Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, by Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, is the principal work on the life and teachings of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Caitanya Mahāprabhu is the pioneer of a great social and religious movement that began in India about five hundred years ago and that has directly and indirectly influenced the subsequent course of religious and philosophical thinking not only in India but throughout the world. That Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya’s influence has spread so far is due in large part to the efforts of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, the present work’s translator and commentator and the founder and ācārya (spiritual guide) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu is thus a figure of great historical significance. However, our conventional method of historical analysis — that of seeing a man as a product of his times — fails here, for Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya is a personality who transcends the limited scope of historical settings.
At a time when, in the West, man was directing his explorative spirit toward studying the structure of the physical universe and circumnavigating the world in search of new oceans and continents, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, in the East, was inaugurating and masterminding a revolution directed toward a scientific understanding of the highest knowledge of man’s spiritual nature.
The chief historical sources for the life of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya are the kaḍacās (diaries) kept by Murāri Gupta and Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī. Murāri Gupta, a physician and close associate of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya’s, recorded extensive notes on the first twenty-four years of His life, culminating in His initiation into the renounced order, sannyāsa. The events of the rest of Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s forty-eight years were recorded in the diary of Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī, another of His intimate associates.
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta is divided into three sections, called līlās, a word that literally means “pastimes” — the Ādi-līlā (recounting the early period of Lord Caitanya’s pastimes), the Madhya-līlā (recounting the middle period), and the Antya-līlā (recounting the final period). The notes of Murāri Gupta form the basis of the Ādi-līlā, and Svarūpa Dāmodara’s diary provides the details for the Madhya- and Antya-līlās.
The first twelve chapters of the Ādi-līlā constitute the preface for the entire work. By referring to Vedic scriptural evidence, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja establishes that Caitanya Mahāprabhu is the avatāra (incarnation) of God for the Age of Kali — the current epoch, which began five thousand years ago and is characterized by materialism, hypocrisy, and dissension.
The author also proves that Caitanya Mahāprabhu is identical to Lord Kṛṣṇa and explains that He descends to liberally grant the fallen souls of this degraded age pure love of God by propagating saṅkīrtana — literally, “congregational glorification of God” — especially by organizing massive public chanting of the mahā-mantra: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. In addition, in the twelve-chapter preface Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja reveals the esoteric purpose of Lord Caitanya’s appearance in the world, describes His co-avatāras and principal devotees, and summarizes His teachings. In the remaining portion of the Ādi-līlā, chapters thirteen through seventeen, the author briefly recounts Lord Caitanya’s divine birth and His life until He accepted the renounced order. This account includes His childhood miracles, schooling, marriage, and early philosophical confrontations, as well as His organization of a widespread saṅkīrtana movement and His civil disobedience against the repression of the Muslim government.
The Madhya-līlā, the longest of the three divisions, narrates in detail Lord Caitanya’s extensive and eventful travels throughout India as a renounced mendicant, teacher, philosopher, spiritual preceptor, and mystic. During this period of six years, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu transmits His teachings to His principal disciples. He debates and converts many of the renowned philosophers and theologians of His time, including Śaṅkarites, Buddhists, and Muslims, and incorporates their many thousands of followers and disciples into His own burgeoning numbers. The author also includes in this section a dramatic account of Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s miraculous activities at the giant Ratha-yātrā (Car Festival) in Jagannātha Purī, Orissa.
The Antya-līlā concerns the last eighteen years of Śrī Caitanya’s presence, spent in semiseclusion near the famous Jagannātha temple in Purī. During these final years, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya drifted deeper and deeper into trances of spiritual ecstasy unparalleled in all of religious and literary history, Eastern or Western. His perpetual and ever-increasing religious beatitude, graphically described in the eyewitness accounts of Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī, His constant companion during this period, clearly defy the investigative and descriptive abilities of modern psychologists and phenomenologists of religious experience.
The author of this great classic, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, born around the beginning of the sixteenth century, was a disciple of Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, a confidential follower of Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s. Raghunātha dāsa, a renowned ascetic saint, heard and memorized all the activities of Caitanya Mahāprabhu told to him by Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī. After the passing away of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Svarūpa Dāmodara, Raghunātha dāsa, unable to bear the pain of separation from these objects of his complete devotion, traveled to Vṛndāvana, intending to commit suicide by jumping from Govardhana Hill. In Vṛndāvana, however, he encountered Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī and Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī, two of the most confidential disciples of Caitanya Mahāprabhu. They convinced him to give up his planned suicide and impelled him to reveal to them the spiritually inspiring events of Lord Caitanya’s later life. Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī was also residing in Vṛndāvana at this time, and Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī endowed him with a full comprehension of the transcendental life of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
By this time, contemporary and near-contemporary scholars and devotees had already written several biographical works on the life of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu. These included Śrī Caitanya-carita, by Murāri Gupta, Caitanya-maṅgala, by Locana dāsa Ṭhākura, and Caitanya-bhāgavata. This latter work, by Vṛndāvana dāsa Ṭhākura, who was then considered the principal authority on Śrī Caitanya’s life, was highly revered. While composing his important work, Vṛndāvana dāsa, fearing that it would become too voluminous, avoided elaborately describing many of the events of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s life, particularly the later ones. Anxious to hear of these later pastimes, the devotees in Vṛndāvana requested Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, whom they respected as a great saint and scholar, to compose a book narrating these episodes in detail. Upon this request, and with the permission and blessings of the Madana-mohana Deity of Vṛndāvana, he began compiling Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, which, due to its literary excellence and philosophical thoroughness, is today universally regarded as the foremost work on the life and profound teachings of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī commenced work on the text at a very advanced age and in failing health, as he vividly describes in the text itself: “I have now become too old and disturbed by invalidity. While writing, my hands tremble. I cannot remember anything, nor can I see or hear properly. Still I write, and this is a great wonder.” That he completed the greatest literary gem of medieval India under such debilitating conditions is surely one of the wonders of literary history.
As mentioned above, this English translation and commentary is the work of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, the world’s most distinguished teacher of Indian religious and philosophical thought. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s commentary is based upon two Bengali commentaries, one by his guru, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī, the eminent Vedic scholar, teacher, and saint who predicted, “The time will come when the people of the world will learn Bengali to read Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta,” and the other by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s father and instructing spiritual master, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, who pioneered the propagation of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s teachings in the modern era.
Śrīla Prabhupada is himself a disciplic descendant of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, and is the first scholar to execute systematic English translations of the major works of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s followers. His consummate Bengali and Sanskrit scholarship and intimate familiarity with the precepts of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya are a fitting combination that eminently qualifies him to present this important classic to the English-speaking world. The ease and clarity with which he expounds upon difficult philosophical concepts enable even a reader totally unfamiliar with the Indian religious tradition to understand and appreciate this profound and monumental work. The entire text, with commentary, presented by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, represents a contribution of major importance to the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual life of contemporary man.
— The Publishers
Editor’s note: Revisions in this edition are based on the transcripts of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda’s original dictation of the translations, word meanings and purports of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.