A Holy Day
In the following excerpt from Sermons of the Guardian of Devotion: Volume Two Srila Sridhara Maharaja begins to speak about some of the numerous events that make Vasanta-pancami an especially holy day.
The Appearance of Srimata Vishnupriya Devi
Today is the Holy Day of Vasanta-pancami, the fifth day of the light fortnight of the moon, month of Magha, when Krishna is worshiped with the new flowers of spring. On this day, the holy advent of Srimati Vishnupriya Devi occurred. Her father was Sri Sanatana Misra of Navadvipa, who was a brahmana and great devotee of Lord Vishnu. Srimati Vishnupriya Devi is the eternal consort of Sri Gaurasundara in his feature of Gaura-Narayana, and according to Sri-Gauraganoddesadipika, she is directly Satyabhama in Krishna’s Dvaraka lila.
She was the second wife of Sriman Mahaprabhu in the householder period of his pastimes. From childhood, she was devout in the divine service of the Lord. Kasinatha Pandita was the intermediary in her marriage to Mahaprabhu. She was the ideal of divine self-surrender at the lotus feet of Mahaprabhu. When she was only fourteen, Mahaprabhu took sannyasa, and after that she lived the rest of her life in penance. From early morning she would chant the holy name the whole day, and for every mahamantra that she chanted, she would put one grain of rice into a clay pot. After chanting her quota, she would take that rice and cook it and offer it to the Lord. That was all she would take for her subsistence, so gradually she became emaciated. She passed her days in this way.
Her brother was her guardian after Saci-devi departed, and ultimately she had a murti of Mahaprabhu, and she would worship him in that form. And since the time of Vishnupriya, that worship is being continued up to the present in the temple here in Navadvipa known as ‘Mahaprabhura Badi’ (the home of Mahaprabhu). So this day of the year is connected with her holy memory, and we may achieve her grace if we honor this time in her name, discussing her pastimes. She will be propitiated and Sri Caitanyadeva will also be pleased with us, giving us a step forward in our transcendental march towards him.
The Appearance of Sri Pundarika Vidyanidhi
Today is also the appearance day of Sri Pundarika Vidyanidhi. He is considered to be Vrishabhanu-raja of Varsana, Vrindavana, the father of Srimati Radharani. Sri Pundarika Vidyanidhi was born in a brahmana family at Chattagram, and he bore the title “Vidyanidhi” on account of his scholarship. Apparently he was a man of luxurious habits. In those days, people who could afford it would have a house in Navadvipa on the banks of the holy Ganges river; they would from time to time visit Navadvipa to regularly bathe in the Ganges and remain for some time in this Holy Place, and then return to their homes to continue their livelihood. So, Pundarika Vidyanidhi also had a house in Navadvipa.
Here, in Gaura-lila, Gadadhara Pandita was the representation of Srimati Radharani herself. At that time, Gadadhara Pandita was a young boy. He was younger than Mahaprabhu. Mukunda Datta was a follower and admirer of Mahaprabhu Sri Caitanyadeva, and he also came from Chattagram, the village of Pundarika Vidyanidhi. He knew Pundarika Vidyanidhi to be a man of higher religious type, that is, a Bhagavata type or Krishna bhakta. But outwardly Pundarika Vidyanidhi lived a life of luxury. He was a well-to-do man, a general zamindar (state landowner). Mukunda Datta naturally knew him when he came to Navadvipa, since he hailed from the same place. Mukunda Datta went to Gadadhara Pandita and asked him, “Would you like to have the darsana of a Vaishnava?”
From childhood Gadadhara Pandita was very fond of Vaishnavas and Krishna nama. He had much fondness for Nimai Pandita when the Lord returned from Gaya. Previously he was very much afraid of Nimai Pandit, because whenever they met, Nimai Pandit would always tackle him with some apparent quarrel about etymology or something of that nature. So, after returning from Gaya, when Sri Caitanyadeva expressed his devotional aspect, he said one day, “Gadadhara, from your very childhood you are a devotee of Krishna, and my days have been wasted discussing grammar and mundane literature. But you, Gadadhara, my friend, your life is very successful. You have fulfillment of life. From the beginning you are fond of Krishna nama.” So, from the beginning Gadadhara Pandita’s heart was towards Krishna. Therefore when Mukunda Datta asked him, “Would you like to see a Vaishnava who has come from afar?” the reply came, “Yes, yes, I shall go; take me there.”
So Mukunda Datta took Gadadhara Pandit to Pundarika Vidyanidhi. And what kind of Vaishnava was Pundarika Vidyanidhi? He was sitting on a luxurious bedstead, smoking a very ornate and valuable pipe. His head was adorned with beautiful oiled curly locks, and many valuable pastes were anointed on his body. Two attendants fanned him on either side. Gadadhara Pandit thought, “Mukunda has brought me to this luxury loving man sitting on the bedstead and smoking? What type of Vaishnava has he brought me to see?” He was disappointed at heart, and Mukunda could guess it. Mukunda Datta was a very good singer, and in a very sweet tone he sang this sloka of Bhagavatam :
aho baki yam stana-kala-kutam
jighamsayapayayad apy asadhvi
lebhe gatim dhatry ucitam tato ‘nyam
kam va dayalum saranam vrajema
This sloka was chanted by Mukunda in a very sweet tone, and this created a wonderful effect in Pundarika Vidyanidhi. The Bhagavatam says, “Who else but Krishna should we approach? Who can be so kind, so gracious? There is limitless grace in him. Why? Baki, Putana, came to kill him in a treacherous way, taking the garb of dhatri, a motherly garb. In this way she came to try and kill him; yet Krishna gave her a position as a nursemaid in his group of assisting mothers. So gracious is the Lord. Who else can we approach for our good?”
This is the meaning of the verse. “She painted deadly poison on her breast, and came to suckle the boy Krishna. So treacherous was her action. In the garb of motherly affection she tried to murder the boy, and she was given such a high position as an attendant of his mother. She was elevated to the motherly group. Such grace, such mercy he showed, without considering or passing judgment on the worth of that action. So other than that kind-hearted and gracious Krishna, where else should we go for shelter?”
This entered the heart of Pundarika Vidyanidhi and began to vibrate, and produced such force that he was stunned; then shivering began, and madly gesticulating, he began to pull his hair and tear his silken dress, kicking over the tobacco and pipe. His rich bedding and dress were ruined, and he began to roll on the ground and cry, kam va dayalum saranam vrajema: “In whom shall we take shelter other than Him?” Then Gadadhara Pandita thought, “Oh, I have committed a great offense in my mind, thinking that he was not a Vaishnava, because of his fashionable dress and style. Really, how great a Vaishnava he is—what a wonderful effect the memory of Krishna caused in him!”
Then Gadadhara Pandit revealed his mind: “Mukunda, I have committed an offense against this great Vaishnava. What will be my fate? When I first saw him, I shunned him; I committed an offense. I think that if I take mantra from him, become his disciple, then he may forgive all my offenses. There is no other way to be absolved from this Vaishnava aparadha. I shall have to inform my Lord Gauracandra, Nimai Pandit, about this.” So they left the place of Pundarika Vidyanidhi, and Gadadhara went to take Nimai Pandit’s permission to become the disciple of Pundarika Vidyanidhi.
Before anyone knew that Pundarika had come from Chattagram to Navadvipa, and even before Mahaprabhu had met him, Mahaprabhu was seen to suddenly cry, “Bap Pundarik! Bap Pundarik! ” In the mood of Srimati Radharani, Nimai was taking his name. Bap means father. So he was calling, “Father, Pundarika! Father, Pundarika!” Nimai Pandit was chanting like this, in the mood of Radharani.
When Gadadhara made his proposal to Mahaprabhu, the Lord immediately replied, “Yes, very good proposal. Go and accept him at once.” Gadadhara Pandita represents Radharani in Gaura-lila, and Pundarika is Radharani’s father in Krishna lila: the guru is like the father, and the disciple is like the child. So Mahaprabhu at once approved and Gadadhara took initiation from Pundarika Vidyanidhi. He was none other than Vrishabhanuraja, and Gadadhara was the incarnation of Radharani in Gaura-lila.
Pundarika Vidyanidhi would not take a bath in the Ganges because he could not tolerate that his feet would touch the holy Ganges river. Before daybreak, he would go to the Ganges and take some of the water on his head. He did not go to the Ganges by day, because he could not tolerate to see persons who would dive into the water or spit there and contaminate the pure, holy water by misusing it. Before worship, prayer, etc., the general pandita section may bathe in the Ganges and fast to purify their bodies of sin. But Pundarika Vidyanidhi would rather drink some Ganges water prior to his daily worship and duties, thereby teaching us the proper worshipful respect due to the Ganga.
In Puri, his dearmost friend and associate was Sri Svarupa Damodara. When he went to Puri, he felt some pain in his heart that the priestly servants of Jagannatha dressed the Lord in starched cloth, which is generally considered impure. When cloth is manufactured by hand loom, the thread is soaked in boiled rice water which acts as a paste to hold it firm in the loom. That cloth is considered impure, and must first be rinsed in water before offering it to the Deity. But in Puri, that was not the practice. They directly used starched cloth for dressing Lord Jagannatha, and Pundarika Vidyanidhi could not accommodate this.
That night, he dreamt that both Jagannatha and Balarama came to him and dealt slaps to his cheeks, saying, “You have come here to point out the defects in my servitors? What is this?!”
They both began to slap him, and the dream was so intense that when he rose in the morning he found that both his cheeks were inflamed. He expressed to his most intimate friend, Svarupa Damodara: “My dear friend, Svarupa Damodara, such is my position. I had this objectionable feeling in my heart towards these servitors, so Jagannatha and Balarama have punished me in this way. See the swelling on both cheeks!”
Such was the nature of Pundarika Vidyanidhi. In essence, we are told that he is the father of Srimati Radharani, incarnated here as Pundarika Vidyanidhi. A slight holy association of this day, his appearance day, will help us a great deal in our advancement of spiritual life.
The Appearance of Sri Raghunandana Thakura
Thirdly, this is also the birthday of Raghunandana Thakura. He was born in a place named Srikhanda, near Katwa, in a Kaviraja family, a lineage of Ayurvedic doctors. Raghunandana was the son of Mukunda Kaviraja, who was such a notable doctor that even kings called for him for treatment. Raghunandana was a bachelor his whole life. His figure was extraordinarily beautiful, and he was very fond of dancing. From the beginning he was, of course, a natural devotee.
The family of Mukunda Thakura worshiped their ancestral Deity at home. Once, when Raghunandana was a growing boy, who had perhaps only recently received the sacred thread and admission to worship, his father asked him, “I’m going out and won’t return in time. You please worship the deity and feed him—offer bhogam for his food.”
When he was away, Raghunandana’s mother cooked many items and brought them to the temple, and asked Raghunandana to offer them to the deity. Generally the doors are kept closed during worship, so behind the closed doors Raghunandana offered and prayed to the Lord , “Please take these dishes I am offering you—please eat.” But the Sri Murti did not answer or come forward to eat. Raghunandana began to cry. “My father will rebuke me! He has requested me to feed you, and you are not eating. I’ll be punished. You have to take this food!” The sincere boy began to cry in such a way that Krishna had to eat. Raghunandana was satisfied, and came out from the deity room. His mother came to remove the prasadam.
“What is this? All the plates are empty!”
Raghunandana replied, “You asked me to feed the deity. He has taken.”
His mother said angrily, “You, boy, you have eaten it! The deity doesn’t eat. We offer, everything remains, and afterwards we take the prasadam . You wicked boy, you have turned out to be such a rogue, you have eaten everything.”
“No, no, I did not eat, the deity ate everything.”
“This is impossible, you foolish boy! Do you want to make a fool of me? This can never happen!”
He began to cry, “No, I’m speaking the truth.”
“Alright, let your father come, and I shall ask him to punish you.”
Mukunda returned, and Raghunandana’s mother complained, “Your boy has grown to be such a rogue! He says the deity has eaten.”
Raghunandana also petitioned his father, “Yes, the deity has eaten. He would not take in the beginning, but I began to cry, and then he ate.”
“Is this true?”
“Yes, it is true my father, I am not lying.”
“Can you show me?”
“I shall try.”
So he was given another chance to worship, and from a hidden place his father could see that the Deity had actually taken the food.
Such a devotee was Raghunandana Thakura. When he danced in sankirtana, it was such a charming scene that even Mahaprabhu was attracted. During the Jagannatha Ratha-yatra seven special groups would chant and dance, and in the party from Srikhanda we find that Raghunandana was the dancer. So today is the day connected with the memory of Sri Raghunandana Thakura, who is considered to be Pradyumna avatara . Many more incidents occur in his pastime; I have only touched on them. It is also said that near the banks of the lake Madhu-puskarini there is a Jambu tree, and according to his wish two Kadamba flowers bloom on that tree every day for the worship of his deity. Many miracles are found in his pastimes.