Sri Chaitanya faith in Odisha

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The coming of Sri Chaitanya to Odisha opened a new chapter in the religious history of Odisha. The Vaishanavite religion which was already in existence had a deep impact in the mind of the people of Odisha. The spell of his teaching and Sankirtan influenced so much that the people of Odisha lost their military skill. His Sankirtan had spread to every nook and corner of Odisha. Sri Chaitanya faith in Odisha has a deep impact on the life and culture of the people of this land which can be discussed bellow.

Early life of Sri Chaitanya

Sri Chaitanya (1486-1533 A.D.), who was known as Visvambhara before renouncing family life hailed from Navadvipa of Bengal He was born in a Brahmin family in 1486 A.D. which had migrated from Jaipur to Navadvipa. As a boy, Visvambhara was handsome, prodigious and naughty. He was also known as Gouranga for his fair complexion. Early in the life he became a great Sanskrit scholar and established a tol for imparting education. He lost his father at the age of eighteen. Soon after his father’s death, he married a girl, named Lakshmidevi. Lakshmidevi died of snake bite within a short time after the marriage. Thereafter Visvambhara took a second wife, named Vishnupriya. After the second marriage, he went to Gaya to offer pinda to his ancestors. His Sanyasa and involvement in Bhakti cult At this stage he was initiated into the cult of Bhakti by a Vaishnava saint, named Isvara Purl. The religious atmosphere of the Vishnu temple of Gaya, where Viswambhara offered pinda threw him into trance. He turned a great devotee of Vishnu or Lord Krishna. On his return from Gaya, he gave up his scholastic profession, and started living the life of religious devotion and service. He organized Sankirtans and attracted large number of people. In 1509 A.D., at the age of twenty four, he left home, and taking the vow of Sanyasa from Keshav Bharati and the name, Sri Krishna Chaitanya, he proceeded to Puri with some of his associates.

Impact of Sri Chaitany faith in Odisha

In Odisha Sri Chaitanya roused a great deal of religious devotion and enthusiasm. His Sankirtan parties attracted a large number of people at Puri. On his arrival at Purl, he had a religious discussion with the great Vedantic scholar, Vasudeva Sarbabhauma, who enjoyed the patronage of the Gajapati Prataparudra. Defeated in the discussion and impressed by the religious personality of Sri Chaitanya Sarbabhauma embraced Vaishnavism. From Puri, Sri Chaitanya proceeded to south, and in June 1509 A.D., met Roy Ramananda, the governor of Rajamahendri. They had an interesting religious dialogue which is narrated in the Chaitanya Charitamrita of Kaviraj Krishna Das. Both appreciated each other’s religious inclination. After the interview with Sri Chaitanya, Ramananda who was already an old man resigned from the royal duty with a view to spending his time with the former at Puri. The Chaitanya Charitamrita tells us that Sri Chaitanya refused to grant interview to Prataparudra, the Gajapati of Odisha on the ground that he wanted to keep aloof from the worldly power and wealth. But at the instruction of Sarbabhaurna, one day the Gajapati stole into the assembly of devotees in Kasi Mishra’s house where Sri Chaitanya was staying. As Sri Chaitanya fell into trance on hearing Sankirtana. Prataparudra touched his feet. On coming to senses, Sri Chaitanya remarked, “Woe to me, I have touched one, given to worldly power and wealth”. This remarked moved the Gajapati,to tears. Impressed by the true devotion of the Gajapati, Sri Chaitanya embraced him with love.

Jagannatha as identical with Krishna

Sri Chaitanya considered Jagannath as identical with Krishna of Kurukshetra. He also popularised Krishna whom he regarded as “the complete manifestation of personal godhead in his perfect form”. The Chaitanya faith heightened the importance of Radha, the consort of Krishna. For many devotees Sri Chaitanya was considered as the living embodiment of Jagannath. He was also regarded as the dual incarnation of Radha and Krishna. By personal demonstration, Sri Chaitanya emphasised the importance of devotion. His faith roused religious devotion among all sections of society, undermined the rigours of caste distinctions and reinforced the Vaishnavism of Odisha. Sri Chaitanya died at Puri before the image of Jagannath on 29th June 1533 A,D. He spent six years of his Sanyasa in pilgrimage, and the remaining eighteen years of Sanyasa at Puri in the company of his devout followers. Here it is necessary to mention the relation of the Panchasakha and Odishan Vaishnavas with Sri Chaitanya. Vaishnavism was already popular in Odisha before the coming of Sri Chaitanya to Puri. Sri Chaitanya had high regards for the Odishan Vaishnava saints like Raya Ramananda with whom he had a dialogue on Radha-Krishna cult, and Jagannath Das and Balaram Das of Panchasakha group.

Panchasakha and Sri Chaitanya

All the Panchasakha poets were the contemporaries of Sri Chaitanya and were initiated by him. Nevertheless the Panchasakha, instead of blindly following Chaitanya faith maintained their distinctiveness by sticking to the concept of void and identifying the same with Lord Krishna. Some scholars are of opinion that the Panchasakha outwardly professed the Chaitanya cult yet in their heart of hearts they were but sincere religion of the Mahayana school.” According to Chittaranjan Das the Panchasakha were at once Buddhists, Vaishnavas and Tantriks. As a religious movement the Panchasakha emphasised the concept of void inner purity, mantra, tantra and yoga, instead of being guided by formalities. As social reformers, the Panchasakha sought to pull down “the hegemony of the social bigots” and raise up “the lower strata of society with the means of cultural innovations”, they took disciples from all the castes and associated themselves with several lower castes of society and tried for their uplift.

Last Line to Say

Sri Chaitanya and Vaishnvaism had a long march in the religious and cultural history of Odisha. During the Ganga period, it flourished receiving royal patronage. During the Gajapati period, it reached the pinnacle of glory. The coming of Sri Chaitanya and his Sankirtan made Vaishanavaism more popular in all over Odisha. Sri Chaitanya popularized Radha-Krishna cult through Kirtan in the nook and corner of Odisha.

Credit: Inputs from History of Odisha From 1435 to 1803 by Dr Manas Kumar Das