Sri Shyamananda Prabhu was a servant of a servant of Subala in Krishna-lila. He was the disciple of Hridayananda or Hriday Chaitanya, who was a disciple of Gauri Das Pandit. Gauri Das was Subala in Krishna-lila.
yam loka bhuvi kirtayanti hridayanandasya shishyam priyam
sakhye shri-subalasya yam bhagavatah preshthanushishyam tatha
sa shriman rasikendra-mastaka-manish citte mamaharnisham
shri-radhapriya-narma-marmasu rucim sampadayan bhasatam
Sri Shyamananda was known in this world as Hridayananda’s dear disciple; he was the grand-disciple of Subala sakha, the most dear friend of the Supreme Lord; he was the crest-jewel of the enjoyers of sacred rapture. May he appear day and night in my mind, bringing an appreciation for the essence of the joys of the beloved of Sri Radha.
Shyamananda Prabhu was born on the full moon day of Chaitra in 1456 of the Shaka era (1534 AD) in the town of Dharenda Bahadurpura, which is near the Kharigapura railway station in Medinipura. His father was Sri Krishna Mandal and his mother, Durika. Krishna Mandal’s home town was Dandeshvara which lies on the banks of the Suvarnarekha River. The following statement is found in the Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana: “Sri Krishna Mandal used to live in a place called Ambuwa, near Dandeshvara. He formerly lived in Gauda (the part of Bengal which lies on the banks of the Bhagirathi River) and only later moved to Dandeshvara, is just across the present-day border in Orissa. Shyamananda’s disciples have established five principle seats in the towns of Dharenda, Bahadurapura, Rayani, Gopiballabhapura, and Nrisinghapura.”
Shyamananda Prabhu was born in the Sadgopa subcaste, which fits in the category of jala-cala, i.e., Brahmins are permitted to take water touched by its members. Of course, a Vaishnava is beyond the material qualities and may take birth in a family of any race or caste. If anyone thinks badly of Vaishnavas or judges them on the basis of their race or caste is destined for hell.
arcye shiladhir gurushu naramatir vaishnave jati-buddhir
vishnor va vaishnavanam kali-mala-mathane padatirthe’mbubuddhih
shrivishnor namni mantre sakala-kalushahe shabda-samanya-buddhir
vishnau sarveshvareshe tad-itara-samadhir yasya va naraki sah
Anyone who considers the deity to be nothing but stone, the guru to be an ordinary human being, or the Vaishnava to be a member of a particular caste or race, who takes the holy water which has washed Vishnu or the Vaishnava’s feet and can destroy all the sins of the age of Kali, to be ordinary water, who thinks that the name or mantra of Vishnu, which destroys all evils, is the same as any other sound, or who takes Vishnu to be equal to anything other than him, has a hellish nature.
One who takes birth in a low-class family is not disqualified from performing devotional service, nor is one who born in a pure, high-class brahmanical family automatically qualified for such service. Whoever engages in the worship of the Lord is a great person; one who does not worship is rejected.
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.4.66-7)
na me bhaktash caturvedi mad-bhaktah shvapacah priyah
tasmai deyam tato grahyam sa ca pujyo yatha hy aham
Simply being a knower of the four Vedas does not make someone my devotee. An outcaste who is my devotee is dear to me. One should exchange gifts and food, etc., with such a devotee for he is verily as worshipable as I.
(Quoted in Haribhaktivilasa.)
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 Duhkhi, or “unhappy”, to ward off further distress.
Shyamananda’s parents Durika and Shrikrishna Mandala made their home in Dandeshvara, his. His father was the best of the Sadgopa caste, of impeccable character. Krishna was everything to him and Krishna’s devotees very dear. We cannot describe the virtues of his parents for fear of increasing the volume of this book. They had previously lived in Dharenda and Bahadurapura and some people say that Shyamananda’s birth took place there. Nothing could stop his birth, for he came after many other children had been still-born to his parents. Because of their previous losses, his parents brought him up in sadness and so they called him Duhkhi.
(Bhakti-ratnakara 1.351-5, 359)
Shyamananda Prabhu’s parents performed the appropriate rituals when the time came: the first eating of solid food, the cutting of hair, etc. As he grew older, he studied Sanskrit grammar, etc. His parents were overjoyed to see his talents and his religious proclivity. After having carefully listened to the glories of Gauranga and Nityananda from devotees, he was able to repeat them to others. When listening to the activities of Gaura-Nitai or those of Radha and Krishna, tears would flow in waves from his eyes. He also devotedly served his parents and they told him to get initiated so that he could fully commit himself to the service of the Lord. Duhkhi agreed and told them that he wished to take diksha from Hriday Chaitanya, the disciple of Nityananda and Gauranga’s associate, Gauri Das Pandit. When going to Kalna for that purpose, he would also have the good fortune to see the Ganges and to bathe in it His parents happily gave him permission to go there.
When Duhkhi arrived in Ambika Kalna, he threw himslf at the feet of Hriday Chaitanya, who upon learning his identity, happily gave him Krishna-mantra and named him Krishna Das. From then on Duhkhi was known as Duhkhi Krishna Das. Hriday Chaitanya ordered him to go to Vrindavan to engage in bhajana. Though he did not like being separated from his gurudeva, Duhkhi Krishna Das set off for Vraja, first visiting Nabadwip and other places in Gaudamandala where he sought the blessings of the Vaishnavas. Finally, after spending much time on pilgrimage, he finally arrived in Vrindavan where he became completely absorbed in the worship of Radha and Shyamasundar.
In Vrindavan, Duhkhi Krishna Das studied the Vaishnava scriptures under Sri Jiva Goswami, who was the leading scholar of the sampradaya. When Hriday Chaitanya heard of the enthusiasm with which Duhkhi Krishna Das was leading the devotional life in Vraja, he wrote a letter to Jiva Goswami in which he said that Duhkhi should consider Jiva to be an extension of himself. Jiva gave titles to his three most prominent students, Srinivas, Narottama and Duhkhi Krishna Das, bestowing Shyamananda on the latter. The reasoning behind this name was that he brought great joy to Radha and Shyamasundar.
While in Vrindavan, he was given the name Shyamananda because he brought great joy to Shyamasundar. When Jiva saw his charming activities, he kept him nearby and instructed him in the Vaishnava scriptures.
Jiva Goswami sent Srinivas Acharya, Narottama Das Thakur and Shyamananda back to Bengal with the Vaishnava scriptures in 1504 of the Shaka era (1582-3 AD). The idea was to spread the teachings found in these books throughout Bengal and Orissa. The events which took place when Vira Hambira had the books stolen in Vishnupura have been related in the chapter on Srinivas Acharya.
Narottama went to northern Bengal and Shyamananda went to Orissa. Midnapore district was previously under the rule of the Orissan king. Today there is a branch Gaudiya Math in Midnapore city named the Shyamananda Gaudiya Math which is meant to preserve his holy memory.
Radharani’s Special Mercy on Shyamananda
Even though Shyamananda Prabhu was Hriday Chaitanya’s initiated disciple, his guru had entrusted him to the care of Jiva Goswami Prabhu. Through the association of Jiva and service to him, Shyamananda developed a taste for serving Radha and Krishna in the conjugal mood. Hriday Chaitanya Prabhu himself was a disciple of Gauri Das Pandit, who was one of the twelve Gopals, Subala sakha. He worshiped Gaura-Nitai in the mood of friendship. Those who think that Shyamananda committed an offense to his initiating spiritual master by abandoning his mood and trying to directly serve Krishna in a higher mood, are wrong. The mood of friendship is contained within the conjugal mood. If a disciple makes further progress in spiritual life it enhances the reputation of his teacher.
An extraordinary incident, which took place in Vrindavan prior to his being ordered by Jiva to return to Orissa, demonstrates how dear Shyamananda was to Radharani. One day, Shyamananda Prabhu was sweeping the Rasa-mandala in Vrindavan, absorbed in ecstatic trance. Suddenly, by Radharani’s transcendental mercy, he found her ankle bracelet lying on the ground. In his excitement, he touched the ankle bracelet to his forehead, where it left a mark which is preserved to this day as the tilaka marking of the disciple descendants of Shyamananda. It is known as nupura-tilaka.
Shyamananda Prabhu’s Preaching
Narottama Thakur and Shyamananda primarily preached the message of Mahaprabhu through kirtan. Srinivas sang kirtan in a style called Manohara-sahi, Narottama in Gariana-hati, and Shyamananda in Reneti. He would enchant the listeners with his heartfelt singing of kirtan. These styles of kirtan are no longer extant.
As a result of his preaching in Orissa, many Muslims also became Shyamananda’s disciples. The most important of his innumerable disciples was Rasika Murari. Rasikananda was the son of Achyutananda, the zamindar of Rohini village. He had another name, Murari, and was thus most commonly known as Rasika Murari. He was a very powerful preacher and his fame is still widespread through the villages of Orissa. A list of some of Shyamananda’s prominent disciples is given in the Bhakti-ratnakara:
Shyamananda made disciples all over the place. A person can be purified by hearing their names: Radhananda, Purushottam, Manohara, Cintamani, Balabhadra, Jagadishvara, Uddhava, Akrura, Madhuvana, Govinda, Jagannath, Gadadhara, Anandananda, and Radhamohana. Shyamananda was constantly immersed in the joys of kirtan in the association of these disciples. Poets have described his wonderful pastimes for the pleasure of everyone.
Other than these disciples, Shyamananda converted a yogi named Damodar. Narahari Chakravarti has written the following account of that conversion:
There was a practitioner of yoga named Damodar. Shyamananda mercifully flooded him with devotional rasa. After becoming Shyamananda’s disciple, Damodar cried and chanted the names of Nitai-Chaitanya. Who could remain untouched by his ecstatic absorption. He danced, crying out “bhakti is the best of all!” After delivering Damodar, Shyamananda continued to travel about, distributing the jewel of devotion to all.
Shyamananda put on a large festival at Dharenda with Rasika Murari and Damodar which is still remembered today. When he left the world, Shyamananda turned over the service of Govinda at Gopivallabhapura. Shyamananda’s disciples and their descendants still worship his deity Radha-Shyamasundar in Vrindavan. This temple is still one of the principle pilgrimage sites in Vrindavan.
Shyamananda Prabhu lived the last part of his life in Nrisinghapura in Orissa where he continued preaching Vaishnavism. His earthly pastimes came to an end on the first day of the waning moon in the month of Asharh in 1552 of the Shaka era (1630 AD).