Updated: Jan 23, 2022
Sri Sanatana Goswami
Hussain Shah, the tyrant Nawab of Gauda Desha (Bengal) was inspecting and appreciating an intricately designed mansion of his. The chief mason, thrilled on hearing his praise, said that he has done even better work before and would be happy to do it for the Nawab. The Nawab, on hearing that this mere mason hadn’t given his best, was enraged and pushed him down the tall building. The mason died on the spot and the mansion remained unfinished. He called his servant Hinga and ordered him to go to Madhaipur. But before he could instruct him, he got busy with the affairs of the state and Hinga stood there lost. Since the order had to be carried out, Hinga arrived at Madhaipur and started roaming around, clueless what to do next. He came across two bright young men and explained his situation. After listening carefully, the young men advised that since he was ordered after the death of the mason, he should take back some good masons. The Nawab became curious to find out how Hinga knew what was in his mind. Hinga narrated about the young men who helped him. Amardev and Santoshdev, who studied Nyaya (rhetoric) and Vedanta from the great Vasudeva Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya and under his brother Madhusudan Vachaspati, were well known for their academic genius and devotion. The Nawab summoned the brothers and appointed them to work for him. Amardev became Sakara Mallick and was forced to take up the post of the Prime Minister and Santoshdev became Dabir Khas, the private secretary of the Nawab.
Under the competent administration of both the brothers, the state flourished. The Nawab became completely dependent on the brothers and consulted them for every minor and major decisions. Sakara Mallick even became the war advisor and the Nawab gifted them the provinces of Yushupur and Chingutia. After work, the brothers would spend their time in the midst of vaishnavas and learned men discussing Srimad Bhagavatam and relishing the nectar of Krishna Leela. They built two huge mansions at Ramakeli and Kanair Natashala, which gave a feel of Vrindavan Dham. They built temples, created gardens and dug many ponds like Radha Kund and Shyam Kund. The brahmins and vaishnavas would flock in Ramakeli and all the festivals were celebrated in a grand way. The hearts of both the brothers were soaked in love and devotion for Sri Krishna since their birth. Tears would roll down, voice would quiver, their body would start to tremble, on hearing about the Lord’s pastimes. As the most powerful and proficient administrators, they oversaw the smooth running of the kingdom but as soon as they reached home, there would be a complete changeover in the way their dressed, their mood and behaviour. They would dive into devotional service and laugh and cry, immersed in listening to Krishna Leela. This loving devotion ingrained in them since their birth was waiting with bated breath for an outlet. As the lotus waits for the first rays of sun, their seed of devotion was waiting to blossom under the shelter of a Guru who would rescue them from the dungeons of material existence.
During that opportune time, they heard of Gouranga Mahaprabhu’s appearance and his leelas in Nabadwip, the wave of bhakti that emancipated the downtrodden like Jagai and Madhai. They wanted to leave everything and join him but the dependency of Hussain Shah on them was the main obstacle in their path. They learnt from their informer that Mahaprabhu, after taking on Sanyas, would visit Vrindavan. They were elated and Amardev sent a letter to Mahaprabhu through one of his close aids. He received a response in two lines:
parabasanini nari byagrapi grihakarmasu
The way a housewife who is attracted to another man, manages her household efficiently but keeps the man always in her thoughts. The same way, alongwith managing the affairs of the state, you keep thinking about the Lord.
Your wish will soon be fulfilled. When the desire for the Lord increases, the love for Him deepens, every cell of the mind, every pore in the body cries for Him. The material cravings will vanish and the Lord will appear.
Their severe penance helped them to achieve that state.
Mahaprabhu started his journey to Vrindavan. He was supposed to go through Jharkhand but he took the route via Puri, Bhadrak, Baleswar, Gouda Desha (West Bengal), and arrived in Ramakeli. His devotees had joined him in large numbers and still kept on joining at every juncture. As the night advanced, Mahaprabhu’s Hari naam Kirtan kept gaining strength unaffected by the long, tiring walk. Who was he waiting for? The news of Mahaprabhu’s stay at Kanair Natashala reached the brothers. They were anxious to meet him but were apprenhensive since they considered themselves as lowly destitutes, outcasts, serving the cruel Hussain Shah, who despised the vaishnavas.
In the dead of the night, wearing common man’s outfit, clenching straw with their teeth, they came and fell at the feet of Mahaprabhu. Mahaprabhu ran to them and took them in his embrace. The onlookers stared wide eyed at the union of the Lord and his devotees. The brothers meekly tore themselves apart but Mahaprabhu held them close and stated, “I have taken this path to meet you. You have been my close aids for many births. My work will be accomplished by you. Your mind and heart are so pure that whoever touches you becomes clean. All merciful Sri Krishna will remove your attachment to this material world soon. Amardev!, henceforth you will be known as Sanatana Goswami and Santoshdev as Rupa Goswami. Exercising intellect and acumen, both of you go to Vrindavan. By His mercy, a lot of work will be accomplished through you.” Sanatana advised Mahaprabhu, “Mahaprabhu! You are going to Vrindavan with hundreds and thousands of devotees following you. This may not be the best way. Everyone will come to know about it and you might face many hurdles on the way.” After listening to him, Mahaprabhu put off going to Vrindavan and turned back.
Soon after this meeting, Rupa Goswami and their younger brother Anupam Goswami left for Vrindavan. Sanatana became restless. He carried the burden of grave matters of the kingdom on his shoulders. But he had lost interest in work and got immersed in reading Srimad Bhagavatam with the brahmins and the vaishnavas. One day he received a letter from Rupa Goswami with a shloka written on it:
Yadupateh kva gata Mathurapuri
Raghupateh kva gatottara koshala
Iti bichintya kurusva manah sthiram
Na sadidam jagadityabadharaya
Yadupati Sri Krishna arrived in Mathura and did so many leelas, Raghupati Sri Ram also enacted so many pastimes in Ayodhya. Nobody lives forever. Everything is momentary. So decide your path at the earliest.
Sanatana Goswami took a firm decision to abstain from working for the kingdom and leave home. He sent a message that he was sick and spent his time discussing the scriptures with the vaishnavas. The work of the state got stalled. So, the nawab sent his doctor to check on Sanatana Goswami. The doctor went back and reported that Sanatana was fit and fine. This nawab became suspicious since Rupa had also eloped a while ago. The following day, the nawab arrived at his place and implored him to take charge of the affairs of the kingdom. Santana politely refused and stated that he was no longer capable of carrying out his job. Infuriated, the nawab imprisoned him and put him under the custody of Sheikh Habbu Khan. An emergency situation cropped up in the kingdom. The commander of the army, defeated by the neighbouring state Odisha, had returned. So Hussain Shah worked out a plan to lead his army in a war against King Prataprudra. He needed Sanatana by his side for the success of this assault. So, he asked for Sanatana’s help. But Santana replied that the outcome of the war was so evident. Their soldiers would engage in the barbaric act of destroying the temples of the divine kingdom of Odisha. He could not accompany them in this heinous activity. So, the nawab imprisoned him again and left to join the war. Sanatana knew that was a golden opportunity for him to escape. Sanatana called Habbu Khan and pleaded with him to help him escape. In return, he asked Habbu Khan to collect ten thousand rupees that Rupa Goswami had secretly left with a landlord to be put into use during Sanatana’s escape. Habbu Khan hesitated and with folded hands, he said that he would surely be beheaded if he assisted Santana. After repeated requests, Habbu Khan couldn’t say no and Sanatana fled with his faithful servant Ishan. Sanatana was intoxicated with the call of Gouranga Mahaprabhu to immerse in the ocean of devotional love. Wealth, power, esteem, admiration, kingdom, affluence, everything had lost its meaning.
On the way, they had to cross the mountainous range of ‘Patada’ which was inhabited by the tribes called ‘Bhuyans’. They were thugs, very sharp and masters in the art of ascertaining the wealth carried by people crossing their ranges. Sanatana was resting under a tree when he was approached by the leader of the tribe who offered to arrange their food and stay. Sanatana turned towards Ishan and asked if he had brought some gold coins along with him. Ishan replied that he carried six gold coins for the journey. Sanatana ordered Ishan to hand over all the gold coins to the tribal chief. The leader was overwhelmed and disclosed with folded hands that he knew Ishan was carrying eight gold coins and had planned to kill them and get those. He was indebted to Sanatana for saving him from committing such a crime. Sanatana knew that Ishan held back two coins and said, “You very well know how materialistic I have been. But now I feel the presence of Lord in this difficult phase everywhere and it fills me with immense joy. Desire for material wealth and comfort disturbs the mind. If the mind is not stable, then it’s impossible to experience the grace of God. You followed me because of your love for me but you are still attached. If you have expectations from this world, then complete surrender is impossible and it becomes difficult to experience the ecstasy of his mercy. So, you have to go back.” Ishan’s plea to continue beside him was rejected and he had to return home.
Sanatana journeyed alone, without any resources, through the forests and mountains, without food and shelter and reached Hazipur. Sanatana’s brother in law, Srikant Sen had been posted at Hazipur to buy horses for nawab Hussain Shah. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Sanatana in such a miserable state. Srikant’s eyes swelled up seeing such a powerful, learned and affluent individual chanting and singing like a mad man. Srikant’s cries brought Sanatana back from his exalted state and he became aware of his surroundings. He turned down Srikant’s repeated requests to return home but in the end agreed to accept a blanket for warmth in severe winter.
He arrived at Manikarnika Ghat in Kashi and heard that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was staying at the home of Sri Chandrasekhar Mishra. He went up to his place and sat outside humbly like a destitute. The all-knowing Mahaprabhu ordered Chandrasekhar, “There is a vaishnava outside. Bring him in." Chandrasekhar looked everywhere and reported that he couldn’t find any vaishnava but only a poor, deprived soul outside. Mahaprabhu signalled to bring that person in. On seeing Sanatana, Mahaprabhu ran to him, embraced him and sat down beside him. Mahaprabhu heard about Rupa and Anupama’s journey to Brij and learned about Sanatana’s sacrifice. He ordered Sanatana to bathe, shave and come to him. Mahaprabhu put a string of tulsi bead around Sanatana’s neck and took him for lunch to one of his disciple Tapan Mishra’s house. Tapan Mishra gave some new clothes to Sanatana but he refused to accept. Instead he asked for Tapan Mishra’s old clothes. Mahaprabhu was filled with joy seeing Sanatana’s detached mood but kept on looking at the blanket on his shoulders that was donated by Srikant. Sanatana understood Mahaprabhu’s hint. He exchanged his blanket with a poor beggar and got a torn rug from him. Looking at Sanatana’s complete renouncement, vairagya, Mahaprabhu was elated. Mahaprabhu had lunch in Tapan Mishra’s place and Sanatana was overwhelmed partaking the Prasad.
Santana had the privilege of staying with Mahaprabhu for months in Kashi.
Prasanna hana prabhu taare krips kaila
Taara kripaya prasna karate tanra Shakti haila
- Chaitanya Charitamrita
Pleased with Sanatana Goswami, Mahaprabhu bestowed his mercy upon him. By Mahaprabhu’s grace, Sanatana received the spiritual strength to inquire from Him.
The all merciful Mahaprabhu bestowed him with the knowledge of Jeeva tattva, Ishwara tattva, Bhakti tattva,Prema tattva, the doctrines of Veda and Vedanta. Thus, Sanatana received the knowledge of the Absolute Truth from the Lord Himself.
kṛiṣhṇa-svarupa madhurya aisvarya bhakti rasasrayam
tattvam sanatana yesaḥ kṛipaya upadidesa saḥ
- Chaitanya Charitamrita
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu graced Sanatana with the knowledge of the real identity of Krishna. He also told him about Krishna’s love, His opulence and the mellows of devotional services.
After instructing Sanatana on Sambandha Jnana, knowledge of the self and one’s relationship with the Lord, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu asked him to leave for Vrindavan.
So, surrendering himself to Sri Krishna, renouncing all attachments, Sanatana Goswami started on his way to Vrindavan. In Vrindavan, he lived on Madhukari, begged for wheat flour just enough to roll it into a ball by adding water from Yamuna, dropped it in smoldering coals to cook, offered it to the Lord and took prasad. Without any place to sleep, he would lie down under trees for one and a half hours a day. He ate and slept just enough to maintain his body and discovered the Leela Sthali, places in Vrindavan where Sri Krishna enacted His pastimes. He compiled many scriptures like Sri Brihad Bhagavadamrita, Sri Hari Bhakti Vilasa, Brihad Vaishnava Toshani, Krishna Leela Sthava which are gems, revered by every vaishnava.
Image Credit: Shreyan Nayak