Srila Sanatana Goswami

Srila Sanatana Gosvami (circa 1488-1558) was a chief direct disciple of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the seniormost of the six Gosvamis of Vrndavana. He was born into a family of respectable Sarasvata brahmanas from the southern province of Karnataka. Sanatana's father, Sri Kumara, lived in what is now the Jessore district of Bangladesh, and had several sons, the last three of whom he named Amara (later Sanatana), Santosa (later Rupa), and Vallabha (Anupama). These three brothers were from childhood attracted to devotional service, and Amara and Santosa were especially attracted to Krsna. Amara also had an affinity for the study of Srimad-Bhagavatam.

As adults the brothers proved competent scholars and managers. Impressed by their ability, the Mogul tyrant of Bengal, Nawab Hussain Shah, compelled them into government service. Amara was appointed the Nawab's prime minister, Santosa the chief assistant minister, and Vallabha the state treasurer. In this way the Nawab freed himself for military expeditions by turning most of the responsibilities of governing over to the three brothers, who established their residence in the town of Ramakeli, near the Nawab's capital. By this time Santosa was known by his official title Dabira Khasa, and Amara was called Sakara Mallika. But despite their powerful positions, their only real joy in life lay in serving Krsna and His devotees. They made their wealthy estate a suitable place for remembering Krsna by planting groves of kadamba and other trees that grow in Vrndavana, and by building replicas of the sacred Radha-kunda and Syama-kunda. The brothers also hosted many learned panditas, and discussions of the Bhagavatam and other sastras went on constantly in their assembly.

The three brothers had heard about Lord Caitanya and were eager to meet Him. In their enthusiasm they wrote to Lord Caitanya. Soon after Caitanya Mahaprabhu accepted sannyasa and decided to go to Vrndavana. On His way, He stopped at Ramakeli. Meanwhile, Hussain Shah received news that this sannyasi was creating a stir in the countryside. But by consulting with Dabira Khasa and other ministers, the Nawab decided that Caitanya was a worthy saint, or even God Himself, and ordered that no one interfere with His doings. Still, Dabira Khasa worried that the capricious Hussain Shah could turn against Lord Caitanya, so in the middle of the night, he went incognito with Sakara Mallika to warn the Lord of the potential danger. The two approached Lord Caitanya with straws between their teeth as a sign of humility, bowed before Him, and confessed their unfitness to receive His mercy. In response the Lord showered them with affection and told them, “You two brothers are My old servants. From this day your names will be changed to Srila Rupa and Srila Sanatana.”

After this, the three brothers made plans to join Lord Caitanya. Rupa and Anupama left Ramakeli for their hometown, leaving Sanatana to deal with Hussain Shah. On the plea of illness, Sanatana began to ignore his government duties and stayed home studying Bhagavatam in his assembly of panditas. When the Nawab realized Sanatana was not ill, he confronted Sanatana, and when Sanatana refused to resume his responsibilities, Hussain Shah imprisoned him. Sanatana later escaped and, following the Lord's order, proceeded toward Vrndavana. On his way, he met Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Benares, and received instructions in bhakti for two months. The Lord then empowered Sanatana as he had Rupa to teach Krsna consciousness to the world. In Vrndavana Rupa and Sanatana were fully immersed in the mood of separation, remembering Krsna and His eternal devotees. The brothers wandered about the holy land with no fixed residence. They constantly searched for the forgotten places of Krsna's pastimes and wrote books on Krsna consciousness, guided always by Srimad-Bhagavatam and other devotional scriptures.

Sanatana was not yet thirty when he arrived in Vrndavana, and he stayed there for more than forty years, up to the end of his life. He traveled all around the district, treating the villagers with great affection; he considered all the Vraja-vasis dear to Krsna. He would show such honest concern for the villagers that the Vraja-vasis loved him like a father. While staying at Mahavana, where Krsna had played as an infant, Sanatana rediscovered the Deity of Sri Madana-mohana. He took the Deity to Dvadasaditya Hill, where Sri Advaita Acarya Prabhu had earlier worshiped the same Deity, and began to serve Him as best he could in his humble circumstances. He later received a donation to build a temple to establish the Deity's worship.

Sanatana Gosvami spent his last years on the side of Govardhana Hill, at Manasi-ganga Lake next to Cakalesvara. Every day, he walked the longer of the paths around Govardhana, some forty kilometers, although the physical exertion was difficult. Unable to tolerate Sanatana's austerities, Krsna appeared to him in person and gave him a large stone from Govardhana, marked with His own footprint. Krsna asked Sanatana to simply walk around this sila daily, and that would be equal to circumambulating the whole hill. When Srila Sanatana passed away at Manasi-ganga, men in the villages all over Vraja shaved their heads, as if their own father had died. Sanatana's nephew, Sri Jiva, brought Sanatana's remains to Vrndavana and installed them in a samadhi (sacred tomb) at the Madana-mohana temple. Sanatana's Govardhana sila was then installed at the Radha-Damodara temple. Sanatana Gosvami wrote four major books. Hari-bhakti-vilasa, composed under the direct order of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, is the standard handbook of devotional practices for the followers of Mahaprabhu. Vaisnava-tosani (DaSama-tipanni) is Srila Sanatana's elaborate commentary on the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Krsna-lila-stava is a concise poetic summary of the first half of the Tenth Canto. And Brhad-bhagavatamrta is a set of two stories, presenting in 2,514 verses the essential teachings of the Bhagavatam.