Chakra Living

Sri Guru Purnima:
Remembering Sanatana Goswami

by Rama Kesava das

Posted July 13, 2003

Today is Guru Purnima; on this day of the full moon we also observe the disappearance day of Sri Sanatana Goswami.

Sanatana Goswami made his advent in 1488 C.E. (Sakabda 1410), five years before Rupa Goswami. He was born into a Sarasvata brahmana family in Bengal. His father Kumara Deva had many sons, of which three, Sri Amar (later Sanatana), Sri Santosa (Rupa), and Sri Vallabha (Anupama), are remembered as great devotees.

During their childhood, Amar, Santosa and Vallabha were always absorbed in bhava bhakti, and would play around the area, naming the forests after the twelve forests of Vraja (Talavana, Madhuvana, Kamyavana, etc.). They called their favourite bathing places Sri Radha-kunda and Sri Syama-kunda. The brothers were educated by their maternal uncle in the small village of Sakurma near the capital. Their teacher in rhetoric was the esteemed Sri Vidyabhusanapada, and they were taught philosophy by Sri Vidyavacaspati, the brother of Sarvaubhama Bhattacarya.

In Sanatana's youth he had a dream in which a beautiful brahmana boy gave him a copy of Srimad Bhagavatam. Feeling jubilant, he awoke only to find no sign of either the book or the boy. In a sad mood he went about his morning routine. During his morning puja, Krsna himsel, disguised as a beautiful brahmana boy came and said,"Take this Srimad Bhagavatam from Me, always study it, and you will attain perfection." Thus Srimad Bhagavatam became Sanatana's life and soul, and he has glorified it thus in his Krsna-lila-stava:

"O holy Bhagavata, you are my only company, my only friend, and my guru. You are my greatest treasure and my personal saviour. You are the emblem of my highest fortune and the very form of ecstasy. I offer by obeisances unto you."

After some time Sanatana's paternal grandfather, Mukunda, died, and Sanatana succeeded him in the post of Sakara Mallika to the Nawab Hussein Shah, the moslem ruler of Gauda-desa. In this way Sri Rupa and Sanatana became ministers, living at Ramakeli, the capital of Gauda-desa. They received land from the government for their personal use at Yusafpur and Cengutia Pargana in Fatehabad. There they built a palace and mansions. The three brothers, Rupa, Sanatana and Anupama being endowed with great devotion to the Lord made their home like Sri Vrndavana, and planted auspicious trees there such as the Tamala, Kadamba, Juthika and Tulasi. And although they were meant to be ministers of the government, there they engaged in discoursing on sastra with learned brahmanas and panditas as they had learnt from Vidyavacaspati.

It was in Ramakeli that the three brothers began to hear of Sri Nimai Pandita. Anxious to hear from him and to have his darsana they became fixed on his lotus feet and mediated on his form. However, it soon became known far and wide that Nimai Pandita, the life and soul of Nadia, had accepted sannyasa and gone to stay in Puri. At this the brothers became inconsolable, thinking they would never have his darsana, until a celestial voice informed them that they would be able to see him, there in Ramakeli itself. Five years passed, and when Mahaprabhu decided to come to Bengal to have darsana of Saci Ma and of the Ganga, he visited Advaita Acarya in Santipur and proceeded on to Ramakeli.

There Sanatana and Rupa (then known as Sakara Mallika and Dabira Khasa), along with Anupama and his son Sri Jiva met Mahaprabhu and offered their obeisances at his lotus feet. The meeting of Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana with Mahaprabhu is described in Caitanya Caritamrta, in Chapter One of the Madhya-lila. After some time however, Mahaprabhu returned to Puri, and in his absence the three brothers performed various vows and rituals in order to attain his lotus feet. They would write to Mahaprabhu as well. Eventually, unable to stand the separation from him, they began to prepare to leave behind their court lives. Sri Rupa and Anupama left in a boat with their material wealth from Ramakeli, whilst Sanatana (the chief minister to the king) remained there alone. Feigning sickness, Sanatana would stay away from court and read Bhagavatam in his house. However, he was found out when the king sent his personal doctor who found him to be perfectly healthy. Sanatana was summoned before the king, and asked to explain why his brothers had left the king's service and to explain his own actions. On being told that they could no longer work for the king, the king had Sanatana incarcerated in jail.

At this time Rupa and Anupama met Mahaprabhu in Prayaga in his way to Vrndavana. Informing him of their brother's plight, Mahaprabhu simply smiled and replied "Santana has already been released from his confinement, and he will very soon meet with Me." (Cc., Madhya 19.61) By the wish of the Lord to fulfill Sri Rupa's desire, Sanatana escaped from prison, bribing the jailkeeper with money that Rupa has left and at the same time prevailing on the jailkeeper's ego. He journeyed by foot by way of Patada. On the way his servant Isana's holding on to seven gold coins almost had them killed, but Sanatana being very expert in the ways of the world from his previous government service evaded death for them both and carried on alone.

Eventually Sanatana came to Varanasi (Benares). Carrying but a water-pot and dressed in torn clothing, Sanatana Goswami came to the house of Candrasekhar and waited patiently by the door. Mahaprabhu became aware of him there, and instructed Candrasekhara to see who was there. "There is a Muslim mendicant there", he said. At Mahaprabhu's behest Candarsekahara invited the 'muslim mendicant' inside, and there Mahaprabhu embraced him revealing his identity as Sanatana Goswami. He cleansed Sanatana Goswami's body, then tired and weary, with his own hands. At this Sanatana Goswami said, "O my Lord, please do not touch me", but the Lord--displaying the example of humility for us all--replied, quoting the Bhagavatam, "I am touching you just to purify Myself, because by the force of your devotional service you can purify the whole universe. 'Saints of your calibre are themselves places of pilgrimage. Because of their purity, they are constant companions of the Lord and therefore they can purify even the places of pilgrimage."" (Madhya, 20.56-57)

In Benares Sanatana displayed Vaisnava qualities of humility and servitude whilst at the same time the Lord instructed him in devotional science. He then told Sanatana Goswami to write books on krsna-bhakti and to join his brothers Rupa and Anupama in Vrndavana, whilst he returned to Nilacala. Rupa Goswami and Sanatana would travel through the Vraja mandala discovering the lila sthanas of Sri Radha-Madhava. Never staying in a place for more than one night they would travel through Vraja, spending all their time writing, discussing Krsna's pastimes and chanting his holy names. In order to survive Sanatana would engage in some madhukari as a mendicant, but would only take the most frugal fare. Content just to maintain their bodies but no more, so they would live out their days.

In this way they followed the Lord's orders to perform four services in the Vraja:

  1. to uncover the sites of Sri Krsna's pastimes;
  2. to install Deities and arranged for their puja;
  3. to compile the bhakti scriptures of the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya; and
  4. to propagate the rules of devotional life.

Sanatana Goswami established the Radha-Madana Mohana mandira in Vrndavana, and there are accounts of transcendental exchanges Sanatana had with his ista-devata. In one story it is recounted that Sanatana Goswami was staying in a bhajana-kutira at Mahavana, the birth place of Sri Krnsa: one day, he was walking along the banks of the Yamuna, going to beg some foodstuffs in a nearby village. Madana Gopaladeva was playing with some cowherd boys there, and when he saw Sanatana Gosvami he came running towards him, “Baba! Baba!” Catching hold of Sanatana’s hand he told him, “I want to go with you!”

“Lala!”, replied Sanatana, “Why do you want to go with me?”

“I want to stay where you live.”

“If you stay with me, what will you eat?”

“Baba! Whatever you eat.”

“But I only eat some dry capatis and chick peas.”

“Then that is what I will eat.”

“No that won’t be enough for you. You should stay with your mother and father.”

“Na, baba, na. I want to stay with you.”

Sanatan Goswami patiently explained that the boy might feel difficulty if he stayed with him, and sent him home. Then he went to beg some capatis in the village.

That night, in a dream, he saw that boy again come to him. Smiling very sweetly, he caught hold of Sanatana’s hand and said, “Baba! I am coming tomorrow to stay with you. My name is Madana Gopal”. His dream ended and he woke up. Losing himself in great ecstasy, he said to himself, “What did I see? Such a beautiful boy!” Thinking of Lord Krsna he opened the door of his kutira and found outside an effulgent deity of Gopala Raya. Captivated by the beauty of Gopala, Sanatana fell to the ground, offering his dandavats, weeping tears of love.

Another story is narrated where everyday Sri Sanatana Gosvami would circumambulate the fourteen mile circumference of Govardhan hill. As he entered old age this became more and more difficult, but he did not want to give up his daily vow of offering 1,008 obeisances to Govardhana Hill and to any Vaisnava whom he met. Krsna, however, could understand that this was not easy for a sixty five year old body, and so He came to him one day dressed as a cowherd boy.

“Baba! You have become old now, so I think it isn’t necessary for you to circumambulate Govardhan hill anymore.”

“No Lala! This is my regular vow, my worship.”

“You can renounce this vow in your old age.”

“No Lala. One should never renounce his vows.”

“Baba. I have a very good idea, if you will accept it.”

“If it is acceptable surely I will accept it.”

Then Sri Krsna presented him a stone from Govardhan hill with the imprint of His foot, a calf’s foot print and the impressions of a stick and flute in it, telling him that to circumambulate the Govardhana-sila would be the same as circumambulating Giri-Govardhana. Saying this much the cowherd boy disappeared. Then Sanatana could understand that Giriraja Himself had presented His worshippable form to him and from that day he would circumambulate this sila. That selfsame sila can be seen in the Radha Damodara temple to this very day.

Sri Sanatana would journey throughout Vraja with Sri Rupa, and in all the various villages the two were very much adored by the Brajabasis, who would treat them as their own. All of them would treat one another as their own family, and in this way Rupa and Sanatana became the life of the villagers and the Brijabasis also became the life of Rupa and Sanatana.

After remaining in Vraja for 43 years, Sanatana made his disappearance on the full moon in the month of Asar in 1558 C.E. It is said that throughout the Vraja, the inhabitants were so distraught with feelings of separation from their dear munda baba, that men and women alike, young and old, shaved their heads as a mark of respect to their beloved shaven-headed baba. On Guru Purnima it is now tradition in many Gaudiya groups to shave up to commemorate Sri Sanatana's remarkable life of devotion. Bhaktivinode Thakura explains in his Jaiva Dharma: "Sanatana Goswami was empowered to explain the esoteric aspects of Krsna's manifest and unmanifest vraja-lilas." With Rupa Goswami he did just this and left behind a significant literary contribution to the Gaudiya sampradaya: e.g. Hari-bhakti-vilasa, Sri Brhad Bhagavatamrta, and Brhad Vaisnava-tosani.

Sanatana Goswami's samadhi mandira is behind Radha Madana Mohana's temple in Vrndavana. In the Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika Sri Kavi Karnapura has glorified Sri Sanatana's position as Rati Manjari (aka Lavanga Manjari) in the nitya-lila.

sa rupa-manjari-presiha
purasid rati-manjari
socyate nama-bhedena
lavanga-manjari budhaih

"Rupa Manjari's closest friend, who was known by the names Rati-Manjari and Lavanga Manjari, appeared in the pastimes of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as Sri Sanatana Goswami, who was considered to be a personal extension of the body of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu." (181)

[Text adapted from various sources.]