This festival celebrates the appearance of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It is observed annually (in February – March) by Krishna devotees all over the world—especially in the area of Mayapur, India, the place where Mahaprabhu appeared in the year 1486.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the Supreme Person, Krishna Himself, appearing as His own devotee, to teach us that we can gain full enlightenment simply by chanting the holy names of the Lord:
Those who witnessed Mahaprabhu’s pastimes saw Him dance and chant with ecstatic love for God, the likes of which had never been seen before. He encouraged everyone to follow this same process. He taught that anyone—regardless of background or spiritual qualification—could develop their innate love of God and experience great spiritual pleasure by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra.
The present-day International Society for Krishna Consciousness continues the work begun by Lord Chaitanya, who predicted that the chanting of the holy names of Krishna would spread all over the world.
Gaura Purnima means “golden full moon,” signifying that:
1) Lord Chaitanya was “born” during a full moon, and
2) The Lord blesses everyone with the soothing, moonlike rays of His sublime teachings.
His followers generally observe this festival by fasting and chanting the holy names all day. At moonrise, a vegetarian feast is offered to the Lord and then enjoyed by all.
Reason for appearance
Lord Krishna thought in Goloka, “I shall personally inaugurate the religion of the age; nama-sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy name of the Lord in the form of Lord Gauranga. By accepting the role of a devotee, I shall make the whole world dance in ecstasy, and thus realize the four mellows of loving devotional service. In this way, I shall teach devotional service to others by personally practicing it, for whatever a great personality does, common people will follow. Of course, My plenary portions can establish the religious principles for each age, but only I can bestow the kind of loving devotional service which is performed by the residents of Vraja.”
Besides this secondary reason for Lord Krishna to appear once more, taking the form of a devotee, there is another confidential purpose of a very personal nature. Even though Lord Krishna had tasted the essence of loving mellows by performing His conjugal pastimes in the company of the gopis, He was not able to fulfill three desires.
Therefore, after His disappearance, the Lord thought, “Although I am the Absolute Truth, and the reservoir of all rasas, I cannot understand the strength of Radharani’s love, with which She always overwhelms Me. Indeed, the love of Radharani is My teacher, and I am Her dancing pupil, for Her love makes Me dance in various novel ways. Whatever pleasure I get from tasting My love for SrimatiRadharani, She relishes ten million times more, by Her love. Although there is nothing greater than Radha’s love, since it is all pervading, it nonetheless expands constantly and is completely devoid of pride. There is nothing purer than Radha’s love, and yet its behavior is always perverse and crooked.”
“Sri Radhika is the highest abode of love, and I am its only object. I taste the bliss to which the object is entitled, but Radha’s pleasure is ten million times greater than Mine. Therefore, My mind becomes mad to taste the pleasure that is experienced by the abode of love, although I cannot do so. Only if I can somehow become the abode of that love, will I be able to experience its joy.”
This was one desire that increasingly blazed in Lord Krishna’s heart. Then, upon seeing His own beauty, Lord Krishna began to consider as follows: “My sweetness is unlimitedly wonderful. Only Radhika can taste the complete nectar of My sweetness, by the strength of Her love, which acts just like a mirror whose clarity increases at every moment. Although My sweetness, being without limit, seemingly has no room for expansion, it shines forth with newer and newer beauty, and thus constantly competes with the mirror of Radharani’s love, as they both go on increasing without admitting defeat.” “Devotees taste My sweetness according to their respective love, and if I see that sweetness reflected in a mirror, I also become tempted to taste it, although I cannot. Upon deliberation, I find that the only way I can relish My sweetness is to take the position of SrimatiRadharani.”
This was Lord Krishna’s second desire, and His third desire was expressed while thinking as follows: “Everyone says that I am the reservoir of all transcendental bliss, and indeed, all the world derives pleasure from Me alone. Who then could give Me pleasure? I think that only someone having a hundred times more qualities than Myself could give pleasure to My mind, but such a person is impossible to find.”
“And yet, in spite of the fact that My beauty is unsurpassed, and gives pleasure to all who perceive it, the sight of SrimatiRadharani gives pleasure to My eyes. Although the vibration of My flute attracts everyone within the three worlds, My ears become enchanted by the sweet words spoken by Radharani. Although My body lends its fragrance to the entire creation, the scent of Radharani’s limbs captivates My mind and heart. Although there are various tastes due to Me alone, I become charmed by the nectarean taste of Radharani’s lips. Although My touch is cooler than ten million moons, I become refreshed by the touch of SrimatiRadharani. Thus, in spite of the fact that I am the source of happiness for the entire world, the beauty and attributes of Sri Radhika are My very life and soul.”
“My eyes become fully satisfied by looking at SrimatiRadharani, and yet, when She gazes at Me, She feels even greater satisfaction. The whispering murmur of the bamboo trees that rub against one another steals away Radharani’s mind, for She thinks it to be the sound of My flute. She embraces a tamala tree, mistaking it for Me, and thus She considers, ‘I have gotten the embrace of Krishna, and so now My life has become fulfilled.’ When the fragrance of My body is carried to Her by the wind, Radharani becomes blinded by love and tries to fly into that breeze. When She tastes the betel nut that has been chewed by Me, She merges into an ocean of joy, and forgets everything else.”
“Thus, even with hundreds of mouths, I could not express the pleasure which Radharani derives from My association. Indeed, upon seeing the luster of Her complexion after Our pastimes together, I consider My own happiness to be negligent. Expert sexologists say that the happiness of the lover and the beloved are equal, but they do not know the nature of transcendental love in Vrindavana. Because of the indescribable pleasure which Radharani experiences, I can understand that there is some unknown mellow within Me that controls Her entire existence.”
“I am always very eager to taste the joy that SrimatiRadharani derives from Me, and yet, in spite of endeavoring, I have been unable to do so. Therefore, in order to fulfill My three desires, I shall assume Sri Radhika’s bodily complexion and ecstatic loving sentiment, and then descend as an incarnation.”
Desiring to understand the glory of Radharani’s love, the wonderful qualities in Him that She alone relishes through Her love, and the happiness that She feels upon realizing the sweetness of His love, the Supreme Lord, Gauranga-Krishna, decided to appear in a form that was richly endowed with Her emotions. First of all, the Lord had His respectable superiors incarnate on the earth, such as His mother and father, Sri Sachidevi and Jagannath Mishra. In addition, there was Madhavendra Puri, KeshavaBharati, Ishvara Puri, Advaita Acharya, SrivasPandita, Thakur Haridas, Acharyaratna and Vidyanidhi.
Before the appearance of Lord Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu, all of the devotees in the Navadvip area used to gather at the house of Advaita Acharya. In these meetings, Advaita Acharya preached on the basis of Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, decrying the paths of philosophical speculation and fruitive activity, and firmly establishing the super excellence of devotional service. In the house of Advaita Acharya, the devotees took pleasure in always talking about Krishna, worshipping Krishna, and chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
However, Advaita Acharya felt very pained to see how practically all the people of the world were devoid of Krishna consciousness and completely merged into material sense enjoyment. Knowing that no one can gain relief from the cycle of repeated birth and death without taking an interest in the devotional service of the Lord, Advaita Acharya compassionately pondered over the means whereby people could become delivered from the clutches of maya.
Advaita Acharya thought, “Only if Lord Krishna personally appears and preaches the path of devotional service by His own example, will liberation become possible for all people. Therefore, I shall worship the Lord in a purified state of mind and constantly petition Him with all humility. Indeed, my name Advaita will be fitting only if I am able to induce Lord Krishna to inaugurate the sankirtan movement of chanting the holy name, which is the only religion for this age.”
While Advaita Acharya thought about how to satisfy Krishna by His worship, the following verse came to mind: “Sri Krishna, who is very affectionate toward His devotees, sells Himself to one who offers Him merely a tulasi leaf and a palmful of water.” (Gautamiya-tantra)
Advaita Acharya considered the meaning of this verse in the following way: “Lord Krishna cannot find any way to repay the debt which He owes to one who offers Him a tulasi leaf and water. Therefore, the Lord concludes, ‘Since there is nothing in My possession which is equal to a tulasi leaf and water, I will liquidate the debt by offering Myself to the devotee.’ ” Thereafter, while meditating upon the lotus feet of Sri Krishna, Advaita Acharya constantly offered tulasi buds in water from the Ganga. While thus engaged in worship, Advaita Acharya petitioned Krishna to appear by His loud cries, and this repeated invitation attracted the attention of the Lord, causing Him to descend.
Sri Upendra Mishra, a brahmana who was formerly the gopala named Parjanya, the grandfather of Lord Krishna, was a great devotee and scholar. One of Upendra’s seven sons, Jagannath Mishra, moved from Srihatta to the banks of the Ganga at Nadia, and then married SrimatiSachidevi, the daughter of NilambarChakravarti, who was formerly Gargamuni.
Before the appearance of Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu, Jagannath Mishra (who was formerly Nanda Maharaja) begot eight daughters in the womb of Sachidevi (who was formerly Yashoda), but just after birth, they all died. Being very aggrieved at the loss of his children, one after another, Jagannath Mishra worshiped Lord Vishnu, while desiring a son. Thereafter, Sachimata gave birth to a baby boy named Vishvarup, who was an incarnation of Lord Baladev. Being very pleased, the mother and father began to serve the lotus feet of Lord Govinda even more devotedly, because they realized that their happiness was by His mercy.
Then, in the month of Maagh (18th February 1486) of the year 1406, Shaka era, Lord Krishna entered the bodies of both Jagannath Mishra and Sachidevi. Thereafter, Jagannath informed his wife, “I see many wonderful things! Your body seems to be effulgent, and it appears as if the goddess of fortune is personally residing in our house. Wherever I go, everyone offers me respect, and even without asking, they give me money, cloth and grains.” Sachimata replied, “I also see wonderfully brilliant beings, appearing in the sky, as if offering prayers.”
Jagannath Mishra then said, “In a dream I saw the effulgent abode of the Supreme Lord enter into my heart. Then, from my heart it entered your heart, and thus I can understand that a great personality will soon take birth.”
After this conversation, both husband and wife felt very jubilant, and with great care and attention they rendered service unto the household Shalagrama-shila.
However, when Sachimata’s pregnancy approached the thirteenth month, and still there was no sign of delivery, Jagannath Mishra became very apprehensive. At that time, NilambaraChakravarti made an astrological calculation and predicted that the child would be born that very month, taking advantage of an auspicious moment.
Thus it so happened that on the evening of the Phalgunipurnima, in the year 1407 Shaka era, corresponding to the modern year 1486, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu made His appearance at Navadvip. At this time, Rahu considered, “When the spotless moon of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is about to become visible, what need is there for a moon which is full of black marks?” Thinking in this way, Rahu covered the full moon, and so all of the Hindus went to the banks of the Ganga in order to bathe and chant the names “Krishna” and “Hari”. While the Hindus were thus vibrating the holy names of the Lord, the Mohammedans jokingly imitated them. In this way, at the time of Lord Chaitanya’s appearance, everyone was engaged in chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
In all directions and within everyone’s mind there was peacefulness and joy. In Shantipur, Advaita Acharya and Haridas Thakur began chanting and dancing in a very pleasing mood, although no one could understand why they did so. While laughing again and again, they also went to the Ganga, and at that time, Advaita Acharya took advantage of the lunar eclipse to distribute all kinds of charity to the brahmanas. Upon seeing how the whole world had become jubilant, Haridas Thakur addressed Advaita Acharya in great astonishment, “Since Your dancing and distribution of charity appears very pleasing to me, I can understand that You have some very special purpose.”
In Navadvip, Srivas Thakur and Acharyaratna, who was also called Chandrashekhar, immediately went to bathe in the Ganga, and while chanting the holy name of the Lord in great jubilation, they also gave charity by dint of mental strength. Indeed, wherever they were situated, all of the devotees danced, chanted and gave charity on the plea of the lunar eclipse, their minds overwhelmed with joy. Even in the heavenly planets, chanting and dancing was going on, for the demigods were very eager to witness the transcendental appearance of the Lord.