There is a story in the Chaitanya Bhagavat about a great devotee beloved by Lord Chaitanya named Pundarika Vidyanidhi. This story teaches the very valuable lesson of not criticising other Vaisnavas or judging them because of their external actions or appearance.
Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Now hear the story of Vidyanidhi Prabhu’s arrival in Navadvipa. Pundarika was a very dear associate of Sri Krishna. By the Lord’s arrangement he appeared in the village of Cattagrama in East Bengal, and purified that land. The Lord Himself appeared in Navadvipa, and when He could not find Pundarika Vidyanidhi there He sighed heavily, feeling separation from him.
One day after ecstatic dancing, the Lord sat down and exclaimed, “O My father Pundarika,” and began to cry. “O Pundarika, O My father! When will I be able to see you again?” Such was the extent of the Lord’s affection for Pundarika Vidyanidhi. In this way Lord Gauracandra revealed His intimate associates by performing such wonderful pastimes. All the devotees surrounding the Lord were unable to comprehend the import of the name He continued to repeat and the reason for the tears which flowed from His eyes.
They conjectured that Pundarika naturally implied Krishna, and Vidyanidhi could have many different explanations, but no one could understand that this person was a very confidential associate of the Lord. When the Lord finally came out of trance the devotees asked Him, “For which associate of Yours are You weeping, my Lord? Please reveal to us who he is, when he was born, and what he does. Tell us, Lord, so that we may have the good fortune to know him.”
The Lord replied, “You are certainly fortunate because you desire to hear about him. His activities and character are most wonderful. The whole world can be purified simply by hearing his name. His ecstatic appearance is almost like an ordinary man, therefore no one can recognize Him as a pure devotee of the Lord. This highly learned brahmana was born in Cattagrama. He strictly executed the prescribed religious principles and was respected by everyone. He always floats in the ocean of nectar of love of Krishna, and his body constantly displays various ecstatic symptoms such as crying and jubilation.
“He never went for ablutions to the Ganges to cleanse himself of his sins like everyone else, nor did he enter her waters. He also avoided touching her with his feet. Rather, he came to see and pay his respects to her everyday in the evening, after the teeming crowds had all gone. He could not bear to see Mother Ganges disrespected and utilized by people who spat into her, cleaned their mouth with her waters, and washed their hair and dirty clothes in her, thus he preferred to come to her in the evenings when there was no one around. Another wonderful characteristic of Pundarika Vidyanidhi is that he always drank Ganges water before worshiping the Lord. Then he performed all his daily prescribed religious duties. This was meant to give a lesson to all the puffed-up scholars about the greatness of Mother Ganges.
“He is presently in Cattagrama, but he is soon coming to Navadvipa where he also has a house. None of you will be able to recognize him, as on first sight one would be inclined to think he was an ordinary materialistic person. I am very anxious to see him, so all of you must endeavour and pray to bring him here very quickly.” Talking about Pundarika Vidyanidhi threw the Lord into an ecstatic trance and He began to weep saying, “O My father, Pundarika.” The Lord lamented loudly, for only He could understand the extent of the greatness of such a pure Vaisnava, and through His mercy only can that wonderful and unique position of a pure devotee be revealed.
When the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself attracts a living entity there is no way that one cannot respond, thus Pundarika Vidyanidhi suddenly desired to go to Navadvipa. He made arrangements and came to Navadvipa with many disciples. In Navadvipa he remained incognito and all the ordinary men considered him to be a lavish materialist, attached to a life of comfort and self enjoyment. With the exception of Mukunda [Datta], no one amongst the Vaisnava’s knew about Pundarika Vidyanidhi’s arrival in Navadvipa.
Sri Mukunda was an Ayurvedic brahmana doctor who was born in Cattagrama, thus he knew about the wonderful Vaisnava qualities of Pundarika Vidyanidhi. When Mukunda found out that he was in Navadvipa, he was so overwhelmed that it was difficult for him to control himself. Mukunda, however, did not reveal Pundarika Vidyanidhi’s identity to anyone. Therefore, in the eyes of the ordinary people Pundarika remained a materialistic sense enjoyer. Only Mukunda and his brother Vasudeva Datta knew about the intensity of Pundarika’s love for God.
Lord Chaitanya and Mukunda Datta
Gadadhara Pandita and Mukunda were very dear friends and always kept in each other’s company. Mukunda thus told Gadadhara Pandita, “Listen carefully Gadadhara, a very great devotee has come to Navadvipa. You have been hankering for the association of pure Vaisnavas and today your desire will be fulfilled. I will take you to see a wonderful Vaisnava. In return for this, I simply want you to think of me as your dear servant.”
The excited and happy Gadadhara Pandita called out the name of Krishna as they proceeded towards the great Vaisnava’s residence. Arriving there they found Pundarika Vidyanidhi sitting comfortably. Gadadhara offered his obeisances and was respectfully seated. Vidyanidhi inquired from Mukunda, “What is his name and which village does he come from? I can see that his body is effulgent due to rendering devotional service to the Supreme Lord Vishnu. Both his form and demeanour are extremely wonderful.”
Sri Gadadhara Pandit
“His name is Sri Gadadhara,” Mukunda replied, “and he is very fortunate because from early childhood he has been totally detached from family life. His external, material identity is that he is the son of the brahmana Sri Madhva Misra. Because he is totally absorbed in devotional service he only associates with Vaisnava’s, and he is extremely dear to all the devotees. When he heard about you, he was anxious to meet you.”
After hearing the wonderful qualities of Gadadhara Pandita, Vidyanidhi was very pleased to meet him. That great personality, Sri Pundarika Vidyanidhi, sat like a prince. His beautiful bed was made of wood, covered with intricate brass and a reddish stone inlay work. Above were three tiers of ornamental over-hangings, made of glittering brocade strips. He was seated on a soft mattress covered with clean expensive sheets and silk pillows were placed under his back. On either side of him many small and large water pots sat within his reach, as well as a nice shining brass plate with betel pan neatly prepared on it. Two large ornate mirrors hung on either side of him which he continually glanced into while smiling with lips reddened from chewing pan.
Sri Pundarika Vidyanidhi
He wore a sandalwood paste tilaka mark on his forehead and his face was decorated with dots made from a mixture of sandalwood and perfume. As for his hair, it was well groomed and shining with delicately perfumed hair oil. Two persons stood behind him fanning him gently with long peacock feathers and in front of him was a nicely prepared hammock. Because he followed a life of pure devotional service, he looked as charming as Cupid himself. Those who did not know him would consider him to be a prince as everything about him and around him gave the impression that he was a man of easy and comfortable life given to pleasure.
When Gadadhara Pandita saw these luxurious items and a general atmosphere of materialistic life he became suspicious. Since Gadadhara was a fully renounced soul from his early childhood, naturally some doubts regarding the character of Pundarika Vidyanidhi entered his heart. He thought, “What sort of a Vaisnava is he, surrounded by so much finery and lavish living? Hearing about his devotional mood I developed great respect for this person, but now on seeing him it is slowly giving way to doubt and suspicion.”
Mukunda understood the mind and heart of Gadadhara Pandita, thus he took upon himself to reveal the true nature of Pundarika Vidyanidhi. By the special mercy of Lord Krishna, Gadadhara Pandita was allowed to perceive everything. Nothing remained unknown to him. In a very sweet voice Mukunda began to sing verses from the Srimad Bhagavatam, describing the glories of devotional service:
Alas, how shall I take shelter of one more merciful than He who granted the position of a mother to the she-demon Putana, although she was unfaithful and she prepared deadly poison to be sucked from her breast?
[Srimad Bhagavatam 3:2:23]
Putana was always hankering for the blood of human children, and with that desire she came to kill Krishna, but because she offered her breast to the Lord, she attained the greatest achievement.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 10:6:35]
As soon as these words concerning devotional service entered his ears, Pundarika Vidyanidhi began to weep and tears of ecstatic love welled up in his eyes, rolling down his face profusely like streams of the Ganges. Simultaneously, all the symptoms of ecstasy manifested on his person. He wept, trembled, rolled, horripilated, roared, and finally fell into an unconscious state of ecstasy. Then suddenly regaining consciousness he said in a loud voice, “speak, speak,” and again fell down to the ground.
Agitated with spiritual emotions he kicked everything that was near him and all the luxurious paraphernalia went crashing to the ground. The shining brass pots of water, the container of betel pan, pillows, bed sheets, everything became a confused mess. He began tearing his fine clothes, and his well groomed hair went haywire as he wept and rolled in the dust. He cried out, “O Krishna, my Lord, my soul, my very life. You have made me hard hearted like a stone.” He lamented loudly, piteously crying out, “I have been deprived of the Lord’s association in His most merciful incarnation.”
He rolled around and crashed down to the ground. Everyone was afraid he might break his bones. He trembled so violently that three persons could not hold him down. He kicked everything that was in his way, as his disciples stood by helplessly, unable to control him. In this way the storm of ecstatic love continued until it finally abated and he fell into an unconscious state of bliss. He lay down without breathing, totally submerged in an ocean of spiritual ecstasy.
Deity of Sri Gadadhara Pandit
Amazed at what he witnessed, Gadadhara Pandita began to worry thinking, “What inauspiciousness has overcome me to make me think in such an offensive manner about this great personality.” He embraced Mukunda, being extremely pleased with him. Drenching him with tears of love he said, “Mukunda you have acted like a true friend, you have shown me a pure and unalloyed devotee of the Lord. It would be difficult to find another pure Vaisnava like him anywhere in this entire creation. One can become totally purified simply by observing his devotional attitude.
“Today, because you are right next to me I have been able to avoid a great catastrophe. When I saw all the luxurious paraphernalia surrounding Pundarika Vidyanidhi, I was convinced that he was a materialistic Vaisnava given to the pleasures of life. You could read my mind, and being a great magnanimous soul you revealed to me the unlimited extent of Pundarika Vidyanidhi’s love for God, yet today I have been offensive and the extent of my offense can only be mitigated by your mercy. You must be merciful to me and purify my heart.
“All these devotees who have taken to the process of surrender through devotional service to the Lord have all accepted the shelter of a guide under whose instructions they act. Yet I do not have such an instructor, so I have decided to take shelter of Pundarika Vidyanidhi and follow devotional service under his guidance. I know that I can counteract all my offenses to him by becoming his disciple.” Thus Gadadhara Pandita revealed to Mukunda his desire to become a disciple of Pundarika Vidyanidhi. Mukunda was extremely pleased with the decision and patted him on the back saying, “Very good, very good.”
Sri Pundarika Vidyanidhi was in a state of ecstatic coma for six hours. Gradually he returned to his normal state and sat down quietly. It was impossible for Gadadhara Pandita to control the tears of joy which rolled profusely down his face, wetting his entire body. When Sri Vidyanidhi saw this he embraced Gadadhara Pandita, holding him to his heart. Overwhelmed by Pundarika Vidyanidhi’s ecstatic devotion, Gadadhara was unable to sleep.
Mukunda spoke up, revealing Gadadhara Pandita’s mind, “Doubt arose in Gadadhara’s mind when he first saw your extravagant appearance and surroundings, but now he is repentant and wants to accept initiation from you. He is a renounced devotee of the Lord. Although he is young, he is mature in spiritual realization, and comes from the very good family of Madhva Misra. From early childhood he has always been very attached to the Supreme Lord. I think it is a very good match – a very elevated spiritual master like Pundarika Vidyanidhi having an equally able disciple like Gadadhara Pandita. Please consider these points and choose an auspicious day to initiate him with your diksa-mantra.”
Pundarika Vidyanidhi smiled and said, “Be assured that I will do as you say, for by the Lord’s mercy I have had the great fortune to meet a person who is like a precious gem. The result of many lifetimes of pious activities is that one may find a disciple such as him. The forthcoming twelfth day of the waxing moon is very auspicious, come here to meet me and your plan will become successful.” Overjoyed, Gadadhara Pandita offered his obeisances and took leave of Pundarika Vidyanidhi. Mukunda and Gadädhara went straight to meet Lord Gauracandra, who happily received the news of Pundarika Vidyanidhi’s arrival.
During the night, without being seen by anyone, Pundarika left all his associates behind and came to the place of Lord Gauracandra. As soon as he saw the Lord he fell down like a rod, offering his obeisances to the Lord. Overwhelmed with ecstatic trance he lay on the ground experiencing waves of joy. Shortly afterwards he regained external consciousness and roared loudly. Then, despising himself he began to weep saying, “O my dear Krishna, You are my Lord and father. I am a great offender, please punish this wretch. O Lord You have liberated everyone in the world, only I have been deprived of such good fortune.”
Hearing his lamentation, all the assembled Vaisnavas, who knew Pundarika Vidyanidhi to be a great and elevated Vaisnava, felt pained and began to cry. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Chaitanya, is especially inclined to His pure devotees. Therefore, upon seeing His beloved devotee, He got up and embraced him. Crying, the Lord said, “O My father Pundarika, finally I am able to see you today.”
The Vaisnavas were overjoyed to have the association of such an elevated devotee as Pundarika Vidyanidhi and their eyes filled with tears. So wonderful was this scene that no pen could possibly describe it. Lord Gaurasundara held Pundarika Vidyanidhi in a loving embrace, wetting him with His tears. Understanding how dear Pundarika was to the Lord, the devotees immediately felt affection, respect and a sense of closeness with him. The Lord continued to hold Pundarika Vidyanidhi closely, as if He wanted to merge His body into his. For sometime the Lord was unable to move. Remaining like a statue He held Vidyanidhi in His close embrace. When the Lord came out of trance He began to chant the name of Hari, and said, “Today Lord Krishna has been very merciful to me, He has fulfilled all My desires. I have met a person of My heart’s desire.”
[Story from “Chaitanya Bhagavat” Madya-lila ch.7]
Sri Pundarika Vidyanidhi was a disciple of Madhavendra Puri and god-brother of Isvara Puri, Lord Chaitanya’s spiritual master. He was the guru of Sri Gadadhara Pandita and an intimate friend of Svarupa Damodara’s. In Krishna’s pastimes he was Maharaja Vrsabhanu, the father of Srimati Radharani. (See Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila 10:14 and Madhya-lila 16:76-81).
Maharaja Vrsabhanu and Radharani
Gadadhara Pandit was an incarnation of Radharani. Lord Chaitanya had so much of affection for Gadadhara Pandit that He couldn’t be without him for a moment, and they were inseparable as childhood playmates. Gadadhara Pandit took the renounced order of life and went to Jagannatha Puri to be with Lord Chaitanya. Regularly, Lord Chaitanya relished Sri Gadadhara’s reading of Srimad Bhagavatam.
Gadahara Pandit Reading for Lord Chaitanya
In the Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika (140) it is said:
In Vraja there were two very nice singers named Madhukantha and Madhuvrata. They appeared in Chaitanya-lila as Mukunda and Vasudeva Datta, who were singers in the society of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
When Lord Chaitanya was a student, Mukunda Datta was His class friend, and they frequently engaged in logical arguments. Sometimes Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu would fight with Mukunda Datta, using tricks of logic. [This is described in the Caitanya-bhagavata, Adi-lila, Chapters 11 and 12.] When Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu returned from Gaya, Mukunda Datta gave Him pleasure by reciting verses from Srimad-Bhagavatam about Krishna-lila. When Mukunda Datta sang in the courtyard of Srivasa Prabhu, Lord Chaitanya danced with His singing, and when Lord Chaitanya exhibited an ecstatic manifestation for twenty-one hours, it was the singing of Mukunda Datta which induced Lord Chaitanya’s extreme ecstasy. Mukunda Datta went every year from Bengal to see Lord Chaitanya at Jagannatha Puri.
Vasudeva Datta, the brother of Mukunda Datta, was also a resident of Cattagrama. In the Chaitanya-bhagavata it is said, that Vasudeva Datta was such a powerful devotee that Krishna was purchased by him. Vasudeva Datta stayed at Srivasa Pandita’s house, and in the Chaitanya-bhagavata it is described that Lord Chaitanya was so pleased with Vasudeva Datta, and so affectionate toward him, that He used to say:
I am only Vasudeva Datta’s man. My body is only meant to please Vasudeva Datta, and he can sell Me anywhere.
Vasudeva Datta was so kind to the living entities that he wanted to take all their sinful reactions so that they might be delivered by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
[A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami: Caitanya-caritamrta Adi 10:41-42 purports. This is described in Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 15:159-180]