Today I have been listening to the wonderful music of the Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnavas. The golden raspy voice of Srila Prabhupada has been working its magic on me. What a great tradition of poetry and song! Truly India responds to music. Whether Kabir, Nanak, Khusro or Chaitanya, poetry set to music is the underlying unifier that carries complex philosophical messages straight to our hearts.
In search of more information about the Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy, I came across the work done by the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre in Kolkata. They are researching and documenting the Sanskrit and Bengali literature of Vaishnavism. The latest document they have recorded and saved is a manuscript published in 1724. It is a copy Prema Bhakti Chandrika by Narottama Dasa Thakur, a 15th Century poet-saint. Narottama Dasa was a contemporary and follower of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Composed in Bengali, Prema Bhakti Chandrika consists of devotional songs.
|Prema Bhakti Chandrika|
Narottama Dasa Thakur is credited with popularising the Gaudiya Vaishanava teachings in Bengal. Born in the mid-1400's to a zamindar family in Bangladesh, he was an unusual person in many ways. He was blessed with an eidetic memory - the ability to memorize and recall anything he heard. Drawn to religion, Narottama Dasa travelled to Vrindavan, the birthplace of Lord Krishna. There he met the brothers Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami. They had been sent to Vrindavan by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to locate and preserve the lost sacred spots of Krishna's mythological birthplace. Rupa Goswami had composed several beautiful works. After visiting Vrindavan, studying the works of Rupa Goswami, and being initiated into Vaishnavism, Narottama Dasa returned to Bengal.
|Narottama Dasa Thakur|
Narottama Dasa travelled the length and breadth of Bengal, popularising Gaudiya Vaishnavism. He composed many works in Bengali, and initiated a great annual gathering of Vaishnavite followers, called the Kheturi Mahotsava (which continues to be a major festival even today).
The founder of the popular ISKCON movement, Prabhupada, traces his spiritual lineage (guruparampara) to Narottama Dasa. Narottama Dasa's songs are sung even today at the ISCKON centres all over India. Here's a beautiful song of Narottama Dasa, sung by Swami Prabhupada: Just listen to it! It combines the beauty of Bengali folk music with the ecstatic Bhakti of Vaishnavism. Prabhupada says about the songs of Narottama Dasa Thakur, "This sound is above the material platform. It is directly from the spiritual platform. And there is no need of understanding the language. It is just like a thunderburst. Everyone can hear the sound of thunder - there is no misunderstanding. Similarly, these songs are above the material platform, and they crack like thunder within your heart."