Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī, and their brother Anupama were born in Bāklācandradvīpa, near Rāma-keli, in a family of Mahārāṣṭriya-brāhmaṇas in the dynasty of Bharadrāja. Their forefathers had been ministers to the Hindu king before the Muslim rule. Previous kings had brought qualified brāhmaṇas from Maharastra and gave them a place in this area. Sva-deśe pūjyate rājā, vidvān sarvatra pūjyate—a king is respected in his own kingdom, but a learned person is respected everywhere.
A king may lose his kingdom if he has no learned men to offer him counsel. Learned men must advise the king and help maintain the kingdom with their intelligence, otherwise a king risks destruction. Therefore, the kings of yore would surround themselves with honest and wise advisors. Those who know the highest truth and perform worship of the Lord can bestow supreme welfare to those who take shelter of them; they give others pure intelligence.
Rūpa Gosvāmī and Sanātana Gosvāmī’s childhood names were Amara and Santośa. They were very intelligent, learned, and qualified. When people met with them, these brothers would bring them closer to God, by instructing them and inspiring them to make relation with Him. From childhood, everyone would follow the advice of Amara and Santośa. The young, old, children, ladies, and gentlemen—everyone was attracted to Amara and Santośa and would listen to them intently. When Amara and Santośa grew to sixteen, they opened a school where they taught how to serve God, and how to be liberated from this world and make a permanent relation with God. Ordinary schools only teach economics, business, and how to enjoy in this world. Mahāprabhu also opened a transcendental school. But these schools were different. Mahāprabhu opened a grammar school, and would forcibly teach and defeat others in logical arguments. But there was no need for Amara and Santośa to call anyone to their school or debate with them, naturally everyone was eager to be with them and hear them.
At that time, most of India was under Muslim rule. Nawab Hussain Shah ruled Bengal and Bangladesh. The Muslims rulers mostly had strong desires for two things—kanaka and kāmiṇī—gold and attractive women. They would forcibly take away beautiful women from families, even if they were already married. And if you tried to resist, they would kill you. Everyone was fearful of the Muslim rulers. Once, Nawab Hussain Shah decided that he wanted a minār so tall that he would be able to see all of India and even the ocean from the top of it. So he called his architects and they began to build a huge tower. When the work was almost complete, the king went to the top of the tower and was very pleased. He praised the chief architect, who then foolishly boasted, “Yes, this is a very good tower, but I could build one even better and taller than this.” The architect did not stop to think of the repercussions before he spoke. Enraged, the king roared, “Then why didn’t you!” and he summarily pushed the architect off the tower. The architect’s terrified yells were silenced by the crunch of his body meeting stone 1,000 feet below. Turning to his general, Emperor Hussain Shah snapped, “Go! Bāklācandradvīpa! Quickly!” Afraid of being similarly dispatched, the general descended the tower posthaste. Below, he immediately summoned a retinue of cavalry, and they trotted in column from the capital.
But now the general had a problem: what did the king want? What was he to bring? The king had not said, and the general dared not question him, for he knew the rash Muslim ruler spoke most naturally with the edge of his sword. So the general marched with his troops from village to village. The villagers were filled with dread, for the Muslim armies were known to go from village to village plundering and setting fire to houses. They considered all wealth and women as their rightful property. If there were any strong men then they would make them slaves, killing the rest, and taking the women as concubines.
When the general and his troops came to the village of Bāklācandradvīpa, the villagers pleaded to Amara and Santośa for help. The two young men went and stood in the street. The soldiers were galloping on their horses, but Amara and Santośa fearlessly stood in their path. The Muslims halted in amazement. Amara and Santośa boldly but politely addressed the general and his men, “Friends, please come. You look exhausted, come and take some refreshments at our home.”
The Muslims were happy and said to each other, “Hindus are always afraid of us and neglect or ignore us, but these boys are very cordial. Let us go and get some refreshment.” Although this was a dangerous group of men, Amara and Santośa were not afraid at all. They arranged a sitting place for the soldiers and brought them refreshments. There is a famous saying in Hindi: dayā dharma kā mūla pāpa mūla abhimāna—mercy is the root of dharma; arrogance is the root of sin. One should give up arrogance and show compassion to all entities. Thus, Amara and Santośa gave water and food to the general and his soldiers, and when the men were quite comfortable they asked, “Please explain why you are so agitated.”
After hesitating for a few moments, the general explained his predicament. “The king has been making the tallest minār in Bengal. He went on top to oversee the construction when it was almost complete and said to the architect, ‘This is very good. You have made it very nicely.’ But the foolish architect said, ‘I could make one much better.’ So the king then pushed him from the tower to his death and then turned to me and said, ‘Go! Bāklācandradvīpa! Quickly!’ If I had asked the king exactly what to do, he would have killed me, and if we go back empty-handed he will surely kill us. Therefore, we are moving around considering what to do.”
“Just rest here a while,” Amara and Santośa said, “we will arrange everything.” Then they called several very qualified architects along with laborers and, after reassuring them that all would be well if they worked with care and precision, they told them to go with the general to the capital and complete the work on the tower. To the general they said, “Bring these architects to your king. They will finish the construction work and everything will be alright.”
When the king saw the general return with qualified architects and laborers, he was pleasantly surprised. Arrangements were made for the construction to continue and afterwards the king asked the general, “How did you know what I wanted? In my anger I did not tell you where to go or what to bring.”
“I thought that today would be my last day,” the general replied, “but I met two brāhmaṇa youths who were so intelligent. They served us respectfully without enmity or fear. Then they gave me such helpful advice. I have never seen such intelligent and good-natured people.”
Enchanted by the general’s description, the king ordered that the two brāhmaṇa youths be summoned and the general sent his soldiers to bring them. When the Muslims returned to the village and ordered that Amara and Santośa come along to the capital in the name of the king, the villagers began to shake with fear. “Please do not go,” the villagers said, “only because of you have we been safe for so long. If you leave now, we will have no protection from the Muslims.” “Don’t worry,” Amara and Santośa assured them, “we are not going to become the king’s servants. We are going in order to purify the king and make him a servant of the Supreme Lord.”
When they arrived at the capital, the king was captivated by their beautiful natures and embraced them warmly. He said, “I accept you as my brothers,” and he gave them the names Sākara Mallika and Dabira Khāsa. The king spoke sweetly when welcoming them, but you should know that the nature of wicked people is fickle—kṣaṇe ruṣṭe kṣaṇe tuṣṭe ruṣṭe tuṣṭe kṣaṇe kṣaṇe—at any moment, they may change their mood from being pleased with you to being ready to kill you. Many people have very sweet tongues, but are their hearts sweet or not? And some people are straightforward and even harsh, but have no bitterness inside. Most politicians speak sweetly and show respect outwardly, but have many hidden motives. They know that without sweet speech they cannot control you and make you their follower.
After interviewing the brothers and being impressed by their intelligence, the king employed them as his ministers and bade them to adopt the dress of Muslims. In time, he made Sākara Mallika (Sanātana Gosvāmī) his prime minister, and Dabira Khāsa (Rūpa Gosvāmī) his personal secretary. Rūpa and Sanātana requested the king for permission to open a temple and center of the Hindu-dharma and for a monthly stipend from the treasury for brāhmaṇas to come and do Veda-stuti and practice the limbs of bhakti. Happy with the brothers and seeing them as a great help to the successful management of his state, the king agreed. With them in his kingdom to look after everything he was free to focus on conquering neighboring states. So he told the brothers, “You have my permission to do as you wish here; if you desire to make a temple here in the capital and invite brāhmaṇas to do japa and tapa then you may. But you must protect my post as king and satisfactorily administer the kingdom.”
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī and Sanātana Gosvāmī manifested temples of Govinda, Gopinātha, and Madana-mohan in Rāma-keli, and also Rādhā-kuṇḍa, Śyāma-kuṇḍa, and Rūpa-Sāgara. Every day in the capital kīrtana, hari–kathā, and the limbs of bhakti were going on. Simultaneously Rūpa and Sanātana carried out the management of the state with great expertise. They thus greatly improved the area by their influence over the king, and the king became happy because the people respected him, duly gave taxes, and obeyed the laws of his country. In this way, Rūpa and Sanātana worked for Nawab Hussain Shah for close to twenty years.
Mahāprabhu, however, could not tolerate this situation any longer. After He took sannyāsa, He thought, “I am alone. Where is Rūpa, where is Lavaṅga?” After going to Jagannatha-purī, Mahāprabhu walked towards Rāma-keli with what appeared to be an army of followers to meet Rūpa and Sanātana. Without Rūpa and Sanātana, Mahāprabhu knew that bhakti–pracāra would not be possible. He had tried before with Nityānanda Prabhu and Haridāsa Ṭhākura, but people were abusing them, and ready to beat even Mahāprabhu. Mahāprabhu came to help everyone and He chanted “Gopī gopī” and the people said, “Oh! You want to enjoy with young girls!” And Jagāi and Mādhāi attacked and beat Nityānanda Prabhu. Haridāsa Ṭhākura began chanting harināma and was beaten in 22 marketplaces in Ambika-kalna until he was only skin and bone. How is the nature of Kali-yuga! They did no wrong, but still, see the nature of Kali Mahārāja! If you do wrong, you will be rewarded by Kali, and if you do good, you will be punished. So Mahāprabhu thought, “What can I do to help the jīvas? Without Rūpa and Sanātana, bhakti–pracāra will not be successful.”
Thus, instead of going to Vṛndāvana, Mahāprabhu went to Rāma-keli. Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura says—tīrtha-yātrā pariśrama kevala-manera-bhrama. There is no utility in going to the holy places if one does not meet with the sādhus there. In the fourth song of Kalyāṇa-kalpataru, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura sings:
jathā sādhu tathā tīrtha, sthira kori’ nija citta
sādhu-saṅga koro nirantara
yathāya vaiṣṇava-gaṇa, sei sthāna vṛndāvana
sei sthāne ānanda aśeṣa
Wherever the devotees reside is a holy place. Therefore, pacify your mind and associate constantly with the devotees. Where the Vaiṣṇavas reside, that very place is Vṛndāvana. One experiences unlimited happiness at that place.
In Jagannatha-purī, Mahāprabhu said, “I wish to go to Vṛndāvana. But where is the real Vṛndāvana? Wherever the Vrajavāsīs are present, that is the real Vṛndāvana. If there is no association of Vrajavāsīs then what will one do in Vṛndāvana? One will receive no benefit.”
A huge crowd accompanied Mahāprabhu. Had Mahāprabhu cheated them, telling them that they were going to Vṛndāvana? Mahāprabhu did not come to this world to cheat anyone; if one wants to have darśana of Vṛndāvana, then he must come under the guidance of Rūpa Mañjarī, Rūpa Gosvāmī. Without the mercy of the Vaiṣṇavas, one cannot have darśana of Bhagavān or the dhāma. Who can understand the extent of the glories of Rūpa and Sanātana? Mahāprabhu went with a big missile—what looked like a huge army, tens of thousands of followers—and instead of going towards Vṛndāvana, he went towards Bangladesh, to the capital of the Muslim king.
When, from his tower, Nawab Hussain Shah saw the huge group approaching, chanting and dancing in ecstasy, he became afraid. He called for his ministers and told them, “Go quickly. I have many soldiers, but certainly not enough to match this group. I cannot accumulate so many soldiers even by paying! Go find out who the leader of this group is, and what his intentions are.”
Thus, the king’s messengers went to investigate, yet when they came back to make their report their eyes were filled with tears; they had lost their hearts. And when the king asked them what they had discovered, they could only cry out, “Haribol! Hare Kṛṣṇa!”
“What happened?” the king asked.
“Haribol! Hare Kṛṣṇa! Nothing else is important,” came their reply. The king tried to get an answer so many times, but they gave no answer other than this.
“What kind of magic spell has been cast on them?” the king thought.
Nawab Hussain Shah then called for Dabira Khāsa (Rūpa Gosvāmī) and asked him in private. “Is this prophet coming to besiege my kingdom?”
“He is not coming to attack you,” Rūpa Gosvāmi said. “He is your Lord, the same as Allah.”
“Well, go and meet with this prophet and then report back to me.”
Rūpa and Sanātana came to Mahāprabhu that night wearing simple white dress. They thought, “When we first meet with Mahāprabhu, we should take a gift.”
Mahāprabhu does not need chapatti, rice, water, or anything else. So what to bring? The two brothers brought the newborn son of their brother Anupama. Although they had not married, Anupama had already entered household life had become the father of Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī.
When Rūpa and Sanātana came to see the Lord, they first met with Nityānanda Prabhu and Haridāsa Ṭhākura, who informed the Lord of their arrival, and led the brothers into His presence. Rūpa and Sanātana prostrated before Mahāprabhu with straw held in their teeth and cloth around their necks as a symbol of humility, and offered the infant to Mahāprabhu’s feet. Rūpa and Sanātana became overwhelmed with bliss and began weeping. Lifting them up into an embrace, Mahāprabhu said, “I came here only to meet with you.”
With folded hands, Rūpa and Sanātana prayed to Mahāprabhu, “We are the lowest of men and are engaged in the lowest employment. We are very ashamed to stand before You. You are the savior of the sinners Jagāi and Mādhāi, but we are much more degraded. No one is more sinful than us, nor is there any greater offender. You appeared to deliver the fallen souls, so You should know that there is no one so fallen as us, thus by granting us Your grace, Your mercy is most successful.”
Hearing the prayer of His dear devotees, Mahāprabhu said, “You are My eternal associates; it breaks My heart to witness the depth of your humility—I beg you to abandon it. From today your names will be changed to Rūpa and Sanātana. You wrote several letters, and by those I could understand your heart. I then sent you one verse:
para-vyasaninī nārī vyagrāpi gṛha-karmasu
tad evāsvādayaty antar nava-saṅga-rasāyanam
A wife attached to a paramour will carefully perform her household duties while internally relishing feelings of association with her beloved. Mahāprabhu then said, “What did you bring Me?”
“We brought You a small jīva.”
“Oh!” Mahāprabhu said, lifting the swaddled newborn into His arms, “I am very happy with this gift. I accept this Jīva as My own.”
“And what of us?”
“You are also Mine. You should no longer work for this king. I need your help for My preaching to be successful. I cannot change the jīvas without your help. Come quickly. You have helped the people enough by working for the king, now leave everything and come to Vṛndāvana.”
The Lord then blessed Rūpa and Sanātana with His two hands on their heads, and they prostrated on the ground and placed the Lord’s lotus feet on their heads. Mahāprabhu lifted them up and again embraced them; He then requested His associates present to bless the brothers that they may be freed of their present entanglements in the service of the Muslim ruler.
Rūpa and Sanātana went to all the Vaiṣṇavas and touched their feet. The devotees joyfully praised the brothers’ good fortune at having received the Lord’s mercy.
Before leaving, the brothers submitted a request to the Lord. “Although the King respects You, he is still a yāvana and may change his attitude at any moment. So please do not tarry here.”
“Oh Prabhu,” Sanātana Gosvāmī further said, “You are going to Vṛndāvana followed by tens of thousands of people, this could cause You disturbance on Your pilgrimage; it is not fitting.”
Mahāprabhu smiled. “I have already come to Vṛndāvana and met with the Vrajavāsīs. What is left for Me to do?” The Lord then repeated His instruction. “Do not remain here any longer, go to Vṛndāvana. I will come once you are there. Without you I will not go. I came here to take you out of these government posts.”
The Lord gave the infant Jīva back to Rūpa and Sanātana and told them to make sure everything was arranged for his childhood and education before leaving and said that in the future, the boy would also come to be with them in Vraja.
When Rūpa and Sanātana returned to the king, they reassured him, “There is nothing to fear. The Lord has mercifully appeared in your state. You should go and take shelter of Him.” But the king feared losing his own faith and position. Thus, he would not go meet with Mahāprabhu. He nevertheless allowed Mahāprabhu and His party to pass through his kingdom without obstruction.
Some time later, the king informed Rūpa and Sanātana that they were to look after the kingdom while he personally set up an aggressive military assault on the state of Odisha. He boasted, “I will conquer the Jagannātha temple and bring the entire state under my rule.”
When Sanātana Gosvāmī heard this he said, “I cannot work for you any longer. You can give my post to anyone you please.” But the king would not accept Sanātana Gosvāmī’s resignation. Consequently, Sanātana Gosvāmī simply stayed in his own residence practicing bhajana, sending news to the king that he was ill. After sending his chief physician and hearing him report that Sākāra Mallika was in fine health, the king went himself and interviewed Sanātana Gosvāmī. Seeing his firm intention to become a fakir, the king imprisoned Sanātana, hoping his attitude would change in time. After engaging other ministers to administer the state in his absence, Nawab Hussain Shah departed with his army to attack Odisha.
In the meantime, Rūpa Gosvāmī managed to depart in secret for Vṛndāvana, after giving some of his wealth to brāhmaṇas and reserving a large amount of gold coins with a trusted merchant, intended for Sanātana Gosvāmī’s escape from captivity.
On his way to Vṛndāvana, Rūpa Gosvāmī met with Mahāprabhu for ten days at Prayāga-rāja, at the confluence of the holy rivers Gaṅgā and Yamunā. There he received instructions from Mahāprabhu. Mahāprabhu desired to manifest the pastimes of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa in Vraja; He thus empowered Rūpa Gosvāmī to fulfill His heart’s desire.
kālena luptāṁ nija-śaktim utkaḥ
sañcārya rūpe vyatanot punaḥ sa
prabhur vidhau prāg iva loka-sṛṣṭim
Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 19.1
Before material creation, Bhagavān enlightened the heart of Brahmā with the knowledge to create and also manifested the Vedic wisdom. Likewise, anxious to re-manifest Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in Vṛndāvana, Mahāprabhu infused the heart of Rūpa Gosvāmī with spiritual power. By this potency, Rūpa Gosvāmī revived the vraja-līlā that had practically been lost to memory and thus he spread kṛṣṇa-bhakti throughout the world.
saba śikhāila prabhu bhāgavata-siddhānta
Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 19.116
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu taught Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī the ultimate limit of the truth about Lord Kṛṣṇa, the truth about devotional service and the truth about transcendental mellows, culminating in conjugal love between Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Finally He told Rūpa Gosvāmī about the ultimate conclusions of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
Śrīman Mahāprabhu taught Rūpa Gosvāmī: “There are 8,400,000 species of life. Within these life forms, countless jīvas are wandering within this universe. The jīva is an extremely subtle particle of spirit. It cannot be measured by material calculation; but still, to help people understand something about the nature of the soul, scripture describes the size of the soul to be like the divided part of one ten-thousandth of a tip of hair. The species of life are divided into moving and non-moving life forms. Among human beings, most do not follow dharma, and of those who do, most only give lip-service to dharma while committing all sorts of sinful activities. Out of the followers of dharma most follow karma, jñāna, or yoga, and only out of millions of such persons, can one find a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa. Amongst the countless living beings wandering in material existence, an extremely fortunate soul comes in touch with a pure devotee spiritual master, sent by Kṛṣṇa’s grace from His spiritual kingdom. Then by the mercy of guru and Kṛṣṇa, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotion.
“As one waters the creeper of devotion by hearing and chanting, the seed sprouts, and it gradually grows to penetrate the universal shell, rises beyond the Virāja River separating the spiritual and material world, passes even the Brahman effulgence, and enters eternal Vraja, where, by the continued watering of practicing devotional service, the fruit of pure love for Kṛṣṇa ripens.”
“However,” Mahāprabhu cautioned, “if the sādhaka offends a Vaiṣṇava while developing his bhakti in this world, that offense is compared to a mad elephant that destroys the creeper of devotion. So one must carefully protect one’s devotion with the fence of constant saintly association.” Next, Mahāprabhu spoke on the danger of weeds in the form of ulterior desires that stunt the growth of the devotional creeper. He said that the varieties of these desires are countless and must be cut down diligently by the sādhaka. Pure love is the ultimate goal of life. To attain this, a devotee must cherish only the desire to serve Kṛṣṇa and should not worship demigods or men of this world. Pure devotion, Mahāprabhu described, is not covered by material knowledge or fruitive activities, is free of all material designations, is causeless and ceaseless, and is symptomized by constantly serving Kṛṣṇa for His pleasure. Mahāprabhu described the different stages of prema and the different rasas, or loving relationships with Kṛṣṇa, and the concurrent moods that develop based on one’s relationship with Kṛṣṇa. He then explained the supreme glory of mādhurya-rasa and Śrīmatī Rādhārānī’s love for Kṛṣṇa.
When instructing Rūpa Gosvāmī at Prayāga, Mahāprabhu said:
pārāpāra-śūnya gabhīra bhakti-rasa-sindhu
tomāya cākhāite tāra kahi eka ‘bindu’
Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 19.137
The ocean of bhakti-rasa is so vast that no one can estimate its length and breadth. However, just to help you taste it, I am describing but one drop.
Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhu took this drop of nectar from Mahāprabhu and composed the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, therein elaborately describing the ocean of bhakti-rasa. He knew how to perfectly distribute this bhakti-rasa and he showed the method to everyone—sajātiyā āśraya snigdha sādhu–saṅga sato vare—one should always reside under the shelter of a sādhu who is more advanced than oneself and who is affectionate towards one. A sādhu tastes the transcendental rasa and has relationship with this rasa, thus, he can deliver it to others. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī stored the treasure of Mahāprabhu’s teachings in scripture so that future generations would be able to open these and find the great wealth stored inside for them. He advised: stay in sādhu-saṅga while performing the limbs of bhakti. All your activities of bhakti must be in high-class association. Within sādhu-saṅga, Rūpa Gosvāmī described the highest limb of bhakti to be nāma–saṅkīrtana.
After ten days staying in Prayāga-rāja and teaching Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, the Lord instructed Rūpa Gosvāmī to depart to Vṛndāvana. Rūpa Gosvāmī begged Mahāprabhu, “Prabhu, please let me stay with You; I cannot tolerate separation from You.”
Mahāprabhu smiled and embraced Rūpa Gosvāmī. “If you want to please Me,” He said, “than carry out My order and go to Vṛndāvana. Later, you can come and meet Me in Jagannātha Purī.”
Srila Rupa Gosvami ki Jaya! (Excerpted from the Bhaktabandhav book publication, “Srila Rupa Gosvami”. Available from: firstname.lastname@example.org )