Chapter 17 of Prabhupāda Vijaya, 'Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī-pada' reveals the paramount importance of the highest conception amongst the vast collection of authorised Gauḍīya bhajanas and its unique connection to our greatest ācāryas. Though Śrīla Prabhupāda sang this song frequently between 1956-1965 at Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s samādhi, he never sang it in the west or explained its meaning. Why, is vitally important.
It is mentioned in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta that during the Ratha-Yātrā, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu danced in front of Lord Jagannātha and sang a particular verse originally found in Mammata’s Kavya-prakāśa, a treatise on Sanskrit poetics. This was actually an ordinary love sonnet between a young boy and a young girl, and no one could understand why Mahāprabhu was reciting it or what was the meaning.
yaḥ kaumāra-haraḥ sa eva hi varas tā eva caitra-kṣapās
te conmīlita-mālatī-surabhayaḥ prauḍhāḥ kadambānilāḥ
sā caivāsmi tathāpi tatra surata-vyāpāra-līlā-vidhau
revā-rodhasi vetasī-taru-tale cetaḥ samutkaṇṭhate
“He who stole my heart during my youth is verily he who is here today as my lover. And these are the same nights in the month of Caitra, when the fragrant breezes from the kadamba grove are heavy with the scent of newly blossoming jasmine. And I too am the same person – yet still my heart yearns for the dalliances of love that we enjoyed amidst the vetasī trees on the banks of the river Revā.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 1.78)
At that time, Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s mood was so intense that He would become choked up and sometimes could not even speak. After the Ratha-Yātrā was over, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī wrote a śloka.
priyaḥ so’yaμ kṛṣṇaḥ sahacari kurukṣetra-militas
tathāhaμ sā rādhā tad idam ubhayoḥ saṅgama-sukham
mano me kālindī-pulina-vipināya spṛhayati
“My dear friend, this is the same beloved Kṛṣṇa meeting Me here at Kurukṣetra. I am also that same Rādhā, and we Both feel the same joy of union. And yet My mind yearns for the forest on the bank of the Kālindī where the fifth note of His flute sweetly plays within My heart.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 1.79)
This śloka gave the meaning of what Caitanya Mahāprabhu was actually saying, and from that time on, the devotees could understand what Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s mood was when He sang that verse at the Ratha-Yātrā. Mahāprabhu was in the mood of Rādhārāṇī when She is calling Kṛṣṇa back to Vṛndāvana. Rūpa Gosvāmī wrote that verse on a palm leaf and, after putting it in the rafters of the roof of his hut, he went to the ocean. At that time, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu arrived and found the palm leaf in the roof. He read the verse and understood that, “Rūpa Gosvāmī understands My mind. He understands My heart.” When Rūpa Gosvāmī came back from the ocean, Caitanya Mahāprabhu gave him a gentle slap on the face and appeared for a moment to be angry. Mahāprabhu told him:
mora ślokera abhiprāya nā jāne kona jane
mora manera kathā tumi jānile kemane
“Nobody understands the point of My verse. How did you understand the intention of My mind?” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 1.69)
Inwardly however, Mahāprabhu was very happy. The next day, Caitanya Mahāprabhu came there with so many devotees – in particular His chief assistants, Svarūpa Dāmodara and Rāmānanda Rāya. He brought them there to examine the character of Rūpa Gosvāmī, read his poetry and, of course, to bless him. In that meeting the various poems and prayers of Śrī Rūpa were read and the devotees were astounded to hear those things. Mahāprabhu asked the devotees to bless Śrī Rūpa and the devotees said, “Without Your mercy, how could he understand Your heart?” At that time Rūpa Gosvāmī was made the head of the sampradāya.
Many years later, Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura went to Vṛndāvana where he lived with the devotees and received their blessings. Through their blessings he himself became highly qualified and wrote many devotional songs, wherein we trace out the siddhānta of the paramparā. One of the songs he wrote was Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī-pada.
śrī-rūpa-mañjarī-pada, sei mora sampada
sei mora bhajana-pūjana
sei mora prāṇa-dhana, sei mora ābharaṇa
sei mora jīvanera jīvana
“The lotus feet of Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī are my treasure and the object of my worship. They are the wealth of my existence, they are my ornaments and the very life of my life.”
sei mora rasa-nidhi, sei mora vāñcā-siddhi
sei mora vedera dharama
sei vrata, sei tapa, sei mora mantra-japa
sei mora dharama-karama
“They are my ocean of rasa and they are the perfection of my desires. They are the dharma of the Vedas for me. They are the goal of my vows and austerities and the chanting of my mantras. They are the purpose of my religious activities.”
anukūla habe vidhi, se-pade haibe siddhi
nirakhiba e dui nayane
se rūpa-mādhurī-rāśi, prāṇa-kuvalaya-śaśī
praphullita habe niśi-dine
“By those two lotus feet, all my actions will become favourable and perfection will be achieved. With these two eyes, I will finally be able to see. Both day and night, the sweet waves emanating from Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī’s feet will shine like the moon upon the lotus of my heart.”
tuyā adarśana-ahi, garale jārala dehī
cira-dina tāpita jīvana
hā hā rūpa kara dayā, deha more pada-chāyā
narottama laila śaraṇa
“The poison of the snake of separation from you has wasted my body away and my life is eternally afflicted by fever. O Rūpa! Kindly be merciful unto me. Give me the shade of your lotus feet. Narottama has taken refuge in you.”
If we want to know who Caitanya Mahāprabhu is and what His mood is, then we must approach Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī. Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura has written this song that identifies Rūpa Gosvāmī as Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī, one of the leading maidservants of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. It is said that this song connects one to the lotus feet of Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī, or Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, and in this way it is considered the topmost bhajana in the Gauḍīya sampradāya. When we think of ourselves, we should try to think in terms of the sampradāya – not so much in terms of the particular society we belong to. The society to which we all belong is called the Gauḍīya sampradāya, and that society does not base itself upon nationality or any kind of designation pertaining to this temporary world.
Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī-pada is the favourite song of all the disciples of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. It is their favourite song, firstly because it is this song that offers one the connection of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī and is therefore of great importance to all Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. It is also important to the disciples of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura because it was sung at the time of his departure from this world.*
* “We were on duty at his (Sarasvatī Ṭhākura’s) sickbed. I was also among them. My duty was from 2 o’clock at night till 4 o’clock in the morning. Just 24 hours before his departure, he called for me and asked me to sing the song, Śrī rūpa-mañjarī-pada, sei mora sampada – this famous song which is supposed to be the highest realisation of any Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava devotee. Then, after 24 hours, that is the 1st January early morning, he left the world.” (Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja, spoken on January 4th, 1983)
Śrīla Prabhupāda lived at the Rādhā-Dāmodara Temple from 1956 all the way up to 1965. He remained there preparing his Bhaktivedānta Purports for the Bhāgavatam, writing articles for Back To Godhead and performing his bhajana. Right outside his window was the samādhi of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī. Some devotees, who were his very close friends, would stay with him there from time to time, and it is from these friends of Śrīla Prabhupāda that we learned that Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī-pada was his favourite song. He sang it every day while he lived near Rūpa Gosvāmī’s samādhi, preparing himself for his preaching mission.
But after coming to the west, there is no recording of him singing or discussing this song. We know that he sang many songs with the harmonium and mṛdaṅga and gave purports to them – but he did not allow himself to sing this song because the mood and remembrance were too deep. The experience was too profound.
We cannot always know a great personality by direct perception. The best way to know a great personality is through the indirect method and that is even true of Kṛṣṇa Himself. If one really wants to know who Kṛṣṇa is, then one has to approach Kṛṣṇa’s closest associate, His counterpart, the hlādinī-śakti, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī.
If we want to know about someone’s qualities, sometimes the best way is through a friend or a close associate. The person that you are inquiring about may not personally tell you what their innermost desire is, but their associates may know.
We may discover many things about the inner personality of Śrīla Prabhupāda through his friends and associates, whereas, by applying the direct method, one might never know that Śrīla Prabhupāda sang Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī-pada daily. This is the foremost song in his repertoire of bhajanas and remembrances of his spiritual master – but he never revealed it and never sang it after he came to the west. This information is only accessible to us through an indirect method. This is the nature of esoteric truth. Through the agency of the associates of the Lord we may know something about their intimate disposition.
Śrīla Prabhupāda certainly did not tell us everything about his life. In fact, he only spoke about himself on a few occasions. He told a brief history of how he came to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, how he came to meet Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and similar stories like that. He only told us a few things about Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, and the things he said were fairly generic that can be found in the biographies of Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura.
Now naturally, someone may ask why Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t say many things about himself or Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta? One of the reasons is that these subjects were very close to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s heart. Contemplating these deep topics may have made it difficult for him to continue his preaching campaign around the world. He was spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness in foreign lands, in foreign cultures, amongst people that had no spiritual background whatsoever. Once, somebody asked Śrīla Prabhupāda, “Do you have all the mystic siddhis?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, “Yes.”
Then they asked, “Can you fly in the sky?”
Prabhupāda said, “Yes.”
They then asked, “Then why do you fly in an airplane? Why don’t you just fly in the sky?” Prabhupāda replied, “To be one with you.”
The meaning is that if Śrīla Prabhupāda returned to his natural transcendental position, he could no longer relate to us. In order to help us, he descended to this plane of activity.
Hearing all these things, someone may ask, “Aren’t these subject matters very high? Shouldn’t we be very careful about these things?” Yes, these are very high subject matters. The goal of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is high – in fact, it doesn’t get any higher. One should be careful about discussing these topics. In fact, Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī-pada was included in the first Iskcon songbook when it was published in 1974. It has been there all along. There is also the tulasī-ārati, a very intimate song, that is sung in hundreds of temples around the world by everyone, from new devotees to gurus.
namo namaḥ tulasī kṛṣṇa-preyasī namo namaḥ
rādhā-kṛṣṇa-sevā pāba ei abhilāṣī
“O Tulasī, beloved of Kṛṣṇa, I offer my respects unto you again and again. My desire is to attain the service of Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.”
ye tomāra śaraṇa laya, tāra vāñchā pūrṇa haya
kṛpā kari kara tāre vṛndāvana-vāsī
“Those who take shelter of you have their wishes completely fulfilled. Bestowing your mercy upon them, you make them a resident of Vṛndāvana.”
mora ei abhilāṣa, vilāsa kuñje dio vāsa
nayana heriba sadā yugala-rūpa-rāśi
“My desire is that you will grant me residence in the forest bowers where the Divine Couple perform Their pastimes. Thus, my eyes will eternally behold the beautiful combined forms of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa.”
ei nivedana dhara, sakhīra anugata kara
sevā-adhikāra diye kara nīja dāsī
“Please consider this request – kindly make me a follower of the gopīs. Please give me the qualification and make me your own maidservant.”
dīna kṛṣṇa-dāse kaya, ei yena mora haya
śrī-rādhā-govinda-preme sadā yena bhāsi
“This fallen servant of Kṛṣṇa prays, ‘May I eternally swim in the love of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Govinda.’”
This song is sung from day one when you join the temple – but we don’t pay attention to what we are singing or what we are actually praying for.
Proper glorification of the spiritual master necessitates our understanding of all of these things – otherwise we will not understand who he is, what his message is or what he comes to give. We cannot expect to understand the nature of this world or the nature of the spiritual world unless we pay very close attention to these matters. Proper glorification and understanding of the spiritual master also means a connection with his friends, servitor associates, paraphernalia and place of residence. Similarly, Kṛṣṇa is always properly glorified in relation to His associates, servitors, devotees, paraphernalia, holy place of residence etc. Kṛṣṇa is never alone – that is the disqualification of Mīrābai. Mīrābai was a Rajasthani princess, but she gave that up, never married and just worshipped Kṛṣṇa her whole life. She wrote many beautiful songs glorifying Kṛṣṇa, but Sarasvatī Ṭhākura didn’t give any attention to Mīrābai whatsoever. He considered her avaiṣṇava, an imitation. Throughout her life and throughout her songs, there is no mention of the Vaiṣṇavas or the associates of Kṛṣṇa – only Kṛṣṇa directly.* Throughout the songs and the literature of our ācāryas, there’s an endless glorification of the Lord’s associates.
* “So far we know, that Mīrābai’s devotion is of some mis-type – not real type of devotion, because her devotion is only confined to Kṛṣṇa and not any mention of any devotees. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is very clear in his analysis of the famous exponents. Tulasīdāsa, Mīrābai – they are rejected from the śuddha-bhakti school, but generally people think that they are devotees of the higher order.” (Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja, September 20th, 1981)
Proper glorification of the spiritual master necessitates all those things, and in regards to Śrīla Prabhupāda, it also demands proper glorification of our parama-guru, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. Devotees all over the world are preparing to celebrate Śrīla Prabhupāda’s centennial appearance in 1996 – there are vast arrangements being made and in almost every single instance Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura is a forgotten personality! When Śrīla Prabhupāda was present in this world, his Vyāsa Pūjā was a day when his disciples would meet together and glorify him but he expected us to praise Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura also. On those occasions, Śrīla Prabhupāda would often request us to read the simple poem that he wrote for his Guru Mahārāja in 1935:
Adore, adore ye all the happy day,
More blessed than heaven, sweeter than May,
When he appeared at Purī, the holy place,
My Lord and Master His Divine Grace.
Oh! my Master the evangelic angel,
Give us thy light, light up our candle.
Struggle for existence a human race,
The only hope, His Divine Grace.
Misled we are, all going astray,
Save us, O Lord, our fervent pray.
Wonder thy ways, to turn your face,
Adore Thy feet, Your Divine Grace.
Forgotten Kṛṣṇa, we fallen souls
Pay most heavy the illusion’s toll.
Darkness around, all untrace,
The only hope, His Divine Grace.
Message of service Thou hast brought,
A healthful life, as Caitanya wrought.
Unknown to all, it’s full of brace,
That’s your gift, Your Divine Grace.
Absolute is sentient thou hast proved,
Impersonal calamity thou hast removed.
This gives us a life, a new and fresh,
Worship thy feet, Your Divine Grace.
Had you not come, who had told
The message of Kṛṣṇa forceful and bold?
That’s your right, you have the mace,
Save me, a fallen, Your Divine Grace.
The line of service as drawn by you
Is pleasing and healthy like morning dew.
The oldest of all but in new dress,
Miracle done, Your Divine Grace.
Proper glorification of Śrīla Prabhupāda naturally precipitates glorification of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. If we approach Śrīla Prabhupāda in this way, keeping the whole paramparā in focus back to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, then we will understand who Śrīla Prabhupāda is, who we are and the depth of what we are involved in. We will find great hope when we see the opportunity that we have been mercifully given. This hope will sustain us and give us the courage to endure all kinds of difficulty while enabling us to proceed toward the ultimate goal of life.
We must always trace the substance of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and not simply follow the form. The form may mislead us from time to time. Kṛṣṇa is His form, but in regards to the living entities in this world, there is a difference between the body and soul. This is applicable also to the spiritual master – he is also not the body, although wherever we find something connected to divinity, that also takes on transcendental qualities. But if we simply try to understand the spiritual master in terms of his physical appearance, then we may confuse some of his Indian habits, or foreign habits to be some sign of divinity. For example, when Śrīla Prabhupāda first came to America – we saw that he would wiggle his head when he liked something. Everybody thought that was a symptom of a pure devotee. But when the devotees came to India, they found millions of people doing exactly the same thing!
We have to go beyond the physical manifestation and the cultural appearance. We have to go beyond a skin-deep understanding of the spiritual master. We will have to transcend all our experiences of him in this world. During his manifest pastimes, the spiritual master’s physical presence is very important, but after his departure it is not as important. If one focuses too much on the form, then one will be misled by the arrangements of Māyā. One will not understand the spiritual master or spiritual substance – to such an extent that when we begin to hear the truth, we may become agitated and oppose it.
This has been going on since guru-disciple began. We find a reference to this concerning the sons of Advaita Ācārya. The sons of Advaita Ācārya split into two groups – one group were the true followers of Advaita Ācārya and the others became māyāvādīs.* So this is not a new development. It is a perpetual obstacle in this world. Therefore, it is the duty of the disciples, grand-disciples, followers and admirers of Śrīla Prabhupāda to pay attention to the substance. According to our capacity, we should give attention to the inner meaning of our experience. This will bring about the best result in us and in others also.
* Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura elaborates on this in his commentary to the Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi-līlā 12.13-17.
(From a lecture given on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s appearance day at Myrtle Beach, USA on August 29th, 1994)