva told them of their mission to Bengal, Orissa, and other provinces of India.

Srinivasa, Narottama, and Syamananda did not want to leave Vrindavana, but they understood the importance of their mission. They went to their initiating gurus, who gave their blessings, instilling in them the necessary enthusiasm for the task.

Sri Jiva began the preparations for the long and arduous journey. These devotees were his best students, and he would spare no pains for their welfare. He had a rich merchant disciple from Mathura supply a large cart, four strong bullocks, and ten armed guards. The manuscripts—original works by Rupa, Sanatana, Gopala Bhatta, Raghunatha Dasa, Jiva, and others—were placed in a large wooden chest, which was bolted and covered with a waxed cloth. Sri Jiva also secured a special passport from the king of Jaipur that his three students would need to show as they traveled to eastern India. Then Srinivasa, Narottama, and Syamananda left Vrindavana.

The Journey to Bengal

As they began traveling, Sri Jiva and several other devotees accompanied them, unable to bear being separated. As the caravan neared Agra, the well-wishers stayed behind. Now the journey was underway. There could be no turning back.

After many months, the party reached a small village named Gopalapura, just within the boundaries of the Malla kingdom of Vana Vishnupura, in Bengal. When they retired that night, they felt confident that their mission was almost complete.

Vishnupura is in the district of Birbhum, bounded on the north by the Santhal Pargannas and on the south by Midnapura. The king of Vishnupura, Virhamvir, was the leader of a strong group of bandits who were the terror of the adjoining countries. He had employed a large number of thugs and assassins who infested the highways and killed and robbed wayfarers. The astrologers of the court were ever ready to submit to him confidential reports as to what fortunes the stars would grant him if he carried on robberies in particular localities.

Stealing the Books

The king’s dacoits had been following the cart from afar. This cart was especially interesting because the king’s astrologers had said that it held a great treasure. Although the dacoits had been following the cart for quite a distance, they thought it wise to wait until the cart reached their own kingdom.

The dacoits saw only fifteen men escorting the cart—ten armed soldiers, two cartmen, and three holy men. The band of dacoits, numbering over two hundred, inflamed one another’s imaginations with the astrologers’ words: “This cart is filled with jewels more valuable than gold.” They almost overtook the party in a village named Tamar, but circumstances did not permit it. They followed the party through the towns of Raghunathapura and Pancavati.

Finally, in Gopalapura, the party spent the night near a beautiful lake. All fifteen men slept soundly, tired from the journey. When they awakened, their worst nightmare had come to pass: the manuscripts had been stolen.

They could not contain their tears. Srinivasa, the leader of the party, advised Narottama and Syamananda to proceed to Bengal and Orissa with the teachings of the six Goswamis. He would take it upon himself to retrieve the manuscripts. He wrote to Jiva Goswami and told him all that had happened.

The King’s Regret

Meanwhile, as King Virhamvir was rummaging through treasures stolen from various travelers, his servants appeared with the court’s most recent acquisition—Srinivasa’s carefully wrapped chest of “the most precious jewels.” Virhamvir dropped everything else and feverishly unwrapped his latest prize. Having heard the prophesies, he could scarcely imagine what splendors awaited him. In one suspenseful moment, he removed the cloth covering and opened the trunk to reveal—manuscripts.

Where was the priceless treasure? Lifting out the top manuscript in disbelief, the king saw the signature “Sri Rupa Goswami” written on a palm leaf. When he examined further and began reading Sri Rupa’s beautiful exposition of Vaishnava philosophy, he felt something change deep within. He reverentially returned the book to the trunk and retired for the evening, aware of the grave sin he had instigated.

Srinivasa Appears in a Dream

That night, the king had an unusual dream. He saw a beautiful and effulgent person whose body was filled with divine energy. “Do not worry,” the person said with a loving smile. “Soon I will come to Vishnupura and we will meet. I will retrieve my manuscripts, and you will be relieved of all sinful reactions. Your joy will be boundless. Know for certain that you are my eternal servant and I am your eternal well-wisher.”

The next morning the king awoke and started his life anew, waiting for the day when the mysterious prediction of his dream would come to pass.

Meanwhile, Srinivasa Acharya made his way to the outskirts of Vishnupura, where he met a brahmana resident named Sri Krishna Vallabha. The two became friends, and Krishna Vallabha invited Srinivasa to be a guest in his home. Gradually, Krishna Vallabha realized Srinivasa’s exalted position and surrendered to him as a disciple. In due course, Krishna Vallabha mentioned that the king regularly convened a Bhagavatam study group for all who were interested. Srinivasa was curious about the nature of the Bhagavatam presentation and asked Krishna Vallabha to take him to the next meeting.

Bhagavatam Recitation

When they arrived, Vyasacharya, the court pandita, was reciting and commenting upon the Bhagavatam.Srinivasa was unimpressed but said nothing. The next day, they found Vyasacharya pontificating in the same fashion. After two weeks of the court pandita, Srinivasa could not contain himself, and after the meeting he spoke to Vyasacharya.

“You, sir, do not follow the text,” said Srinivasa, “nor are your commentaries in line with Sridhara Svami or the other standard exponents of Bhagavata philosophy.”

Vyasacharya listened to Srinivasa’s comments but ignored his advice. The king, however, who was nearby, overheard what was said and found it interesting.

The next day at the recital Vyasacharya again attempted to elucidate the esoteric section of the Bhagavatam that delineates Sri Krishna’s rasa-lila.

Respectful but firm, Srinivasa interrupted with a question: “Sir, how can you comment on such confidential subjects without referring to the statements of Sridhara Svami? You are obviously unfamiliar with his work.”

Vyasacharya became angry. He disliked being challenged in front of his sycophantic assembly, who were accustomed only to his peculiar rendition of Bhagavatam commentary.

Before another word was said, however, the king began to defend Srinivasa’s position: “How is it that this brahmana scholar finds fault with your explanations? Perhaps your interpretations are questionable.”

“Who can interpret the texts better than I?” the arrogant Vyasacharya replied. “This newcomer is an upstart, and he dares to question me in the presence of Your Majesty.”

Then he turned to Srinivasa. “If you are such an authority on the Bhagavatam,” he said, “why don’t you come sit here and explain these verses in a better way?”

Srinivasa rose to the challenge. He sang the Bhagavatam verses beautifully and then commented upon them with great verve and authority. He drew upon existing Vaishnava explanations and yet offered his own unique presentation. No one had ever heard such a masterly enunciation of Bhagavata philosophy.

The king encouraged him to go on, allowing him to speak for several hours. When he finished, the whole assembly applauded, ecstatic with Srinivasa’s contagious love for Krishna. Vyasacharya could not believe his ears. He was defeated, but he was happy.

King Virhamvir was greatly moved. “No one has ever come to this kingdom and shared so much love and scholarship in the way you have,” he said to Srinivasa. “Please, tell me your name and where you come from.”

“My name is Srinivasa and I am a native of this country,” said Srinivasa. “I came here to see your magnificent court and to relish the Bhagavatam.”

The king then gave him the best accommodations in the palace and asked him to stay as long as he liked.

The King Surrenders

Later that evening, the king asked Srinivasa to dine with him, but Srinivasa said that he took only one humble meal per day and had already eaten. Nonetheless, Virhamvir encouraged him to have some fruit, and he complied, not wanting to offend his distinguished host.

As Srinivasa ate his fruit, the king sat at his side like a humble servant. The king had never felt this way about anyone: Srinivasa was that effulgent person he had seen in his dream—his guru—and he wanted to render some menial service.

That night, he heard Srinivasa repeating the name of Krishna in his room. It seemed as if Srinivasa did not sleep. “Here is a genuine saint,” thought the king. “He is simply absorbed in the name of God.” With this pleasant idea, the king fell asleep, listening to Srinivasa Acharya’s blissful voice in the next room.

The following day in the great assembly Srinivasa again spoke from the Bhagavatam. Once again, the eager, expectant audience relished every word. Srinivasa astonished all who listened. Chroniclers of the event have reported that “even the stone walls of the hall seemed to melt with emotion.” Srinivasa spoke with erudition, sensitivity, and devotion, honoring his Vaishnava predecessors, and everyone present agreed that the wisdom of the orator far exceeded his years. One by one, people came and bowed at Srinivasa’s feet, hoping to become his disciples.

Later, the king submitted himself to Srinivasa as a lowly beggar: “You are the real king,” he said, “for you have love for Krishna. I am not even worthy to be in your presence.”

Srinivasa, with all humility, merely shook his head; he was not able to accept his own exalted position.

But the king persisted: “Allow me to be your servant. Please! How can I serve you? My entire kingdom is at your disposal.”

“I came from the holy city of Vrindavana with a mission from Gopala Bhatta Goswami and Jiva Goswami,” Srinivasa replied. “I was to bring their writings to Bengal. But unfortunately this treasure was robbed within your kingdom. If I cannot retrieve these books, I would prefer to lose my life. Can you help me get them back?”

The king burst into tears. “A poor worm am I,” he said, “lost hopelessly in this land of birth and death. My own men pillaged for years and years under my order, and then they came upon your party. We were told you carried the greatest treasure in the universe, and we naturally pursued it. I cannot express my sorrow.”

Reflecting for a moment, the king said, “But there is a positive side to all of this. Our meeting would not have otherwise occurred. I would commit these sins again and again for but a moment of your association.”

Srinivasa laughed and reassured the king that sinful life was unnecessary for attaining his association. Srinivasa then forgave the king for all his sins and asked him to sin no more.

The Books Are Safe!

The king led Srinivasa to the room where his treasures were kept, and Srinivasa saw the trunk with the Goswamis’ literature. Srinivasa felt ecstasy and took the garland of flowers from his own neck and placed it on King Virhamvir. Srinivasa asked the king to bring him tulasi leaves, flower garlands, sandalwood paste, and other items to worship the sacred books. The king brought everything, and his own initiation ceremony followed. By reciting into the king’s ear the maha-mantra—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—Srinivasa initiated him.

According to the Prema-vilasa, Srinivasa gave him the name Haricarana Dasa. Jiva Goswami later showed the king special mercy by writing a letter in which he renamed him Chaitanya Dasa. The king’s wife, Queen Sulakshana, and their son, Prince Dhari Hamvir, also became Srinivasa Acharya’s surrendered servants. The queen’s initiated name is unknown, but the boy was named Gopala Dasa. Krishna Vallabha and Vyasacharya also became dedicated disciples.

Vishnupura as a Vaishnava Center

The initiation of the king and his loyal subjects was an important event in the history of the Gaudiya tradition. Vishnupura soon became a great center of Vaishnavism. In all of India, only in Vana Vishnupura did Gaudiya Vaishnava culture and art develop without foreign or distracting influence. Even the Muslim intrusion was minimal. Consequently, the architectural and sculptural art of Bengal, from the beginning of the seventeenth century onwards, is nowhere found in such abundance and in such pristine form as in the Vaishnava monuments of Vishnupura. This is one of the many virtues of royal patronage.

King Virhamvir reigned from 1596 to 1622 and in that time wrote many songs in praise of Krishna, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and Srinivasa Acharya. Much of his exquisite poetry can be found in the Bhakti-ratnakara and the Pada- kalpataru. The king’s beautiful voice, reflected in his literary work, helped him in his mission of spreading Vaishnavism throughout his domain.

Srinivasa had thus accomplished his mission in Vishnupura. He wrote to Jiva Goswami that not only had the books been retrieved but the main bandit, a king, had taken up Gaudiya Vaishnavism. All of Vrindavana rejoiced and sang the glories of Srinivasa Acharya. King Virhamvir and his entire kingdom were now converted to Vaishnavism, and Srinivasa was developing an important center there.