Vrindavan, 2016.02.15 (VT): I was hanging my clothes on the roof of Jiva Institute when I heard the unmistakable sounds of a Nitai-Gaura Radhe-Shyam festival kirtan. Being in a bit of a distracted frame of mind, I decided to go to Radha Raman Nivas, the siddha sthan of Gauranga Das Babaji Maharaj, and take it in. It has been a while since I sat in a good Gaudiya Vaishnava padavali kirtan.
Radha Raman Bagh is across the street from Bhagavata Niwas and also used to have the same kind of Vrindavan kunj feel to it. In the last few years there have been numerous “improvements” made, including the building of a forty foot marble temple which house Gauranga Dasji‘s Govardhan Shila and a murti of Gauranga Mahaprabhu.
The tradition of Radha Raman Charan Das Babaji has numerous specific characteristics that set them apart from the larger Gaudiya sampradaya. For one thing they are more devoted to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his lila than they are to Radha and Krishna, although they will point to the following verse from Chaitanya Charitamrita to clarify their mood:
dasha-dike bohe jāhā hoite
se caitanya-līlā hoy sarobara akkhoy
mano-haṁsa carāho tāhāte
The pastimes of Lord Krishna are the essence of all ambrosia and they flow in hundreds and hundreds of streams and in all directions out from the pastimes of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the inexhaustible reservoir. Put your mind swan to disport thereupon.
dohe meli hoy sumādhurya
sādhu guru prasāde tāhā jei āsvāde
se jāne mādhurya-prācurya
The nectar of Chaitanya lilamrita mixed with the camphor of Krishna lilamrita makes for the most tasteful combination. Whoever savors this nectar, by the grace of guru and sadhu, comes to know the greatest abundance of sweetness.
Ramdas Babaji’s Guru Kripa Dan consists of not only the songs related to the particular event or Gaura Parshad who is being commemorated, but its distinguishing feature is the addition of his improvised akaras, which elaborate on each line of each song and bring out and expand on its underlying mood.
Thus, the style of kirtan that Babaji Mahashay inaugurated and is maintained by his disciplic succession can be described as storytelling with an accent on the emotions (rasas) that are to be extracted. Babaji Mahashay himself was noted for his own deep emotions while singing, manifested in ashta sattvikas, and being able to transmit those emotions to his disciples and other devotees. In the tradition as it still continues, the devotee attempt to align themselves with Ramdas Babaji’s mood as they sing his insightful words.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s lila factually begins with Advaita Acharya, who is sometimes called gaura-ānā ṭhākura, the Lord who brought Gaura.
As is customary with commemorative kirtans of this sort, the story of Advaita’s birth in Shantipur is told: how his parents prayed for someone to come to bring order back into the sinful world. Advaita Prabhu is considered to be an incarnation of Mahavishnu, and therefore his prime concern is the salvation of the conditioned souls of this world, but he wanted more for the forlorn and benighted souls than mere liberation, so he called out for Krishna to come in his divine form as the combination of Radha and Krishna.
Towards the end of the kirtan, Babaji Mahashay quoted from the Chaitanya Bhagavata–
pṛthivī paryanta āche joto deśa grāma
sarvatra pracāra hoibek mora nāma
“My name will be preached everywhere, in every country and village to the ends of the earth.”
This is followed by heartfelt prayers in the akaras, “How many days remain ? When will you reveal yourself in every jiva’s heart? Please fulfill this desire of mine. I want nothing else…”
I don’t know when these kirtans were sung. Ramdas Baba lived from 1887-1953, but clearly an awareness of the internationalization of the bhakti movement was spreading to all branches of the sampradaya at that time.
The Gaudiya Sampradaya has a very rich mythological tradition with both the external purposes of universal salvation and the internal purpose of revealing the inner concept of divine love. Both these themes are highlighted in the Advaita Prabhu avirbhava kirtan of Ramdas Babaji Mahashay.
The kirtan ends with a resounding call out to Nitai Gaur and Radhe Shyam! The tune they use emphasizes that heartfelt cry. When I did prostrated obeisances in front of Gauranga Dasji’s samadhi, I could feel the power of the bhava that has accumulated over the years in this ashram.
As I was posting this article, someone else quoted on a totally different context, a quote by Bhaktivinoda Thakur about sectarianism.
“The eleventh obstacle for the Vaishnavas is sectarianism, which takes the shape of the forest fire. Due to sectarianism a person cannot accept anyone outside of his own group as a Vaishnava, and as a result he faces many obstacles in finding a guru and associating with sincere devotees. Therefore extinguishing the forest fire is most important by giving up this mentality.” (Chaitanya Shikshamritam)
It is a great sadness to me that party feeling has entered where there is only pure devotion to Mahaprabhu. Let us not fall prey to it. The mood may be a little different, but there is no doubt that Babaji Mahashay instilled the power of pure kirtan in his tradition.
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