The Glories of Sri Narottama Dasa
“A brahmachari for his entire life, Narottama Das visited all the places of pilgrimage. He was on the highest platform of devotional achievement.” (Bhakti-ratnakara 1.256)
Narottama Thakur was Champaka Manjari (a manjari is a personal maid-servant of the Gopis headed by Srimati Radharani) in Krishna-lila. Eternally assisting Rupa Manjari in her service to Radha and Krishna, Champaka Manjari had mercy on the conditioned souls of this earth and appeared as Narottama in the village of Kheturi, in the Rajshahi district of Bengal. This took place on the full moon day of the month of Magha, sometime around the middle of the 15th century of the Shaka era.
Appearing as the son of a King, Krishnananda Datta and Narayani Devi, Sri Narottama Dasa Thakura (Sri Thakura Mahasaya) showed all the bodily symptoms of a mahapurusha (an exalted divine person). The entire village rejoiced in ecstasy as everyone spontaneously chanted the holy name with devotion. The king welcomed the arrival of his beautiful son by offering charity to the brahmanas generously.
Early symptoms of pure devotion
At the rice offering ceremony, to everyone’s dismay, the child refused to eat. Only when the food was first offered to Lord Krishna, the child happily devoured it. Through this lila, Narottama taught everyone the value of Krishna prasadam. The astrologer present on that joyful occasion noted all the auspicious signs on the child’s body and predicted that the boy would be an illustrious person: “This baby will be the greatest of men; therefore he should be called Narottama.”
A Sruti Dhara
In school, Narottama Thakur was a sruti dhara (able to memorize whatever he hears). Although he quickly mastered Sanskrit and the Vedas, he hankered to serve Krishna. He was a lifelong brahmachari. As his ecstatic love for the Lord increased, he became more and more disinterested in the mundane royal pleasures and properties. Concerned, his parents appointed a person to watch over him constantly. His own house became a prison for him. Narottama’s only solace was the association of a great devotee, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, who narrated Lord’s pastime to him every day. He was always absorbed in meditation on the sublime qualities of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu Lord Chaitanya once appeared in a dream and instructed him to go to Vrindavana.
Narottama Leaves Home for Vrindavan
Once, when his father was away on business, Narottama tricked his mother and bodyguard and secretly traveled to Vrindavan. Throughout the journey, Narottama captured people’s heart by his divine looks and devotional demeanor. He was offered food and shelter everywhere he went.
After quickly visiting all the holy places, he entered Vrindavana and met Sri Jiva Goswami and then Srinivasa Acharya. Srinivasa was overwhelmed to meet Narottama finally. Like a poor man who has gained a priceless gem, Srinivasa rushed to embrace Narottama. They became such close friends that one could hardly differentiate one from the other.
Under the Guidance of Sri Jiva Goswami
Sri Jiva Goswami quickly took Narottama to the solitary hermitage of Sri Lokanatha Goswami, who had been suffering the misery of separation from Rupa and Sanatana. Narottama fell at the feet of his spiritual master, and Lokanatha placed his feet on Narottama’s head. With sweet words, he assured Narottama that after a few days he would initiate him. After that, Jiva Goswami took Narottama to meet Gopala Bhatta Goswami and Sri Bhugarbha Goswami, who welcomed him with love and affection.
Narottama then visited Sri Radha Damodara and Sri Madana-Mohana and was overwhelmed with love at the sight of the deities. Upon seeing the tomb of Sri Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami, tears streamed down his face as he rolled on the ground. With great affection, Sri Jiva pacified Narottama and brought him to his cottage. There he put Narottama into the hands of his dear Srinivasa. At Srinivasa’s home, they spent the entire night discussing topics related to Krishna. After Visiting Radha and Shyama kundas, Srinivasa took Narottama to meet Sri Raghunatha dasa Goswami, who was suffering the separation from the Lord and His devotees. However, upon seeing Narottama, he showered him with his mercy. Srinivasa and Narottama finished their travels to all the sacred spots then reported back to Sri Jiva.
Initiation by Lokanatha Goswami
Sri Jiva happily began educating Narottama. During his studies, Narottama won the hearts of all with his sensitive and scholastic explanations. His service attitude towards Lokanatha Goswami was beyond compare, and Lokanatha Goswami was extremely pleased with his beloved disciple. One day, observing Narottama’s eagerness, Lokanatha fulfilled Narottama’s long-cherished desire and initiated him into the chanting of the maha-mantra. Everyone in Vrindavana was highly impressed by the depth of Narottama’s understanding of scriptures of devotion. Thus, to everyone’s pleasure, Sri Jiva Goswami conferred upon Narottama the title “Sri Thakura Mahasaya.” All the mahantas were overjoyed, and Narottama’s fame rapidly spread throughout Vrajapura.
Narottama Dasa is best known for his devotional poetry wherein he describes emotionally intense feelings towards Radha and Krishna. His prayers ‘Sri Rupa Manjari Pada’ and ‘Sri Guru Carana Padma’ are still sung in all ISKCON temples daily. “The prayers of Narottama dasa Thakura,” Srila Prabhupada has said, “This sound is above the material platform. It is directly from the spiritual platform. And there is no need of understanding the language. It is just like a thunderburst. Everyone can hear the sound of thunder-there is no misunderstanding. Similarly, these songs are above the material platform, and they crack like thunder within your heart.”