Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami was the son of Vyenkatta Bhatta, a brahmana resident of Sri Rangam, who was initiated in the Sri Sampradaya. The city of Sri Rangam is located on the Kaveri river in the district of Tanjor about ten miles west of Kumbhakonam.
Regarding this temple Sri Bhaktivedanta Swami remarks as follows. "The Sri Rangam temple is the largest in India, and there are seven walls surrounding it. There are also seven roads leading to Sri Rangam. The ancient names of these roads are Dharma, Rajamahendra, Kulashekhara, Alinadana, Tiruvikrama, Tirubidi and Ada-iyavala-indana. The temple was founded before the reign of Dharmavarma, who reigned before Rajamahendra. Many celebrated kings like Kulashekhara and others such as Alabandaru, resided in the temple of Sri Rangam. Yamunacharya, Sri Ramanuja, Sudarshanacharya, and others also supervised this temple."
According to Bhaktivedanta Swami, "Sri Vyenkatta Bhatta was a Vaishanva brahmana and an inhabitant of Sri Rangakshetra. He belonged in the disciplic succession of Sri Ramanujacharya. Sri Rangam is one of the places of pilgrimage in the province of Tamila-desha. The inhabitants of that province do not retain the name Vyenkatta. It is therefore supposed that Vyenkatta Bhatta did not belong to that province, although he may have been residing there for a very long time. Vyenkatta Bhatta was a member of a branch of the Ramanuja Sampradaya known as Badagala-i. He had a brother in the Ramanuja Sampradaya known as Sripada Prabodhananda Saraswati. The son of Vyenkatta Bhatta was later known in the Gaudiya Sampradaya as Gopala Bhatta Goswami and he established the Radha-ramana temple in Vrindavana. More information about him may be found in a book known as Bhakti-Ratnakara (1.100) by Sri Narahari Cakravarti."
The Gaura-parshada-charitavali describes the life of Gopala Bhatta Goswami as follows. The merciful Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in order to deliver the souls of this world, as well as to distribute krishna-prema everywhere, walked throughout the length and breadth of South India and moved from place to place inundating every town and village with the nectar of the divine name. Drinking the nectar of the holy name from the lotus mouth of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself, thousands and thousands of men and women who were burning in the desert of material existence, quenched their thirst. Thus their lives were freed from the burning of material life, and their souls were cooled. Day after day, the fallen people in general drank the nectar of Krishna's holy name and thus attained life's supreme treasure.
In order to shower nama-prema far and wide like a great thundercloud, Sriman Mahaprabhu came to stay for some time at the great holy place of Sri Rangakshetra. Sri Ranganath's huge and expansive temple is so tall that it appears to reach the heavens. That great temple has seven huge walls. Millions of devotees come to see that deity every year. Within the temple, the brahmanas are constantly chanting the glories of Sri Ranganatha.
When Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu entered that temple and began chanting Hare Krishna in kirtan, his song was far sweeter than that of millions of Gandharvas. Everyone was stunned and astonished, and the hairs of their body stood on end. His divine figure was wonderful to behold, and his bodily radiance was dazzling. From his lotus eyes showered torrents of tears of Krishna-prema. The brahmanas wondered, "Is he a god? Is such a manifestation of ecstasy possible in a man?"
Again and again exhorting everyone to chant the holy name, saying, "Haribolo! Haribolo!" he was drowning in the tears that poured from his lotus eyes, as he fell before the deities like a tree that has been cut down. Everyone thought that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared like a golden mountain that had fallen to the earth.
Sri Vyenkatta Bhatta, detecting in Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu the symptoms of a Mahapurush, a great personage, could not contain himself as he saw the Lord performing sankirtan. His heart leaped with joy as it became filled with bhakti. Pushing his way through the crowd, he joined the kirtan party and lost himself in dancing and singing the holy name of Hari with the Lord. When the Lord had regained his external consciousness somewhat and had steadied himself, Vyenkatta fell in the dust of his lotus feet and asked the Lord for his mercy. The Lord, saying, "Krishna! Krishna!" heartily embraced him. At that time, Sri Vyenkatta invited the Lord to stay with him in his home during the four months of the rainy season.
At his home Vyenkatta Bhatta washed the Lord's lotus feet and drank the holy water. In this way there was great joy within the home of Vyenkatta Bhatta.
The above has been briefly described in the Caitanya Caritamrita as follows (ML 9.79Ñ86):
papa-nasane vishnu kailo darasane,
shri-ranga-ksetre tabe karila gamana
kaverite snana kari dekhi ranganatha
stuti pranati kari manila krtartha
premaveshe kaila bhauta gana nartena
dekhi camatkara haila saba lokera mana
shri vaishnava ekaÑvyenkatta bhatta nam
prabhure nimantrana kaila kariya sammana
nija-ghare laya kaila pada praksalana
sei jala kaila sa-vamse bhakshana
bhiksha karaya kichu kaila nivedana
caturmasya asi prabhu haila upasanna
caturmasya kripa kari raha mora ghare
krishna-katha kahi kripaya uddhara amare
tanra ghare rahila prabhu krishna-katha rasa
bhatta-sange gonaila sukhe cari mase.
"After visiting the holy place named Siva-ketra, Caitanya Mahaprabhu arrived at Papanashana and there saw the temple of Lord Vishnu. Then He finally reached Sri Ranga-kshetra. After bathing in the river Kaveri, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu saw the temple of Ranganatha and offered his ardent prayers and obeisances. Thus He felt Himself successful. In the temple of Ranganatha, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu chanted and danced in ecstatic love of Godhead. Seeing His performance, everyone was struck with wonder.
One Vaishnava known as Vyenkatta Bhatta then invited Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to his home with great respect. Sri Vyenkatta Bhatta took Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to his home. After he washed the Lord's feet, all the members of his family drank the water. After offering lunch to the Lord, Vyenkatta Bhatta submitted that the period of Chaturmasya had already arrived. Vyenkatta Bhatta said, ³Please be merciful to me and stay at my house during Chaturmasya. Speak about Lord Krishna's pastimes and kindly deliver me by your mercy.² Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu remained at the house of Vyenkatta Bhatta for four continuous months. In this way, the Lord passed His days in great happiness, enjoying the transcendental mellow of discussing Lord Krishna's pastimes."
In the year 1511, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu stayed at the house of Vyenkatta Bhatta. At that time Vyenkatta Bhatta lived with his two brothers, Prabodananda Saraswati and Trimalla Bhatta. At that time, Sri Prabodhananda Saraswati was a tridandi sannyasi of the Ramanuja Sampradaya and Vyenkatta Bhatta and Trimalla Bhatta were also Vaishnavas in the Ramanuja Sampradaya. Vyenkatta's son was Gopala Bhatta. At the time of Mahaprabhu's visit, he was only a child. When the little boy offered his respects at the feet of Sri Caitanya, the Lord picked him up and held him on his lap, affectionately embracing the boy. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu used to call the boy and give him the remnants of his prasadam. By giving him his prasada in this manner, he was blessing Gopal Bhatta Acharya to become a great acharya in the future.
The Lord arrived in Sri Rangam during the time of Chaturmasya. At that time he stayed in the house of Vyenkatta Bhatta. In Sri Rangam live many Sri Vaishanvas. Seeing the manifestation of divine sentiments in Sri Caitanya, however, many of them were converted, for they experienced the nectar of Krishna-prema. Every day, one brahmana Vaishnava after another invited the Lord to take lunch. In this way, during the four months of Chaturmasya, the Lord accepted many invitations, and still could not honor all the invitations of the many Vaishnava grihasthas who wanted to show their hospitality to the Lord.
The Lord stayed at the house of Vyenkatta Bhatta. Every day, Sri Gopala Bhatta would serve him personally. At that time, Sri Caitanya instructed Vyenkatta Bhatta on the position of Lakshmidevi and the worship of Lakshmi-Narayana versus the position of the gopis and the worship of Radha-Govinda. The Lord preached these points to him in a humourous style, laughing and joking in a clever way. The Lord said, "Bhatta! Your Lakshmidevi is the crest jewel of chaste ladies. My Krishna is a gopa-boy who herds cows. Why does she want to be with Krishna?"
Vyenkatta Bhatta said, "Krishna and Narayana are one and the same. Krishna is one of the forms our Lord takes in order to enjoy pastimes of a clever and sporting nature. There is no violation of Lakshmidevi's chastity if she takes an interest in Krishna – he is one and the same with Narayana. This is not in contradiction with any religious principles. Therefore why do you joke with me in this way?"
The Lord said, "What you say is true. But tell me, why is it that Lakshmidevi performs great penances to attain Krishna, but cannot do so? On the other hand, the Upanishads also performed penances to attain Krishna and did so. How is it that the Upanishads succeeded in entering Vrindavana and getting Krishna's association where Lakshmidevi failed?"
Vyenkatta said, "I cannot understand this at all." At this point he said, "You are Krishna Himself. You know the meaning of your own pastimes. Only those who you choose to enlighten can understand all these things. If you enlighten me, then I can also understand them."
At that time, Sri Caitanya explained that Lakshmidevi wanted to remain in her position as the opulent goddess of fortune in Vaikuntha and at the same time enter into the pastimes of Krishna, where sweetness and beauty are superior to power and opulence. This is not possible. Only those who follow in the footsteps of the gopis and the residents of Vrindavana can attain such a position. The Upanishads succeeded where Lakshmidevi failed because they followed in the footsteps of the Gopis.
Before this explanation was given Vyenkatta Bhatta thought that Sri Narayana was the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Thinking in this way, he believed that the worship of Narayana was the supreme form of worship. Mahaprabhu understood his misconception and corrected it through joking about it. After this, Vyenkatta was convinced of the Supreme position of Krishna and Vrindavana, and converted to the cause of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, although he was raised in the Ramanuja Sampradaya. He offered his respects at the lotus feet of the Lord and the Lord embraced him.
In this way, the Lord spent the four months of the rainy season at the home of Vyenkatta, discussing many things about Krishna and His pastimes. After this, he bid farewell. The happy home of the Bhattas was plunged into tears. Gopala Bhatta fainted at the Lord's lotus feet. The Lord gave some consolation to Gopala Bhatta saying, "Now you must serve at the home of your mother and father. Later, you must come to Vrindavana. There you will constantly hear and glorify the holy name of Sri Krishna." In this way, after instructing the whole family, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu went on his way.
Within a short time, Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami learned Sanskrit grammar, poetry, rhetoric and became expert in all the scriptures, beginning with the Vedanta sutra. His uncle, Sripad Prabodhananda Saraswati instructed him extensively in the different bhakti-shastras. His scholarship was unparalleled.
After he had been blessed by having darshan of the lotus feet of Sri Gauranga, Gopal Bhatta Goswami's mind was always absorbed in thoughts of the Lord's lotus feet. He began thinking, "When will I again obtain a vision of the Lord?"
Day and night he posed this question in his mind and could think of nothing else. And yet, he thought, "I cannot just give up my aging father and mother and go away." In this way, some time went by. At length his mother and father arrived at their final days. They called Gopala Bhatta to their side and said, "Boy, after we pass away, you must go to Vrindavana and take shelter of the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu." Taking the order of his mother and father on his head, Gopala Bhatta went to Vrindvana, always remembering the lotus feet of Mahaprabhu.
When Gopala Bhatta arrived in Vrindavana, he found that Rupa Goswami was preparing to send messages with some devotees from Vrindavana to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Puri. Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana Prabhu already knew that Gopala Bhatta would be coming to Vrindavana. Sri Rupa and Sanatana greeted him and treated him like a brother. From that time on, their lifelong friendship began.
When the messengers arrived in Puri, Mahaprabhu was happy to receive them. He heard from them of how Gopala Bhatta had come to Vrindavana. He sent the messenger from Vrindavana back to Rupa Goswami with the kaupin and outer garments of the babaji order, to be given to Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami as symbols of his renunciation. Sri Rupa received these things with great joy. Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami accepted the loincloth and dress of a babaji with great happiness, considering it to the Lord's mercy and prasada. In this way he went on. He was very close to Rupa and Sanatana. He would pass his nights at different kundas, and spent all his time studying the shastra and writing.
Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami had twelve shalagram shilas. He used to keep them in a cloth bag hung round his neck. Still, he had a mind to worship the Sri Vigraha of the Lord in his deity form. At this time a rich man went to see Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami. Having seen him, he was very happy. Eager to serve, the rich man offered some fine cloth and ornaments for the service of the Lord. Sri Gopala Bhatta placed these things before his shalagrams. The wealthy man bid Gopala Bhatta goodbye.
That night, Sri Bhatta Goswami offered aroti and bhoga and put his shalagrams to rest, covering them carefully in a basket. At last, late that night Gopala Bhatta after performing different kinds of bhajan, took some prasada and went to rest. The next morning he bathed in the Yamuna. When he went to wake his shalagrams and opened the basket, he saw, in the midst of the shalagrams, something divine. One of the shalagram shilas had become a full-fledged deity of Krishna with a three-fold bending form, who stood there looking very beautiful.
Seeing the unprecedented beauty of this deity, Gopala Bhatta's happiness took the shape of a great ocean in which he was diving and surfacing. Offering his full dandavats to the deity, he began offering different hymns and prayers to the Lord. Hearing this beautiful language, Sri Rupa Goswami and Sri Sanatana Goswami, as well as the other Vaishnavas and Goswamis, quickly went there and saw the world-enchanting beauty of the deity as tears of divine love flowed from their eyes and wet the earth. In the year 1599 of the Christian era, on the full moon day of Vaishakha, this deity form of Krishna became manifest. The Goswamis named this deity, "Sri Radha-ramana-deva."
After a time, Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami went to a town called Devavandya Gram in Saharan Pura near Haridwara. There he was received with great delight by the residents. One day, he was on his way to the house of a devotee near the edge of the town. In the afternoon, there was a great storm. On the road was the house of a brahmana in which Gopala Bhatta took shelter. This brahmana was very devoted to Krishna. He saw to the needs of Sri Bhatta Goswami with great care. Sripad Gopala Bhatta Goswami was very happy. The brahmana had no son. Gopala Bhatta blessed him, saying, "May you have a son who is a great devotee of Krishna." The brahmana then said, "I shall give you my first son to engage in the service of Krishna as you see fit."
Sri Bhatta Goswami stayed in Saharanapur and preached the holy name of Hari for a few days before returning to Vrindavana. At that time he went to the Gandaki river and retrieved twelve shalagram shilas from the river. One of these shalagramas was the one from which the deity of Radha-ramana-deva later manifest himself.
Almost ten years past since this time. One day, Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami went to take his noon bath in the Yamuna and afterwards returned to his kutir to perform his bhajan. From a distance he culd see a young boy sitting in the door of his hut. When the boy saw Sri Bhatta Goswami he arose and offered his obeisances at the Goswami's feet.
Sri Gopala Bhatta asked him, "Who are you?" The boy said, "I am from Devavandya Gram in Saharan Pura. I have come from there."
Bhatta Goswami said, "Who is your father? Why have you come to me?" The boy said, "My father has sent me here to engage in your service. My name is Gopinatha." With this, Gopala Bhatta remembered his previous conversation with the boy's father, in which the brahmana said he would give the Goswami his son to engage in the service of the Lord. After this time, Sri Gopinatha served Sri Bhatta Goswami with great attention and regard.
Subsequently that boy became known as Sri Gopinatha Pujari Goswami. He remained a brahmachari and served the Radha-ramana deity up until his death. Eventually his younger brother Sri Damodara Dasa took mantra initiation from Sri Gopinathaji and also engaged in the service of Sri Radharamana. Sri Damoadara Dasa had three sons, Harinatha, Mathuranatha and Harinama.
Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami served his beloved Radha-ramana deity constantly, remembering the words and teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. While serving in this way, the eyes of Gopala Bhatta were often filled with tears of divine love that flowed like torrential rain.
Whereupon Sri Radha-ramana deva bestowed upon Sri Bhatta Goswami a divine vision of Sri Gauranga Himself. "When Sri Bhatta Goswami was overwhelmed by Krishna-prema, Sri Radha-ramana revealed himself as Sri Gauranga deva." Bhakti Ratnakara 4th Taranga.
Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami gave mantra-diksha to Srinivasa Acharya. Srimad Sanatana Goswami composed Hari Bhakti Vilasa in collaboration with Gopala Bhatta Goswami, who edited the work. Sanatana Goswami had such great affection for Gopala Bhatta Goswami that he even published the book under his name. Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami was responsible for originating the six thesis of Sat Sandarbha later elaborately developed by Sri Jiva Goswami.
Jiva Goswami writes in the beginning of his Tattva-Sandarbha: "A devotee from South India who was born of a brahmana family and was a very intimate friend of Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami has written a book that he has not compiled systematically. Therefore I, a tiny living entity called Jiva, am trying to assort the events of the book systematically, consulting the direction of great personalities like Madhva, Sridhara Swami and Ramanujacharya."
Gopala Bhatta Goswami has written a foreward to Jiva Goswami's Sat Sandarbha. He wrote a commentary on Krishna-Karnamrita. He also wrote Sat-Kriya-Sara Dipika, a guide to Vaishnava samskaras and rituals for birth ceremonies, sacred thread initiations, marriage ceremonies, sannyasa, and funerals etc. In addition to this he composed many other scriptures.
In the Gaura-Gandodesha-Dipika, Sri Kavi Karnapura Goswami writes:
ananga-manjari sadya gopala bhattakah
bhatta goswaminam kocidahuh shri guna manjari
"In my opinion, that person who in Vrindavana was Ananga Manjari is now Gopal Bhatta Goswami. Some authorities, however, have given their opinion that he was Guna Manjari."
Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami was born in the year 1503 of the Christian era on the 13th day of the dark moon in the month of Pausha. Srimad Gopala Bhatta Goswami lived within this world for 75 years. In the Christian year of 1578 on the sixth day of the dark moon, Sri Gopala Bhatta Goswami left this world behind and entered into the eternal pastimes of the Lord.