The volume entitled "Sri Chaitanya in the Religious life of India" is a comprehensive account of the life, activities and philosophy of Sri Chaitanya with particular reference to Orissa, where he spent long eighteen years of his life in the midst of a group of devout devotees and learned companions. Puri, one of the greatest centres of Vaisnavism in Eastern India, provided him facilities and opportunities for preaching his doctrine through mass samkirtana and also through the medium of regional language. The research papers of eminent scholars incorporated in the book throw a new light on the saint and his activities. All available materials-Literary, epigraphic and archaeological have been dealt with interestingly. The book, on account of presentation of data in a chronological order and lucid style will be useful as a reference book to historians, philosophers, religious savants and even to the general readers.
The decision to bring out a volume on Sri Chaitanya with particular reference to' Orissa on the occasion of his 500th death centenary was taken in a meeting of the Sri Chaitanya Centenary Committee held under the chairmanship of Dr. H. K. Mahtab in 1986 and accordingly reputed scholars were requested to contribute papers. But several factors intervened to delay matters, and it could not be 'sent to the press only in the middle of 1987. However, the book is enriched with a good number of research papers by the erudite scholars touching upon various aspects of the miraculous life and philosophy of Sri Chaitanya with specific reference to Orissa, where he spent long eighteen years 0If his life. The specialty of the book is that it cover certain important aspects which have not been highlighted in the volumes on Sri Chaitanya published so far. As for example, the route traversed by him from Nadia to Neelachala, his religious activities on the way, the favourable situation at the then Puri conducive to his preaching, Vaisnavism in Orissa at the time of hi advent etc. make the volume interesting and useful to the general readers and scholars in the disciplines of history and religion.
It is an established fact that Sri Chaitanya, the protagonist of neo-Vaisnavism, a redeemer of the troubled and suffering society, an initiator of a new movement through a novel method of mass samkirtana thus attracting people of all castes, sects and creed and an upholder of the cult of Radha and Krsna, ushered in a new era in the religious history of India. Through his preaching Bhakti, the Religion of Love reached the highest water-mark intensely touching upon the heart of the people of all age levels, His religious movement miraculously changed the face of Eastern India, and there was not one cultural aspect of the life of the people that was not touched by its versatility. He was perhaps the only illustrious religious saint of medieval India who was deified during his life time as an incarnation of Sri Krsna and his Bhakti renaissance triumphed miraculously over all other religious sects. His faith, love and devotion remained untinctured by dogmatism and unstinted by bigotry, His religious order and tenet still continue to be a living cultural force not only ~1lI India but' in the Western countries also. Thus Sri Chaitanya's life is the best example of the triumph of faith, devotion and love.
It is pertinent to note here that religion is 'the main facet of culture. In emphasising religion in culture, T. S. Eliot writes, "the first important assertion is that no culture has appeared or developed except together with a religion; according to the point of view of the observer" the culture will appear to be the product of the religion or the religion the product of the culture". This connotation is particularly significant in understanding the religion-based Indian culture. This has been possible on account of the universal approach of popular religious creed. The doctrine preached by Sri Chaitanya changed the trend of Indian culture and his influence pervaded the entire country and the emotional upsurge ever to be marked in the history of religion.
The socio-religious condition of Bengal at the time of Sri Chaitanya's birth was quite different from what it was when he left for Orissa with a team of his followers. Under the Muslim rule the Hindu social order in Bengal was greatly disturbed. In the Hindu religious performance more attention was given to elaboration and outward gaiety and show. The high and middle class people were more concerned with acquisition of wealth by coaxing the Muslim rulers and officials. The Government official, the Brahmins and other elites frowned upon the Vaisnavas and criticised their performances as irreligious, irrational and against the traditional order. Worship of Manasa (goddess of snake) and' Mangal-Chandi was widely practised in the name of religion. Even the Brahmins who were formally to act according to religious prescriptions took delight in pursuit Of worldly affairs. The Bhakti cult was at its lowest ebb; it had only a few followers like Srivasa, Murari Gupta, Sridhara, Haridas and Advaitacharya who later on became the chief compatriots of Sri Chaitanya. In such an unfavourable situation Sri Chaitanya passed twenty two years of his life earning the reputation as a talented scholar and a successful teacher. His travel to Gaya for the purpose of offering pinda in honour of the departed soul of his father was a turning point in his life and in the history of Vaisnavism; His initiation into the Bhakti cult at Gaya by Isvar Puri the disciple of Madhavendra Puri had a marvellous effect on him bringing to his heart the most fascinating charms Of Sri Krsna. Thus the Vaisnava cult of Madhavendra Puri was developed by Sri Chaitanya and his followers into a full-grown system with a philosophy and theology of its own. Hence it is 'said, "Madhavendra is described as the seed, Isvara Puri as the sprout, Sri Chaitanya as the trunk, Advaitya and Nityananda, his most prominent lieutenants, as the two main branches, and their followers as minor branches etc. of the great tree of loving devotion".
Sri Chaitanya's meeting with Raya Ramananda, a great Vaisnava and the Kalingan Governor at Rajmahendry, was an epoch-making event in the history of Vaisnavism, as the former could elicit the detailed idea of the Radha-Krsna cult from the latter through enchanting dialogue."Passionately did the Master embrace him and both humbled down on the ground in excess of devotion, senseless with love, inert or perspiring, weeping, trembling with their hair stranding on end, pale of hus and lisping Krsna". The most important aspect of their dialogue for ten days in philosophical background of Radha-Krsna cult and theory of rasa, the main tanets of GaudiyaVaisnavism. In a true sense the last part of their dialogue in elucidating the essence of Krsna and! Radha and categories of Rasa and preman is the basis of neo-Vaisnavism. Chaitanya asked, "Since Krsna eloped with Radha for: fear of the Gopis, His love for Radha could not have been very deep. But if you can prove that for Radha's sake Krsna openly forshook the other Gopis, then only I 'shall be convinced that He loved her passionately". Ramananda benignly replied, "Listen then to, the glory of preman; there is no other example of love like Radha's in the universe. Krsna left the rasa dance and wept as he began to search for Radha". Citing an example from Gita-Govinda he said, "Krsna's passion for Radha was the shackle which tied him to desires; meditating on Radha He left the beautiful girls of Vraja. Wounded by Cupid's arrows, Krsna began to search for Radha, and then, with a penitent heart, sat lamenting in the bower on the bank of the Yamuna. An analysis of these two verses will yield a well of nectar. A billion of Gopis could not relieve Him of his passion for Radha, SO exalted is her qualities".
Charmed at the narration Sri Chaitanya wanted: to hear the essence (Svarupa) ad' Krsna and Radha and the categories of rasa and preman. The enchanted Ramananda went on explaining the obstruse principles and said that human intellect cannot go beyond this. But Sri Chaitanya went on enquiring again and again to' elicit further the mysteries of Radha-Krsna preman. To satisfy the master Ramananda recited a Vrajabuli song of his Own composition and Sri Chaitanya prevented him from speaking further by clasping his mouth and emotionally said, "Yes, this indeed is the ultimate goal". Ramananda then explained the mysterious process of mystic realization. "To attain Krsna, one should adopt the attitude of a Gopi and continuously meditate on the dalliance of Radha and Krsna. One must give up the ideas of magnificence associated with Krsna, and submit to. the Gopis, otherwise, one can never attain Rim, as indeed' even Laksmi failed to do, though she worshipped Him". Hearing this Sri Chaitanya embraced Ramananda and emotional tears rolled! down from their eyes. Sri Chaitanya was so much impressed that he wanted Ramananda's company at Puri for the rest of his life.
The above dialogue relates that really Ramananda unfolded the doctrinaire- metaphysics to Chaitanya, Later on the Vrindavana-goswamins, and Krsnadas Kaviraj elaborated the basic tenet into an elaborate philosophical system.Chaitanya Charitamrta's description of the famous dialogue is thus a great historical event. Its value for a proper understanding of the philosophy of Gaudiya Vaisnavism is virtually inestimable. It is an established fact that the elucidation of Radha-Krsna premam, and identification of Hladini sakti with Radha are Ramananda's contribution to Gaudiya Vaisnavism.
Sri Chaitanya's long eighteen years stay .at Puri (in Kashi Mishra's house- which later came to' be known as famous Gambhira, a part of Radhakanta Math) with a group of devout devotees and learned compatriots, was responsible in spread of his neo-Vaisnavism mainly through mass Samkirtana. His group of' devotees at Puri was quite large, as many as 12,000 according to the Sunya Samhita. Ramananda and Vasudeva Sarvabhauma were his chief and eminent disciples. The king Prataparudra and his family members being the Master's devoted devotees provided all facilities for spread of his faith in Orissa. Of his many disciples in the core group mention may be made of Madhavi Dasi, sikhi Mohanty, a 'Scribe of Jagannath temple, Janardana, Gopala Guru, Murad Visnu Dasa, Srinatha Misra, Ramachandra, Paramananda, Haridasa, Jagannatha Mohanty, Rai Champati, Tulasi Parichha, Balaram Dasa, Achyutananda, Yasovanta Dasa, some of whom figure prominently in spread of the new trend through their forceful and lyrical writings in regional language.
Sri Chaitanya and his neo-Vaisnavism had tremendous effect on the then socio-religious order of Orissa. The tenets of the faith were incorporated in the cult of Jagannatha which over the ages has proved its receptivity of what is good in all the faiths. The Vedic Brahmanas of this country, failed to oppose this neo-Vaisnavism although they had, at first, no real sympathy for it. The interplay of different systems of Vaisnavism and Tantricism, then existing in this part of the country, actually transformed the Cult of Bhakti into an eclectic form of Vaisnavism, Sri Chaitanya's emphasis on five items such as (1) to keep company with the devotees of Krsna discuss about Krsna and His Was and thus creating an inspiring atmosphere of devotion, (2) to chant constantly the name of .Krsna, (3) to hear the narration of Krsna pastimes etc. (4) to reside at Vrndavana, the place of Krsna's manifest lilas, mentally, if not physically, (5) to worship His image, firmly believing that it is He Himself made his faith acceptable to people of all castes, faiths and creed. He attached great importance to the chanting of Krsna's name, which alone may uplift one to the highest level of spirituality, and for this reason that the scriptures of the Bhakti cult admit no .difference between Him and His name.
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