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Chapter 5: Healing the leper Vasudev

The Master renounced the world in the bright fortnight of Magh, and came to reside at Puri in Falgun. At the end of the latter month He witnessed the swinging ceremony of Jagannath and danced and sang long in ecstasy. In Chaitra He liberated Sarvabhauma. Early in Baishakh He wished to travel to the South. He assembled His followers, embraced them, held them by the hand, and spoke humbly, "I know you to be dearer than life. Life I can part with, but not with you. You my friends have done me a good turn by bringing me here to see Jagannath. Now I beg one favour from you all, give me leave to go to the South. I must set out to seek Vishwarup [my elder brother], and I will travel alone, taking none with me. Do you all stay at Puri till I return from Setubandha."

They all knew that Vishwarup had attained to liberation, and that the quest of him was only a ruse of the Master for carrying salvation to Southern India. Greatly did they grieve on hearing His words, and sat silent with woe-begone faces. Nityananda said, "How can that be? We cannot let you go alone. One or two of us must bear you company, lest mishap should befall you. Choose any two that you like. I know the roads to the holy places of the South. Bid me, Master, go with you." The Master replied, "I am as a dancer and you are like the manager (sutradhar) of the play. I dance as you make me. On turning hermit I set out for Brindaban, but you brought me to Adwaita's house. On the way to the Nilachal you broke my staff. Your deep love is marring my [life's] work. Jagadananda wants me to turn a worldling. In fear of him I have to do whatever he bids, me. If ever I disobey him he in anger speaks not to me for three days! Mukunda grieves at the rigours of my monastic life: the three baths daily even in winter, the sleep on the bare ground. He grieves inly, though he speaks not of it; but his sorrow makes me doubly unhappy. I am a sannyasi, Damodar is a Brahmachari, and yet he constantly holds the pedagogue's rod over me. I did not know his character before. My conduct must be quite different from his. Having gained the favour of Krishna, he cares not for the opinions of other men; but I cannot be so regardless of the public. Do you all, therefore, stay behind at Puri, while I make my pilgrimage alone for some time."

Under the pretext of picking their faults the Master really pointed out the merits which had made them win His heart. Words cannot describe Chaitanya's love for His devotees. He himself bore the hardship of an ascetic's life, but when one of His devotees grieved at the sight of these hardships, the Master could not bear the sight of his grief! He set forth on His pilgrimage as a solitary hermit. Four of them entreated Him hard for permission to accompany Him, but He followed His own will and did not listen to them. At last Nityananda urged, "As you please. It is my duty [to obey you], be the result my happiness or sorrow. But one further request I must make: consider whether you can accept it. Your loin-band wrapper and gourd of water, these are the only articles that you will take with you. But your two hands are ever busy in counting your recitation of Hari's name [on the notches of your fingers]. How, then, will you carry your wrapper and gourd? Who will take care of these when you fall down on the road in a trance? Keep my word: take this honest Brahman Krishna-das with you. He will only carry your wrapper and gourd, and never say a word, whatever you may do." The Master consented. They took him to Sarvabhauma's house, who seated them all after salutation. After a varied discourse on Krishna, the Master said, "I have come to beg your permission. I must search for Vishwarup who retired as a hermit to the South. Give me leave to go South. Your permission will enable me to return in safety." At these words Sarvabhauma was much grieved at heart; clasping the Master's feet he said piteously, "Through the accumulated merit of many previous births have I gained your society. But Fate has now parted our company. I can bear the death of a son through a stroke of lightning, but not the pang of separation from you! You are your own master and shall go; but stay some days more and let me gaze on your feet." His humility relaxed the Master's resolution and He lingered for some time longer. Eagerly did the Bhattacharya invite and feast Him with dishes cooked in his own house. His wife, called Shathi's mother, cooked the meal: her history is marvellous, and I shall narrate it in detail later on.

After a halt of five days at the Bhattacharya's place, the Master asked leave to start. His eagerness forced the Bhattacharya to consent. He went with him to the temple and sought the permission of Jagannath. The serving priest presented the Master with the god's garland, which He joyously took as a symbol of permission.

The Lord Gaur started for the South in joy, after walking round Jagannath in the company of His disciples and the Bhattacharya. He took the road of Alalnath, along the shore. Sarvabhauma sent Gopinath Acharya to bring from his house four loin-bands and wrappers and some prasad, to the Vipradwar gate. Then he begged the Master, "You must keep my request. On the bank of the Godavari dwells Ramananda Ray, governor of Vidya-nagar.[1] Despise him not as a Shudra and worldling. See him for my sake. He is worthy of your society. The world has not another appreciative devotee like him. In him scholarship and faith have reached their extreme points. When you talk with him you will know his worth. I used to laugh at him as a Vaishnav, because I failed to understand his superhuman words. But Thy grace has now made me know his true merit. Conversation with him will disclose his greatness." The Master agreed, embraced him and bade him farewell saying, "Worship Krishna at home and bless me, so that through your favour I may return to Puri."

When the Master turned to go, Sarvabhauma fell down there in a faint, but the Master moved on quickly, without heeding him. Who can understand the heart and mind of the Master? The hearts of the great are at once tender as flowers and hard as the thunderbolt. Nityananda raised Bhattacharya and sent him home with his men. The faithful quickly overtook the Master, and Gopinath also arrived with the clothes and prasad. The Master went with them to Alalnath, where He sang hymns for a long time, dancing and singing in rapture. The persons present flocked to gaze on the scene: they shouted Hari! Hari! while the Master danced in ecstasy in their midst. The people marvelled as they gazed at His golden hue, His crimson robe, and His tears of delight, His tremour and perspiration, which set off His beauty. All who came to see it forgot their homes and stayed to join in the dance and song of Shri Krishna Gopal; men and women, old and young, all were swept away by the tide of spiritual love. Seeing it Nityananda said to the faithful, "He will dance thus at every village [on the way]." It was high time, but the people did not leave Him; so Nityananda contrived a plan: He took the Master away for His noonday bath, the people rushing on all sides to look on. After the bath he led the Master to the temple, and as soon as his own men had entered he shut the door. He fed the Master, and they all ate His leavings. The crowd gathered outside the gate, shouting 'Hari! Hari!' Then he opened the door and the people entered joyfully to gaze on the Master.

The stream of people thus passed and repassed till the evening. They all became Vaishnavs and danced and sang [with the Master]. He passed the night there with the faithful, in delightful discourses on Krishna. Next morning after the morning bath, He bade farewell to the faithful. They fainted, but He looked not at them. The Master wended His way grieving at separation from them, Krishna-das following Him with the gourd. The faithful passed the day there in a fast, and returned sorrowing to Puri the next day. Like a raging lion the Master walked forth, chanting God's name in a transport of love. His words were:

Krishna! Krishna! Krishna! Krishna! Krishna!
Krishna! Krishna! O!

Krishna! Krishna! Krishna! Krishna! Krishna!
Krishna! Krishna!

Krishna! Krishna! Krishna! Krishna!
Krishna! Krishna! Save me!

Krishna! Krishna! Krishna! Krishna!
Krishna! Krishna! Deliver me!

Ram Raghav! Ram Raghav! Ram Raghav! Save me!

Krishna Keshav! Krishna Keshav! Krishna Keshav!
Deliver me!

As the Lord Gaur walked on reciting the above verses He met a wayfarer and asked him to chant Hari's name. Mad with love that man cried 'Hari! Krishna!' and followed the Master out of longing to gaze at Him. After a long embrace the Master dismissed him, filled with spiritual power.

The man on returning home made all his village Vaishnav, talking of Krishna, laughing, weeping, dancing incessantly, and urging all to take Krishna's name. Chance visitors from other villages became like Him from the sight of Him, and spread Vaishnavism in their own villages. In this way was the whole Southern country converted to Vaishnavism. In this way did the Master make hundreds Vaishnav by embracing them in His travels. If He lodged and dined in anybody's house in a village, all the villagers flocked to see Him. Through the Master's grace they became great bhaktas, and acted as apostles for the deliverance of mankind. All the way to Setubandha, He did this; connection with Him made all the land Vaishnav. The power He had not manifested at Navadwip, He now put forth for the salvation of the South. He who worships the Master gains His favour and realizes the truth of these miracles. He who believes not in supernatural miracles loses both this world and the next.

In this way the Master travelled to the shrine of the Tortoise[2] [the Second Incarnation], saluted and praised the god, dancing, singing, smiling and weeping in rapture, to the wonder of by-standers. Crowds gathered to see Him; the Very sight of His marvellous beauty and devotion made them Vaishnavs. They danced with uplifted arms chanting Krishna's name in deep emotion. These very men converted other villages. Thus did the nectar of Krishna's name overflow the country, Vaishnavism spreading from man to man.

After a time the Master came back to His senses. The priest of the Tortoise did Him great reverence. This happened everywhere that He went. In that village a Vaidik Brahman named Kurma, very reverently invited the Master, brought Him home, washed His feet, and with his whole family drank the washing of His feet; then he lovingly fed the Master with many kinds of dishes, and they all partook of the leavings. He praised the Master thus: "Thy lotus-like feet, which Brahma himself adores, have come to my house. O my boundless good fortune! To-day my birth, race, and faith have been glorified. Lord, have mercy on me and take me with Thee! I cannot bear the sorrows of this worldly life." But the Master replied, "Say not so! Stay at home and recite Krishna's name ceaselessly. Teach Krishna's lore to whomsoever you meet with. At my bidding be thou an apostle and save this land! The world will never entangle you, but you will see me here again."

Every one at whose house He dined, made this request, and received this charge from the Master. Everywhere in His pilgrimage, till the return to Puri, it was exactly what He did at the Tortoise temple.

The night spent there, next morning, the Master bathed and resumed His journey; the Brahman Kurma followed Him long, but at last the Master persuaded him to return home. A high-minded Brahman named Vasudev, was covered with leprosy, but as the maggots dropped from his rotting limbs he used to pick them up and restore them to their places. [3] At night he heard of Chaitanya's arrival, and next morning went to Kurma's house to see Him; on hearing that the Master was gone, he fell down in a faint, and lamented in many ways. Just then the Master returned, embraced him, and lo! his leprosy as well as grief was gone at the touch and his body became sound and beautiful! He marvelled at the Master's grace and clasped His feet and praised Him by repeating the verse in the Bhagabat X. lxxxi. 14, (Rukmini's message sent to Krishna by the mouth of a Brahman).

Long did he thank the Master, saying, "Listen, Gracious One! No man has your virtue. Even wretches fled from me at the stench of my body. But thou, Supreme Lord, hast touched me! Better for me my former state of misery, because henceforth my heart will swell with pride." The Master soothed him saying, "No, you will not be puffed up. Ever take Krishna's name and save men by teaching them about Krishna. Soon will Krishna accept you".

So saying the Master vanished. The two Brahmans wept with joy at His grace, clasping each other by the neck. [Text, canto 7.]

[1] Vidya-nagar. Evidently Rajmahendri, now on the left bank of the Godavari. It was an important strategic point, being on the natural frontier between Kalinga and the kingdoms of the Madras coast. In 1459 a minister of the Gajapati king was ruling in this town; in 1470 it was captured by the Muhammadan Sultan of the Bahmani dynasty. Soon after 1480 it was taken by the king of Orissa; about 1515 it was captured by Krishna Dev, the king of Vijayanagar, but restored. In 1543 we find it ruled by Vidyadri, a Prince of the Gajapati line, who lost it finally to the Muhammadans in 1571. (Godavari Gazetteer, 244-245.)

[2] Sri Kurmam, 8 m.e. of Chicacole and the greatest place of pilgrimage to the Telegus. (Ganjam Manual 62).

[3] In Christian hagiology the same story is told about a saint of Europe, who addressed the maggots, "Eat, brothers, eat!"