Gouridas was born at Shaligram, about 18 kms from Shridham Navadwip in Bengal. His father was Kansari Mishra, mother Kamala Devi. Suryadas was his elder brother. Suryadas had two daughters, Vasudha and Jahnavi.
Suryadas was a boyhood companion of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He was a sadhaka in the sakhya bhava, i.e., in the mood of friendship with God.
He told Gouridas, “Go and live at Ambika-Kalna and do your sadhana and worship at a lovely place near the river Ganga.” What could have been more close to the heart of Gouridas? Joyfully, he left for Ambika-Kalna.
One day Shri Gauranga was returning from Shantipur. He took a boat at Harinadi village. Pulling the oars with His own hands, He crossed the wide Ganga and arrived at Ambika. But He did not leave the oar behind. Carrying it in His hands, He went to Gouridas’ house. Gouridas was astonished. Mahaprabhu said, “This oar is for you.”
“What shall I do with it?”
“What shall you do? You shall take people across the samsar-river with the help of this oar” said the Lord.
With profound reverence Gouridas accepted the oar with folded hands. Mahaprabhu embraced him and said, “Come with Me to Navadwip. I shall give you something there.”
Gouridas became full of bliss with the Lord’s embrace. He could not comprehend what more than this could be there. What as the thing that lay beyond imagination even?
Indeed, there was something truly beyond imagination. The Lord handed over to Gouridas the Bhagawat Gita written with His own hand. From beginning to end it was written with pearl-like letters. The nectar of his unblinking eyes was saturated in it. It was sheer bliss just to look at the writing, to hold it in one’s hand. It was a joy flowing from the absorption of consciousness.
Holding the Gita close to his heart, Gouridas returned to Ambika going over the entire transcendental experience in his mind. “How painstakingly must He (Gauranga) have written it with His own hands, and yet He gave it to me so unhesitatingly” he mused.
What meditation and worship would Gouridas do? He was absorbed in the experience and shedding tears. What divine love, what leela? Gouridas could not fathom its vastness.
When the Lord came to Shantipur after His sannyas, Gouridas did not go to see Him because of his deep sorrow on Mahaprabhu’s taking sannyas. If Prabhu renounces the world in this way, how can we live then, he thought. With what shall we continue to live?
But the Lord cannot stay away from His true Devotees. When Mahaprabhu came to Shantipur He Himself went to Gouridas’ house alongwith Nityananda Prabhu. Gouridas wept and said, “I will not let You go again. Both of You stay here as my permanent captives. I shall serve You to my heart’s content.”
Gauranga smiled and said, “Do one thing. You can serve Our images.”
Gouridas: “Will the images be alive?”
Gouridas: “Can they sit in a squatting position?”
Mahaprabhu: “Yes, of course”
Gouridas: “Will they be able to take rice with their own hands?”
Mahaprabhu: “Yes, certainly. Now you go and bring a neem tree from Navadwip and carve out images of Us two brothers from the wood. We will surely fulfill your wish.”
Gouridas wiped his tears. He sent men to Navadwip who brought a neem tree from there. He had two wooden Deities made out of it – one of Shri Nityananda and another of Shriman Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
On the instructions of Shri Advaita Acharya, his son Achyutananda consecrated both the Deities with the ten-syllable Gopal mantra and installed them. These were the very first idols of Nitai-Gaurhari. Gouridas was the first founder of installing, serving and worshipping the dual Deities.
After the Deities were established, Mahaprabhu said, “Now feed the four of Us.”
Gouridas: “Four of You?”
Mahaprabhu: “Yes, the four of Us. We two brothers and the two Deities. Make places for all four.”
Gouridas: “Will the two Deities eat?”
Mahaprabhu: “Of course. Otherwise you wouldn’t believe in Them.”
With great joy Gouridas prepared many nice food items. He placed four seats. Shri Gauranga, Nityananda and the two idols partook of the food. There was no difference between the real persons and their Deities.
Mahaprabhu then said, “Now as per your wish, two of Us will stay at Ambika and two will go to Nilachal. Thus your wish will be fulfilled.”
Gouridas was thus blessed. Now there was a need to find a sincere and competent Brahman who would undertake the regular worship and service of the Deities. In search of such a person Gouridas approached Gadadhar and said, “I have come to beg one thing from you.” Gadadhar looked at his face and said, “I have nothing that I cannot give to you.” Gouridas then said, “Please give your Hridayananda to me.”
Madhav Mishra, known for his piety and virtues, lived at Bharatpur in the district of Murshidabad. He had two sons, Gadadhar and Kashinath. Kashinath had two sons, Nayananda and Hridayananda.
Gadadhar was one of the most intimate associates of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He was known as Gadadhar Pandit. And he had raised and nurtured Hridayananda, initiating him and educating him. In this way Hridayananda was Gadadhar’s personal attendant as well as his student.
Gadadhar Pandit handed over this Hridayananda to Gouridas. Gouridas gave mantra-diksha (initiation with bija mantra) and appointed him to serve the Gaur Nitai Deities.
Gouridas desired to have a great celebration on the occasion of Mahaprabhu’s birth anniversary, Dol purnima. Telling Hridayananda to worship and serve the Deities with utmost care, he set out for collecting bhiksha. “I shall return in time for the festival” he said.
After Gouridas left, there was no news about him at all. Hridayananda was in a dilemma. If invitations were not sent immediately to the mahantas and Vaishnavas, how could they be present on the fixed date?
There was a great deal of related work left unfinished. Hridayananda took it upon himself to complete all the arrangements before his Guru returned.
Gouridas returned to Ambika-Kalna just one day before the festival. Hridayananda told him with some satisfaction, “Seeing your delay in returning, I have myself completed all the arrangements.”
Gouridas was not happy and did not bless him. Rather he came angry and asked, “What is the meaning of your independent action without my permission?” Hridayananda was dumb-struck.
Gouridas continued harshly, “Since you have gone over me and thus disregarded me, you no longer have a place here. Go somewhere else.”
Heartbroken, Hridayananda bowed his head and obeyed his Guru’s order. He went to the bank of the Ganga and sat under a tree.
Gouridas then started the celebrations at the ashram. Having received Hridayananda’s invitation, people started gradually assembling at the ashram for the festival. One such person, carrying huge offerings for the Lord, saw Hridayananda beside the Ganga and asked the palki-bearers to stop.
Hridayananda told him, “The celebrations are taking place at the ashram, not here. Please take all these things to the ashram.”
But Gouridas refused to accept the offerings. He said, “these have come because of Hridayananda’s invitation. I shall not take them. Tell him to organize a separate festival with these offerings.”
The bearers once again brought the offerings back to Hridayananda. “Has Gurudeva asked me to organize a separate celebration with these? So be it.” Hridayananda began to organize the festival under the very tree on the bank of the Ganga. Hearing the commotion of the festivities, most of the invitees started assembling under the tree.
On the other side, Gouridas also conducted the festival at the ashram as per his own arrangements. At the time of the midday bhog offering, he told the priest Gangadas to open the Temple doors and make the offering to the Deities.
The door of the Temple was opened, but the Temple was empty! The Deities were missing. Gouridas started running towards the bank of the Ganga with a stick in his hand. “This is definitely the work of Hridayananda. He has removed the Deities from the Temple” he exclaimed.
On reaching the river bank he saw a strange sight. Kirtan chanting was going on and in the midst of the singing and dancing, he saw the two Deities also dancing!! Seeing Gouridas with the stick in his hand, the Deities of Nitai-Gaur tried to disappear.
But to his great astonishment, Gouridas saw Shri Chaitanya merging into the heart of Hridayananda. With outstretched arms, Gouridas ran and tightly embraced Hridayananda. “You are truly blessed. From today, your name should be Hriday-Chaitanya” he cried.
Returning to his ashram Gouridas saw that the two Deities were back in their usual places. Their bright laughing eyes seemed to ask, “Now do you understand Hridaya’s devotion to his Guru? Have you realized Who is enshrined in whose heart?”
This Hriday-Chaitanya became the diksha-guru of Shyamananda Prabhu.
Shyamananda’s childhood name was Dukhi. He was born in a village called Dharenda-Bahadurpur (presently known as Kalaikunda in Midnapur) in a family of milkmen. His father’s name was Shri Krishna Mondal and his mother was Durika. His father left his native place and migrated to Dandeshwar in Orissa.
Prior to Shyamananda’s birth, his parents had lost several children in childbirth and they vowed to surrender their next child to Vishnu if it survived. Having suffered so much grief in the loss of their previous children, they first named Shyamananda Dukhi, to ward off further distress.
Some called him Dukhia. After taking initiation from Hriday-Chaitanya, he was known as Krishnadas or Dukhi Krishnadas.
From his early childhood itself, signs of renunciation became visible in him. Once after completing his studies, he felt the strong urge to take a bath in the Ganga. He told his father, “I am going to the Ganga for a dip.”
Where? With whom, the father enquired.
“A group of pilgrims is going to Ambika-Kalna. I shall go with them” came the reply.
There was no point in refusing. The boy could not be held back. The father only hoped that Dukhia would return home after a holy dip in the Ganga.
But Dukhia never returned. He chanced to meet Hriday-Chaitanya at Ambika. Hriday-Chaitanya realized that the lotus of devotion was blooming on the stem of renunciation in the heart of the boy.
He said, “Come, I will give you a mantra.” He gave him the Krishna mantra and said, “from this day, your name is Krishnadas.” Dukhia smiled and said, “Yes. Dukhi Krishnadas.”
Krishnadas’ heart only became more agitated after the bath in the Ganga. “Now I shall see the Yamuna” he said. Hriday-Chaitanya said, “Yes, of course, you shall see it. You shall go to Braj dham.”
After Krishnadas had spent some time in serving his Guru, Hriday-Chaitanya gave him permission to travel to Vrindavan.
Dukhi Krishnadas first went to Navadwip and from there proceeded to Shri Vrindavan. There he took refuge at the feet of Shrila Jiva Goswami. Jiva Goswami began to teach him the scriptures and the bhakti philosophy. With the light of knowledge, the last remaining darkness of Krishnadas’ ignorance began to melt away.
One morning in Vrindavan, Dukhi Krishnadas was walking down a lonely path lined with trees. His forehead was adorned with a gopichandan tilak, he had his prayer beads in his hands and he was singing the glories of Shri Gauranga as he walked along.
While walking thus, he suddenly stopped on the path. A beautiful golden anklet was lying in the middle of the path. Krishnadas bent and picked up the ornament. Perceiving its ethereal beauty and elegance, he spontaneously pressed it to his forehead and then held it to his heart with both his hands. He started to horripilate and tears filled his eyes.
Shortly he saw a young maiden coming up the path from the opposite direction, seemingly searching for something on the ground. “Devi, are you searching for something?” Krishnadas asked politely in a soft voice.
The maiden looked up, startled. She saw a handsome and dignified young man standing before her, and said “Yes, something is lost, that belongs to my dearest friend and I’m searching for that.” “What?” asked Krishnadas.
“A golden anklet that was on my dear friend’s left foot.” The maiden added, “Last night while dancing, the anklet had loosened, which is why while returning home, it must have fallen off on the way.”
Krishnadas held out the ornament that he held close to his heart, “Please see if this is the same anklet that you are searching for” he said.
The maiden held out her hand. Even before she could say a word, the anklet dropped into her hand on its own. Was it magic? Or a mirage? That every instant, the girl disappeared.
Krishnadas fainted and fell to the ground.
When he regained consciousness, Dukhi Krishnadas found himself lying near Jiva Goswami. Asked what had happened, Krishnadas told him the whole story.
Jiva Goswami exclaimed, “What a blessed soul you are, Krishnadas. You held on your breast the golden anklet which adorns the lotus feet of Shrimati Radharani, the goddess of the rasa dance. You have also seen her dear friend Lalita. Having got her anklet back, Shrimati is definitely delighted and so is her beloved Shyamsundar. From today, I give you the name Shyamananda.”
Shyamananda sat up. “And look”, Jiva Goswami continued, “as you had pressed the anklet to your forehead, a tilak mark in the shape of the anklet has appeared on your forehead. From today, let your tilak also be in the shape of an anklet, and this will be henceforth known as the Syamannandi Tilak”.
News eventually reached Hriday-Chaitanya that Krishnadas has taken a second initiation from Jiva Goswami and had also adopted a new tilak. When Shyamananda returned to Ambika-Kalna, Hriday-Chaitanya noticed the new tilak and was annoyed.
“I had fixed the form of your tilak, but you’ve erased it. In its place you have adopted a new form. I hereby renounce you. Leave this ashram this very moment” he commanded.
Eyes filled with tears, Shyamananda looked on silently. Feeling a bit sorry for him, Hriday-Chaitanya said, “if you wash away that tilak and put on the old one again, I can withdraw my order.”
But poor Shyamananda could not wipe out the tilak mark from his forehead. As soon as he wiped it, it emerged by itself on his forehead again.
Shyamananda left the ashram and went away. He stayed on the banks of the Ganga without taking any food.
The Deity in the Temple could not remain silent any longer. That night the Lord appeared in Hriday-Chaitanya’s dream and said, “What have you done, Hriday? Have you not banished my very Joy? The sign on Shyamananda’s forehead is the sign of My anklet. It is My anklet that Shrimati Radhika wears.”
The whole incident was revealed in the dream. Hriday-Chaitanya realized his mistake and ran all the way to the river and gathered Shyamananda in his embrace. Placing him on his lap and shedding tears of joy, he asked, “Who is your Guru?” Shyamananda replied “Shri Hriday-Chaitanya is my revered Guru.”
There were no more doubts. The reapproachment between the Guru and disciple was complete.
It was in Vrindavan that Shyamananda Prabhu met and befriended Shrila Narottam das Thakur and Shrinivas Acharya, and thus became the famous trio of the second generation of Vaishnava acharyas after the six Goswamis.
These three were empowered by Mahaprabhu to continue the work of Nityananda Prabhu, Shri Virachandra and Jahnava Thakurani and plant the victory flag of Vaishnavism in Bengal and Orissa. They unleashed a great flood of love and devotion to God in these blessed lands.
Shyamananda Prabhu was deputed to Orissa for preaching. In a village called Rohini on the banks of the river Subarnarekha, the village chieftain Achyuta and his son Rasikananda became the disciples of Shyamananda Prabhu.
Gradually, a large following collected around Shyamananda and thus grew the Syamanandi sect. The land of Utkal (Orissa) was saturated in prema-bhakti. People became mad after Shyamananda and his teachings.
The whole of Orissa, Dharinda, Nrisinghapur, Balarampur, Gopiballabhpur, etc., became the centres of preaching of love and devotion by Shyamananda Prabhu and his chief and dearest disciple Rasikananda Prabhu.
One day the news arrived that Hriday-Chaitanya had passed away. Shortly after that, Shyamananda Prabhu installed Shri Rasikananda as the Mahanta of the Shripat and handed over responsibility of the Shyamanandi sect to him.
Then he entered into the eternal leela.