Vrindavan, 2017.10.11 (VT): Yesterday the disappearance day of Shri Narottam Das Thakur was celebrated at the Shri Radha-Gokulananda temple in Vrindavan. An enchanting program of divine kirtan and katha was organized under the auspices of Acharya Shrivatsa Goswami of the Radharaman Temple. (The Shri Radha-Gokulananda temple is also under Maharajji’s care).
In the morning, Shri Sarang Thakur Das and other devotees from ISKCON sang Narottam Das Thakur’s own compositions in front of his samadhi in the temple garden. Devotees from every branch of the Gaudiya Sampraday danced together to the divine words that poured from Shri Narottam’s heart. In the evening, devotees gathered again to relish the story of Narottam Das Thakur’s life, told by Shri Achyut Lal Bhatt Goswami, Acharya Shrivatsa Goswami and Shri Prem Das Shastriji.
The Life of Narottam Das Thakur
Shri Narottam Das Thakur was born in a wealthy Kayastha family, in the village of Kheturi, Bengal. He was the incarnation of Shri Radharani’s beloved maidservant named Champak Manjari. Her primary seva is to bring delicious milk for the Divine Couple to drink.
From childhood Narottam showed extreme intelligence and devotion. He had many divine dreams in which the Lord came and spoke to him directly.
But even before he was born, Shri Chaitanya Mahaparabhu had prepared a special gift for him. Years before Narottam was born, Mahaprabhu visited the river Padma near Narottam’s hometown. He invoked the river goddess and spoke to her face to face. “O Devi,” said Mahaprabhu, “My companions have cried so many tears of love during our sankirtan. Secretly, I collected all their precious tears like pearls and tied them in the corner of my shawl. Now I am giving them to you for safekeeping. You must protect this treasure of love, and when my servant Narottam comes to bathe in you, give this treasure to him.”
“But who is Narottam? How will I recognize him?”
“The one who makes your waters overflow by his touch is my Narottam.”
When Narottam reached twelve years of age, Mahaprabhu’s brother Nityananda came to him in a dream and told him to bathe in the Padma. The very next morning, he set off to bathe in the river. As soon as his foot touched the water, the river overflowed her banks like the ocean at high tide. The goddess knew that Narottam was the one whom Mahaprabhu had spoken of, and she gave him the treasure she had protected within herself for so long.
Narottam’s complexion had been dull before, but now he began to shine like gold. Filled with sacred love, he became intoxicated with bliss; tears rolled from his eyes and his body trembled as he chanted the name of Shri Krishna. He wanted to run away to Vrindavan at that very moment! But he waited until his elderly father passed away, and his cousin took over responsibility for the family. Once the situation at his home became stable, Narottam left for Vrindavan.
Narottam wept as he ran towards Braj, completely absorbed in thoughts of his beloved Radha and Krishna. He had almost no remembrance of his body, and he often went without food or water. Many divine events occurred on the way. Once when he became very weak, Mahaprabhu himself came in a spiritual form and brought milk for him. When he was too weak to drink the milk, Shri Roop-Sanatan also suddenly appeared and helped him drink.
Narottam takes shelter of Shri Loknath Goswami
After Mahaprabhu left this world, many other pillars of the Gaudiya Sampraday also returned to the eternal abode. Nityananda Prabhu and Advaitacharya left, as did Shri Roop-Sanatan and Shri Raghunath Bhatt Goswami. Shri Raghunath Das Goswami retired to Radhakund, weeping constant tears of separation.
The only leaders of the Sampraday who were still in Vrindavan when Narottam arrived were Loknath Goswami, Bhugarbha Goswami, Gopal Bhatt Goswami and Jeev Goswami.
Narottam wanted Loknath Goswami to be his guru, but Loknath had taken a vow not to initiate anyone. He would not accept seva from anyone either. But Narottam was determined that only Loknath would be his guru, and so he found every opportunity to serve him in secret.
Narottam’s Guru Seva
Every day at about 3 a.m. Narottam went to the place in the forest where Loknath would ease the call of nature. Narottam cleaned the spot with a broom and placed an earthen pot full of water there for Loknath to use. He then hid behind a tree and waited until Loknath came. And after he left, he removed the feces and again swept the spot with a broom.
He did this every day. Narottam was so happy to do this seva for his chosen guru that he would hug the broom and wash it with his tears.
After a year, Loknath began to wonder who was serving him in this way. He decided to find out.
One day he went early to the forest and watched as Narottam came and began to sweep the spot. It was very dark, and Loknath was not able to see him clearly.
“Who are you?” he asked
“I am Narottam.” replied the man in a humble voice.
“Narottam? You do this work every day?”
Loknath was shocked that Narottam, who was from a rich and powerful family and had been treated like a prince from his childhood, had performed such a menial service for him. Moved by his humility, Loknath finally agreed to give Narottam initiation. By his blessings, Narottam Das became one of the great leaders of the Gaudiya Sampraday.
The Final Years
Narottam studied the scriptures under Shri Jeev Goswami for some years, along with Shri Gopal Bhatt Goswami’s disciple Srinivas Acharya and Shri Hriday Chaitanya’s disciple Shyamananda. When their studies were complete, the three journeyed to Bengal, bringing with them the precious books written by the six Goswamis. After visiting Mahaprabhu’s companions in Bengal and Orissa, Narottam returned to Kheturi and spent the rest of his life preaching bhakti yoga.
Narottam’s primary method of preaching was through kirtan, and the Garanhati kirtan style was created by him. He wrote Prarthana and Prem Bhakti Chandrika – two famous books of Bengali kirtan that capture the very essence of Gaudiya philosopy. His songs became extremely popular throughout the Bengali-speaking word, reaching as far as Manipur in the Northeast. Today, even devotees in the Western countries are familiar with many of his songs.
A Few of Narottam Das Thakur’s Songs
hari hari kobe hobo vṛndāvana vāsi
nirakhibo nayane yugala rūpa rāśi
tyajiyā śayana sukha vicitra pālańg;
kobe vrajera dhūlāy dhūsora hobe ańg
ṣaḍ rasa bhojana dūre parihari
kobe vraje māgiyā khāibo mādhukarī
parikramā koriyā beṛābo vane vane
viśrāma koribo jāi yamunā puline
tāpa dūra koribo śītala vaḿśī vaṭe
kobe kuñje praveśibo vaiṣṇava nikaṭe
narottama dāsa kohe kori parihāra
kobe vā emona daśa hoibe āmāra
O Lord, when will I become a Brajwasi? When shall I drink the beauty of Shri Radha and Krishna to my heart’s content? When will I abandon my comfortable bed and take shelter in the dust of Vrindavan, adorning my whole body with it? When will I renounce all rich food, and find delight in begging simple alms in Vrindavan? When will I wander thorough the enchanting forests of that holy land, and take rest on the sweet shores of the Yamuna River? When will I find shelter from the heat under the holy Vamshi Vat tree? When will I gain entrance to the enchanted bower, in the association of Vaishnavs? Narottam prays, “Leaving aside all temporary things, when will these blessings become my reality?”
rādhā-kṛṣṇa prāṇa mora jugala-kiśor
jīvane maraṇe gati āro nāhi mor
kālindīra kūle keli-kadambera van
ratana-bedīra upara bosābo du’jan
śyāma-gaurī-ańge dibo candanera gandha
cāmara ḍhulābo kabe heri mukha-candra
gāthiyā mālatīr mālā dibo dohāra gale
adhare tuliyā dibo karpūra-tāmbūle
lalitā viśākhā-ādi jata sakhī-bṛnda
ājñāya koribo sebā caraṇāravinda
śrī-kṛṣṇa-caitanya-prabhur dāser anudās
sevā abhilāṣa kore narottama-dās
Radha and Krishna are my breath of life. In life or in death, I have nothing but them. One day, I shall go to that sacred kadamb grove on the Yamuna beach, and offer my Loves a jewel-inlaid seat. I will anoint Radha’s golden body and Krishna’s dark form with fragrant sandal paste, and delight in the beauty of their lotus faces as I fan them with a whisk. I will decorate them with handmade jasmine garlands, and gently feed them paan laced with camphor. I will serve their lotus feet in every way, under the merciful instructions of Shri Lalita, Vishakha and the other sakhis. The servant of the servants of Shri Chaitanya, Narottam Das, craves only for Their eternal seva.
gauranga karuna koro, dina hina jane
mo-samo patita prabhu, nahi tri-bhuvane
dante trina dhori’ gaura, daki he tomar
kripa kori’ eso amar, hridoya mandire
jadi doya na koribe, patita dekhiya
patita pavana nama, kisera lagiya
podeci bhava tuphane, nahika nistar
sri carana tarani dane, dase koro par
sri krishna caitanya prabhur daser anudas
prarthana koraye sada, narottam das
O Shri Gauranga, please have mercy such a wretched person as me. O Lord, in all the universe you will not find anyone as lowly as I am. Keeping a piece of grass in my teeth (a symbol of humility) I cry out to you and beg you – please come and live in the temple of my heart! If you can look upon such a fallen soul and still not bestow your mercy, then why should anyone call you ‘the Friend of the fallen’? I am trapped in the hurricaine of maya; there is no escape. Come now with the lifeboat of your lotus feet, and take your servant to the other shore. This is the eternal prayer of Narottam Das, the servant of Your servants.
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