shuklambaro brahmacari purasid yajnapatnika
prarthayitva yad-annam shri-gaurango bhuktavan prabhuh
kecid ahur brahmacari yajïika-brahmanah pura
Shuklambar Brahmachari was previously one of the wives of the sacrificing Brahmins in Vraja. Mahaprabhu begged food from him and ate it. Some people say that he was one of the sacrificing Brahmins. (Gaura-ganoddesha-dipika 191)
Shuklambar Brahmachari, a poor mendicant
prema-dhana vina vyartha daridra jivana
dasa kari betana more deha prema-dhana
Without the wealth of love of God, my life is poverty-stricken and worthless. Make me your servant and pay me with the wealth of love. (Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.20.37)
Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur paraphrases Mahaprabhu’s speech to Shuklambar Brahmachari in his Gaudiya-bhashya to the Chaitanya Bhagavat: “You are My poor servant lifetime after lifetime. You have no desire to enter into this world to become the head of a household. Rather, you remain a bachelor and beg from house to house, making an offering to Me of whatever you amass in this way. Your vow of celibacy is unbreakable. You are free of the mundane egoism that is prominent in householders and retired householders. You are thus factually fixed in the highest state of spiritual life, the highest stage of the renounced order. You are a de facto sannyasi, a completely surrendered carrier of the triple staff because you have successfully engaged every action of your body, mind and speech in My service. I pray constantly for your offerings for you have no interest in enjoying anything which has not been offered to Me. It is for this reason that I have made a show of My power and taken everything away from you, making you poor.” (2. 16.123)
Shuklambar Brahmachari was very fortunate, for the Lord snatched his food from him and ate it Himself. (Chaitanya Charitamrita 1.10.38)
Mahaprabhu in Shuklambar’s House
When Mahaprabhu returned from Gaya, He first met with the Devotees in Shuklambar Brahmachari’s house. Shriman Pandit then left along the banks of the Ganges, going to Shuklambar Brahmachari’s house [where the Lord had announced He would meet with the Devotees that night. Having heard Shriman make this announcement] Gadadhara Pandit quickly followed Him there. He hid in Shuklambar’s house thinking that he would eavesdrop, as Mahaprabhu would surely discuss some Krishna-related topics. All the loving Devotees of the Lord, such as Sadashiva, Murari, Shriman and Shuklambar, gathered there when suddenly Vishvambhara appeared on the scene. (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.1.78-82)
Shrila Gadadhara Pandit Goswami, Sadashiva, Murari, Shrivasa Pandit, Shriman Pandit and others all witnessed the Lord’s ecstatic transformations in Shuklambar’s house.
The Lord Snatches Rice from Shuklambar’s Begging Bag
Shuklambar Brahmachari kept body and soul together by offering and eating the foodstuffs which he daily accumulated by begging. Since he was constantly absorbed in the joys of chanting the names of the Lord and remembering His qualities and pastimes, he never suffered from his poverty. Ignorant people thought he was just an ordinary beggar. No one can recognize Mahaprabhu’s servants unless he gets the Lord’s mercy.
One day, Mahaprabhu was sitting alone in a devotional trance when Shuklambar Brahmachari happened by, his begging bag flung over his shoulder. When he saw the Lord, he started to dance ecstatically. The Lord was pleased to see the depth of Shuklambar’s feeling and He began to glorify him. He then plucked a handful of the dry rice from his bag and began to chew it. Shuklambar Brahmachari was troubled to see the Lord eating the uncleaned and broken fragments of low-quality rice and felt that he was committing an offense. The Lord calmed him and said that He always ate His Devotee’s food with great enthusiasm, but that He had no interest whatsoever in the finest foods of the non-devotee. The Devotees were delighted to see the Lord’s mercy on Shuklambar Brahmachari, who was then given a blessing by the Lord.
The Lord said, “Listen, Shuklambar Brahmachari. I reside permanently in your heart. Whenever you eat, I eat. When you go on your begging rounds, I accompany you. I have descended to distribute love of Godhead and you are My servant, lifetime after lifetime. I hereby bestow upon you prema bhakti, which is My very soul.” When the Devotees heard the Lord’s blessing, the Devotees made a joyful noise, shouting “Jaya, jaya!” (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.16.133-8)
The Lord was sitting here on this altar of Vishnu, absorbed in the sound of the Holy Name, when Shuklambar Brahmachari passed by on his begging rounds. Mahaprabhu lovingly put His hand on Shuklambar’s begging bag and took a handful of unwashed rice, calling him Sudama. Shuklambar Brahmachari made repeated humble comments and danced in the kirtan with the bag still on his shoulder. The Lord and His Devotees felt the intensity of their emotions increase as they watched Shuklambar’s ecstatic transformations. This is one of the pastimes of the Lord in the house of Shrivasa Pandit, after which he went through the town back to his own house. (Bhakti-ratnakara 12.2754-8)
The Lord Eats at Shuklambar’s House
In the Chaitanya Bhagavat, it is also said that Mahaprabhu ate cooked food in the house of Shuklambar Brahmachari, being attracted by his love. When the Lord announced to Shuklambar that He wished to eat at his house, the brahmachari felt nervous because he was afraid that he was unable to provide suitable fare for the Lord with his begged rice. However, the Lord repeatedly told him that this was indeed His desire, and so Shuklambar went to the other Devotees to ask their advice. The Devotees suggested that he cook without touching the food and that this would be satisfactory.
On the day of the invitation, Shuklambar bathed and dressed. He then lit the stove and put water to boil. Then, without touching the rice, he poured it into the water along with the spathe of the plantain tree (thori), all the while emotionally chanting the names, “Jaya Krishna Gopal, Govinda, Vanamali!”. At that moment, Lakshmi Devi blessed the food cooked by the Devotee by glancing at it. When Mahaprabhu came to Shuklambar’s house with His associates, He offered the rice and vegetables to Vishnu by His own hand. When it came time to eat it, He praised its flavor, saying “In my entire life, I have never eaten anything so delicious.” Once again the Devotees cried at the sight of the Lord’s merciful attitude to Shuklambar.
When the Devotees saw the majestic blessings of the Lord to Shuklambar Brahmachari, they all began to cry. The Lord continued to eat joyfully, greatly relishing its taste. May all the rich millionaire non-devotees observe the mercy received by the beggar Shuklambar. No one can attain the Lord’s mercy through wealth, high birth or scholarship. The scriptures repeatedly tell us that the Lord is only attracted by the taste of devotion. (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.26.28-31)
Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur comments on this in his Gaudiya-bhashya: “Vishnu is the Lord of the Sacrifice who only eats that which is offered by Brahma in sacrifice. Shuklambar Brahmachari gathered rice by begging from a variety of households. This rice is often parboiled rather than sun-dried rice. Householder Brahmins thus normally consider it contaminated and refuse to accept it. However, Vaishnavas hold that rice received from begging is superior to any other rice because it has been obtained by the mercy of the Lord. Though superficially this rice appears to be contaminated by the touch of non-devotees and offering it is thus a deviation from the usual rules and regulations, in Mahaprabhu’s path, the purity of a Devotee’s heart is the most important ingredient in Maha Prasad. One should not think that a millionaire is the only person who can offer foods which are suitable for the Lord. Shuklambar was poverty-stricken, but the Lord was satisfied with the food that he had gathered through begging. The sinful and devotionally-challenged cannot understand this at all.”
Shuklambar Brahmachari, whose rice had been eaten by Lord Gaurasundara, joyfully returned to his home. (Chaitanya Bhagavat 3.8.23)
One day, the Lord asked Shuklambar to cook lunch for Him. This is the street that the Devotees took to go to his house. What can I say? The Lord ate Shuklambar’s cooking and a wonderful pastime took place there. (Bhakti-ratnakara 12.3467-8)
[Excerpted from “Shri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates” by Shrila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj]