Starting of the Festival in 1516 (500 years back)
Festivals have always had a special place in human society. Constitutionally, every soul is eternally in search of happiness, and the purpose of festivals is to fulfill this very search. Life in the present age is so tough that even to maintain basic living standards one has to undergo a severe struggle. Therefore, festivals are eagerly awaited because these are the times when we can keep aside our troubles and just have fun with our near and dear ones. Moreover for the Krsna consciousness devotees nearly every other day brings forth a festival. These spiritual festivals offer us many advantages. We get association of like-minded people and a devotional atmosphere conducive for our bhakti. Any person, be he a businessman, a student or a housewife can try to squeeze out some time out of his/her busy schedule to render some service to God and His devotees. Such services are very important and essential for advancement in spiritual life. Festivals also are dynamic avenues to attract new people to Krsna consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada has blessed the entire world by giving such spiritual festivals that are being celebrated even in the remotest corners of the world today. One such festival is the “Cida-Dahi-festival” of Srila Raghunatha Dasa Goswami.
APPEARANCE AND EARLY LIFE
Srila Raghunatha Dasa Goswami is one amongst the six primary disciples of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He was born in a village named Shri Krishnapur located two miles from the Saptagram district of Hugli, West Bengal. His father Govardhan Majumdar and Uncle Hiranya Majumdar were big landholders and had such fabulous wealth that by today’s standards they would be billionaires. Amongst the two brothers Hiranya and Govardhan, there was only one heir Raghunatha Dasa. Raghunatha’s father and uncle were vaisnavas and were disciples of the great Yadunandan Thakura, who was initiated by Srila Advaita Acarya. In his childhood, Raghunatha often met Srila Haridas Thakura. He was so much influenced by the example of Haridas Thakura and the teachings of his guru, that he had no attachment or affection for any of the materialistic things of this world. This posed a big problem for his parents, because they wanted him to take over everything. Therefore, they married Raghunatha Dasa to a beautiful, chaste young woman who was endowed with all good qualities. Thus, they were gradually training him to take over everything. They gave him a beautiful home, much wealth and much prestige. However, Raghunatha Dasa was not concerned.
FIRST MEETING WITH LORD CAITANYA
Of the six Goswamis, Raghunatha Dasa Goswami was the first to meet the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu personally. After taking sannyasa, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu met His mother at Shantipur, for the first time with shaved head and the saffron robes of a sannyasi. Raghunatha Dasa was also present on that occasion.
When Raghunatha Dasa returned home, he no longer had any interest in any of the things of the world. He simply wanted to go to Jagannath Puri to meet Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. That was his constant meditation. So it became a daily affair, that Raghunatha Dasa would run away from home and his parents would find him at a distant place and forcibly bring him back home. And as soon as the next opportunity came he would again, somehow, escape. But again, he would be caught. Raghunatha Dasa Goswami, would not even enter into the interior compound of his house, but rather sleep and stay in the courtyard called the Durga-mandapa, which was in the exterior of the housing complex of the wealthy people at that time.
“DO NOT BECOME A MONKEY RENUNCIATE”
Once again, Lord Caitanya arrived in Shantipur. Raghunatha Dasa was given permission by his father to see the Lord, but he was surrounded by many guards. There Raghunatha Dasa prostrated his body and offered his life at the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He revealed to Lord Caitanya, his very deep desire to be relieved from the entanglements and bondage of household life and to serve Him cent percent.
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructed Raghunatha in a very wonderful way. He said, “You should not be a markafa vairagi You should not be a monkey renunciate. Monkeys appear to be much renounced. They Iive in trees. They do not wear clothes. They only eat what grows on trees. However, they always have so many thoughts about how to enjoy with female monkeys whenever the opportunity comes. You should pretend in an external way to be completely attached to pounds, shilling, and pence. You should perform your duties as a first class business manager, but in your heart, you should always be meditating on Krsna . And very soon, Krsna will show His mercy to you.”
Raghunatha Dasa returned home and following Lord Caitanya’s instruction, appeared to be completely attached to the worldly environment.
After sometime, he heard that Lord Nityananda Prabhu, along with His most confidential associates had arrived at the house of Raghava Pandita in Panihati. So he begged permission from his father to go there. His father relented and sent him with some servants and guards.
At that time, Lord Nityananda Prabhu was sitting under a sacred banyan tree, on the bank of the holy river Ganges. He was effulgent like thousands and thousands of suns. Raghunatha Dasa offered his obeisances from a distance, feeling that he was too contaminated and materialistic to go close to such a great personality. One of Lord Nityananda Prabh u’s servants said, “There is Raghunath a Dasa.” Lord Nityananda Prabhu said, “Raghunatha, why are you offering obeisances from such a distant place. You are a thief. Thieves keep their d istance.” Then Lord Nityananda Prabhu personally came towards Raghunatha Dasa and placed His feet on Raghunatha’s head. Lord Nityananda Prabhu said, “Because you have been captured by Me, as a thief you must be punished. You are a wealthy man’s son. So you must feed cida and dahi to all My associates.”
THE FESTIVAL BEGINS
Raghunatha Dasa became very happy. Immediately, he went to the town and the villages and made arrangements. He got all varieties of day pots. Then he got hot milk and soaked all the cida (beaten rice) . Half the cida that was soaked in the hot milk was then soaked in yogurt, sugar and bananas. The other half was soaked in big pots with condensed milk, camphor, ghee, and a special variety of bananas and sugar. Lord Nityananda Prabhu was very happily sitting, on a platform, with His very close associates such as Gauridas Pandita, Ramadasa, Sundarananda, Gadadhara dasa, Murari, Kamalakara, Sadasiva, and Purandara, and many such great personalities. Each of the devotees got two day pots with both the preparations.
Soon the word spread, and many people from various towns and villages came to participate in this wonderful feast conducted by Lord Nityananda Prabhu Himself. Soon there were so many people, that the whole raised platform became full. And then the bank of the Ganges became completely crowded and full, so much so that some people were standing in the Ganges, and each one had two clay pots one with cida soaked in yogurt, sugar and bananas and the other with cida soaked in condensed milk, camphor, ghee and special bananas in sugar.
Lord Nityananda Prabhu was so happy with this feast that in His mind He called for Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. And Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu immediately appeared in His transcendental form. By this time there were so many people sitt ing on the ground with their clay pots. Lord Nityananda Prabhu and Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu went to each and every person. Lord Nityananda Prabhu would take one morsel from each pot of chipped rice and put it directly in the mouth of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and in great happiness Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu would take one morsel from each day pot and place it in the mouth of Lord Nityananda Prabhu. Such a loving reciprocation They had!
THE NECTARINE COOKING OF RAGHAVA PANDITA AND DAMAYANTI
Then Raghava Pandita arrived at the festival site. Raghava Pandita had a wonderful house neat by. When he would cook, along with his sister Damayami, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu would personally appear in his house to eat that food.
Raghava Pandita came with all nice items cooked in ghee and said to Lord Nityananda Prabhu, “You are supposed to come to my house for prasada today.” Lord Nityananda Prabhu replied, “I am a cowherd boy and I like taking prasada with My cowherd boy associates on the bank of the sandy river. So I will come to your house tonight.” That evening, in the house of Raghava Pandita, Lord Nityananda Prabhu induced everyone to start dancing and chanting in kirtana. Then Lord Nityananda Prabhu began to dance. Wherever He was in the world, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu would always appear to watch the dancing of Lord Nityananda Prabhu. Seeing the presence of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Nityananda Prabhu danced in ecstatic love and everyone was chanting and dancing for many hours. After the kirtana Raghava Pandita served delicious, ambrosial prasada to Lord Caitanya, Lord Nityananda Prabhu and all the devotees. Raghava Pandita worshipped each devotee by offering a garland, sandalwood, and other gifts. Then they took rest. Raghava Pandita gave Raghunatha Dasa, the plates directly used by Gaura-Nitai as maha maha prasada.
LORD NITYANANDA BLESSES RAGHUNATHA DASA
Next morning, Lord Nityananda Prabhu was sitting under that same sacred banyan tree when Raghunatha Dasa approached Him. Raghunatha Dasa Goswami grasped His feet, placed it on his head and he began to pray, “I am the lowest, most sinful, and the most condemned of all living entities. Whom can I approach other than You? I am unfit to receive Your mercy. But, 0 Lord, You are all merciful. Like a dwarf who desires to catch the moon, I am seeking Your great mercy. I am entangled in the great bondage of materialistic life. No one can approach Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu without Your mercy. Please give me the benediction that I may renounce completely all the entanglements of materialistic life and family encumbrances. Let me whole-heartedly seek shelter in the service of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaptabhu. Let this one desire of my heart be fulfilled by Your causeless mercy.”
Lord Nityananda Prabhu was very pleased to see the determination and humility of Raghunatha Dasa. He began to speak to other devotees, “Raghunatha Dasa is living in opulence equal to Indra, the king of heaven. He has so much wealth, so much aristocracy, yet he is not the slightest bit attached to any of it. He simply wants to serve Gauranga Mahaprabhu in the renounced order of life. Please give your blessings to Raghunatha Dasa.”
All the Vaisnavas began to shower their blessings on Raghunatha Dasa. And then Lord Nityananda Prabhu said, “Very soon you will be released from all the bondages of your household life. You will go to Jagannatha Puri and you will be one of the most intimate, confidential and personal associates of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. You will become famous as one of the greatest renunciates in the service of the Lord.” When Raghunatha Dasa heard this, he was filled with happiness. He went to each and every devotee and worshipped their lotus feet. He worshipped the lotus feet of Lord Nityananda Prabhu. Then he gave a large sum of money to Raghava Pandita. He told him, “Please give this to Nityananda Prabhu after I leave.” Then he made a detailed list of donations for each and everyone of the devotees, according to their requirements.
RAGHUNATHA ESCAPES TO JAGANNATHA PURI
Then Raghunatha Dasa went home. His mother and father were very worried, because he was trying to escape many times. One time his mother said to his father, “This Raghunatha has gone crazy. He will not stay home. You should tie him with ropes.” Govardhan Majumdar replied, “He is already bound by the wealth of Indra, by so much opulence, so many fine clothes, and such beautiful living conditions. His wife is more beaut iful than an angel. If these things cannot keep him home, how can we expect to keep him with ropes? Our son has received the mercy of Lord Gaur Chandra. Who can keep such a mad man away from the service of the Lord?!! Meanwhile, Raghunatha Dasa Goswami was pretending very nicely to be a materialist. Still day and night there were guards all around him. However, Raghunatha Dasa was immersed in meditation of how to escape and achieve the lotus feet of Lord Gauranga.
One day, he got a chance and escaped from his house and fled to the forest. He understood that his parents would immediately send many guards and investigators to find him. So he did not go in the direction of Purl. First, he went east for two days. Then he went in the southern direction. He did not go by the main road, but rath er went through the jungles and the forests. It took him twelve days to arrive at Jagannatha Puri and only On three occasions did he get anything to eat sometimes he got little milk, sometimes he cooked something and sometimes he chewed on some fried grains. Although often it was very cold, or very hot, and he had to undergo many inconveniences, still Raghunatha Dasa was nor affected. Because, he was completely immersed in the thought, that he would soon be able to see the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, he was full of joy.
After twelve days, he arrived in Jagannatha Purl and went straight to Lord Caitanya. When Lord Caitanya saw Raghunatha Dasa, He became filled with joy. He said to Raghunatha Dasa, “You have received the mercy of Lord Krsna. To become disentangled from the attachments of this material world is very difficult, in fact, it is impossible. It is only by the mercy of Lord Krsna that one can achieve such liberation.” Raghunatha Dasa with great humility, and a grateful heart replied, “I do not know who Krsna is. I only know that Your causeless mercy has saved me.” In great humility, Raghunatha Dasa offered prayers to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
GLORlESOF VAISNAVA’S MERCY
Hundreds of years later this festival is still celebrated in Panihati, with profuse distribution of cida-dahi to thousands of devotees. It stands unparalleled as a symbol of mercy showered by Vaisnavas. Although Raghunatha desired to serve Lord Caitanya, he faced so many problems. But as soon as he received the mercy of Sri Nityananda Prabhu, all the obstacles on his path were immediately removed and he was able to receive shelter at the pine lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Similarly, this festival is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to beg for the mercy of Lord Nityananda so that the obstacles in the path of our devotional service are removed and we attain the lotus feet of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. While celebrating this festival, let us also express our gratitude to Srila Prabhupada, to reciprocate with the wonderful inheritance he has given us in the form of such beautiful festivals, which alone can completely satisfy us lost souIs.
Sri Caitanyacaritamrta by Srila Prabhupada and Vamsi Vihdri Dasa, ISCKON, Mumbai