khola-becataya khyatah panditah shridharo dvijah
asid vraje hasya-karo yo namna kusumasavah
One of the twelve Gopals in Krishna lila was named Kusumasava. He appeared in Gaura-lila as Shridhara Pandit, who was given the nickname khola-becha, “bark-seller.”
Shridhara Pandit was a resident of Navadwip. Navadwip is composed of nine islands, of which the central island is known as Antardwipa. He used to live at the northern extremity of Mayapur and to the southeast of the Chand Kazi’s samadhi, in the place that now goes by the name of Shridhara Angan. During his lifetime, it was a banana orchard, which nowadays is no longer the case, at least not to our mortal eyes. During this incarnation, Shridhara played the role of a poor Brahmin who made his living selling the produce of his banana garden. In order to keep the memory of Shridhara Pandit alive, the founder of the world-wide Chaitanya and Gaudiya Maths, Nitya-lila-pravishta Om Vishnupada Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupada, discovered and revealed this site of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s pastimes. Deity worship was established there and it continued until after Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur’s disappearance. Now, because of problems with local people, the place is once again losing its beauty. Even so, during the Navadwip parikrama, Devotees still pay their obeisances at that spot to the memory of Shridhara Pandit.
Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur has written as follows in his Nabadvipa-dhama-mahatmya: “Shridhara Pandit’s home comes after the weavers’ neighborhood. Gauranga Mahaprabhu ended the kirtan there.” Nityananda Prabhu says the following to Jiva Goswami:
“Out of His mercy, Mahaprabhu Gauranga Hari would end the kirtan here so that the Devotees could rest. It is therefore known as vishrama-sthana, or the Lord’s place of rest. So let us also repose a while here at the house of Shridhara Pandit.” (Navadwip-dhama-mahatmya)
According to this same book, there was previously a large tank near Shridhara’s banana orchard, but this too is no longer visible.
Material wealth and prosperity are not the truest signs of the Lord’s mercy on someone. Those who worship the gods and goddesses are generally seen to prosper materially, but one who is rich in the wealth of devotion to the Lord is the one who has truly benefited from his mercy. Mahaprabhu gave this teaching to His associates through Shridhara Pandit: a Devotee of Vishnu is free from attachments to material possessions and enjoyments.
One day, the Lord went to Shridhara’s place and asked him why he was so poor. He was worshiping the husband of the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi, and yet he never had enough money for food or clothing, and his house was dilapidated. On the other hand, those who worshiped the bloodthirsty Kali always seemed to have an abundance of material wealth. Shridhara answered that a bird who made its nest in the trees and wandered from place to place to find food was passing the time of day in the same way as a king in his palace who enjoyed the best objects of gratification. There was no difference of degree or amount of pleasure experienced by the two. The Lord then said to Shridhara: “Externally, though you appear to be poor, you are actually the true rich man. I will shortly reveal to the entire foolish world that the Devotee is qualified to possess the greatest wealth, indeed they are the owners of all things.”
Generally we call that person poor or unfortunate who is deprived of wealth, possessions and a home. One who has these things is called rich or fortunate. People try to accumulate wealth in order to find happiness, and not the opposite. This happiness is the real wealth, not the external possessions, etc. Shri Krishna is the personification of happiness. Thus in actual fact, the difference between wealth and poverty: the one who has love for Krishna is rich; one who does not is poor. By way of example, during Krishna’s lila, Vidura played the part of a poor man, but one who was rich in love for Krishna. On the other hand, Duryodhana possessed unlimited riches but had no love for Krishna, and thus was truly poor. The Supreme Lord used Kholabecha Shridhara to show the world who was truly wealthy and fortunate. The Lord is conquered by loving devotion alone, and by nothing else.
bhaktyaham ekaya grahyah shraddayatma priyah satam
bhaktih punati man-nishtha shvapakan api sambhavat
Being very dear to the saintly, I am only attained through devotion and unflinching faith. Devotion fixed on Me purifies even a dog-eater from all faults due to low birth and circumstances such as poverty. (Shrimad Bhagavatam 11.14.21)
patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakty-upahritam ashnami prayatatmanah
I accept whatever anyone offers Me with devotion, whether it be a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, because of his pure consciousness. (Bhagavad-gita 6.29)
The Lord accepts whatever is given to Him with devotion and eats it, but does not accept that which is given by a non-Devotee. He would not accept the invitation to eat the finest, most expensive foods with Duryodhana in order to take a humble meal prepared for him by Vidura and his wife.
The Lord Steals Shridhara’s Goods
The Supreme Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu showed the amazing pastime of hungrily taking Shridhara’s foodstuffs without even being invited to do so. While the Lord was engaged in His student pastimes, Shridhara used to make his living by selling banana flowers (mocja) and the core of the banana plant (thoria). He would spend half of whatever little money he made in this way on worshiping the Ganges, the other half on his own necessities. Like Yudhisthira, he was a great Devotee of the truth and would always tell the real price of an item he would sell. Everyone in Navadwip knew this and so would not haggle with him. But Mahaprabhu would come to Shridhara and give him only half the amount that he was asking for his bananas, banana flowers or thoria and then start to walk away with them. Every day, the two of them would pull back and forth on a bunch of bananas or something else, arguing for an hour or more over the price that was to be paid.
Every day they would argue for an hour and a half; then Mahaprabhu would leave half the asked price and walk away with the goods. Shridhara would always tell the truth and give the real price of each item, but the Lord would still only give him half of the amount he asked for and then take it. Shridhara would jump up and grab the item, trying to take it back, even pushing and shoving the Lord. (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.9.163-5)
Even though He argued with Shridhara, when He saw that he did not become angry, He would take all the goods that he was selling. Even though this is the way that it looks from a superficial point of view, the fact of the matter is that when Shridhara saw the beautiful form of the Lord, he allowed Him to get away with stealing his goods without getting angry. At the sight of the Lord’s beauty, he would become enchanted and immersed in an ocean of joy. While arguing with him, Mahaprabhu would call him names in great satisfaction, sometimes subtly hinting at His own divine identity:
“Every day you buy things to offer to the Ganga. Why don’t you just give something to Me without charging anything? Don’t you know that I am the father of the Ganga that you worship. I am telling you the truth about this!” (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.9.178-9)
They finally came to a settlement and Shridhara agreed to daily give Mahaprabhu some bananas or other items from the banana tree for free. From then on, the Lord would daily eat with great satisfaction from the little bowls made of banana bark that had been given to him by Shridhara.
The Lord said, “Alright, alright. There is no necessity for anything else.” And from that day on, He ate with great contentment on banana leaves given Him by Shridhara. The Lord thus eats anything that the Devotee offers Him, but He rejects even rich items given Him by a non-Devotee. (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.9.184-6)
Shridhara Blessed at the Maha-prakasha
On that eventful night when the Lord sat on the altar in Shrivasa’s home and revealed His divine form to His Devotees for 21 hours, showing them all the different incarnations of Vishnu, one after the other, He told them to bring Shridhara there also. Shridhara would regularly stay up the whole night chanting the Holy Names and calling out to the Lord. This was a source of happiness to the Devotees, but the non-Devotees would complain that he was keeping them awake with his noise and they would regularly criticize and rebuke him. As the Devotees were going to his house on the Lord’s order, they could hear him chanting loudly from a considerable distance prior to arriving.
When he came to Shrivasa Angan, Shridhara beheld the glorious divine form of the Lord and fell to the ground in a faint. He was brought back to consciousness by the Lord’s voice and then, with the power that was given him through the Lord’s mercy, began to recite hymns of glorification. Satisfied with Shridhara’s hymns of praise, Mahaprabhu wished to give him the eight mystic powers as a benediction, but Shridhara refused, saying that he only wanted service to the Lord’s lotus feet.
Lord Vishvambhara repeatedly urged Shridhara to ask for a boon. Finally Shridhara said, “Lord, if You must give me something, then I ask for this. May that Brahmin who used to pinch my banana leaves and bark be my Lord, lifetime after lifetime. May that Brahmin who used to argue with me be my master, and I serve His lotus feet.” (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.9.223-5)
Who can recognize all these servants of the Lord who want neither wealth, nor followers, nor even scholarship. Of what use are learning, wealth, beauty, fame or high birth? All of these things simply increase one’s pride and are ultimately valueless. A millionaire may try for millions of years to achieve what Shridhara did, simply by selling bananas and banana products, and still not be able to do so. (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.9.233-5)
Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur comments on these verses as follows: “Through empirical knowledge or external analysis, no one can recognize the true character of a Devotee. It should not be thought that the ability to collect great amounts of money is a function of devotion, nor that someone who is able to accumulate a great number of followers is a better Vaishnava than someone who cannot. Furthermore, if someone is a great religious scholar, this does not mean that he is a Devotee of the Lord. A servant of Shri Chaitanya might have very little money, may show no signs of having a great number of followers, and may have no talent for argument or debate, and ordinary people are unable to understand why he is indifferent to these externals. These Devotees consider service to Shri Chaitanya to be something more valuable than the accumulation of wealth, followers or learning. Thus, there is no possibility of the depth of their wisdom, their glories and their superiority being perceived by the general public.”
Who is capable of recognizing a Devotee? He may possess all perfections, but we see only his poverty. The seller of banana products, Shridhara Pandit, is a living example of this. He disregarded the eight mystic perfections in order to simply accept devotion as a benediction. However much misery you see in a Devotee’s life, you should know that in fact he is enjoying divine pleasure in devotional service. Those who are absorbed in sense gratification and intoxicated by learning or wealth can never recognize a Vaishnava. (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.9.238-41)
Mahaprabhu Drinks from Shridhara’s Waterpot
When Mahaprabhu was leading the sankirtan party after having delivered Chand Kazi, He returned through the quarter of the conch shell merchants and that of the weavers to arrive finally at Shridhara Pandit’s house. He then took a long drink of water from Shridhara’s old, beaten iron water pot. When Shridhara saw Mahaprabhu do this, he was mortified and fell unconscious.
Mahaprabhu’s action was meant to teach us that by drinking a Devotee’s water, we can attain devotion. He wanted to show that the water from a Devotee’s water jug, even though it is old and rusty, is still like nectar to the Supreme Lord Himself. By way of contrast, He ignores the proud non-Devotee’s water, even when offered in a jeweled goblet.
When the Lord saw Shridhara’s tumbledown shack of a home from a distance, He laughed quietly from the inner joy He felt. He led the company of Devotees along the path to Shridhara’s hut, where He spotted an iron water pot full of holes. There was still a little water in it, and the Lord drank it thirstily. The Lord is bhakta-vatsala, ever affectionate toward His Devotees, and this act overwhelmed Him with feelings of love. Tears poured from His eyes like the currents of the Ganga, and a wonderful kirtan began in Shridhara’s courtyard in which all the Devotees led by Nityananda and Advaita Prabhus were crying. Ah, when I think of the great joy they all experienced on that day here at Shridhara’s house, my heart is torn. (Bhakti-ratnakara 12.3136-41)
The Lord drank water from Shridhara’s iron water pot and He fulfilled the desires of every single Devotee. (Chaitanya Charitamrita 1.17.70)
On the very day before He took sannyas, Mahaprabhu happily accepted a gift of a gourd from Shridhara. Sachi Mata cooked the gourd with milk, making one of the Lord’s favorite preparations.
The pious Shridhara came to see the Lord carrying a gourd (lau). When Gaurasundara saw the gift He laughed and asked, “Where did you get it?” But He knew that He would be leaving the next day and would not be able to eat it then. But He did not want to see the gift go unused and so He determined to have it prepared that very day. (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.28.33-6)
After taking sannyas, Mahaprabhu wandered in the land of Rarha for three days in a intoxicated state of love for Krishna until Nityananda tricked Him to coming to Shantipur to Advaita Acharya’s house. When the Lord met Sachi Mata and the other Navadwip Devotees, He also met with Shridhara. Shridhara came every year to Puri to meet with the Lord at the time of the Rathayatra.
[Excerpted from “Shri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates” by Shrila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj]