About Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

  • By K.R.K. Murthy
  • April 4, 2023
  • Know in brief, the about the life and teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He infused a new spirit in the Hindus of Bengal, who had abjectly surrendered etc caused by 300 years of religious oppression.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was born in 1485 in Nadia, West Bengal, in a Brahmin family. He is said to have been born on a full moon night at the time of a lunar eclipse, which is considered auspicious by scholars.


The name Chaitanya means ‘one who is conscious’; ‘Maha’ means great and ‘Prabhu’ means Lord or Master. His name, before he became a sanyasi, was Vishvambhar and his nickname was Nimai. 


His horoscope indicated that he had a great future. He is considered to be a combined avatar of Lord Krishna and Radha, in some scriptures. Another legend claims that he was Muchukunda, a great devotee of the Lord, in his earlier life.


He introduced the mode of worshipping Krishna with ecstatic songs and dance, which became popular in Bengal. He founded the Vedantic philosophy called Achintya Bheda Abheda Tattva.


As a child, Vishvambhar would not tolerate anything that he thought was unjust. He made no caste distinctions. Pure and gentle, he was a friend of the poor and lived a simple life. At a young age, he had mastered all branches of Sanskrit learning such as grammar, logic, literature, rhetoric philosophy and theology. He became a great Sanskrit scholar and debater who defeated many learned scholars. He then started teaching at a very young age.


First published in Journal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.


When Vishvambhar met a sage, Iswar Puri, there was a sudden change in his outlook towards life. He expressed intense devotion towards Lord Krishna and went into ecstasies. He had a great desire to sing the name of Krishna. Ishwar Puri gave him the mantra of Lord Krishna.


At the age of 25, Vishvambhar renounced the world to become a sanyasi and took the name Chaitanya. He set off to Vrindavan and wandered for days chanting the verse, “I too shall cross the terrible and dark ocean of the world by means of devotion to the Supreme Being, as the sages of yore, by service at the lotus feet of Mukunda”. He went on a pilgrimage all over India, travelling on foot even to remote places of worship. All the time, Chaitanya would chant the divine names of Lord Krishna. People from all castes and ranks became his disciples. 


At Vrindavan, he lost himself in the love of Krishna and would sing and dance in a trance. He became known for his ecstatic devotion, which was thought to be a participation in the divine Lila, the source of creativity itself. He saw the Lord in everything in the world.


He delighted people with his kirtans and drama depicting events from Krishna’s life. His love for the Lord was unique. He is credited to have popularised the Maha Mantra of Hare Krishna. His way of practising Bhakti Yoga was by chanting Krishna’s name constantly and he taught this method to his followers. 


Chaitanya Mahaprabhu spent all his life immersed in the ecstasy of divine love. He described the love between Radha and Krishna as divine and not as romantic love. He asked his disciples to lead a spiritual life, wear simple clothes, and subdue their passions and greed. He preached that chanting the name of Krishna will destroy all sins. He started group singing, which had great acceptance amongst the common folk. Even criminals gave up their bad ways, attracted by his love.


He spent the last 18 years of his life in Puri at the Jagannath temple in Odisha. He died in 1534, at the age of 48.


He was one of the greatest among Vaishnava Bhaktas, with a large number of followers all over the world. His devotees believe he was born to teach the world the path of Bhakti to achieve salvation. He is sometimes referred to as ‘Gauranga’ due to his fair golden complexion. 


Chaitanya Mahaprabhu did not write elaborate treatises or commentaries. His disciples wrote commentaries on his work and gave his doctrine a strong foundation. He gave the essence of Sastras in his book, Shiksha Ashtak (Eight verses/ Symposium of Advice). The teachings and philosophy of Gaudiya Vaishnavism is based on this Sanskrit text. Some of the stanzas show his unequalled love for Lord Krishna:


“Let tears flow from my eyes, let my throat be choked with emotion, and let my body be filled with joy.” 

“Separation from God even for a moment is like a yuga for me; it is the rainy season for my eyes; and the entire world is void for me.”


Chaitanya’s teachings can be summed up as-


1) Krishna is the Supreme Absolute Truth.

2) He is the only God and all prayers are directed to Him.

3) Krishna is the ocean of love and if one wants to win Him, he has to forget He is God and love Him.

4) Individual souls are parts of God.

5) The individuals are bound under the matter due to their nature.

6) Liberated souls are free from matter.

7) The Jivas and matter are both different from and identical with God.

8) Pure devotion is the practice of Jivas.

9) Pure love of Krishna is the ultimate goal.

10) You may love him as His servant (like Hanuman), or as His friend (like Arjuna), or even better, as you would love your child (like Yashoda). The best way is to love Him like the love between a couple (like Radha).

11) Attaining Krishna’s love must be one’s ultimate goal. 

12) Loving Krishna is the only blessing to be received in life.


The ISKCON (The International Society for Krishna Consciousness), commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement, has its principal aim to lead people in this Kali Yuga to attain salvation in the form of permanent Krishna Consciousness, by way of Bhakti Yoga.


Their Maha Mantra is “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare; Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare”. They follow the Gaudiya Vaishnavism of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.


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This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, 31 March  2023 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.


Extract from Preface of Volume 6   The History and Culture of Indian People published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.


“The patronage of literature in spoken languages by a few Muslim rulers is only redeeming feature in general of Muslim attitude to Hindu culture. The high development of literature and philosophy of the Chaitanya school of Vaishnavism is regarded as a sign of revival during this period. Remember that out of hundreds of Muslim rulers and officers in Bengal, only three Husain Shah, his son Nusrat Shah and his general Paragal Khan are known to have patronised Bengali poets whose flattering of their Muslim patrons is disgusting to modern taste.


Persecution of Chaitanya and his followers in the hands of the officers of Husain Shah must be remembered. Note that of the 24 years he remained in his mortal frame after he renounced the world, he hardly spent a year in dominion of Muslim rulers but lived for 20 years in the Hindu kingdom of Orissa.”


He started a new type of devotional song called kirtana that often consisted of chanting the names of Hari and Krishna, sung in chorus to the accompaniment of loud instrumental music.


Chaityanya lived close to Puri. There the Gajapati king of Orissa and Vasudeva Sarvabhauma, a renowned Vedantist became his followers. He travelled to South and West India and Vrindavan, laid stress on passionate love for God as the only way to liberation and stressed various episodes described in the Bhagwata.    


The sacred sites of Vrindavan were deserted & forgotten. Their recovery by the Vaishnavas of Bengal, at the instance of Chaityanya, & conversion of place into a great religious centre must be regarded as one of the most important events in the history of Vaishavism. Vol 6, Pg. 567


Note that for the 24 years after he renounced the world to become a sanyasin, he lived for only one year in the dominion of Husain Shah and for over 20 years in the Hindu kingdom of Orissa.  Vol 6 Pg. xxxii.

Chaityanya infused a new spirit in the Hindus of Bengal, who abjectly surrendered etc caused by 300 years of political servitude and religious oppression.


Guru Nanak met Chaitanya Mahaprabhu at Puri in 1510.

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