The Meaning of the Sannyāsa Āśrama

Section 1 – Mahāprabhu’s Sannyāsa

(The following is a lecture given on Rādhāṣṭamī day, August 28, 1990 by Swami Śrīpāda Bhakti Gaurava Narasiṅgha Mahārāja at Śrī Rūpānuga Bhajana Āśrama, Śrī Vṛndāvana Dhāma).

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja:
Today is the auspicious occasion of the appearance of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and we will start with a reading from the Golden Volcano of Divine Love by the Grand Guardian of Devotion and Topmost paramahaṁsa among the members of the renounced order of life, His Divine Grace Oṁ Viṣṇupada Śrī Śrīmad Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja.

The Tragedy of Separation

“According to the solar calculation, it was on the day of Makara-saṅkrāntī, an auspicious say when the sun enters Capricorn, the Nimāī Paṇḍita went to Katwa to take sannyāsa, the renounced order of life.

The day known as Makara-saṅkrāntī generally falls in the month of January. It is the day when the sun crosses over the meridian and returns to the Northern Hemisphere. It is considered a very auspicious time. The day of Makara-saṅkrāntī also corresponds to the auspicious day when Viśvarūpa, the older brother Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu who had left the home to wander throughout India as a sannyāsī, entered samādhi and departed from this world at the holy place known as Pāṇḍarapura. Makara-saṅkrāntī is also the day on which Grandfather Bhīṣma returned Back to Godhead and the day on which the famous Kumbha Mela festival begins. It is among the best of auspicious days and so Nimāi Paṇḍita went to Katwa to take sannyāsa on that day.

After this, He would become known as Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He swam across the Ganges and in wet cloth ran towards Katwa. Just before this, He told only a few of His friends, including Nityānanda Prabhu, Gadādhara Paṇḍita, Mukunda, and others, “The time when I will accept the robe of renunciation is very near.”

Inconceivable by Anyone

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Householder men in India often speak like that, “Oh, Swamiji, they say, “I’m going to renounce, I’m going to take sannyāsa soon.” So when someone says like that, “Ah, yes!” but no one takes him seriously. Just like, we have one godbrother in Hawaii and he is always saying, “Mahārāja, I’m going to take sannyāsa, I’m going to take sannyāsa!” but we don’t take it very seriously.

Similarly, Nimāi Paṇḍita was saying, “Yes the time is near.” Some may have taken Him seriously but who could have thought it possible? Nimāi Paṇḍita was only twenty-four years old, His mother Śacī-devī was there, His beautiful young wife, Viṣṇupriyā, was there. How would it be possible that Nimāi Paṇḍita could leave His house and Navadvīpa with all His friends forever to wander in the robes of renunciation? It was fully unthought-of, inconceivable by anyone.

Just a few days before this, an opposition party had been raised against Nimāi Paṇḍita. Those who believed that material nature is the highest principle, and that consciousness is a product of matter, began to abuse Nimāī Paṇḍita. He thought, “I came to deliver the lowest of men, but if they commit offenses against Me, there will be no hope for their upliftment.” Suddenly, He said, “I came with the medicine, which gives the greatest relief, but now I find that their disease is rapidly growing worse and seems beyond treatment. It will take its own course towards doom. The patients are making arrangements to insult Me. They take it that I am a family man – their nephew. They take Me as one of them. I came with the best medicine for the present degraded age, but now I find that they are plotting against Me. Now they are doomed. At least I have to show them that I am not one of them.” He thought, “I shall leave family life and take sannyāsa and wander form village to village, town, to town, preaching the holy name of Kṛṣṇa,” That was His decision, and within a few day he went to take sannyāsa at Katwa from Keśava Bhāratī Mahārāja.”

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Tridaṇḍisannyāsīs sometimes go to Katwa to get inspiration for preaching Kṛṣṇa Consciousness and following in the footsteps of Mahāprabhu. But for the residents of Navadvīpa it is not a happy place. It is the place where they lost their Nimāi Paṇḍita forever.

When the yearly anniversary of Mahāprabhu’s taking sannyāsa is observed by the residents of Navadvīpa, this is not a happy time, they lament the coming of this day. Many of the devotees of Mahāprabhu at Navadvīpa, such as those in the āśrama of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, abstain from taking any kind of nice food for several days before Makara-saṅkrāntī. They take only a very simple boiled rice and dhāl prasādam during that time. A great tragedy of separation will occur on that day, so how can they bear the thought in any happy way? A great tragedy is about to take place!

The Last Night

“Just the day before He left to take sannyāsa, from the afternoon until the evening, there was a spontaneous gathering of devotees in the home of Nimāi Paṇḍita. Every year in Bengal, that day was celebrated as Lakṣmī-pūjā, worship of the goddess of fortune, when special cakes are prepared and distributed. Nimāi, knowing that early morning the next morning He would leave Navadvīpa to take sannyāsa, attracted His followers in such a way that almost every leading devotee came to see Him that evening.

They came with flower garlands and many other offerings to be presented to the Lord. Nimāi accepted their garlands and them placed them on the necks of the devotees who gave them. Only four of His most intimate devotees knew He was leaving; the ordinary devotees did not know that this would be His last night in Navadvīpa. With His own hands He garlanded the neck of His devotees and appealed to them; “Always chant the names of Kṛṣṇa. Under no condition should you give up this kṛṣṇa-nāma. And don’t do anything else. While working, eating, sleeping, or waking, day or night, in whatever you do, continuously take the name of Kṛṣṇa. Always talk about Kṛṣṇa and nothing else. If you have any real attraction or affection for Me then don’t do anything with chanting the name Kṛṣṇa. Cultivate Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Kṛṣṇa is the origin of us all. He is our father we have come from Him. The son who shows no gratitude towards the father is sure to be punished birth after birth. Always chant these names of the Lord:

Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

No other religious principle is required. Chant Hare Kṛṣṇa! This is not any ordinary mantra, but this is the mahā-mantra, the greatest of all the mantras known to the world. Only take to this, always. No other prescription is to be followed. Remember your Lord, your home. This is a foreign land; you have nothing to aspire after here. Try always to go back to Godhead.” In this way, the Lord spoke, and all His devotees intuitively came because it was Nimāi Paṇḍita’s last night in Navadvīpa.

That night, one devotee named Śrīdhara Kholaveca arrived. He used to make trade on the plantain tree and its fruit. He would sell the fruit ripe or green, and the big leaves, which are used as plates. Sometimes Nimāi would pay him less for his fruits than what they were worth, and sometimes He would snatch the best fruits from him. Śrīdhara came to see Him late at night to offer Him a choice pumpkin. And Nimāi though, I have spent almost My whole life snatching so many things from him and now, on this last night he has brought this wonderful pumpkin. I can’t resist.” He asked Śacī-devī, “Mother, Śrīdhara has given Me this pumpkin. Please this of how it can be prepared.” At bedtime, someone came with some milk. Nimāi said, “Mother, with this milk and this pumpkin, please prepare some sweet-rice.” So Śacī-devī prepared some pumpkin sweet-rice: Pumpkin boiled with milk, rice, and sugar.

It is said that when Nimāi Paṇḍita was a youth He sometimes stole the fruits and vegetables the Śrīdhara Kholaveca grew in his garden and sold in the market place. Sometime Nimāi Paṇḍita and his friends would snatch the fruits from Śrīdhara while he was in the market and run away with them without paying. Śrīdhara was very poor but still Nimāi used to steel his fruits.

At night Nimāi and his friends would enter the garden of Śrīdhara under the cover of a blanket. From outside the garden it appeared as though some large creature, a buffalo or a bear, was in the garden. Seeing this Śrīdhara and others were afraid to enter the garden to chase of the beast. But it was only Nimāi and His friends. Under the blanket they were eating the fruits and vegetables. Nimāi Paṇḍita constantly did all these things to Śrīdhara and then on His last night in Navadvīpa, Śrīdhara came and presented the Lord with a beautiful pumpkin.

Late at night, at about three o’ clock in the morning, Nimāi went away. He left Viṣṇupriyā-devī asleep in bed. His mother Śacī-devī, sensing what was to come, was staying awake all night guarding the door. Nimāi left. She could not say anything, but was struck dumb. A little after three o’ clock in the morning, Nimāi swam across the Ganges and in His wet cloth went straight to Katwa, a distance of twenty-five miles. He reached there by nine or ten o’ clock. There, He approached Keśava Bhāratī to take sannyāsa.

In the early morning, the devotees came to see Nimāi and found Śacī-devī like a statue, sitting at the door. The door was open. Everything was empty. “What’s the matter Śacī-devī?” they asked. She told them, “Oh, I was waiting for you devotees. You take possession of the house. I shall go somewhere else. I can’t enter this house any more. You are His devotee; you are the true heirs. Take possession.” They began to throng around her and console her, “You will go? What about the young wife he left? The girl is only fourteen years old. Who will protect her? You can’t shun the responsibility given to you. It is on your shoulders.” In this way they came and consoled her and tried to give her some hope.


Suddenly, the devotees heard that Nimāi Paṇḍita, Śrī Gaurāṅga, had left Navadvīpa. They learned that He had gone to Katwa, to Keśava Bhāratī’s āśrama to take sannyāsa, bidding goodbye to the people of Navadvīpa forever. A dark shadow came down. Many began to weep and cry for Him. Many of them ran towards Katwa. Nimāi Paṇḍita was an unprecedented scholar with beautiful features-tall, fair and benevolent. He had already made the people mad with the holy name of Kṛṣṇa. He had released the two great sinners Jagāi and Madhāi from their nasty life. He had checked the Mohammedan ruler, the Kāzi, who had broken the mṛdaṅga drum. As a famous paṇḍita, He had defeated many scholars who came to conquer Navadvīpa, which was very much renowned for its high culture of learning, especially of logic.

At that time in Navadvīpa, logic (nyāya) worship of material energy (tantra) and official Hinduism (smṛti), were in high culture. Navadvīpa was highly renowned for scholarship. If paṇḍitas could not defeat the scholars of Navadvīpa, they could not become famous. From far away in Kaśmīra, Keśava Kaśmīrī had to come to Navadvīpa to get a certificate that he was a paṇḍita. And he was defeated by Nimāi Paṇḍita. Keśava Kaśmīrī was such a big paṇḍita that it was rumoured he was the favourite child of Sarasvatī, the goddess of learning. No one could face him. Still, he was defeated by Nimāi Paṇḍita. But Nimāi Paṇḍita left Navadvīpa forever and took sannyāsa because the people of Navadvīpa could not appreciate Him.”

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja:
Here it is said that the residents of Navadvīpa did not appreciate the Lord. This is not in reference to the Lord’s devotees, but to the non-devotee class of men. The devotees at Navadvīpa very much appreciated the Lord yet many people were avoiding His saṅkīrtana movement.

He reached Katwa, where, just on the banks of the Ganges, there was a sannyāsī: Keśava Bhāratī. Nimāi went to him and asked him for sannyāsa. Keśava Bhāratī suddenly found that his āśrama was full of lustre. At first, it seemed as if the sun was rising before him; then he saw that it was a bright person approaching. He rose from his seat, and with strained eyes approached in wonder. “What is this?” he thought.

Then he realized that the great devotee-scholar, Nimāi Paṇḍita, had come. He appeared before him saying, “I want to take sannyāsa from you.” But Keśava Bhāratī could not accept Nimāi’s offer. “I am charmed by Your beauty and personality”, he said. But You are so young, only twenty-four years old. What about your mother, Your wife, and Your guardians? Without consulting with them, I cannot venture to give You the rope of renunciation.”

In the meantime, as it was Makara-saṅkrāntī, a famous holiday, many people had come to take bath in the holy waters of the Ganges. They had gathered there and the rumour spread like fire: “Nimāi Paṇḍita of Navadvīpa has come to take sannyāsa.” Many men flocked there, until a huge crowd gathered.

They all opposed Mahāprabhu’s sannyāsa. Some of them raised their voices to protest: “You Keśava Bhāratī! We won’t allow you to give sannyāsa to this young man. He has His family, His mother and wife. We won’t allow it. If you give sannyāsa to this charming, young, beautiful boy, we will break down your āśrama immediately. It can’t be!””

It Cannot Happen!

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: It is a peculiar thing but in India even though everyone is respecting a sannyāsī, if by chance a member of the family or the village wants to take sannyāsa, everyone will oppose it. If any sannyāsī comes to the village or the house they will say, “Oh Mahārāja, please come, please come, take prasādam, praṇāms, praṇāms!” But if anyone from the family comes out and says, “Yes, I will take sannyāsa,” then, “NO! NO! We will not allow you to do such a horrible thing!”

“Many residents of Navadvīpa came to protest the sannyāsa of Nimāi Paṇḍita. Their protests were rightfully so. Nimāi was very young and generally sannyāsa is meant for the older members of society not the mere children. Nimāi had a widow mother and a young wife to take care of also. How could He leave them for renunciation? Nor could His devotees bear the thought of His separation. How could they bear the sight of their beautiful Nimāi with a shaven head, devoid of His ornaments and dressed in the red robes of a renunciate? Such things they could not bear. For this reason, everyone was protesting.

But Nimāi Paṇḍita kept pressing for sannyāsa. At last Keśava Bhāratī asked Him, “So, You are that Nimāi Paṇḍita about whom we have heard so much? Many big scholars came to conquer Navadvīpa, the famous seat of learning, and You have defeated them all. Are you that Nimāi Paṇḍita?” “Yes,” said Nimāi. Keśava Bhāratī told Him, “I can give You sannyāsa, but you must take the permission of Your mother – otherwise I won’t, I can’t do it.” Nimāi suddenly began running towards Navadvīpa to ask permission, but Keśava Bhāratī thought, “He has such a commanding personality, He can do anything.”

Nimāi was called back. Keśava Bhāratī told Him, “With Your most extraordinary personality You can do anything. You will go there, charm Your guardians, get permission, and return. Nothing is impossible for You.”

The ordinary public was very much enraged, saying to Keśava Bhāratī, “We can’t allow you, Swamiji, to give sannyāsa to this young boy. It is impossible! If you do, then we shall smash your āśrama.” Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu began performing kīrtana, chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and dancing madly. And the angry mob grew, sometimes creating a disturbance. In this way, the whole day passed with no decision. The night passed in saṅkīrtana. And the next day, Nimāi’s will prevailed, although there was still some opposition.

Nityānanda Prabhu, Nimāi’s maternal uncle Candraśekhara, Mukunda Datta, and Jagadānanda Paṇḍita gradually arrived there. And that afternoon, the sannyāsa function began. Candraśekhara Ācārya was asked to perform the ceremony on behalf of Nimāi Paṇḍita, who began to chant and dance and charm the audience.

prema-dhāma-devam eva naumi gaura-sundaram

“While showers of tears fell from the eyes of millions He delighted in having His beautiful hair shaved away. Millions of voices sang the glories of Kṛṣṇa, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya accepted the staff of renunciation. Form that time on, wherever He went, whoever saw Him in the dress of a sannyāsī cried in grief. I sing the glories of that beautiful Golden God, the giver of divine love.”

The Barber

The scene was at Katwa. Four hundred and seventy-four years ago, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu took sannyāsa. He was young and beautiful, with a tall figure. He was only twenty-four and had beautiful curly hair. A barber was asked to shave Him, and approached Him, but then withdrew. The barber could not venture to touch Nimāi’s body. He began to cry. “How can I remove such beautiful hair from such a beautiful head?”

And so many others were also crying aloud, “What a horrible thing is being done here! Who is the creator of this sannyāsa? Who is so hard-hearted that he created the sannyāsa-āśrama, where one must give up all that is near and dear and go from door to door, begging, leaving his own friends and relatives crying helplessly? What is this creation of the Supreme? Is it logical? Is it a happy thing? It is most cruel!”

Nimāi Paṇḍita was smiling. After the barber was ordered repeatedly, somehow he was forced to shave Nimāi’s head. At first, he could not venture to touch His hair, saying, “I can’t touch Him.” But at last, he had to do the service of shaving the beautiful, curly hair of the beautiful face of the twenty-four-year-old genius boy. He began with his shears. Some people could not stand the scene. Some even became mad. In the midst of the weeping, wailing, and crying of the threatening mob it was done.

Nimāi Paṇḍita was senseless. After being only half shaved, he stood up and began chanting in kīrtana and dancing in ecstatic joy. After he was shaved, the barber promised, “I will never again shave anyone with this hand! I would rather live by begging. This is my last service as a barber.” After this, that barber took the occupation of a sweet-maker.

Ultimately Nimāi’s appeals pacified the mob, and a little before noon the inevitable gradually came: the sannyāsa function was performed. Candraśekhara Ācārya, the maternal uncle of Nimāi Paṇḍita, was deputed to take charge of the rituals in the ceremony of sannyāsa. When the mantra was to be conferred, Nimāi Paṇḍita asked Keśava Bhāratī, “Is this the mantra you will give me? I heard it in a dream.” He whispered the mantra in the ear of his guru who accepted, saying, “Yes, this is the mantra I shall give you.” Then the mantra was given.”

Mahāprabhu’s Sannyāsa Mantra

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: What happened is this – Keśava Bhāratī was a sannyāsī in the line of Śrīpad Śaṅkarācārya. Bhāratī is one of the ten principle names, which are given to sannyāsīs of Śaṅkarācārya. Their sannyāsa mantra is also given – “tat tvam asi.” That is the mantra accepted by all sannyāsīs in the line of Śaṅkarācārya.

Mahāprabhu knew that Keśava Bhāratī would give Him that mantra but Mahāprabhu did not like that. The meaning of ‘tat tvam asi’ is, “I am that.” The sannyāsī of Śaṅkarācārya is thinking that they are one with the supreme Brahman. They like to think that they are also Kṛṣṇa.

This thought was unacceptable to Mahāprabhu. To think oneself equal to Kṛṣṇa is the highest type of blasphemy. How could He accept that? Mahāprabhu when approached Murāri Gupta and said, “My mind is disturbed. I had a dream and in my dream Keśava Bhāratī has given me the mantra, ‘tat tvam asi’. I know the meaning of the mantra and I cannot live with that. My mind is thus very disturbed!”

Murāri Gupta then informed Mahāprabhu that there is another conception of the mantra which we can draw down. Murāri Gupta said, “We can conceive the word ‘tat tvam’ according to ‘śāsti-tat puruṣa samāsa’ which means “You are His.’” Mahāprabhu said, “That is very good. That I like, “I am His.’”

Mahāprabhu-śrī-caitanya, rādhā-kṛṣṇa nahe anya, means that Mahāprabhu is non-different than Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. He is Kṛṣṇa coming in the mood of Rādhārāṇī. Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is always feeling, “I am His, I am Kṛṣṇa’s and Kṛṣṇa is mine,” So, Mahāprabhu was very satisfied with that sort of conception.

Then Mahāprabhu called Keśava Bhāratī and informed him about His dream. “I had a dream and in My dream you gave Me one mantra. Can you tell Me is this the mantra?” Keśava Bhāratī said, “Oh, what is that mantra,” and he gave his ear to Mahāprabhu who uttered the mantra.

It is said that when Mahāprabhu uttered the mantra in the ear of Keśava Bhāratī with the Vaiṣṇava conception, Keśava Bhāratī became initiated my Mahāprabhu and immediately became a Vaiṣṇava. The Kṛṣṇa conception and the mantra delivered by Mahāprabhu was so powerful that Keśava Bhāratī immediately became a Vaiṣṇava. “Ah, yes”, he said, “this is the mantra I will give you,” and that mantra was then given to Mahāprabhu.

It is also said that Keśava Bhāratī was the same Akrūra as in kṛṣṇalīlā. The same Akrūra who came to Vṛndāvana to take Kṛṣṇa to Mathurā and was opposed by the gopīs came as Keśava Bhāratī to give sannyāsa to Nimāi Paṇḍita and to take Him away from Navadvīpa. It is a parallel līlā, kṛṣṇalīlā and gaura-līlā. There was protest, but what could be done? The will of Nimāi was the supreme.

Kṛṣṇa Caitanya

“And the name of this sannyāsī was not given in an ordinary was either. A most peculiar name came through Keśava Bhāratī: “Kṛṣṇa Caitanya.” None of the names generally given to sannyāsīs was given to Nimāi Paṇḍita, but the name that was given to Him was Kṛṣṇa Caitanya. As soon as they heard that name, the mob began to cry, “Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu ki jaya!” “All glories to Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya!”

The father of Śrīnivāsa Ācārya was a class-friend of Nimāi Paṇḍita. On his way to his father-in-law’s house, he heard that Nimāi Paṇḍita had come to take sannyāsa. He ran there, and seeing everything, he became dumb – he was devastated and went half-mad. After that, nothing came from his mouth but “Caitanya”. After he heard the name “Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, “whatever anyone said to him, he would only say, “Caitanya!” He became mad. After that, his name became Caitanya Dāsa. He could not stand the scene of Nimāi Paṇḍita’s sannyāsa.

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, newly dressed in red robes, embraced His guru, and both of them began to dance, chanting the names of Kṛṣṇa. After some time, the meaning of the name was given. Keśava Bhāratī Mahārāja said, “Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya means that you arouse Kṛṣṇa consciousness throughout the entire world. You have descended to make all people Kṛṣṇa Conscious. So the most suitable name for You cannot be but Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya.”

Mahāprabhu was very cheerful, thinking, “I am going to relieve so many souls form their eternal misery and affliction. I have promised to deliver the whole world from this ocean of material misery and take them to the nectarine world, and now I am going to accept that task.” He was cheerful, but everyone around Him was diving in the ocean of despair and sorrow.

Some scholars stress that Caitanya Mahāprabhu took sannyāsa from Keśava Bhāratī, who was a māyāvādī, an impersonalist. But although Keśava Bhāratī may have externally showed himself in that way, it is seen that by coming in connection with Mahāprabhu, he became a devotee. Otherwise, we may also think that he was a devotee who came in the garb of an impersonalist to help the preaching of Mahāprabhu by assisting Him with the social formality of taking sannyāsa. At that time, all over India, māyāvādī sannyāsa had greater recognition than Vaiṣṇava sannyāsa, and Keśava Bhāratī was already situated in that post. Mahāprabhu took the garb of a sannyāsa from him for His own purpose, to help His preaching activity. All these things may be explained in different ways. In any case, after Mahāprabhu took sannyāsa, Keśava Bhāratī began to sing and dance with Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He joined in saṅkīrtana and was immediately converted.

In this way, the sannyāsa of Nimāi Paṇḍita took place. What is the meaning of His sannyāsa? It is redundant, auxiliary, or a necessary part of spiritual advancement? Is it desirable? What is the meaning of sannyāsa?”