The Champion Of The Chant
Updated: Jul 24, 2022
Midway between Howrah and Bhubaneswar is a place called Remuna. The name comes from the word ‘Ramaniya’ meaning attractive and so is Sri Gopinath, the main deity of the Kshirachora Gopinath Temple of Remuna. The name of the deity tells the story of the Lord who can go to any extent, even steal kheer for his dear devotee Madhavendra Puri. The temple premises also has the samadhi of Sri Rasikananda Dev, another great devotee of Lord Sri Krishna. Rasikananda Prabhu and his Guru Shyamananda Prabhu immersed the region with the holy stream of Krishna Bhakti, love for Krishna.
On the night of Deepavali, in 1590 AD, when all the houses were decorated and lighted up with rows of lamps, Rasika Murari was born as the son of a wealthy and powerful landlord, Raja Achyuta Deva of Rohini, a place by the Suvarnarekha River, now in Midnapur, West Bengal. He was very devoted to his parents, especially his mother, whose name was Bhavani. At a very young age he became conversant with the scriptures and under the tutelage of Pt. Vasudev and became proficient in grammar as well. He started studying Srimad Bhagavatam under Pt. Jagannath Mishra who was in awe of Rasika Murari’s commentary and analysis of the subject. He had understood that his student was no ordinary human. He embraced his pupil and considered himself fortunate to have shared and discussed the scriptures with Rasika Murari. Rasika Murari continued his studies under Pt. Hari Dubey. Under this devoted scholar, Rasika Murari attained new heights and would often get into a state of ecstasy and become unconscious while listening to Srimad Bhagavatam. Drenched in the love of Krishna, he wandered here and there like the Gopis searching for their Lord. While reading about Krishna leaving Vrindavan for Mathura, he would often dwell far into dense forests, searching for Krishna, chanting and singing loudly, tears rolling down his face. He roamed in the wilderness through jungles with tigers and bears around. Even hunger and thirst could not touch him as he wandered sleepless away from home like a lunatic. He would become unconscious and only get back listening to Harinaam Sankirtan. No one had any clue about what was going on as only those who have traversed the path would be aware of the magic of the holy name. His father got him married at a very young age to Shyamadasi.
Rasika Murari would often sit and wonder when he would have the fortune to take shelter under the lotus feet of his Guru. One day he felt as if someone was telling him that his wait would soon come to an end as his Guru Shyamananda Prabhu would soon arrive before him. Rasik Murari became jubilant and began to chant the name ‘Shyamananda’ repeatedly. With every passing moment his eagerness increased as tears flowed from his eyes by chanting the name of Shyamananda Prabhu. He was in such a state that he spent most of the time sleepless, calling out to his master, Shyamananda Prabhu. During that time, Jiva Goswami had sent his three best disciples – Narottama Dasa Thakur, Srinivas Acharya and Shyamananda Prabhu- to spread the love of Krishna throughout north India. While on this noble mission, Shyamananda met eighteen-year-old Rasika Murari. Shyamananda Prabhu took Rasik Murari under his shelter and named him Rasikananda. Soon after, his wife Shyama Dasi also got initiated, and the couple left Rohini for nearby Kashipur. Like Rasikananda Prabhu, his wife Shyama Dasi had also alighted into this world to flood it with the love of Harinaam. Sometime later, Shyamananda visited his two disciples in Kashipur and brought them the beautiful deity of Gopijanavallabha. Seeing how much his disciples loved their newly installed deity, Shyamananda renamed the town Gopivallabhpur (the place of Gopivallabh) and blessed the people of the town to develop the same love for the deity that Rasikananda and his wife had. He asked Rasikananda to spread the name of the Lord and made Shyamadasi head priest of the temple.
His love for his Guru enthused him to successfully spread this spiritual ecstasy and the region of Medinipur had developed a distinct sect of vaishnavas, the Shyamanandi Vaishnavas, who developed their own style of dress, cooking, tilaka markings and temple construction. Later, Rasikananda wrote a Sanskrit epic about the life of the person who had taught him all he knew, It was called 'Shyamananda Satakam',and it remains the most authoritative work on Shyamananda's life. He also authored the Bhakta-Bhagavatastaka and Kunjakeli-dvadasaka.
With Gopivallabhpur as the seat of Shyamanandi Vaishnavism,Rasikananda spent forty years helping people see the good sense of Krishna consciousness. He made disciples among great kings and impious rogues, among the brahmanas and shudras. He completely ignored caste and qualifications (or disqualifications) and gave everyone a taste of Krishna bhakti. With his knowledge, purity and charisma, he engaged Muslims, Buddhists and various sects of Hindus into loving Krishna.
One day he even converted a wild elephant which was sent to kill him and his devoted disciples. He was always intoxicated with Harinaam. Many virtuous Kings and Zamindars such as the King of Mayurbhanj, Vaidyanath Bhanja, the Gajapati of Patashpur, and Chandrabhanu, the King of Moyna took shelter at his lotus feet. Even the sinful Zamindar Bhima, Suba Ahmedbeg and the wicked atheist Srikar surrendered themselves at his feet. Another viscious, wild elephant was tamed by Rasikananda's influence and was named Gopala Das. Later, two jungle tigers likewise gave up their ferocious nature.
One year, during Lord Jagannatha's Ratha-yatra festival, Rasikananda Deva was preaching somewhere in the country, but when he realised that it was time for Ratha-yatra he dropped everything and rushed like the wind in order to come to Nilachala in time for the festival. But Lord Jagannath’s chariot wouldn’t move inspite of the King summoning elephants to push the chariot. Finally, Rasikananda Deva arrived , carrying with him many offerings of silk clothes and other presents bringing an end to the King’s frustration. The king requested him to pull the rope and the chariot glided on the road, just as the clouds move in the sky. The King requested Rasikananda to accept a gift of land so he might establish a temple there. Fultota Math was established which is now known as Kunja Math. There he installed the deity of Sri Bata Krishna who came to be known as Sri Sri Radha-Rasika Raya.
Towards the end of his life, Rasikananda settled in Remuna, Orissa, where he was fascinated by the deity of Gopinatha (Krishna). It is said that he would spend day and night just gazing at the beautiful deity. At the time of leaving his body, Rasikananda started a powerful kirtan, oblivious of the outside world, surrendering his body, mind and soul. Then he left his body by entering into the Kshira Chora Gopinath deity in Remuna, Odisha. Utterly devastated on being separated from their Guru, his disciples dropped their mridanga, kartal and their bodies then and there. The pushpa samadhis of all these devotees stand near the temple. An annual festival lasting twelve days, starting from the day after Shiva-Chaturdashi in the month of Magh, is held in Remuna to celebrate his disappearance.
harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyatha
- Chaitanya Charitamrita
(In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the only means of deliverance is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.)
Image Credit : Nandita Prusty