Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a major proponent of Vaisnava philosophy, played a significant role in spreading Krishna Consciousness. He inundated entire India in the 16th century with the chanting of the Hare Krishna Mahamantra – Hare Krsna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
Birth of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Caitanya Mahaprabhu was born in Mayapur, West Bengal, India on 18th Feb 1486. His father’s name was Jagannātha Miśra and mother’s name was Śacī-devī. During his childhood he was called as Gaurahari owing to his golden complexion. However, his mother called him Nimai because he was born near a neem tree. At the age of 5 he was admitted to a pathasala, school. By the age of 14 or 15 he became one of the most renowned and erudite scholars of Sanskrit and nyaya philosophy.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu initiation
At the age of 16 or 17 he took spiritual initiation from a great Vaisnava Sannyasi, Isvara Puri. After initiation he became a religious preacher, his teachings transformed the hearts of many. Some of his intimate and sincere followers were Nityanand Prabhu, Haridas Thakura, Murari Gupta, Advaita Prabhu and Srivasa Pandita. In fact, numerous preachers of Vainavism started to flock to Nadia to meet Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu wrote Siksastakam which comprises of eight verses. In the first verse he glorifies sankirtana i.e. the congregational chanting of the Hare Krishna Mahamantra.
“Glory to the Sri Krishna Sankirtana, which cleanses the heart of all the dust accumulated for years and extinguishes the fire of conditional life, of repeated birth and death. This sankirtana movement is the prime benediction for humanity at large because it spreads the rays of the benediction moon. It is the life of all transcendental knowledge. It increases the ocean of transcendental bliss, and it enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious.” Sri Siksastakam
Through his life and teachings, he has underlined the importance of chanting the names of Krishna.
In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that the only reason why people like you and me suffer in this world is because we have disassociated ourselves with Krishna. And the only way by which we can free ourselves from all our miseries is by reassociating with Krishna.
So, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who is an incarnation of Krishna says that if we just chant the names of Krishna then we will be able to reunite with Krishna. Chanting will also cleanse our hearts of lust, greed, pride, anger, envy and illusion. These are the vices because of which we indulge in sins which eventually becomes the cause of our suffering. But once we chant then holy name of Krishna, we will get freedom from these vices. And once our heart becomes pure, it will automatically get attracted to Krishna. Just like a rust-free iron bar get attracted to a magnet.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu spreads Krishna Consciousness
Mahaprabhu was full of compassion. So, he wanted to spread the holy name of Krishna in every nook and corner of the world. He instructed Prabhu Nityananda and Haridas to go to the streets, knock at every door and plead the inhabitants to chant the name of Lord Krishna.
suno suno nityananda, suno haridas sarvatra amar ajna koroho parkas
[Sri Caitanya-Bhagavata, Madhya-Khanda 13.8-10]
Denizens of Nadia were pleasantly surprised when Jagai and Madhai’s hearts were transformed. They were the most notorious and abominable figure of Nadia. But by the mercy of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu they became pure and devotees of Krishna. Mahaprabhu’s followers started increasing. Almost everyone in Nadia became devotees of Krishna, they all began chanting the names of Krishna.
When Chand Kazi, the chief magistrate of Navadvipa, tried to stop Mahaprabhu’s sankirtan movement then Mahaprabhu led a huge procession of the devotees to the residence of Chand Kazi. Mahaprabhu divided his Sankirtan into 14 groups; each devotee had a torch in his hand. Upon reaching Kazi’s house Mahaprabhu had a philosophical discussion with him. And finally Mahaprabhu was able to inculcate the Vaisnava philosophy in the heart of Kazi. Kazi lamented bitterly upon realizing his grave mistake and he himself decided to join the sankirtan party.
Why Chaitanya Mahaprabhu took sannyasa?
Mahaprabhu although a soft-hearted person was very strong in principles. Mahaprabhu’s preaching and his ever-increasing influence aroused jealously among some of the lowly minded brahmanas who decided to oppose Mahaprabhu. Mahaprabhu was of the belief that party feelings and sectarianism are the two biggest enemies of progress. He thought that as long as He will continue to identify Himself to a certain city (Nadia), and certain family His mission of spreading the message of Krishna will not succeed.
He no longer wanted to identify himself to certain city, certain family, caste and creed. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu thought that by taking sannyasa, he will be able to freely spread Krishna Consciousness. Therefore, at the age of 24 he decided to take sanyasa. After taking sanyasa Mahaprabhu travelled through entire India. He preached Vaisnavism and nama-sankirtan throughout the journey. On his way he preached pure bhakti and instilled Krishna Prema in the hearts of several people. And in this way thousands of people became devotees of Krishna.
Mahāprabhu’s spiritual ecstasy
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would exhibit transcendental ecstasy remembering Krishna. These spiritual emotions are not of this material world. So, it cannot be understood by everyone. Only those who have love for Krishna and those who are trying to become devotees of Krishna can comprehend such spiritual ecstasies.
And this is the reason that mundane historians and scholars say that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was suffering from epilepsy. Those who have never uttered the name of Krishna with love cannot understand someone who was madly in love with Krishna. It is their spiritual ignorance.
Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, the author of Chaitanya Charitamrita, knew that the mundane scholar will fail miserably to understand Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s devotional ecstasies. So, writes, “When transcendental love of Kṛṣṇa awakens in someone’s heart, even a learned scholar cannot comprehend his activities. The activities and symptoms of that exalted personality in whose heart love of Godhead has awakened cannot be understood even by the most learned scholar.” Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā, 19.104 – 105
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu although Krishna appeared as a devotee of Krishna to spread Krishna Consciousness. And so to understand him one has to become a devotee of Krishna.
Mahaprabhu came to Puri at the age of 31. And he continued to live there till his disappearance at the age of 48.