Stylizing The Embellishments: Constructing The Dominant Variant
The Caitanya Caritāmṛta
of Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja remains the most authoritative of the mainstream versions of Caitanya's life, and the birth story - just as it did for Murāri and Jayānanda - hinges on often subtle theological distinctions that can find expression within the broad structure of the hero pattern, but without violating it. The Caitanya Caritāmṛta
was finished sometime between 1600 and 1612 (Dimock n.d.: Introduction, part 2, section 3) and serves as the effective end of the creative period of Caitanya biography. The text is theologically sophisticated, composite in its narrative structure, and extremely erudite in its supporting citations and arguments. In brief, as portrayed by Kṛṣṇadāsa, Caitanya is not an incarnation (avatāra
) or part (aṃśa
) of Kṛṣṇa, but is the complete god head itself, svayaṃ bhagavān
, whose innate and natural form is the two-armed, loving Govinda, cowherd, and charmer of the postpubescent gopī maidens. The story of his birth elaborates the divine nature proclaimed by Murāri and Jayānanda, while the complete narrative is the most elaborate within the tradition, conforming to the general observation regarding the growth of hagiographical traditions and the expansion of detail in direct proportion to the distance from the event.
Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Ādi Līlā, chapter 13
... Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya was incarnated at Navadvīpa, and for forty-eight years his sport was apparent.  1407 of the Śaka era [=1486 CE] witnessed his birth, and in 1455 he disappeared.  For twenty-four years Prabhu [Caitanya] lived as a householder, always praising Kṛṣṇa.  At the end of twenty-four years he took saṃnyāsa
, and for twenty-four years he lived at Nīlācala.  Of this, six years [were spent] in wandering, sometimes in the south, sometimes in Gauḍa, sometimes to Vṛndāvana.  For eighteen years he remained at Nīlācala and caused all to float in the nectar of name and prema of Kṛṣṇa....
[sloka 2:] I greet the full moon night of Phālguna, full of all excellent qualities, when with the names of Kṛṣṇa, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya was incarnated.
 So in the evening of the full-moon night in Phālguna, Prabhu was born. At that time, by divine power, there was an eclipse of the moon.  The people were greatly delighted and called out 'Hari Hari!' Then Caitanya Prabhu was born, giving birth [also] to the Name....  Thus let me write the sūtras
of the Ādi Līlā; hear O bhaktasl I write in brief; it cannot all be written.  Vrajendrakumāra, for the fulfillment of a certain wish, decided to become incarnated.  First he caused to be incarnated those who were his elders; let me mention them in brief - writing in detail is not possible.  Śrī Śacī and Jagannātha, Śrī Mādhava Purī, Keśava Bhāratī, and Śrī Īśvara Purī,  Advaitācārya, and Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita, Ācāryanidhi, Vidyānidhi, and Haridāsa Ṭhākura.  And there was Śrī Upendra Miśra, the dweller in Śrīhaṭṭa, a Vaiṣṇava, a paṇḍita
, a wealthy man, and the foremost in all virtues of truth.  The seven Miśras his sons were seven lords among rṣis
: Kaṃsāri, Paramānanda, Padmanābha, Sarveśvara,  Jagannātha, Janārdana, and Trailokyanātha. [Caitanya's father] Jagannātha settled in Nadīyā, by the banks of the Ganga.  Jagannātha, the best of Miśras, whose title was Purandara, was an ocean of good qualities, in the form of Nanda and Vasudeva.  His wife's name was Śacī, a true wife, a pativratā
, whose father was a Cakravartī named Nīlāmbara.  Ṭhākura Nityānanda was born in Rāḍha. And Gaṅgādāsa Paṇḍita, Murāri Gupta, and Mukunda,  and uncounted bhaktas
he made to descend; and finally Vrajendrakumāra descended.
 Before the appearance of Caitanya, many bhaktas
came to the place of Advaitācārya.  Ācārya Gosvāmī would speak on the [Bhagavad
], expounding the greatness of bhakti
and condemning the [paths of] jñāna
.  In all the śāstras
, he said, Kṛṣṇa-bhakti
is explained; people respect neither jñāna-yoga
.  And the Vaiṣṇavas who were with him were much pleased with his stories of Kṛṣṇa, his worship of Kṛṣṇa, and his public recitation of the name [nāma-saṃkīrtana
].  But seeing all the people with faces averted from Kṛṣṇa, seeing people immersed in worldly affairs, he was very sorrowful.  He reflected on a source of salvation for the people, how all these people could be saved.  'If Kṛṣṇa himself descends and propagates bhakti
, then the people will be saved.'  So the Ācārya prayed that Kṛṣṇa himself appear; he performed Kṛṣṇa-pūjā
, with tulasī
and Gaṅgā-water.  He summoned Kṛṣṇa with a loud outcry, and Vrajendrakumāra was attracted by the shout.  In the womb of Śacī, the wife of Jagannātha Miśra, eight daughters had been born in succession, and all had died at birth.  In virāha
for his children, Miśra's heart was very sad, and he prayed at the feet of Viṣṇu for a son.  So a son was born and named Viśvarūpa; he was possessed of all great virtues, the divine receptacle of Baladeva [Kṛṣṇa's brother].  The prakāśa
[form] of Baladeva was Saṃkarṣaṇa in Paravyoma, and he is the cause both efficient and material of the universe.18
 We see nothing else but him in the universe, thus Viśvarūpa was his name.
[śloka 3; Bhāgavata Purāna 10.15.35:] Nothing is surprising in the eternal bhagavān
, the lord of the universe, on whom this universe is woven, warp, and woof like the threads of a piece of cloth.
 Thus Prabhu called him 'elder brother'; Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, these two are Caitanya and Nitāi [Nityānanda].  So getting a son, the hearts of the husband and wife were greatly delighted, and they especially served the feet of Govinda.  In 1406 Śaka, at the end of the month of Māgha, Kṛṣṇa entered into the bodies of Jagannātha and Śacī.  Miśra said to Śacī, 'I see other than the usual things,  your body is full of light, [as if] Lakṣmī has settled there.  Everyone around pays great respect,  and to the house they send wealth, and clothing, and food.'  Śacī said, 'I see, above in the sky,  people in the forms of the gods, praising.'  Jagannātha Miśra said, 'I saw a dream; a container of radiance entered into my heart.  From my heart it went to your heart, and now I understand, that some greatly-to-be revered person will be born.'  Saying these things, the two remained, greatly pleased in their hearts, and they made special service to the śālagrāma
[stone].  Time went on and on, and the pregnancy was in the thirteenth month; but there was still no delivery, and Miśra was apprehensive.  Nīlāmbara Cakravartī calculated, 'In this month, at an auspicious moment, a son will be born.'  In 1407 Śaka, in the month of Phālguna, on the night of the full moon, in the evening, that auspicious moment came.  It was at the sign of the Lion, the entrance of the sun into the sign of the Lion, and the planets were on the ascendant, and in the sixth and eighth houses, with all signs auspicious,  the stainless Gaura, the golden moon, appeared; was there any need for an ordinary moon with its stains?  Realizing this, Rāhu swallowed the moon, and the three worlds were filled with the [sounds of the] name 'Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa, Hari!'  Filling the world, the people called out 'Hari, Hari!,' and at that moment the golden Kṛṣṇa himself descended to the earth.  Delighted were the hearts of all the people of the world, and Yavanas laughed together with the Hindus, saying 'Hari.'  Crying 'Hari!.' the women gave the hulāhuli
sound, and the gods in heaven, in great joy, danced and sang.  The ten directions were bright, and the water of the rivers pure, and all things moving and unmoving were transported with joy.
 In Nadīyā Udayagiri,
the full-moon Gaurahari
by his mercy has appeared.
Sin and darkness were destroyed,
the three worlds rejoiced,
and earth filled with the sound of Hari's name.
 At that time, in his own house, Advaita Rāya rose up
and danced, his heart filled with joy.
With Haridāsa, he shouted out in an ecstasy of kīrtana
why they danced, nobody could tell.
 Seeing the eclipse, they laughed,
and quickly ran to the Gaṅgā's ghāt
and in joy bathed in the river.
On the pretext of the eclipse,
in the happiness of their own hearts, they distributed many gifts to Brāhmaṇas.
Kṛṣṇadāsa continues the description of the visitors, celestial and earthly, to Navadvīpa to celebrate the birth (CC
1.13.100-123). Various gods and goddesses pay their respects, bestowing fabulous wealth on the family, as do local Vaiṣṇavas and other genteel folk. Notable among them is the wife of Advaitācārya, Sītā Ṭhākurāṇī, who at the direct command of her husband, provided numerous gold and conch ornaments, silks, and auspicious unguents for the child Gaurāṅga (CC
1.13.110-17). That Kṛṣṇadāsa has stylized his narrative is immediately apparent in the opening verses. Caitanya's life itself is divided into two conveniently symmetrical units of twenty-four years, each divided into smaller segments in multiples of six. The auspicious time is calculated much more precisely (CC
1.13.18-19, 1.13.89-93) than in other versions, but in accord with them. The birth, however, is preceded by the incarnation of Kṛṣṇa's entire dhāman
, the realm and retinue of Kṛṣṇa, which prepares the world for his appearance.19
Thus all those Vaiṣṇava devotees in Nadīyā, Caitanya's family and friends, are descended from heaven to aid Caitanya in his mission of salvation (CC
1.13.51-60). This sacralization, indeed divinization, of the entire Vaiṣṇava community significantly changes how the tradition interprets their actions, for they must be understood, according to this doctrine, as extensions of god. And the form of Kṛṣṇa that this doctrine implies is the complete svayaṃ bhagavān
; the dhāman
does not appear in toto for partial incarnations, but only for svayaṃ bhagavān
. This position is today the theologically dominant one, what has become for most Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas the orthodox. The ramifications for those involved are significant, for the closer they are to Caitanya, clearly the higher their status not only as devotees but also in the eternal realm of heavenly Vṛndāvana.
Significant among these incarnated dhāman
figures is Advaitācārya, who, in Kṛṣṇādāsa's narrative, precipitates Kṛṣṇa's descent by calling him down to earth after performing the appropriate pūjā and so forth (CC
1.13.61-69). From the standpoint of the hero's birth pattern, this transformation makes Advaita the agent of Caitanya's birth, therefore his father. It is by Advaita's call to Kṛṣṇa, by his bellowing of the potent Sanskrit seed mantra
, that Kṛṣṇa is awakened from his complacent repose in heaven and forced to earth. But as ersatz father, he is not a king, rather he represents the ultimate in Hindu orthopraxy, the Brāhmaṇa paṇḍita, and as such the religious counter to the Muslim ruler. Significantly, the extreme orthopraxy of Advaita is consistent with the strict observances of ritual, and so on, appropriate to Kṛṣṇa's aiśvarya
or sovereign identity as universal monarch. So, by a second splitting of fatherhood, the hero now has not two, but three fathers: Jagannātha Miśra, Advaitācārya, and Kṛṣṇa, the latter representing celestial royalty, the second the religious counterpart as embodied in orthopraxy, and the first the somewhat more lowly but morally righteous parent who raises Caitanya. For the first time in the narratives, Advaitācārya's wife, Sītā Ṭhākurāṇī, plays a major role: she visits Caitanya bearing many gifts. The magnitude of this wealth is staggering, and Kṛṣṇadāsa devotes eight strophes (in the elaborate tripadi
meter) to its description (CC
1.13.110-17). In addition to furnishing the auspicious and preferred items to complete the various postpartum rituals to ensure the young Viśvāmbhara's health and prosperity, Sītā christens the baby Nimāi (CC
1.13.116). The name is a diminutive from the nīm
leaf, whose properties are medicinal, but whose taste is bitter, chosen in an attempt to confuse demons and ghouls who would not dare to consume the child for fear of his bitter taste. This 'blessing' and bestowal of wealth seem to signify a proper maternalism, complementing Advaita's paternal role. Caitanya, it would seem, has now gained an ersatz mother. The additional significance of Kṛṣṇadāsa's portrayal of Advaita's and Sītā's deference to Caitanya will be important in interpreting the last text below.
In the Caitanya Caritāmṛta
(1.13.70), Kṛṣṇadāsa depicts the conception of the baby Caitanya as difficult; just as Jayānanda described it in the Caitanya Maṅgala
, eight daughters are stillborn. Śacī's pregnancy with Caitanya is vividly and elegantly described, certainly befitting a god, but Kṛṣṇādāsa modifies Caitanya's conception so that it mirrors both Murāri's story of the light entering Śacī's womb from god via Jagannātha Miśra and Jayānanda's version of the dream revelation (CC
1.13.77-86). From Śacī's dream we learn that the convoluted incest that is inherent in Kṛṣṇa's fathering of himself remains intact and the biological fatherhood of Jagannātha Miśra is preserved (unlike in Jayānanda's story). Importantly, the account of the birth of Caitanya's older brother Viśvarūpa unequivocally identifies him with Balarāma, Kṛṣṇa's older brother (CC
1.13.71 76). By this identification Kṛṣṇadāsa makes explicit what was only implied in earlier texts. Kṛṣṇadāsa tends to be much more self-consciously deliberate and comprehensive than other authors, especially with regard to the delicate social posturing inherent in this Bengali religious community, so it should come as no surprise that he includes this information, even though Viśvarūpa himself plays no more than a minor role in the biography. But what is significant here is that earlier in the text (CC
1.6) Kṛṣṇadāsa identified Nityānanda, Caitanya's 'left-hand' man, as Viśvarūpa, Caitanya's brother. Theologically, according to the dhāman
-incarnation doctrine, Nityānanda is Balarāma and thus Caitanya's surrogate brother; and this role is actively acknowledged by Caitanya's mother Śacī herself (CC
.7-11, 1.5.111-27, 1.13.72-75). Because Kṛṣṇadāsa carefully prepares the reader to think of Nityānanda when he speaks of Caitanya's brother, he implies a set of relationships that are socially and theologically germane to the entire Vaiṣṇava community. The message is clear: Advaita, as the 'father' of Caitanya, represents the conservative, unassailably orthopraxic Brāhmaṇa foundation of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism; Nityānanda, as 'brother' of Caitanya and ascetic avadhūta
, personifies the playful relationship of intimacy to Caitanya. This latter emotional relationship (sakhya
) is higher than that associated with Advaita in this text, although neither one represents the epitome of the basic forms of love. It is always the intimate kinds of love, Kṛṣṇadāsa iterates repeatedly in the Caitanya Caritāmṛta
, that Kṛṣṇa prefers. Advaita's followers are proper Brāhmaṇas who, by their conservative nature, will naturally inculcate a devotion that tends toward the majestic and sovereign dimension of Kṛṣṇa's personality, his aiśvarya
, and which can border on or even cross over into the formless realm of Vedānta. Nityānanda's intimacy, however, will foster a love for Kṛṣṇa that is directed toward his sweetness, his mādhurya
, and which will eschew rigid ritual formalities in its eagerness and zeal. This latter love will eradicate caste distinctions and in the process embrace a wide audience - and it became so as Nityānanda's followers far outnumbered those of any other lineage - and they joined from all social classes. The two guru
-lineages are represented prominentiy in Kṛṣṇadāsa's narrative, but only one demonstrates a truly intimate access, while the other must remain at least nominally distant.20
The significance of this particular distinction, however, will become even more apparent when we examine the final narrative in our sampling of Caitanya's birth stories, a tale which is found not in a biography of Caitanya, but in an ancillary biography of Advaitācārya.
To Be Continued ...
is a technical term in the avatāra
theory of Kṛṣṇādāsa Kavirāja and the Gosvāmins, which refers to the second division of the category of 'God Himself in his Innate Form' (svayaṃ rūpa
is further divided into two: many forms with a single body (for example, Kṛṣṇa in the rasa-līlā
with the gopīs
), and the same body appearing in different forms (for example, Balarāma).
19. Evidence for this dhāman
-incarnation theory had been appearing somewhat piecemeal until the composition of the Gauragaṇoddeśadīpika
of the biographer of Caitanya, Kavikarṇapūra (1329 BS), in 1576. This short composition lists over two hundred of the leading members of Caitanya's entourage and explicitly identifies them with figures in Kṛṣṇa's dhāman
. Rebecca Manring (1989) has prepared a (nearly) critical edition, based on a selection of the oldest and most complete manuscripts and has included a translation, with extensive notes.
20. The Caitanya Caritāmṛta
played a major role in fixing the internal structure of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava movement when it was circulated in Bengal by the three 'missionaries' of the 'second generation': Śrīnivāsa, Narottama Dāsa, and Śyāmānanda, the men responsible for coalescing the increasingly disparate communities into a loosely unified but coherent body of believers.