Srivasa Thakura - Pastimes - Part I
From Sri Panca Tattva, the Five features of God
By Satyaraja dasa
Submitted by Manoj
Srivasa Thakura is the ideal householder devotee and he is known as the acarya of maryada-marga (also known as vaidhi-bhakti, or the path of scriptural injunctions). He is exemplary for all devotees who are worshippers of Laksmi-Narayana in Vaikuntha or Sri Gaura-Narayana in Navadvipa. He was the first to whom Mahaprabhu revealed Himself as God almighty, with four arms, in all His majesty and glory.
Although Srivasa Thakura is married, Gaudiya Vaisnavas tend to meditate on him as foremost of the brahmacaris, perhaps because of his identification with Narada Muni (who was always celibate). Consequently, he is often depicted with shaved head and saffron robes, although more often than not he has long hair and wears white apparel. In kirtana he looks especially beautiful, with large lotus eyes and monsoon-like perspiration from ecstatic singing and dancing. His bodily limbs are said to be decorated with tears of love, which adds to this monsoon, and the other sattvika-bhavaas can be detected when he is near.
He is the leader of His devotee companions, who, like black bees, drink the honey from the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya. Srivasa and his followers are always engaged in Krsna seva and, although they are all excellent servants, he is clearly the best at performing devotional service.
For this reason, he is considered the foremost devotee, the Everyman bhakta. This is why, in praying to him, devotees use the extension "adi," which denotes all those who follow him as well as Srivasa himself, who ranks the highest. This is seen in the popular prayer Jaya Sri Krsna Caitanya, Prabhu Nityananda, Jaya Advaita, Gadddhara, Srivasa, adi Gaura bhakia vrnda, which means, "All glories to Krishna Caitanya, Nityananda Prabhu, Advaita Acarya, Gadadhara Pandita, and the family of devotees (of Lord Caitanya) who follow in this line beginning with Srivasa Thakura." (Vrnda is a Bengali term that refers to Gaura bhaktas as a whole).
jaya jaya srivasadi yata bhakta-gana,
sri-krsna-caitanya prubhu-yanra prana-dhana
"All glories to the world's many devotees, headed by Srivasa Thakura. Sri Caitanya is their life and soul. "
There is an interesting story in Kavi Karnapura's Caitanya-candrodaya-natakam (Act One), wherein the Lord asks Srivasa Thakura if he remembers how he was saved from death, and how he was at that time infused with Narada Sakti. Srivasa answers that he does remember and proceeds to tell the following story.
"Before the Lord came into my life," Srivasa said, "from childhood to sixteen years of age, I was wild, merciless, offensive to guru and brahmanas, and just had a generally restless heart, hard as wood. I was proud, conceited, and even in my dreams I never heard or chanted the Lord's glories. Then, perhaps because of some unknown previous pious act, a kind-hearted person came to me in a dream and said: '0 brahmana in name only, 0 restless-hearted one, who can give you advice? You will not listen to anyone! Still, I tell you directly: You have only one year of life ahead of you. Then you will die untimely. Do not throw your short remaining period of life away on useless things.'"
The next day, awaking at dawn, Srivasa remembered the good advice he received in his dream, and he was unhappy that his life would be short. "I decided then and there," he said, "that I would give up all my misdeeds. I made a vow to try to understand the ultimate goal of human life, and soon thereafter, in the Narada Purana, I found this verse: harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha, 'In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy the only means of deliverance is chanting the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way."'
"I considered this a direct message from Lord Krsna," Srivasa continued, "and I immediately gave up all materialism and, forgetting everything else, I took shelter of Lord Hari's name alone. This gave me great peace while I waited for that moment of death, which was supposed to come less than one year later. It was during this period that I went the home of Devananda Pandita, a renowned teacher of Srimad-Bhagavatam, hoping to hear his lucid commentary on various texts."
"While listening to the story of Prahlada Maharaja," Srivasa told the Lord, "the predicted time of death had arrived. I lost consciousness and, under the spell of that final moment, I fell from Devananda's balcony to the courtyard below. Then, within one precious moment, someone rescued me from the jaws of death. Understanding that I was still alive, I was overcome with gratefulness. Again I stood, trying to keep my balance. My dear friends brought me to my home. I realize that at that time, 0 Lord, You brought me back to my senses. You saved me and infused me, at that moment, with Narada Sakti"
The Lord confirmed that this was true, and Advaita Acarya concurred, adding that "Srivasa is glorious. He is the home (vasa) of glory (Sri), and therefore he is called Srivasa Thakura." It should be understood that the above story as told by Kavi Karnapura is simply a lila by which one can understand that Srivasa is Narada. Although it appears that Srivasa was infused with Narada Sakti at a particular moment in time, such a view is merely an expression of how an eternal truth manifests in the world of three dimensions.
As the years passed, Srivisa. and his three brothers (Sri Rama, Sripati, Srinidhi and, according to Prema-vilasa, there was a fourth, Nalina) helped Mahaprabhu enact His pastimes of sankirtana by offering their house as His humble abode. These four brothers worshipped Sri Krsna by chanting His names profusely, for they were influenced by Srivasa's change of heart, and they were known to bathe in the Ganges three times a day.
Srivasa and his brothers were raised by their father Jaladhara Pandita in the district of Sri Hatta. Later they relocated to the west of the Ganges and became famous throughout the Navadvipa area as great devotees of the Lord. While in West Bengal they regularly attended devotional gatherings at Advaita Acarya's house, where the Srimad Bhagavatam was being recited and where they performed the congregational chanting of Krsna's holy names. The brothers gradually became close friends with Jagannatha Misra, with whom they would chant and listen to the Bhagavatam, but they did not know that Mahaprabhu would soon be born to the wife of this pious brahmana.
Only Srivasa, who was the natural leader of his three brothers, understood what was to come, for by the strength of his devotion he could understand that Sri Krsna was going to soon appear in the house of Jagannatha Misra.
Srivasa Pandita's wife was known as Malinidevi. She was a very close friend of Sacidevi, Mahaprabhu's mother, and was always helpful to her, especially when she gave birth to the Lord. Srivasa and Malini gave Sacidevi and Jagannatha advice on how to raise their newly born son. In fact, they were just like a second mother and father to Lord Caitanya.
As Nimai (Mahaprabhu) grew into boyhood, He sometimes asked the aging Srivasa Pandita difficult and convoluted questions just to antagonize him, but Srivasa, not wanting to waste words, would just leave the spot without bothering to argue with Him. Such pastimes of scholarship started to agitate the devotees of Navadvipa, who felt it unfortunate that a bright boy like little Nimai would spend his time in useless argument instead of a life of devotion. Understanding the minds of the Vaisnavas, the Lord offered respects to Srivasa whenever He saw him; this gesture of humility served to pacify the devotees.
One day Nimai was walking along with five or six of His students. He was dressed in fine silken clothes of yellow color, which made Him appear like Krsna's twin. His lips were red from chewing betel nut. By seeing His lotus face, more beautiful than ten million moons, the people of Navadvipa would remark, "This person is undoubtedly more attractive than Cupid!" Srivasa Pandita happened to be coming the other way. When he saw Nimai, he laughed to himself, impressed that anyone could be so disarmingly beautiful. As usual, Nimai offered His respects to Srivasa, who said to the Lord, "May you live long and prosper!"
But this was not all that he said. Still smiling, Srivasa looked the Lord straight in His eyes and asked Him, Tell me, where are You going, 0 crest jewel of the vain and arrogant?! Without worshipping Krsna, just what do You expect to accomplish, passing the time as You do? How is it that day and night You are simply absorbed in academics and mundane pursuits? Think about it: Why do people study? Ultimately, the goal of knowledge is happiness, and happiness can only be acquired through service to Krsna. If by scholarship one doesn't gain devotion to the Lord, then how will that learning help him? It becomes simply a tedious endeavour which in the end is nothing but a waste of time. If You have actually learned something of substance, then begin Your worship of Sri Krsna now! Please don't uselessly waste Your time in these vain pursuits. You have studied so much. Now use Your knowledge to worship God."
These ideas pleased Nimai to the core of His being. Hearing Srivasa's words, the Lord smiled and replied to him, "Hear Me, Srivasa. By your mercy, I will one day come to worship Krsna. If the devotees are kind to Me, then I will definitely attain devotion to Sri Krsna's lotus feet." Saying this, He proceeded toward the bank of the Ganges in a light-hearted mood, accompanied by His students.
Soon after this incident, Nimai went to Gaya and received initiation into Vaisnava dharma. One day after His return, Srivasa came to Saci's house, and Mahaprabhu offered His most respectful greetings. By seeing a devotee of Srivasa's caliber, Mahaprabhu's devotional sentiments increased. His bodily hair stood on end, tears flowed from His eyes, and His body trembled. Such symptoms of ecstasy were now appearing in Him regularly. Together with Srivasa and his brothers, the Lord decided to transform Srivasa's home into a second Vrndavana, where the love of Radha and Krsna would resound in uproarious and uncontrollable kirtana. Every time the Lord visited Srivisa's home for chanting and dancing, His love of God increased one thousand times. For a full year, He held kirtana sessions there every day!