Among the innumerable devotees of Lord Chaitanya there was an exceptional devotee named Kholavecha Sridhara. In Krishna Lila his name was Kusumasava.
“Kholaveca” is a nickname meaning bark-seller. He used to sell banana leaves, stems, flowers, and bark. Given their abundance in Bengal where he used to live, this was certainly not a lucrative business.
Sridhara Pandit was a resident of Navadwip. He used to live at the northern extremity of Mayapur and to the southeast of the Chand Kazi’s Samadhi, in the place which is now known as Sridhara Angan.
He was materially very poor but nevertheless a great example of how even a man in utter penury could be an exalted devotee of the Lord.
His small business of plantain leaf cups brought him a meager income. He could not afford brass utensils, and therefore drank water from an iron pot. Still, he used to spend fifty percent of his income on worshiping the Ganges.
In one of the lectures (SB 1.2.6_Calcutta_February 23, 1972), Srila Prabhupada narrates a pastime in which Lord Chaitanya reveals Himself to Sridhara and offers him any opulence he desired. Sridhara living in a wretched house with holes in its roof could have sought immediate relief from this pathetic condition. However, Sridhara said his house was better than a bird’s nest for nests have no roof at all. Sridhar requested the Lord that if at all He wished to bless him, He should bestow upon him pure devotion to His lotus feet.
This was a prime example of nishkama bhakti or devotional service without ulterior motives.
Following are some scriptural references of Kholaveca Sridhara.
kholaveca sevakera dekha bhagya-sima
brahma siva kande yara dekhiya mahima
dhane jane panditye krishna nahi pai
kevala bhaktira vasa caitanya-gosani
“Behold the great fortune of the devotee Kholaveca. Lord Brahma and Siva shed tears upon seeing his greatness. One cannot attain Lord Krishna by any amount of wealth, followers, or learning. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is controlled only by pure devotion.”
-Qouted in Srimad Bhagavatam 5.19.7 Purport
Sri Caitanya-caritāmṛta Adi –Lila 10.67
kholā-vecā śrīdhara prabhura priya-dāsa
yāṅhā-sane prabhu kare nitya parihāsa
“The twenty-ninth branch was Sridhara, a trader in banana-tree bark. He was a very dear servant of the Lord. On many occasions, the Lord played jokes on him.”
“Śrīdhara was a poor brāhmaṇa who made a living by selling banana-tree bark to be made into cups. Most probably he had a banana-tree garden and collected the leaves, skin and pulp of the banana trees to sell daily in the market. He spent fifty percent of his income to worship the Ganges, and the balance he used for his subsistence. When Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu started His civil disobedience movement in defiance of the Kazi, Śrīdhara danced in jubilation. The Lord used to drink water from his water jug. Śrīdhara presented a squash to Śacīdevī to cook before Lord Caitanya took sannyāsa. Every year he went to see Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu at Jagannātha Purī. According to Kavi-karṇapūra, Śrīdhara was a cowherd boy of Vṛndāvana whose name was Kusumāsava. In his Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā (133) it is stated:
kholā-vecātayā khyātaḥ paṇḍitaḥ śrīdharo dvijaḥ
āsīd vraje hāsya-karo yo nāmnā kusumāsavaḥ
“The cowherd boy known as Kusumāsava in kṛṣṇa-līlā later became Kholāvecā Śrīdhara during Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s līlā at Navadvīpa.”