Every year, in the month of Phalguna (Feb-March), the birth of Lord Chaitanya is celebrated as Sri Gaura Purnima. Lord Chaitanya advented Himself in Navadipa, West Bengal in the year 1407 of the Shaka Era on the Purnima (full moon) of the month of Phalguna corresponding to 18th February 1486 AD. He exhibited His transcendental pastimes for forty-eight years and disappeared in A.D. 1534. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu lived in grihastha ashrama for twenty-four years and in sannyasa ashrama for the next twenty-four years. During this time he spread the love of Krishna by chanting the nectarian Hare Krishna Maha-mantra. He spent a majority of his sannyasa years at Jagannath Puri. For six years he was toured South India, Bengal and Vrindavan, spreading the holy name and the sankirtana movement.
Lord Chaitanya took birth in the house of Jagannath Mishra and Shachimata on the full-moon evening in the month of Phalguna, when there was a lunar eclipse and customarily everyone was chanting “Hari! Hari!”. From His very birth, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu induced people to chant the holy name of Hari. He would stop crying upon hearing the holy names of Krishna and Hari. His complexion was golden, so the ladies of the village started calling Him “Gaurahari” for He was golden in complexion (gaura) and swiftly responded to the chanting of the name ‘Hari’.
Before the appearance of Lord Chaitanya, the devotees of Navadvipa would gather at the house of Advaita Acharya, and take pleasure in talking of Krishna, worshiping Him and always chanting His name. But Sri Advaita Acharya felt pained to see the people in general without Krishna consciousness wantonly engaging in material sense gratification. So, he prayed to Lord Krishna to descend on this earth to deliver the fallen souls. Lord Krishna answered his prayers and appeared in the form of a devotee, as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, to teach the common man devotional service. Advaita Acharya’s wife, Sita Thakurani gave the name ‘Nimai’ to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu because He was born beneath a Neem tree. He came to be known as ‘Nimai Pandita’ on account of His Vedic erudition.
In the January of Shaka 1406 (A.D. 1485) Lord Krishna entered the bodies of both Shachimata and Jagannatha Mishra. Shachimata looked effulgent as though the Goddess of fortune had come to reside in their home. People were suddenly very respectful of Jagannatha Mishra and spontaneously offered him riches, clothing and paddy. Shaci Devi saw brilliant persons from higher realms offer prayers from outer space and Jagannatha Mishra experienced the Lord’s spiritual abode enter his heart and be transferred to Shachnmata’s. Finally, after an extended thirteen-month pregnancy of Shachimata, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu chose to appear on the auspicious day of Phalguna Purnima in Shaka 1407 (A.D. 1486).
In His first childhood pastimes, Lord Chaitanya turned upside down while lying on bed, and thus He showed His parents the marks of Vishnu on His lotus feet, namely the flag, thunderbolt, conch shell, disc and fish. His parents called His grandfather, Nilambara Chakravarti, who predicted that child had all the thirty two bodily symptoms of a great personality and that He would powerfully preach the Vaishnava cult and deliver living beings in all the three worlds.
Once Mother Shachi gave little Nimai some sweetmeats to eat. Returning a little later she saw Him eat clay. When she admonished Him for eating dirt, He replied that she had given Him dirt in the form of the sweetmeats so what was wrong in eating the clay directly. She replied that while dirt in the form of a clay pot could be used to fetch water, it would be useless to pour water on lump of clay. Similarly even though the sweets were also transformed clay they were only edible in that form and not as raw clay. In this way Lord Chaitanya even as a child, exposed the fallacies of the Mayavada philosophy that accepts no variety and revealed the acintya bheda abheda tattva that teaches the simultaneous oneness and distinction of everything. The original energy is exhibited in varieties, Just as the sunshine, the energy emanating from the sun, acts as light and heat in variety. While heat is not light and light is not heat, still they cannot be separated.
The Lord exhibited several pastimes for the pleasure of His devotees. In one instance, two thieves who wanted to rob His ornaments took the Lord away from His home. The Lord got on the shoulders of the thieves and by His illusory energy induced them to wander back to Jagannath Mishra’s home. The thieves dropped the child and fled the scene in fear.
Little Nimai was very naughty and would steal eatables from the neighbourhood with other boys. This is reminiscent of the childhood pastimes of Lord Krishna. While on the bank of the Ganga, He would notice young girls offering prayers to demigods with sandal paste and sweetmeats. He would apply the sandal paste on his own body and eat the sweetmeats without their permission. He would tell them that He was the Supreme Lord and He blessed them to have handsome husbands and many offspring. While inwardly pleased they externally would rebuke Nimai. These pastimes never angered anyone, rather pleased one and all. Yet, mother Shaci would frequently receive complaints about Nimai’s behaviour that she would secretly relish.
When eight, He was admitted to a ‘tola’ or school run by Gangadasa Pandita in Ganganagar a village close to Mayapur. He shone in the school and quickly learnt Sanskrit grammar and rhetoric. He also taught Himself in the Smriti and Nyaya shastras with the books in His father’s library. By the age of ten He was a scholar in Sanskrit, Smriti and Nyana. At that time His brother Vishwarupa left home to accept Sannyasa and soon His father passed away. In His usual composed manner He consoled His distraught mother.
At the young age of eleven Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu began teaching students. He defeated all kinds of scholars in discourses about the scriptures. Word of Lord Chaitanya’s intellectual prowess spread and hundreds of students came to learn under His direction. He was known as ‘Nimai Pandit’ because besides initiating people into Hari-nama He educated them in scriptural knowledge.
At the age of 14 or15 He married Lakshmidevi. He was by then one of the best scholars in the district of Nadia which at that time was a seat of learning in sanskrit and Nyaya philosophy.
During this period Lord Chaitanya travelled to East Bengal and propagated the Sankirtana Movement there. Many hundreds of students came to learn from Him attracted by His charismatic intellectual prowess. Since Lord Chaitanya spent considerable time preaching in East Bengal, His wife, Srimati Lakshmidevi was bitten by the serpent of separation from Him and died. On His mother’s request Chaitanya Mahaprabhu accepted a second wife, Srimati Vishnupriya Devi, who bore the separation of the Lord throughout her life because He accepted Sannyasa at the age of twenty-four.
After coming back from East Bengal, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu again began teaching. By the strength of His learning, He conquered everyone, including the champion scholar named Keshav Kashmiri, who created hundred poetic verses in just one hour to glorify Mother Ganges. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu very humbly but assertively pointed out gross faults and literary embellishments of only one verse of those hundred verses. That night Keshava Kashmiri prayed to Mother Saraswathi and the Goddess of learning came to Him and in his dream and revealed that Lord Chaitanaya was none other than the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Keshava Kashmiri surrendered to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s lotus feet and the Lord bestowed mercy upon him and cut off his bondage to material attachment.
As Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s popularity spread across the region, some brahmanas became envious and complained to Chand Kazi the magistrate of Nadia, who ordered the Lord’s devotees to stop chanting in the streets. The Kazi sent constables, who disrupted the sankirtana and broke some of the mridangas. When Gaurahari heard of this incident, He organized a procession of one hundred thousand men with thousands of mridangas and karatals singing and dancing their way to the Kazi’s house. The Kazi was petrified by this exhibition of strength and temper of the devotees. Lord Chaitanya however pacified the crowd and convinced the Kazi, who declared that in future neither he nor any of his descendants would hinder the sankirtana movement.
Lord Chaitanya exhibited His causeless mercy in another pastime involving two drunken brothers, Jagai and Madhai, who were meat eaters, woman-hunters and dacoits. One day Nityananda Prabhu saw a big crowd around the two drunken brothers. In order to purify these fallen souls, he asked them to chant the holy name. But one of them threw a piece of earthen pot at him. When Chaitianya Mahaprabhu heard of this incident, he hurried to the spot in a fiery mood. He invoked His Sudarshan Chakra, to kill the sinners, but Nityananda Prabhu stopped Him and asked for mercy. This pacified the Lord and He pardoned the two brothers who fell at His feet and begged His forgiveness.
The people of Navadvipa were fortunate to witness Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mercy and His transcendental pastimes. The Lord exhibited His six-handed form bearing a conch-shell, disc, club, lotus flower, bow and flute to Nityananda Prabhu. Thereafter the Lord showed Him His four-armed form, standing in a three-curved posture. With two hands He played upon a flute, and in the other two He carried a conchshell and disc. Finally the Lord showed Nityananda Prabhu His two-armed form of Kṛṣṇa, the son of Maharaja Nanda, playing on His flute, His bluish body dressed in yellow garments. These pastimes indicate that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was none other than Lord Krishna Himself, who appeared to deliver the fallen souls of the dark age of Kali.