Prayer by Srila Narottam Das Thakur
Today we have sung this in commemoration and remembrance of Srila Narottam Das Thakur disappearance from the the mortal world. Srila Narottam Das Thakur has been remembered and worshipped by the Gaudiya Vaishnava community as the topmost example of a devotee for pure loving service to Sri Guru and Gauranga. At the beginning of our bhajan today we sang a beautiful song by Narottam Das Thakur glorifying the spiritual master. And here Narottam Das Thakur in this song is expressing to us or let us say, sharing with us the expression of his feelings of separation from Lord Gauranga and His associates.
‘gaurāńga’ bolite habe pulaka-śarīra.
He is praying – “When upon taking the name of Gauranga will my voice utterly choked up in the emotions of love?”
‘hari hari’ bolite nayane ba’ be nīra.
And when upon chanting the holy names of Lord Hari will the hairs of my body stand on end and every limb of this body tremble in the ecstasy of love?
āra kabe nitāi-cānder koruṇā hoibe! saḿsāra-bāsanā mora kabe tuccha ha’be.
Narottam Das is saying that when will Lord Nityananda be merciful upon me?
Lord Nityananda, the original spiritual master is the only means by which we can approach Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Just as we cannot approach Krishna without the spiritual master so we cannot approach Sri Gaur Hari without first receiving the mercy of Guru in the form of Lord Nityananda. Lord Nityananda’s special mercy is that he relieves one from the burning pangs which are caused by material attachment and flickering desire.
Narottam Das Thakur also sings in an another song –
nitai-pada-kamala, koti-chandra-susitala, je chayay jagatu juray
The Lotus feet of Lord Nityananda are most refreshingly cool like crores and crores of full moons and the shade of His lotus feet relieves one from the scorching heat of material existence and then Narottam in the bhava of separation due to his intense humility is praying –
viṣaya chāriyā kabe śuddha ha ‘be mana
kabe hāma herabo śrī-bṛndābana
When O Lord, will that day be mine when my mind and senses will stop longing and burning with the desire for sense enjoyment because it is only on that day that the holy land of Vrindavan will be revealed to me.
rūpa-raghunātha-pade hoibe ākuti
kabe hāma bujhabo se jugala-pīriti
rūpa-raghunātha-pade rahu mora āśa
prārthanā koroye sadā narottama-dāsa
Narottam Das Thakur is here humbling himself to taking shelter of the six goswamis headed by Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami, explaining that through their divine literatures one can enter into the understanding of the conjugal loving affairs of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna and by following the directions of the Goswamis through their literatures and through their representatives on this earth one can attain to pure devotional service.
Of course Srila Prabhupada explained that Srila Narottam Das Thakur although he has written these beautiful poems in very simple and understandable Bengali language, the purports of these verses are as much if not more significant to our spiritual lives as the original Vedic mantras because they are filled with the most possible intensified loving feelings for Lord Krishna and His devotees.
And in order to really appreciate and enter into the sublime nectar of these beautiful poems we should learn a little about the life of Srila Narottam Das Thakur and his special incarnation in this world. There are several books which give biographies of Narottam Das Thakur. One is Narottam Vilas by Narahari Chakravarti Das and I would like to site a few of the incidences explained in this book which is relished and accepted by all great acharyas of the Gaudiya tradition.
Advent of Narottam Das Thakur
When Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was on His celebrated journey from Jagannath Puri dham to Vrindavan dham, he stopped in a place called Ramakeli. That is where He first met His two most important of all disciples, Srila Rupa Goswami and Srila Sanatana Goswami, who were then the prime ministers of the entire state of Bengal under the Nawab Hussain Shah who was the king. Just on the outskirts of Ramakeli, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who was along with Lord Nityananda and Haridas Thakur and several others of His very confidential associates, he came to the river of the name Padma. And there upon looking into the deep blue waters, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu went into a trance of divine love and he began to look toward the other side of that river; toward a little village of Kheturi and there He raised His arms and began to cry out in such emotion that nobody could understand the reason. He cried out – ‘Narottam, Narottam, Narottam, Narottam’ and as he was chanting Narottam – this beautiful name; tears swelled from his eyes, his body began to tremble. Lord Nityananda had seen Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu during kirtan exhibit symptoms of ecstatic love but never like this before. Completely in a maddened state he began to run back and forth, fall to the ground, get up, running back and forth, meanwhile raising His arms crying out – ‘Narottam, Narottam, and Narottam’.
And after Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came to His external senses, He secretly took Lord Nityananda to the side and He explained why this most magnificent manifestation took place. He said very soon one of my eternal associates in Goloka Vrindavan will appear in this world. He will appear in that village of Kheturi and his name will be Narottam. This Narottam Das – I will invest within him all of the sweet relish of My realization of the kirtan of the Holy name. And it is he who will spread the glories of the sweetness of the chanting of the Holy name through his example and through his beautiful writings for all time to come. And He said to Lord Nityananda that – ‘You are the original Guru.’ All the spiritual masters in the Gaudiya Vaishnava line and actually all lines are representatives of Lord Nityananda who is the direct incarnation of Sri Balarama, the elder brother of Sri Krishna of Vraja bhumi. He told Lord Nityananda that at this time tomorrow, when I bathe in the river Padma, I am going to leave within this river the entire treasure house of all my love for God, Sri Krishna and it will be waiting for Narottam to be given as a sacred gift.
And the next day early in the morning as the sun was rising, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Lord Nityananda and the other associates came to bathe in the river Padma and when Sri Mahaprabhu bathed; personification of that river Padma Devi appeared to Him and she enquired – ‘I can understand your great love for this Narottam and I can understand that you have left within my care Your divine bhava of Prema Bhakti. But how will I know when this Narottam come?’ And Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said ‘when this Narottam Das places his body within your waters you will feel an experience such an infinite joy resurging from your very soul that you will know who he is and at that time you invest with him the divine treasure Prema Bhakti’ and as they were leaving He told Lord Nityananda that ‘you please make sure that you personally guide Narottam to this place.’
So shortly after this in the village of Kheturi, Narottam Das Thakur was born. He was born as a son of a immensely wealthy land owner who was actually considered king whose names was Krishnananda Dutta and his mother’s name was Narayani. And when he was born all the most virtuous and auspicious characteristics were manifested on his body. And everyone around in the entire village felt greatest happiness and joy simply to look upon the beautiful face of this young Narottam.
It is explained by Narahari Chakravarti that when Narottam Das came to that age of the samskara when you put the first grain of rice, everyone in the whole village was so anxious to see it because everything about Narottam’s features, his activities during his infancy were just so beautiful and so loving. Everything about him was simply perfect. People could not get over it. And when his father and the others came to put the grain of rice within his mouth, he closed his mouth, turned his head and pushed the rice away and they tried again and he was absolutely repulsed by the idea of eating this rice. And there was a great uproar of despondency, everything in this child’s life has gone so well. Now this is a very inauspicious sign, what are we to do? And that time a pure Vaishnava came into the assembly and he told the father that you must first offer the rice to Krishna. So they took the rice to the temple and offered it to Krishna and then they brought back this Mahaprasad and Narottam this little baby not only did he eat one grain but he ate all of it and then everybody understood that this child is a very special devotee of Lord Hari and from that day on his parents would only feed him the Mahaprasad of Sri Krishna because he refused to accept anything else.
Narottam meets Krishna Das
As Narottam Das was growing older he met one very elderly devotee of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Lord Nityananda Prabhu. His name was Krishna Das. And Narottam, although in his studies, was magnificent how he would just learn everything in all of his academics so quickly nobody could understand how it was possible and he was such a perfectly behaved child in every regard and he never considered himself superior even from his very childhood. He was always simply aspiring to help others, to do good for others, to show kindness to others. When he met this Krishna Das; Krishna Das began to narrate him the story of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. When Narottam heard this his heart was just filled with love and when he heard the glories of Lord Nityananda, Srivas, Gadadhar, Murari; as he heard of the loving relationships between Lord Gaur Sundar and His devotees he simply became enrapt in ecstatic love, day and night he could only think of this and this alone. And one day Krishna Das explained the beautiful narration of one of the great servants of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu of the name Srinivas and how he was longing to see Lord Chaitanya and he left his home for Jagannath Puri but on route he found that Lord Chaitanya had left this world and the great pains of Srinivas Acharya and then as he went into Jagannath Puri he went to take shelter of Lord Nityananda but he also had left. In this way Narottam Das was filled with the ecstatic narration of Srinivas and he was simply crying out when will that day be mine when I could meet Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s divine associates.
Narottam receives mercy of Lord Gauranga
And one day while Narottam was meditating in this way he fell asleep and at that time Lord Nityananda appeared to him in a dream and he took Narottam by the hand and said you must come to the river Padma tomorrow and you must take your bath. So the next morning when Narottam awoke he went to the river Padma and he submerged his body in that river and as he came out right before his eyes manifested the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Lord Chaitanya with tears of love in his eyes embraced Narottam and soaked him with tears and as He embraced him, the essence of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s love entered into Narottam das Thakur’s heart and he began to tremble and he began to cry and he came out of the river and he was simply dancing and chanting at the banks of the river throughout the day. He forgot what his family was, what his body was and who he was. He was simply immersed in the loving embrace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Meanwhile his parents became very worried because he had not come home. So they sent servants searching for him and when they came to the river Padma they just saw him just leaping in the air very gracefully dancing and chanting the holy names – ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare! Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare!!’
And they brought him home. And something very special had happened to him. Narottam had a very dark complexion but when he embraced Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu not only the love but the complexion of Sriman Mahaprabhu entered into him and his body transformed into a beautiful golden color and his mother and his father and his relatives and friends they could not understand what had happened to him. ‘Your color has changed to a beautiful molten gold and you are constantly crying like a adolescent who is longing for his loved one simply weeping and weeping and crying’ and Narottam Das Thakur told them ‘I am no longer concerned with all of these worldly affairs you are trying to connect me with. I simply want to be with my Lord Gauranga and His associates.’ And his family became very worried. So they put so many people around him.
But everyday he would sit and hear on the banks of the river from Krishna Das and it became such an experience for him listening to the beautiful narrations of the Lord that throughout the day he would simply cry. He would condemn himself ‘how unlucky and sinful I am that I have appeared in this world after Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has already left! I have come to this world after Lord Nityananda has gone back to Vaikuntha, Goloka the spiritual platform! In this way in the pangs of love in separation Narottam could not eat and he could not sleep.
Narottam receives order from Mhaprabhu, “Go to Vrindavan”
Then one day by the sweet arrangement of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Narottam Das fell asleep and that time Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in His beautiful golden form appeared before him, His hair cascading in a beautiful blackish complexion falling down to the center of His back along His shoulders. His beautiful lotus eyes, His broad chest, His long arms, stood before Narottam and when Narottam saw Him he simply fell at the feet of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, placed his head on His feet and Sriman Mahaprabhu, Lord Gaur Sundar kept His soles and His feet and placed them on the top of the head of Narottam and then He looked at Narottam Das and embraced him with love And he said ‘My dear Narottam I can no longer tolerate seeing tears constantly flowing from your eyes in separation from me. Your crying in the pangs of your love has brought me here. Now Narottam this is my order to you – Go to Vrindavan and when you go to Vrindavan I want you to fall at the feet of my intimate associate Srila Loknath Goswami, accept him as your Guru Maharaj and receive initiation from him and then Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu left.
This only made things worse now that Narottam again had seen Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in his dream he woke up and he was crying ‘now He is gone now He is gone, again he has left me’, and he began to cry and cry and cry with love and then by the arrangement of the divine potency again he fell asleep and this time right before his eyes he saw the river Ganges and all around him was the beautiful abode of Nawadip dham and soon he heard the chanting of the holy names – ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare! Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare!!’ And there was Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu with His arms raised dancing in great ecstasy and then manifesting right before his eyes were Lord Nityananda, Sri Gadadhar, Sri Advaita, Srivas Thakur, Haridas Thakur, all of the associates of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu they were all dancing together with Lord Chaitanya in the beautiful land of Nawadip Dham and Narottam Das Thakur was thinking ‘how fortunate I am!’ Merged in ecstatic love Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came right before him, embraced him and said Narottam ‘I am pleased with you, now I want to give you to the care of all of my divine representatives and then Lord Nityananda placed His feet upon his head and embraced him and said ‘Narottam – Go to Vrindavan’. And then Sri Advaita embraced him with tears of love bathing him with that emotion – ‘Narottam now you go to Vrindavan.’ In this way he received the causeless blessings of all of these great incarnations of Godhead and these pure devotees of the Lord.
Narottam’s journey to Vrindavan
So when Narottam awoke he was simply waiting for the opportunity and when that opportunity came he secretly left his home for Vrindavan. At that time he was only sixteen years old and when his mother and father had found out that he had left they were very much disturbed and they sent a full multitude of guards and police officers to find him and some distance away sure enough there was Narottam dancing down the road chanting the holy names – ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare! Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare!!’ And Narottam recognized his servants and his guards and they said ‘Narottam we are going to take you home’ and Narottam with great love and humility said ‘I understand what you are doing and I appreciate it. Understand that I am like a chaste wife and when a chaste wife after her husband dies she naturally longs to enter into the flames with her husband to perform the Sati rite and the relatives and friends they love her so dearly they try to stop her. So similarly I am the chaste servant of Lord Sri Krishna and Lord Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu and my great longing is to enter into the fire of pure loving service to them and you are all like my very good friends and relatives. You are trying to stop me but please understand the vow that I have taken as the chaste wife of the Lord and allow me to do this’ and when the chief of this group of guards heard this tears came to his eyes and he said ‘Narottam you please go to Vrindavan. No one can stop you’ and then that man took money from his own pocket and said ‘here’s some money to help you on the way’ and then they went back to the village of Kheturi and they told Narottam’s father that he has received this loving emotion of Sri Gaur Hari and he has been called to Vrindavan Dham.
As he was walking he was very inexperienced after all he was a prince. He was used to a very luxurious life and it is described that his feet became covered with blisters and he didn’t know the ways of living in the forests so he had nothing to eat for days but these things did not concern him. Simply the expectation of going to Vrindavan and chanting the holy names – ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare! Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare!!’ was the ultimate fulfillment of all of Narottam’s desires. But his body was becoming emaciated and that time Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu disguised as a Brahmin appeared to him and gave him some milk to drink to nourish him and relieved him of all of his distress and all of his fatigue.
It is described that as Narottam was approaching Vrindavan; he came to the land of Mathura and he went to the holy place of Vishram Ghat. There he took bath in the holy waters of Yamuna and rested. There he met one very great Vaishnava devotee of the Lord and Narottam asked -’Can you tell me what is the news of Vraja?’ And the Vaishnava told him that just recently Srila Rupa Goswami, Srila Sanatana Goswami, Srila Raghunath Bhatt Goswami and Srila Kashishwara Mishra, all divine associates of Sriman Mahaprabhu, have left this world for Goloka Vrindavan. Upon hearing this Narottam was feeling great lamentation in separation from these great souls that ‘I have come all the way to Vrindavan and they have left’ and in this crying state he fell unconscious and in that state Srila Rupa Goswami, Srila Sanatana Goswami, Srila Raghunath Bhatt Goswami and Kashishwara Mishra all appeared to him and they lifted him up, embraced him and said, “Narottam, you go and take shelter of Srila Jiva Goswami and you will receive all of our blessings through him.”
Narottam in Vrindavan
So Narottam who was only a child he awoke and that Brahmin who was feeling so sorry that ‘this boy who is so beautiful, he is so lean and he is so young how will he survive and he is so filled with loving emotions.’ He said ‘please come to my home let me feed you’ and Narottam said ‘simply let me go to Vrindavan. Show me the way to Vrindavan. I do not want to waste even another moment.’ He said ‘I am too old to go with you’ So he sent some of his associates to bring Narottam to Vrindavan and there he arrived at the Radha Govind Dev temple of Srila Rupa Goswami and upon seeing the beauty of Govind Dev his heart was filled with love and at time the news came to Jiva Goswami that Narottam had arrived for whom he was long awaiting because Rupa and Sanatana had told him that this special associate of the Lord will come. So Jiva Goswami, he ran to the temple of Radha Govind Devji and there he saw Narottam Das and he laid Narottam on his lap and patted him like his own child and then he sent a message to Srinivas Acharya who also came running to meet Narottam. Many beautiful relationships between Narottam Das Thakur and the residents of Vrindavan were established during these next few days.
What I would like to just briefly touch on is one very important and instructive relationship that Narottam Das Thakur had received. Srila Jiva Goswami brought Narottam Das to Srila Loknath Das Goswami. Loknath Das Goswami had already received the vision that Narottam was coming. In fact Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the love of his life appeared and said ‘I want you to initiate Narottam. He will be your disciple. He is coming to you tomorrow.’ So Loknath prepared wonderful prasadam which he offered to his worshipable deities Radha Vinod and when Narottam arrived they both sat and took prasad together and as they were finishing relishing this wonderful prasad.
Loknath Das Goswami accepts Narrotam as his disciple
Narottam explained to Loknath upon his request the whole story of his life and then Narottam said ‘this is actually very unbefitting that I am sitting along with you taking prasad because you are an exalted Vaishnava and I do not even have a Guru. I have no position without a spiritual master. I should not be sitting next to you’ and Loknath Goswami replied ‘what need is there for you to have a Guru. Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu personally appeared to you and embraced you on several occasions and I can see by the love of your heart that he has personally imbued within your heart Prema Bhakti, pure love of God. Mahaprabhu Himself is your Guru, what do you need a Guru for? And Narottam Das said ‘no, you may not understand that I am the lowest, most fallen, the most wretched of all men, not even a drop of love of God has entered my heart. I am addicted to all sinful activities and my mind is always disturbed by material attachments and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu personally ordered me to accept a spiritual master. Without the grace of a Guru I have no position in this world or in the next. Please be merciful upon me, accept me as your disciple.’ Now Loknath Goswami, he was living in a secluded place and after Rupa and Sanatana left he made a vow that he would never accept a disciple. He would never initiate. So he told Narottam that ‘you are asking me to be a guru but it not so easy. According to the scripture first a person should attentively chant the holy names – ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare! Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare!!’ for at least one full year and study the scriptures and lead a very very disciplined life and then one may accept a spiritual master.’
So Narottam Das with great humility, he took shelter of the holy name and every day he would attend the beautiful discourses of Loknath Das Goswami and while Loknath would complete his prasad, Narottam, he would only eat his remnants. He would not touch anything else and he would clean this place and he would do all the most menial services for Loknath Goswami. It is explained that Loknath very very early in the morning, before the brahma muhurta hour, he would rise and he would take care of his morning duties. He would first go to respond to nature and then he would go to bath in Yamuna and just when he was at the Yamuna, Narottam would always clean the place where he had passed and make it very nice for the next day when he would come and he would also go into the little bhajan kutir of Loknath and clean it thoroughly and fill all his vessels with water and Loknath Das was thinking’ who is doing all these most menial service for me, such a humble person who could this be?’ And one day Narottam as he was doing like this Loknath was hiding in the bushes to see what was happening and he came out and he told Narottam that ‘your humility and your desire for menial services is very great.
By this time a full year had passed and Loknath Goswami still did not mention initiation and then another full year passed and Narottam Das Thakur went on this way simply rendering menial service chanting the holy names and then on one night when Loknath Das was sleeping, Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared to him in a dream and chastised him, he said ‘My dear beloved devotee did I not tell you to initiate Narottam Das? Why are you delaying so long?’ and Loknath Goswami could understand the will of the Lord. So days went by and Loknath was simply waiting for the next time that Narottam would request him to accept him as a disciple. So one day Narottam with a voice so sweet and so loving and so imbued with humility of a true devotee spoke very gently. He said that ‘you know when a young woman wants to marry and she has her mind fixed on a particular husband she cannot take her mind off her husband for anything or for anyone else. She is simple waiting for that day when the marriage would take place and during that time she has to approach her father and appeal to her father ‘Can you please make the arrangement that I can marry this man?’ In the same way I have been day and night appealing to my father, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Krishna in His most munificent incarnation of Lord Chaitanya to allow me to humbly serve you under this wow of chastity and be your disciple’ and when Loknath Das Goswami heard these words he began to cry in ecstatic love, he embraced Narottam and literarily bathed him with his tears and at that time he announced to all the devotees of Vrajabhumi that ‘today I will initiate Narottam Das and he initiated him in the holy name, he gave him the diksha, Hari Naam, the chanting of the Mahamantra - ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare! Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare!!’ He also initiated him in the sacred Gayatri mantra and seeing that Narottam had already attained such high level of pure devotional service he also revealed to Narottam Das Thakur his eternal relationship with Sri Krishna in the spiritual world and then Loknath Das told his dear disciple that ‘now I am entrusting you to Sri Jiva Goswami. You go to him, you live with him, you study the scriptures with him, you accept him as your siksha guru and you serve him as his menial servant’ and Narottam then went to the Radha Damodar temple and there he was personally trained by Srila Jiva Goswami in all of the Goswami literatures and the proper process of chanting the holy names and higher and higher levels of loving devotional service to the Lord and on that day Loknath Das Goswami made a vow that I will never accept another disciple except you and he preserved that wow for the lest of his life in this world.
Relationship between devotees
Narottam Das Thakur along with Srinivas Acharya and Shyamanand Prabhu studied together under Jiva Goswami. How sweet and beautiful the relationships of Vaishnavas were in those days and how sweet they should be today? Shyamanand Prabhu was initiated by Hridaya Chaitanya, his guru lived in Orissa. Srinivas Acharya was initiated by Gopal Bhatt Goswami who lived in Vrindavan, Narottam das Thakur was initiated by Loknath Goswami who also lived in Vrindavan. But all of these three great Acharyas they had so much love and trust in one another that they saw no difference between themselves and their intimate God brothers. In fact they all entrusted their disciples to live with , trained by and receive the divine mercy of Jiva Goswami and be his menial servants. Narottam Das Thakur for many years lived in Vrindavan and then he was asked by Jiva Goswami to take the blessings of Loknath Das and then go and travel through all of Bengal to preach the message of the holy name – Lord Chaitanya’s Sankirtan movement and that he did for the rest of his life through the mercy of Lord Chaitanya and he established a particular style of kirtan, he would sing so sweetly and he would organize and everyone would dance in certain timings and it was so beautiful and anyone who saw that kirtan and the devotees of Narottam their hearts would melt with love and they simply wanted to be a part of that. And of course Narottam Das Thakur was most well known for the beautiful songs that he had written. In our song book we have a few of them, how they are so saturated with the humble feelings of a pure devotee for Lord Sri Krishna and his spiritual master! So on these very sacred days it is our greatest fortune and blessing to remember the lives of these great saints and to hear their teachings and to aspire to follow in their footsteps and to become the servant of the servant of the servant of their beloved servants.
Thank you very much.