Govardhan (Chakleshwar), 2011.10.01 (VT): Unfortunately, though it was my intention to attend Siddha Krishna Das Baba’s utsave in Govardhan, I missed due to a mixup of the Chaturthis. Chaturthi was mixed and so some people observed yesterday, others today. As you can see from this article, I went yesterday.
Siddha Krishna Das Baba of Govardhan was one of the four famous siddha babas of 19th century Vraja. Since he spent most of his life by the banks of the Manasi Ganga, at Chakleshwar, and his samadhi is there, this is where the annual festival is held. At the bottom of this post, I have embedded some videos of the suchak kirtans filmed by Madhavananda Das in 2005 so that you can get an idea of how the tithis of saints are observed by the renounced Vaishnavas of the Gaudiya tradition.
First, though, let me introduce the Siddha Baba legend to our readers by reposting the brief biography published by Dr. O.B.L. Kapoor in his Hindi Braj ke bhakta, which I translated many years ago.
Once, a brahmin from Southern India known as Tailanga Pandit was traveling through the north, challenging everyone to scholarly debate, making a great deal of noise. But because of his unbeatable reputation, no one could gather the courage to even come before him, what to speak of actually debating scripture with him. What a shameful affair it was when he arrived in Braj! Braj, which for centuries had been the cultural centre of India, was now forced to lower its head in defeat before a single scholar from Telangana.
The pandits of the are were preoccupied with the question of how Braj would be able to save face. After much thought, the only solution they could come up with whereby the South Indian brahmin could be deflated was to have him go to Govardhan to meet with Siddha Krishna Das Baba. Their only fear was that Krishna Das might be so absorbed in bhajan that he would not enter into any discussion of scripture, or that out of humility he would avoid any debate altogether, pleading his own unworthiness.
Were this to happen, all hope would be lost. They needed get this “world-conqueror” or dig-vijayi to approach Siddha Baba in such a way that Baba could only get rid of him through engaging him in a clash of intellects.
Finally the Braj pandits came up with the following scheme. They went to the dig-vijayi and after offering him the proper greetings and praises, said, “Sir, we have all been greatly impressed by your talent. There is none among us who can converse adequately with you. We humble request you to take the trouble of visiting Govardhan’s Siddha Krishna Das Baba. He is the crown jewel of all of Braj’s scholars. If you can defeat him in debate then you can understand that the drums of your victory will be beaten throughout the world. We must warn you, however, that he is not an easy man to get hold of. If you want to enter into a debate about scriptures with him, you will have to ask him personally, and you will also have to make a display of your own scholarship. He does not discuss scripture with anyone and everyone, but only with those whom he considers to be of sufficient worth.”
Appealing to the world-conqueror’s pride in this way was sufficient goading. The pandit left Vrindavan the very next day for Govardhan. He found Krishna Das’s bhajana kutir and said, “I have heard that you are the king of Braj’s scholars. I have come to engage in a debate on the scriptures and to accept a written admission of defeat from you.”
Baba thought, “Why has this vexation befallen me?” He tried hard to ignore the challenge by showing humility and by various other clever statements. The world-conqueror, however, was not about to give up; he had to see to it that the kettle drums announcing his victory would resound. Becoming somewhat sad and angry, he said, “I came here to Braj because I was under the impression that there were many great scholars here and that I would find pleasure in discussing the scriptures with them. But I have not been able to find a single scholar here who is even capable of pronouncing the Vedic hymns correctly.”
Siddha Baba said, “True enough. A scholar of the Vedas like yourself would be rare here. Would you be so kind as to chant any mantra from the Samaveda, just so that we could hear how it should really be done?”
The scholar had been waiting for just such an opportunity. In a beautiful voice he began to sing a mantra from the most musical of the Vedas. Siddha Baba listened and then said, “You made three faults in the melody.”
The scholar said, “There is no scholar in the whole of India who is able to chant this mantra more correctly than I have just done. I would like to see if you could do better.”
Then Siddha Baba himself recited the verse in the proper way. Hearing him, the pandit was dumbfounded. He prostrated himself before Baba in all humility and said, “Knowledge such as yours is not possible in this world. There is no one in the universe who is your equal!”
This statement was completely true. Siddha Baba’s knowledge was not of this world.
Nothing about him was of this world. His entire life, from its very beginning, had been guided and directed by some divine power.
Batakrishna comes to Braj
Those who wish to give up worldly life in order to devote themselves fully to a life of higher purpose must face so many travails, not only coming into conflict with their own selves, but with their families and relatives. But Baba never encountered any such conflict. His life’s path was clear from the very beginning.
Born in Orissa in a well-to-do Vaishnava family initiated in the line of Narottam Das Thakur, he lost both his parents when still young. When his father, Sanatan Kanungo, died, his mother followed him by performing sati. Before climbing the funeral pyre, however, she instructed each of her three sons. She commanded the youngest of them, Batakrishna, to go to Vrindavan and dedicate his life to the worship of Krishna. It was this Batakrishna who was later to become famous as Siddha Krishna Das.
Taking the path shown him by his mother, Batakrishna left for Vrindavan at the age of sixteen. After studying the shastras in Vrindavan town for two years, he went to Jaipur in the hope of serving Govindaji. He was given authorization to do so by the king of Jaipur, and remained there for eight or nine years. During this time, he ate the rich food that was given in offerings to Govindaji, but gradually discovered that even though he was eating the holy remnants (prasad) of Rupa Goswami’s own ishta devata, he was nevertheless afflicted by strong sensual desires. This caused him to feel doubt. After all, how could anyone experience such desires even while engaged in the service of Govindaji and partaking only of his spiritual leftovers?
There was no one in Jaipur who could clear the doubt from his mind. So he went back to Braj to Kamyavan to see Siddha Jayakrishna Das Baba whom he asked to clarify the matter. Baba answered in the following manner:
Listen, son. Take a green tree and cut it. Then put it in water. After a few days, take it out of the water and then put it straight into a fire. Will it burst into flame? The living soul has fallen into the ocean of material existence where he has been since time without beginning. There it has been soaking in the juices of material desire like the waterlogged tree. If you suddenly take it and throw it into the fire of bhakti, the result will be exactly the same as if you throw a waterlogged piece of wood into a fire. If you want the flame of devotion to catch hold, you must first dry the juice of sensual enjoyments out of it.
Now you may ask, what is the relation between sensual enjoyment and mahaprasad? Mahaprasad is not material, it is completely different from the material sense objects, you will say. But have you forgotten what Mahaprabhu said to Raghunath Das? Raghunath Das used to buy the mahaprasad of Jagannath in Puri to give to Caitanya Mahaprabhu, but Caitanya said, “An invitation to eat the food of a materialistic person is in the mode of passion.”(1) In other words, to take the food offered by a materialistic person is like inviting the mode of passion to come, even if that food comes in the form of mahaprasad.
On the other hand, when Mahaprabhu heard that Raghunath was taking, washing and eating the prasad which had been thrown on the roadside and was so rotten that even the animals would sniff and reject it, he himself showed a desire to partake with him. He went to Raghunath and grabbed a handful of this food from his hand and ate it up. He then said to him, “Every day I eat all kinds of prasad, but nowhere do I find such a delicious flavor as this.”(2)
Now listen to me. I will tell you about an incident that has a bearing on this. This took place sometime after Rupa and Sanatan and the other Gosvamis of Vrindavan had departed from this world. In Bengal, there was a certain kirtan group that would dance and sing through the town as though mad with love of God. A well-known prostitute was watching them from the rooftop of her house and became so affected that she came down to where they were and rolled about in the dust of the feet of the Vaishnavas who were singing. The influence of the dust was such that she immediately felt a spirit of renunciation pervade her mind. She fell at the feet of the leader of that group of Vaishnavas and began to cry. The leader asked her, “What do you want?” In answer to this, she said, “I want you to take the thousands of rupees worth of jewellery that I possess. Take all my worldly riches and use them in the service of the Vaishnavas, and make me your disciple.”
The leader said, “I accept your request. You are now my disciple. Now just obey this order. Take all the money and jewellery that you have and take it to Vrindavan and give it to Govindaji.”
The prostitute did as she was told and took everything to Vrindavan, but when she revealed her desire to Govindaji’s priest, he said that he was not able to accept her offering because of who and what she was. The prostitute was disheartened by this refusal and for three days sat fasting on the banks of the Yamuna. Finally Govindaji ordered his priest, “Go to the banks of the Yamuna and bring the prostitute here. Take all the wealth which she has offered, buy food and make me a feast. Then let her dress me by her own hand.”
The priest did as he was told. The prostitute was allowed to bath and dress the deity herself. The money she had given was used to prepare a variety of dishes which were offered to Govindaji. Vaishnavas were then invited to take the prasad which resulted of this offering. That very night, all the Vaishnavas who had eaten this prasad at that invitation had nocturnal emissions. The following morning, after discussing their experiences amongst themselves, they went to Govindaji’s priest and asked him about the prasad they had eaten. He told them the whole story. The Vaishnavas were much saddened that they had eaten the food that had resulted from a prostitute’s illicit earnings. They all went to their own cottages and for three days remained there without taking food or drink. On the third day, at the end of the night, Govindaji appeared to them in a dream and asked, “Why are you so angry with me that you all want to commit suicide?”
“If we don’t commit suicide then what else should we do? You made us leave our homes and families and gave us shelter at your feet for so long now. Did you do it so that you could feed us the food of prostitutes and destroy our principles?” They asked in unison.
Govindaji said, “Since when did I tell you to eat the food of a prostitute? I can eat anything, but unless I specifically sanction it, you cannot .”
“So what are we supposed to do? If mahaprasad comes before us, are we to reject it? That would be an offence!” they protested.
Govindaji told them that in such a case, they should take only a tiny crumb which would be sufficient to show respect for the holy food.
Jayakrishna Das’s words clarified the matter in Krishna Das’s mind. He decided that from that day onward he would cease to eat the royal dishes which came as Govindaji’s prasad. He left Jaipur and came to live in Doman Ban near Nanda Gram, engaging in bhajan in a spirit of complete renunciation.
Krishna Das comes to Chakleshwar
Krishna Das would beg flour from the village and then mix bitter margosa (neem) leaves into it. From this he would make a dough out of which he would sometimes cook into thick rotis or sometimes would eat raw.
With this as his only diet, he gradually began to weaken and his vision became feeble. He stopped going to the village to beg and for several days only drank water from the tank. Finally, he no longer had the strength to even go to the tank. Two or three days passed in which he drank no water. At this point, the merciful heart of Radharani melted. She said to Lalita, “Have you still not been kind to Krishna Das? Will you allow a blemish to fall on my name? Take this plate of my prasad to him and give it him to eat.”
Lalita took the form of an ordinary girl of Braj and brought the plate of prasad to Krishna Das in Doman Ban. She said, “Here take this and eat. My mother saw you in this condition and told me to bring it to you.”
When Krishna Das heard the ambrosia-like sound of these words and smelled the divine odour of the foodstuffs, a divine power entered into him. He began to eat spiritedly. After eating, he began to wash the plate with sand. Then Lalita in the form of a girl of Braj asked him, “Baba, why aren’t you going to the village to beg any longer?”
“Dear child, I cannot see anything. How can I go to the village?”
‘If your eyes were better, would you go?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I go?”
“My mother has given me this ointment. Rub it on your eyes and you will be able to see.” With these words, Lalita put a little on Baba’s right eye. The instant she touched it, the power of sight returned to him. But he saw neither the girl, nor the plate which he had just finished cleaning and had set aside. The atmosphere seemed to be charged with the sweet fragrance she had left behind. Who was she? Where had she come from, and where had she gone? How could she have returned his sight to him by a mere touch of her hand? The whole event seemed to have taken place as if in a dream.
In order to know the truth of the incident, he remained motionless for three days. On the third night, while drowsing off, he saw a goddess whose effulgence made a million flashes of lightning pale in comparison.
She asked him, “Baba, why are you so sad? What is making you afraid? I am yours and you are mine. As soon as you got back your sight from the touch of my intimate friend Lalita’s gentle hand, you became completely empowered. Now go in full confidence to Govardhan. There teach the faithful and determined Vaishnavas who are devoted to me a sure method by which they can attain me.” Having said this, she disappeared.
For some time Baba remained motionless, disabled by the various ecstatic transformations that had overcome him. Then, remembering that he had been empowered and that his greatest desire had been fulfilled, he floated like a piece of dry wood on the waves of the ocean of love until he touched shore at the town of Govardhan.
A vision of Sanatan Goswamipada
Krishna Das Baba began to stay at the place known as Chakleshwar in Govardhan, which is associated with Sanatan Goswami. To this day, the annual Guru Purnima festival in memory of Sanatan Prabhu, also known as Muriya Mela, is conducted from Chakleshwar. This is the biggest annual event in Govardhan and millions of people undertake Govardhan parikrama on this day.
At that time many monks and scholars used to perform bhajan on the basis of Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis’ books. Krishna Das Baba did not yet have a sufficient knowledge of Sanskrit so he took lessons in the Hari-nÄmÄmá¹›ta-vyÄkaraá¹‡a of Jiva Goswami from an old monk. This came to be a great problem for him as the study of grammar interfered with his devotions, and his devotions interfered with his study of grammar. Thinking that study and devotion were somehow in conflict with one another, Krishna Das became so frustrated that he decided to drown himself in the Manasa Ganga. Once he had taken this decision, he went through the night without sleeping, deep in thought of his prospective act. At the end of the night, however, he heard a noise coming from outside his hut. Someone was calling, “Krishna Das! Krishna Das!”
When he came outside, he saw the Sanatan Goswami of his meditations standing before him, covered with a patched blanket and carrying a clay waterpot.
Accompanying him was Lalita Devi and both of them as real as life. Completely forgetting himself in confusion about what he should do, Krishna Das prostrated himself before them and then sat down at their feet. Sanatana Goswami placed his hand on Krishna Das’s head in benediction and said, “Krishna Das, are you well? Are you getting enough madhukari to satisfy your hunger?”
“Yes, my lord.” Krishna Das answered with his hands folded.
Then Sanatan Prabhu said, “Listen, son. There are an unlimited number of scriptures. One should be satisfied by studying according to his capacity. There is no need for you to kill yourself on account of your desire to become a scholar. Don’t go getting such crazy ideas again. We have many tasks to accomplish through you. I give you this blessing today that from now on, knowledge of all the scriptures will be revealed to you spontaneously.”
Lalita also blessed him, saying, “Whenever you think of us, we will appear to you in your heart. To the Vaishnavas of Braj you will reveal the proper way of performing bhajan.”
When they had given him these blessings, they placed their feet on Krishna Das’s head and disappeared.
After this incident, Krishna Das became as profound as the ocean. He personally began to take students for lessons in Hari-nÄmÄmá¹›ta-vyÄkaraá¹‡a and also to give instructions to other devotional practitioners about bhajan. While teaching Hari-nÄmÄmá¹›ta , he would show the basis of every sutra in the eternal activities of Radha and Krishna (the nitya-lÄ«lÄ) and would thus open the door to the methods of bhajan for his students. The teaching of grammar thus gave him an opportunity to also teach bhajan.
During this time, he made a detailed study of all the literature related to Radha and Krishna’s “pastimes of the eight watches” (aá¹£á¹a-kÄlÄ«ya-lÄ«lÄ) such as Govinda-lilÄmá¹›ta, Saá¹…kalpa-kalpa-druma, Pada-kalpa-taru, Ká¹£aá¹‡adÄ-gÄ«ti-cintÄmaá¹‡i, PadÄmá¹›ta-samudra, etc., and wrote an instruction booklet based on it. He began to teach bhajan to his followers on the basis of this instruction booklet or paddhati. This booklet came to be known as Krishna Das’s Guá¹ikÄ (“pill”).
Krishna Das Baba and siddhi
All those who received instruction from Krishna Das would go to him at night and report to him how their bhajan was going. If there were any mistakes in the way they were going about doing their bhajan, he would advise them. One day, a certain monk came to him and started to cry without saying anything about his devotional practices. Baba asked him what the matter was and he answered, “Today I was not able to do any bhajan whatsoever. This morning, in my meditation on Radharani’s morning activities, I was dressing her. As I put a bracelet on her right hand, I became so fascinated by the beauty of her hand that I could not turn my mind away from it no matter how hard I tried.” Baba encouraged him, saying, “Today you really engaged in true bhajan.”
Whoever was instructed in bhajan by Baba attained success. The indications of success which are ordinarily found in spiritual practioners like yogis or jnanis are completely different from those found in the siddhas of Braj. In Braj one is said to be bhajana-siddha when the actions of the spiritual identity meditated upon by the devotee in adherence to the path of the Vaishnavas of Braj become manifest in the external body and visible to those in the outer world. Amongst those who attained perfection by following in the footsteps of Siddha Krishna Das were Govardhan’s second Krishna Das, Nityananda Das of Madan Mohan Thaur, Balaram Das of Jharu Mandal, and Lala Babu (the third Krishna Das).
There are many witnesses to a number of events which demonstrated the perfection achieved in bhajan by Siddha Krishna Das Babaji. On one occasion he was meditating on the pastime of the colour sports of Holi. In his meditation body he was by the side of Radha. This meditation body had become completely coated with coloured powders and paints, saffron and musk, etc. When he came out of his hut in a state which bordered on the external, all the Vaishnavas saw that he was covered with the colours of Holi and perceived an unearthly fragrance of musk, etc., coming from him.
On another occasion, Radha and Krishna had just finished playing water games in Manasi Ga n ga. Lalita, Visakha and the other sakhis were beside them on the shore dressing them and doing their toilet. Rupa Manjari and others were supplying the different paraphernalia which they needed. Siddha Baba also stood by with a phial of perfume, waiting to be called upon. As he listened to the joking of the beloved, he lost sensation in his body and the phial slipped from his hand. The delicious fragrance of the perfume pervaded the atmosphere, and all the Vaishnavas who had come to bathe in Manasi Ga nga could smell it. When someone asked him what it was, he answered, ashamed as though guilty, “What can I tell you, brother? I am an offender, I have no qualifications for service. I dropped a bottle of perfume which was meant for the pleasure of the dear one and his beloved. That is what you people can smell.”
One day, Baba went to the Manasi Ganga with his clay water pot (karua) in his hand.
When there, he saw the water sports of the divine couple and, becoming completely absorbed in the mood, he himself jumped into the depths of water. There was no one else about when he did this. Some time later, when he did not return to his cottage, his servants set out to look for him. Though they searched everywhere, they found not a trace of him. The wail of lamentation resounded everywhere throughout the area of Braj. Everywhere people engaged in various speculations about what might have happened to him. Seven days later, Baba came walking out of Manasi Ganga with his karua in his hand. When people asked in amazement where he had been for the seven preceding days, he answered in astonishment, “I just came here and took a bath and I have come straight out again. What do you mean, ‘seven days’? How have you all become so confused?”
The king of Bharatpur
The king of Bharatpur, Yashavant Singh came once to visit Siddha Baba and said to him, “Baba, please bless me by accepting some service from me.” Baba said to him, “We beg madhukari from the people of Braj. If you do something for them then you will be doing a service to us.”
Upon receiving this order from Krishna Das, the king made a large number of land grants to the residents of Braj, for which they acknowledge their gratitude even today. After this, the king came back on another occasion and said, “If you were to personally accept some service, I would truly be blessed.”
Baba said, “Alright. If this is really your desire, then listen. You have many queens. Send me the one who is your favourite.”
The king did as instructed. Surrounded by the veils, etc., of the zenana, the beautifully dressed and ornamented queen Lakshmini came to Baba. At that time, Baba was sitting alone immersed in meditation. As soon as he heard the sweet tinkling sound of ankle bells, girdle chains and bracelets, he completely forgot himself and stared with wide eyes in the direction of the queen. The queen herself stood perfectly still at about ten metres distance from him. A whole hour passed in this way. The queen’s servant girls slowly lifted the curtain and saw that the queen, though conscious, stood motionless as though unconscious and that Baba was looking at her with a fixed gaze. They brought the king there to observe the scene. He saw all this with his own eyes.
Krishna Das remained in this state for the whole day and night. The next day, he returned to a semi-external state of awareness and finally on the third day became fully conscious again of his surroundings. For those three days the king had remained there. Not knowing anything about the world of transcendental emotion, he experienced grievous doubts. Baba called the king to his side and blessed him, placing his hand on his head. In that very instant, the realization came to him that Baba had had been reminded of Radharani’s jewellery when he heard the sound of the queen’s ankle bells, bangles, etc. It was the ocean of joy derived from this vision in which he had been merged for the preceding two days.
Queen Lakshmini had also derived a sense of fulfillment from the sight of Baba.
Stories of her devotion still abound in Braj. On one occasion she came to Radha Kund seeking to spend a large amount of money on feeding the Vaishnavas. The Vaishnavas told her, “We cannot accept the food of kings.” The queen started to cry and said in a voice filled with emotion, “Please give me the blessing that when I am reborn that I do not take birth in a royal family. Let me take the kind of birth in which I will be have the right and worthiness to render you service.”
Seeing her sincerity, the Vaishnavas said, “You can do one thing. If you make cowdung cakes with your own hand and sell them, then you can send us the money you make from that and we will accept it.” The queen did as she was told. The funds derived from the donations made by the queen in this way are still being used for the service of the Vaishnavas of Radha Kund.
It is said Siddha Baba came out after spending several days under water in Manasi Ganga bringing some manuscripts of books written by Vishwanath Chakravarti in his own hand, completely undamaged by the water. There is a legend that when Vishwanath wrote his books under the open sky, even if rain fell all around him, not a drop would fall on him or the paper on which he was writing.
Siddha Baba collected nearly all the books that promoted bhajan and would relish them in the company of qualified persons. When he sat still and listened to these works, he went into extraordinary states of love. Tears flowed from his eyes, mucous and saliva poured from his nostrils and mouth in such copious amounts that two Vaishnavas had to sit on both sides, wiping constantly, and even then they could not keep him dry.
All the Vaishnavas of the Braj Mandal came to ask him questions about bhajan. Even though he remained absorbed in meditation, he would always advise and encourage them.
Here is some rare footage taken of the kirtans from the 2005 festival, posted by Lake of Flowers Productions.