The Lord responds to an attempt to stop His sankirtana movement.

By Purushottama Nitai Dasa

Long before Gandhi, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu led a protest against an unjust government law.

India has always been glorified as the land where sacred rivers effortlessly flow to sanctify the places it passes through. The grand Himalayas – India’s crown and the king of all mountains – bring her great glory. It is the land where Lord Rama and Lord Krishna enjoyed many pastimes – They walked, They danced, They sang, They played in this blessed land.

But sadly, over time this great land slowly began to see a downfall. Scriptures say that in Kali-yuga, our current age, irreligion will gain prominence. So it’s not surprising that Indian society, which has its roots in spirituality, saw the deterioration of spiritual culture and values.

As society began to weaken from within, many foreign invaders attacked the country to loot her riches. Thousands of temples were desecrated, and thousands of people were forced to give up their religion.

People carried on with their daily routines and religious practices, but within their hearts they were petrified of being persecuted. And it was not just the foreign invaders whom the people feared; even the brahmanas, who had all the say in a person’s religious life, had begun exploiting the common people.

Religious practices that uplift one’s consciousness and connect it to God had taken a backseat. Instead, rituals against the spirit of the Vedas gained prominence. Animal sacrifice was widely practiced. People had become utterly materialistic.

A Revolutionary Reformer Appears

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared in Mayapur, Navadvipa, West Bengal, in 1486, when India was suffering from within and without. Through His teachings and life’s example, He ended the monopoly of the priestly class, the brahmanas, who had introduced a rigid hereditary caste system to gain unparalleled control over the day-to-day life of the people.

Laws created by the caste brahmanas forbade the people to worship deities, read Vedic scriptures, perform rituals, or chant mantras. The caste brahmanas had appointed themselves the blessed representatives of the Lord, and only through them could anyone attain any favor from the Lord.

These actions by the caste brahmanas violated the spirit of the Vedic scriptures, which never ask anyone to discriminate against others. The social divisions the Vedas talk about are meant for the smooth functioning of society. As Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (4.13), these divisions are based not on birth but on one’s qualities and work. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came to reestablish the true teachings of the spiritual books. He came to break the shackles of an unjust caste system and give an equal opportunity to all to practice devotion to the Supreme Lord.

The Sankirtana Movement Is Born

Lord Chaitanya introduced the sankirtana movement, the movement for the congregational chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Quoting Srimad-Bhagavatam (12.3.51), He said that chanting is the only effective way to attain salvation in Kali-yuga:

kaler dosha-nidhe rajan
asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krishnasya
mukta-sangah param vrajet

“My dear King, although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: Simply by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.”

What Lord Chaitanya emphasized was in fact nothing new. The Hare Krishna maha-mantra was not a new mantra, and chanting was not a new process. The chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra had been going on forever, and not just on earth, but even on all the higher planets. Unfortunately, people had forgotten this and had subjected themselves to a miserable state of life. When Chaitanya Mahaprabhu encouraged people to chant the names of the Lord, all were eligible. The upper caste and lower caste, men and women, rich and poor, Hindus and non-Hindus – all were welcomed. For the first time in their life they began to experience a deep connection with God. Thousands of people began chanting. From every house in Nabadwip one could hear the holy name of Krishna being chanted. It spread like wildfire.

This fire began destroying the hegemony of the caste brahmanas, and they were furious. The Muslim rulers feared being overthrown by united Hindus, and seeing many non-Hindus participating in congregational chanting was also a cause of great concern. The caste brahmanas approached the Muslim rulers, and together they devised a plan to stop the sankirtana movement. Chand Kazi, the magistrate of Nabadwip, issued an order: Chanting had to stop immediately. Anyone who defied the order would be severely punished. His soldiers went to people’s houses to warn them against chanting. At the house of Srivasa Thakura, a prominent follower of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a soldier showed the seriousness of the Kazi’s order by breaking a mridanga drum used in sankirtana.

The men and women who enjoyed chanting the Lord’s names were devastated. Their limited freedoms to practice their faith were taken away. They had only two choices now: To live, they had to give up chanting; to chant, they had to give up their life.

Thousands Come to Protest

The people approached Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, their leader, their savior. He who had reinstated the true teachings of the holy Vedas had to now save the life of the followers of the Vedas. “No one is powerful enough to stop the chanting of the Lord’s name. We must fear no one. We will defy the discriminatory order.” Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s clarion call brought great hope to all. They had complete faith in His leadership.

Along with thousands of followers, Mahaprabhu launched a civil disobedience movement hundreds of years before Gandhiji used it as a weapon to overthrow the British regime. One hundred thousand people carrying thousands of mridangas, karatalas (hand cymbals), and torches fearlessly sang and danced on the streets of Navadvipa. The sound of the great mantra, the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, filled the atmosphere. When the procession reached the Kazi’s house, his powerful soldiers were helpless, and they fled.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu decided to meet Kazi to challenge his order. Seeing the mammoth crowd that stretched for miles, the Kazi had hid himself inside his house. Reluctantly he came out. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had a long conversation with the unjust ruler.

Mahaprabhu wasn’t harsh with him. He was not there to harm him. He spoke politely but logically. His reasoning had a great impact. The Kazi understood his mistake. His heart was now transformed. With tears in his eyes, he said, “To as many descendants as take birth in my dynasty in the future, I give this grave admonition: No one should check the sankirtana movement.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi 17.222) The devotees were jubilant. They were now free to practice devotion to Krishna.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s advent was predicted in the Vedic scriptures, including Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.5.32), the Mahabharata, the Adi Purana, the Narada Purana, and the Padma Purana. He was a revolutionary social reformer. He laid the foundation of a worldwide sankirtana movement. The movement He started in Navadvipa has today spread all over the world.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came to teach us that we all are children of the same God and so no one should be discriminated against on the basis of caste, creed, religion, gender, or economic status. We should fearlessly practice devotion to Krishna, having complete faith that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu will protect us in any difficult situation.