Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura
[February 5, 2023 is the appearance day of Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt of a bhāva anuvāda of a discourse by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on October 13, 2014. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
The āvirbhāva and tirobhāva tithis of Vaiṣṇavas are equally worshipable. Their remembrance is our duty and our wealth, whereas their forgetfulness is our greatest source of misfortune and difficulty (vipada). Vipada refers to something that nobody wants, so remembering Vaiṣṇavas is our essential duty.
Today is the tirobhāva tithi of Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura. He took birth as the son of Rājā Kṛṣṇananda, in Kheturī village, [in the town of] Gopālapura of the Rājaśāhī District. Once, as Śrī Caitanya-deva was passing through that area He called out, “Narottama! Narottama!”, but nobody could understand why He repeated that name for ‘Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura’ had not yet appeared. Hence everyone was perplexed as to why Śrī Caitanya-deva did so.
Once, [when he was around the age of 12] Narottama’s mother took him to
the Padma River for a bath. [While having bath in the river, Narottama received the prema that Mahāprabhu had deposited there for him. Narottama became overwhelmed in kṛṣṇa-prema thereafter.] After bathing, his dark complexion (kṛṣṇa-varṇa) turned to golden (gaura-varṇa) like Mahāprabhu's. Bewildered, Narottama’s mother wondered what had happened to her child.
RECEIVING THE TITLE ‘ṬHĀKURA MAHĀŚAYA’
Narottama grew to be a very intelligent and wise child, and soon he lost all interest in material life, and desired to go to Vṛndāvana. Never in his life had he walked by foot, formerly he had always been carried by palanquin. Even to take a bath he would go by palanquin accompanied by musicians. When he decided to travel to Vṛndāvana, he did so by foot and as a result, he incurred many cuts and wounds on his feet. Along his journey, one person [a brāhmaṇa] offered him warm milk requesting, “Please have this”, and just as he consumed that milk he was relieved of all pain and fatigue. Eventually he reached Vṛndāvana and there he studied the Vaiṣṇava scriptures under the tutelage of Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī. His fellow pupils were Śrīnivāsa Ācārya and Śyāmānanda Prabhu. On behalf of the Viśva Vaiṣṇava Rāja Sabhā, Narottama received the title ‘Ṭhākura Mahāśaya’, while Śrīnivāsa got the title ‘Ācārya’ and Dukhī Kṛṣṇadāsa received the name ‘Śyāmānanda’. In this way, on behalf of the Viśva Vaiṣṇava Rāja Sabhā, they were given blessings.
THE REAL MOOD OF APPROACHING THE SPIRITUAL MASTER
On the order of Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, Śrī Narottama approached Śrīla Lokanātha Gosvāmī for dīkṣā. Śrīla Lokanātha Gosvāmī, however, had vowed that he would not accept any disciples, because by giving dīkṣā, whatever sins a disciple commits, one sixth of them are transferred to the guru. This works in the same way in case of the king who also has to bear one sixth of the sins committed by his subjects. That is why in Kali-yuga no king can remain religious (dhārmika). This has been mentioned in the Manu Smṛti.
[Seeing no other opportunity to serve Śrīla Lokanātha Gosvāmī and to attain his grace] Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura would go to the forest in the middle of the night to clean the area where Śrīla Lokanātha Gosvāmī would go to attend nature’s call. With a broom, Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura would clean the entire area and strain the mud with a cloth, leaving only fine and soft mud to cleanse the hands.
Śrīla Lokanātha Gosvāmī was astonished to find the entire area suddenly so clean, even being free from dry leaves and stones and replete with soft sand. Because no such phenomenon had occurred before, he wondered who might be behind this. Wanting to know the reason, Śrīla Lokanātha Gosvāmī kept vigil one night. He discovered one young lad with a broom, sometimes holding it close to his chest reverentially, sometimes even touching it to his forehead and using it to clean the entire area. Śrīla Lokanātha Gosvāmī confronted him and the boy identified himself as Narottama. “You are a prince and you engage in doing such menial work? What is the purpose behind this?”, Śrīla Lokanātha Gosvāmī demanded to know. Young Narottama explained, “I am seeking your mercy.” At that point, Śrīla Lokanātha Gosvāmī’s heart melted and he decided to confer dīkṣā upon him. He instructed Narottama to first take a bath and upon his return, gave him the dīkṣā mantras. What happened to the vow of Śrīla Lokanātha Gosvāmī not to accept disciples? He felt greatly obliged and subjugated by the sevā of Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura. What an ideal Narottama demonstrated! Service is so powerful that it subjugates even Bhagavān.
MOST SUITABLE PERSON TO PROPAGATE MAHĀPRABHU’S TEACHINGS
Likewise, our parama-gurudeva Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda approached Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja for dīkṣā on many occasions. First he was told, “You possess vanity for [high] education, wealth and physical beauty, so you cannot be given dīkṣā.” When he approached him the second time, he was told, “I will ask Mahāprabhu and if He approves, then I will award you dīkṣā.” The third time Śrīla Prabhupāda approached him, Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja said, “I forgot to ask Mahāprabhu.” When he requested again, Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja explained, “Mahāprabhu has declined to give – you have conceit hence you cannot be awarded dīkṣā.” But Śrīla Prabhupāda did not give up, he again approached Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja and said, “I will not be delivered.” [I will give up my life if you don’t accept me as your disciple.] Then Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja confirmed, “I was testing you. You are a very suitable person to propagate Mahāprabhu’s vāṇī [teachings].” Being pleased, Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja smeared his own foot dust over the whole body of Śrīla Prabhupāda [as a blessing]. Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja was a niṣpakṣa [without any prejudice] paramahaṁsa. He was unpredictable, but eventually he had to accede [and give initiation to Śrīla Prabhupāda]. Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja was defeated by Śrīla Prabhupāda’s sincere determination.
A PRICELESS TREASURE
Together, Śrīnivāsa Ācārya, Śyāmānanda and Narottama performed Vraja-maṇḍala parikramā with Rāghava Paṇḍita, whilst visiting all the pastime places. Later, loading all the Vaiṣṇava literatures onto a bullock cart packed in iron boxes, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī sent all three of them to Bengal to preach [and make copies of the books]. Śrīnivāsa Ācārya was appointed to oversee this.
On the way, they would take turns remaining awake at night to guard the literatures. Finally, they reached the Hindu town of Viṣṇupura (where the king was Vīrahamvīra), [they presumed that they could relax the vigilance as they didn’t expect any danger from thieves or dacoits.] They all slept at night, thinking, ‘Here the scriptures won’t be stolen’. But, as luck would have it, the King had an astrologer who calculated and said, “A priceless treasure is passing through your kingdom.” So the King sent some thieves to loot the ‘treasure’ but warned against killing anyone.
The thieves stole the boxes, and brought them to the King. When he opened the boxes and discovered only scriptures, he kept them aside, unsure if they could be of any use to them. When Narottama, Śyāmānanda and Śrīnivāsa woke up, they realized that the books had been stolen. Grief stricken, Śrīnivāsa Ācārya felt great repentance thinking, ‘My guru-varga dispatched me with this responsibility, and I let them down by sleeping out of laziness!’ Śrīnivāsa Ācārya was actually Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī’s disciple, but because he had studied the śāstras under the guidance of Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, he considered Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī to be his guru as well. He resolved, “I will not leave this place [unless the stolen scriptures are recovered]. It will certainly be good if I find the scriptures; otherwise, I will simply leave my body in this very place.”
PREACHING THROUGH KĪRTANA
Śrīnivāsa Ācārya decided to remain in Viṣṇupura while instructing Narottama and Śyāmānanda, “Preach whatever you have learned through the medium of kīrtana.” Narottama Ṭhākura preached in North Bengal - He would sing in the garāṇahāti melody, Śyāmānanda preached in South Bengal and sang in the reṇetī melody, while Śrīnivāsa Ācārya remained in Viṣṇupura. He also preached via kīrtana, using the manohara-śayi melody. All three of them preached in different melodies. Through Narottama’s preaching, the entire region of Maṇipura became a Vaiṣṇava state. Śyāmānanda also did a lot of preaching. Both had to face opposition; however, those who opposed them eventually surrendered.
Smārta-brāhmaṇas were against Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura and they complained to their King Nṛsiṁhadeva, who was very influential, that Narottama, despite being the son of a kāyastha [kṣatriya or administrator class], was giving mantra to everyone, including the brāhmaṇas and so he should be called upon to debate.
The disciples of Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura like Gaṅgā-nārāyaṇa Cakravartī, Rāmakṛṣṇa Bhaṭṭācārya and others went to Rājaśāhī where the debate/discussion was to take place. One disciple disguised himself as a potter, while another posed as a tāmbūlī [one who sells betel leaf stuffed with various spices and fragrant substances such as cloves, cardamom, camphor, nutmeg, betel nut and so on], and some others disguised themselves as a grocery store keepers.
When the servants of these paṇḍitas arrived there to make purchases (as the paṇḍitas would only consume food cooked by their own hands), they observed the disguised disciples of Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura interacting with each other and speaking Sanskrit in a very refined manner. Hearing their interactions, and being unaware that these were actually the disciples of Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura and not mere townsfolk, the servants reported to the paṇḍitas that even the potters and the pān-sellers in the village are greatly learned eminent scholars. Hearing this, the paṇḍitas felt nervous even to approach them for a debate and abruptly left. In this way, Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura’s disciples foiled the attempts of the opposing parties.
THE UNPRECEDENTED FESTIVAL
Once, following a dream, Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura went to an abandoned granary belonging to a brāhmaṇa and asked for permission to access it. Despite being forewarned that nobody dared to venture there, as the place was infested with many poisonous serpents, Narottama affirmed that he didn’t mind. He was not harmed by any snakes as he entered and there, he discovered six Deities who were actually being guarded by those poisonous serpents [The six Deities discovered were: Śrī Gaurāṅga-deva, Śrī Vallabhī-kānta, Śrī Vraja-mohana, Śrī Rādhā-kānta, Śrī Rādhā-ramaṇa and Śrī Kṛṣṇa].
When Narottama then turned to Jāhnavā-mātā for guidance, she instructed, “These deities are self-manifest and hence no formal installation [prāṇa-pratiṣṭhā] is necessary. Only mahā-abhiṣeka need be performed. Invite Śrīnivāsa Ācārya to perform the mahā-abhiṣeka, while Śyāmānanda, Rāmacandra Kavirāja and you do the service of performing kīrtana. Invite all the Vaiṣṇavas in and around Gauḍa-maṇḍala, Kṣetra-maṇḍala and Vraja-maṇḍala, and befittingly arrange everything.”
Although Narottama Dāsa was a prince, he had bequeathed his throne to his cousin Santoṣa. So it was King Santoṣa, who made all the arrangements for the grand festival, including prasāda-sevā, donations and befitting accommodation to all the Vaiṣṇavas. Jāhnavā-mātā, who is Annapūrṇā [one who provides nectar-like food and nourishing care to the body and soul] herself took up the responsibility of preparing the entire bhoga for the Deities. Being Annapūrṇā, just by her overseeing everything, there would be no scarcity. Under the auspices of Jāhnavā-mātā, all the great Vaiṣṇavas were seen off in a befitting manner by King Santoṣa.
Massive cement tanks were constructed in which khicaḍī, rice, dhāl, curries, and kṣīra, were separately stored. In the earlier days during parikrama time, as our maṭha vessels were not so large, we also used to use these cement tanks for storing cooked food; a big one would be used for rice and dhāl and the smaller ones for mixed vegetable curry, chutney and so on. The food would be taken in buckets to serve the pilgrims. A festival of that stature has never been held anywhere to date.
Even to this day the Kheturī Mahotsava [the great festival of Kheturī] is very famous and unprecedented.
Govinda Kavirāja, the brother of Rāmacandra Kavirāja, is famous for his kīrtana ‘bhajahū re mana śrī-nanda-nandana abhaya-caraṇāravinda re – [O mind just worship the lotus feet of the son of Nanda, which make one fearless]. That Govinda Kavirāja was previously a śākta (worshiper of śakti).
When he fell ill Rāmacandra Kavirāja desired that his brother should have the remembrance of Bhagavān towards the end of his life and so he prayed to Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura, “You are parama-vaiṣṇava. By your desire my brother will attain the mercy of Bhagavān. For his auspiciousness, kindly recite the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam for him”. Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura, however, not considering himself a Vaiṣṇava, called for Śrīnivāsa Ācārya through a handwritten letter and requested him to recite the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam to Govinda Kavirāja. By hearing the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Govinda Kavirāja was transformed and this kīrtana sprang forth from his lips and he became a Vaiṣṇava.
After the Kheturī festival, Śrīnivāsa Ācārya came to Vṛndāvana along with Rāmacandra Kavirāja. When we visit Vṛndāvana, we see that alongside the samādhi of Śrīnivāsa Ācārya is the samādhi of his intimate servitor, Rāmacandra Kavirāja.
PRĀRTHANĀ AND PREMA-BHAKTI-CANDRIKĀ
In the mood of great separation on the disappearance day of Rāmacandra Kavirāja, two great works sprang from the lotus mouth of Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura. One is Prema-bhakti-candrikā and other one is Prārthanā. These scriptures were widely printed, so much so, that they follow just after the publication scale of the Bhagavad-gītā. In his childhood, our parama-gurudeva, Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura, never used to study school books, and instead spent his time studying spiritual scriptures. The kīrtanas of Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura were his life and soul and he remembered them all word for word. Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura wrote a commentary in Sanskrit on Prema-bhakti-candrikā and wrote this verse:
om ajñāna-timirāndhasya jñānāñjana-śalākayā cakṣur unmīlitaṁ yena tasmai śrī-gurave namaḥ
[I was born in the darkest ignorance, and my spiritual master opened my eyes with the torch of knowledge. I offer my respectful obeisances unto him.]
In Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura's aṣṭakam - Śrīla Narottama-prabhor-aṣṭaka, he wrote that the kīrtanas of Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura are as authoritative as the Vedas [Endnote 1].
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura is no ordinary personality himself, for he has composed many Vaiṣṇava scriptures and has been the object of receiving Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s grace.
HIS DIVINE DEPARTURE
At one point, after great preaching endeavor, Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura stopped speaking altogether. At that time people began to comment saying, “Because he wrongfully accepted brāhmaṇas as his disciples, he has become dumb.” Then the disciples of Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura beseeched him, “O Prabhu, you appeared in this world to bestow auspiciousness for all living entities, but by committing offences unto your lotus feet, these people [blasphemers] will be lead to hell and your purpose will not be achieved. So please be merciful and resume speaking.” Thus, Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura again began to sing kīrtanas, and all those pāsaṇḍīs [atheists] who were blaspheming him became his disciples and sought forgiveness for their offences.
Such wonderful pastimes he exhibited. Finally, once while bathing in the Ganges his transcendental body melted and transformed into milk. The samādhi that is present in the premises of Vṛndāvana’s Gokulānanda temple is his puṣpa-samādhi. Such is his extraordinary character.
Today devotees will distribute halavā in the honor of his tithi. So I will not take much time. Now the kīrtanīyas should begin singing kīrtanas.
Śrīla Narottama-prabhor-aṣṭaka - Eight Prayers Glorifying Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura
sparśah punah sparśamanīva yasya
pramāṇyam evam śrutivad yadiyam
tasmai namah śrīla-narottamāya (verse 7)