Who was Chaitanya Mahaprabhu?
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a Bengali spiritual teacher believed by his devotees to be Lord Krishna himself. He was a proponent for the Vaishnava school of Bhakti yoga which emphasizes on loving devotion to God, and is considered the most benevolent manifestation of Lord Krishna. Born in Mayapur in the town of Nadia to a devout Brahmin couple, he was a very beautiful child who enamored everyone who came to see him. His maternal grandfather, a prominent astrologer, foretold that the child was destined for greatness. Named Vishambhar at birth, he was drawn towards the name of the lord from a young age. Brilliant and hard working, he excelled in his studies and became a scholar at a young age. Once on a trip to Gaya he met his guru, the ascetic Ishvara Puri, from whom he received initiation with the Gopala Krishna mantra. On his return to Bengal, he became a religious preacher and was soon the eminent leader of the Vaishnava group within Nadia. Married by now, he left his family and entered the sannyasa order. He spent several years travelling throughout India, chanting the divine names of Lord Krishna and spreading the message of divine love. He spent the last 24 years of his life in Puri, Odisha.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Vishvambhar Mishra on 18 February 1486 in present-day Nadia, West Bengal, India, into a Brahmin family, to Jagannath Mishra and his wife Sachi Devi. He was their tenth child and his childhood nickname was Nimai. Several of his older siblings had died soon after birth.
His mother’s father, Pandita Nilambara Chakravarti, a renowned astrologer, foretold that the child was destined for greatness in future.
He grew up to be a bright child and developed an early interest in religious pursuits. He entered the Gurukula of Gangadasa Pandita in Ganganagara when he was eight years old. A brilliant student, he excelled in his studies and became a scholar in Sanskrit grammar and rhetoric at a young age.
He went to Gaya as a teenager and it was here that he met the ascetic Ishvara Puri who would become his guru. Nimai received initiation with the Gopala Krishna mantra from his guru. This meeting had a significant impact on the young man who now became more inclined towards religion.
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Upon his return to Bengal he became a prominent religious preacher and before long was considered the eminent leader of the Vaishnava group within Nadia. He soon received entrance into the sannyasa order by Keshava Bharati.
After becoming a sannyasi he travelled throughout India, visiting many places, spreading the name of the Lord Krishna. He also visited the house of Advaita Prabhu in Shantipura. Many followers, friends, and family members of Krishna Chaitanya—as Nimai was now known—came to meet him. The visitors included his mother.
Krishna Chaitanya popularized Krishna sankirtana—the congregational chanting of the Holy Names of the Lord—throughout India. He was the proponent for the Vaishnava school of Bhakti yoga (meaning loving devotion to God) and was revered by his followers and devotees as a merciful incarnation of Vishnu.
A major figure in the Bhakti movement, he founded the Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a religious movement with its foundations in the philosophies of the Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavata Purana. The focus of the movement is the devotional worship (bhakti) of Radha and Krishna, and their many divine incarnations as the supreme forms of God.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also founded Achintya-Bheda-Abheda, a school of Vedanta representing the philosophy of inconceivable oneness and difference in relation to the power creation and creator. This philosophy differentiates the Gaudiya tradition from the other Vaishnava Sampradayas.
There is only one written work left by him, the ‘Shikshashtakam’, a Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu prayer of eight verses composed in the Sanskrit language. The teachings in the prayer are believed to contain the essence of all teachings on Bhakti yoga within the Gaudiya tradition.
He wrote a series of verses known as the ‘Shikshashtakam’, or "eight verses of instruction” which are considered to contain the complete philosophy of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in condensed form. He requested six saints and theologians among his followers to systematize the Gaudiya Vaishnava theology in their own writings.
Personal Life & Legacy
At the age of 14 or 15, he was married to Laksmidevi, The daughter of Vallabhachaarya, of Nadia. He renounced family life after a few years when he embarked into asceticism.
He left for his heavenly abode on 14 June 1534, in Puri, Odisha, at the age of 48.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu left a deep impact on the cultural legacy in Bengal and Odisha. In the early 18th century Kalachand Vidyalankar made his preachings popular in Bengal, and even in modern times many people revere him as an avatar of Krishna.
In 1957, Kartik Chattopadhyay directed a Bengali biographical film on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu titled ‘Nilachaley Mahaprabhu’.