MEET THE DEITIES
SRI SRI GAURA NITAI
Sri Sri Gaura Nitai have been worshipped at ISKCON South London for over 30 years. The two Lords Gaura and Nitai are also known as Gauranga (or Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu) and Nityananda. Gauranga means ‘One with the golden bodily complexion’ and Nityananda means ‘He who embodies eternal bliss’.
To find out more about who these amazing personalities who revolutionised the Sankirtana movement throughout India, please read on below...
THE LIFE OF SRI CAITANYA MAHAPRABHU
Lord Caitanya was born on February 27, 1486, at a time when India was suffering from rampant hedonism, spiritual stagnation, strict caste stratification, the prominence of logic over mystic experience, and domination by Islamic rulers. Socially, morally, spiritually, politically, and intellectually there was need for change.
Lord Caitanya was born in Navadvip, a large city straddling both sides of the Ganga. Praised in the scriptures as a holy place, Navadvip was famous during Lord Chaitanya’s time as a centre of learning and culture.
At Lord Caitanya’s birth, which fell on the full-moon night of the Bengali month of Phalguna, there was a lunar eclipse. As was the custom on such occasions, the people of Navadvip gathered at the Ganga to purify themselves by bathing and chanting the names of God. Thus Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was born amid the loud chanting of the Lord’s names.
Because astrologers predicted that He would manifest superhuman qualities and deliver the world, His parents, Jagannatha Mishra and Sacidevi, gave Him the name Vishvambhara, or “support of the universe.” And because He was born under a nima tree, He was given the nickname Nimai.
During His childhood He displayed mysterious powers by outwitting thieves, playing with a poisonous snake, and speaking philosophically with His mother. As He grew, His beauty and intelligence began to show more fully. He was a brilliant student who quickly mastered poetics, Sanskrit grammar, and the current fad, navya nyaya, a form of logic. He would often play at defeating His fellow students using logic. While still young, He opened His own school and began teaching grammar and logic.
On the pretext of performing sacred rites on the anniversary of His father’s death, Vishvambhara journeyed to Gaya, in Bihar, with a group of students. There, after receiving Vaishnava initiation from Ishvara Puri, He became transformed. He lost all interest in logic and argument and absorbed Himself in chanting Krishna’s names in devotional ecstasy.
Back in Navadvip, Vishvambhara gathered a following of other Vaishnavas, including Advaita Acarya, Srivasa Pandita, and Haridasa Thakura, and started the Sankirtana movement. First, the movement was confined to the faithful. Doors were locked before the devotees began chanting and relishing the pastimes of Lord Krishna. After a year, however, Vishvambhara ordered His followers to distribute the name of Krishna and the ecstasy of love of God to all the people of Navadvip.
Vishvambhara’s movement did not recognize the privileges of caste, and had no regard for ascetics involved in yoga, for impersonalists attempting to obtain liberation from the material world, or for the worship of demigods for material benefits. Thus Vishvambhara met with opposition from some sections of the local brahminical community and from Muslim rulers. But when He mobilized thousands of citizens in a sankirtana procession to the Muslim magistrate’s house, He succeeded in convincing the magistrate to sanction the movement.
Seeing the need to spread Krishna consciousness more widely, Vishvambhara decided to take sannyasa, the renounced order of life. At the age of twenty-four He shaved His head and took the name Krishna Caitanya from Keshava Bharati in nearby Katwa. He also became known as Caitanya Mahaprabhu. To console His mother He promised to stay in Puri, a moderate distance from Navadvip.
Apart from traveling to South India for four years, and to Prayag, Vrindavana, and Varanasi via Bengal for one year, He spent the rest of His life in Puri, absorbed in ecstatic vision of Krishna, in the mood of Radha. He disappeared from mortal vision at the age of forty-eight in Puri.
THE LIFE OF SRI NITYANANDA
Nityananda Prabhu was born in Ekachakra, a small village in present West Bengal, around the year 1474. His birthsite is commemorated by a Temple named Garbhashva and is visited by throngs of pilgrims today. His father, Hadai Ojha and mother Padmavati, were pious Brahmans originally from Mithila. Nityananda Prabhu was born on the auspicious thirteenth day of the bright fortnight of the month of Maga. As a child, Nitai (as Nityananda Prabhu was called), loved to enact the pastimes of Sri Krishna or Lord Rama. He did this so authoritatively and with such rapture, that the entire village would be immersed in the love of Godhead.
Nitai's favorite part was that of Lakshman, and He enacted it with so many apparently authentic scenes not described in the Ramayana, that people would wonder if He was making it up or actually relishing His own pastimes. The village of Ekachakra was completely absorbed in the love of little Nitai, where He spend the first 12 years of his earthly life. In the 13th year, a travelling sannyasi, said to be the famous Lakshmipati Tirtha, enchanted by Nitai's devotion and service, requested Nitai from his parents, as a travelling companion. His parents, bound by Vedic culture, could not refuse the request of a guest and reluctantly parted with Nitai. However, devastated by the separation with Nitai, that Hadai Pandit soon gave up his life.
Nitai traveled with Lakshmipati Tirtha for about 20 years, during which He visited all the holy places in the country, reminiscent of the manner that Balarama traveled while the battle at Kurukshetra raged on. Nitai is said to be later on initiated by Lakshmipati Tirtha. He also associated with another of Lakshmipati Tirtha's famous disciple, Madhavendra Puri, who although his godbrother, was revered by Nitai was as a spiritual master. Madhavendra Puri is famous for establishing the sweet truth of Madhurya-rasa which later become an integral part of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Among the other disciples of Madhavendra Puri is Advaita Acharya, and Ishvara Puri (the spiritual master of Caitanya Mahaprabhu).
Nityananda Prabhu met Caitanya Mahaprabhu in 1506, when He was 32 years old and the Lord 20 years. It is said that when Nityananda Prabhu reached the land of Nadia, He hid in the house of Nandanacharya, to heighten the ecstasy of meeting through separation. Caitanya Mahaprabhu aware of the arrival of His eternal associate dispatched Haridas Thakur and Shrivas Pandit to search out Nitai, but they failed. Finally unable to bear the separation any longer, Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself went directly to Nityananda Prabhu and the ecstasy of the meeting was so transcendental that every one witnessing it were awed by the sublime experience. A Temple called Sri Gaura-Nityananda commemorates this meeting place in Nadia.
Nityananda Prabhu in His role as the original spiritual master, was instrumental in spreading the yuga dharma of sankritana all over the Gaudia desh (Bengal, Orrisa). His mercy knew no bounds, and people fortunate to come in contact with Him were inundated with the love of Godhead. It was by His mercy that Raghunatha dasa, one of the six Goswamis started the famous Danda Mahotsava festival of Panihatti, a tradition that continues to this day, and was thus able to serve Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He extended His mercy to even fallen souls like Jagai and Madhai, delivering them from the sinful lives and protecting them from the wrath of even Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Indeed His mercy knew no bounds, and fortunate were the people who tasted the nectar of His instructions.
When Nityananda Prabhu returned to Bengal at the request of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, He decided to abandon His avadhuta status and become a grahastha (householder). He married Jahnava Devi and Vashudha, the two daughters of Suryadasa Sarakhel, who the brother of Gauridasa Pandit (an intimate associate of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the spiritual master of the famous Shyamananda Pandit). Nityananda Prabhu had a son (Virchandara) and a daughter (Ganga Devi) from Vashudha. Soon after Vashudha passed away and Jahanva Devi looked after the children. She later initiated Virchandra, and also became an instructing spiritual master to the likes of Shyamananda Pandit, Shrivasa Pandit and Narottama dasa Thakur. Jahnava Devi is revered as a Vaishnavi and she established the pre-eminent positon of women in the Vaishnava tradition.
Lord Nityananda wound up His earthly pastimes, by merging into the Deity of Krishna, known as Bankim Ray, not far from Ekachakra. Vaishanava acharyas emphatically state that people who try to understand Caitanya Mahaprabhu without getting the mercy of Nityananda Prabhu will never succeed. One must pray very sincerely to Lord Nityananda Prabhu as the adi-guru (original spiritual master) to be delivered to the Lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The presence of Nityananada Prabhu is always felt in the presence of one's own guru, for the guru is considered to be the living manifestation of Nityananda Prabhu's love and mercy, and his shakti (power) is what gives the disciple the ability to perform devotional service and experience spiritual bliss.