needs your help. This project is maintained by donations, which have been reduced during the pandemic. Kindly consider supporting this very important service project. Click here to contribute.

Srinivasa Acarya: Part Three

Thieves working for the king of Vishnupura stole priceless manuscripts Srinivasa and his friends were bringing to Bengal. Srinivasa therefore sent his companions ahead while he stayed in Vishnupura. He recovered the manuscripts, made the king his disciple, and inspired him to spread Krishna consciousness throughout the kingdom.

Now Srinivasa needed to see his dear friends Narottama and Syamananda again. He had written them of the developments in Vishnupura, but he knew little of what his friends were doing. He had heard that his teacher Narahari Sarakara Thakura was ill and getting ready to die, so he wanted to go to Srikhanda to see him and to nearby Jajigram to see his own aging mother.

Srinivasa Returns to Jajigram

Bidding farewell to King Virhamvir, Srinivasa took the chest of books to Jajigram. Upon arriving there, he told the devotees what had happened. All the holy town’s people, especially his mother, rejoiced in his company. But they had heart-breaking news for him as well: Srimati Vishnupriya had left this world. Srimati Vishnupriya was Sri Chaitanya’s widow, an important person in the preaching mission of Bengal. On hearing of her passing, Srinivasa fainted, and the devotees had to revive and console him.

A few days later, a message came from Narahari Sarakara and Raghunandana Thakura asking Srinivasa to come to Srikhanda. Srinivasa left at once to see these two well-wishers who had guided him in his youth. During this meeting, Narahari suggested that Srinivasa get married.

“Your mother is a great devotee,” Sri Narahari said. “She has been rendering valuable service in Jajigram for many years. You should fulfill whatever small desire she might have. I know she would be happy to see you married. Since she is a great devotee, you should comply.”

Hearing this, Srinivasa resolved to marry and raise a family.

After a few more days in Srikhanda, Srinivasa left for Kanthak Nagara to visit the great Gadadhara Dasa, one of the personal associates of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. When Srinivasa arrived, Gadadhara Dasa embraced him with affection. He asked Srinivasa about the devotees of Vrindavana, especially the Gosvamis: How were they able to live in separation from the Lord and His confidential devotees? Where were they living and under what conditions? Gadadhara Dasa and Srinivasa talked about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the plight of His devotees in His absence.

After several days, Srinivasa was to return to Jajigram. Before he left, Gadadhara Dasa blessed him: “One day you will taste the nectar of congregational chanting in the company of the Lord Himself, and in the company of His intimate associates. For now, you have my blessings to marry. May it bring you all good fortune.”

Srinivasa Gets Married

The words of Gadadhara Dasa touched Srinivasa. Meditating on their import, he returned to Jajigram, where he met Gopala Chakravarti, an elderly brahmana with a beautiful and devoted daughter named Draupadi. Observing that Srinivasa and Draupadi were attracted to each other, Sri Raghunandana Thakura arranged the wedding.

After the marriage, Draupadi was called Ishvari (some say it was her initiated name), honoring her devotion to God and acknowledging her marriage to a great saint. Her father, Gopala Cakravarti, soon accepted Srinivasa as his spiritual master, as did her two brothers, Syama Dasa and Ramacandra. Srinivasa quickly became one of the most prominent gurus in all of Bengal.

After some time, Ishvari bore a son, and when Srinivasa wrote about the event to Jiva Goswami in Vrindavana, Jiva sent back an exuberant reply and named the boy Vrindavana Vallabha. Some time after, Srinivasa married again (polygamy was common then). His second wife, Padmavati, was also a great devotee, and after initiation she was known as Gauranga Priya.

One may wonder why Srinivasa took a second wife. Most of the standard biographies do not elaborate, stating merely that the second marriage followed the first by a few years. But the Anuragavali informs us that his most intimate disciples asked that he remarry upon the death of his two sons from Ishvari. They are said to have died young.

Ishvari had three daughters—Hemlata, Krishna-priya, and Kancana, also known as Yamuna. Gauranga Priya had a son, Gati Govinda. Both Ishvari and her daughters later had many disciples, and Srinivasa’s bloodline is still said to continue in Vrindavana from Gati Govinda.

The Passing of Narahari Sarakara

Some time after Srinivasa’s marriage, Narahari Sarakara Thakura left the world, having seen Srinivasa one last time. Srinivasa organized a massive festival to honor Narahari’s memory. Everyone from Srikhanda and neighboring villages attended, and Vaishnava festivals soon spread throughout the region. Ceremonies to install Deities of Krishna took place with elaborate festivities, including singing, dancing, and sharing of sacred food (prasadam). By such festivals the Hare Krishna movement spread throughout Bengal.

Srinivasa’s Disciples

In due course, Srinivasa decided to return to Vrindavana. Ramachandra Kaviraja, one of his most renowned followers, went with him on this trip. Ramachandra was considered Srinivasa’s “other eye and other arm.” Ramachandra and his brother, Govinda, who was also Srinivasa’s disciple, were the sons of an intimate associate of Lord Chaitanya. Both Ramachandra and Govinda were celebrated scholars, artists, and poets, but Ramachandra came to be widely accepted as Srinivasa’s most noteworthy disciple. This was in some measure due to Narottama Dasa Thakura, who at Srinivasa’s request took charge of Ramachandra and forged an intimate friendship with him while schooling him in all the details of Vaishnava philosophy.

With the help of King Virhamvir of Vishnupura, Srinivasa spread his preaching in Bengal to the districts of Birbhum, Bankura, Burdwan, and as far as Tripura in the East. He taught all over Bengal and made hundreds of disciples.

Hemlata Thakurani

To the list of his prominent disciples, Hemlata Thakurani, his daughter, is often added. Although as a blood relation she is not properly counted a disciple, she was one of his most notable followers. A highly educated and vigorous preacher, she has been compared to the revered Jahnava Devi in spreading the movement throughout Bengal. She was a gifted and devoted leader, initiating both men and women into the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. One of her disciples, Yadunandana Thakura, became a famous scholar and poet. He composed simple Bengali versifications of Gaudiya literature, some at her personal request.

In time she married a great devotee and had several children. Today her descendants live in the villages of Maliati and Budhaipad, in the Murshidabad district of Bengal, where she revolutionized the preaching of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

Srinivasa Returns to Vrindavana

Srinivasa had not been to Vrindavana since recovering the stolen books. The Gosvamis were eager to show their appreciation, and when Srinivasa arrived they did so gloriously. And now Srinivasa had come to Vrindavana with Ramachandra Kaviraja. Such a worthy disciple showed Srinivasa’s merit as a preacher. So Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, who had wanted Srinivasa to take over the worship of the Radha-Ramana Deity in Vrindavana, gave the duty to his other disciple, Gopinatha Pujari, and insisted that Srinivasa keep preaching in Bengal. The descendants of Gopinatha’s brothers are still in charge of the Radha-Ramana temple.

Syamananda Pandita returned to Vrindavana about the same time as Srinivasa, so they were able to deepen their friendship. Together they resumed their studies. Gradually, Srinivasa began to reveal his mystic potency, and it became apparent he was fully absorbed in the most intimate love of God.

Back to Vishnupura

But the missionary work was incomplete, and after several months Srinivasa and others returned to Bengal, encouraged by the Vrindavana Goswamis. On the way, they stopped in Vana Vishnupura to see King Virhamvir, who was delighted by the presence of his guru and the other devotees.

The king’s devotion showed throughout the kingdom. In the words of D.C. Sen:

Raja Vira Hamvira would not do anything without the advice of his guru [Srinivasa Acarya], even in political matters. His [Srinivasa’s] voice prevailed alike in the court and in the domestic circles of Vishnupura. We find that repeating the name of God a fixed number of times was made compulsory by penal law in the State. Sacrifice of animals at the altar of the gods was also discountenanced, though not actually prohibited by law. Worldly dignity attended the guru who had brought spiritual glory to the country. We find that on every occasion of Vaishnava festivities of any importance, valuable presents were given to Srinivasa, while Raja Vira Hamvira was ever ready to minister to his physical comforts in every possible manner. But true to the traditions of a brahmin scholar and saint, Srinivasa contented himself with living in a strawroofed hut, though he might have built palaces with the help of the Raja and other influential disciples. The money he received was mainly spent in feeding his disciples, of whom there was always a large number residing at his house.

The Glories of Vishnupura

The pervasiveness of Krishna consciousness in Bengal, especially in Vishnupura, lasted well after the time of Srinivasa and into the following centuries. King Virhamvir’s successor, Raghunatha Singh I, built Vaishnava temples in many distant villages to make Krishna consciousness popular with the tribal people. In fact, the kings of Vishnupura from the time of Virhamvir onward assumed great responsibility for the material and spiritual wellbeing of their subjects.

According to Dr. Sambidananda Das:

In short, the Vaishnava kings, from Vira Hamvira downwards, developed Vaishnava culture in all its branches. The practical religious lives of the kings … made the people of Vishnupura God-fearing, virtuous, humble, and courteous in manner and pure in heart. It is not an easy matter to make the whole population happy and pious. [But] the people regarded their kings as their gurus. To this day it is their custom to offer edibles to Sri Chaitanya’s altar in the name of the king, on the occasion of public worship. Thus did Srinivasa, through Raja Vira Hamvira, start a new epoch in the religious life of the country.2

Srinivasa’s Daily Activities

The activities of Srinivasa Acharya can fill volumes, and they have. Several books offer details of his daily life in Vishnupura and Jajigram.

In the early morning he would read from scriptural books, explaining and interpreting them for his disciples. The study of these books would occupy him until ten o’clock in the morning. Then, till two in the afternoon, he would chant on beads in solitude, occasionally worshiping Krshna according to his inner meditation. From four o’clock to six in the evening he would perform congregational chanting with his disciples. The form of kirtana for which he became famous is called Manohar Shoy. Some say it is the only authentic classical style that has survived. At night he used to instruct his disciples and talk with them of Krishna’s pastimes.

His Literary Work

It is said that Srinivasa composed only five songs. He also wrote a commentary—studied and respected to this day—on the four essential verses of the Srimad- Bhagavatam. His other works include the famous Gosvamy-ashtakam (“Eight Prayers to the Six Gosvamis”). Though his literary work is spare, its content and style are nectarean. It has left a unique mark on the Gaudiya tradition.

Divine Ascension

Just as the authorized biographers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu leave aside the details of His passing from this world, Srinivasa’s followers are silent about Srinivasa’s disappearance. But although his divine ascension remains a mystery, his life remains an inspiration.