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Introduction One of the most prominent religious figures of India during the nineteenth century, Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa was a mystic and a yogi who translated…
Advaita Acharya (1434–1559), born Kamalaksha Bhattacharya, was said to be an incarnation of Krishna or Chaitanya in the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya, notable disciple and companion of the founder of the Gaudiya Vaishnava sect, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and guru of Haridasa Thakur. He was born at Navagrama-Laur village in the present-day Sylhet District of Bangladesh in 1434, some fifty years before Chaitanya, and spent most of his adult life in the town of Shantipur with his wife and family (Advaita Acharya had six sons, Acyutananda, Krsna Misra, Gopala Dasa, Balarama, Svarupa, and Jagadisa) teaching the philosophy of Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavata Purana and promoting Bhakti Yoga.
The ancestry and life of Advaita Acharya are narrated in a number of hagiographical works, which include the Balyalilasutra (1487) of Krishnadasa in Sanskrit and the Advaitasutrakadacha of Krishnadasa, the Advaitamangala of Haricharanadasa, the Advaitaprakasha of Ishana Nagara and the Advaitavilasa of Naraharidasa in Bengali.Many of his activities are described in the Chaitanya Charitamrta, the Chaitanya Mangala, and the Chaitanya Bhagavata.
Advaita Acharya appeared in the village of Navagrama near the city of Sylhet as the son of the Varendra Brahmin Kubera Pandit and his wife Nabha Devi, on the seventh day of the waxing moon in the month of Magh. Kubera Pandit is identified in the Gaura-ganoddesha-Dipika (v. 91) with the original god Kubera, who was Mahadeva’s friend and leader of the Guhyakas.
Kubera Pandit, a devotee of Nrisingha, resided in the village of Navagrama near Sylhet in Bangladesh. He was a greatly fortunate follower of the path of devotion; he knew nothing other than the lotus feet of Krishna. His devoted and faithful wife was named Nabha Devi. She is worshipable to the whole world for she is the mother of Advaita Prabhu.
On the seventh day of the waxing moon in the month of Magh, the great ocean of joy overflowed. In that auspicious moment, the moon of Advaita descended in the blessed womb of Nabha Devi. In his ecstasy, Kubera Pandit gave in charity to the Brahmins and the poor. He tiptoed to the birthing room and his heart was filled with gladness upon seeing his son’s face. All the villagers came running to his house and said to each other, “What pious works did this Brahmin do that in his old age he has been blessed with such a jewel of a son?” The gods rained down flowers without being seen. There is nothing with which this scene can compare. Ghanashyama sings of this great auspicious occasion when a joyous uproar rang around the earth. (Bhakti-ratnakara 12.1759-62)
In the Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana, Advaita’s birthplace is given as Laura Gram. It is also said there that Advaita Prabhu left Laura to go to live in Sylhet and then from there moved to Shantipur. He also had a home in Nabadwip. His full name was Sri Kamalaksha or Kamala Kanta Vedapanchanana. His birth took place in 1434 AD and he disappeared in the year 1559, at the age of 125 years.
Jahnava Mata’s Diksha disciple Nityananda Das wrote in his Prema-vilasa that Advaita’s birthplace is to be found in Shantipur. He writes that Advaita studied the Veda and other scriptures with the scholar Shantacharya, who lived in the Phullabati section of Shantipur and earned from him the title Acharya. Advaita’s life has been described in several Bengali books, including Advaita-Mangala, Advaita-vilasa, and Sitacaritra. In the Advaita-vilasa it is written, “The Lord remained on this earth for a century and a quarter, performing unlimited pastimes.”
Advaita Prabhu’s Travels
When Kubera Pandit and Nabha Devi disappeared, Advaita went to Gaya on the pretext of performing the appropriate rituals of mourning, and thence continued on a pilgrimage tour of all of India’s holy places. When he came to Vrindavan, he became absorbed in the worship of Krishna, but through his meditation, he was able to understand that Krishna was about to appear in Nabadwip. While on this pilgrimage tour, he came to Mithila where he met the poet Vidyapati. This encounter is beautifully described in the Advaitavilasa. Advaita Prabhu finally returned from Vrindavan to Shantipur after spending several days in Nabadwip. The people of Shantipur had been suffering from his separation for a long time and were very happy to see him back.
Advaita had two wives; one was named Sri, the other Sita. In the Gaura-ganoddesha-Dipika, it is written that the divine Yogamaya took the form of Advaita’s wife Sita and that Sri is her prakasha expansion.
Advaita Acharya also had two residences, one in Shantipur, the other not far from Srivasa’s home in Nabadwip-Mayapur. His heart was greatly pained at seeing that the people of the world were devoid of any devotion to Vishnu and were as a consequence greatly suffering the pains of material life. Overwhelmed with compassion, he began to teach the Bhagavad-gita and Bhagavat, explaining that the purport of the scriptures was to engage in devotional service to Krishna. At about the same time, Madhavendra Puri had a dream in which Govardhanadhari Gopal commanded him to find sandalwood paste for the Deity service. Madhavendra then started out for Puri, taking the road through western Bengal. While there, he stopped at Advaita’s house in Shantipur. Advaita became convinced to accept Madhavendra Puri as his guru when he saw his devotional ecstasies, even though he himself is an expansion of the supreme lord. He underwent this ritual in order to demonstrate to the conditioned souls the necessity of accepting a spiritual master.
Madhavendra Puri arrived at the house of Advaita Acharya. When Advaita saw Puripada’s Prema, he felt a deep inner joy. So, he took care to receive the mantra from him, after which Madhavendra left to continue his voyage to the south.
It is said that Mahaprabhu is the main trunk of the wish-fulfilling tree of devotion, as well as the gardener who enjoys and distributes the tree’s fruits. Though the tree was planted in Nabadwip, it grew in Purushottam Dham (Puri) and Vrindavan, expanding into an entire orchard producing many, many fruits of love. Madhavendra Puri is said to be the first seedling, which eventually grew into this tree. Isvara Puri was the nourished form of this seedling. Mahaprabhu, though himself the gardener, also became the tree’s main trunk through his inconceivable energies. Advaita and Nityananda were the two secondary trunks into which the main trunk divided.
Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the main body of the devotional movement, and Advaita and Nityananda are the limbs. All three of them became incarnate, along with Srivasa and other devotees, in order to preach devotion to Hari. All those who were senior to Gauranga appeared on this earth prior to him. Advaita appeared along with the other elderly members of Chaitanya’s retinue and when he did so, he observed that the sinfulness of the age of Kali had reached a disturbing limit and that the world was entirely devoid of devotion to Krishna. He thought that a partial incarnation of the lord would not be sufficient to completely bring about the welfare of the earth in this state. He thought, “The world will only benefit if the Supreme Personality of Godhead himself descends to the earth.” So he began to worship Krishna’s lotus feet with Ganges water and Tulasi leaves, shouting and pleading to the lord to become incarnate. With roars of love (prema-hunkara) Advaita showed his desire for the Lord of Goloka to descend to the earth.
Although six sons were born to Advaita Acharya, the incarnation of Maha Vishnu, he indicated that some of them had understood the essence of spiritual life and some had not. Those who simply claimed to be his followers but showed no affection for Gauranga were the latter; those who were attached to Mahaprabhu in ever-increasing affection were the former. These included Achyutananda, Sri Krishna Mishra, and Gopal Mishra, while Balaram, Svarupa, and Jagadisa belonged to the category of those who did not recognize Chaitanya. Achyutananda was the oldest brother and Sri Krishna Mishra and Gopal Mishra followed his lead. The Chaitanya Charitamrita (Cf. 1.12.12) compares the two groups to the wheat and chaff.
Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati also writes in his Gaudiya-bhashya to the Chaitanya Bhagavat (2.10.162), “If someone takes Advaita Acharya to be the best of all the Vaishnavas, then he can be called a Vaishnava. On the other hand, if someone considers him to be the object of all religious life, the vishaya Krishna, and Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to be his devotee or ashraya, then he will never be able to attain Krishna’s lotus feet.”
It is also said that Mahaprabhu taught Advaita the real meaning of the Bhagavad-gita.
Vishvambhara explained the true understanding of the Gita to Advaita, he hid the gates which held back the understanding of bhakti.
Another wonderful pastime was prepared by Advaita in order to show the fallen jivas how auspicious it is to receive punishment from the Lord, or from the guru or a Vaishnava. How fortunate is a devotee who is chastised by his guru! This is described in the seventeenth chapter of the Chaitanya Charitamrita, about which Bhaktivinoda Thakur has made the following comments in his Amrita-pravaha-bhashya: “Advaita Acharya is the godbrother of Mahaprabhu’s guru, Isvara Puri. For this reason, Mahaprabhu treated Advaita as his elder and spiritual master, even though Advaita considered himself to be Mahaprabhu’s servant. Advaita was pained to see Mahaprabhu treat him with such respect and so, in order to seek out the merciful punishment of the lord returned to Shantipur and began to explain the path of knowledge to a few unfortunate individuals. When the Lord caught wind of this, he became extremely angry and went to Shantipur to give him a good thrashing. When he was thrashed in this way, Advaita danced for joy, saying, “Look. My desires have been fulfilled today! Mahaprabhu was previously miserly with me, treating me as his respectful elder. Now he has acted toward me as though I were his servant or disciple, by trying to save me from the heresy of mayavada.” When the Lord understood that this had all been a ruse on Advaita’s part, he was embarrassed but pleased with Lord’s mercy, Sadashiva plays two different roles in Vraja, in/div/div on/div e he is Shiva himself, in the other, he is a cowherd boy.
The Lord treated Advaita with the respect deserved by a guru. This caused the Acharya great distress, so he adopted a ruse of teaching the path of knowledge. Mahaprabhu became angry and scorned Advaita, causing him great bliss. When he saw his satisfaction with the turn of events, the Lord became ashamed and was merciful to him.
“Previously Mahaprabhu would honor me. This (Chaitanya Charitamrita 1.1.12-13) made me unhappy, so I thought that if I start giving lectures on the Yoga-vashishtha, explaining Mukti as the supreme goal of life, the lord would become angry and insult me.
Advaita Acharya was Mahaprabhu’s associate in sankirtan, both in Srivasa’s house and in the streets of Nabadwip and along the shores of the Ganges.
Everyone sang together in great joy, “Krishna Rama Mukunda, Murari, Vanamali!” Holding on to Nityananda and Gadadhara, Advaita, like a lion ran in every direction.
The Lord danced along the banks of the Bhagirathi while all around him all the people sang the names of Hari. Advaita Acharya preceded him, dancing ecstatically with a small group of devotees.
After Mahaprabhu had taken sannyasa from Keshava Bharati in Katwa, he became overwhelmed with love for Krishna and started to run toward Vrindavan. With the help of some cowherd boys, Nityananda Prabhu tricked him into coming to the banks of the Ganges. Nityananda wanted to show him to the people of Navadwip and wanted to bring him to Shantipur. When Mahaprabhu saw the Ganges, he thought that it was the Yamuna and became ecstatic. Meanwhile, Advaita had heard that Nityananda had brought Mahaprabhu there and came by boat across the river with new clothes for him. Mahaprabhu was astonished to see Advaita, wondering how he could have known that he was in Vrindavan. Advaita answered by saying that Vrindavan was there wherever Mahaprabhu went and that the western flow of the Ganges was the Yamuna. When he heard these words, Mahaprabhu realized that he had been tricked into coming to the western bank of the Ganges across from the town of Shantipur. Advaita had him take a bath and dressed him in the new cloth and then took him to his house where he stayed for several days.
When Sachi and the people of Navadwip heard that Gaurahari was at Advaita’s they all came there to visit him. Seeing him in his dress as a sannyasi, they were felt joy mixed with separation. Sita Thakurani prepared an immense meal and served it on whole leaves from seed-banana trees. As Mahaprabhu and Nityananda ate, Advaita Prabhu talked and joked with them. This has been extensively described in the Chaitanya Charitamrita’s Madhya-Lila, chapter 3. Mahaprabhu afterward also ate foodstuffs prepared by Sachidevi in order to ease the suffering he had imposed on her by his departure. The reunion of Devotees turned into a great festival, and Advaita’s house in the town of Shantipur was transformed into the city of Vaikuntha.
Everyone was dancing and singing the names of Hari. Advaita’s house became the city of Vaikuntha.
When Mahaprabhu was saying his goodbyes to the Devotees, he set off to Puri or Nilachala to live there at the behest of his mother. Advaita and the residents of Navadwip were once again hurled into the ocean of separation from their Lord. These events took place in the year 1510. It was probably three more years before the Devotees went to Puri during the caturmasya period to visit him there at the time of the Rathayatra.
The first year, Advaita and the other Devotees went to Nilachala to see Mahaprabhu’s lotus feet. They witnessed the Rathayatra and then stayed for four months, passing the time in kirtan and dancing in great joy. When the time came for them to depart, the Lord told everyone to return every year to see the Rathayatra festival. And so the yearly trips to Puri to see the Lord became an institution.
Of the last 24 years of Mahaprabhu’s life, six were spent in traveling to and from Puri, while He spent the last eighteen there without ever leaving. During the six years that He was traveling, the Bengali Devotees would first find out whether He was present in Puri before going. During the eighteen years of Mahaprabhu’s permanent stay in Puri, the annual trips became a matter of course.
After Mahaprabhu arrived in Puri, returning from Vrindavan, He never again left in the eighteen remaining years of his life. The Devotees came from Bengali every year, meeting with the Lord and staying for the four months of the rainy season.
The place on the banks of the Ganga where Sri Advaita Acharya worshiped the shaligram shila and called out to the Lord to descend to the world is known today as Babla. A temple has been built in memory of Advaita Acharya’s pastimes there.
Credit – Gaudiya history
Credit – Wikipedia