Life history of Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura
(From the preface to Sri Bhakti-rasmarta-sindhu-bindu)
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura appeared in a family of brahmanas from the community of Radhadesa in the district of Nadia, West Bengal. He was celebrated by the name Harivallabha. He had two older brothers named Ramabhadra and Raghunatha. In childhood, he studied grammar in a village named Devagrama. After this he went to a village named Saiyadabad in the district of Mursidabad where he studied the bhakti-sastras in the home of his guru. It was in Saiyadabad that he wrote three books while still undergoing his studies. These three books are Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu-bindu, Sri Ujjvala-nilamani-kirana and Sri Bhagavatamrta-kana. A short time later, he renounced his household life and went to Vrndavana. There he wrote many books and commentaries.
After the disappearance of Sriman Mahaprabhu and His eternal associates who had taken up residence in Vraja, the current of suddha-bhakti was flowing by the influence of three great personalities: Srinivasa Acarya, Narottama Thakura and Syamananda Prabhu. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura was fourth in the line of disciplic succession coming from Srila Narottama Thakura.
One disciple of Srila Narottama Thakura Mahasaya was named Sri Ganga-narayana Cakravarti Mahasaya. He lived in Balucara Gambhila within the district of Mursidabad. He had no sons and only one daughter, whose name was Visnupriya. Srila Narottama Thakura had another disciple named Ramakrsna Bhattacarya from the brahmana community of Varendra, a rural community of West Bengal. The youngest son of Ramakrsna Bhattacarya was named Krsna-carana. Sri Ganga-narayana accepted Krsna-carana as an adopted son. The disciple of Sri Krsna-carana was Radha-ramana Cakravarti, who was the spiritual master of Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura.
In his commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam entitled Sararthadarsini, at the beginning of the rasa-pancadhyaya, five chapters describing Sri Krsna’s rasa-lila, Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has written the following verse:
natva gurun uru-premnah
In this sloka the name Sri Rama refers to the spiritual master of Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, Sri Radha-ramana. The word Krsna refers to his grand-spiritual master, parama-gurudeva, Sri Krsna-carana. The name Ganga-carana refers to his great grandspiritual master, paratpara-gurudeva, Sri Ganga-carana. The name Narottama refers to his great-great grand-spiritual master, paramaparatpara- gurudeva, Srila Narottama Thakura, and the word natha refers to the spiritual master of Srila Narottama Thakura, Sri Lokanatha Gosvami. In this way he is offering obeisances unto his guru-parampara up to Sriman Mahaprabhu.
The daughter of Srinivasa Acarya, Hemalata Thakurani, was extremely learned and a great Vaisnavi. She expelled an estrange disciple named Rupa Kaviraja from the Gaudiya Vaisnava community. Thereafter Rupa Kaviraja was known as atibadi in the Gaudiya Vaisnava community. He established his own concocted doctrine, opposed to the Gaudiya Vaisnava conclusions, that only a person in the renounced order of life could act as acarya. He claimed that it was not possible for a householder to become a spiritual master. Completely disregarding the path of devotional rules and regulations (vidhi-marga), he propagated the path of spontaneous attraction (raga-marga) in an unrestrained and undisciplined manner. His opinion was that raganuga-bhakti could be practiced by smarana (remembrance) alone, abandoning the practices of sravana and kirtana (hearing and chanting).
Fortunately, Srila Cakravarti Thakura was present at that time. In his Sarartha-darsini commentary on the third canto of Srimad- Bhagavatam he refuted these false conclusions. The householder disciples in the disciplic succession of Nityananda Prabhu’s son, Virabhadra, and those who are descendants of the rejected sons of Advaita Acarya award and accept the title of “Gosvami”. Such action is completely improper according to the line of acaryas. Sri Cakravarti Thakura refuted this idea of Rupa Kaviraja. He proved that it was not incompatible for a qualified grhastha descendant of an acarya to act as a spiritual master. But for unfit descendants of acarya families who are greedy for disciples and wealth to adopt the name of Gosvami is unlawful and contrary to the statements of sastra. This he also proved. Therefore, although acting as an acarya, he never used the title gosvami with his name. He did this just to instruct the foolish and unfit descendants of acarya families of modern times.
When Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura was very old, he spent most of the time in a semi-conscious state, deeply absorbed in bhajana. At that time in the state of Jaipur, a debate broke out between the Gaudiya Vaisnavas and other Vaisnavas who supported the doctrine of svakiyavada (marital love).
Jaya Singh II was the king of Jaipur. The Vaisnavas of the antagonistic camp led Jaya Singh to believe that the worship of Srimati Radhika along with Sri Govindadeva was not supported by sastra. Their contention was that Srimati Radhika’s name was not mentioned anywhere in Srimad-Bhagavatam or the Visnu Purana and that She was never legally married to Krsna according to Vedic rituals. Another objection was that the Gaudiya Vaisnavas did not belong to a recognised line of disciplic succession (sampradaya). There are but four lines of Vaisnava disciplic succession, which have descended from time immemorial: the Sri sampradaya, Brahma sampradaya, Rudra sampradaya and Sanaka (Kumara) sampradaya.
In the age of Kali the principal acaryas of these four sampradayas are, respectively, Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madhva, Sri Visnusvami and Sri Nimbaditya. The Gaudiya Vaisnavas were thought to be outside of these four sampradayas and were not accepted as having a pure lineage. In particular the Gaudiya Vaisnavas did not have their own commentary on the Brahma-sutra. Therefore they could not be accepted as a bona fide line of Vaisnava disciplic succession.
At that time Maharaja Jaya Singh, knowing the prominent Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas of Vrndavana to be followers of Srila Rupa Gosvami, summoned them to Jaipur to take up the challenge with the Vaisnavas from the line of Sri Ramanuja. Because he was very old and immersed in the transcendental bliss of bhajana, Sri Cakravarti Thakura sent his student, Gaudiya Vaisnava vedantacarya maha-mahopadhyaya (the great one among great teachers), pandita-kula-mukuta (the crown of the assembly of learned scholars) Sripada Baladeva Vidyabhusana, to Jaipur along with his disciple Sri Krsnadeva, in order to address the assembly.
The caste gosvamis had completely forgotten their connection with the Madhva sampradaya. In addition to this they were disrespectful to the Vaisnava Vedanta and created a great disturbance for the Gaudiya Vaisnavas. Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana, by his irrefutable logic and powerful scriptural evidence, proved that the Gaudiya sampradaya was a pure Vaisnava sampradaya coming in the line of Madhva. The name of this sampradaya is the Sri Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya-Vaisnava sampradaya. Our previous acaryas like Srila Jiva Gosvami, Kavi Karnapura and others accepted this fact. The Sri Gaudiya Vaisnavas accept Srimad-Bhagavatam as the natural commentary on the Vedanta-sutra. For this reason no separate commentary on the Vedanta-sutra was written in the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya.
In various Puranas the name of Srimati Radhika is mentioned. She is the personification of the hladini (pleasure-giving) potency and the eternal beloved of Sri Krsna. In several places of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and specifically in the tenth canto in connection with the description of vraja-lila, Srimati Radhika is mentioned in a very concealed manner. Only rasika- and bhavukabhaktas who are conversant with the conclusions of sastra can understand this confidential mystery.
In the learned assembly in Jaipur, Baladeva Vidyabhusana refuted all the arguments and doubts of the opposing party. He solidly established that the Gaudiya Vaisnavas were following in the line of disciplic succession descending from Madhva, as well as the authenticity of the worship of Radha-Govinda. The opposition was silenced by his presentation. Nonetheless, because the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya did not have a commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, the contesting party did not accept them as being a pure line of Vaisnava disciplic succession.
Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana then wrote the famous Gaudiya commentary on the Brahma-sutra named Sri Govinda-bhasya. Once again the worship of Sri Sri Radha-Govinda began in the temple of Sri Govindadeva, and the validity of the Sri Brahma-Madhva Gaudiya sampradaya was accepted. It was only on the authority of Srila Cakravarti Thakura that Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana Prabhu was able to write the Sri Govinda-bhasya and prove the connection of the Gaudiya Vaisnavas with the Madhva sampradaya. There should be no doubt in this regard. This accomplishment of Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura done on behalf of the sampradaya will be recorded in golden letters in the history of Gaudiya Vaisnavism.
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura describes a very striking event in his own book entitled Mantrartha-dipika. Once, while reading Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, he came upon the verse quoted below, which describes the meaning of the kama-gayatri-mantra.
kama-gayatri-mantra rupa, haya krsnera svarupa,
sardha-cabbisa aksara tara haya
se aksara candra haya ksrsne kari’ udaya
trijagat kaila kamamaya
[“The kama-gayatri-mantra is identical with Sri Krsna. In this king of mantras there are twenty-four and a half syllables and each syllable is a full moon. This aggregate of moons has caused the moon of Sri Krsna to rise and fill the three worlds with prema.” (Caitanya-caritamrta, Mahdya-lila 21.125)]
It is proved by the evidence of this verse that the kama-gayatri-mantra is composed of twenty-four and a half syllables. But in spite of considerable thought, Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti could not ascertain which syllable in the kama-gayatri was considered a halfsyllable. Although he carefully scrutinised grammar books, the Puranas, the Tantra, the sastras dealing with drama (natya) and rhetoric (alankara), and other scriptures, he found no mention anywhere of a half-syllable. In all these scriptures he found mention only of the vowels and consonants that make up the fifty letters of the alphabet. He found no evidence anywhere of a halfsyllable.
In the Sri Harinamamrta-vyakarana, the grammar system composed by Sri Jiva Gosvami, he found mention of only fifty letters in the section dealing with the names of the various groups of vowels and consonants (samjnapada). By study of the arrangement of letters (matrka) in the Matrkanyasa and other books, he found no mention anywhere of a half-syllable. In the Radhika-sahasranama-stotra, found in the Brhan-naradiya Purana, one of the names of Vrndavanesvari Srimati Radhika is given as Pancasadvarna-rupini (one whose form is composed of fifty syllables).
Seeing this, his doubt only increased. He began to consider whether Kaviraja Gosvami might have made a mistake while writing. But there was no possibility of him committing any mistake. He was omniscient and thus completely devoid of the material defects of mistakes, illusion and so on. If the fragmented letter “t” (the final letter of the kama-gayatri-mantra) is taken as a half-syllable, then Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami would be guilty of the fault of disorder, for he has given the following description in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya-lila 21.126–8):
sakhi he! krsna-mukha-dvija-raja-raja
krsna-vapu simhasane, vasi’ rajya-sasane
kare sange candrera samaja
dui ganda sucikkana, jini’ mani-sudarpana,
sei dui purna-candra jani
lalate astami-indu, tahate candana-bindu,
sei eka purna-candra mani
kara nakha candera hata, vamsi upara kare nata
tara gita muralira tana
pada nakha candra-gana, tale kare sunartana
nupurera dhvani yara gana
In these lines, Sri Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami has described the face of Sri Krsna as the first full moon. His two cheeks are both considered as full moons. The dot of sandalwood on the upper portion of His forehead is considered as the fourth full moon, and the region of the forehead below the dot of sandalwood is the moon of astami, or in other words, a half-moon. According to this description, the fifth syllable is a half-syllable. If the fragmented “t”, which is the final letter of the mantra, is taken as a halfsyllable, then the fifth syllable could not be a half-syllable.
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura fell into a dilemma because he could not decipher the half-syllable. He considered that if the syllables of the mantra would not reveal themselves, then neither would it be possible for the worshipful deity of the mantra to manifest to him. He decided that since he could not obtain audience of the worshipful deity of the mantra, it would be better to die. Thinking thus, he went to the bank of Radha-kunda at night with the intent of giving up his body.
After the second period of the night had passed, he began to doze off when suddenly Sri Vrsabhanu-nandini, Srimati Radhika, appeared to him. She very affectionately said, “O Visvanatha! O Hari-vallabha! Do not lament! Whatever Krsnadasa Kaviraja has written is the absolute truth. By My grace, he knows all the inner sentiments of My heart. Do not maintain any doubt about his statements. The kama-gayatri is a mantra to worship Me and My dear beloved (prana-vallabha). We are revealed to the devotee by the syllables of this mantra. No one is capable of knowing Us without My grace. The half-syllable is described in the book known as Varnagama-bhasvat. After consulting this book, Sri Krsnadasa Kaviraja determined the actual identity of the kamagayatri. You should examine this book and then broadcast its meaning for the benefit of faithful persons.”
After hearing this instruction from Vrsabhanu-nandini Srimati Radhika Herself, Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura suddenly arose. Calling out, “O Radhe! O Radhe!” he began to cry in great lamentation. Thereafter, upon regaining his composure, he set himself to carrying out Her order.
According to the indication of Srimati Radhika regarding the determination of the half-syllable, the letter ya, which precedes the letter vi in the mantra, is considered a half-syllable. Apart from this, all other syllables are full syllables or full moons.
By the mercy of Srimati Radhika, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura became acquainted with the meaning of the mantra. He obtained the direct audience of his worshipful deity, and by means of his internal perfected spiritual body (siddha-deha), he was able to participate in the Lord’s nitya-lila as an eternal associate. After this, he established the deity of Sri Gokulananda on the bank of Radha-kunda. While residing there, he experienced the sweetness of the eternal pastimes of Sri Vrndavana. It was at this time that he wrote his Sukhavartini commentary on Ananda-vrndavana-campu, a book written by Srila Kavi Karnapura.
santo-gatir me sumaha-nivartina
[“I, Cakravarti, completely leaving aside all else, desire to attain Sri Vrndavana. Residing in a bhajana-kuti on the bank of Sri Radhakunda, which is the topmost place of pastimes for Sri Radha, I am now writing this commentary on Ananda-vrndavana-campu.”]
In old age, Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura spent most of his time in a semi-conscious state, deeply absorbed in bhajana. His principal student, Baladeva Vidyabhusana, took over the responsibility of teaching the sastras.
Re-establishment of the doctrine of parakiyavada
Because of a slight decline in influence of the Six Gosvamis in Sri Vrndavana-dhama, a controversy arose regarding the doctrines of svakiyavada, marital love, and parakiyavada, paramour love. To dispel the misconceptions regarding svakiyavada, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura wrote two books named Raga-vartma-candrika and Gopi-premamrta, which are wonderfully filled with all the conclusions of sastra. Thereafter, in his Ananda-candrika commentary on the “laghutvam atra” verse of Ujjvala-nilamani (1.21) *[See Endnote 1], he soundly refuted the theory of svakiyavada by scriptural evidence and irrefutable arguments, and established the conception of parakiya. In his Sarartha-darsini commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam, he gave strong support to parakiya-bhava.
It is said that at the time of Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura there were some panditas who opposed him in regard to the worship in the mood of parakiya. But by his deep scholarship and irrefutable logic he defeated them. On account of this, the panditas resolved to kill him. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura used to go out in the early morning before dawn to perform parikrama of Sri Vrndavana-dhama. They formulated a plan to kill him at that time in some dense, dark grove.
While performing parikrama, Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura came upon the grove where the adversaries desired to kill him. But suddenly they looked and saw that he was no longer there. In his place, they saw a beautiful young Vrajavasi girl picking flowers along with two or three of her friends. The panditas inquired from the girl, “Dear Child! Just a moment ago a great devotee was approaching here. Where did he go? Did you happen to see him?” The girl replied, “I saw him, but I don’t know where he went.”
Seeing the astonishing beauty of the girl, her sidelong glancing, her graceful feminine manner and gentle smiling, the panditas became captivated. All the impurity in their minds was vanquished and their hearts became soft. On being requested by the panditas to introduce herself the girl said, “I am a maidservant of Svamini Srimati Radhika. She is presently at Her mother-in-law’s home at Yavata. She sent me to pick flowers.” Saying this, she disappeared, and in her place, they saw Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura once again. The panditas fell at his feet and prayed for forgiveness. He forgave them all.
Many such astonishing events are heard in the life of Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura. In this way he refuted the theory of svakiyavada and established the truth of pure parakiya. This work of his is of great importance for the Gaudiya Vaisnavas.
Srila Cakravarti Thakura not only protected the integrity of the Sri Gaudiya Vaisnava dharma, but he also re-established its influence in Sri Vrndavana. Anyone who evaluates this accomplishment of his is sure to be struck with wonder by his uncommon genius. The Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas have composed the following verse in praise of his extraordinary work:
visvasya natharupo ’sau
[“Because he indicates the path of bhakti, he is known by the name Visvanatha, the Lord of the universe, and because he always remains in the assembly (cakra) of pure devotees, he is known by the name Cakravarti (he around whom a circle or assembly turns).”]
In the year 1754, on the fifth day of the light phase of the moon in the month of Magha (January–February), at approximately one hundred years of age, while absorbed in an internal condition at Sri Radha-kunda, he entered into aprakata (unmanifest) Vrndavana. Even today his samadhi can be found just next to the temple of Sri Gokulananda in Sri Vrndavana.
Following in the footsteps of Srila Rupa Gosvami, he composed abundant transcendental literatures about bhakti and thus established the inner heart’s longing of Sriman Mahaprabhu in this world. He also refuted various faulty conclusions opposed to the genuine following of Sri Rupa Gosvami (rupanuga). He is thus revered in Gaudiya Vaisnava society as an illustrious acarya and as an authoritative mahajana. He is renowned as a great transcendental philosopher, poet and rasika-bhakta. A Vaisnava composer of verse named Krsna dasa has written the following lines at the conclusion of his translation of Srila Cakravarti Thakura’s book Madhurya-kadambini:
madhurya-kadambini-grantha jagata kaila dhanya
cakravarti-mukhe vakta apani sri-krsna-caitanya
keha kahena-cakravarti sri-rupera avatara
kathina ye tattva sarala karite pracara
ohe guna-nidhi sri-visvanatha cakravarti
ki janiba tomara guna muni mudha-mati
[“Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has benedicted the whole world by writing the book Madhurya-kadambini. In reality, Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the speaker of this book. He has spoken it through the mouth of Sri Cakravarti. Some people say that Sri Cakravarti Thakura is an incarnation of Srila Rupa Gosvami. He is very expert in the art of describing extremely complex truths in an easily understandable manner. O ocean of mercy, Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura! I am a great fool. Kindly reveal the mystery of your transcendental qualities in my heart. This is my prayer at your lotus feet.”]
Among Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas there are very few who wrote as many books as Srila Cakravarti Thakura. Even today the following proverb regarding three of his books is quite famous amongst the Vaisnavas:
kirana-bindu-kana ei tina niye vaisnava-pana
[“These three books, Ujjvala-nilamani-kirana, Bhakti-rasamrtasindhu-bindu and Bhagavatamrta-kana, are taken by the Vaisnavas as their wealth.”]
The following is a list of his books and commentaries, which form a storehouse of incomparable wealth of Gaudiya Vaisnava devotional literature:
- Prema-samputam (Khanda-kavyam – a poetic work that displays only partial characteristics or ornamentation of poetry)
- Subodhini (commentary on Alankara-kaustubha)
- Ananda-candrika (commentary on Ujjvala-nilamani)
- commentary on Sri Gopala-tapani
- Sri Krsna-bhavanamrta
- Sri Bhagavatamrta-kana
- Sri Ujjvala-nilamani-kirana
- Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu-bindu
- Aisvarya-kadambini (unavailable)
- Sri Madhurya-kadambini
- commentary on Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu
- commentary on Dana-keli-kaumudi
- commentary on Sri Lalita-madhava-nataka
- commentary on Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (incomplete)
- commentary on Brahma-samhita
- Sarartha-varsini commentary on Srimad Bhagavad-gita
- Sarartha-darsini commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam
The full verse from Ujjvala-nilamani is as follows:
laghutvam atra yat proktam
tat tu prakrta nayake
na krsne rasa-niryasa-
[“Whatever fault or impropriety has been pointed out (in other rasa-sastras) in regard to the love of paramours applies to ordinary worldly lovers and not to Sri Krsna, for He is the taster of the liquid essence of rasa and the source of all incarnations. (In other words the Lord’s incarnations are the controllers of religion and irreligion and never subjected to their control. How then can Sri Krsna be subjected to such codes when He is the source of all incarnations?)”]