Syamananda Prabhu (1535-1631 AD) was a great Acharya in the Gaudiya Sampradaya. He preached the teachings of the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana in Utkal, or Odisha. He was a pure Vaishnava of highest order, who was totally absorbed in the love of Sri Sri Radha Syamasundara. The details about his pastimes are found in Rasikananda’s Syamananda Sataka and Narahari Chakravarty’s Bhakti Ratnakara.
Syamananda Prabhu was a powerful Acharya in Gaudiya Sampradaya, the authorized lineage of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
- Nityananda Prabhu
- Gauridasa Pandita
- Hridoy Caitanya
- Syamananda Prabhu
- Caitanya Mahaprabhu
- Rupa Goswami
- Jiva Goswami
- Syamananda Pandita
Srila Syamananda appeared in 1535 AD, in a small town in Odisha, called Dharendra Bhadura Pura, or Dabeshwar. His parents, Krishna Mandala and Durika Devi, were very poor. They belonged to a caste lower than the shudras. But caste or status have nothing to do with a Vaishnava. Syamananda was an exalted devotee, who was situated on a higher platform of devotion than the high-class brahmanas of that time. His parents were devoted to Lord Gauranga.
They had a desire for children, but each of their babies died untimely. Syamananda was the first one to survive. He was named Dukhi, or the sorrowful one, because his parents were thinking that he would lead a life full of miseries. From his birth he was completely absorbed in pure love of Godhead.
The time came for Dukhi’s grain-eating ceremony. Then he began to go to the school. Soon he mastered all the languages like Sanskrit, Bangla, Urdu and Persian. His teachers wondered at his amazing ability to grasp everything taught.
The child showed great interest in Vaishnavism. Seeing this, his father who was himself a devotee, said that Dukhi should find a suitable spiritual master for himself in the village.
But Dukhi denied, saying, “Srila Hridayananda is my eternal guru, and his guru is Gauridasa Pandita. He lives in Ambika Kalna in Bengal, where Gaura-Nitai eternally reside. If you want me to find myself a guru then allow me to go there.” This was the reply of the child, as he was aware that very soon he will become the disciple of Hridayananda, better known as Hridoy Caitanya.
Leaving the House and Initiation
When Syamananda entered his youth, he became more and more determined to leave his home to devote himself towards serving the lotus feet of Lord Hari, bona fide spiritual master and all the Vaishnava devotees. His parents objected as they wanted their son Dukhi to become a rich householder and not an ascetic.
Dukhi said, “There is nothing wrong in becoming a Sannyasi. I want to leave the house so that I can completely devote myself towards the service of Supreme Lord and His devotees.”
Finally after long arguments, Syamananda agreed to marry, just to please his parents.
Soon after his marriage, Syamananda took a firm decision to leave his house and travel to holy places. This time he did not consider his parents’ requests and left his house.
He gave the responsibility of supporting the family to his younger brother, Balarama. After few years, Balarama also left family life to follow his elder brother.
Dukhi went to Ambika Kalna near Mayapura. There, he visited the famous Gaura-Nitai temple. Then he started searching Hridoy Caitanya, whom he wanted to accept as his spiritual master.
He approached Hridoy in a very humble mood and prayed, “O great sir. O reservoir of mercy. Please be kind on this poor creature. I’m your servant life after life. Please accept me as your disciple.”
Hridoy was pleased with Dukhi’s sincerity. By the arrangement of Lord Caitanya, he accepted Dukhi as his disciple. He named him, Dukhi Krishna Dasa after initiation.
Dukhi Krishna Dasa stayed with his mentor for some time, and then on his order, he set out for pilgrimage. He visited several holy places like Dwaraka, Ranganatha temple, Thiruvananthapuram, Badrinatha, Prayaga, Kashi and Navadvipa.
Dukhi returned to Hridayananda for studying Vaishnava literature. After some time Hridoy said to Dukhi, “I have imparted my knowledge to you. Now I suggest you to approach Sripad Jiva Goswami of Vrindavana. He is the greatest scholar of India and a very exalted Vaishnava. He is a disciple of Rupa Goswami and currently he is the leader of Gaudiya Sampradaya. He can teach you more.”
So Dukhi set out for Vrindavana. In Vrindavana he was welcomed by the Vaishnavas. Jiva became his Shiksha Guru, or teaching Guru. He made friends with Narottama Dasa Thakura and Srinivasa Acharya. Later, these three become the prime disciples of Jiva Goswami.
Dukhi visited all places of Lord Krishna’s transcendental pastimes in Vrindavana with Narottama and Srinivasa.
Srimati Radharani’s Anklet
Dukhi made a small underground Bhajana Kutira for himself in Seva Kunja area of Vrindavana. On request to temple priest, this Kutira may still be seen in Radha Syamasundara temple of Vrindavana. Here he performed constant chanting of the holy names of Lord Krishna as follows:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
Everyday, Dukhi would clean the sacred grove of Seva Kunja, where Krishna enjoys his eternal pastimes with Radha. About 5000 years ago, Lord Krishna served Radha in this grove. Since then this place became adorable for all Vaishnavas.
One day, while cleaning the grove with a broom, Dukhi noticed a golden anklet. It was shining very brightly. He wondered, how can such a precious ornament come in this forest. It should be returned to its owner. Dukhi picked up the ornament and decided to somehow return it to its owner.
A very beautiful cowherd girl came to him and said, “Sir, this ornament belongs to my friend Radha. Return it to me.”
Dukhi said, “How can I believe you? You could be a thief. I can’t give this precious ornament to you. I will return it directly to its owner.”
He had already recognized the girl as Lalita, the eternal companion of Srimati Radharani, who is the consort of Lord Krishna.
Lalita said, “I must inform about your misdeeds to my queen Radha, who has been ruling over Vrindavana since last 5000 years. You shall be severely punished.” Lalita suddenly vanished, leaving Dukhi Krishna Dasa behind.
Dukhi wanted to have the darshana of the owner of this precious Manju Ghosha anklet. His desire was to surrender at the lotus feet of the queen of Vraja, Srimati Radharani.
Lalita went to Radha and reported, “That cleaner of Seva Kunja grove is not returning your anklet. He is saying that he will give it directly to its original owner.”
Radha said, “Bring him to Me, and I will recover My Manju Ghosha from that boy.”
Lalita went to Dukhi and instructed him to come with her. She led him to her divine pool, Lalita Kunda, which is situated near Radhakunda in Vraja Mandala. Dukhi was instructed to take bath there.
Then he was ordered by Lalita to take a bath in the holy Kusuma Sarovara. After these baths, he became completely pure.
Dukhi transformed into his transcendental form of a Gopi named, Kanaka Manjari. This is his eternal form, in which he performs pastimes with Lord Krishna in His divine abode, the Goloka Dhama.
On seeing Dukhi’s amazement on being transformed into a female, Lalita informed, “O Kanaka Manjari, earlier in your earthly form, you were not eligible to see the transcendental body of my friend Radha. Hence it was necessary to change you into a cowherd Gopi girl like me. Now let us go to Seva Kunja, where you will be able to see Radha.”
Now, Kanaka Manjari could see the Gupta Vrindavana, or the hidden Vrindavana, the place of divine pastimes of Radha-Krishna, that are inaccessible to the common mortals of this material world.
Kanaka was led to Seva Kunja, where Lalita disappeared suddenly from Dukhi’s sight.
After some time, she reappeared with Radha. Kanaka’s heart was filled with ecstatic emotions of bhakti when she saw Radha, the embodiment of pure love of Lord Krishna.
Kanaka prayed, “O Radha, the daughter of Vrishabhanu, O the beloved of Krishna, O the one with a golden luster like sun, you are the giver of devotion to Krishna. I offer my respectful obeisances unto Your lotus feet.”
Radha said, “I am very grateful to you for finding My Manju Ghosha anklet. You have really done a wonderful job.” Dukhi returned the anklet to Radha.
Radha was very pleased so she called Kanaka closer and then pressed the divine anklet against her forehead, leaving a tilaka mark. This tilaka on Syamananda’s forehead became famous as Manju Ghosha tilaka.
Radha then said, “You are an exalted devotee of My Lord, Sri Krishna. Hence I am giving you the duty to worship Him as Syamasundara deity in this sacred grove of Seva Kunja.”
So Radha manifested a beautiful deity of Sri Syamasundara from Her heart. Kanaka accepted the deity with great delight.
Lalita said, “You became a cause of happiness or ananda for Radha, also known as Syama, by recovering her anklet, so I name you Syamananda.” And Radha along with Lalita Sakhi vanished.
Gupta Vrindavana once again became invisible for Dukhi, now Syamananda, and he was once again a male devotee of Lord Krishna. He found that the name Syamananda was written on his chest. He understood that it was Lalita’s divine act.
Syamananda’s Tilaka and New Name Ignites Controversy
Syamananda went to attend Jiva Goswami’s discourse on Srimad-Bhagwatam in the evening.
Formerly all devotees of Vrindavana loved Syamananda. But today it seemed that they were frowning at Syamananda and criticizing him. He couldn’t understand this sudden change in their behavior.
Srinivasa said very annoyingly to Syamananda, “What is the need of this ridiculous tilaka mark? The Brahma Sampradaya tilaka, that you were applying earlier, was authentic as per Lord Caitanya. Hence this different tilaka goes against our tradition.”
He continued, “And Dukhi, what is this written on your chest- ‘Syama-ananda’. It’s very bad to defy your Guru’s authority by changing your name. He gave you the name, Dukhi Krishna Dasa and it leaves no place for any more names.”
All Vaishnavas were in complete accord with Srinivas Acharya. They were also thinking the same way about Syamananda. Even Jiva chastised him for this act.
Nobody knew about Syamananda’s meeting with Radha and Lalita. And Syamananda did not disclose about that confidential meeting.
That night Radha came in Jiva’s dream and told him everything about her meeting with Syamananda. She warned him not to disclose Syamananda’s meeting to anyone but somehow still maintain Syamananda’s prestige.
Next day Jiva Goswami, the leader of Gaudiya Sampradaya, announced that he gave this new mark and name to Syamananda, and there is nothing bad about this act.
He was pleased with Syamananda and discussed about Radha’s mercy privately. It was a great favor of Radha on Syamananda.
Ever one in Vrindavana was now satisfied. But the trouble was still not over as Hridoy Caitanya, the Diksha Guru of Syamananda, came to know about this incident, and found Jiva and Syamananda guilty.
He immediately left Bengal for Vrindavana. He and his followers were in an angry mood. Very soon they reached Vrindavana. Jiva gave Hridoy a warm welcome but he refused to accept it. He was very much offended.
He said to Syamananda, “O foolish lad, O offender to all, you have done great sin by changing your name and applying this false tilaka. And this Jiva has helped you in this offensive activity.”
Hridoy began to rub out the name on Syamananda’s chest and was planning to erase the tilaka after that.
Syamananda was worried when he saw the divine name getting lighter. He went into a trance and meditated on Lalita Sakhi.
Lalita came to him in his mind and assured that she will help him. The name on his chest became more and more prominent by Lalita’s mercy. But Hridoy was in no mood to stop his rubbing work.
Meanwhile Lalita, along with Radha, went to Krishna’s cowherd friend or Sakha, Subala. He had incarnated on the earth in the form of Hridoy’s guru Gauridasa Pandita. Radha ordered Gauridasa, or Subala, to stop his disciple.
And lo! Gauriadasa somehow appeared on the scene and stopped Hridoy from removing Syamananda’s name.
He explained the incident of Syamananda’s meeting with Radha to all. Everyone was now pleased with Syamananda.
Hridoy stayed in Vrindavana for some time. After blessing his disciple Syamananda, he went back to Ambika Kalna in Bengal.
Preaching in Utkala
Srila Jiva Coswami sent Syamananda Pandita, Srinivasa Acharya and Narottama Dasa Thakura, his three best disciples, to East India in order to preach the teachings of Lord Caitanya to all.
It was decided that Srinivasa will preach in Western Bengal, Narottama in Eastern Bengal and Syamananda in Utkal, or Odisha.
Syamananda took leave of his friends when the trio reached at Vishnupura in Bengal.
He first went to Ambika Kalna where he met his guru, Hridoy Caitanya. Hridoy blessed him to become successful in preaching work.
Syamananda started meeting devotees and seeking their help in preaching. He also defeated many scholars in debate.
He proved himself a wonderful preacher by delivering Lord Caitanya’s message to every house.
Years fled by and Odisha was now intoxicated with the divine bliss of pure love of Godhead.
Defeating Sher Khan
Syamananda became very popular throughout Odisha. By now, he had thousands of followers in various towns and villages of Odisha.
Many people loved him but some miscreants envied him.
The mohammedans were afraid that Syamananda’s preachings will decrease the number of their followers. So they started torturing the devotees of Lord Krishna.
At that time, mohammedans or pathans ruled over India. Their soldiers were troubling the Vaishnavas in Odisha. Some devotees complained to Syamananda about this.
He consoled them by saying, “Dear devotees of Govinda, I know that these miscreant muslims harass you. But do not get panic. You should only worship Krishna and He will protect you. Have faith in Him.”
Many pathans warned Syamananda that they will slaughter all Vaishnavas if he does not stop his preaching activities. But he did not bother about these threatenings and simply continued to spread the love of Godhead.
One day, as usual, Syamananda was enjoying street Kintana, or congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord with about hundred devotees.
Sher Khan, the Muslim ruler of Odisha, came there with a big group of armed soldiers. His intention was to stop this congregational chanting.
His soldiers forcefully stopped the kirtana and destroyed the musical instruments of devotees. They managed to disperse that large gathering.
Sher Khan warned Syamananda, “Better stop your missionary activities and street singing, otherwise I will not hesitate to slaughter you and your followers.”
Krishna’s true messengers like Syamananda prefer to give their life instead of stopping the distribution of the love of Godhead.
So he again led a street Kirtana the very next day. This time even larger number of devotees participated in the gathering.
When Sher Khan heard about this, he became very angry. He sent his soldiers to violently crush the assembly. The troops once again began to break the musical instruments. They also started hitting the devotees with wooden sticks.
But Syamananda was in no mood to stop the Kirtana. He loudly chanted, “Radha Krishna.”
The holy name had a miraculous result. The soldiers started vomiting blood and their beards began to burn. Sher Khan’s chest suddenly started aching badly. Pathans retreated and devotees very happily continued their Kirtana.
Next day, Sher Khan, along with some of his servants, went to Srila Syamananda Prabhu. He offered obeisances to the great Acharya and humbly said, “Please forgive this fallen creature, who has commited a great sin by offending the devotees of Lord Krishna. Last night I had a nightmare in which Allah, the God, came and slapped me. He said that I am completely doomed since I discriminate between Him and Krishna. Allah and Krishna are the same. He manifested me His form as the golden incarnation, Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Sir, I want to serve as your servant, so please accept me as your lowliest disciple.”
Syamananda forgave Sher Khan, and initiated him into Gaudiya Sampradaya as Caitanya Dasa, or the servant of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Caitanya Dasa declared that henceforth his state will be a Vaishnava kingdom and Krishna’s devotees shall never be troubled here.
Syamananda practically converted Odisha into a Vaishanava land, thus fulfilling his mission.
His Prominent Disciples
Syamananda was an excellent preacher having many disciples. His disciples form an important sect in the Gaudiya Sampradaya, the Syamanandi group.
Some of his disciples are Rama Thakura, Rasikananda, Rasamaya, Balarama Thakura, Dvarika, Achyuta, Prasada, Tulasidasa, Krishnajana, Kishora, Vaishanavadasa, Gangadharadasa, Dharambara, Purusottama and Damodara Prabhu.
Rasikananda: The most prominent disciple of Syamananda was Srila Rasikananda Prabhu. He helped his Guru by actively preaching in Northern Odisha.
He held many Vaishnava festivals like Rasa Yatra and the Dvadasha Mahotsava. He even induced the wild animals like tigers and the wild elephant Gopala into chanting the holy names of the Lord. He maintained the Syamanandi sect after Syamananda’s disappearance.
Damodara: He was an atheist at first but Syamananda converted him into a great devotee. He helped Rasikananda in preaching.
Rasamaya: One of the early disciples of Syamananda, he engaged himself in the service of Lord Krishna.
As we can recall, Radha gave a deity of Krishna, named Syamasundara to Syamananda. He worshipped that deity very sincerely in Vrindavana.
The king of Bharatpur helped him in establishing a temple of Syamasundara. He also helped to arrange a deity of Srimati Radharani to be worshiped along with Syamasundara.
Even today, we may see the deity given to Syamananda by Radha. It is presently worshiped by Syamanandi sect in Radha Syamasundara temple, which is situated in Loi market, Vrindavana.
Srila Syamananda had completed his work on this planet by intoxicating whole Odisha with pure Bhakti. Now, he had no reason to stay on earth any more.
He was longing to join the eternal pastimes of Lord Krishna in the spiritual sky, in his transcendental form as Kanaka Manjari.
While he was contemplating about his imminent departure, he received the news that his beloved spiritual master, Srila Hridoy Caitanya, has left the mortal world.
He was overwhelmed by a deep grief. At this time he was at Narsinghpur with his favorite disciple Rasikananda.
He knew that the time for his disappearance from this mortal world has arrived now. Due to this great lamentation, he fell sick. Rasikananda tried hard for his recovery, but no medication or doctor could treat him. Finally, he left this planet in 1631 AD.
Rasikananda performed his last funeral rites by burning his body in the sacred fire. His divine ashes were buried at Narsinghpur, Odisha. Some of the ashes were brought to Vrindavana.
We can still see the tomb of these ashes in Vrindavana, next to Syamasundara temple. The tomb is situated at the spot where Radha blessed Syamananda, the great jewel of Gaudiya Sampradaya. He showed mercy on the residents of Odisha by rescuing them from the dark material ocean.
Jaya Srila Syamananda Pandita!