- Songs of the Vaiṣṇava Acāryas
Songs of the Vaiṣṇava Acāryas
Hymns and mantras composed for the
of the Supreme Lord, Śrī Kṛṣṇa
Srila Prabhupada: "The International Society for Krishna Consciousness was established in New York in the year 1966. After my arrival in the United States in September of 1965, I personally underwent a difficult struggle, and in 1966 I rented a storefront and apartment at 26 Second Avenue. When ISKCON was incorporated, a boy named Chuck Barnett joined me, along with a few others, to form the nucleus for the institution’s future development. At this time I used to chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra underneath a tree in Tompkin’s Square Park in New York. Śrīmān Barnett and another boy, Bruce, were the first to begin dancing in front of me, and others in the audience joined them. The New York Times published a report of this, with our picture and a headline declaring that I was attracting the younger generation to the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement.
Later both Chuck and Bruce, along with others, became my initiated disciples, and still later, in 1970, both took sannyāsa, receiving the names Acyutānanda Svāmī and Brahmānanda Svāmī. Now Brahmānanda is preaching in Africa, and Acyutānanda is preaching in India.
When I became sick in 1967, 1 1eft the United States and returned to India. Śrīmān Acyutānanda could not remain separated from me, and therefore he joined me in Vṛndāvana when I was staying there. Since then, Acyutānanda Svāmī has worked very hard in India. He has preached extensively in Calcutta and other parts of Bengal, he has learned how to sing in Bengali and play mṛdaṅga like an expert professional, and now he has compiled this book of Bengali songs with English explanations.
I am greatly pleased to see this collection of songs composed by Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda, Narottama dāsa, and other great ācāryas of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava community (sampradāya). Songs composed by the ācāryas are not ordinary songs. When chanted by pure Vaiṣṇavas who follow the rules and regulations of Vaiṣṇava character, they are actually effective in awakening the Kṛṣṇa consciousness dormant in every living entity. I have advised Srīmān Acyutānanda Svāmī to sing more songs of the Vaiṣṇava padāvalī and record them in books so that my disciples and others in the Western countries may take advantage of this chanting and thus advance in Krsṇa consciousness more and more.
I confer all my blessings upon Acyutānanda Svāmī for his genuine attempt to advance in Krsṇa consciousness. I hope he will thus advance more and more and never be hampered by māyā. We should always remember the danger of māyā’s influence and endeavor to save ourselves from her great power. We must therefore always merge in the transcendental mellow of kīrtana-rasa, for kīrtana-rasa is the safest situation within this material world."
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
It was my good fortune to be in the service of Śrīla Prabhupāda at Śrī Māyāpur, the birthplace of Lord Caitanya, in setting up the groundwork of our Society’s international center there. That year (1971) there was a terrible flood, but although for many days the water was rising, it was diverted from flooding the Society’s property solely due to the embankment created by a road constructed by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, our Parama Guru Mahārāja. I wrote a letter to His Divine Grace explaining the situation and I mentioned, “The water has not entered our property. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s road has saved us." Śrila Prabhupāda, however, wrote back in answer in a different tone: “Yes, we are always saved by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s road, so go on glorifying the disciplic succession, and your life will be a great success." Later on, when I suggested writing down the songs of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Thākura and Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura in English translations, His Divine Grace said, “Yes, we must push on this mission of Bhaktivinoda." So here in this book, which is the first of a series of translations of the complete works of the Vaiṣṇava ācāryas in the line of succession coming after Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, I have also included a short life sketch of Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda. In the following volumes, the lives of Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura, Śrīnivāsa Ācārya, and other Vaiṣṇava ācāryas will appear.
The songs in this book are mostly by Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura. While they may sometimes make awkward English poetry, the translations are accurate renderings of the originals. All these songs have exquisite melodies, and cassette recordings are available to accompany the book. It should be noted that these songs and verses are all explanations of pure devotional service and that devotional service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa is obtained only by the mercy of the spiritual master, which can be obtained by serving his desires perfectly. These songs are not substitutes for the main and prime benediction of the age of Kali, the congregational chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, which is of the utmost importance. They are verses which have expanded from the mahā-mantra, and they are explanations of the mahā-mantra. Thus, because they are expansions of the mahāmantra, they are nondifferent from it.
The songs of Śrīla Narottama dāsa and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura are nondifferent from the Vedic mantras. But, as stated by Śrīla Prabhupāda in The Nectar of Devotion, even if someone does not have initiation into the Gāyatrī mantra, the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare is sufficient to enable one to attain the highest perfection of spiritual life.
The verses of these songs are wonderful sources of knowledge for preachers of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In each and every line there is so much philosophy that one can preach from one line for hours. They are all so pregnant with meaning and they lead to such succinct spiritual conclusions that a preacher need only recall the simple lines of songs like Bhajahū Re Mana, Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī Pada, Ohe Vaiṣṇava Ṭhākura, or the Śrī Manaḥ-śikṣā, and every point of Kṛṣṇa consciousness will be covered in detail. Śrīla Prabhupāda is constantly quoting from these lines in his lectures and books, and here also in this book his commentaries are given. Wherever Śrīla Prabhupāda has translated a song, no separate translations have been given, for his are complete in themselves.
This is the first time that these transcendental vibrations have appeared in the English language, and to introduce them I am including herewith a life sketch of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.
August 20, 1972
Disappearance Day of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī
Songs of the Vaiṣṇava Acāryas is a collection of songs composed by Thakura Bhaktivinoda, Narottama dasa and other great acaryas of the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya.
Songs composed by the acaryas are not ordinary songs. When chanted by pure Vaisnavas who follow the rules and regulations of Vaisnava character, they are actually effective in awakening the Krishna consciousness dormant in every living entity.
The translations in this book are accurate renderings of the original Bengali and Sanskrit. All these songs have exquisite melodies. It should be noted that these songs and verses are all explanations of pure devotional service and that devotional service to Sri Krishna is obtained only by the mercy of the spiritual master, which can be obtained by serving his desires perfectly.
These are not ordinary songs; they are the concentrated feelings of pure love, selfless surrender, and calling out in prayer of the Lord's mercy. By singing these songs we can all pray to one day understand the great moods that have been saturated into these beautiful prayers to the Lord.
The verses of these songs are wonderful sources of knowledge for preachers of Krishna consciousness. In each and every line there is so much philosophy that one can preach from one line for hours. They are all so pregnant with meaning and they lead to such succinct spiritual conclusions that a preacher need only recall the simple lines of songs like, "Bhajahu re Mana," "Sri Rupa manjari-pada," "O Vaisnava Thakura," or the "Sri Manah Siksa," and every point of Krishna consciousness will be covered in detail. Srila Prabhupada is constantly quoting from all these lines in his lectures and books.
We should always remember the danger of maya's influence and endeavour to save ourselves from her great power. We must therefore always merge in the transcendental mellow of kirtana rasa, for kirtana rasa is the safest situation in this material world.
A Glimpse into the Life of Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda
Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda led a life of incessant labor and activity for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He effected such immense good in the world that his work is only to be compared with the unbounded works of Śrī Caitanya Himself and the Gosvāmīs. It was the spiritual attempts and divine writings of this individual that turned the scale and led the intelligent and educated community to believe in the noble precepts and teachings of Lord Caitanya.
If we look back one century, we cannot but be astonished to find how degraded was the condition of the Vaiṣṇava faith which had its pure origin in the deep and majestic spiritual philosophy of Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Even vastly learned paṇḍitas could not fathom the superexcellent precepts of Lord Caitanya’s philosophy, yet due to incredulity born of the ignorance of uncultured men, the Vaisṇava faith had been degraded and was considered a beggar’s excuse for living at the expense of society. It was by sheer love for the Godhead that Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda expounded the deep philosophy which had remained concealed in the pages of the Vedas, the Upaniṣads, the Purāṇas, and the Bhāgavatam. By his action toward divine service and also by his words, set in simple language to be easily understood by readers in general, he has given this philosophy to the world. It is his writings and his divine, unparalleled character that have helped to produce a class of educated and enlightened men who are now proud of their Vaiṣṇava faith and of their acquisition of the spiritual knowledge of the pure and sublime philosophy of Kṛṣṇa, on which the stern teachings of Śrī Caitanya are based.
Though born in opulent circumstances (on September 2, 1838), Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda, who was given the name Kedāranātha Datta, had to meet many difficulties in his early life. His childhood was spent at his maternal grandfather’s house at Bīrnagar (Ulāgrām), from where he came to Calcutta at the age of thirteen, after the death of his father. After he completed his education, he was requested to be present at the time of his paternal grandfather’s death. His grandfather, Rājavallabha Datta, had been a famous personality of Calcutta and had retired to a lonely place in Orissa to spend his last days as an ascetic. He could predict the future and knew when he would die, since he could commune with supernatural beings. Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda was present at the eventful time when that great soul passed away, and after receiving his grandfather’s instructions, he visited all of the major temples and āśramas of the state of Orissa.
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura then entered the educational service and introduced English education into the state of Orissa for the first time. He wrote a small book about all the āśramas of the state and mentioned an āśrama which was on his ancestors’ property. "I have a small village Choṭimaṅgalpur in the country of Orissa of which I am the proprietor," he wrote. "In that village is a religious house which was granted by my predecessors to the holy men as a holding of rent-free land. The head of the institution entirely gave up entertaining such men as chanced to seek shelter on a rainy night. This came to my notice, and I administered a severe threat that his lands would be cruelly resumed if in the future complaints of inhospitality were brought to my knowledge."
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura later took to the government service and was transferred to Bengal. In one town he gave a historic speech on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam which attracted the attention of thousands. He made the world know what hidden treasures pervade every page of the Bhāgavatam, which should be read by all persons having a philosophical turn of mind. He was transferred some years later to a town called Champāran. In this town there was a brahma-daitya living in a great banyan tree, and he was being worshiped by many degraded people. (A brahma-daitya is a type of ghost.) One day the father of a famous girl scholar came to Bhaktivinoda for alms, and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura at once employed him in reading the Bhāgavatam under the shade of the banyan tree which was the abode of the ghost. After one month, the Bhāgavatam was completed, and then and there the tree crashed to the ground, and the ghost was gone for good. Everyone was thankful for this act except the few dishonest persons who were worshiping the ghost.
Bhaktivinoda’s next move was to Purī. The government commissioner was much pleased to get him in his division, and he asked him to watch the affairs of the temple of Jagannātha on behalf of the government. It was through Bhaktivinoda’s exertions that many malpractices were checked and the time for the offering of foods before the Deity was regulated to its extreme punctuality. Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda was especially entrusted to quell the rise against the government of one Biṣikiṣeṇa, who declared himself to be an incarnation of Mahā-Viṣṇu. During the course of his investigation, Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda found him to be a hoax and a culprit and charged him with transgressing government injunctions. After his trial the fellow was sentenced to imprisonment for a year and a half, but he died shortly after in jail. This man was really possessed of unnatural powers, but as they were the outcome of nonspiritual practices, he had to submit to the Ṭhākura when the latter wanted him to do so. Biṣikiṣeṇa was held in dread by the common people, and everyone warned Śrīla Bhaktivinoda not to admonish him, even for the sake of justice, in view of the serious consequences that the yogī would inflict. But although the Ṭhākura was not a man of ostentation and did not allow people to know his true qualities and spiritual strength, he easily cut down the demoniac power of the impostor. With the fall of Biṣikiṣeṇa there rose an impostor Balarāma at another village, and there were also other so-called incarnations of God, but their plans were similarly frustrated.
During his stay at Jagannātha Purī, Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda devoted much of his time to the discussion of spiritual works and prepared notes on the Vedānta-sūtras which were published with the commentaries of Baladeva Vidyābhuṣaṇa. He also composed the Kalyāṇa-kalpataru (from which Vibhāvarī Śeṣa, one selection, appears in this book). This may very truly be termed an immortal work, and it stands on the same level as the divine writings of Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura. In 1877 he left Purī on government service, and in 1881 he started a well-known spiritual journal called the Sajjana-toṣaṇī ("The Satisfaction of Pure Devotees"). He also published the Śrī Kṛṣṇa-saṁhitā, which revealed to the world the underlying philosophy explaining the spiritual existence of Kṛṣṇa. This book opened the eyes of educated people to teach them their true relationship with God. It also attracted the admiration of many German scholars, for although the public regarded Kṛṣṇa as a poetic creation of erotic nature, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda revealed Kṛṣṇa as Parabrahman, the Supreme Transcendental Person, the Absolute Being, on the basis of Vedic evidence.
At the close of his stay at the village of Narāil, he visited Vṛndāvana. There he had to encounter a band of dacoits known as Kañjharas. These powerful bandits spread all over the roads surrounding the holy place and used to attack innocent pilgrims. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura brought this news to the government and after many months of struggle extirpated the bandits from Vṛndāvana forever. From this time on, Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda preached extensively in large gatherings, explaining all of the precepts of the saṅkīrtana of the holy names, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare.
While staying at Bārāsat, Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda met the famous Bengali writer Baṅkimacandra. This novelist and playwright had just finished writing a book on Kṛṣṇa, and knowing Śrīla Bhaktivinoda to be an authority on topics of Kṛṣṇa, he gave the manuscript to Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura to see. It was full of mundane Western-stylized speculations and ideas, but after four days of discussion, Bhaktivinoda had the whole text revised by Baṅkimacandra to accommodate the pure supramundane precepts of Lord Caitanya. During his last year at Bārāsat, Bhaktivinoda was requested by a noted high court judge to publish an authoritative edition of the Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā with the commentaries of Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura as well as his own (Bhaktivinoda’s) translation. The preface, written by Baṅkimacandra, expressed his gratitude to the Ṭhākura for his endeavor, and when it was published, the copies were soon exhausted. Then Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda published a unique work entitled Śrī Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta ("The Nectarean Teachings of Lord Caitanya"), which dealt with Lord Caitanya’s theistic philosophy and the philosophies of the Western speculators. This book defeats every other philosophy point for point and establishes the philosophy of Lord Caitanya as supreme. In 1885 he started a society named Śrī Viśva-vaiṣṇava-rāja-sabhā for the propagation of pure hari-bhakti. Many eminent citizens of Calcutta joined the society, and several committees were organized with assigned duties.
Bhaktivinoda Thākura was so anxious to see the land of Lord Caitanya that he applied many times for a transfer to any town nearby. Upon not receiving the desired transfer, he formally submitted a resignation from public service, but it was refused. Then, to his great rejoicing, he obtained a transfer to Krishnanagar, twenty-five miles from Navadvīpa, Māyāpur. Once stationed at a place near Navadvīpa, he did not let a single free moment pass without visiting the land of Navadvīpa. He at once made inquiries about the exact whereabouts of the different places of Lord Caitanya’s pastimes. He soon discovered that the then city of Navadvīpa was a town of only a hundred years’ standing, so he was curious to locate the actual birthplace of Lord Caitanya. He was convinced that the town of Navadvīpa was not the authentic location, and he at once commenced a vigorous inquiry to find the truth of the matter. But he could not easily escape from the people who tried to make him believe that the birthplace of Caitanya was at that town. Then, after careful inquiry, he was told that the site was lost under the shifting course of the Ganges. Not satisfied with this explanation, he himself set out to discover the yoga-pīṭha (birthplace). After great difficulties, he came to know of a place which was being adored by many realized souls as the true birthplace of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and which was then in the possession of the Muhammadans. Local inquiry and corroborative evidence from ancient maps of the latter part of the eighteenth century which showed the name "Śrī Māyāpur" at last helped him to discover the real site of the birthplace. The discovery led to the publishing of a valuable work called Navadvīpa-dhāma-māhātmya. (Chapter Five of this book has appeared in ISKCON’s Bengali Back to Godhead magazine.)
The year 1895 was the most eventful year in the history of the Vaiṣṇava world, and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was the prime mover of the events. It was in this year that he officially memorialized the birthsite of Śrī Caitanya and brought its true identity and importance before the public eye. Thousands of visitors were present at a function held at the spot.
Just after retiring from government service, Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda himself, in a spirit of perfect humility and with a view to giving a firm standing to the discovery, went from door to door to raise funds for a temple. In the Amrita Bazar Patrika newspaper, on December 6, 1894, the following article appeared: "Bābū Kedāranātha Datta, the distinguished Deputy Magistrate who has just retired from the service, is one of the most active members. Indeed, Bābū Kedāranātha Datta has been deputed by his committee to raise subscriptions in Calcutta and elsewhere and is determined to go from house to house if necessary and beg a rupee from each Hindu gentleman for the noble purpose. If Bābu Kedāranātha Datta sticks to his resolution of going around with a bag in hand, we hope that no Hindu gentleman whose house may be honored by the presence of such a devout bhakta as Bābū Kedāranātha will send him away without contributing his mite, however humble it may be, to the Gaura-Viṣṇupriyā Temple fund." Truly, Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda honored the houses of many persons for the furfillment of the noble object he had undertaken. He went to persons to whom he would not have gone for any purpose but for this mission of Lord Caitanya, and his efforts were not fruitless, since the sum collected contributed to the construction of a building on the holy site of Lord Caitanya’s appearance.
The work of preaching the holy name was also in full swing, and it spread fast into the distant corners of the globe. The Gaurāṅga-smaraṇa-maṅgala-stotra, with a preface in English containing the life and precepts of Śrī Caitanya, came out from Bhaktivinoda’s pen soon after the discovery of Lord Caitanya’s birthplace and found its place in all the learned institutions of both hemispheres.
The more the names of Lord Caitanya and Lord Kṛṣṇa were preached, the merrier was Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda. He thereafter made annotations of Śrī Brahmā-saṁhitā and Śrī Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta and gave to the world his immortal and precious works Śrī Harināma-cintāmaṇi and Bhajana-rahasya. He also edited, with commentary, Śrīmad-bhāgavatārka-marīci-mālā, which contains all the most prominent ślokas of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam pertaining to the Vaiṣṇava philosophy. His pen never tired, and it produced many other Vaiṣṇava philosophical works. He would begin his writings very late at night, after completing his government work, and stay up until one or two o’clock in the morning composing songs and literatures. Most of his works appeared in the Sajjana-toṣaṇī magazine. He was equally engaged in writing and in preaching the holy name in many districts of Bengal. His personal appearances at villages had marvelous effects on the people. To maintain the center at Nadia he built a house at Śrī Godrumadvīpa which is called Śrī Svānanda-sukhada-kuñja. Here in this abode the preaching of hari-nāma continued in full swing.
It was at the beginning of the twentieth century that he chose to live at Purī and build a house on the beachfront there. Many honest souls sought his blessings and readily obtained them when he accepted the renounced order of life by taking bābājī initiation from Śrīla Gaurakiśora dāsa Bābājī in 1908. Though he was leading the life of a renounced soul, he could not avoid the men of all description who constantly visited him. All of them received oceans of spiritual training, instructions, and blessings. In 1910 he shut himself up and remained in a perfect state of samādhi, or full concentration on the eternal pastimes of the Lord. In 1914 he passed on to the blissful realm of Goloka on the day which is observed as the disappearance day of Śrī Gadādhara. Here we quote a stanza written about the samādhi of Haridāsa Ṭhākura which Śrīla Bhaktivinoda wrote sometime in 1871 to explain what influence a Vaiṣṇava carries in this world even after his departure:
He reasons ill who tells that Vaiṣṇavas die
When thou art living still in sound!
The Vaiṣṇavas die to live, and living try
To spread the holy name around!
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda predicted, "Soon there will appear a personality who will preach the holy name of Hari all over the world." It is clearly understood that His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda is that personality. I offer my prostrated obeisances first unto all the devotees that have surrendered unto his divine lotus feet and next unto the devotees who will in the future take shelter of his lotus feet, and I then offer my humble obeisances unto his lotus feet again and again. May he bless this first translation attempt so that it may be accepted by the Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and may he engage me in the service of the six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana, Lord Caitanya, and Rādhārāṇī.