Note: Originally written in May 2009. Some original images unavailable
Recently on the FHRS (Foundation for Hindu Religious Studies) forum a scholar was questioning the value of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Bhakti Movement. I wont get into the ‘religious’ aspects of the post doubting whether Chaitanya is truly an avatar of Krsna. However the lack of recognition to the global and immense impact of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s message must be responded to. I recognize the angst of many Hindus regarding the long term trauma and ongoing injustices perpetrated against India’s Dharmic traditions. However it is not helpful to denigrate our own traditions, avatars, sampradayas and gurus and become confused as to the how, where, why and what is truly behind the assault against Bharat Mata and its culture and civilization. First it must be understood that according to Gaudiya Siddhanta Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krsna as His own devotee. He came to teach us how to be devotees and how to function in an asuric society. He therefore came to teach us how to survive in the modern era. Running around with Chakras and swords is not an equitable approach. Yet empowering oneself with Bhakti Shakti is a path that is available to one and all.
We must keep in mind that India is not the entire world nor are Indians the only ones faced with oppression. Therefore Krsna came as Caitanya to guide the entire humanity towards perfection.
I must point out that if it were not for Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Prabhupada I personally would not be a Vedic Follower what to speak of a being a Vedic activist. Therefore I am forever grateful to them for their message and mission to bring the teachings of India’s Vaishnava culture to the entire world.
In fact many aspects of social awareness and a common acceptance of higher human values amongst non-Indian peoples can be directly connected to the mission of Prabhupada/Chaitanya. This legacy is intentionally downplayed and ignored by mainstream academia and social scientists. Yet it is a fact. Thus from that fact alone Chaitanya’s legacy is profound.
In fact many aspects of social awareness and a common acceptance of higher human values amongst non-Indian peoples can be directly connected to the mission of Srila Prabhupad and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This legacy is intentionally downplayed and ignored by mainstream academia and social scientists. Yet it is a fact. Thus from that fact alone Chaitanya’s legacy is profound.
As for the Islamic issue: We can look at it from both the short term and long term perspectives. In both cases we find that the path chalked out by Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu is quite effective. In the episodes that are widely known in which Caitanya or His contemporary followers had direct interactions with Muslim leaders, we find that rather than submission He conquered with Love.
First incident involved the Chand Kazi in Navadweep, Bengal. After receiving complaints from some caste-conscious Brahmins that Caitanya was spoiling the Hindu religion the Kazi banned public sankirtan. The Hindu priests were disturbed by Caitanya’s freely welcoming Hindus of all castes as equals and His welcoming Muslims as well into his Harinam Sankirtan mission. Caitanya’s repsonse was not to merely turn the other cheek and accept injustice. Rather He organized a massive civil disobedience march and a huge rally that culminated in front of the Kazi’s residence. In fear for his life the Kazi hid himself but Caitanya Mahaprabhu soothed his fears and arranged a direct face to face meeting.
In this meeting Caitanya Mahaprabhu was lovingly blunt and He challenged the Kazi by telling him that his scripture, the Quran was full of delusions. In the end the Kazi vowed to never dirsupt the Sankirtan movement and even held his descendants to the vow. In fact the Kazi and his family members became committed followers of Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission. To this day the tomb of the Kazi is a place of pilgrimage for the Gaudiya Vaishnavas.
“In another incident two of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s most important followers Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana Goswamis were the high ministers for the Nawab of Bengal. Since this Nawab was intent on attacking Orrisa and other Hindu Kingdoms, they left his service.
“The Moslem emperor of Gauda desh, Nawab Hussein Shah, keen to spread his influence on the local people, conscripted the two brothers into his service, by threatening tribulations on the local people if they did not agree to work for him. Much against their desire, the brothers worked in prominent positions in the Shah’s court. However as pure devotees, they used their wealth and energies in the service of Krishna, by constructing an opulent ‘hidden Vrindavan’ in Ramakeli, immersed themselves in the reading of the Bhagvatam and perfecting their own realizations.” They used their positions to employ many Brahmins and organized many Hindu events.
In other words they used their positions to empower Hindu culture following a path of least resistance.
Haridas Thakur was another prominent follower of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. It is said he was either born in a Muslim family or adopted into one at a very young age. Either way he was considered by the Muslim rulers as an apostate for renouncing his Islamic heritage and was sentenced to death.
“The Nawab rebuked Hari Das, saying, “Chant the names of God as they are found in your own religion and stop practicing other peoples’ religion. If you don’t, you will have to face a very severe punishment.” Hari Das Thakur answered with conviction:
khanda khanda haï deha jay jadi prana tabu ami vadane na charii hari-nama
“You may cut my body to pieces, and the life may leave it. But I will never abandon the Holy Name which my tongue will ever continue to chant.”
(Chaitanya Bhagavat 16.91)
Muslims joining in Sri Chaitanya’s Chanting Party
Hearing this the Nawab ordered Haridas to be publicly beaten to death. “He should be given such a severe punishment that other Muslims will be afraid to convert.”
After being beaten in 22 marketplaces his body was flung into the Ganges. To everyone’s surprise, Hari Das floated to the other shore where he climbed onto dry land and started chanting the Holy Names in a loud voice, walking in the direction of Phuliya. Both the Nawab and the Kazi realized that he was a real saint or pir and they fell to the ground in obeisances and begged him for forgiveness. By his grace, they were able to become free of their evil misdeeds. The Nawab gave Hari Das official permission to go wherever he pleased and to chant the Holy Names.
Rupa Goswami Meets Sri Chaitanya
Vrndavan Das Thakur writes that Caitanya Mahaprabhu was so outraged by this attack on His devotee that He was prepared to kill the Nawab and his henchment. Yet it was Haridas thakur who stopped Him. Thus we see that despite the efforts of the Muslim rulers to hinder the Sankirtan movement, by the strategy of Mahaprabhu and His followers, such efforts always backfired. By these responses the faith in the Hindu traditions were reinforced in the hearts and minds of millions of people. Considering time and circumstances is crucial when confronting imbalances. Caitanya Mahaprabhu perfectly dealt with all situations in an equitable manner.
In another incident, during Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s visit to the Vrndavan/Mathura area He fainted in ecstasy upon hearing the sounds of flute playing reminiscent of Lord Krsna. Some Muslim Pathan soldiers came upon Him and seeing Him unconscious in the company of His followers they assumed that He had been poisoned. They accused Mahaprabhu’s associates of being dacoits who were in the midst of murdering and robbing Caitanya.
The following clearly highlights the fearless yet nonviolent bhakti shakti which was a common feature of Caitanya and His followers. “The Sanoriya Brahmin explained to the Pathan as follows: “I am a Brahmin from Mathura and I know hundreds of people in the Emperor’s court. This sannyasi is my guru and he happens to be ill, which makes him faint from time to time. Tie us up and wait for a few minutes. He will regain consciousness and you will hear the truth from him.” The Pathan listened and said, “I can understand what you two are saying. You are from Mathura, but these two Bengalis are trembling with guilt. They must have done something wrong.” The Rajaputa Krishna Das was acutely aware of the danger of the situation and said, “I live in the neighboring village. I have two hundred Turkish mercenaries with a hundred cannons at my command. I only have to shout and they will come here and take your horses and equipment. I think that you must be highwaymen, not these two Bengalis. You are only interested in robbing pilgrims like us.” The Muslim cavalrymen were cast into doubt by these fearless words. Meanwhile, the Lord came back to consciousness and in a transport of ecstasy, shouted out the names “Hari! Hari!” and began to dance. The Pathan soldiers were overcome by fear when they heard the Lord bellow and saw his ecstatic dancing. They immediately liberated their four prisoners and the Lord never saw his devotees tied up.”
In the end, Mahaprabhu opened the hearts of the Muslims and thus they became His devout followers.The Sufi Pathan began spontaneously to chant the names of Krishna. When Mahaprabhu heard the saintly Muslim chant the Lord’s names, he was pleased, thinking that all the sins that he had accumulated over millions of births had all been destroyed and that he had been purified. The Lord told them all to chant, which they did. He initiated the Sufi Pathan in the holy name and gave him the name Rama Das. When the prince Bijali Khan saw the good fortune of his own servant, he fell down at the Lord’s feet and repeated the name, “Krishna, Krishna.” The Lord also blessed him. “After bestowing his mercy upon them in this way, Mahaprabhu continued on his way. All the Muslim soldiers then became mendicants and were celebrated as the Pathan Vasihnavas. They toured all over the country, glorifying Mahaprabhu’s activities. Bijali Khan became a greatly advanced devotee, and his fame was sung at every holy place of pilgrimage.”
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 2.18.210-2) [Excerpted from “Sri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates” by Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj]
Rather than meekly accepting things as they are Caitanya directly challenged those born in Bharat, India.
bharata-bhumite haila manusya janma yarae
janma sarthaka kari’ kara para-upakara
“One who has taken his birth as a human being in the land of India (Bharata-varsa) should make his life successful and work for the benefit of all other people.” (Cc Adi 9.41)
Arabic Bhagavad Gita By AC Bhaktivedanta Swami PrabhupadaArabic Consciousness the Missing Link
When we look at the impact of Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s movement in the long term we see that it has done more than any other branch of Hinduism in sharing its culture with the Islamic world. Prabhupda’s Iskcon Movement has made many inroads whether thru books Arab Bhagavad Gita or the Manipuri Rasa Lila dancers tour of the Middle East.With crowds of 5-10 thousand people in attendance… “There was no objection from anyone to our chanting hare krishna (we even managed to make the audience repeat “Hare Krishna!” after we greeted them in their tradition with “Salaamualaikum”, “Ham
dulllah”! It was ecstatic..”
The Arabic Druze-Krsna center established in Osafia, Israel. The Druze Sheikh Hussein said, “Since we stepped on the holy land of Mayapur, India we felt that we were coming home….”We are very eager to visit the Ganges, because we have heard that simply by touching the water to our heads we will be freed of all sins.” These are all direct results of Prabhupada’s preaching on behalf of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Srila Prabhupada Speaks with Scholars in Tehran Iran
We also find that during Prabhupada’s world tours, he visited Iran twice and was received with great respect. Even the former Shah of Iran and his family began studying yoga and reading his books. In fact it has been suggested that the the Khomeini was a direct response to the rising influence of Vedic culture amongst the people of Iran.
What to speak of the Muslim world, it is directly due to the mission of Sri Caitanya Dev that Hindu-Vedic culture and ethos are practiced throughout the world.
There is more than one way to success and more than one way to deal with oppression. The path of physical violence has a place at times. However we find that India’s own history has shown that despite the brilliant military successes of Shivaji, the Sikhs, Netaji and others or the political approach of Gandhi none compare to the long term success of Caitanya’s methods. I must also highlight the teachings of Maharashi and his movement have made great inroads throughout the world through the application of India’s ‘Soft Power.”
More than any so-called Eunichism of the Bhakti movement, it was the oppression of caste conscious fanatics that imposed an unyielding and inhumane system upon the people of India. Trapped into their enforced roles amongst society it was easy to entice millions of Hindus to convert to Islam and Christianity and now Communism.
It also important to note that the same Islamic invasions and Colonial imperialism were not solely an Indian affair. In fact looking at it from a global perspective we find that throughout the entire world India is the only surviving and functioning remnant of the world’s ancient indigenous civilizations. Why is this?
Looking at it from a logical perspective I see only two ways to explain this phenomenon. India’s immense population is a source of power and a formidable method for maintaining its traditions. However population alone can not account for India’s cultural survival thus we see that China has barely maintained its cultural identity. Much more significant than its population are those very traditions of India that make India what it is. Paramount amongst those traditions are the Bhakti traditions of India.
In conclusion I hold the exact opposite view regarding the impact of Bhakti on India’s people. Bhakti is Shakti. This is obvious when we compare China and India. Each Bhakta is a powerhouse of commitment and Dharma. Magnify this by the millions and we have a people and a Nation that is vibrant and dynamic. India is far from defeated and the ongoing attacks on India’s Dharmic Soul are evidence of this. For what other reason would the enemies of Hinduism repeatably carry out terror attacks on Mandirs and other Bhakti based sites? They obviously recognize the power of Bhakti as a major obstacle to the destruction of Hinduism! The opposition recognizes that as long as Bharat is a land of millions of Bhaktas it will never succeed in its goals of conquest. Bhakti is the shield of Bharat. Bhakti is the foundation of Bharat! Bhakti is the future hope of the entire world. Bhakti is the beating heart of humanity and nourishes the Soul. As long as India has Bhakti it will not only survive but it will be prosperous, vibrant and continue to be the shining light of the world.
Excellent study on the positive impact of the Bhakti movements
A Comparative and Critical Study of Shankaradeva, Vallabha and Chaitanya