Although Lord Chaitanya generally hid His identity as Krishna, scriptural references reveal the truth.
By Satyaraja Dasa
Desiring to relish His identity as a devotee, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu generally hid His identity as Krishna, but scriptural evidence has another story to tell.

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared some five hundred years ago in West Bengal, India, as the most recent and most merciful of all of Krishna’s manifestations. In fact, He is said to be Radha and Krishna combined, the epitome of transcendence. Among the many scriptural predictions foretelling Sri Chaitanya’s appearance – some of which are no longer extant – the one in the Mahabharata, specifically in the Vishnu-sahasra-nama (“Thousand Names of Vishnu”), remains for me the most interesting.

Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami quotes the following verse three times in his Chaitanya-charitamrita:

suvarna-varno hemango
varangash chandanangadi
sannyasa-krich chamah shanto
nishtha-shanti-parayanah

 “The Lord [in the incarnation of Sri Gaurasundara] has a golden complexion. Indeed, His entire body, which is very nicely constituted, is like molten gold. Sandalwood pulp is smeared all over His body. He will take the fourth order of spiritual life [sannyasa] and will be very much self-controlled. He will be distinguished from Mayavadi sannyasis in that He will be fixed in devotional service and will spread the sankirtana movement.”1

Srila Prabhupada, following our acharyas in disciplic succession, refers to this same verse throughout his writing. And his disciples, commenting on a famous text in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.5.32), write:

The incarnation of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is also described in the Sri Vishnu-sahasra-nama, which appears in Chapter 189 of the Dana-dharma-parva of Mahabharata. Srila Jiva Goswami has quoted this reference as follows: suvarna-varno hemango varangash candanangadi. “In His early pastimes He appears as a householder with a golden complexion. His limbs are beautiful, and His body, smeared with the pulp of sandalwood, seems like molten gold.” He has also quoted, sannyasa-kric chamah shanto nishtha-shanti-parayanah: “In His later pastimes He accepts the sannyasa order, and He is equipoised and peaceful. He is the highest abode of peace and devotion, for He silences the impersonalist nondevotees.”

One may note that Srila Prabhupada’s disciples here offer no specific verse number and cites these two qualities – suvarna-varno hemangah (golden complexioned) and sannyasa-krit (taking sannyasa)separately. There is a reason for this. As we will see, these descriptions of Mahaprabhu originally appear in two separate Mahabharata verses, spliced together for our convenience.

The Two Verses

The two original verses (13.135.75 and 13.135.92) appear in the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata as follows, here rendered with the English translation of K. M. Ganguli.2

trisama samagah sama
nirvanam bheshajam bhishak
sannyasa-krich chamah shanto
nishtha-shanti-parayanah

“He that is hymned with the three Vedas (foremost Samans; He that is the singer of the Samans; He that is the Extinction of all worldly attachments (in consequence of His being the embodiment of Renunciation); He that is the Medicine; He that is the Physician (who applies the medicine); He that has ordained the fourth or last mode of life called renunciation (sannyasa)3 for enabling His creatures to attain to emancipation; He that causes the passions of His worshippers to be quieted (with a view to give them tranquillity of soul); He that is contented (in consequence of His utter dissociation with all worldly objects); He that is the Refuge of devotion and tranquillity of Soul. (13.135.75)

suvarna-varno hemango
varangash chandanangadi
viraha vishamah shunyo
ghritashirachalashchalah

“He that is of golden complexion; He whose limbs are like gold (in hue); He that is possessed of beautiful limbs; He whose person is decked with Angadas made with sandal-paste; He that is the slayer of heroes; He that has no equal; He that is like cipher (in consequence of no attributes being affirmable of Him); He that stands in need of no blessings (in consequence of His fulness); He that never swerves from His own nature and puissance and knowledge; He that is mobile in the form of wind.” (13.135.92)

I purposely use Ganguli’s translation to show that even when rendered by a Sanskrit scholar who has no ostensible connection to a devotee community, the reference to Sri Chaitanya is self-evident, with these verses referring to a form of God who engages with the sannyasa ashrama and bears a golden complexion. Mahaprabhu is famous as the incarnation who entered the renounced order of life, and as Gaurahari He is well known as the “Golden Avatara.”4

The identification of Mahaprabhu with the divine sannyasi predicted in the Mahabharata goes back to the formative days of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. In Kavi Karnapura’s Chaitanya-candrodaya-nataka (5.93), written in the middle of the sixteenth century, we see that Advaita Acharya Himself articulates this truth: “Says Advaita: ‘[Other explanations] are all deception. You have accepted sannyasa to fulfill the Vishnu-sahasra-nama’s prediction: “sannyasa-krich chamah shanto nishtha-shanti-parayanah [“The Supreme Lord will appear as a peaceful devotee, a sannyasi.”]’”5

Similarly, in regard to Mahaprabhu being the Lord who famously appears with a golden complexion, this too is well known throughout the sampradaya, with numerous scriptural verses highlighting the “nonblackness” or “golden color” of the Lord, particularly in His form as Sri Chaitanya. And there is more. Gaudiya teachers have pointed out that the word varna in this verse (and others) can also allude to the chanting of the holy name. Indeed, varna can mean “order of life,” as in varnashrama; “color,” as in the Lord’s bodily hue; and “syllables,” as in the chanting of Hare Krishna. Consequently, suvarna-varnah in this verse, although clearly pointing to Mahaprabhu’s golden complexion, includes another, esoteric meaning, i.e., the Lord who always chants the names of the Lord.6

As for combining the two verses into one, this was the brainchild of Srila Jiva Goswami in his Krama Sandarbha.7 Kaviraja Goswami followed suit. After this, in his Namartha Shudha Bhashya, Baladeva Vidyabhushana, the famous eighteenth-century scholar of the Gaudiya tradition, looked at the verses more thoroughly, specifically emphasizing six particular names and how they relate to Sri Chaitanya. According to David Buchta, Senior Lecturer in Sanskrit Classics at Brown University:

[Quoting Baladeva on the Vishnu-sahasra-nama:] “Now, revealing that he is Krishna Chaitanya, he speaks six names. He renounces, i.e., lives the life of a wandering mendicant. Thus he is called Renouncer (Sannyasakrit). He reveals (shamayati = alocayati) secrets about Hari. Thus he is called Revealer (Sama). This word contains the curadi (tenth-class) verbal root shama, used in the sense of seeing. He restrains himself (shamyati = uparamati) from objects other than Krishna. Thus he is called Restrained (Santa). Devotional sacrifices predominated by glorification of Hari are consummated in him. Thus he is called Consummation (Nishtha). This is according to the smriti text (SBh 11.5.32), ‘The wise certainly worship, by a sacrifice consisting primarily of congregational chanting, him whose name is Krishna, though he is not dark in complexion, along with his attendant weapons in the form of his limbs and ornaments.’ All things contrary to devotion, headed by pure non-dualism, are destroyed (shamyanti) by him. Thus he is called Destruction (Santi). He is the highest refuge of the varieties of bhava ending in maha-bhava. Thus he is called Highest Refuge (Parayana).” This set of names in the Vishnusahasranama came to be an important proof text for Chaitanya’s divinity shortly after Rupa’s time. Jiva Goswamin cites these and four other names in his own extensive discussion of Chaitanya’s divinity while commenting on the Bhagavata’s description of the kali-yuga-avatara. In the Chaitanyacharitamrita, Krishnadasa Kaviraja likewise cites these names three times: once in its opening argument for Chaitanya’s divinity and twice in the mouths of devotees who had come to realize his identity. . . . The additional names cited by Jiva and Krishnadasa, placed first, are from Mahabharata 13.135.92a-b: suvarnavarno hemango varangash chandanangadi. In Jiva’s commentary, the line nishtha shantih parayanam is not included. Krishnadasa’s citations are found at 1.3.49 (in narratorial voice), 2.6.104 (in the voice of Gopinatha Acharya, trying to convince his brother-in-law Vasudeva Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya of Chaitanya’s divinity), and 2.10.170 (in the voice of Brahmananda Bharati). In introducing these names at 1.3.48, Krishnadasa says that they consist of two sets of four names, one concerning the earlier part of Chaitanya’s life; the other, the later part. (dui lila caitanyera adi ara shesha. dui lilaya cari cari nama vishesha.)8

Baladeva’s esteemed predecessor Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti mentions the two verses as well, telling us again that the Mahabharata indirectly refers to Sri Chaitanya by highlighting His gold complexion and the fact that He took sannyasa. Vishvanatha tells us more: Though these esoteric names are indeed found in the Mahabharata, other shastras, he writes, avoid them altogether. This is because these names speak to a highly confidential subject, Vishvanatha adds, and he illustrates this with a reference from scripture. Prahlada Maharaja states in Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.9.38): channah kalau yad abhavas tri-yugo ’tha sa tvam, “Because the Lord appears in a hidden way in Kali-yuga, He is addressed as Triyuga.” In other words, Mahaprabhu covered His original color and mood with a golden form and the garb of a renunciant so that the people of His time would not recognize Him. This was His method of experiencing earthly pastimes as a devotee, not as the Lord, for He came to this world to feel the bhava of Sri Radha. Vishvanatha is exceedingly clear on this point.9

The Names According to Gaudiya Siddhanta

Below we outline all nineteen names found in the two verses as interpreted by Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838–1914), the saintly Vaishnava acharya who brought Gaudiya Vaishnavism into the modern world. His insights into these names are based on Baladeva’s gloss and are specifically in tune with Vaishnava philosophy, often bringing out the inner meaning of the texts themselves, especially when they apply to Sri Chaitanya. Both Baladeva’s and Bhaktivinoda’s elucidations are contained in the same volume, published by Bhaktivinoda:

Verse 75:

trisama – Lord Krishna, in His appearance as Srila Vyasadeva, divided the original Veda into three parts; samaga – Srila Vyasadeva took pleasure in singing the Vedic hymns; sama – He taught those hymns to His disciples; nirvanam – He freed them from ignorance and liberated them from material bondage; bheshajam – He administered the medicine of pure devotional service to Krishna, which freed the devotees from the disease of material existence; bhishak – He is the greatest physician; sannyasa-krit – in His appearance as Lord Chaitanya, He accepts the renounced order of life, sannyasa; sama – Lord Chaitanya is equipoised; shanta – He is peaceful; nishtha-shanti-parayana – He is the abode of the highest peace and devotion, for He silences the impersonalist non-devotee philosophers.

Verse 92:

suvarna-varna hemanga – Lord Krishna appears in Kali-yuga as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and in His early years plays the role of a brahmana householder with a golden complexion; varanga – His limbs are beautiful; chandanangadi – His body, smeared with sandalwood pulp, seems like molten gold; viraha – He kills lust, greed and all other enemies of His devotees; vishama – no one is equal to or greater than Him, who protects the devotees and kills the demons; shunya – He is free from all material defects, and He made the entire world unsafe for the demons and atheists; dhritashi – He grants all auspiciousness to His devotees; achala – He was unmoving in His determination to protect the Pandavas from all danger; chala – He broke His own promise not to take up any weapon in the Kurukshetra war to keep the promise of His devotee Bhishma.10

In conclusion: Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (1874–1937), Srila Prabhupada’s beloved spiritual master, published a popular edition of Prabodhananda Sarasvati’s classic Chaitanya-chandramrita that included a commentary by an Odiya poet named Anandi. In a poignant section toward the end of Prabodhananda’s work (12.141), Anandi points out how, based on these two Mahabharata verses, Kaviraja Goswami composed a beautiful poem about Mahaprabhu’s form and purpose. He is referring to Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi 3.40–47:11

The religious practice for the Age of Kali is to broadcast the glories of the holy name. Only for this purpose has the Lord, in a yellow color, descended as Lord Chaitanya. The luster of His expansive body resembles molten gold. The deep sound of His voice conquers the thundering of newly assembled clouds. One who measures four cubits in height and in breadth by his own hand is celebrated as a great personality.12 Such a person is called nyagrodha-parimandala. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who personifies all good qualities, has the body of a nyagrodha-parimandala. His arms are long enough to reach His knees, His eyes are just like lotus flowers, His nose is like a sesame flower, and His face is as beautiful as the moon. He is peaceful, self-controlled and fully devoted to the transcendental service of Lord Sri Krishna. He is affectionate toward His devotees, He is gentle, and He is equally disposed toward all living beings. He is decorated with sandalwood bangles and armlets and anointed with the pulp of sandalwood. He especially wears these decorations to dance in shri-krishna-sankirtana. Recording all these qualities of Lord Chaitanya, the sage Vaishampayana included His name in the Vishnu-sahasra-nama.

“By performing the sacrifice of congregational chanting of the holy name, learned scholars in the Age of Kali worship Lord Krishna, who is now nonblackish because of the great upsurge of the feelings of Srimati Radharani. He is the only worshipable Deity for the paramahamsas, who have attained the highest stage of the fourth order [sannyasa]. May that Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Chaitanya, show us His great causeless mercy.”13 Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami here quotes Srila Rupa Goswami, specifically mentioning the two qualities highlighted in the Mahabharata verses. This suggests yet again that He appears with the golden hue of Sri Radha (dyuti-bharad akrishnangam) and that He is Lord of all sannyasis (chaturtha-ashrama-jusham). What more needs to be said?

NOTES

  1. See Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi 3.49, Madhya 6.104, and Madhya 10.170. Also see Chaitanya-bhagavata, Madhya 28.168.
  2. Kisari Mohan Ganguli (1848–1908) is well known for his complete English translation of the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. See Ganguli, Kisari Mohan, trans., The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991, reprint). For the two verses, see Volume 11, 341–343. In terms of the Vishnu-sahasra-nama, the numbering of the divine names in these verses appears as follows: 13.135.75 includes names 576 through 587, and 13.135.92 includes 737 through 746. These numbers may vary depending on the edition used.
  3. The word sannyasa-krit can be understood in at least two ways, as “one who creates the sannyasa ashrama” or “one who takes sannyasa.” Most Sanskritists would understand it here as the former, which would apply to any incarnation of God, since the varnashrama system is created by the Supreme. Gaudiya Vaishnava commentators, however, see in this verse the latter interpretation, for Sri Chaitanya is famously that manifestation of God who “takes” sannyasa in His later pastimes. In fact, krit is an action noun formed from kri, which is among the most versatile verbs in the Sanskrit language. It can mean “make” (i.e., make or cause sannyasa) or “do” (i.e., do or take sannyasa), and so on. So one has to discern in each instance whether one meaning is preferable to another, which is usually done according to the specific context in which the verb is used. But here context is unhelpful, since this is a list of Vishnu’s thousand names, without a plot or philosophical argument. In this case, then, the meaning will be determined by the reader according to his or her own philosophical conclusions, and, for reasons too numerous to express here, we would do well to honor the reading of the acharyas.
  4. These two verses contain other hints of Sri Chaitanya’s avatara as well: For example, Samagana is not merely a name given to the melodious hymns of a particular Vedic samhita but represents the overall philosophy of sound vibration on the spiritual platform. The word sama, in fact, comes from the root saman, meaning “a song of praise.” The Narada-pancaratra tells us, “The essence of all Vedic knowledge – comprehending the three kinds of Vedic activity [karma-kanda, jnana-kanda, and upasana-kanda], the chandas, or Vedic hymns, and the processes for satisfying the demigods – is included in the eight syllables Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. This is the reality of all Vedanta. The chanting of the holy name is the only means to cross the ocean of nescience.” Further, “Srila Jiva Goswami states that the substance of all the Vedic mantras is the chanting of the holy name of the Lord. Every mantra begins with the prefix nama om and eventually addresses by name the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By the supreme will of the Lord there is a specific potency in each and every mantra chanted by great sages like Narada Muni and other rishis. Chanting the holy name of the Lord immediately renovates the transcendental relationship of the living being with the Supreme Lord.” See Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi-lila, 7.76, Purport. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the foremost champion of the holy name. One other example of a name that clearly points to Chaitanya is the final name of verse 75 – Parayana – which means the “great goal,” or as Bhanu Swami translates it, “the refuge of persons of the highest bhavas [spiritual sentiments].” This, say our Vaishnava acharyas, can only indicate Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the manifestation of Krishna who is the very vessel of the topmost love (mahabhava).
  5. See Kavi Karnapura, Chaitanya-candrodaya-nataka, trans., Bhanu Swami (Chennai, Tamil Nadu: Bhanu Swami Books, 2018), 185–186. See also Chaitanya-candrodaya, trans., Kushakratha Dasa (10 Volumes, The Krishna Institute, 1989), 5.93.
  6. From the root varn, which means “to praise, explain, extol.” For this confidential reading, see Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, “Prema-Bhakti and Sri Gaurangadeva” (https://bhaktivinodainstitute.org/prema-bhakti-and-sri-gaurangadeva/): “suvarna-varno hemangah – His limbs are golden and He is continuously chanting…” Srila Prabhupada, too, states, “Srila Jiva Goswami, the most authoritative acharya of our sampradaya, has explained like this. Krishna-varnam means ‘always chanting Hare Krishna.’ Krishnam varnayati, describing Krishna, ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna.’” (Lecture, London, March 10, 1975) Similarly, in Vishvanatha Chakravarti’s tika to Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.5.32, he writes, “Another meaning of krishna-varna is ‘he speaks about the pastimes of Krishna.’” So, in the context of these names, suvarna-varno hemangah, we can also see reference to “the Golden Avatara who chants the Hare Krishna maha-mantra,” as Prabhupada himself sometimes translates it.
  7. See Srila Jiva Goswami, Krama Sandarbha, Volume 6 (Cantos 11 & 12), translated by Bhanu Swami, commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.5.32 (Chennai, Tamil Nadu: Bhanu Swami, 2018), 95 and 609–610.
  8. See David Buchta, “Pedagogical Poetry: Didactics and Devotion in Rupa Goswamin’s Stavamala” (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2014), 91–92. See especially fns. 45 and 46.
  9. See Srimad-Bhagavatam, Dashama-skandha (Purvardha) with Bengali translation of Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti’s Sarartha-darshini by Sri Vijana-vihari Goswami, Chapter 8, Text 13 (Ishodyana, Sridhama Mayapura: Sri Chaitanya Vani Press, 2001), 181–182. Also see Vishvanatha Chakravarti, Sarartha-darshini, Chapter 8, Text 13 (Vrindavan: Radha Book Trust, 2013), 256–257.
  10. See Sri Sri Vishnu-sahasra-nama Stotram (Medinipur, West Bengal: Sri Chaitanya Ashrama, 1974), with Sri Srimad Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Bengali translation of Sri Srimad Baladeva Vidyabhushana’s Namartha-sudha commentary (edited by Bhakti Kumuda Santa Goswami Maharaja), 60–61, 77–79. We have just included Baladeva’s gloss, although in the text itself, Bhaktivinoda further elaborates.
  11. See Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati, Sri Chaitanya Candramritam, with commentary of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Anandi, trans., Sarvabhavana Dasa (Vrindavan: Rasbihari Lal & Sons, 2004), 517–518.
  12. 12. Medieval Bengali texts do not offer measurements in either inches and feet or meters and centimeters, and so Mahaprabhu’s exact height remains unknown, though tradition teaches that he was quite tall. Commenting on this verse, however, Tony K. Stewart, one of the foremost academic authorities on Chaitanya Vaishnavism in the modern era, estimates the Lord’s height: “[Chaitanya] measured, by the measure of his own arms, four arms or hands (hatha) tall; Radhagovinda Natha says that one hand is from the tip of the middle finger of one hand to the tip of the middle finger of the other when the arms are outstretched, but that is clearly impossible. More likely the measure is from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow, an average of eighteen inches. Chaitanya, then, was perhaps taller than 6′ 2″, extremely tall for a Bengali of the period. Such great height is one of the marks of a great man, a mahapurusha, for so Krishna himself is called in BhP 40.4 and in many other places.” See Edward C. Dimock, Jr., trans., and Tony K. Stewart, ed., Chaitanya Caritamrita of Krishnadasa Kaviraja: A Translation and Commentary, Harvard Oriental Series, vol. 56 (Cambridge, MA: The Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, 1999), 180, fn. 33.
  13. This verse is from the Stava-mala of Srila Rupa Goswami, quoted in Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi 3.58.

Satyaraja Dasa, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, is a BTG associate editor and founding editor of the Journal of Vaishnava Studies. He has written more than thirty books on Krishna consciousness and lives near New York City.