Shortly after entering the renounced order, Lord Caitanya set out on foot to tour the holy places of South India. Chanting God’s holy names (Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare) and absorbed in ecstatic love of God, He turned everyone into a devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. After having travelled to many holy places in South India, He came to the city of Śrī Raṅgam. A number of significant events occurred during the Lord’s stay here. And as we shall see, the residents of Śrī Raṅgam have not forgotten those events, even though almost five centuries have passed.
On an island in the Kāverī River the Lord saw the city of Śrī Raṅgam. He also saw the beautiful temple of Ranganātha, the largest Viṣṇu (Kṛṣṇa) temple in all of India, with its seven surrounding concentric walls and its towering gopuras (gateways). And when He entered the temple, He began dancing in ecstatic love of God and chanting the holy names. His tall and graceful form was effulgent and golden. His arms reached down to His knees. Lord Caitanya was dressed in the traditional saffron cloth of a sannyāsī, a member of the renounced order. And when lie began to dance before the Deity, everyone was struck with wonder. The news of Lord Caitanya’s arrival quickly spread throughout the city, and many people began to assemble just to see Him.
Having heard about this uncommon personality who had come to Śrī Raṅgam, Vyeṅkaṭa Bhaṭṭa, the head priest of the temple, came forward with great respect and invited Lord Caitanya to dine at his house. Lord Caitanya accepted the invitation, and Vyeṅkaṭa Bhaṭṭa requested Him to remain a guest in his house until the four months of the rainy season Cāturmāsya) had ended. “Please be merciful to me,” Vyeṅkaṭa Bhaṭṭa said, “and stay at my house during Cāturmāsya. Speak about Lord Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and kindly deliver me by Your mercy.”
Lord Caitanya agreed, and lie passed His days in great happiness, discussing Lord Kṛṣṇa’s transcendental pastimes. Sometimes He would perform saṅkīrtana through the streets of the city. On seeing the beautiful form of Lord Caitanya and the ecstatic way in which He chanted and danced, the people were astonished. Man thousands of people from various parts of the country came to see the Lord, and after seeing Him they too began chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa in ecstasy. Indeed, after seeing Lord Caitanya, all these people became devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa, and all their unhappiness and distress vanished. Lord Caitanya was very pleased by all these happenings, and He requested everyone to go out and spread the saṅkīrtana movement. The influence of Lord Caitanya was felt in every home in Śrī Raṅgam.
On one occasion Lord Caitanya came upon a devotee reading the Bhagavad-gītā. The Lord observed in the body of that devotee symptoms of ecstatic love of God—hair standing on end, tears welling in the eyes, trembling, and perspiration. The Lord was very pleased to meet this pure devotee. Some people standing nearby, however, were laughing and joking about the way the devotee was reading. Actually he was illiterate. That’s why people were laughing at him.
Lord Caitanya asked the devotee, “My dear sir, why are you in such ecstatic love? Which portion of the Bhagavad-gītā gives you such transcendental pleasure?”
“I am illiterate,” the devotee replied, “And therefore do not know the meaning of the words. Sometimes I read Bhagavad-gītā correctly and sometimes incorrectly, but in any case I am doing this in compliance with the orders of my spiritual master. Actually I am looking at this picture of Lord Kṛṣṇa sitting as Arjuna’s charioteer. Taking the reins in His hands, He appears very beautiful and blackish. When I see this picture, I am filled with ecstasy. As long as I read the Bhagavad-gītā I simply see the Lord’s beautiful features. It is for this reason that I am reading Bhagavad-gītā, and my mind cannot be distracted from this.”
Then, much to everyone’s surprise, Lord Caitanya embraced the devotee and proclaimed that he was actually the greatest scholar of the Bhagavad-gītā because he had realized the real purport: love for God Kṛṣṇa. Being touched by Lord Caitanya that devotee felt great spiritual ecstasy, and he realized that Lord Caitanya was none other than Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself.
When the four months of the rainy season ended, Lord Caitanya prepared to Leave Śrī Raṅgam and continue His pilgrimage Vyeṅkaṭa Bhaṭṭa, who had developed great affection for Lord Caitanya, became overwhelmed with lamentation and fainted. All the residents of Śrī Raṅgam felt their hearts ache with love for the great transcendental personality who was leaving them.
Even though almost five centuries have elapsed since the Lord’s South India tour, the residents of Śrī Raṅgam have not forgotten the great fortune Lord Caitanya brought to their city. A shrine at the main entrance to the city displays the Lord’s footprints and commemorates the Lord’s arrival. In another area of the city, what was once the home of Vyeṅkaṭa Bhaṭṭa is now a beautiful little temple. The temple has many paintings depicting Lord Caitanya’s pastimes at Śrī Raṅgam. In the central hall of the temple, there is a diorama of Lord Caitanya and a Deity of Lord Kṛṣṇa (Jagannātha).
Amazingly, the family descendants of Vyeṅkaṭa Bhaṭṭa still live at Śrī Raṅgam. The head of the household, Raṅgarāja Bhaṭṭa, continues to carry on the tradition and heritage of his forefathers by serving on the Ranganātha temple advisory committee. Whenever visited by devotees of the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness (ISKCON), Raṅgarāja Bhaṭṭa and his family are always glad to receive them. Raṅgarāja Bhaṭṭa says, “The members of ISKCON, headed by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda, are fulfilling the mission of Lord Caitanya and preaching the saṅkīrtana movement all over the world. This is very wonderful, because it was predicted by the Lord Himself.”