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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Nityānanda Vaṁśa Vistāra


This is a brief review of Śrī Nityānanda Vaṁśa Vistāra, said to be by Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura.

I found this booklet in one of the many makeshift book-stands at Rādhākuṇḍa last Kārtik. This book is sometimes used to establish the legitimacy of the Nityānanda Vaṁśa (family lineage), but actually it only describes the pastimes of the first generation after Lord Nityānanda, particularly His son Vīracandra. I am not sure if this booklet is actually written by Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura because -

1] A later Gaura-theology like rādhā-bhāva dyuti is there (Mahāprabhu being Kṛṣṇa accepting the feelings and glow of Rādhā), something Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura never said in Caitanya Bhāgavat.
2] Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura is an aiśvarya bhakta who always compared Caitanya Mahāprabhu with Lord Nārāyan. Such attitude is not there at all in Nityānanda Vaṁśa Vistāra, it is all much more rasik and madhura.
3] One also wonders if Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura,  who is the earliest biographer of Mahāprabhu with his Caitanya Bhāgavat, was still around when Nityānanda's grandsons were born. It is estimated that Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura passed away in 1589.
4] In his Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Abhidhāna Haridās Dās cautiously calls it vṛndāvan dās ṭhākura āropita - 'ascribed to Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura'.

The booklet itself is quite charming, being largely filled with elaborate and ecstatic accounts of festivals Vīracandra Prabhu held. Vīracandra Prabhu is considered by the author to be a reincarnation of Mahāprabhu and his pastimes, like travelling to Vṛndāvan via Jharikanda, are also similar. Sādhu Bābā would typically say of such reincarnations 'What is the use of the copy when one already has the original?'

The books contains some verses ascribed to the Purāṇas or Upapurāṇas which establish Nityānanda Prabhu as a joint incarnation of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and this obviously contradicts standard Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology, which says He is Balarāma. Even if this is explained away as Nityānanda Prabhu being non-different from Mahāprabhu its very unlikely that such things are described in the Purāṇas, and it is anyway a wrong Gaura-tattva because Gaur is Kṛṣṇa, not Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa.

One should surely not throw away the baby with the bathing water though - the book contains very tasty and ecstatic devotional narrations for sure. The book has 3 parts, Ādi-, Madhya-, and Antya-līlā, and 10 chapters, which contains the following:

Chapter 1 describes how Mahāprabhu ordered Nityānanda to marry, how Nityānanda went to Bengal to do saṅkīrtan, and how He came to Ambikā to meet Sūryadās Paṇḍit and marry his daughters Vasudhā and Jāhnavā. Chapter two describes how Vīracandra appeared in the womb of Vasudhā, how Abhirāma Ṭhākur came and tested Vīracandra [by offering obeisances he had killed Nityānanda's preceding offspring], and how Adwaita Ācārya came from Śāntipura to respect the child. Chapter three describes how Maheśa nivāsī Sudhāmoy went to do tapasyā in Purī with his wife and received a daughter, Nārāyaṇī, from the ocean, how Nityānanda merged into the deity of Śyāmasundara in Khardah and then re-emerged, how He finally merged within the deity of Bankim Deva in Ekacakra, how a festival was held in His memory, how Advaita Ācārya held an abhiṣekh for Vīracandra, how Jāhnavā-devī showed a 6-armed form and gave dīkṣā to Vīracandra, how Vīracandra went to Purī and met Sārvabhauma and others there, how he married Nārāyaṇī devī there, how he returned to Khardah and curbed the power of the Nāḍās by creating Nārīs, and how his dynasty emerged. (I could not find out what or who are the Nāḍās, I presume they are shaven-headed ascetics.)

The Madhya līlā starts with chapter four, in which Vīracandra's second marriage took place, Jāhnavā Devī went to Vṛndāvan and Gopījana Ballabh Prabhu showed his prowess on a chariot and created an abode of vines. Chapter Five describes how Jāhnavā Devī went to Ekacakra and stayed at Kuṇḍalī Talā, had darśana of Bankim Deva and gave dīkṣā to Viracandra's eldest son Gopījanaballabh. It also describes her journey to Vṛndāvan via Gayā, Kāśī and Prayāga, and how she merged with the Gopīnāth deity. Chapter six explains the tattva of Nityānanda and Caitanya Mahāprabhu, chapter seven describes how Vīracandra travelled to East Bengal and gave Harinām to the Muslims with the aid of the Nāḍās and how he showed an 8-armed form to the local Nawab, thus bestowing his mercy on him. Chapter eight describes how Vīracandra wandered up north, how he went to Maldah, and how he established a Śrīpāṭa there on the pretext of bestowing mercy on Durllabh Chatri.

The Antya Lila starts with chapter nine, where Vīracandra wandered through the Rāḍha-deśa and had darśana of Kuṇḍalī-talā and Bankim Deva, how he instructed Gati Govinda on Kṛṣṇa, met Śrīnivāsācārya and bestowed his mercy on King Bīrhambīr. Finally chapter ten describes how Vīracandra went to Kāśī via Jhārikanda and then went to Vṛndāvana via Prayāga, instructing Jīva Goswāmī there on bhakti-tattva. At the end there are very rasik descriptions of Śrī Rādhākuṇḍa and pastimes that Kṛṣṇa performed there with Anaṅga Mañjarī, which is really light-years away from the formal Nārāyan-Mahāprabhu Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura eulogized in his Caitanya Bhāgavat.

This booklet is, to my knowledge, not yet translated into English.

Blog originally drafted in December 2010.

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