The Gaudiya Vedantist
SUMMARY OF PART I: In the early eighteenth century, after a vigorous study of Vedanta philosophy, Baladeva Vidyabhusana accepted Lord Caitanya's teachings as the highest revelation of the Absolute Truth. Meanwhile, a sect in Rajasthan known as the Ramanandis was challenging the authenticity of Lord Caitanya's move-ment. Although the Ramanandis were flourishing under the patronage of King Jai Singh, the king favored the Gaudiyas (followers of Lord Caitanya) and was a devotee of Govinda, one of their principal Deities.
The Ramanandis alleged that Lord Caitanya's followers lay outside the four recognized disciplic lines (sampradayas) and therefore had no valid standing. If the Gaudiyas failed to defend the legitimacy of Lord Caitanya's movement, they could lose all respectability and even the right to worship Govinda. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, the leader of the Gaudiyas in Vrndavana, saw in Baladeva the right defender for Gaudiya Vaisnavism.
JAI SINGH PREPARED HIMSELF for the religious confrontation he knew was inevitable. He collected and studied the writings of the Gaudiya sect and compared it with the writings of other Vaisnava sampradayas. He studied the Bhagavata Puranaand its commentaries by Sridhara Svami, Sanatana Gosvami, and Jiva Gosvami. He pored over the Vedanta-sutra and its commentaries by Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, and Nimbarka. He explored the works of Sanatana Gosvami, Rupa Gosvami, Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, Jiva Gosvami, and Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, the principal theologians of the Gaudiya school. And he read Jayadeva's Gita-govinda, the poetry that had often evoked expressions of ecstatic love in Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Jai Singh wanted to reconcile the differences between the principal sects of Vaisnavas. He felt that these differences had no philosophical basis, so continual wrangling could serve no purpose. Having completed his research, he composed a thesis entitledBrahma-bodhini, advocating the unity of the Vaisnavas.
The king's attraction to Krsna had been sparked during his first visit to Vrndavana, as a child of seven. He had been called there by his father, the military commander of the district, who had been deputed to protect the caravans between Agra and Mathura. From that young age, Jai Singh had considered himself a devotee of Krsna. Now his study of the writings of the Vrndavana Gosvamis crystallized his sentiments. But his devotion to Radha and Krsna would be tested by the Ramanandis.
"The Gaudiyas should not worship Radha and Krsna together," the Ramanandis told him. "Radha and Krsna are not married. There is no precedent for Their being worshiped together! Sita and Rama are together, and Laksmi and Narayana, because They are married. But Radha and Krsna are not married."
Now the Ramanandis were escalating the quarrel. They not only criticized the Gaudiyas' lineage but also found fault with the Gaudiya method of worship. The Ramanandis demanded that Radha be removed from the main altar and placed in another room, to be worshiped separately.
Jai Singh sent word to the mahantas (religious authorities) of the Gaudiya temples. "You must prepare a response to the criticisms voiced by the Ramanandis of Galta Valley. I am sympathetic to your philosophy and practice, but your response must be adequate to silence the Ramanandi panditas, or I shall be forced to separate Radharani from Krsna."
The mahantas of the four major Gaudiya temples of Amber submitted their response in writing. They ex-plained that Rupa, Sanatana, and Jiva Gosvamis shared the same opinion about Radha and Krsna: They could be worshiped either as married (svakiya-rasa) or unmarried (parakiya-rasa), since both these pastimes (lila) are eternal.Wor-ship of Krsna in either lila is adequate to establish a devotee's eternal relationship with the Supreme.
The Ramanandis rejected these arguments. Fighting for their religious and political power, they again approached Jai Singh.
Because Radha and Krsna were not married, the Ramanandis complained, worshiping Them together condoned Their questionable relationship. The Ramanandis also criticized the Gaudiyas for worshiping Krsna without first worshiping Narayana.
To appease the Ramanandis, Jai Singh told them he would ask the Gaudiyas to place the Deity of Radharani in a separate room. He would also ask them to explain their breach of Vaisnava etiquette in neglecting Narayana worship, and he would ask them to prove their link with the Madhva-sampradaya.
Visvanatha Deputes Baladeva
Visvanatha Cakravarti, a scholar of great repute, lived in Vrndavana at this time. Visvanatha had been born in 1646 in a Bengali village named Saidabad, where he had spent the first years of his life. Like other aspiring young renunciants, Visvanatha had faced problems with his family, who had betrothed him at a young age to tie him to domestic life. As a married youth, Visvanatha had studied extensively, and while living with his family in Saidabad he had written brilliant commentaries on Vaisnava scripture.
During his life in Saidabad, Visvanatha had taken initiation from Radha-ramana Cakravarti and studied the Srimad-Bhagavatam and other Vaisnava scriptures with Radharamana's father, Krsnacarana Cakravarti. Radha-ramana was three generations removed from the main preceptor in their line, Narottama Dasa Thakura.
Eventually Visvanatha had left his family and gone to Vrndavana, where he had lived at Radha-kunda. He formally accepted the dress of a renunciant and was then called Harivallabha. He continued writing and preaching, and eventually he became the leader of the Gaudiya community in Vrndavana.
By the time Govinda moved to Rajasthan in 1707, Visvanatha was more than sixty years old. The aging scholar followed the Amber developments with interest. How would Govinda and His priests fare in that pluralistic environment, at the vortex of the competing forces of the young king's devotion, the Ramanandis' antagonism, and the threatening presence of so many sects?
Visvanatha regularly communicated with the mahantas of the Vaisnava temples in Amber. Although he had expected trouble from the Ramanandis, the quarrel had stewed for years before threatening the Gaudiya priests or affecting the Deity worship. Now, he knew, they despaired over the growing antagonism of the Ramanandis.
Visvanatha called for Baladeva. "We must refute the points of the Ramanandis," Visvanatha told his protege. "It will not be easy, but we can defeat them."
Baladeva was outraged by the presumptuousness of the Ramanandi critics. "Why must we establish the legitimacy of our lineage?" he demanded. "The Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna, appeared as Lord Caitanya to establish the true religion for this Age of Quarrel. When God Himself originates a religious tradition, who may dare question its legitimacy?"
"The Ramanandis do question it," Visvanatha replied, "and they rest their criticism on the statement in Padma Purana that in this age there are four sampradayas, or lines of disciplic succession. The Purana says:
catvaras te kalau bhavya
hy utkale purusottama
The meaning is that the four Vaisnava sampradayas—Sri, Brahma, Rudra, and Kumara—purify the earth."
"Yes," replied Baladeva, "I know this verse. And the Ramanandis say that the words utkale purusottama mean that these four sampradayas have their monasteries in Orissa, in Purusottama-ksetra, the town of Jagannatha Puri.
"But the real meaning is that the Supreme Lord, Purusottama, is the quintessence of these four sampradayas. And when He appears in Kali-yuga, He lives in Jagannatha Puri, as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. So the Gaudiya lineage is not a fifth sampradayabut the essence of the four."
Visvanatha and Baladeva spent the night discussing the Ramanandis' other points of contention about Lord Caitanya's movement. They developed the strategy by which they would defeat the Ramanandis.
Visvanatha sent Baladeva with Krsnadeva Sarvabhauma to Amber. Baladeva's arrival there was unheralded. He was new to the Gaudiya community, unknown even among the Gaudiya mahantas of Amber. And he was young. No one, even of his own tradition, suspected that a philosophical giant lived within the unpretentious form of this Gaudiya holyman from Vrndavana. Baladeva had difficulty gaining audience with the king. And when he was finally able to do so, the Ramanandis in the court were ready for him.
"Sir," Baladeva said to the king, "I have come to resolve doubts about the Gaudiya-sampradaya and its methods of worship."
"Your Highness,"a Ramanandi pandita broke in, "we request to speak to him directly!"
Jai Singh turned to Baladeva. "You may speak," the king said, confident that if Krsna were indeed the Supreme Lord, Krsna would arrange for His own defense.
The Ramanandis opened with an offensive they felt sure would guarantee their authority.
"The problem," they told Baladeva, "is that you do not belong to a proper sampradaya. Therefore we cannot accept the literature written by your panditas."
"I am from the Madhva-sampradaya," Baladeva asserted confidently.
"I have been initiated in Mysore by a Tirtha of the Madhva order. But Radha-Damodara Gosvami and Visvanatha Cakravarti of the Gaudiya-sampradaya are also my gurus. They have taught me Bhagavata philosophy."
The Ramanandis were surprised.
Baladeva's Madhva initiation meant that they had to accept him as a qualified sannyasi and pandita of an authorized lineage. But they hoped his youth might indicate a lack of skill. They rallied themselves. "You may be from the Madhva-sampradaya, but the other Gaudiyas are not!"
Baladeva retained his dignity and produced a key piece of evidence. "That is the Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika, written by Kavi Karnapura more than one hundred years ago. This manuscript details our lineage from Madhva." Baladeva presented the manuscript for inspection.
The Ramanandis again argued, "If the Gaudiyas claim descent from Madhva, then you must base your arguments on Madhva's Brahma-sutra commentary. We know that the Gaudiyas have no commentary of their own."
Baladeva thought. The Gaudiyas had never written a commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, because they accepted the Srimad-Bhagavatam as the natural commentary. Vyasa is the author of both of these works, and Lord Caitanya taught that when the author comments on his own work, his opinion is the best.
Baladeva knew that the Ramanandis would reject this argument. But he also knew that if he used Madhva's commentary he would have problems, for Madhva's commentary would not justify the style of worship practiced by the Gaudiyas. So Baladeva decided he would need to write a Gaudiya commentary himself. This commentary should be based on Madhva's, but could have some allowable differences. "I will show you our commentary," Baladeva said. "Please allow me to bring it."
"Indeed, send for it," granted the Ramanandi spokesman.
"That won't be possible," replied Baladeva. "I will require several days to write it."
The Ramanandis were stunned. Could Baladeva produce a commentary within a few days? How audacious! But if Baladeva could indeed produce it, the Ramanandis' position might be threatened. Should they grant him the time he required?
Before they could speak, King Jai Singh interjected. "Yes, the time is granted. Prepare your commentary and notify us when it is ready. You should know that unless you present a suitable commentary, we shall accept the criticisms of the Ramanandis as valid. But I shall not act on any of their demands until you have had an opportunity to present your commentary and your arguments."
Govindaji Inspires Baladeva
Baladeva left the assembly, followed by Krsnadeva Sarvabhauma. Baladeva saw himself a puppet in the hands of the Lord. He had spoken boldly in the assembly, but would the Divine Puppeteer guide his pen?
Baladeva went to Govindapura. Presenting himself before Govinda, he knelt and prayed. "O Govinda, Your devotee Visvanatha has sent me here to defend You and Your devotees, but I cannot do it! I am just a soul fallen in ignorance. If You wish, You may empower me to write a Vedanta-sutra commentary that will glorify You. If You wish, I shall write the truths I have learned from Your devotees and Your scripture. And I have faith that by Your mercy these truths will appear most logical."
Then Baladeva began to write. Pausing scarcely to rest, he wrote and prayed and wrote again. Days passed, and nights, but he did not stop. Some historians say he wrote for one month. Others say it took him only seven days.
In any event, Baladeva soon returned from Govindapura. By now, keen expectancy had been aroused in all the various parties. Jai Singh, hoping to see the Gaudiyas vindicated, was especially eager to see the commentary. The Ramanandis, however, awaited the commentary with some trepidation, hoping they could defeat it readily.
Baladeva entered the court of debate convened in Galta. He stood on one side with the Gaudiya mahantas. Facing them were the Ramanandi panditas. King Jai Singh presided, and an audience of nobles and scholars was in attendance.
With the king's permission, Baladeva rose.
"This commentary," he said, putting forward his work, "is based on Madhva's, but there are some important differences. If you examine it, you will find that it upholds the Gaudiya philosophy taught by Lord Caitanya."
A Ramanandi pandita stepped forward and received Baladeva's commentary.
"Who is the author of this work?" he asked.
Baladeva replied, "The name of the commentary is Govinda-bhasya. Govinda has inspired this work. I have given the direct meanings of the sutras according to the wish of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. And my comments are based on the teachings of mygurus."
The learned members of the Ramanandi contingent examined the first portion of the bhasya to determine whether it was as Baladeva had claimed.
A spokesman conceded, "The influence of Madhva is certainly demonstrable in this commentary, but we should examine some of the differences."
Baladeva then addressed each of the Ramanandis' objections to Gaudiya worship.
"I have expounded on every aspect of Gaudiya practice in chapter three," he said. "Since your criticisms concern our style of worship, you should turn to chapter three to see how Vyasa, the author of Vedanta-sutra, has provided for our worship.
"You object to our worship of Radha with Govinda on the superficial grounds that They are not married. In verses forty through forty-two I have presented the true position of Radha in relation to Krsna. Radha is the eternal energy of Krsna and is never separated from Him. Their relationship may be parakiya or svakiya, but that does not affect the eternality of Their union. The separation of Radha and Govinda you have effected is artificial and therefore offensive to the Lord, who holds deep affection for His female energy.
"You have criticized our predilection for worshiping only Krsna, neglecting neglecting the worship of Narayana, Visnu, which you say is mandatory for all Vaisnavas. I have addressed that point in my comments to verse forty-three. According to theVedanta-sutra, Narayana may be worshiped in any of His forms, including Krsna. No scriptural injunction prohibits the worship of Govinda exclusive of Narayana."
Baladeva continued speaking while the Ramanandis stood defenseless. He spoke eloquently and exhaustively. A rebuttal from the Ramanandis never developed.
At the end of Baladeva's presentation, King Jai Singh waited, weighing the evidence. The Ramanandis' silence confirmed his own opinion.
He delivered his decision in a brief but conclusive statement. "The evidence supporting the Gaudiya legitimacy is unassailable. Hereafter, the Gaudiyas shall be recognized and respected as an authorized religious sect. I order the reunion of Radha with Govinda."
The Gaudiya mahantas in Amber, free at last from condemnation by the Ramanandis, celebrated by building a temple of victory on the hill overlooking the Galta valley. The temple Deity was appropriately named Vijaya Gopala, "Victorious Gopala."
At the Feet of Govinda
Baladeva returned to Vrndavana, where he assumed leadership of the Gaudiya community. He continued to write. Faithful to Jiva Gosvami and devoted to Lord Caitanya, he produced commentaries on ten principal Upanisads and nine works of the Vrndavana Gosvamis. He also wrote original works on grammar, drama, prosody, and poetics. He remained the unquestioned authority on Vaisnava theology until his death.*
With Baladeva's victory over the Ramanandis, Jai Singh was satisfied. He had found the synthesis of Vaisnava religions. And Radha had been reunited with Govinda on the altar, as She is in eternity. Jai Singh dedicated himself to Govinda and passed a long, productive life as a king and scholar.
In 1714 Jai Singh moved Govinda to the Jai Nivasa Gardens and installed Him in a garden house, where He was worshiped for twenty-one years. In 1735 the king built a temple for Govinda within the Jaipur palace compound. Jai Singh later installed Govinda as the king of Jaipur and accepted the position of minister for himself. From that time his royal seal read, sri govinda-deva carana savai jai singh sarana: "Lord Govinda, at whose feet Jai Singh takes refuge."
Nandarani Devi Dasi and Dayananda Dasa work with the Institute for Vaisnava Studies, located near Washington, D.C. The Institute researches Vaisnava thought, history, and practice.
Jiva Goswami's Tattvasandarbha, Stuart Mark Elkman (Elkman's commentary includes Bhaktivinoda Thakura's comments on Baladeva Vidyabhusana)(Motilal Benarsidass, 1986).
Sri Sri Gaudiya Vaisnava Abhidana, Sri Haridas Das, Haribol Kutir, Sri Dhama Navadvipa, 1955.
History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. VII, R. C. Majumdar and others, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1974.
Mathura, A District Memoir, Frederick S. Growse, Oudh Government Press, Allahabad, 1883.
Literary Heritage of the Rulers of Amber and Jaipura, Gopal Narayana Bahura, City Palace Museum, Jaipura, 1976.
Jaipur City, A. K. Roy (publisher and date unknown).