Nityananda Prabhu: Sri Chaitanya’s Eternal Brother
The Vedic scriptures say that in the beginning Krishna alone existed – “alone” here being figurative, because Krishna is never actually alone. He is always accompanied by His devotees, whether in Goloka Vrindavana or Vaikuntha. And when Krishna descends to the material world as various avatars, His closest associates come with Him. For example, when Krishna Himself appeared on earth fifty centuries ago, He brought along His close friends and family and other prominent devotees of Goloka Vrindavana.
The same is true of Krishna’s descent as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu some five hundred years ago. The Gaudiya Vaishnava poet Srila Narottma Dasa Thakura has written in one song, “Anyone who has understood that the associates of Lord Chaitanya are eternally liberated souls immediately becomes eligible to enter the abode of Krishna.”
All of Krishna’s associates consider themselves His servants, so they take on roles in His pastimes in line with His wishes. For example, to relish His own role as a devotee of Krishna, Lord Chaitanya hid His identity as Krishna. Therefore most of His dear associates who appeared on earth to assist Him in His pastimes as a devotee did not know, at least early on, who He was or who they were in their eternal identities in Goloka Vrindavana.
One exception was Nityananda Prabhu, who is Lord Balarama, Lord Krishna’s elder brother and first expansion. Nityananda descended some years before Lord Chaitanya, and He knew that at some point the Lord would begin His sankirtana movement. Nityananda Prabhu spent twenty years traveling to holy places, waiting for that moment to arrive. He was in Vrindavan when He understood (He’s God, after all) that it was time for Him to join Lord Chaitanya in Bengal.
In Sri Chaitanya-bhagavata, Vrindavana Dasa Thakura writes that, like Lord Chaitanya, during this descent Nityananda Prabhu’s mission was to deliver the fallen souls of this age through the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. But even though He could have begun His mission earlier, on His own, He waited for Lord Chaitanya to launch His movement, because He always considers Himself the servant of Lord Krishna and felt it would inappropriate to take the lead Himself.
The most prominent characteristic of Lord Chaitanya is His magnanimity. Whereas Lord Krishna, in His Bhagavad-gita, demanded surrender, as Lord Chaitanya He freely gave devotion to Himself to everyone He met. And although Krishna rid the earth of the wicked by killing them, Lord Chaitanya mercifully purified the wicked, killing their sinful tendencies but not their bodies. Once, however, Lord Chaitanya was so provoked by an offense to Nityananda by two reprobates that He was about to kill them, even invoking His invincible disc weapon. But Nityananda Prabhu stopped Him, reminding Him that in this incarnation He was on a mercy mission in an age full of reprobates. Thus Nityananda Prabhu is said to be even more merciful than the all-merciful Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
A central principle of Gaudiya Vaishnavism is that the goal of attaining service to the lotus feet of Radha-Krishna can be achieved only by the blessings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krishna in the mood of Radharani, His greatest devotee. And to get the blessings of Lord Chaitanya, one needs the mercy of Lord Nityananda. Therefore Narottama Dasa Thakura sings, “Unless one takes shelter under the shade of the lotus feet of Lord Nityananda, it will be very difficult to approach Radha-Krishna.” Lord Nityananda’s shelter is attained by service to the mission of His master, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
– Nagaraja Dasa