The Glories of Gangamata Gosvamini
Posted June 10, 2003
Yesterday was the avirbhava of Gangamata Gosvamini, a renowned spiritual master in the Gadadhara paribar. Tomorrow, Gaudiya Vaisnavas observe her disappearance.
Gangamata Gosvamini was born as Saci, the daughter of Naresa Narayana, a king of Putiya what is now Bengal. In her youth she excelled at her studies, and became fascinated by the descriptions of Krsna Consciousness she found in the revealed scriptures. Although a beautiful girl, the apple of many a boy's eye, her mind was always fixed on Madana Gopala.
However, the king wanted to marry her, but she refused. The king and queen took this as their personal failures, and regretted not being able to give their daughter away in marriage. After a time they passed away, and Sacidevi was crowned queen.
A pious ruler, she would often go on pilgrimage on the pretext of seeing more of her kingdom. Her real intent was to seek out a bona fide spiritual master. After a time of pilgrimage to all the tirthas --having left her relatives as regents in her kingdom--she came to Sri Jagannatha Puri. After taking darsana of the Deities, in her heart was revealed the desire to travel to Vrndavana dhama.
In Vrndavana there was one pandita named Haridasa. Caitanya- caritamrta tells us that his spiritual master, Ananta Acarya was the disciple of Gadadhara Pandita, and he his grand-disciple. In Vrndavana Sacidevi she came upon him. His superexcellent and single-minded devotion to Gaura-Nityananda moved her, and she asked to be his disciple. In order to test her sincerity, and to have a feel of her qualifications, however, he told her: "It is not possible for the daughter of a king to go to Vrndavana and live as a poor devotee, constantly absorbed in bhajana with little to eat and no comforts. It will be better for you to stay at home and worship than to go to Vrndavana."
Understanding his request and its import, she began to renounce all her attachments, her lavish dresses and beautiful jewellery. Steadfast in her determination, she continued her bhajana with great austerity. Haridasa Pandita accepted her as his disciple, and instructed her in the chanting of the holy name. He further instructed her "If you like, giving up all pride and fear, you may wander throughout Vraja and practice begging from place to place as a renounced devotee. You have my blessings."
At this, Saci became overjoyed, and gave up any vestiges of selfish enjoying spirit. Clothed only in rags, she wandered from place to place as a mendicant, begging small amounts of alms as madhukari. The people of vraja were amazed at her sincerity and highly advanced renunciation.
Eventually Saci devi's body became fragile and old. She became thing, and physically exhausted. However exhausted she was, however, she would sleep at the banks of the Yamuna, rising early to clean the Lord's temple. She was always fixed in devotional topics, and would regularly engage in the parikrama (circumambulation) of holy places, the aratrika of the Deity, and contentedly hear of the sweet hari-katha on Srimad- Bhagavatam.
Sri Haridasa pitied her, however. She had been a princess, but had made such severe sacrifices in order to engage in the worship of Krsna. He told her he would soon give her mantra-diksa, and in the meantime asked her and his disciple Sri Laksmipriya to associate together. Her habit was to chant three hundred thousand repetitions of krsna-nama daily. As Sriman Mahaprabhu had entrusted Raghunatha dasa Goswami to the care of Svarupa Damodara, Haridasa Pandita placed her under the care of the capable Laksmipriya. The years passed and the these two sadhakas stayed at Radhunatha dasa Goswami's place of bhajana, Radha -kunda. There they engaged in their practice, and daily they would circumambulate Govardhana Hill.
In this way they continued until one day Haridasa prabhu told her to return to Puri for preaching. Taking the order of her gurudeva on her head, Saci devi returned to Puri, and went to stay in the house where Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya had once stayed. The house was very run down, and no one had lived there for a very long time. The worship of Sri Damodara-salagrama was no longer maintained, and the area was in disrepair. Saci devi began to give Srimad-Bhagavatam class, and instituted regulated worship of the Deity according to the pancaratric literatures. In doing so, she attracted great renown for herself, and her interpretations of the sastra were considered first-class. After a time the King, Mukunda Deva came to hear her.
Mukunda Deva was so pleased by her discourses that he thought it best to offer her something in charity. That night in a wondrous dream, Lord Jagannatha himself came to the King and ordered him to offer Saci devi a place on the banks of the Ganges. The next day the king offered this to her, however Saci devi after years of renunciation was ill-disposed to accept a gift of that sort. With great humility she declined his repeated offers. The King, however, not wishing to commit an offence against the Lord issued a decree naming a particular holy ghat at the side of the White Ganges after Saci devi. He let all know that Saci devi had formerly been a princess, who had left everything behind simply to preach the glories of Mahaprabhu.
It was soon time for the Mahavaruni-snana, and Saci devi wished to bathe at the Ganges. However, she recalled the instruction of her gurudeva and soon gave up her desire to take bath in the Ganga. In a dream the Lord himself came to her and told her, "Saci, on the day of the bathing of Varuni, you must go and bathe in the White Ganges. Gangadevi herself prays for your association. So give up this kind of thinking, and kindly go there."
After such a dream, Sacidevi was of course very joyful, and naturally wished to carry out Jagannatha's order. When Varuni-snana came, Saci devi went down to the White Ganges in the middle of the night to bathe. As she was bathing there, Gangadevi picked her up and began to move. The Ganges overflowed Saci's bathing place, and flooded the area, carrying Saci devi to the temple of Lord Jagannatha. At this the inhabitants became overjoyed and took their bath in the Ganga. The air was awash with prayer and delight.
Because of all the hue and cry at the gates, the guards awoke. They went inside the temple, and told the king of the commotion outside. The king then ordered the gates of the temple opened to see that all was well. Somehow, they found Saci devi standing there on her own inside the temple. The pujaris and others concluded she must be a thief, and she was thrown into the dungeons awaiting trial. She understood her situation, however, and remained calm, chanting the names of Hari.
The same night, Mukunda Deva was again visited by Lord Jagannatha in a dream. Jagannatha was furious and instructed him: "Immediately release Sacidevi from your dungeons. It was because I wanted to personally arrange for washing her holy feet that I had the Ganges bring her to my temple. If you want your life to be auspicious, then you had better make the pandas and pujaris bow at her feet and pray for forgiveness. You yourself must take initiation from her."
The king immediately released her and begged for her forgiveness. Along with all his men, he offered prostrate obeisances at her feet, and related to her how Lord Jagannatha had appeared before him, instructing him to accept her as his guru, and to take mantra- diksa from her. Knowing this all to be Jagannatha's lila, Saci devi initiated Mukunda Deva and others of that dhama into the eighteen-syllable Radha-Krsna mantra. Henceforth she was known as Gangamata Gosvamini.
A famous disciple of Gangamata Gosvamini was Mahidhara Sarma, a native of Dahanjaya-pura. Formerly a smarta brahmana he recognised her spiritual prowess, and took initiation from her. He preached far and wide throughout all of Bengal.
(Text based on Lives of the Vaisnava Saints and other sources.)