Krishna-das Kaviraj, the author of the Chaitanya-charit-amrita, was born in the Vaidya caste, at Jhamatpur, a village of the Katwa sub-division of the Burdwan district in Bengal, (1496 A.D.) Having lost his parents in early life, he was brought up by his late father's sister. He read Persian at the village school, and then began to study Sanskrit in order to qualify himself for practising Hindu medicine, the profession of his caste. Every part of his great poem bears evidence to his profound mastery of Sanskrit literature, particularly of the Bhagabat Puran. The young orphan, while still unmarried, was converted to Vaishnavism by Nityananda, and begged his way on foot to Brindaban, where he spent the remainder of his long life in religious study, meditation and worship. He was initiated as a Vaishnav monk by Raghunath-das, who along with Swarup Damodar had been body-servants to Chaitanya during that saint's stay at Jagannath. From his guru, Krishna-das learned the particulars of Chaitanya's life and teaching which he has embodied in the present biography.
His first efforts at authorship were in Sanskrit and dealt with the mysteries of bhakti and the service of Krishna. The great work of his life was the composition of his old age, and was undertaken at the request of the faithful. Every evening the Bengali Vaishnavs of Brindaban used to gather together and hear the acts of their Master read out from his poetical biography, the Chaitanya Bhagbat composed by Brindaban-das. But this book dealt with the saint's last years in too meagre and concise a fashion to satisfy the curiosity of his followers. They, therefore, led by Haridas Pandit, the chief servitor of the Govindaji temple, pressed Krishna-das to write a new and fuller life of the Master. The poet was old and infirm, but he regarded the request as a solemn charge which he was not free to decline. That very evening he prayed to the image of Madanmohan, and the god's approbation was shown by a sign,--a garland of flowers slipping down from his neck at the end of the prayer! On the bank of the Radha-kunda tank, the aged Krishna-das completed his Chaitanya-charit-amrita in 1582 after nine years of unremitting toil. It is divided into three Books, the Adi Lila, the Madhya Lila, and the Antya Lila, dealing respectively with the three stages of Chaitanya's life, viz., (i) the 24 years from his birth to the time of his entering the monastic order, (ii) the six years of his pilgrimage, and (iii) the last eighteen years of his life, which were spent in residence at Puri. In spite of its epic length, prolixity, and repetitions, the Chaitanya-charit-amrita is a masterpiece of early Bengali literature, and has the further merit of making the subtle doctrines of the Vaishnav faith intelligible to ordinary people. Indeed, the older school of Vaishnav Fathers, as represented by Jiv Goswami, had at first objected to its publication, lest the merits and completeness of this vernacular work should cause the learned Sanskrit treatises on bhakti exegetics to be neglected by the public! The author's manuscript is still preserved in the Radha-Damodar temple of Brindaban, and worshipped as a holy relic.
The Second Book (Madhya Lila), which is the longest and most detailed of the three and the foremost authority on Chaitanya's teachings, life and character, and contains the clearest and fullest exposition of Vaishnav philosophy, has been here translated into English for the first time. In the second edition, many long extracts from the Third Book (Antya Lila) have been added, to complete the story of Chaitanya's doings and sayings at Puri till his death. Readers to whom the Bengali tongue is unknown, will here find an unvarnished account of Chaitanya as his contemporaries knew him, without any modern gloss, interpolation or criticism. My version is literal; only, in certain places needless details have been curtailed, all repetitions have been avoided, and the texts so freely quoted by our author from the Sanskrit scriptures have been indicated by reference to chapter and verse, instead of being done into English. The word Prabhu, applied by the author to Chaitanya, has been rendered by me as Master.
There are three other contemporary lives of Chaitanya in old Bengali. The earliest of them is the Chaitanya Bhagabat, composed in 1535 A.D., by the Brahman Brindaban-das, a sister's son of Shribas Pandit of Navadwip. This author (b. 1507, d. 1589) was a votary of God as incarnate in Nityananda; to him Chaitanya was almost a secondary object of adoration. His poem is encumbered with miracles and digressions, and far inferior to Krishna-das's work in wealth of philosophic exposition and description of men and events.
Trilochan-das (born 1523) wrote the Chaitanya-Mangal at the age of fourteen! It is full of marvellous incidents and should be classed with romances rather than with sober histories. Its text is still sung by wandering minstrels and is appreciated by the lower ranks of the Vaishnav community.
Jayananda Mishra (b. about 1511) wrote his Chaitanya-Mangal about 1568, and his poem gives us much new information about the saint and his family. He is our only authority for the narrative of Chaitanya's death, which I have translated at the end of this work.
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In the second edition parts of two chapters of the first edition, viz., xviii. pp. 254-269 and xxii. pp. 290-303, have been omitted, as they can be understood only by very learned Sanskrit scholars, the remaining part of ch. xxii has been incorporated with ch. xxi, while ch. xxiii has been renumbered as xxii. In the present edition, all the chapters from xxiii to the end are taken from the Antya Lila.
In preparing the second edition, the translation has been carefully compared with the text and minutely revised. Many mistakes have been detected and corrected; some of them came no doubt from the manuscript from which the first edition was printed, but most of the others were due to the inefficiency and carelessness of the press. In going through the original a second time I have in a few places modified my interpretation of the text made twelve years ago.
A long and important appendix has now been added, giving the exact situation and some description of the various holy places visited by Chaitanya, (with references to the best and most modern sources of information, such as Gazetteers and maps).