The Biography of Sri Nityananda Prabhu

 

Taken from the book 'Sri Pancha-tattva: The Five Features of God''

By His Grace Satyaraja dasa Adhikari (Steven J. Rosen) (used with permission)

nityanandam aham vande karne lambita-mauktikam caitanyagraja-rupena pavitri-krta-bhutalam  

"Salutations to Sri Nityananda Prabhu, Who has a single pearl suspended from one of His ears, Who is the elder brother of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and Who is the purifier of the world."  

Curiously, there is no authoritative biography of Nityananda Prabhu; and while Rupa, Jiva, and Raghunatha [Gosvamis] do not even mention him once in their collective writings, Sanatana Gosvami refers to him only briefly in the invocation of his Vaisnava-tosani. Nonetheless, the world is fortunate that Mahaprabhu's biographers have devoted large sections of their work to Nityananda's life, which can be pieced together from this massive literature, and also from later medieval Vaisnava texts, such as Bhakti-ratnakara and Prema-vilasa.  Nityananda Prabhu was born in the village of Ekcaka, also called Ekacakra, in the country of Rahri (Radhadesa), some eight miles east of where today stands the Mallarpura station of the E.I. Railway (within the modern Birbhum District of West Bengal). His birthsite is commemorated by a small temple named Garbhavasa and is visited by throngs of pilgrims to this day. Although no authorized account of His birth is extant, it is said that He was born in or near the year 1474 and that His father's name was Hadai Ojha. Hadai was a well known pandita, having descended from a good brahmana family whose origins were in Mithila; and his wife's name was Padmavati. Their only son, Nityananda, was born on the auspicious thirteenth day of the bright fortnight of the month of Magh. This auspicious day was made even more auspicious by Nityananda Prabhu's birth. 

 As a child, Nitai, as He was called, had a close circle of friends, and together they used to imitate the pastimes of Krsna and His associates. Once, they dressed themselves as demigods and petitioned the Lord to alleviate the burdened Earth of Kali-yuga. Nityananda Prabhu and a playmate who was dressed as the ailing Earth, along with the other children, took their game to the Ganges, where they addressed Lord Visnu. At that time, one of the children hid behind a rock and spoke in a grave voice, "I will soon be born in Mathura to lighten the oppression of the Earth." The boys enjoyed themselves, as children do, while becoming completely absorbed in Krsna's lila.  On another occasion, Nitai and His friends gathered in an imitation "village" to celebrate the marriage of Vasudeva and Devaki, the parents of Krsna. The following day, they made their playhouse into the prison of Kamsa and enacted the entire story of Krsna's birth. Once, while acting out this episode, Nitai transformed the area into a cowherd settlement and took "Krsna" there, deceiving Kamsa by substituting Yogamaya for Krsna within the prison. Performing these intricately-woven stories on a daily basis, the children became quite close and came to love Nitai as their natural leader and friend. He was the most imaginative among them, and they all laughed and shared joyful exchanges when He would dress them like demons. When they staged the Putana story, for example, they would engage in uproarious laughter when one of their friends pretended to suck the demoness's breasts like baby Krsna. Sometimes Nitai would construct demons out of toys, naming them Bakasura, Aghasura, Vatsasura, and so on and would go through the motions of battling with them and finally killing them. His friends were so entertained by His play-acting that they would come back day after day just to see Him do it again and again.

Once in a while, His friends would take the roles of the elephant Kuvalayapida or the wrestlers Canura and Mustika: Nitai would play-fight with them, knock them down, and drag them off by the hair. By the end of the day, their stomachs would ache from laughter, and they would tell their parents about the great fun enjoyed with Nitai in play-acting.  Sometimes Nitai would bring His friends to the local milk-man and have them watch Him steal butter and yogurt, as Krsna did in His Vraja lila. The milkman, of course, did not complain. In fact, he was an accomplice, setting aside excess dairy for Nitai and His friends, expecting them to show up. All the adults of Ekacakra adored Nitai. They were fascinated by this unique little boy, and they loved Him as their own. Seeing His total absorption in Krsna and the avataras of Visnu, they suspected that He might be some sort of Incarnation Himself. He was relentless, day after day enacting a different pastime, and did it so skillfully that His neighbors wondered, "How is it that He is so talented? How does He know the stories so well? No one has explained all these details to Him." One day He imitated Krsna's pastime of lifting Govardhana Hill, with all aspects of the story acted out perfectly. On another, He constructed a replica of Vrndavana, performing many parts of Krsna's Vraja-lila with marked realism, and on still another, He pretended to steal the clothes of the gopis and visit the wives of the brahmanas engaged in sacrifice. On one occasion, one of the boys dressed as Akrura and took Krsna and Balarama away from Vrndavana on the order of Kamsa. Nitai cried in grief, feeling the separation of the gopis. Tears of love flowed from His eyes. His acting was so authentic that it made all who watched question whether He was merely acting or in some way experiencing the part He played. This was true whether He was playing Krsna, Balarama, or even Vamana, or other Incarnations of the Lord.  "Nitai, where have you learned all this?" one of the neighborhood ladies asked. Nityananda enjoyed her question. "They are My own divine pastimes," He said, "and I am allowing you to see them." The townspeople laughed, shaking their heads. They did not know what to make of Him. 

 Among His most convincing roles was that of Laksmana, the brother of Rama, which in point of fact intimated His divine identity as Balarama. The boys and adults, who watched Him perform, were covered by the yogamaya potency and could only relish their relationship with Him as little Nitai of Ekacakra. This is elaborated upon in Vrndavanadasa Thakura's Caitanya-bhagavata (Adi-lila, Chapter Nine). Nityananda Prabhu in the guise of Laksmana spoke dramatically. For example, standing outside a make-believe version of Sugriva's palace, He said in a fit of anger, "Come out, you wretched monkey! My Lord, Rama, is not pleased by your actions. He is waiting for the resolution to our dilemma, which you hold in your hands while you leisurely sit around, making merry and enjoying low-class women. If I am to spare your life then go to Rama as fast as you can and offer Him your help!" In this way, Nitai and His friends performed scene after scene from the lila of Rama and Laksmana. Since Nityananda was actually Balarama, of whom Laksmana is an Incarnation, He experienced the various moods of Rama's younger brother. He often added appropriate dialogue that displayed His personal involvement in the role, and His audience invariably vacillated between believing that He was only playing a part to feeling that there was something supernatural about His entirely believable play-acting. As He entered into a second identity that only He could fully see, the residents of Ekacakra were given a hint of His divine identity. Some of them knew that Nityananda's acting constituted a play within a play, and that this inner play was a manifestation of the highest reality of life: the lila of the Lord.  For the first twelve years of his manifest lila, Nityananda Prabhu stayed in Ekacakra and shared loving pastimes with His neighbors.

Just before His thirteenth year, however, a traveling mendicant, whom some say was the distinguished saint Laksmipati Tirtha, came to His home and was welcomed as a guest by Hadai Pandita, Nityananda's affectionate father. With deep respect and brahminical hospitality, Hadai Pandita offered his eminent guest all that he had. "Please feel free to take whatever you like," he said. "My home is your home." The visiting ascetic explained that his was a simple life, and that his needs were minimal. However, he said, he needed a traveling companion, and young Nitai would be an appropriate person for such a service. Reluctantly, Hadai Pandita agreed to let his son go. After all, he had promised to give the sannyasi whatever he needed, and to deny him his desire would be to abrogate a fundamental scriptural injunction.  Nityananda Prabhu had been wanting to go to Navadvipa for some time, but it was about 100 miles north of Ekacakra, and He was just a young boy. He knew that Mahaprabhu had already appeared in the world and was involved in childhood pastimes in which He was concealing His mission and His divine identity. "I will enjoy going to holy places of pilgrimage with this wonderful sannyasi," Nityananda Prabhu thought, "and after some time, when Mahaprabhu is ready, I will go to Navadvipa." In this way, Nityananda happily departed Ekacakra with the traveling ascetic. But His happiness was not shared by His parents. It was like a nightmare for them. How had they agreed to let the sannyasi take their beloved son Nitai? What had come over them? They felt that they must have been covered by a blanket of illusion to let their young Nitai go. He would be living a hard life, they thought, always on the road; and because of this they would miss His sweet association. The aging Hadai Pandita could not tolerate Nitai's absence and, after some time, he passed away, bitten by the snakebite of separation.  

Nitai traveled from holy place to holy place for the next twenty years, until He was thirty-two, receiving instruction and friendship from His elderly sannyasi companion. Among other pilgrimage sites, He went to Vaidyanatha, Gaya, Kasi, Prayaga, Hastinapura, Dvaraka, Siddhapura, Siva-kanci, Visnu-kanci, Kuruksetra, Pravasa, Naimisaranya, Ayodhya, Haridvara, Godavari, Mathura, and Vrndavana. He journeyed the length and breadth of India and sanctified the subcontinent by His presence, making holy places even holier. His pastime of traveling is reminiscent of Balarama, who traveled extensively, visiting all major places of pilgrimage as the battle at Kuruksetra waged on.  According to the Bhakti-ratnakara, Nitai spent extended time in the holy land of Pandarpura (Maharastra), where His other self, Visvarupa (Mahaprabhu's elder brother), had passed away. At this time, He absorbed Visvarupa's sakti into His own being. This is confirmed in Caitanya-bhagavata (Adi 6.81) and in the Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika (65). 

 As Nitai continued to travel, feeling the ecstasy of these sacred areas, He manifested His avadhuta nature more and more; His mode of activity and general behavior became increasingly unexplainable and erratic; no one could understand what motivated Him or why He behaved in the way that He did. For example, He was known to dance ecstatically with the cloth meant to cover His loins wrapped instead around His head. Or He would sit in Malini's lap and suck her breast as though He were a baby - she was well beyond child-bearing age and He a man of thirty-two years; but what is more, His sucking actually brought forth milk! Nityananda Prabhu's strange behavior will be explored further in the next verse.  

continued on next page...