Sunday, December 31, 2023

Syamananda-satakam Release

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Preface by Bhakti Vikasa Swami

We who are privileged to identify ourselves as members of the Madhva-Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava sampradāya can take pride in being heirs to the legacy of several mighty ācāryas, beginning with Svarūpa Dāmodara and Rūpa Gosvāmī, all of whom were unique and inimitable and who have made lasting contributions to the sampradāya. In terms of his mass preaching exploits, Śrī Rasikānanda Deva remained unparalleled for several centuries until the advent of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda.

It was my great good fortune to bring the glories of Śrī Rasikānanda to the attention of the worldwide Vaiṣṇava community when in 1997 I first published The Story of Rasikānanda, based on Rasika Maṅgala, an extensive Bengali biography by Śrī Gopījanavallabha Dāsa, who, as a direct disciple of Śrī Rasikānanda, was witness to many of the superhuman feats of his Gurudeva. Now, more than a quarter century later, Dr. Baladeva Dāsa has further significantly enriched the Vaiṣṇava world by this publication.

Herein we learn of the calibre of Śrī Rasikānanda’s intimate associates and disciples, and of his unstinting appreciation of them. We gain insights into the exalted level of Kṛṣṇa consciousness that Śrī Rasikānanda constantly experienced and that he communicated to others, and become privy to Śrī Rasikānanda’s deep love for his Gurudeva, Śrī Śyāmānanda Prabhu. A major section of this book consists of Śyāmānanda-śatakam, wherein we learn much about the transcendental characteristics of Śrī Śyāmānanda Prabhu also.

Overall, this is another splendid contribution by Baladeva Dāsa, undertaken with his usual thoroughness and scholarly exactness. Our Gauḍīya ācāryas are inherently glorious, and Baladeva Dāsa is performing important service by revealing their glories to the world, in the form of their writings. May his service, which is particularly but not exclusively focussed on the works of Śrīla Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa, continue to be fruitful for many more years to come.



Introduction by the translator

    Over its five centuries of history, the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition is yet to see preaching accomplishments that surpass the extent of those achieved by Śyāmānanda Prabhu and Rasikānanda Murāri. Together, they are said to have established more than 3,000 temples spread throughout various states in India and propagated a spiritual lineage— the Śyāmānanda-parivāra— that comprised lakhs of disciples, all this in just a few decades during their lifetime. It is difficult to fathom how influential they were in those days, being revered by kings and hooligans alike. Their exploits have been extensively narrated in various hagiographies in Bengali, the most famous ones being Kṛṣṇacaraṇa Dāsa’s Śyāmānanda-prakāśa and Gopījanavallabha Dāsa’s Rasika-maṅgala, which carry the readers through an intense, engaging, and often superhuman series of events from beginning to end. By all accounts, the duo Śyāmānanda and Rasikānanda were adorned with a myriad of virtues and divine charisma that would entice whomever they happened to come across, on occasions, even animals and witches. In corroboration to this, their lives have been a strong and constant source of inspiration for many generations ever since, not only among those who belong to the Śyāmānanda-parivāra, but also among Vaiṣṇavas of all denominations and the public at large. To date, major festivals held in Gopiballabhpur in celebration of their pastimes attract many thousands of visitors. About a century ago, Haridāsa Gosvāmī wrote,[1] “For almost four hundred years, the mahantas of Gopiballabhpur have been worshipped like Vaiṣṇava kings of the kingdom of devotion in Utkala. (…) Their disciples, comprising eighteen royal dynasties, over a hundred zamindar families, and a hundred thousand families of brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, and others, expanded the beauty and prosperity of that kingdom. In the present day Vaiṣṇava world, the Śyāmānandī group is exceedingly powerful.”

Added to Śyāmānanda’s and Rasikānanda’s many qualities is their distinguished scholarship, and it is a great fortune that both of them left at least a few literary compositions, some of which are featured in this edition.

Śyāmānanda Prabhu

    In 1535 AD, just months after the disappearance of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, a boy was born to a couple named Kṛṣṇa Maṇḍala and Dūrikā Devī in a village then called Dhārendā Bāhādurpur, located in the present day Medinipur district. Because the parents were bemoaning the untimely demise of the children they previously had, the boy was named “Duḥkhī” (sad). During childhood, he was very diligent in his studies and was very fond of associating with Vaiṣṇavas. In his youth, he travelled to various places of Mahāprabhu’s pastimes, among which he also visited Ambika Kalna, where he met Gaurīdāsa Paṇḍita’s foremost disciple, Hṛdayacaitanya, who gave him initiation, naming him “Duḥkhī Kṛṣṇa Dāsa,” and engaged him in the service of the renowned Deities of Gaura and Nitāi under his care. In the course of time, with the consent of his guru, he left for an extensive pilgrimage, thus spending several years visiting holy places around India. Once back in his village, with the hope that he would settle down, his father arranged his marriage to Gaurāṅgī Dāsī. It was not long before Duḥkhī decided to return to Kalna, where he would again spend time serving his guru and the Deities. Being very pleased by his service and understanding his mind, Hṛdayacaitanya eventually sent him to Vṛndāvana to study Vaiṣṇava scriptures under the guidance of Jīva Gosvāmī. After spending twelve years in Vṛndāvana engaged in devoted service and deep meditation on the pastimes of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, one day while sweeping Sevā-kuñja, Duḥkhī found an anklet that belonged to Śrī Rādhā. Lalitā-sakhī appeared before him and requested him to return the anklet, but he insisted that he would only give it in the hand of the actual owner. Śrī Rādhā subsequently allowed him to come to Her presence and touched his forehead with Her anklet, leaving a peculiar mark known as śyāma-mohana. She also declared that he would be henceforth called “Śyāmānanda.” Along with Narottama Dāsa and Śrīnivāsācārya, Śyāmānanda was entrusted by Jīva Gosvāmī to bring copies of manuscripts of all the works of the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana to Bengal. After decades of vigorous preaching work, Śyāmānanda left this world in 1630. It is doubtful whether he ever wrote anything in Sanskrit, but Bengali and Brajbuli poems attributed to him have been published in a compilation named Pada-kalpa-taru. Manuscripts of a text named Vṛndāvana-parikramā are seen in a few libraries.

Rasikānanda Gosvāmī

    Also known as Rasika Murāri, Rasikānanda was born in 1590 AD in Rohiṇī, a village by the bank of the River Subarnarekha in the southern side of the present-day Medinipur district. His mother was Bhavānī Devī and his father was Acyutānanda, a rich landlord and ruler of that region. In his early youth, Rasika was married to Icchā Devī. Both would be later initiated by Śyāmānanda, who on that occasion named her “Śyāma Dāsī.” From then on, Rasikānanda would become his leading disciple and travel multiple times in his company during long preaching expeditions and pilgrimages to various places. He was first entrusted with the Deity worship at the Rādhā-Govinda Temple in Gopiballabhpur and later would also be appointed by his guru as the first mahanta of the Śyāmānandi-parivāra, which implied control over all the temples and properties they had acquired. Becoming the chief spiritual master of that line, he had scores of disciples wherever he went. He mysteriously disappeared in 1652 after having darśana in the Kṣīracora Gopīnātha Temple in Remuṇā, without leaving behind mortal remains. A puṣpa-samādhi in his honour is located within the temple complex. He had three sons and two daughters, and their descendants are still managing some of the temples that remain existing. Rasikānanda was celebrated as an accomplished scholar and authored at least a few works in Sanskrit, some of which seem to remain unknown and unpublished. Some vernacular compositions are credited to him.


Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa

    Known as the Gauḍīya Vedānta Ācārya, he was born either at the end of the 17th century or at the beginning of the 18th century in Odisha. At the end of his Śabda-sudhā, he identifies himself as the son of Gaṅgādhara Māṇikya. Nothing definitive is known about his early life before he accepted mantra-dīkṣā from Rādhā-Dāmodara Gosvāmī in Puri. At the end of the Siddhānta-ratnam, Vidyābhūṣaṇa states that his mind was fixed on the philosophy of Madhvācārya, and he acknowledges Pītāmbara Dāsa as his vidyā-guru, from whom he learnt several scriptures. It is not clear whether Vidyābhūṣaṇa ever had any formal connection with the Mādhvas and in which capacity. Although well-known as a celibate renunciant, he is not known to have ever used a sannyāsī title or having ever been referred to by any such title. He played a major role in the religious and philosophical debates that took place in the court of King Sawai Jai Singh II (1699-1743 AD) in Jaipur and was commissioned by him to write at least two works— a Vedānta commentary named Brahma-sūtra-kārikā-bhāṣya, and a text on comparative philosophy named Tattva-dīpikā. Vidyābhūṣaṇa was a polymath and became one of the most prolific Gauḍīya authors, writing at least two dozen texts, some of which seem to be lost. A document dated the fourteenth day of the Bhadra month of Saṁvat 1850 (nineteenth of September, 1793 AD) describes his ceremony of condolence presided by King Pratap Singh (ruled 1778-1803 AD).

It was in those debates in Jaipur that Vidyābhūṣaṇa definitively substantiated the affiliation of the Gauḍīyas with the Mādhva-sampradāya, something that he asserts over and over in his books, including his commentary on the second verse of the Śyāmānanda-śatakam, where he says: śrī-kṛṣṇo nanda-sūnuḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-caitanyākhyayā gauḍe’vatatāra madhva-siddhāntaṁ svīkṛtya hari-bhaktiṁ tatra pracārayāṁ cakāra, “Lord Kṛṣṇa, the son of Nanda, descended in Bengal and became known as Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya. Accepting the philosophical conclusions of Madhvācārya, He preached devotion to Lord Hari in that land.” It is a matter of concern that individuals who are supposed to represent the Śyāmānandi-parivāra are actively engaged in desecrating Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s works and have deliberately removed the above sentence from their editions of the mentioned book, although it appears in all manuscripts and in the edition published by Haridāsa Dāsa.


    In these four (catuḥ) verses (ślokī) on the essence (sāra) of worship (sādhanā), Rasikānanda briefly summarises the particular mode of spiritual practice to be followed by those in the Śyāmānanda-parivāra. It is doubtful whether these verses have ever been published.


    In spite of his large number of followers, Rasika Murāri’s literary works were scarcely copied and circulated, and some might be lost or still unpublished, as seems to be the case with this poetic composition consisting of twelve verses (dvādaśakam) that depict Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s amorous pastimes (keli) in a grove (kuñja) of Vraja. The theme, the vocabulary, the presentation, the metaphors, the style, and even the chosen metre (śārdūlavikrīḍita) are so consistent with the two works described below that there is simply no scope to doubt that this was certainly written by Rasikānanda, and it indeed befits his name. In a delightful choice of sweet words and expressions, he graphically portrays his personal mode of worship and meditation on the pastimes of the Divine Couple. His descriptions are so vivid that they give the impression that he is merely narrating what he sees before his own eyes.



     In this poem in eight verses (aṣṭakam) in the śārdūlavikrīḍita metre, Rasikānanda glorifies the exalted devotees (bhāgavata) of Lord Kṛṣṇa, particularly those who belong to his extensive group of associates. With heartfelt words, he elaborates on their manifold virtues, which culminate in their unflinching devotion to Kṛṣṇa. By illustrating their enthusiasm and deep absorption in devotional service, Rasika gives a glimpse of the joy and inspiration derived from their association, and at the end, he wishes that the reader may also have the same feelings towards such exalted devotees. 

Fortunately, these verses have been further clarified by a scholarly commentary written by Bhajanānanda Gosvāmī, who belonged to the fourth generation of Rasikānanda’s descendants. His father, Vrajajanānanda Gosvāmī (1657-1721 AD) was one the fourth mahanta in Gopiballabhpur, and the latter’s father, Nayanānanda Gosvāmī, was the guru of Rādhā-Dāmodara Gosvāmī, whose most renowned disciple was Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa. This commentary on the Bhāgavatāṣṭakam seems to be Bhajanānanda’s only known composition and it is here translated for the first time.


    In this poem consisting of a hundred verses (śatakam), Rasikānanda pours out his heart while extolling Śyāmānanda, his beloved spiritual master. Being his closest disciple and a skilled poet, no one else would have been as capable as Rasika to bring out a work of this nature, which primarily focuses on Śyāmānanda’s mind rather than his external dealings in the world. His descriptions of Śyāmānanda’s svarūpa as Kanaka-mañjarī are detailed and convincing, suggesting that he would indeed directly see him in that form. Clearly inspired by Jayadeva’s Gīta-Govinda and Rūpa Gosvāmī’s poetry, Rasika outlines similar narratives having Kṛṣṇa as the nāyaka (hero) and Kanaka-mañjarī as the nāyikā (heroine), thus transposing the very mode of meditation practised by Śyāmānanda. Further adorned with depictions of Vṛndāvana, the Yamunā, and the exchanges between Śrī Rādhā and Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the text overflows with mādhurya-rasa from beginning to end. 

    Honouring the revered preceptors of his parivāra, Vidyābhūṣaṇa authored an erudite commentary on these verses, shedding light on their most technical and esoteric features, thus leading the readers through various intricacies that would be otherwise easily overlooked or misconstrued. A translation of the complete commentary is being presented here for the first time.

[1] Vaiṣṇava Digdarśanī, Navadvīpa, Bengali year 1332 (1925 AD), pages 172-173.