The Aim of Life - Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Radha and Krishna, by M.A.R. Chughtai, courtesy N.G.M.A, New Delhi

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy of Divine Love


If we study the lives of God-lovers, we find that love for God comes to them in many ways. It may come as an awakening to the beauty of the Lover, by the sight of an ideal face and image of Him, by his mysterious hints of Himself behind the thousand faces of things in the world, by a slow or sudden need of the heart, by a vague thirst in the soul, by the sense of someone near drawing them or pursuing them with love, or someone blissful and beautiful whom they must discover. There are also instances where one seeks after Him passionately and pursues the unseen Beloved. But also the Lover whom one thinks not of, may pursue us, may come upon us in the midst of the world and seize us for His own, whether at first we will or not. There is a striking instance of that latter case in the life of a most remarkable figure in medieval India: Sri Chaitanya.

As the reader will see in the story of his life which follows, Sri Chaitanya for the first part of his existence was simply Nimai Pandit, a man of knowledge and intellectual pursuit, a teacher of grammar and syllogisms. Not only was he not in the slightest way devoted or attracted to Krishna, but in addition he mocked and ridiculed the bhaktas in his hometown. Then he experienced a sudden conversion and became Chaitanya the bhakta of Krishna. This bhakta at times seemed to be possessed by the presence of Krishna, to know himself to be Krishna, to speak, move and appear with the light of the Godhead — none around him could think of or see him as anything else when he was in this glorified and transfigured condition. At other times he fell

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

back to the consciousness of the bhakta, and refused to consider himself as anything more.

According to the Indian theory of Avatarhood, in the process of evolution — the progressive manifestation of the Divine, or Spirit, in its innumerable material forms — an incarnation of the Divine consciousness in a physical body becomes necessary at times of the evolutionary process when a certain grade of consciousness must be surpassed. In the case of Sri Chaitanya, it may be considered that the secret Divine Consciousness had been waiting to manifest until after the conversion; and even then it manifested intermittently, because the main work of Chaitanya was to establish the type of a spiritual and psychic bhakti in the emotional-vital part of man, thus preparing that part in us to turn towards the Divine, at any rate, to fix the possibility of such a turn in man s nature. It was not that there had not been the emotional type of bhakti before; but the completeness of it, the elan, the vital s rapture in it had never manifested as it manifested in Sri Chaitanya. If he had always remained in the Krishna-consciousness his work would never have been done; he would have been the Lord to whom all give bhakti, but not the supreme example of the divine ecstatic bhakta. Still, the occasional manifestation showed who he was, and this is why his contemporaries saw in him Krishna, an Avatar of Divine Love, and revered him as God incarnate even during his life-time.

Love is a passion and it seeks for two things, eternity and intensity, and, as revealed in the experience of the mystics in the relation of the Lover and Beloved, the seeking for eternity and for intensity is instinctive and self-born. Love is a seeking for mutual possession, and it is in Divine Love that the demand for mutual possession becomes absolute. Desire of possession, which means a difference, is surpassed by a seeking for oneness, and it is here that the idea of oneness, of two souls merging into each other and becoming one, finds the acme of its longing and the completeness of its satisfaction. Love, too, is a yearning for beauty, and it is in Divine Love that the yearning is eternally satisfied in the vision and the touch and the joy of the All- beautiful. Love is a child and a seeker of Delight, and it is here that it finds the highest possible ecstasy both of the heart-consciousness and of every fibre of the being.

The relation of Love is that which, as between human being and human being, demands the most and, even while reaching the greatest intensities, is still the least satisfied, because, the God-lovers tell us, only in the Divine can it find its real and its utter satisfaction. Therefore it is here most that the turning of human emotion Godwards finds its full meaning and discovers all the truth of which love is the human symbol.

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

It is said that there are intensities of love where all its essential instincts are divinised, raised, satisfied in the bliss from which our life was born and towards which by oneness it returns, in the Ananda of the Divine existence where Love is absolute, eternal and unalloyed. Such is the possibility which is awaiting us if we choose to make of it the aim of our life; in fact, even if we don't, it may still happen to us, as to Sri Chaitanya, whose life we are going to read now.

India, February 27, 1486. It was the night of the lunar eclipse, and most of the people of Navadip, Bengal, were out on the bank of the holy Ganges, observing and celebrating the event. As the chants of "Hari" filled the air, a son was born to Jagannath Mishra and his wife Shashi. Of their eight other children, only Visvarup, their first son, had survived. The happy parents did not know that their new-born child was to become a famous Sannyasin, revered throughout India as Sri Krishna Chaitanya, an incarnation of Sri Krishna himself. Named Vishwamber, the little boy was soon called Gaura or Gauranga — "the golden one" — because of his exceptional physical beauty, and nicknamed Nimai — "of bitter taste" — to ward off the evil eye.

Throughout his childhood, Nimai kept an extraordinary fondness for the name of the Lord. When he was crying, nothing would console him but to hear people around him chant the Name; whenever the word "Hari" was uttered, he would leave whatever he was doing and dance for joy, his hands uplifted, his eyes upturned, his face and his whole little body a radiant expression of his spontaneous inner bliss. The boyish frolics of Nimai were in many ways similar to those of Gopala himself: milk, curd, butter, ghee, sweets were not safe from him in any neighbouring house. When he was on the banks of the Ganges, playing his tricks, those who were there to bathe had better be careful: he would run away with the articles they had brought for worship. He would interrupt someone in meditation and say, "Worship me, for I am the God you are meditating upon." He would climb upon the shoulders of

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

another, proclaiming, "I am Lord Shiva", and jump into the Ganges, using the shoulders as a diving board. He would swim under water, as if he were a crocodile, and pull the legs of the people bathing. On the bank, he would discreetly interchange the clothes of men and women ... The list of his pranks was endless, and so was the line of people coming to complain about him to his mother, Shashi. Yet, he was so utterly sweet and lovable and charming, and everyone was so fond of him, that whenever Jagannath went looking for his naughty son, determined to chastise him properly, his very victims would intercede for him, and help him hide away until his father's anger had cooled.

One day, this happy childhood took a different turn: Nimai's elder brother, Vishvarup, went away from home to become a Sannyasin. Jagannath and Shashi were overcome with grief, and grew anxious that their only remaining child, their beloved Nimai, would also abandon them if he were allowed to study, as Vishvarup had been. Nimai was then about eight years old. Although Jagannath himself was a scholar, he had kept his last son away from school for several years. But the young boy grew only more wild and desperate, and his father finally had to relent and let him go to school. Nimai's intellectual genius then started to unfold. Navadvip was at that time a renowned university-town where good teachers and brilliant students were common. Nimai was sent to the best school in town. There were about a thousand other students with him in that school, but this lad of fourteen eclipsed them all by his extraordinary intelligence. It was his favourite pass-time to challenge the pupils of other schools to intellectual debates with him on the bank of the Ganges. He would offer his own explanation of a Sutra, and ask others to criticise it; on their failing to find any flaw in it, he would himself then point out a number of flaws, and offer another explanation, which he would again criticise to finally... re-establish his original explanation with extraordinary skill and ease. Nimai's only  passion now was study, to which he applied himself with single-minded devotion. I Intellectual giant that he was, he acquired mastery over the different branches of Sanskrit learning at a very early age. Even certain well-known scholars who had challenged him to a rhetorical debate were properly defeated and compelled to recognise him as a prodigy.

Nimai was still a student when his father suddenly died. The responsibility for the household now fell on him. He set up his own school, where he taught grammar. More than ever imbued with the scholastic spirit, he indulged in dialectical bouts with any scholar imprudent enough to challenge him. The number of his students was growing every day. But, along with his fame, his arrogance grew to such an

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

extent that other scholars began to avoid coming near him. His irony and his sarcasm were particularly aimed at the Vaishnavaites of his hometown. How far was Nimai, now twenty-two years old, from the spontaneous adoration for Krishna which had been so alive in him in his early childhood!

In 1508, Nimai went on a pilgrimage to Gaya, to perform the Shraddha Ceremony' of his father. He was accompanied, as always, by a large number of his pupils. After the ceremony, he went to a nearby temple to see the sacred footprint of Lord Vishnu. As his gaze was fixed on the footprint and the priests around were singing the Name of the Lord, Nimai was overcome with emotion; tears flowed down his face in a continuous stream, his whole body trembled; an intense and blissful devotion made him fall on his knees in adoration. Among the many other pilgrims was Ishwara Puri, a renowned devotee of Krishna who had visited Navadvip some years before and had met the young pundit Nimai, but had no apparent influence on Nimai at that time. When he saw Ishwara Puri at Gaya, Nimai asked him to be his Guru and to initiate him. Puri accepted and, in a secluded spot, whispered the sacred Krishna Mantra in his ear.

On his way back to Navadip, Nimai was blessed with a vision of Krishna. When he arrived in his hometown, people could not believe their eyes: Nimai was a completely changed man. His pride of learning and his aggressive spirit were gone. His fondness for dress and care for personal appearance had disappeared. He was the meekest and simplest of men. He hardly paid attention to anything of this world, and was always lost in the thought of Krishna. Tears flowed from his eyes at the very name of Krishna, and anything associated with the Lord sent him into trance. It was impossible for him to teach his pupils. The only meaning he found in the Sutras of grammar he was accustomed to teach, or in any word or letter, was Krishna.

So he always discoursed on Krishna, and in the midst of the discourses laughed and wept and raved and lost himself in trance. Niamai, who had so far been given only to scholastic pursuits, was now completely mad with love for Krishna. His pupils did not know what to do. They felt it was impossible for them to leave their teacher and take their lessons from someone else. They went and reported everything to the head of the school, who gave some good counsel to Nimai. Nimai promised earnestly to follow the advice, but he could not. In utter helplessness he had to tell his pupils one day: "I always see a dark-complexioned boy of exquisite beauty standing before me and playing on his flute. I cannot but speak of him and him alone. I must therefore stop teaching from today onwards. You are free to go and take your lessons anywhere you like." And so saying, he closed the book and burst

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Radha and Krishna, by Chughtai, N.G.M.A,New Delhi

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

into tears. The pupils also closed their books, saying, "No more education for us, Master. Only bless us that we may remember life after life what we have learnt at thy feet." The Master was visibly moved. He took them one by one upon his lap and kissed them and wept. Then he performed Samkirtana2 with them. He stood in the middle singing and keeping time with his hands, while the pupils went round and round repeating the song. As the song and the dance went on, their hearts were filled with the presence of the Divine and tears of joy flowed from their eyes. Many people from the neighbourhood were attracted to the scene. But everyone who came as a spectator was caught into the current of devotion and began to sing and dance. This marked the end of the academic career of Nimai and the beginning of Samkirtana which was now the professed mission of his life.

The news of this change in Nimai spread all over Navadvip. People thought it was a fit of lunacy. But the Vaishnavas of the town knew that Nimai had become a Vaishnava — a change, though seemingly impossible, which they had long wished and prayed for and there was no end to their rejoicing. Nimai was soon acknowledged as the leader of the Vaishnavas of the town and became the centre of their devotional activities, which now started to grow in intensity with great rapidity. People in large numbers began to be drawn to him. His influence was so contagious that his very touch or presence converted sinners into saints. He was like a live-wire charged with the current of divine love, and anyone who came into contact with him was similarly charged.

The courtyard of a disciple's house became a regular meeting-place for the Vaishnavas. Here Nimai had his nightly Samkirtanas in which only his close associates were allowed to participate. The doors of the house were closed when the Samkirtanas started and no outsider was allowed to enter. It was at these meetings that Nimai is said to have revealed his divine form to his followers. These nocturnal and private gatherings continued for some time. But as already indicated, the professed mission of Nimai's life was to preach Samkirtana as the only means of deliverance in the age of Kali.3 He could not, therefore, confine his devotional activities to the limited circle of his friends, and it did not take him long to organize Samkirtanan parties and processions in which thousands and thousands of people participated, parading the streets of Navadvip, singing and dancing and surcharging the whole atmosphere of the city with unique devotional fervour.

The movement had a universal appeal, but a small and influential section of people, proud of their learning and social status, did not like the tumultuous scenes it released which threatened to wipe away the age-old distinctions of caste and creed

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

and high and low in society. They complained to the Kazi, the Mohammadan governor of the town. The Kazi tried to crush the movement, but Nimai counterattacked immediately by organising a huge Samkirtana in all the streets of Navadvip, and aimed... at the Kazi's residence. At the sight of the crowd, the Kazi  accepted to meet its leader. He fell a helpless prey to the tremendous spiritual influence of Nimai, and not only allowed Samkirtan thereafter, but even, according to some sources, became a Vaishnava himself.

The conversion of the Kazi broke the bone of the opposition Nimai had to encounter, but the pedantic scholars and godless persons persisted in their attitude of scornful indifference. Nimai realised that this type of people would not respect him unless he became a monk. "They themselves", he said to a disciple, "will fall at my feet; thus only can I redeem them and fulfil the mission of my life." He therefore resolved to renounce the world. Nimai was only twenty-four years old. His young  wife, Vishnupriya, had accepted that her husband was a special human being, and had ; started worshipping him as God incarnate — but what about his mother, Shashi? When Nimai informed his mother of his drastic decision, and asked for her blessings, her grief was so overwhelming that his own voice got choked with emotion. Finally he said: "You were my mother in all my previous incarnations. I promise you I shall be born again as your son in two more births. So please do not grieve for me ..."

A few days later, Shashi stood in front of their home and gazed at the receding figure of her only child: Nimai was setting out for Katwa, a village twenty-four miles away from Navadvip, on the other side of the Ganges, where a monk, Keshav Bharati, had agreed to initiate him into monastic life. Many people gathered there, looking wonderingly at the handsome young man who was about to forsake all worldly pleasures. Once tonsured, Nimai sat near Keshav Bharati and whispered into his ear a mantra which he had heard in a dream. Keshav Bharati gladly initiated him with that mantra, then gave Nimai the name of Sri Krishna-Chaitanya: "He who awakens Sri Krishna in the Hearts of All."

The ceremony over, the new Sannyasin left intending to go to Brindavan: but he was in such ecstasy that for three days and nights, without food or rest, he roamed the countryside in search of his beloved Krishna. Finally, the few disciples who were with him convinced him to go and rest at the house of one of them in a nearby town, Shashi, who had been informed, came the next morning and with her a vast crowd of followers from Navadvip. Since Nimai had left, the city had been enveloped in lamentations. Now the days passed in rejoicing at the reunion. But it is improper for a monk to live with his kindred in his birth-place, so a residence elsewhere had to be

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Shri Chaitanya under Garuda Stambh,by Nandalal Bose, N.G.M.A.,Delhi

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

chosen for the new Sannyasin. When consulted, Shashi replied: "Let him live at Nilachala [today's Puri], which is, as it were, next door to Navadvip. People are continuously passing between the two places, and I shall always get his news."

So a month after his initiation, Sri Chaitanya took leave of his broken-hearted mother and the Vaishnavas of Navadvip, to go and live at Puri (in Orissa) with a few of his disciples. As soon as he arrived in Puri, his extraordinary Bhakti, combined with his capacity for brilliant argument and simple and direct explanations, started to win over to him and to the path of devotion many new disciples. The first was a famous veteran scholar of Vedanta, living at Puri under the patronage of Prataparudra, the king of Orissa. The old scholar, after a long discussion with Sri Chaitanya, not only accepted him as his saviour, but became so passionately attached to him that he could bear anything in the world but separation from him.

A short while later, Sri Chaitanya started on a pilgrimage to South India, which  lasted more than two years. His visit to the South created a deep and lasting impression on the minds of the people. The devotion which had flowed freely in that part of the country in the days of the Tamil Alvars,4 but which had dried up as time had passed, was now revived, taking the form of a sudden outburst of devotional songs in Kanarese and Marathi. Vaishnavism as propounded by Sri Chaitanya was even proclaimed as the state religion of Karnataka. Shortly after Sri Chaitanya's return to Puri, several influential personalities whom he had met and converted during his journey came to stay there with him for the rest of their lives. Most of them were officials working under the King, Prataparudra. Then came an even more important event: the conversion of the king himself.

Repeatedly, through several companions of Sri Chaitanya, the king had begged for an interview with him; repeatedly Sri Chaitanya had refused, on the grounds that it was not proper for a Sannyasin to have familiarity with a king. After all his efforts had failed, one day Prataparudra stole into the courtyard of the house where the Master was living. Sri Chaitanya was lying unconscious in trance, in the lap of one of his disciples, while the others were performing Samkirtana around him. Prataparudra fell at his feet. On regaining consciousness, Sri Chaitanya expressed deep regret for having even unwillingly come into contact with one who was devoted to power and self. When the king heard this, his grief knew no bounds. He offered to surrender all his wealth and power at the feet of Sri Chaitanya, and prayed to him to be accepted as the lowest of his servants. Sri Chaitanya was moved by these words, and clasped the king in a loving embrace, which brought tears of joy to Prataparudra's eyes. The Raja, who was a terror to the Pathans and whose physical

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

strength and iron contact was dreaded even by wrestlers, melted at his touch.

For the Chariot Festival of Jagannath, about two hundred Bengali disciples of Sri Chaitanya arrived at Puri, led by the close companions whom he had sent to Bengal to revive there the devotion for the Lord. A huge Kirtan procession, the first of its kind in Puri, was organised, in which Sri Chaitanya and his followers sang and danced in front of the chariot carrying the image of Lord Jagannath.

In 1514, Sri Chaitanya tried again to go to Brindavan. About five years earlier, at the time of his Sannyasa, he had sent there one of his main disciples, with the mission of reclaiming the holy city, long neglected and lost. The mission had resulted in a newly restored Brindavan. To reach there, he had to cross the territory of a ferocious Muhammadan chief, whose curiosity was so greatly aroused on hearing about Sri Chaitanya that he came out to meet him. Conquered at once, the Muhammadan fell at his feet and made all necessary arrangements for his new Master to journey safely through his territory. A large number of people, including even those who five years earlier had been hostile to Sri Chaitanya, came from distant places to pay homage to him. The rush was so great and the crowd so numerous that, on the advice of two Brahmana brothers — ministers in the court of the Muhammadan King of Bengal and whom he had just won over to Bhakti — Sri Chaitanya decided not to go on towards Brindavan, but to return to Puri.

He started for Brindavan again in the autumn of 1515. This time he took with him only two attendants (he could not travel alone, as he was constantly going into trance) and followed a route through the forests to avoid being noticed. When he finally reached Brindavan, the intensity of his bhakti was such that in every creeper and blade of grass he saw his beloved Krishna. Chanting and dancing through the holy forests, he wept and often fell senseless on the ground, lost in the bliss of Divine Love. On his way back, he was so charged and radiant that a muslim prince, meeting him on the road, felt the name of Krishna come spontaneously to his lips when he saw Sri Chaitanya. The Prince and his attendants were at once converted to Vaishnavism.

Back in Puri around April, 1516, Sri Chaitanya passed the remaining eighteen years of his life in monastic seclusion in the garden-house which had been put at his disposal. After his Sannyasa, he had spent six years travelling all over the country, and spreading everywhere the seeds of Bhakti. The seeds having sprouted and taken root in the soil, he could now leave the plants to the care of his able lieutenants. During these last years, all his days were spent in deep communion with the Lord, interrupted only by occasional conversations with a few of his closest disciples, who lived near him or came from distant places to receive instructions from him.

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

The biographers of Sri Chaitanya are agreed that he passed away in 1534. The manner in which he passed away is veiled with mystery. The general belief is that he disappeared physically and merged with the deity of the temple of Jagannath, for no trace of his body was ever found.

Based on Chaitanya, His Life and Doctrine, by A.K. Majumdar

 (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan), and on

The Philosophy and Religion of Sri Chaitanya, by O.B.L. Kapoor

 (Munshiram Manoharlal).


Chaitaanya with his disciples, by Abanindranath Tagore


Shraddha Ceremony: Traditional ceremony in commemoration of a deceased parent.
Samkirtana: Group dancing and chanting in the name of Krishna. A distinctly informal, unritualistic emotional mode of worship.
The age of Kali (or Kali Yuga): According to the Indian tradition, this is the era we live in now. It is the last of the four Yugas, or Ages, which form a cosmic cycle. This fourth Age is a Dark Age, after which a new cycle will start again, with a Golden Age or Satya Yuga.
4. Alwars: Twelve poet Bhaktas of Tamil Nadu, who lived in the second half of the first millenium AD, and composed beautiful devotional hymns.

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

A few dates

1486 (February)

 Birth in Navadvip.


— Tour of Bengal


— Pilgrimage to Gaya and conversion.

1510 (January)

— Sannyasa at Katwa

1510 (March)

— Arrival at Puri.


— Tour of South India.


— First pilgrimage to Brindavan and Mathura.


—Second pilgrimage to Brindavan and Mathura.

1516 (April) 1534

— Return to Puri.


— Passing away in Puri.

Suggestions for further reading

Acharya, Deb Narayan. The Life and Times of Sri Krishna Chaitanya. Calcutta: F. KLM Lmt, 1984.

Chatterjee, A. N. Sri Krishna Chaitanya — A Historical Study on Gaudiya Vaishnavism. New

Delhi: Associated Publishing Company, 1984. '

Kapoor, 0. B. L. The Philosophy and Religion of Sri Chaitanya. New Delhi: Munshiram

Manoharlal Publishers, 1977.

Majumdar, A. K. Chaitanya — His Life and Doctrine. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1969.

Mukherjee, Prabhat. History of the Chaitanya faith in Orissa. New Delhi: Manohar, 1979.

Ecstasy Of Divine Love

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