Sanatana Gosvami

Sanatana Gosvami

Gaudiya Vaishnava theologian and saint.
Country: India

Biography of Sanatana Goswami

Sanatana Goswami is a Gaudiya Vaishnava theologian and saint, known as one of the closest associates of the founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He is the author of several important works and, along with his brother Rupa Goswami, was the most respected and influential among the group of six Gaudiya Vaishnava saints known as the Six Goswamis of Vrindavan. Sanatana Goswami's literary contribution to the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya can only be compared to that of Rupa Goswami and Raghunatha Dasa Goswami. His most important works include "Hari-bhakti-vilasa," "Brihad-bhagavatamrita," "Dashama-tippani" - a commentary on the "Shrimad Bhagavatam," also known as "Brihad-vaishnava-toshani," and "Dashama-charita."

According to the biography of Sanatana Goswami, written by his nephew Jiva Goswami, their lineage can be traced back to Sarvagya, a Yajur Vedic Brahmin who was descended from the lineage of the rishi Bharadvaja. Sarvagya was a highly respected Brahmin in Karnataka and became the king of the region in 1381. He was so learned that he was renowned as "jagad-guru" or "teacher of the world." His son, Aniruddha, became the king in 1416. Aniruddha had two queens, each of whom gave birth to one son, Rupeshvara and Harihar. Rupeshvara was a great scholar in various fields of knowledge, especially in all sections of sacred scriptures. His brother Harihar was also highly educated and particularly knowledgeable in texts related to royal politics. Together with his wife Rupeshvara, he left Karnataka and settled in Paustya, where he became a friend of King Sri Shekhara. Rupeshvara had a son named Padmanabha, who became a great pandit in Vedic scriptures. Padmanabha settled in Navahatta, on the banks of the Ganges, in Bengal. He had eight daughters and five sons. All his sons were also scholars of scriptures. They were named Purushottama, Jagannatha, Narayana, Murari, and Mukunda. The youngest son, Mukunda, relocated to Fatehabad, near Jessore in Bakla Chandradvipa Paraganas. Mukundadeva had a son named Kumaradeva, who had many children. Among them were Rupa, Sanatana, and Anupama. Sanatana Goswami was born in 1488 and his younger brother Rupa Goswami was born in 1493.

Rupa and Anupama received their education in a village called Sakurma, located near the capital of Bengal (which was known as Gauda at that time). When their father died, they moved to live with their maternal uncle. Sanatana was the eldest son of Kumaradeva, Rupa was his second son, and Anupama was his youngest son. Jiva was the only son of Anupama. Sanatana and Rupa were given their names by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu when they later became his disciples. Their original names are unknown, although some sources claim that their original names were Amar and Santosh. The three brothers, Sanatana, Rupa, and Anupama, were immersed in Krishna's pastimes from early childhood, playing in the forests of Vrindavan. The trees, Tamaal, Keli-kadamba, and Tulasi surrounded the house where they grew up. In the midst of the tree groves were ponds, which they named after the sacred lakes in Vrindavan, Radha-kunda and Shyama-kunda. Thus, they were constantly immersed in remembrance and service to Krishna.

News of Rupa and Sanatana's abilities reached the ruler of Bengal, Hussein Shah. Upon learning of their fame, Shah offered them certain positions in his government, which they accepted. During those times, it was customary for Hindus to hold posts in the Muslim kings' governments. Among the Hindus who agreed to serve in Shah's government were many Vaishnavas mentioned in the "Chaitanya Charitamrita" and other scriptures. They included Keshava Vasu Khan, who served as the city magistrate or police commissioner of Bengal; Gopinatha Vasu and Purandara Khan served as prime ministers; Mukunda Kaviraja was a physician; Keshava Chhatra was a royal diplomat and advisor to the king. Sanatana became known as Sakara Mallika and was appointed Shah's personal secretary. Mallika means "lord," and it was a title frequently conferred by Muslims upon members of respected and wealthy families who had close ties to the government. Rupa became known as Dabir Khas and was appointed as a customs officer and treasurer's secretary for Hussein Shah. Anupama became the chief manager of the royal mint. They received a large salary from Shah and soon acquired immense wealth.

According to the customs of that time, if a person interacted with Muslims, they were considered impure and had to perform purification rituals. However, Sanatana Goswami always associated with Muslims and ignored the prevailing customs, considering himself fallen from the level of a Brahmin. He presented himself as a fallen person, which is considered a manifestation of his humility by Vaishnavas. He was praised for this in the "Chaitanya Charitamrita" and by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself. Rupa and Sanatana settled in Ramakeli, which Sultan Barbak had made the capital of Bengal in 1486. Ramakeli is currently located in the Malda district of West Bengal, eight kilometers from the Malda railway station. Many well-known Vaishnavas resided in Ramakeli, including the son of Advaita Acharya, Nrisimha.

Rupa and Sanatana were visited by many renowned scholars and Brahmins. They came not only from neighboring Navadvipa and Bengal but also from beyond, including Karnataka. One of these scholars was Vidya Vachaspati, who became the teacher of Rupa and Sanatana in the field of philosophy and scriptures. Vidya Vachaspati was the brother of the great pandit Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, who was renowned for his erudition throughout India. When Rupa and Sanatana heard about the amazing deeds of Chaitanya in nearby Navadvipa, they were eager to meet him.

When Sanatana was very young, he had a dream in which he saw a Brahmin who gave him the "Shrimad Bhagavatam." Upon receiving the book, Sanatana experienced divine ecstasy, and his hair stood on end. The dream ended there. The next morning, Sanatana performed his morning puja after bathing. At that time, a Brahmin appeared carrying the "Shrimad Bhagavatam" in his hands. Approaching Sanatana, the Brahmin said, "Take this 'Bhagavata.' Study it constantly, and you will attain perfection." Saying these words, the Brahmin handed him the book and disappeared. When Sanatana received the sacred "Shrimad Bhagavatam," he was overwhelmed with spiritual ecstasy. From that day on, Sanatana studied only the "Shrimad Bhagavatam," setting aside other scriptures. In his "Krishna Lila Stava," he wrote:

"O Holy Bhagavata, you are now with me, you are my only friend and my guru. You are my greatest treasure, my savior, you represent my greatest fortune, the embodiment of my ecstasy. I bow down in reverence before you."

It is described that when news spread that Chaitanya had taken sannyasa and gone to Puri, Rupa and Sanatana fainted. Having never seen Chaitanya in Navadvipa, they were devastated that he had left Bengal. Then they heard a divine voice saying, "Do not worry. Merciful Gauranga will soon return here." Upon hearing this voice, they were comforted.

After spending five years in Puri, Chaitanya desired to return to Bengal to see the Ganges and visit his mother. It is described that when he arrived in Navadvipa, the joy of the Vaishnavas knew no bounds.

Chaitanya stayed for a few days at the house of Advaita Acharya in Shantipur and then continued his journey to Ramakeli. In the "Chaitanya Charitamrita," it is described:

"When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu continued His journey from Kuliya to Vrindavan, thousands of people accompanied Him, and all of them were devotees. Wherever the Lord appeared, countless crowds of people came to see Him. When they saw Him, all their miseries and sorrows disappeared. Wherever the Lord touched the ground with His lotus feet, people came and collected the dust. And there were so many of them that the road was filled with potholes."

Chaitanya continued his journey and arrived in Ramakeli. While performing public congregational chanting of Krishna's names, called sankirtan, Chaitanya danced and sometimes fell into states of ecstasy from his love for God. During his stay in Ramakeli, an immeasurable number of people came from everywhere to see him. When the Muslim ruler of Bengal heard that Chaitanya had attracted an immense crowd without receiving any payment from them, he was amazed. He became interested in Chaitanya's personality and started questioning Rupa and Sanatana about him. They replied that since he was a king and therefore a representative of God, he should know better than anyone else who Chaitanya was. After that, the Muslim ruler made the following statement: "A person who is followed by so many people without receiving any money must be a prophet." He ordered his judge, "Do not trouble this Indian prophet. Let him do whatever he wants, wherever he wants."

Chaitanya stopped to rest under a tree on the banks of the Ganges. Only his closest companions were with him. In the evening, Sanatana Goswami and Rupa Goswami arrived. They met Nityananda and Haridasa Thakura, who informed Chaitanya about their arrival. In a gesture of utmost humility, Rupa and Sanatana took a blade of grass in their teeth and, tying a cloth around their necks, fell down like sticks before Chaitanya. Seeing Chaitanya, they were filled with joy and began to cry. Chaitanya asked them to rise and blessed them. They stood up and, without removing the grass from their mouths, humbly offered their prayers with folded hands. They said, "All glory to Shri Krishna Chaitanya, the most merciful savior of fallen souls. All glory to the Lord."

Then they introduced themselves: "Lord, we belong to the lowest class of people, and our circle of associates and positions held also belong to the lowest type. Therefore, we cannot introduce ourselves to you. We are very ashamed to stand before you. Dear Lord, you have incarnated to save fallen souls. You must understand that no one in this world has fallen as low as we have. In fact, we belong to the meat-eating caste because we serve meat-eaters. Since we associate with them, we have become enemies of cows and Brahmins."

They continued to pray to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, "No one in the universe is capable of delivering us. You are the savior of fallen souls. Only you can save us. If you liberate sinners like us, then the glory of your mercy will spread throughout the world. You have come to save the most fallen. We are the most fallen. If you bestow your mercy upon us, everyone will witness this mercy, and your mission to save the most fallen will be successful. Although we are unworthy of receiving your mercy, we desire it with all our hearts."

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu responded, "My dear Dabir Khasa and Sakara Mallika, both of you are my old servants. From this day forward, you will be known as Rupa and Sanatana. Please stop showing me your humility, as it breaks my heart into pieces. You have written many kind and humble letters to me, from which I have been able to understand everything about you. I came to Bengal with only one purpose: to see you. Everyone asks why I came to Ramakeli because no one knows that I came here only to meet you. It's good that you have come to visit me. Now you can go back home. Do not fear anything: life after life, you have been my eternal servants. I am sure that Krishna will soon liberate you."

Then Chaitanya blessed them, placing his hands on their heads, and Rupa and Sanatana touched his feet with their heads. Seeing this, all the present Vaishnavas rejoiced and began to chant the names of Krishna. There were many close associates of Chaitanya present, including Nityananda, Haridasa Thakura, Shrivasa Thakura, Gadadhara, Mukunda, Jagadananda, Murari Gupta, and Vakreshvara Pandit. Then, at Chaitanya's instruction, Rupa and Sanatana touched the feet of each of these Vaishnavas, who congratulated the two brothers on having gained Chaitanya's mercy. After obtaining permission from the Vaishnavas present, Rupa and Sanatana were about to leave but before doing so, they told Chaitanya the following: "Lord, although the ruler of Bengal, Hussein Shah, treats you with certain respect, your mission here is complete. Therefore, we humbly request you to leave so that no harm befalls you and your devotees. The king may respect you, but he is a meat-eater and a Muslim, and therefore, by nature, he is hostile to cows and Brahmins. He cannot be trusted completely. We respectfully suggest that there is no need to go to Vrindavan with such a huge crowd of people. Vrindavan is a simple and beautiful place, devoid of opulence and grandeur. We believe that it is better not to undertake a pilgrimage there with hundreds and thousands of followers."

That night, Chaitanya contemplated Sanatana's proposal and decided to go to Vrindavan alone or with someone else. Immersed in such thoughts, Chaitanya returned to Puri.

In the "Chaitanya Charitamrita," it is described how Sanatana Goswami was able to leave his governmental duties and settle in Vrindavan. Under the pretext of illness, he left his post and began studying the "Shrimad Bhagavatam" at home with other Vaishnavas. When the court physician drew Shah's attention to this, he came to Sanatana and demanded that Sanatana accompany him to Orissa. Sanatana refused, and Shah ordered him to be imprisoned. With the help of money sent by Rupa Goswami, Sanatana bribed the jailer and escaped. Then, together with his servant Ishana, he set out for Varanasi to meet Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Along the way, they stayed at an inn, where they realized that the innkeeper wanted to kill them and take the gold coins they were carrying. Sanatana then ordered Ishana to give all the coins they had to the innkeeper and, in exchange, asked for help in navigating through the jungles. The innkeeper, who was the leader of local bandits, was moved and, helping them, guided them through the jungles and the Hazaribagh mountains. In the company of Ishana, Sanatana visited his son-in-law Sri Kanta. Seeing that his brother-in-law was on the run and had become a beggar, Sri Kanta offered him a place to stay, but Sanatana refused. When Sanatana Goswami was leaving, Sri Kanta presented him with a luxurious woolen blanket.

When Sanatana reached Varanasi, he met Chaitanya at the house of Chandrashekhar. Chaitanya ordered him to shave off his beard and long hair. Sanatana shaved and dressed in the attire of a babaji, wearing old clothes given by Tapan Mishra. When he realized that Chaitanya did not approve of a babaji wearing beautiful expensive woolen blankets, he exchanged the blanket for a torn quilted one from a poor Brahmin he met on the banks of the Ganges. Chaitanya was pleased with Sanatana's humility and submissiveness and gave him philosophical instructions for some time.

Chaitanya explained in detail to Sanatana Goswami the condition of the soul in the material world and the inherent nature of the soul as an eternal servant of Krishna. He explained the various energies of Krishna - svārūpa-śakti, māyā-śakti, and tātaṣṭha-śakti. He described the relative positions of karma, jnana, and bhakti, retelling the story of the astrologer Sarvagya. He showed that the main goal of all scriptures is Krishna and service to Him. It was during this time that Chaitanya also described to Sanatana the process of devotional service, the different rasas, or relationships, with Krishna, and the confidential pastimes of Radha and Krishna.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's teachings profoundly influenced Sanatana Goswami, who became one of the most prominent and influential theologians in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. He dedicated his life to spreading the teachings of Chaitanya and writing important Vaishnava scriptures. Sanatana Goswami's writings continue to inspire and guide devotees in their spiritual journey to this day.