When Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, was living in Puri during the last eighteen years of His lila, His bhava of separation from Krishna was growing more and more intense day by day.
During the day He would perform nama-sankirtana with His Devotees and during the night in the company of Svarupa Damodara Goswami and Ramananda Raya, His love in separation would surpass the boundaries of human conception, throwing His associates in turmoil of anxious concern and amazement.
One day, by Lord Chaitanya’s arrangement, His personal servitor Govinda brought Shri Jagannatha’s Maha-prasada to the Siddha Bakula, the bhajan kutir of Shrila Haridas Thakur. When Govinda came in to Haridas Thakura’s garden, he found that Haridas was lying on the ground, softly chanting the Holy Names. Govinda said, “Thakur, on Lord Chaitanya’s command I have brought the Maha-prasada of Lord Jagannatha. Please come and accept it.”
Haridas Thakur looked up and in a very feeble voice said, “I have not yet finished my prescribed rounds of chanting the Holy Names of Krishna. Therefore I cannot eat. But at the same time this is Jagannatha’s Maha-prasada! I must honour and respect it.” So Haridas Thakur bowed down with folded hands offering prayers to the Prasada and then took a very tiny portion and honoured that.
The next day Mahaprabhu came to Siddha Bakula and saw Haridas Thakur slowly chanting his rounds. The Lord asked, “Haridas, are you well?” Haridas Thakur replied, “My body is all right, but my mind and intelligence are not well.” Lord Chaitanya asked, “What is the cause of your illness?” Haridas replied, “My Lord, kindly hear my plea. I am not able to complete the prescribed number of rounds of Krishna’s Holy Names, therefore I am in a diseased condition.”
Lord Chaitanya said to Haridas, “Thakur, you are very old now. Please reduce the number of rounds you are chanting. You are already liberated. You have transcended the modes of material nature. You have achieved the perfection of life. There is no need for you to chant so much. You have fulfilled the purpose of your incarnation in this world. Now please Haridas, reduce the number of rounds that you chant every day.”
Thakur Haridas with folded hands and a faltering voice replied, “Oh my Lord, please hear my plea. I am born in a low family. My body is abominable. I am always engaged in inferior works. Therefore I am the lowest and most condemned amongst men. I am untouchable. But yet You have magnanimously given me the opportunity to serve You. In giving me the opportunity to serve You, You have delivered me from the most horrible hellish conditions and You have elevated me to the platform of Vaikuntha.”
Haridas Thakur continued, he said, “My Lord, You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead and your independent will is supreme. The whole world is dancing according to your sweet will, and out of your causeless mercy you have made me dance in so many ways. For example even though I am most sinful and most condemned, in the assembly of qualified Brahmins, in the house of Advaita Acharya you gave me the honour of taking the first remnants of the sraadha although I have no qualification for that. My dear Lord, you are always merciful to your Devotee. And although I am not a Devotee – I am only an imitation of your Devotee, I have a very strong desire that I wish You to fulfill. I have had this desire, this one single desire in my heart for a very long time.”
“I fear that soon You will close Your pastimes in this material world. My dear Lord, please do not let me see this closing chapter of Your pastimes. Before that day comes let my body fall before You. This is my one cherished desire, my Lord. Allow me to take Your most cherished, worshipful lotus feet and embrace them to my heart. Allow my eyes to gaze at your moon-like face, and let my tongue constantly chant your Holy Names, Shri Krishna Chaitanya. In this state take the life air from my life and allow me to fall at Your feet. Please my Lord if it is possible by Your mercy, fulfill this one wish of mine.”
Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was deeply moved. He said, “Haridas, what are you saying? The only happiness I find in the material world is in your association. Why do you want to leave me behind?” Haridas replied, “ My Lord, why are You creating an illusion? I am most condemned, I am most abominable, You have millions and millions of Devotees, and each and every one of them is fit to sit on top my head. They are all helping You in a very useful way in Your pastimes. But, I am useless, I am condemned. My Lord, if an insignificant insect dies, what is the loss to this world? My Lord, please fulfill my desire.”
As the Lord had to perform His noon duties, Lord Chaitanya told Haridas Thakur that He would return the next day and left. The next morning, the Lord with all of His Devotees in Puri, went to the house of Haridas Thakur. Lord Chaitanya asked. “What is the news Haridas?” Haridas replied, “The news is whatever mercy You bestow upon me”
Then the Lord instructed His Devotees to begin Naam Sankirtan. Vakreshvara Pandit was the lead dancer. Svarupa Damodara was the lead singer. Ramananda Raya, Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya and all the Devotees present were chanting and dancing in ecstasy.
Thakur Haridas went and took the dust of the lotus feet every Devotee and placed it on his head. Then Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu began to explain to His Devotees His love for Haridas Thakur.
As He was describing the glories of Shrila Haridas Thakur with pure, unadulterated love He gradually became so enthusiastic and joyous that it seemed as though He had five mouths. The Devotees were struck with wonder and ecstasy to hear the Lord praise His Devotee with such deep affection.
All the assembled Devotees were overjoyed to see Lord Chaitanya glorify Haridas with such enthusiasm. Then Thakur Haridas again went and again took the dust from the lotus feet of every Devotee and placed it on his head in utter humility.
Then he sat Lord Chaitanya down before him and took His lotus feet, those beautiful golden lotus feet, that are the shelter of all existence and the shelter of all spiritual and material worlds.
And he pressed those feet with his two hands upon his heart, and gazed at Lord Gaurchandra’s lotus face. His eyes were like two bumblebees drinking the nectar of the moon-like face of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. And with tears streaming from Haridas Thakur’s eyes, gazing at the Lord he repeatedly chanted with deep emotion. “Shri Krishna Chaitanya. Shri Krishna Chaitanya.”
In the assembly of Devotees, by Lord Chaitanya’s grace, Haridas Thakur’s life air left his body at that moment. As he lay there… lifeless, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s spiritual rapture and ecstasy went seemingly beyond control. The entire Kirtan became tumultuous. The mrdanga, kartals, the enthusiasm and the love in the Devotees’ voices cried out Krishna’s Holy Names. Mahaprabhu maddened by His love, lifted up Haridas and embracing him to His heart began to dance!
Shri Gauranga Mahaprabhu ki Jaya!
All the Devotees seeing their beloved Haridas Thakur had left them, were weeping in the agony of separation, and at the same time seeing the Lord’s love for His Devotee they were lost in ecstatic amazement.
They chanted and danced and just couldn’t stop. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would not give up the body of Haridas. Eventually Svarupa Damodara somehow gently stopped the Lord from dancing. He said, “My Lord it is time for the last rites. We must perform the funeral ceremony. Let us make the arrangements.”
During that time a beautiful palanquin was made and Thakur Haridas’s body was laid on that. The Nama Sankirtan procession went from Siddha Bakula to the ocean. Vakreshvara Pandit was dancing, Svarupa Damodara and others were singing, and Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu out of love for his beloved Devotee led the procession, dancing in ecstasy until they arrived at the sea.
There Mahaprabhu personally took the body of Haridas Thakur. The Supreme Personality of Godhead lovingly held that body and personally bathed it with his own hands in the waters of the sea. And then Shri Chaitanya proclaimed loudly that for all time to come this sea in Puri was now a holy place of pilgrimage because it has bathed the body of Thakur Haridas. Lord Chaitanya bathed in the sea every single day, but in His opinion now it had become a holy place of pilgrimage because it bathed His blessed Devotee’s body. And as Shri Chaitanya was bathing Thakur Haridas’s feet the Devotees were drinking that water and sprinkling it on their heads in ecstatic love.
Then Mahaprabhu, with His own hands began to dig in the sand. The Devotees also helped Him dig until there was a suitable grave in the ground. Then Shri Chaitanya had Haridas Thakur’s body lowered . They anointed his limbs with fresh, fragrant sandal wood pulp which was the remnants of Jagannatha. Then they place upon his body Lord Jagannatha’s remnants, some pieces of the silk rope that is used to pull Lord Jagannatha, and they put garlands and some of Lord Jagannatha’s ornaments and clothes and the Lord’s Mahaprasad.
And then Lord Chaitanya with His own hands very lovingly put sand over Haridas’s body. After he was buried in his Samadhi the Devotees right then and there put a sign to commemorate. Mahaprabhu led all the Devotees to take their bath in the sea and then coming out of the sea they circumambulated the Samadhi Mandir of Haridas Thakur about four times.
Then arriving at the main gate entrance to Lord Jagannatha’s Temple Shri Gaurhari declared: “Today we are going to have a feast in the honour of the great Vaishnava Acharya Haridas Thakur”!
And Lord Chaitanya taking the position of the most menial servant went to each shop to beg alms for the feast. With tears of love in His eyes He begged each shopkeeper with His cloth open. “Please in honour of Haridas Thakur I beg some alms from you.” And each shopkeeper – and there were hundreds of them – brought entire baskets full of Mahaprasad. Svarupa Damodar Goswami said, “Lord Chaitanya, why don’t You go home for sometime we will do this begging.”
They brought so much Mahaprasad that Svarupa Damodara said to each shopkeeper, “just give four or five handfulls of each preparation. That will be more than enough.” Here Svarupa Damodara Goswami – Lalita Sakhi, who is the most confidential assistant of Radha-Damodar in the Spiritual World begging from ordinary people to glorify a Vaishnava.
Soon there were huge amounts of Mahaprasad. Then Lord Chaitanya began to serve each preparation. However Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was so eager to satisfy His Devotees that one handful was more than five men could eat. Such was His enthusiasm to serve. Svarupa Damodara Goswami approached Mahaprabhu and said, “ My Lord please let us serve, because no one is going to eat until You eat.”
So He sat down with Brahmananda Bharati and Paramananda Puri. Svarupa Damodara Goswami, the most confidential associate, the siksha guru of Ragunatha das Goswami, served Mahaprasad to all the Devotees and everyone there. Jagadananda Puri, Damodara Pandit, Shankara Pandit and Kashishvara Pandit also joyfully served the Mahaprasad.
Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu wanted to serve, but He was not allowed. His Devotees would not eat. So for the satisfaction of His Devotees and the Vaishnavas He sat to eat. But the Lord eats, we honour, because for Him it is bhoga. In the role of a Devotee He was honouring Prasada. And as He was eating Prasada with all of the Devotees, He still said “Give them more, Give them more!”
Then to honour Shrila Haridas Thakur Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu got up to wash His hand and all the Devotees also got up to wash their hands. Shri Chaitanya personally gave each Devotee a garland with His own hands. And with His own hands He took sandalwood pulp and ornamented their limbs with that – serving His Devotees.
And then Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu spoke to everyone. He said, “Today we have honoured the passing of Haridas Thakur. How fortunate is anyone who in anyway participated in this most sacred event. Anyone who was in the kirtan in the passing of Haridas, anyone who was there to bathe his body in the sea, anyone who has honoured this Prasada or heard the kirtan, all of you will become most dear to Krishna. You will achieve the supreme mercy of Krishna. That is the power of Haridas Thakur. By the Lord’s love and kindness he has given Me the association of Haridas Thakur, the Namacharya. But, now by the Lord’s inconceivable will He has taken away that association. Haridas Thakur is the Acharya of the chanting of the Holy Names. He has spread the Holy Name of Krishna in all directions. But now the Lord has taken him away from us. He was the crown jewel of this entire world, but now the world is bereft of that jewel. Everyone very loudly with raised arms call out Jai Jai Haridas! Jai Jai Haridas! Jai Jai Haridas! And chant the Hold Names of the Lord!
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.”
The Devotees chanted the Holy Names with great love and then the Lord returned to His abode at Gambhira. As He was walking He was simultaneously feeling the deep anguish of separation from His beloved Devotee. And at the same time He was feeling ecstasy.
This is something that can only be understood by the mercy of the Lord. We can theoretically comprehend certain things, but bhakti is about the experience of the heart. But to actually experience it, to actually realize it, is only possible by the mercy of the Lord.
Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu proclaimed Haridas Thakur to be the crest-jewel of all Devotees. He proclaimed him to be the Namacharya – the custodian and giver of the Holy Name of God! Such a rare honour has never before been conferred on any other Devotee.