Ganga Das’s Previous Identity
sa prakasha-visheshena gangadasa-sudarshanau
Ramachandra’s guru, Vasishtha Muni, appeared in two expansions in Gaura-lila as Ganga Das Pandit and Sudarshana. (Gaura-ganoddesha-dipika 53)
acaryah shri-jagannatho gangadasa prabhu-priyah
asin madhuvane prag yo durvasa gopika-priyah
Jagannath Acharya and Ganga Das Pandit were previously Durvasa, who was so dear to the gopis in Madhuvana.
Ganga Das was very dear to Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Anyone who remembers him will be freed from all material bondage.
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 1.10.29)
In his Chaitanya Bhagavat, Vrindavan Das Thakur equates Ganga Das Pandit with Krishna’s guru Sandipani Muni:
There was in Navadwip a wonderful professor named Ganga Das Pandit, who resembled Krishna’s guru, Sandipani Muni.
(Chaitanya Bhagavat, 1.8.26)
In the Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana, Hari Das Das suggests that Ramachandra’s guru Vasishtha entered into Sandipani Muni during Krishna-lila. Thus, these apparently conflicting statements can be true. In verse 52 of Gaura-ganoddesha-dipika, Kavi Karnapura identifies Keshava Bharati with Sandipani Muni.
Advaita Acharya is Mahavishnu’s incarnation. Out of a desire to see the salvation of all creatures in this world, he prayed and called to Krishna to descend to this earth. Indeed, it was through the heartfelt cries of Advaita that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu became incarnate. It was the Lord’s desire that all his eternally perfected associates from his previous incarnations who played the role of His seniors descend prior to His own appearance. Ganga Das Pandit was one of these elders who preceded the Lord.
Nityananda Prabhu appeared in the land of Rarha while Ganga Das Pandit, Murari Gupta and Mukunda also appeared elsewhere.
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 1.13.61)
Many other associates of the Lord remained hidden in Navadwip, taken birth there prior to Him on His order. They included Chandrashekhara, Jagadisha, Gopinath, Shriman, Murari, Shri Garuda and Ganga Das.
(Chaitanya Bhagavat 1.9.98-9)
Nimai’s Vidya-Vilasa Lila
Jagannath took little Nimai to Ganga Das when the child expressed His desire to study with him. Ganga Das lived in the neighborhood known as Ganganagara. It is said that when Bhagiratha brought down the Ganges, the goddess waited on this spot for the arrival of Gauranga Mahaprabhu. During the parikrama of Navadwip Dham, the Devotees sit down at a spot near the Yoga Pith Temple to hear the glories of Ganga Das’s home, even though it is in fact situated in Simantadvipa.
In his commentary to Chaitanya Bhagavat, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur writes: "Gaura-Narayan is the Lord of Vaikuntha, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is therefore the only reservoir of all scriptural knowledge, as well as the embodiment of the opulence of wisdom. Even so, it is his wont to accept human limitations during His incarnation and thus He desired to learn grammar and other arts and sciences just as Krishna did when He studied with Sandipani Muni. He did this to show that those who make a living as teachers should have genuine learning and not make a pretense of possessing knowledge."
When Jagannath Mishra brought Nimai to Ganga Das, the scholar was overjoyed to accept Him as his student. He began to teach Him with as much care as if He were his own son. He was astounded by Nimai’s powerful memory and His intelligence. Though he had taught thousands of students, he had never had a pupil of such caliber. A student of quality brings glory to his teacher.
Nimai would ask trick questions of his fellow students Murari Gupta, Krishnananda, Kamala Kanta and others. He was able to explain a sutra in one way and then in a completely different way, thus baffling His classmates who were nevertheless impressed by His scholarship. Thus, the Lord’s education pastimes took place in the home of Ganga Das Pandit.
This is the house of Ganga Das Pandit, where the son of Sakhi studied grammar. Ever day he took delight in this study, even making his own explanatory comments on the codes. With a twinkle in his eye, he would ask tricky questions of Murari Gupta, Krishnananda, Kamala Kanta, and his classmates. Gaurasundara immersed Himself completely in the joys of learning — such pastimes are beyond the ken of the great gods themselves.
The Lord studied grammar from Ganga Das Pandit. After hearing a lesson just once he would memorize both the sutra and its explanation.
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 1.15.5)
Mahaprabhu After His Return from Gaya
After Nimai’s return from Gaya in 1509, all the Navadwip Devotees, Shrivasa Pandit, Shriman Pandit, Gadadhara Pandit, Sadashiva, and Shuklambara Brahmachari were amazed to see the transformation in His character. They also felt great joy to see how He had abandoned His attachment to His studies to turn to devotion to Krishna and preaching.
Even so, Mahaprabhu continued to set an example of how to serve the spiritual master, going to Ganga Das’s house and paying obeisances to his feet. Ganga Das also displayed the suitable behavior of a guru for His dear disciple by embracing Him with respect and affection. If one’s education does not lead to devotion to Krishna, then it is certainly a waste of time. Through devotion to Krishna, one’s ancestors, both on the father and mother’s side, are delivered. Ganga Das Pandit was also happy to see Nimai’s transformation, but he told Him to continue teaching.
Nimai’s guru said, "Your life is blessed, my child. Your mother and father’s forefathers have all been delivered. Neither You nor your students should open a book today, even if Brahma himself tells You to do so. You have now revealed Yourself, so go home today. Come back tomorrow, however, and continue teaching."
(Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.1.122-4)
Nimai paid His obeisances to Ganga Das Pandit’s feet, even though He Himself was the Lord of the Vedas and the husband of the Goddess of Learning as His disciples. What goals could be left for Ganga Das to achieve? His disciple is worshipable to the fourteen worlds. (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.1.283-4)
Ganga Das at Shrivasa Angan
Nityananda Prabhu, the savior of the most fallen, also visited Ganga Das Pandit’s house one day after having been worshiped in Shrivasa Pandit’s house, when He was wandering through Navadwip in the mood of a child, playing with the boys of the town.
On the day that Mahaprabhu sat on Vishnu’s throne in the house of Shrivasa Pandit, displaying His effulgent form for 21 hours in the Mahaprakasha, He called all His Devotees one by one to give them His blessings. On this occasion He called Ganga Das as well, reminding him of the following event from the past.
One day, Ganga Das had left his home with his wife and children due to fear of the Muslim rulers. He was standing by the banks of the Ganges with his family, waiting for a ferry to come to take them across the river, but none came. This was causing him no small amount of anxiety, but even after waiting almost the whole night, no ferry docked at the quay. He began to cry in the fear that the Muslims would touch his family members and contaminate them. He thought that he would have to drown himself in the Ganges if this should happen.
At that very moment, Mahaprabhu Himself took the form of a ferry man and arrived at the riverbank. Ganga Das was so glad to see Him that he said:
Oh Brother! Please save me this time. My caste, my life, my wealth and my body are all dependent on You. Help me by taking my family and me across the river. I will give You a silver coin and a pair of new garments.
(Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.9.116)
The Lord then took them on board and across the river after which He returned to His abode in Vaikuntha. When Ganga Das heard the Lord recount this event, which only he had known, he fainted in ecstasy.
Ganga Das Pandit in Puri
After the Lord took sannyas at Katwa, Nityananda Prabhu tricked Him into going to Shantipur to Advaita’s house. Ganga Das came there with the rest of the Navadwip Devotees to see Him. He was also one of the first Bengali Devotees to go to Puri to see the Lord there. The first time that the Devotees went there, the Lord was in Alalanatha due to His feelings of separation from Jagannath, who cannot be seen for a period following the Snana-yatra. The Lord returned to Puri to meet the Bengali Devotees. Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya pointed out these Devotees to King Prataparudra, naming them one by one, including Ganga Das.
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 2.11.85)
When the Lord met Ganga Das on that occasion, He praised him to the Orissan Devotees and embraced him respectfully (Chaitanya Charitamrita 2.11.159-60). Ganga Das also participated in the kirtan before the Jagannath cart as a member of the chorus in the second kirtan group. Shrivasa Pandit was the lead singer in this group and Nityananda the chief dancer. Hari Das Thakur, Shriman Pandit, Shubhananda, Shrirama Pandit were some of the others in the same group.
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 2.13.38-9)
[Excerpted from “Sri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates” by Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj]