Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura – Biography

vishvasya natha-rupo’sau bhakti-vartma-pradarshanat
bhakta-cakre vartitatvat cakravarty-akhyayabhavat

Because he revealed the path of devotion, he is considered to be identical with the Lord of the Universe, Vishvanath; and because he was predominant in the circle of Vaishnavas, he held the title Chakravarti.

Vishvanath’s Birth and Disciplic Succession

Vishvanath took birth in a family of Rarihiya Brahmins in the village of Devagrama in Nadia district in about 1560 of the Shaka era (1638 AD). Some others suggest 1576 (1656) as his year of birth. The Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana identifies his father as Rama Narayan Chakravarti. His mother’s name is unknown. He had two older brothers, Ramabhadra and Raghunath. His spiritual master was Radharamana Chakravarti, disciple of Krishnacarana Chakravarti. Krishnacarana Chakravarti was a disciple and, according to some, adopted son of Ganga Narayan Chakravarti. Vishvanath has summarized his guru-parampara at the beginning of the Rasa-païcadhyaya section of his Sarartha-darshini commentary on the Srimad Bhagavatam.

shri-rama-krishna-ganga-caranan natva gurun uru-premnah
shrila-narottama-natha-shrigauranga-prabhum naumi

In this verse, Radharamana Chakravarti’s name is abbreviated as Rama, Krishnacarana’s name as Krishna, and Ganga Narayan’s name as Ganga. The word natha refers to Lokanatha Goswami, whose guru was Gauranga Mahaprabhu. Thus the entire disciplic succession of Vishvanath has been given in this one single verse.

Vishvanath’s Studies and Writings

After completing his studies of grammar in Devagrama, Vishvanath went to Saiyadabad in the Murshidabad district to study devotional scriptures from his guru. According to the Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana, Vishvanath was married. Although he was married according to the rites, he never showed the slightest attachment for family life. It is said that he taught his wife the Bhagavat, giving her a taste for its nectar, and instructed her to devote herself to the worship of the Lord before he left home.

Srila Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakur followed the example of Sri Rupa and went to live in Vrindavan where he could dedicate himself to the devotional life. As a result of his commitment to following the orders of his spiritual master, he received many blessings from him. These blessings took shape in his good fortune to be able to live in various spots in Vraja-dham and write a great number of books on Gaudiya Vaishnava subjects, which are considered to be a great treasure by those in the sampradaya. All his books and his commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita and Bhagavat are written in a Sanskrit which is clear and simple, but at the same time full of the nectar of devotion.

In the edition of the Bhagavad-gita published by the Sri Chaitanya Gaudiya Math, the following points are raised under the heading, “A description of the commentary”: “In Gaudiya Vaishnava history, Vishvanath was the guardian and chief teacher of the middle period. Amongst Vaishnavas of our day, a saying has been preserved about three of his works: kirana-bindu-kana, ei tin niye vaishnava-pana — Vishvanath’s resumes of Rupa Goswami’s Ujjvala-nilamani (Ujjvala-nilamani-kirana), Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu-bindu), and Laghu-bhagavatamrita (Bhagavatamrita-kana) are the source of transcendental joy for the Vaishnavas; studying them makes one a Vaishnava. After the disappearance of Mahaprabhu’s Vrindavan associates, Srinivas, Narottama and Shyamananda preserved the traditions and expanded the movement in Bengal. Vishvanath is the fourth descendant in the disciplic line from Narottama Das. Few acharyas of the Gaudiya Vaishnava school have been as productive as Vishvanath. Besides writing this large corpus of books, Vishvanath also made two other major contributions, both of which are related to preaching and kirtan.”

Rupa Kaviraj was excommunicated from Vaishnava society. He was the founder of an apasampradaya which taught that only renunciates were eligible to act as acharya, all householders are disqualified. He preached a distorted doctrine of raganuga bhakti which completely negates the value of vidhi-marga, minimizing the importance of hearing and chanting. To the benefit of the general public, Vishvanath has argued against this doctrine in the Sarartha-darshini commentary on the Third Canto of the Bhagavat. Rupa Kaviraj holds that no householder can take the Goswami title. Vishvanath counters this proposition by stating, on the basis of scripture, that any member of a dynasty of gurus who has the proper qualifications is entitled to be called a Goswami, i.e., he can do the work of a guru or acharya. However, to call one’s unworthy children Goswamis simply for the purpose of accumulating wealth and disciples is opposed to the scriptural conclusions and is to be considered unlawful, even if born in a family with a tradition of acting as gurus.

Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakur wrote Bengali songs under the pen-name of Harivallabha Das. Some people say that this name was given to him when he took the vairagi vesha. In all respects, Vishvanath is worthy of superlatives, whether in his expertise in philosophical discourse, his knowledge of the Vaishnava scriptures, or his poetic talent.

The following is a list of the books written by Vishvanath:

(1) Vraja-riti-cintamani

(2) Camatkara-candrika

(3) Prema-samputa

(4) Gitavali

(5) Subodhini commentary to Alankara-kaustubha

(6) Ananda-candrika commentary to Ujjvala-nilamani

(7) a commentary on Gopal-tapani Upanishad

(8) Shri-Krishna-bhavanamrita a maha-kavya

(9) Shri-Bhagavatamrita-kana

(10) Ujjvala-nilamani-kirana-lesha

(11) Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu-bindu

(12) Ragavartma-candrika

(13) Aishvarya-kadambini which appears to have been lost

(14) Madhurya-kadambini

(15) Bhakti-sara-pradarshini a commentary on Bhaktirasamrita-sindhu

(16) Ananda-candrika a commentary on the Ujjvala-nilamani

(17) a commentary on the Danakeli-kaumudi

(18) a commentary on the Lalita-madhava

(19) an incomplete commentary on Chaitanya Charitamrita

(20) a commentary on the Brahma-samhita

(21) Sararthavarshini a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita

(22) Sarartha-darshini a commentary on the Srimad Bhagavatam

He also wrote a number of small works which have been collected as Stavamrita-lahari:

(1) Guru-tattvashtaka

(2) Mantra-datri-gurvashtaka

(3) Paramaguror ashtaka

(4) Paratparaguror ashtaka

(5) Parama-paratparaguror ashtaka

(6) Shri-Lokanathashtaka

(7) Shri-Narottamashtaka

(8) Shri-Sacinandanashtaka

(9) Shri-Svarupa-caritamrita

(10) Svapna-vilasamritam

(11) Shri-Gopaladevashtaka

(12) Shri-Madanamohanashtaka

(13) Shri-Govindashtaka

(14) Shri-Gopinathashtaka

(15) Shri-Gokulanandashtaka

(16) Svayam Bhagavadashtaka

(17) Shri-Radhakundashtaka

(18) Jaganmohanashtaka

(19) Anuragavalli

(20) Shri-Vrindadevyashtaka

(21) Shri-Vrindavanashtaka

(22) Shri-Radhika-dhyanamrita

(23) Shri-Rupacintamani

(24) Shri-Nandishvarashtaka

(25) Shri-Govardhanashtaka

(26) Shri-Sankalpa-kalpadruma

(27) Shri-Nikuïja-virudavali

(28) Shri-Surata-kathamrita

(29) Shri-Shyamakundashtaka

His Student Baladeva

When Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakur was old and hampered in his ability to travel, the acharyas of the Ramanuja sampradaya in the Galta village of Jaipur attempted to convert the King of Jaipur to their school by denying that the Gaudiya school had any historical basis. They accused the Gaudiyas of not having a tie to any one of the four Vaishnava disciplic successions. They advised the King of Jaipur to take initiation from someone in the Ramanuja line. The King was confused by their arguments and asked Vishvanath, who was the most prominent acharya of the Gaudiya school at that time, to come to Jaipur and answer the questions posed by the Ramanuja group. Due to his advanced age, Vishvanath was unable to go, but in his stead he sent his dear student, Baladeva Vidyabhushana to defend the line.

One of the arguments of the Ramanujis was that the Gaudiya school had no commentary of its own on the Vedanta. Baladeva asked the accusers for some time — seven days according to some, three months according to others — to write a Gaudiya commentary on Vedanta. He was given the time and then he went to the Govinda temple and prayed to his guru and to the Lord to give him the power to write such a commentary. Govindaji’s garland fell from around his neck and the pujaris placed it on Baladeva chest. Baladeva took this a sign that the Lord had given him authorization.

With the Lord’s blessings, even the impossible becomes possible, and Baladeva undertook the writing of comments to the 500 sutras of the Brahmasutra, completing it in the limited time given him but without neglecting the aesthetic qualities of the Gaudiya tradition in any way. When he went to Galta, the scholars of the other sampradayas were astonished by the quality of Baladeva’s commentary. Because Govindaji himself had ordered its writing, the commentary became known as the Govinda-bhashya. It was after completing this commentary that Baladeva received the Vidyabhushana title.

It is said of Vishvanath that when he wrote the Bhagavat, when it rained, water fell everywhere except the place where he was sitting. Thus, the ink did not run and the text remained intact.

Vishvanath established the service of Gokulananda, and the Gokulanandaji temple stands in Vrindavan. Vishvanath left this world in Radhakunda in ca. 1630 of the Shaka era (1708 AD). The tithi was either the Shukla or Krishna Païcami of the month of Magh.

[Excerpted from "Sri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates" by Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj]