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Achintyabhedabheda Vedanta, Philosophy

The Life of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

Chaitanya, the main inspirer of the Achintya bheda abheda philosophy was born in the city of Navadvip to a Bengali Brahmin family, though the exact birthplace is contested within the tradition between Nadia and Mayapur. There is some controversy regarding the exact birth of Chaitanya, with the majority holding 1486 A.D. and a few academics suggesting a year earlier. However both groups unanimously hold that Chaitanya was born in the month of Phalguna[1] during a full moon lunar eclipse.

Majority of what is known about Chaitanya are through a hagiography named Chaitanya Charitamrita, the nectaral life of Chaitanya, composed by the disciple of a close devotee of Chaitanya, Krsna Das Kaviraja. Although the biography is highly polemical I will rely on the Chaitanya Charitamrita as my source of reference.

According to traditional narrations within the sect, Chaitanya, an incarnation of Sri Radha Krsna[2], was born to Janganatha and Saci Mishra. Though named officially by his father as ‘Vishvambhara’, he was affectionately named ‘Nimai’ by his mother due to his birth being under a Neem tree.

At the age of nine, he was conferred the name ‘Gauranga’ and initiated with the sacred thread. After which he commenced his study of Vedic literature under his father, an erudite scholar. However this tuition was short lived as Jagannatha Mishra passed away. Though upset, Sacideva undeterred to provide the foremost of education to Gauranga, sent him away to study under the tutelage of Gangadas. Here Gauranga claimed mastery of Sanskrit grammer and the major schools of philosophy prevalent at the time.

After having studied and mastered the various schools of thought, Nimai at the age of sixteen formed his own Tol, an institution for Sanskrit learning and shortly married the daughter of Vallabha Mishra, a notable Nyaya scholar, Lakshmi. Through the school, his fame grew and claimed much accolade whilst simultaneously establishing himself as a learned scholar amongst the circle of noteworthy academics.

After establishing the success of his Sanskrit institution, he commenced travelling around India and challenged various scholars in debate, each with Gauranga being victorious. After concluding his scholarly tour, he returned home to know of his wife’s unfortunate death.

Though distraught by her demise, Gauranga by the request of family married again to Visnupriya. Whilst abiding as a householder he continued his academic career and again left home forGaya, to perform ancestral purification rite. Here he met Isvara Puri, a monk following the sect propounded by Madhvacharya, who initiated Gauranga into the Bhakti tradition.

Following initiation, Gauranga overcome with deep devotional sentiment returned home and thus influenced by Isvara Puri, joined the local Vaishnava fellowship headed by Advaita Acharya. Here he was also introduced to Nityananda, an ascetic devoted to the Krsna sect and imbued with the love of Krsna.

Engaged in the fellowship, Gauranga organised the first Kirtan, a devotional chant of the holy name, in 1509 with the members of the fellowship. During this period Gauranga became widely known to be sentimental in a devotional mood towards Krsna and performed many miracles and the notable conversion of two fallen souls, Jagai and Madai.

Understanding his calling towards renunciation, Gauranga at the age of twenty four was accepted by Keshava Bharati a renunciate in the sect of Shankara, into the order of Sanyaasa and formally ordained the name Krsna Chaitanya.

Thereafter Krsna Chaitanya travelled for six years commencing in Jagannatha Puri, Orissa, then toSouth India, where he met and defeated a notorious Advaitin scholar, Vasudeva Sarvabhauma. In his travels, he met Rupa and Sanatana, two brothers inspired by his influence in Prayaga andVaranasi, respectively. In Prayaga, Chaitanya taught Rupa, the fundamentals of devotion and devotional sentiment and inVaranasi, Chaitanya taught Sanatana the above with the addition of Vaishnava rituals. Both were then commanded by Chaitanya to settle in Vrindavan to preach his instruction and formulate his words into texts and thus propagate the Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy. During his stay in Kashi, the hagiography reports a notable conversion of another reputed member of the Advaitin sect, Swami Prakashananda Saraswati.

In his travels he visited numerous places giving discourses in devotion to Krsna as well as performing Sankirtana whilst instructing his disciples in re-establishing numerous temples where Sri Krsna performed his past times in Vrindavan. Chaitanya finally concluding his journey back at Jagannatha Puri, where he remained until his demise in 1533 A.D.

In his final years, Chaitanya spent his time arguably exclusively at Jangannatha Puri whilst composing only one work, the Sikshashtakama and the rest of his theology and philosophy being transmitted to his closest and senior disciples. Gaudiya literature narrates that at the age of fourty seven, Chaitanya left his mortal coil in 1533 A.D.


[1] Between February and March

[2] A common aphorism used by the followers to adovate this point is – ‘Sri Krsna Chaitanya Radha Krsna nahe anye’ – Sri Krsna Chaitanya is not different from Sri Radha and Sri Krsna

The copyright of the article The Life of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is owned by the Jigyasa Team. Permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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A student of Sanatan Vedic Dharma

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