Srila Baladeva Vidyabhushana was born in the early part of the 18th century (1720-1790) in a village near Remuna, Balasore District of Orissa. Even though he was the son of a 'vaisHya' (farmer), in his youth he received a very thorough education in 'Sanskrit', rhetoric, logic and VaisHnava scripture. He accepted 'sannyasa' into the 'Madhwa-sampradaya' at a very young age, and stayed at Jagannatha Puri. He became a renowned scholar and travelled around India to all the holy places. During his travels Baladeva came to Puri in Orissa (Utkala), and met with one disciple of the famous Rasikananda Prabhu of the name Sri Radha Damodara Deva Goswami (1710-1760 A.D.). It was to the surprise of everyone that Baladeva was converted to Gaudiya VaisHnavism by Radha Damodara Deva Goswami, who first explained the philosophy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, in accordance with the tenants of Vedanta Sutra and Srimad Bhagavatam, then initiated him as his formal disciple. Under his direction he studied Jiva Goswami's Sat-Sandarbha, and he quickly became prominent in all intellectual circles.
This Radha Damodar Deva Goswami, although not promenent as a member of the 'parampara' he wrote Vedanta Syamantaka in six chapters dealing with the 'Pramanas' to be accepted, the five 'Prameyas' viz. Gos, Jivas, Prakrti, Time and Karma, and quotes Madhvacharya prolifically (Brahama Sutra Bhasya, page 14.), and pleads vigoursly for the distinction of the Jivas and 'Brahman' and repudiates the doctrine of 'Avacyatva' of 'Brahman' (page 21.). (B.N.K. Sharma. History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta. page 528.)
There is an interesting story which shows the surrendered mood of Baladeva and his sincere desire to please his spiritual masters.Once, when Vishvanatha Chakravati was too old to travel, he sent Baladeva to a conference to represent Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Baladeva was required to prove the validity of Gaudiya Vaishnavism to the rest of the Vaishnava community from a scriptural point of view, and thus become duly authorized to speak on matters pertaining to rituals ('puja') and Vaishnava religion. Though he was preaching furiously no-one was prepared to accept his statements according to Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy, although sufficient evidence was there. The reason others would not accept his statements was because there was no established commentary of Brahma Sutra or Vedanta Sutra to support Gaudiya Vaishnavism at that time. Some were saying that in every other 'sampradaya' the founding or reforming 'acarya' had made some form of commentary on Vedanta Sutra – Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhwa, Vallabha, etc. Even though Lord Chaitanya explained Vedanta Sutra (Chaitanya Charitamrta, Adi Lila, 7:138-146.) touching the main subject matter, nothing was written.
Some members of the Sri Sampradaya (the 'Ramanandis') began to raise this argument in the court of the King at Jaipur. They complained that as the Gaudiya Vaishnavas had no commentary on the Vedanta Sutra, they were not qualified to worship the Deity, and therefore all of the worship should be turned over to the Sri Sampradaya. They also objected to the worship of Srimati Radharani along with Sri Govinda and Sri Gopinatha as not being authorised anywhere in the shastras.
The king, Sadachari Raja, was initiated within the 'Gaudiya-Sampradaya'. Thus he quietly sent word to Vrindavan, informing the Devotees there of what had happened. At the same time the king was obliged to remove Radharani temporarily from the Deity room, as well as to suspend the Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava pujaris from partaking in the Deity worship.
As we have just stated, at that time Srila Visvanatha Cakravartipada was very aged, so it was not possible for him to make the arduous journey to Jaipur. In his place he sent his student, Sri Baladeva, who was fully conversant with the 'shastras' and thus able to competently face the challenge. In a great assembly he posed such forceful arguments to the followers of Ramanuja (the Ramanandis) that they could not reply to them. He further explained to them, "The originator of the Gaudiya Vaishnava 'sampradaya', Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, has accepted Srimad Bhagavatam as the natural commentary on the Vedanta Sutra, as composed by Srila Vyasadeva Himself. This is proven in the Sat-sandarbha." Srila A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami has commented on this point saying that, "The reason that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu didn't make a commentary on the Vedanta Sutra was because they came in the line through Vyasa to Madhwa, who had already made their commentaries, so why should they make theirs. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the Goswamis were quite happy to follow in the footsteps of the previous Acaryas." (A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. NY Jan 67 San Francisco, C.C. Madhya Lila 22:21/28.)
The scholars in the assembly however refused to accept anything other than a direct commentary on the Vedanta sutra. Having no other recourse, Baladeva promised to present them with one. They gave Baladeva eighteen days to have his commentary ready for discussion. The mood of the Ramanandis was quite aggressive, much like "Put up or shut up," which made Baladeva transcendentally anxious.
Feeling very aggrieved in this manner, Sri Baladeva took shelter of the Lord and came to Sri Govindaji's Temple in Jaipur. After offering his prostrated obeisances, he informed Sri Govinda of everything that had happened. That night a wonderful thing happened, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and instructed him to write a commentary on the Vedanta sutra. The Lord said, "You just write, and I will dictate to you what to write, and therefore no one will be able to refuse to accept it."
Having seen such a wonderful dream, Srila Baladeva was totally enlivened and felt renewed strength flow into his heart. Thus he began to write, and within a few days completed the commentary which was titled 'Sri Govinda Bhasya'.
vidya rupam bhusanam me pradaya kyatim nitya tena yo mamudarah
sri govinda svapna nirdista bhaso radha bandhubandhurangah sa jiyat
"May He Who so mercifully and munificently was kind towards me, and bestowed His favour by ordering me in a dream to write down His own commentary, which He would compose, and which attained such renown amongst the learned circles that they bestowed upon me the title 'Vidyabhusana'; may that dear Friend of Srimati Radharani, who holds Him dearer than Her own life, be glorified. May that Sri Govinda be glorified."
Bringing the commentary with him, Srila Baladeva again came to the assembly of the Ramanandi scholars. After reading the commentary they were simply speechless. Thus the victory of the 'Gaudiya-sampradaya' was announced far and wide, and the king, as well as the other Devotees, began to float in the ocean of bliss. This assembly took place in the year 1628 Sakabda, at Golta near the present city of Jaipur.
Srila Baladeva Vidyabhushana installed the Deity of Vijaya Gopala there at Golta Temple, but the whereabouts of this Deity are at present not known. From this day on, the Maharaja of Jaipur announced, "Sri Govinda's 'arati' would be performed first, and then the other Temples could perform their 'aratis'. It is always we have found, best to keep one's words sweet. As you never know when you will have to swallow them! Thus after accepting defeat, the Ramanandi scholars expressed their desire to accept initiation from Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushana. However he declined their request by stating that amongst the four authorized 'sampradayas', the 'Sri Sampradaya' was highly respectable and the foremost adherent of 'dasya-bhakti' (devotional service in the mood of servitorship). If there was any cause of loss of respect to the sampradaya this might be considered an offence. In this way he would not initiate them.
Returning from Jaipur to Vrindavan, Sri Baladeva presented the certificate of victory to Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura and narrated all of the events that had transpired. All the Devotees were in great ecstasy to receive this news and Chakravarti bestowed his full blessings on Sri Baladeva. At this time, Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushana began to write a commentary on Srila Jiva Goswami's Sat Sandarbha.
The Deities of Sri Jaya and Sri Vijaya Govinda, residing at Gokulananda Mandira in Vrindavan, were worshiped by Baladeva Vidyabhushana personally. According to the opinion of some Devotees, the Deities of Shyamananda Prabhu, Sri Sri Radha – Shyamasundara, were installed by Sri Baladeva Vidybhushana.
After Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura finished his pastimes in this world, Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushana became the next 'acarya' of the 'Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya'. At the end of Radha Damodar Deva's Vedanta Shyamantaka Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushana acknowledges his spiritual master thusly: "I have been sent here to Vrindavan by one 'brahmana guru', Sri Radha-Damodara Deva, to present a composition named Vedanta Shyamantaka, composed by his mercy for the pleasure of Srimati Radharani."
Srila Baladeva Vidybhushana became known later as Sri Govinda dasa. He had two well known disciples – Sri Vidya dasa and Sri Nandan Mishra, but many others also. Baladeva Vidyabhushana lived by the meaning of the following verse, knowing everything that had come to him was only the Lord's mercy, and all that he had achieved was by that same grace.
vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
vedanta-krd veda-vid eva caham
"By all the Vedas I am to be known, indeed I am the compiler of the Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas."(Bhagavad Gita 15:15.)
Some of Baladeva Vidyabhusana's most important works are:
1. Govinda-Bhasya, which is Vedanta Sutra commentary (and three other works dealing with the Brahma sutras of Vyasa.
4. Prameya Ratnavali
5. Siddhanta-Darpana (Siddhantaratna was to reinforce Govinda Bhasya.)
6. Aisvarya Kadambini
7. Samhitya Kaumudi
9. Kavya Kaustubha
10. Bhagavad Gita Bhasya
11. Vaisnavanandini Tika (commentary on Srimad Bhagavatam)
12. The Ten Upanishads, commentaries on each.
He also wrote commentaries on previous 'acarya's' works which are:
12. Tattva Sandarbha
13. Stana Mala
14. Gopala Tapani
15. Visnu Sahasra Nama
16. Laghu Bhagavatamrta
17. Nataka Candrika
18. Syamananda Sataka
In each of his works he bows to first to Sri Rupa and Sanatan calling them "veritable clouds in dispelling the dustorms of 'mayavad' (B.N.K. Sharma. 1986. History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta. page 530.)
In Baladeva's writings, his mood or 'rasa' is a mixture of 'sakhya' (friendship), 'dasya' (servitorship) and 'vatsalya' (parental love of Godhead), showing his roots in the Madhva line. In his works he not only quotes the Goswami literature of the Guadiya line, but prolofically cites the works of Madhva (Brahma Sutra iii:2:28; iv:4:19.) and Vyasa Tirtha, taking his presentation of 'Visesha' from Vyasa Tirtha's Nyayamrta (Dr. Nandi.; B.N.K. Sharma. History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta. page 530-531.), despite B.N.K. Sharma's squirming, and despirate refusal to accept that Baladeva had accepted the Madhva line, or philosophy (B.N.K. Sharma. History of the Dvaita school of Vedanta. page 531.)
There is still a small Temple of Baladeva Vidyabhushana just outside the pink city of Jaipur in Rajasthan. At that place called Galta he has his Deities, and about one hundred amazing Shaligram Shilas. It was here that he firmly established Gaudiya Vaishnavism by defeating all the attacks on Gaudiya philosophy through his presentation of Govinda Bhasya. This is the incredible place where nearby the Ganges river miraculously appears from a rock in the form of a waterfall. Srila Baladeva Vidyabhushana lived his life from this time on respected greatly for his learned understanding of the conclusions of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. In later life he retired to Sri Vrindavana Dhama where he stayed to a ripe old age.
As we have mentioned here, there are some followers of Madhvacharya who say that Baladeva Vidyabhushana had no connection with Madhva previously, yet he himself claims differently. In his "Premeya Ratnavali" (para 3.), he says, "Let that ascetic be ever victorious, whose name is Ananda Tirtha, who is the abode of joy, who is the ship to cross the ocean of transmigratory existence, and whom the wise ever praise in this world." In Para 4, he aligns himself to that lineage. "Those Devotees who are free from all faults should constantly meditate on the faultless disciplic succession of teachers and disciples, because by such meditation one's single pointedness of devotion is obtained, by which one receives the mercy of the Lord through the 'parampara'." Then at the end of Prameya Ratnavali, in his epilogue, he states how these principles were those of Sripad Madhvacharya and not his own, and in the final verse he says, "This Prameya Ratnavali should be kept in their hearts by the wise, as it contains the nine gems ('ratnas') of propositions well proven ('prameya'), as they were composed by Ananda Tirtha (Sripad Madhvacharya)."
Next comes Uddhava dasa Babaji the disciple of Baladeva Vidyabhushana. Uddhava dasa Babaji Maharaja's disciple was Madhusudana dasa Babaji, that much we know, and his disciple was Vaishnava Sarvabhauma Jagannatha dasa.