From Vrindavan to Vancouvwer, Mayapur to Moscow, Dwarka to Durban, Mumbai to Manchester, New Delhi to New York one can see several men and women wearing traditional Indian Vedic dresses with vaisnava tilak on their forehead chanting the holy names of Krishna on their beads or performing sankirtan i.e. the congregational chanting of the holy names of Lord.
When people driven with a desire to develop and distribute love of God come together accompanied with musical instruments like mridangas and kartal chant, sing and glorify the Supreme Lord it is called sankirtan. It was first propounded by Caitanya Mahaprabhu about 500 years ago in Mayapur, India. Caitanya Mahaprabhu a great devotee of Lord Krishna appeared in 1486 in Navadvipa, Mayapur.
His deep devotion, pure love for Krishna and mellifluous kirtan attracted all the residents of Navadvipa towards Krishna. In fact his chanting call enchanted the hearts of all. Driven with a determined purpose to purify all of all material lust he used to invite all in his sankirtan party. Even rogues and ruffians were allowed because he asseverated that chanting is such a powerful and potent elixir that if done with sincerity it can flush out all ungodly desires from the heart. Glorifying the sankirtan he says: “All glories to the Sri Krishna sankirtan, which cleanses the heart of all the dust accumulated for years and extinguishes the fire of conditional life, of repeated birth and death.” Siksastakam 1
Seeing the forlorn souls suffering, he felt pain and he wished to connect them to Krishna. He would tell the devotees, “Go and knock at each door and beg people to eschew their material lust and instead chant the names of Krishna.” His sublime message inspired thousands to take up spiritual life. He along with his close associates like Nityananda Prabhu, Advaita Acharya, Gadadhara Pandita, Srivasa Thakura and others used to continuously chant and sing Krishna’s name. In fact once Caitanya Mahaprabhu opined that each and every moment should be spent in chanting Krishna’s names and so we should not waste our time sleeping in the night. And from then onwards they started to have kirtan in the night in Srivasa angaan, home of Srivasa Thakura.
Seeing his influence increasing incessantly the magistrate of Navadvipa, Chand Kazi, was furious. He came running to the doorstep of the devotees who were absorbed in chanting and broke the mridanga with a warning of dire consequences if any one chanted the names publicly, loudly and most importantly tried to propagate it. Petrified devotees rushed to Caitanya Mahaprabhu for his guidance and advice.
Caitanya Mahaprabhu said: “In the evening, burn torchlights in every home. I shall give protection to everyone. Let us see what kind of Kazi comes to stop our kirtana.” Sri Caitanya caritamrta Adi 17.134
It was in fact the first civil disobedience movement. Thousands of devotees performing loud sankirtan, carrying burning torches marched towards the house of Chand Kazi. Chanting, singing and dancing all fearlessly led by Caitanya Mahaprabhu reached his doorstep. Chand Kazi hid himself in his palatial bungalow seeing the extraordinary agitation but later agreed to meet Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He had a philosophical discussion with Caitanya Mahaprabhu and got thoroughly defeated. He wasn’t just defeated but in fact he got transformed. He not just agreed to not threaten the devotees but said: “To as many descendants as take birth in my dynasty in the future, I give this grave admonition: No one should check the sankirtana movement.” Sri Caitanya caritamrta Adi 17.222.
Caitanya Mahaprabhu taught selfless devotion. He asked all the spiritual seekers to not pray to Lord for worldly positions and possessions. He prayed: “O almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor do I desire beautiful women, nor do I want any number of followers. I only want Your causeless devotional service birth after birth.” Siksastakam 4
Although Caitanya Mahaprabhu played the role of a devotee of Krishna and many know him to be a great devotee of Krishna but if we turn the pages of Vedic literatures then we would be surprised to find several references about him declaring him to be the Supreme Personality of God.
* Few of them are: * In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Kṛiṣhṇa. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Kṛiṣhṇa Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions:- Srimad Bhagavatam 11.5.32
* In the Garuda Purana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself states: “I will take birth as the son of Sachi, in Navadvipa – Mayapur. I will come in my complete spiritual form in the first part of Kali- Yuga.”
* In the Padma-Purana it is mentioned: “The Supreme Personality, Janardana, who is the object of the yogis’ meditation, who saves the devotees from various sufferings, and who is the master of all yogic practices, who is always full of divine transcendental ecstasy and bliss, will advent in His own divine form of Sri Caitanya.”
* Mahabharata’s Visnu – sahasra – nama – stotra explains: suvarna varna hemango varangas candanangadi / sannyasa krt-chamah santo nistha shanti parayanah. In His early pastimes He (Lord Caitanya) appears as a householder with a golden complexion. His limbs are beautiful, and His body, smeared with the pulp of sandalwood, seems like molten gold. In His later pastimes He accepts the sannyasa order, and He is equipoised and peaceful. He is the highest abode of peace and devotion, for He silences the impersonalist non-devotees.
* In the Adi-Purana and in the Narada Purana, the Supreme Lord says: aham eva dvija-srestho / nityam pracchanna-vigrahah / bhagavad-bhakta-rupena / lokam raksami sarvada.” I shall advent in the form of a Brahmana devotee [aham eva dvija-srestho] and I shall hide my factual identity [prachanna vigrahah]. I shall deliver all the worlds [lokam raksami sarvada].”
The sankirtan movement which was started 500 years ago has spread to almost all parts of the world today by the herculean efforts of Srila Prabhupada, an ardent devotee of Lord Caitanya and founder of ISKCON. This was in fact predicted by Lord Caitanya 500 years back, “sankirtana would spread to every town and village on the earth.” (Caitanya-bhagavata, Antya 4.126). Gaura Purnima, the appearance day of Lord Caitanya is being celebrated on 5th March.
(By: Purushottam Kumar (a.k.a. Purushottam Nitai Das))