Question: Some scholars of Gaudiya Vaisnavism claim that the associate of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Prabodhananda Sarasvati and the Mayavadi sannyasi Prakasananda Sarasvati are one and the same person. Can you comment on this?
Answer: Actually, such a conclusion about Prabodhananda is nothing new. This claim has been propagated for centuries and has been accepted amongst some sections of Gaudiyas – in particular within the ranks of the Prakrta-Sahajiyas. The Sahajiyas have been supported in their claim by mundane scholars who have attempted to fortify their theory through a combination of elaborate word-jugglery, misapplied logic and inadequate historical research. However, from the historical and sastrika perspective it is clear that Prabodhananda was never a Mayavadi sannyasi. Rather, he was a tridandi-sannyasi in the Sri Vaisnava sampradaya, who became a follower of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
The Life of Prabodhananda Sarasvati
In 1511 when Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was touring South India, He observed the caturmasya vow in Sri Rangam and stayed at the home of the Bhatta family. The Bhatta family was headed by three brothers, Tirumala, Venkata and Prabodhananda, who were all members of the Sri Vaisnava sampradaya. During the four months of Mahaprabhu’s stay in Sri Rangam, Mahaprabhu and his teachings profoundly influenced all three brothers, and especially Prabodhananda and his young nephew Gopala Bhatta. After Mahaprabhu’s departure from Sri Rangam, Prabodhananda accepted the renounced order of life in the Sri Vaisnava tradition and travelled to Vrndavana, spending the remainder of his life living in Kamyavana writing such works as Sangita-madhava, Radha-rasa-sudhanidhi, Caitanya-candramrta, Vrndavana-satakam and Navadvipa-satakam. His nephew and disciple Gopala Bhatta Gosvami later joined him.
The Origins of the Prabodhananda/Prakasananda Misconception
The misconception that Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati was previously a Mayavadi has its origins in a book called Rasika Ananya Mala (circa.1650) written by one Bhagavata Mudita. Although Mudita claimed to be a Gaudiya Vaisnava, he had stronger leanings towards the Radha-Vallabha cult of Hita Harivamsa. (1)
According to Bhagavata Mudita, Prabodhananda was originally a proud Mayavadi sannyasi that came to Vrndavana and was converted to Vaisnavism by Harivamsa’s disciple Paramananda. Paramananda introduced Prabodhananda to Harivamsa and due to serving the feet of Harivamsa, Prabodhananda attained perfection. Prabodhananda then wrote his Sri Vrndavana-satakam though the inspiration of Harivamsa and later wrote a prayer in praise of Harivamsa called Sri Hita Harivamsa-candrastakam. Such is the claim of Bhagavata Mudita.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. According to various Gaudiya Vaisnava works, it was actually Harivamsa who came to take shelter of Prabodhananda after Harivamsa was rejected by his guru Srila Gopala Bhatta Gosvami (Gopala Bhatta Gosvami repudiated Harivamsa when he refused to follow his orders and ate betal nut on the holy day of Ekadasi). It should be pointed out however that Harivamsa’s taking 'shelter' of Prabodhananda can only refer to his appreciation of Prabodhananda’s written works. It is highly unlikely that Prabodhananda would have given any personal shelter to Harivamsa, knowing full well that his nephew, Gopala Bhatta Gosvami had rejected him for disobeying his instructions. (2)
Since no other biographical account of Srila Prabodhananda tallies with Mudita’s farfetched claims, we can only conclude that the Radha-Vallabha sect, eager to have such a great rasika author as Prabodhananda Sarasvati within their line, reconstructed Prabodhananda’s biography. If indeed Sri Prabodhananda was a follower of Harivamsa, then how is it that his Samadhi, in the Kaliya-daha district of Vrndavana, is in the hands of the Gaudiya sampradaya? There is no historically recorded dispute between the Gaudiyas and the Radha-Vallabhis over the samadhi, thus we must logically assume that Prabodhananda was always a Gaudiya Vaisnava with firm allegiance to the lotus feet of Sriman Mahaprabhu.
In 1718, about 60 years after Mudita’s claim, an obscure Oriyan author called Anandin wrote his Rasika-vadini commentary on Prabodhananda’s Caitanya-candramrta wherein he concluded that Prabodhananda was previously the Mayavadi Prakasananda Sarasvati. This idea steadily gained popularity amongst some sections of Prakrta-sahajiyas and scholars. Yet there are various reasons why Anandin’s theory should be considered to be untenable.
Evidence from Sri Caitanya-bhagavata
Firstly, we find in Srila Vrndavana Dasa Thakura’s Caitanya-bhagavata the following conversation between Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Murari Gupta:
kasite padaya beta prakasananda
sei beta kare mora anga khanda khanda
vakhanaye veda, mora vigraha na mane
sarva ange haila kustha, tabu nahi jane
“There is one wretch in Kasi called Prakasananda, who cuts My body into pieces while teaching the Vedas. He explains the Vedas but does not accept My form. His entire body is afflicted by leprosy, yet he does not come to his senses.” (Caitanya-bhagavata, Madhya-khanda, 3.37-38)
This conversation must have took place somewhere between 1504 and 1509 as Mahaprabhu was still performing His grhasta-lila. What is clear from this discussion is that at that time, Prakasananda was the leader of the Mayavadis of Kasi. However, it is accepted by all that Mahaprabhu visited Sri Rangam in the year 1511 and stayed at the home of Venkata Bhatta and his brothers Tirumalai and Prabodhananda who were of the Sri Vaisnava sampradaya.
daksina bhramanakale prabhu gaura-raya
bhatta-grhe cari-masa anande goyaya
“During His travels in South India, Sri Gaura-raya happily spent four months at the house of the Bhatta family.” (Bhakti-ratnakara 1.85)
Later, in 1513, the Lord traveled to Kasi and converted Prakasananda Sarasvati and his disciples. Thus, the mundane scholars and Sahajiyas would have us believe that Prabodhananda was a Mayavadi in 1509, a Sri Vaisnava in 1511, and again a Mayavadi in 1513!
Furthermore, it is said that Prakasananda was an established acarya with many thousands of disciples. How is it possible that Prabodhananda left Sri Rangam after Mahaprabhu’s visit, took eka-danda sannyasa, travelled to Kasi and suddenly collected sixty-thousand disciples – all in the space of about two years?
Another important point is that according to the above verse from Caitanya-bhagavata, Prakasananda Sarasvati had contacted leprosy due to his many offenses. Yet there is no literary evidence to show that Prabodhananda was ever afflicted with leprosy at any time in his life.
Evidence from Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika
In his Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika, Kavi Karnapura has written:
tungavidya vraje yasit
“The gopi Tungavidya, who is most learned in all the scriptures, has today become the sannyasi Prabodhananda whose words are all used in the glorification of Lord Gauranga.” (Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika 163)
In gaura-lila we find various examples of Mahaprabhu converting impersonalists to Vaisnavism. A prime example of this is Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya who is considered to be the incarnation of Brhaspati, the preceptor of the demigods. However, it cannot be accepted by any real Vaisnava that Srimati Radharani’s intimate associate and one of Her immediate personal expansions, Sri Tungavidya-devi, would appear as Prakasananda Sarasvati – an offender to the Vaisnavas and to the transcendental body of the Lord.
Srila Kaviraja Gosvami’s Caitanya-caritamrta
In the Caitanya-caritamrta Srila Kaviraja Gosvami has narrated in great detail the conversions of impersonalists such as Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya and Prakasananda Sarasvati. If such an important personage as Prakasananda Sarasvati became Prabodhananda Sarasvati – the author of various transcendental literatures explaining the highest levels of bhakti-rasa – would not Kaviraja Gosvami have also written about this in order to show the greatness and munificence of Mahaprabhu? Why would he only narrate one half of the story when Prabodhananda was a dry Vedantin, but neglect to recount the glorious second half of the story after his conversion by Mahaprabhu, when he made a complete volte-face and became the author of some of the most profound rasika literatures of the Gaudiya sampradaya?
Of course, the question may also be raised why Prabodhananda was not specifically mentioned by Kaviraja Gosvami in Caitanya-caritamrta. Actually there were a number of great Vaisnavas that were not mentioned by Kaviraja Gosvami. Out of their profound humility, such mahajanas requested Kaviraja Gosvami not to mention their names in his magnum-opus. Srila Narahari Cakravarti has written in his Bhakti-ratnakara (1.209-225):
“Some have described the pastimes of Sri Gopala Bhatta, while others have not. Those who cannot understand the reason for this busy themselves in useless speculation, the result of which is that the seed of aparadha sprouts in their hearts. Previously, great rasika poets who were very capable of describing such events did not do so in order that others would be able to describe them in the future. Although Thakura Vrndavana Dasa described the pastimes of Mahaprabhu he did not mention the Lord's South Indian tour. Vrndavana Dasa was the incarnation of Srila Vyasadeva, by the desire of Veda Vyasa, he did not describe that part of the Lord's lila. Being empowered by Veda Vyasa, Sri Krsna Dasa Kaviraja took pleasure in elaborately describing that South Indian tour. But he also omitted certain parts so that later poets could elaborate on them just as a guru keeps remnants of food for his disciples to accept as prasadam. A layman cannot understand the writing of a great poet therefore people should give up their speculations on such writings and simply try to accept them as they are. Before attempting to write about Mahaprabhu and His associates Sri Kaviraja made a serious effort to understand their characters in depth. Vaisnava poets would always approach the devotees of Mahaprabhu in order to understand their desires. After taking their guidance and permission the poets would write. Having taken permission from many devotees, Krsna Dasa Kaviraja wrote several books. Sri Gopala Bhatta would not permit his name to be mentioned in any of the books, although he did authorize and encourage Sri Kaviraja to write. As ignorant persons we will never know why Gopala Bhatta forbade his name to be mentioned. Perhaps his humility did not allow it. Kaviraja could not reject his order and thus Gopala's name is mentioned rarely in Sri Kaviraja's books. I have heard from one old Vaisnava that Lokanatha Gosvami gave the same order that his name not be used.” (3)
Evidence from Srila Prabodhananda’s Caitanya-candramrta
Some scholars have also formed conclusions about Prabodhananda based upon the peculiar notion that a pure devotee and parsada of the Lord may retain some previous samskaras that can be traced in his writings in order to determine his background. Of course, it is possible and is often the case that a Vaisnava describes his condition before being blessed by the Lord and he may cite his own history to illustrate the merciful dispensation of Mahaprabhu— but this is usually done quite explicitly. This would especially be expected to be so in the case of Prakasananda Sarasvati, who could have used the rich emotional and philosophical contents of his conversion to appeal to so many others influenced by Mayavada.
The conclusion of this psycho-analysis of Caitanya-candramrta has been reached by speculating that Prabodhananda alluded to his Mayavada past by using ambiguous statements and various revealing terms such as jnana, mukti, kaivalya, jyotir etc. What these scholars fail to recognize is that words such as these are not the monopoly of the Mayavadis—all these words are used by Vaisnava acaryas both in their primary theistic sense as well as in the monistic Advaitic sense while debating with Mayavadis. This novel approach to the subject hardly provides concrete evidence to prove Prabodhananda’s previous impersonal tendencies.
If we follow this flawed logic and concede thatthe Caitanya-candramrta is semi-autobiographical, then we must also conclude that Srila Jiva Gosvami was previously an impersonalist since he refers to the word ‘mukti’ over 156 times in his Sandarbhas and the word ‘brahman’ appears over 470 times! If we apply the same technique to the works of all our previous acaryas, then we could probably conclude that they were all previously Mayavadis! Should we accept that any acarya that profusely usesthe philosophical terms kaivalya, brahman, mukti, moksa, jyotir etc. was previously a follower of Advaita-siddhanta?
There are a large number of verses in Caitanya-candramrta where impersonalists are mentioned as recipients of Mahaprabhu’s mercy, but generally they are not mentioned alone – rather, they are included amongst other pseudo-transcendentalists such as karmis, jnanis or amongst demigod worshippers, sinners etc. In other words, according to many verses found in the Caitanya-candramrta it could just as easily be proven that Prabodhananda was previously a karmi, jnani, papi (or all of the above). Although the scholars claim to be unbiased researchers, it seems that they are extremely selective in which words they choose to describe Prabodhananda. By resorting to such a faulty method of analysis, the scholars betray the fact that their conclusions are actually biased and predetermined.
Evidence from the Descendents of Gopala Bhatta Gosvami
Some time back we took the opportunity to visit Sri Rangam and interview Sri Muralidharan Bhatta, the present-day descendent of Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, to ask him about Prabodhananda Sarasvati. When we explained to him that some scholars claim that Prabodhananda was previously a Mayavadi, he emphatically stated:
“No, this is impossible! No one in our family ever took eka-danda, because we are arcakas (temple priests). If this happened, the incident would be well known to everyone in Sri Rangam. Our whole family would have become disgraced and we would lose the right to worship Lord Ranganatha. Nowadays things have become very liberal, but in those days they were very conservative - very strict. Maintaining the purity of our line is very important to us arcakas, and if one of us gave up Ramanuja’s teachings and became a follower of Sankara, our line would have become polluted.” (Conversation with Muralidharan Bhatta, 20th July 2004)
Prabodhananda’s Connection with Srila Gopala Bhatta Gosvami
Some scholars (such as Sundarananda Vidyavinoda) have concluded that Prabodhananda was never a member of the Sri Vaisnava community. However, if we study the works of previous acaryas we find that it is indisputable that Prabodhananda was previously a Sri Vaisnava, since he was the uncle of Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, the son of the head-priest of Ranganatha in Sri Rangam.
This relationship between Prabodhananda and Gopala Bhatta is collaborated in the eighth chapter of Sadhana-dipika by Srila Radha-Krsna Gosvami:
srimad gopala bhattam tam
naumi sri vraja-vasinam
“I offer my humble respects unto Gopala Bhatta Gosvami who was a resident of Vrndavana and the nephew of Prabodhananda and the object of his mercy.”
It is also explained by Sanatana Gosvami Prabhu in the mangalacarana-sloka of Hari-bhakti-vilasa that Prabodhananda was the guru of Gopala Bhatta:
bhakter vilasams-cinute prabodha-
nandasya sisyo bhagavat-priyasya
gopala-bhatto raghunatha dasam
santosayan rupa-sanatanau ca
“Gopala Bhatta, the disciple of Prabodhananda, who is dear to the Lord, has collected these devotional activities for the delight of Ragunatha Dasa Gosvami, Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami.” (Hari-bhakti-vilasa 1:2)
The Vacillating Opinions of Sundarananda Vidyavinoda
The scholar Sundarananda Vidyavinoda also speculated that Prabodhananda was previously a Mayavadi and initially refused to acknowledge Prabodhananda's affiliation with the Sri sampradaya. Drawing from evidence given by the commentator Anandi and works of the Radha-Vallabha sect, he wrote in his work Vaisnava-vandana o Vaisnava-abhidhanam that Prabodhananda and Prakasananda were one and the same person, implying that Prabodhananda never belonged to the lineage of Ramanuja. One of Vidyavinoda’s arguments was that Anandi’s Caitanya-candramrta commentary should be considered to be more reliable since his commentary was written earlier than Narahari Cakravarti’s Bhakti-ratnakara. Yet Anandi’s commentary has many flaws and is not fully trustworthy from an historical perspective. For example, he ascribes the famous verse anarpita-carim cirat by Svarupa-damodara Prabhu to Sanatana Gosvami instead. Why Vidyavinoda would place more importance in the words of an obscure commentator over the writings of Narahari Cakravarti is unclear.
However, a few years later, Sundarananda Vidyavinoda acknowledged the futility of his previous arguments and wrote the following in his book Paratattva-sima Sri Krsna Caitanya -
Sri Gopala Bhatta Gosvamipader pitrvyadeva o gurudeva Sri Prabodhananda Sarasvatipada, jini purve alvar-sampradaya bhakta chilen, tini tahar javatiya rasa-granthe alvar-sampradayer rasa-vicarer nyunata pradarsana koriyachen
“Sri Gopala Bhatta Gosvamipada’s uncle and spiritual master Sri Prabodhananda Sarasvatipada, who was previously a member of the Alvar-sampradaya, has demonstrated the inadequacy of the Alvar-sampradaya’s approach to rasa through all his rasa literature.”
The Title ‘Sarasvati’
Some say that Prabodhananda must have accepted eka-danda sannyasa because his name was Sarasvati – one of the dasa-nami sannyasa titles prevalent in the Sankara sampradaya. The Bhakti-ratnakara explains the actual reason why Prabodhananda was known by this appellation:
keha kaha prabodhanandera guna ati
sarvatra haila yara khyati sarasvati
“Some say that Prabodhananda had many great qualities and thus he became famous everywhere as ‘Sarasvati’ (Bhakti-ratnakara 1.148)
It should also be pointed out that it was extremely uncommon for Mahaprabhu to change the names of those who converted to Vaisnavism. Even those associates who had Sakta names such as Gauridasa and Kalidasa retained them. If indeed He did change their names, it would certainly be an explicit Vaisnava name (ie. Vidyanidhi – Premanidhi), rather than a synonymic difference (such as Prakasananda becoming Prabodhananda).
Whereas Prabodhananda became the celebrated author of rasika-granthas, nothing is known of the fate of Prakasananda. Srila Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja concludes the following:
“Prakasananda was converted to Vaisnavism and he also might have gone to Vrndavana, but he did not get much recognition from the Vaisnava society. He was both rejected from this side and did not receive much respect from the other side – he has almost gone to unknown quarters.” (Conversation, January 2nd 1983)
It is acceptable that mundane academics who lack sraddha in Mahaprabhu and His followers will draw their own opinions based on empirical analysis, considering Prabodhananda Sarasvati to be an ordinary jiva. However, it is deplorable when those that profess to be Vaisnavas derive the same conclusions that the expansion of the hladini-sakti, Tungavidya-devi, could possibly take the mood of a Mayavadi in gaura-lila.
From studying the above evidences found in the writings of the the previous acaryas, we must conclude that only those with an inadequate fund of knowledge will try to equate the pure Vaisnava Prabodhananda with the Mayavadi Prakasananda.
1) In his vraja-bhasa translation of Prabodhananda’s Vrndavana-mahimamrta written in 1650, Bhagavata Mudita claims to be a siksa disciple of the Gaudiya Vaisnava acarya Sri Haridasa Pandita Gosvami, an associate of Srila Krsna Dasa Kaviraja and the mahanta of the Radha-Govinda Temple in Vrndavana. It has also been said by some scholars that after Haridasa Pandita, Bhagavata Mudita became the mahanta at the Radha-Govinda temple – this is contestable however since it is a well known fact that the successor of Sri Haridasa Pandita was Srila Radha-Krsna Gosvami. All in all, the background of Bhagavata Mudita seems to be plagued with inconsistent information.
2) There are also doctrinal reasons why Gaudiyas cannot accept that Prabodhananda would have accepted Harivamsa. Firstly, the followers of Harivamsa falsely claim that Gopala Bhatta Gosvami only had faith in the primacy of Krsna and not Srimati Radharani. Secondly, Harivamsa was an advocate of svakiya-bhava (married union between Radha-Krsna) and Gopala Bhatta Gosvami worshipped Radha-Krsna in the mood of parakiya-bhava (paramour rasa). Furthermore, Harivamsa put more emphasis on sambhoga (union) rather than vipralambha (separation). Lastly, Harivamsa rejected most of the angas of vaidhi-bhakti (observance of Ekadasi, worship of Tulasi, strict performance of arcana etc) all of which Gaudiya Vaisnavas strictly follow.
sri gopala bhattera e saba vivarana
keha kichu varne keha na kare varana
na bujhaya marma haite kutarka ye kare
aparadha-bija ta’ra hrdaye sancare
parama rasika purva purva kavi-gana
varnite mamartha haiya na kare varnana
pascate samartha kari mane vicariya
rakhaye se sakalera sukhera lagiya
prabhu-lila varnila thakura vrndavana
daksina-bhramana adi na kaila varnana
vyasa-rupa tinho ta’ra ke bujhe asaya
pascata varnive veda-vyasa icche kaya
krsna-dasa kaviraja tare dainya kari
daksina-bhramana adi varnila vistari
rakhilena madhye madhye varnana karite
varnive ye kavi-gana tahara nimitte
yaiche isthadeva mukhe annadi bhunjiya
patre avasesa rakhe sisyera lagiya
kavi-rita e kichu varnite nahi anta
kutarka chadiya asvadeha bhagavanta
prabhu ara prabhu-bhakta-ganera carita
vividha prakare varne haiya savahita
bhakta iccha pravala janiya kavi-gana
prabhu bhakte sambodhiya karena varnana
krsna-dasa kaviraja maha-hrsta heya
varnilena grantha anekera ajna laiya
sri gopala bhatta hrsta haiya ajna dila
granthe nija-prasanga varnite nisedhila
kene nisedhila iha ke bujhite pare
nirantara ati dina mane apanare
kaviraja tara ajna nare langhivare
nama matra likhe anya na kare pracare
lokanatha-gosvamiha icche ajna kaila
pracina vaisnava mukhe e saba sunila