This article is about the ideal Vaishnavi [a woman saint] in modern times. Her name – Shrimati Krishnamayi-devi.
devi krsna-mayi siddha sadhika para-bhaktida
sarva-bhakti-mayi sarva-pujya puja-parayana sri guroh sneha-patri ca paramartha prasadhika
atma-nivedika caiva guru-krsna-padamvuje.
“Deeply blessed with the divine qualities, Krishnamayi-devi has become an ideal example of a self-fulfilled saint, who is considered to be an embodiment of pure devotion to the Supreme Lord. Befitting to her benevolent nature she also inspires and blesses others with the same sacred devotion to the Divine Lord. As a result of her dedicated service to the lotus feet of Shri Shri Guru-Gauranga-Radhika-Krishna, she received her Gurudeva's heart-felt appreciation, a priceless goal of life.”
It is a fact that stalwart Vaishnavas/Vaishnavis never falter - they always persevere setting the example for others to follow. Krishnamayi was one such caliber of Vaishnavi.
Great women devotees have existed throughout the ages, showing that the qualities of leadership, scholarship, intelligence, wisdom and most importantly devotion are an affair of the heart, not the gender. Though there have been examples of famous Vaishnavis in Gaudiya Vaishnava history – still the appearance of such is very rare.
At the root of Vaishnavi culture, going back to ancient times, we find the divine personalities such as Parvati and especially Shrimati Radharani who is the embodiment of all super excellent feminine qualities. And from that same period one hears the names of famous women such as Kunti, Draupadi and the chaste Gandhari.
During the Chaitanya period the first woman to distinguish herself as a superlative Vaishnavi was unquestionably Shrimati Sachi-devi, the mother of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Mother Sachi’s devotion to Mahaprabhu can only be compared to that of Mother Yasoda’s devotion to Krishna. Indeed, Mother Yasoda and Mother Sachi are non-different, as Krishna and Shri Chaitanya are non-different.
When Sachi-devi was the perfect mother then it might be expected that Shrimati Vishnupriya-devi was the perfect wife. After the sannyasa-lila of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Vishnupriya-devi spent most of her time chanting the holy name of Krishna. Thus Vishnupriya’s reputation as an ascetic Vaishnavi grew among the Gaudiyas of Navadvipa.
It is said that Vishnupriya-devi would set aside one grain of rice for every name of Krishna that she chanted. When her utterances of nama-bhajana were completed at the end of a day, she would boil that amount of rice and take that as her meal. Because of her austerity she became very thin and frail. Vishnupriya-devi is still glorified today for her dual role as an ideal chaste wife of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and as a female ascetic of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition.
Another of the prominent Vaishnavis of that time was Shrimati Jahnavi-devi, the consort of Shri Nityananda Prabhu. Jahanavi-devi’s devotion was so intense that it endeared her to the pious and impious alike. By her personal example she showed how to perform temple worship and how to devote one's life to spiritual pursuits. She even presided over large Vaishnava festivals and gave initiation to men and women alike. It was Jahanavi-devi who had the insight to keep close contact with the Goswamis of Vrndavana. In this way she sought to keep solidarity and unification between the Gaudiya Vaishnavas in Bengal and those in Vrndavana. Shrimati Jahanavi-devi was an inspiration throughout the Vaishnava world and is remembered as such even today.
There was also Sita Thakurani [wife of Advaita-acarya], Narayani-devi [the mother of Vrindavana Dasa Thakura], Hemalata Thakurani [the daughter of Shrinivasa Acarya], Ganga-devi [the daughter of Shri Nityananda] and the two sisters Krishnapriya-devi and Vishnupriya-devi [the daughters of Ganga-narayana Chakravarti] widely known for their ascetic life style and deep devotion.
In the centuries that followed the Chaitanya era there were many Vaishnavis appearing in India but most were nirupadhi-vaisnavis, meaning that they were little known in the greater Gaudiya Vaishnava world. In modern times, when thinking of famous Vaishnavis, one immediately remembers the names of Bhagavati-devi [the wife of Bhaktivinoda Thakura] and even Shrimati Bhavatarini-devi [Pishima, the sister of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada].
It was at the end of the 19th century that Shrimati Krishnamayi-devi, the subject of this article, appeared in this world. Krishnamayi was born in Nagpur, India on the full moon day of December 1898. Her family was of high Smarta-brahmana origins. In her early childhood Krishnamayi was educated in Calcutta. She proved early on to be of exceptional intellect. At only 11 years of age, she obtained excellence in many subjects and was accorded gold medals and honors for scholarship from the famous judge, Sir Ashutosh Mukherji. Later her family came to settle in Navadvipa-dham.
Krishnamayi’s father was a lecturer at the local college and she was educated in the scriptures from an early age. Her husband was a chief auditor for the Indian Railways. They had a daughter but before they could have a son her husband died. Later Krishnamayi adopted a boy by the name of Satya Hari.
Living in Navadvipa, Krishnamayi was destined to one day meet Shrila Shridhara Deva Goswami Maharaja and become his disciple. She used to take her daily sacred bath in the Ganges and she traveled there via the same route each day. However, when she heard of the saintly character of Shridhara Maharaja she changed her route to the Ganga so that she could regularly listen to his hari-katha. She would offer him flowers and Ganga water. This went on for about two and half years and then she took hari-nama initiation from him. She was 40 years old at the time.
Krishnamayi received both hari-nama and mantra initiations simultaneously from Shrila Shridhara Maharaja and dedicated her life to the service of Shri Guru and Shri Gauranga.
When her daughter had finished her studies and her adopted son had become financially self-sufficient, she gave up family life and went to live in the ashrama. At that time she donated her property and money to Shridhara Maharaja’s mission. This property included houses and land and was of significant value. Krishnamayi was moderately wealthy by village standards and had given all she had for the service of Shri Krishna. Her agricultural land yielded a plentiful supply of rice and vegetables and the money she donated enabled construction work to begin so that other devotees would have a place to stay at the ashram.
Because she was from a respected Smarta-brahmana family in Navadvipa, her initiation from a Gaudiya Vaishnava guru caused a uproar in her family. As Smartas her family had always been opposed to the Gaudiya Matha and the worship of Mahaprabhu and now their beloved daughter was leaving everything to enter the ashram of her guru to serve him with all her heart. Years later when interviewed about this she told that, “I came to the ashram without telling my family members because there would have been an objection. They would have prevented me from coming. I came to live in the ashram because I liked it. I asked an uncle for permission and he said, "Yes, there is a genuine holy man there." My father did not approve of it so I had to come without his knowledge.”
At the ashram Krishnamayi was given the responsibility to look after all the other ladies, to make flower garlands for the Deities, to manage Shrila Shridhara Maharaja's room and to prepare the type of water that Shridhara Maharaja liked to drink.
Shridhara Maharaja always had special affection for Krishnamayi due to her unalloyed devotion, honesty and dedication. He also very much appreciated her writings and poetry. He, himself, wrote a brief Sanskrit poem glorifying and describing her life. He included this in his Bengali rendition of Bhagavad-gita, which she helped to finance. Shridhara Maharaja stated that, "Krishnamayi is a special devotee and we must always look after all her needs".
Sevotsarga – patra [Seva Dedication]
sriman-navadvipe dhamni teghari-vipra-vamsajah
sva-namadhanya-sammanyo-vadanya atmavan krti
sri vaidyanatha-sarmasit dharmanistho jana-priyah ||1||
“Born in Teghari district of the holy land of Navadvipa, in the family of brahmanas, valuing honor as his only wealth, Shri Vaidyanatha Sharma was firm in dharma and dear to all.”
tat kanya punya-krmanya dhanya dharmanuragini
tapasvini pati-prana vidusi vratacarini ||2||
“His honorable daughter, whose happiness was in performing virtuous deeds, was yearning whole-hearted for dharma – renounced from all mundane, she dedicated herself to her husband, being very wise, and fulfilling all religious vows.”
sri-kiranamayi namni devi tat pati-daivatah ||3||
kalikata-nagaryam yah talapalli-nivasakah
vidvan vidvadvaren-yasca sriman sambhranta-vamsajah ||4||
“Having faith in God, the brahmanas and Shri Guru, worshiping that One, who is highly worthy of worship, she was named Shri Kiranamayi (Krishnamayi's birth name which means “radiant like the sun”). She was inseparably related with God, as well as her husband who was from the village of Talapalli in Kalikata. She was learned and appreciated by learned men; she was decorated with beauty herself, and high-born.”
dhimanadhyapakas-caiva matiman naya-kovidah |
pratibha-bhava-gambhiro caru-narma-supanditah ||5||
sriman makhana-lalas ca vandya-vamsa-vibhusanah |
evam bhutasya satasya svadhama svaminas tatha ||6||
“Shriman Makhana Lal (Krishnamayi’s husband) was the worshippable ornament of his family. He had sacred knowledge and was also able to teach it; full of devotion and prudence, self-sacrificing and deep in understanding, Loved by all, their family was blooming, up to her husband’s sudden departure to his eternal abode.”
putrasya sneha-patrasya paramartha-prasadhika |
“And then, although filled with maternal love, by the call of spiritual life, she abandoned everything she owned. To the lotus feet of Guru and Krishna, she devoted herself, showing the way by engaging in different kinds of service in Their temple for Their pleasure.”
veda-sarartha-samgita gita-samjnita-pustika |
tanmudrane ca mudrada sadhuna sadhunarthita ||8||
“Now she is publishing the Bhagavad-gita, which is the essence of all Vedic knowledge. For the joy of the sadhus we present this example of her saintly life, with a desire to achieve the same saintly aim.”
Krishnamayi-devi recalls about her life in the ashram, “I prepared foodstuffs in the kitchen of the ashram and I offered puja. Only the ground floor had been constructed when I first came there. On one of my earlier visits, I had a quarter of a Rupee with me that I donated. I commented to Shrila Guru Maharaja that I would like to have given more – a full Rupee if only I had one. Shrila Guru Maharaja replied that it was not easy to give in full.”
Krishnamayi narrates at that time that she was requested to perform a most memorable service for her Gurudeva. Shrila Shridhara Maharaja’s temple had recently been established in Navadvipa-dhama town itself in an area known as Koladvipa. This was the place where Jagai and Madhai had their famous pastimes with Shri Nityananda and were delivered. Shridhara Maharaja had made arrangements with a Murti-walla in Jaipur to prepare Radha-Krishna Deities for the newly constructed temple. When the Deities of Shri-Shri Gandharvika-Govinda-sundara were completed, They were brought from Jaipur to Navadvipa by Krishnamayi and Govinda Maharaja. When the Deities arrived, Krishnamayi felt very blessed to have been instrumental in escorting the Deity to the holy dhama and her Guru Maharaja's temple. But wonder of wonders, just as she thought that the service was done, she witnessed a most inspiring happening as Shridhara Maharaja and his exalted God-brother, Bhakti Dayita Madhava Maharaja began the installation of the Deities. The two godbrothers performed a roaring kirtana of immense proportions that culminated in the two dancing and chanting the holy name for the pleasure of Their Lordships. Krishnamayi was astounded and as a witness to this most ecstatic event, her heart became filled with the mercy of the Deity and she reports that she actually envisioned at that instance that Shri Shri Gaura-Nitai were in fact, dancing before Shri-Shri Gandharvika-Govinda Sundara. After witnessing this other-worldly event, she told that her commitment to the service of the Supreme Lord deepened through Shri Guru and His Grace.
Bhakti Dayita Madhava Maharaja knew Krishnamayi well and when meeting her he would often quote a verse from Chaitanya-charitamrta that mirrored her divine qualities.
krishnamayee krishna jar bhitare bahire
janha, janha netra pade tanha krishna sphure
"Krishnamayi" means "one who always thinks of Krishna both within and without, who always remembers only Krishna wherever they go or whatever they see." [Chaitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila, Ch 4 - Tx 85]
When Shrila Shridhara Maharaja went on pilgrimage to Badarikashrama with some of his followers, Krishnamayi went with them. She also went with Shridhara Maharaja one year to Ramesvara although she was advised not to go because her son-in-law was very ill and it was feared he might leave his body anytime. Still, it was her heartfelt desire to go on pilgrimage with her Guru Maharaja and so she did. When she returned, amazingly, her son-in-law was still alive.
The area of Navadvipa where Krishnamayi’s family lived was called Tegharipara and used to be famous for its abundance of Tantra followers. The neighbors were entrenched in their tantric way of life but despite this Krishnamayi preached to them and converted many of them to Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Shrila Shridhara Maharaja greatly appreciated this. At this time, he proclaimed that Krishnamayi was a shuddha-bhakta, a pure devotee of Lord Krishna. When interviewed about this she humbly said, ”I do remember receiving my Guru Maharaja’s genuine love and blessings. “
Although qualified in many ways Krishnamayi was self-satisfied and humbly remained in the service of cooking for the Deities and serving the other devotees at the ashram.
The departure of her Guru Maharaja was very painful for her. She felt great separation for the rest of her life. After his departure she took shelter in another asrama in the Tegharipara district of Navadvipa. Later her pain of separation from Shrila Shridhara Maharaja increased so much that she moved to the Gopinatha Gaudiya Matha in Mayapura to have the close association of his affectionate godbrother, Shrila Bhakti Pramoda Puri Maharaja. Here she spent much time in her deep bhajana.
In her old age Krishnamayi was lovingly cared for by Jahnava-devi and a surrendered soul named Gaura Krishna Dasa who served her just like he had served Shrila Shridhara Maharaja. They took Krishnamayi-devi to Radha-kunda for a glimpse at that holy place before she left this world. They carried out this service with great affection until her very last moment in this world. Shrimati Krishnamayi-devi passed away on the 19th July 2002 to enter the eternal lila [pastimes] of her Lord and Master.
One of Krishnamayi's greatest contributions to the Vaishnava world was her Bengali composition of 34 verses glorifying her Guru Maharaja, presented here in Roman transliteration with English translations. Shrimati Krishnamayi-devi ki jaya!
Shri Guru Prasanti
Shrimati Krishnamayi Devi
sri gaura-mandala-majhe hapaniya grama
yanhi avatirna mora prabhu guna dhama
My lord and master, the abode of all divine qualities, appeared in the village of Hapaniya in Shri Gaura-mandala.
patita pavani ganga tira sannihita
The Nyayaratna Vidyapitha was a renowned place of learning, situated on the banks of the Ganga who purifies the most fallen.
tanhi vaise vipra-vara prasanta udara
sri upendra candra ‘vidyaratna’ nama yanra
At that place there lived the best of the twice born, who was known as Shri Upendra-candra ‘Vidyaratna’, who was composed and magnanimous.
bhattacarya-kula-ravi parama vidvana
nirantara seva para laksmi-narayana
This outstanding scholar was the sun of the Bhattacarya dynasty, always preoccupied with the service of Laksmi-Narayana.
tanra patni gauri-devi parama pavani
maha-sadhvi jagan-mata prabhura janani
His wife was the most pure Gauri-devi. She was most saintly, the mother of the universe and the mother of my master.
atharasa satera sake saurasvina masa
sanivara, chhavisa divasa parakasa
He appeared on 1817 Sakabda, on the twenty-sixth day of the month of Asvina, on a Saturday.
budhaditya-jiva yoge tunga graha gane
At a time when the Sun and Mercury were in conjunction and the planets were all in their most powerful positions, he took shelter of the same astrological sign as Lord Ramcandra and appeared on the same day as the appearance of Shri Viracandra Goswami.
subhankari pusya anke karttiki navami
dharani haila dhanya prabhu-pada chumi
At the auspicious moment during Pusya-naksatra, on the ninth day of the month of Karttika, Mother Earth became most fortunate as she kissed the lotus feet of my lord.
uthila ananda-rola acarya-bhavane
sankha-ghanta jayadhvani deya narigane
Great jubiliation ﬁlled the house of Acarya Vidyaratna as ladies blew conches and rang bells.
ajanu-lambita bhuja purata sundara
devi anke sobhe divya jyoti manohara
His long arms reached to his knees and his form was beautiful and of the hue of molten gold. As he lay in the lap of his mother, a wonderful divine effulgence shone forth.
heriya putrera rupa mugdha pita mata
mugdha haila putra rupe yata pati vrata
Seeing their son’s beauty, mother and father were struck with wonder. Indeed, all the virtuous ladies who were present were also charmed.
ramacandra-janma ksana smari vipra-vara
rakhila putrera nama ramendra-sundara
That best of brahmanas recalled the appearance of Lord Ramcandra, thus he named his son Ramendra-sundara.
apurva balaka-sobha vyapila bhuvane
anindya ramendra-candra bare dine dine
The unparalleled beauty of the child pervaded the whole world. Day by day the pure moon of Ramendra grew.
dekhite dekhite prabhu labhila yauvana
parama samrddha kari vidya uparjana
All could see as my master became a youth, that he enriched himself with the supreme wealth of knowledge.
divya suvimala tanu maha-jyotirmmaya
nirakhi sakala loka sadhvasa manaya
All those who saw his divine and pure form which was most effulgent showed him the utmost respect.
vairagya bhavita bhakti-purna kalevara
saivala-pihita yena maha-sarovara
He was completely full of devotion and steeped in renunciation, like a great lake covered by moss.
maha-jnani suka praya virakta pradhana
heri mata pita mane cinte anuksana
Seeing his great detachment towards the material world which resembled that of the great jnani Sukadeva Goswami, his mother and father were in constant anxiety.
sannyasi haibe putra na rahibe ghare
maha-yogi maha-tyagi laksana sarire
“Our son will become a sannyasi; he will not remain at home. All the symp-
toms of a great yogi and a great renunciate can be seen in him."
antare ananda, bahye du˙kha parakasa
kata dine kaila vipra sri vaikuntha vasa
Feeling great bliss within, but externally manifesting sadness, after some time the brahmana (Upendra-candra) passed away and became a resident of Shri Vaikuntha.
krame krame prabhu mora apana prakasi
svechchhaya bandhana khandi haila sannyasi
Gradually, my master revealed himself, and by his own sweet will, he broke all connections with the world and became a sannyasi.
grha tyagi mayapura karila vijaya
gauranga-janma bhumi chidananda maya
Leaving home, he arrived in Mayapura, the place of Shri Gauranga's appearance which is comprised of supreme bliss and spirituality.
sri bhaktisiddhanta sarasvati prabhu-sthane
laila sannyasa dina uddhara karane
In order to deliver the fallen, he accepted the order of sannyasa from Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada.
sri bhakti raksaka sankirtana-murti-dhara
sei hetu guru nama rakhila sridhara
He is the Guardian of Devotion and the personification of sankirtana, therefore his Guru gave him the name 'Shridhara' (one who possesses the greatest wealth).
patita pavana rupe tridandira vese
nama-prema vitariya bule dese dese
As the saviour of the most fallen, he took the form of a tridandi-sannyasi and wandered from place to place to distribute love for the holy name.
dina-hina papitapi sabare uddhari
amrta sincila visve yena gaurahari
Delivering the most wretched sinners, he showered nectar throughout the world in the same way as Lord Gaurahari.
jaya jaya patita-pavana prabhu-vara
nyasi-chudamani bhakti raksaka sridhara
All glories, all glories to the savior of the most fallen, the best of masters, the crown-jewel of sannyasis, Shrila Bhakti Raksaka Shridhara Deva Goswami.
asankhya pranati tava pada-padme mora
krpaya karaha nasa karma-bandha ghora
I offer unlimited obeisances unto your lotus feet. Be merciful unto me and destroy my terrible bondage of karmic reactions.
bhavarnave pade sudhu habudubu khai
e adhame uddhariya deha pade thani
I am drowning in the waters of this material ocean. Kindly deliver this fallen soul and give me a place at your lotus feet.
vandi avirbhava-tithi sri krsna-navami
yenha dhanya haila prabhu-pada-padma chumi
I offer my obeisances unto the holy day of your appearance – the ninth day of the dark moon, who was most fortunate to kiss your lotus feet.
vandi hapaniya grama maha-tirtha-maya
vandi prabhu sri upendra-candrera alaya
I offer my obeisances unto the village of Hapaniya, where all the great holy places reside; I offer my obeisances unto the home of Shri Upendra-candra.
vandi nitya bhattacarya-kulabja-bhaskara
vandi vidya-ratna putra ramendra-sundara
I offer my eternal obeisances unto the dazzling sun of the lotus-like Bhattacarya dynasty, Shri Ramendra-sundara, the son of Upendra-candra Vidyaratna.
savadhane vandi mui gauri-devi mata
yanra anka alokari prabhu prakasita
I attentively offer my obesisances unto Mother Gauri-devi, whose lap was effulgent with the appearance of my lord and master.
prabhura sambandha dhari yateka sujana
sanande vandana kari savara carana
With great bliss, I offer my obeisances unto the feet of all the auspicious personalities who have a connection with my master.
sabe krpa kari more kara asirvada
nirvighne hauka labha prabhura prasada
All of you please be merciful and bless me so that, without any obstacle, I may attain the mercy of my lord and master.