A powerful king’s humble service invokes the mercy of Lord Caitanya.
(Reprinted from Back to Godhead Magazine, Vol 11, No 6, 1976)
Taken from Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, translation and commentary by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
About five hundred years ago, the Indian province of Orissa was ruled by a great king named Prataparudra. Maharaja Prataparudra was a sincere devotee of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and he worshiped Him in the form of the Jagannatha Deity, at the great Jagannatha temple in Puri. One day the king heard that a famous Krsna conscious saint, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, had come to live in Puri. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu was an avatar (an incarnation of God) and Maharaja Prataparudra was very eager to talk with Him. However, Lord Caitanya had adopted the role of a monk (sannyasi) to teach pure devotion to Krsna, and He strictly followed the injunctions forbidding a sannyasi to meet people absorbed in material affairs. Therefore, He was reluctant to meet such a worldly person as Maharaja Prataparudra.
When the king found out that Lord Caitanya had come to Puri, he called the scholar Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya to his palace. “I have heard that a great personality has come from Bengal and is staying at your home,” the king explained. “I have also heard that He is very merciful. Please do me the favor of arranging an interview with Him.”
The Bhattacarya replied, “All that you have heard is true, but the interview will be very difficult to arrange. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is in the renounced order. Consequently, He is very detached from worldly affairs. He stays in solitary places—even in dreams He would not grant an interview to a king. Still, in spite of these things, I would try to arrange a meeting with Him, but He has just left to tour South India.”
On hearing this, the king asked, “Why did you let Him leave? Why didn’t you fall at His feet and keep Him here?”
“Lord Caitanya is Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He is completely independent,” answered the Bhattacarya. “I tried very hard to keep Him here, but I could not.”
“You are the most learned and experienced man I know,” the king said. “Since you accept Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as Krsna, then I also accept Him as Krsna. When He returns, I wish to see Him just once—to make my eyes perfect.”
When the Lord at last returned to Puri, Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya humbly informed Him, “Maharaja Prataparudra is very anxious to meet You. He wanted me to ask You if You would see him.”
As soon as He heard this proposal, Lord Caitanya covered His ears with His hands and said, “My dear Bhattacarya, why are you making such an undesirable request? I am in the renounced order of life, and for Me to meet a king is just as dangerous as meeting a woman. To meet either would be just like drinking poison.” Sorrowfully, the Lord said, “For a person seriously desiring to cross the ocean of material miseries and obtain the Lord’s mercy, seeing either a materialist or a lusty woman is more abominable than drinking poison.”
Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya replied, “My dear Lord, what you have said is correct, but this king is not ordinary. He is a great devotee and servant of Lord Jagannatha.”
“Although the king is certainly a great devotee,” said Lord Caitanya, “as a sannyasi I must still consider him a venomous snake. Bhattacarya, if you continue to speak like this you will never see Me here again.” Afraid of further angering the Lord, the Bhattacarya returned home and began to meditate on the matter.
Meanwhile, Maharaja Prataparudra, who had gone to his capital city of Kataka, sent a letter to the Bhattacarya begging him to get the Lord’s consent for a meeting. The Bhattacarya wrote the king that Lord Caitanya had not given His permission. The king immediately wrote another letter: “Please appeal to all the devotees associated with Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to submit my petition at the lotus feet of the Lord. By the mercy of the devotees, one can attain the shelter of the Lord’s lotus feet. If Lord Caitanya does not show mercy to me, I shall give up my kingdom, become a mendicant, and beg from door to door.”
This letter disturbed Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya. He met with all the devotees and described the king’s wishes, showing the letter to all of them. Everyone was astonished that Maharaja Prataparudra had so much devotion for Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. One devotee said, “The Lord will never consent to meet the king, and if we ask Him to do so, He will feel very unhappy.”
“We shall go once again to the Lord,” the Bhattacarya suggested, “but we shall not request Him to meet the king. Rather, we shall simply describe the good behavior of the king.” Having reached a decision, they all went to the place where Lord Caitanya was staying. When the Lord saw them, He said, “Why have you all come here?” Although they had intended to speak, they could not utter a word. “I see that you want to say something,” said Caitanya Mahaprabhu, “but you do not speak. What is the reason?”
Nityananda Prabhu, the Lord’s closest associate, answered, “We want to tell You something, but we are afraid to speak on such a delicate matter. Nevertheless, we must inform You that unless he sees You, the king of Orissa will become a beggar. It is the nature of an attached man to give up his life if he does not attain his desired object.” Knowing the king’s seriousness, the devotees were trying to save him from suicide. Nityananda Prabhu then suggested, “There is a way by which You need not meet the king, but which would enable him to continue living. If You would mercifully send one of Your garments to him, he would remain alive, hoping to see You sometime in the future.”
Lord Caitanya agreed to this proposal, and Nityananda Prabhu then obtained a garment used by Him and delivered it to Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, who sent it to the king. When the king received the old cloth, he began to worship it exactly as he would have worshiped the Lord directly.
Soon, Maharaja Prataparudra came to Jagannatha Puri from Kataka, along with his band of secretaries, ministers, and military officers. Also with him was one of his governors, Ramananda Raya. Ramananda had met Lord Caitanya on the Lord’s tour of South India, and they had become close friends. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu had asked Ramananda Raya to resign his post and join Him at Jagannatha Puri so that they could talk together every day about the activities of Lord Krsna and share their understanding. When Ramananda Raya arrived in Jagannatha Puri, he hurried with great anticipation to see Lord Caitanya. After they greeted each other, he said to the Lord, “I informed Maharaja Prataparudra of Your order. I said, ‘Your majesty, I cannot continue my political activities. I desire only to stay at the lotus feet of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Kindly give me permission.’ Upon hearing Your name, he immediately rose from his throne and embraced me. My dear Lord, as soon as the king heard Your holy name, he was overwhelmed by great ecstatic love. He granted me a full salary as a pension, and requested me to engage in Your service without anxiety. Then he humbly said, ‘Because I am most fallen and abominable, I am unfit to receive an interview with the Lord. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krsna Himself, and service to Him makes life successful. He is very merciful, and I hope that he will allow me an interview in one of my future lives.’ My Lord,” said Ramananda Raya, “I don’t think I have even a fraction of Maharaja Prataparudra’s ecstatic love for You.”
“My dear Ramananda,” the Lord replied, “you are the foremost of Krsna’s devotees, and whoever serves you is blessed by Krsna. The king has shown so much devotion for you that Krsna will certainly accept him.”
In the days that followed, the Lord enjoyed the company of Ramananda Raya, talking with him about Lord Krsna and His pastimes. While they were absorbed in these conversations, Maharaja Prataparudra called for Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya. The king made him sit on an elegant chair and offered him respectful greetings. Then he began lamenting, “Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has descended just to deliver all kinds of sinful, lowborn persons. But has Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu incarnated to deliver all kinds of sinners except a king named Prataparudra? If Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is determined to avoid me,” cried the king, “then I am determined to give up my life.”
The Bhattacarya was astonished at the king’s strength of purpose. He thought such determination to be impossible for a worldly man. Maharaja Prataparudra continued, “If I do not receive Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mercy, both my body and my kingdom are useless.”
At last, Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya said, “My dear king, don’t worry. Your firm determination will surely inspire Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to bestow His mercy upon you. Only pure love can attract the Supreme Lord, and since your love for Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is very deep, He will undoubtedly be merciful to you.”
The Bhattacarya felt great compassion for the king and wanted to help him as much as he could. He blessed the king that he might receive the mercy of the Lord by making this suggestion: “There is one way to see Lord Caitanya directly. On the day of the Ratha-yatra festival, He will dance before the Deity in great ecstatic love. Afterward He will enter the Gundica garden. At that time you should go there alone, in plain dress, and read the five chapters from the Srimad-Bhagavatam about Krsna’s dancing with the gopis [cowherd girls]. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu will be in a mood of ecstatic love, and He will embrace you, knowing you to be a pure devotee. Do not worry: the Lord has already changed His mind about you due to Ramananda Raya’s description of your pure love for Him.” After thus encouraging the king, Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya returned home. In the days that followed, Ramananda Raya would remind the Lord of the king’s desire to see Him. Using expert diplomacy, Ramananda Raya gradually softened the Lord’s heart.
“My Lord,” Ramananda Raya said, “You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead. You have nothing to fear from anyone.”
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu objected, “I am not the Supreme Personality of Godhead. I am just an ordinary human being, and I fear public opinion. As soon as the general public finds a little fault in a sannyasi, they advertise it like wildfire. A black spot of ink on a white cloth cannot be hidden; it is always very prominent.” (Actually, of course, Lord Caitanya was the Supreme Personality of Godhead and couldn’t be harmed in the least by public opinion. Yet He knew that if people found any discrepancy in His behavior—such as associating with a worldly-minded king—their criticism would hamper His mission of preaching Krsna consciousness.)
“My dear Lord, You have delivered so many sinful people. King Prataparudra is actually the Lord’s servant and devotee.”
“There may be much milk in a big pot,” Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu replied, “but if it is contaminated by one drop of liquor, it is untouchable. The king certainly possesses many good qualities, but simply by taking the title of ‘King,’ he has infected everything. However, if you are still very eager for Me to meet the king, please bring his son to Me first. The Vedas say the son represents the father. So meeting Maharaja Prataparudra’s son would be just as good as meeting the king himself.”
Ramananda Raya then went to tell the king about his talk with Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and following the Lord’s order, he brought back the king’s son to see Him. The young prince’s blackish complexion, large lotus eyes, yellow garments, and jeweled ornaments reminded everyone of Lord Krsna.
“Here is a great devotee,” Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “for anyone who sees him remembers the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. Just by sending Me this boy, the king has put Me very much in his debt.” Seeing all this, the devotees praised the boy for his great spiritual fortune. Ramananda took him back to the king’s palace. The king was very glad to hear of his son’s experience, and when he embraced him, he also felt ecstatic love—just as if he had touched Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu directly.
At last the day came for Lord Jagannatha’s annual Ratha-yatra festival. After bathing early in the morning, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu saw Lord Jagannatha transferred from His throne to the car, while musicians created a tumult and thousands looked on. Although King Prataparudra was the exalted owner of the royal throne, he wanted to do some menial service for Lord Jagannatha. Therefore, he personally swept the road with a gold-handled broom and sprinkled the road with sandalwood-scented water. Seeing the king sweeping the street and sprinkling it with water, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu became very happy.
As the huge cars moved along the road toward the Gundica temple, the devotees danced and chanted Hare Krsna with great enthusiasm. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu divided the devotees into seven parties, with two drums in each group. Maharaja Prataparudra was astonished by the sankirtana (congregational chanting of the Lord’s holy names). All the devotees chanted the holy names in great ecstasy, with tears falling from their eyes, and Lord Caitanya wandered through all seven groups chanting, “Hari! Hari!” Raising His arms, He shouted, “All glories to Lord Jagannatha!”
King Prataparudra could hardly believe his eyes when he saw Lord Caitanya appear simultaneously in all seven sankirtana groups. The king became stunned with ecstatic love. Although the Lord had previously rebuffed the king, He now showered His favor upon him by revealing His mystic power.
Although the other devotees could not see the Lord appearing in seven places, they were also overwhelmed with transcendental ecstasy just to see His dancing. Everyone was dancing and chanting, and the sound echoed all around as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu danced and wandered through the crowd.
When the servants of Lord Jagannatha had pulled the cars as far as the Gundica garden, they stopped, and all the devotees offered the Deities some simple food they had prepared. The king with his queens, the ministers, and all other residents of Jagannatha Puri offered preparations to the Lord, and a large crowd gathered to watch.
At that time Lord Caitanya stopped His dancing and went into the garden to rest. The Lord was covered with perspiration, and He enjoyed the cool, fragrant breezes in the garden. All the devotees who were chanting and dancing with Him also went there and rested under each and every tree.
While Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was resting in ecstasy, Maharaja Prataparudra entered the garden. Following Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya’s instructions, the king had replaced his royal garments with the simple clothes of a devotee. He was so humble that he first offered respects with folded hands to all the devotees in the garden. Then, taking courage, he fell down and touched the lotus feet of the Lord. Then the king started to recite the verses about Krsna’s dancing with the gopis. When Lord Caitanya heard these verses, He was pleased beyond limit and said again and again, “Go on reciting! Go on reciting!”
Then Maharaja Prataparudra recited a very special verse:
My Lord, the nectar of Your words and the descriptions of Your activities are the life and soul of those who are always aggrieved in this material world. These narrations are transmitted by exalted personalities who can eradicate all sinful reactions. Whoever hears these narrations attains all good fortune. These narrations are broadcast all over the world and they are filled with spiritual power. Those who spread the message of Godhead are certainly the most munificent welfare workers (Bhag. 10.31.9).
As soon as the king recited this verse, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu embraced him and cried, “You are the most munificent! You are the most munificent!” The Lord rose in ecstatic love and embraced the king, exclaiming, “You have given me invaluable gems, but I have nothing to give you in return!” Saying this, the Lord began to recite the same verse again and again. Both the king and Lord Caitanya were trembling, and tears were flowing from their eyes. Finally the Lord asked, “Who are you? You have done so much for Me. All of a sudden you have come here and made Me drink the nectar of Lord Krsna’s pastimes.”
The king replied, “My Lord, I am most obedient to You. It is my ambition that You accept me as the servant of Your servants.” Then Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu displayed some of His divine opulences to the king, but forbade him to disclose these secrets to anyone. Although Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu knew who the king was, He pretended not to know.
Seeing that the king had received the Lord’s special mercy, the devotees became blissful and praised his good fortune. After submissively offering prayers to the devotees and obeisances to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the king left the garden.
In this way, Maharaja Prataparudra received the mercy of Lord Caitanya. Ordinarily, the king would not have had a chance to meet the Lord, but when the Lord saw that he was serving Lord Jagannatha as a menial sweeper, He bestowed His full mercy upon him. In the years that followed, Maharaja Prataparudra had many more opportunities to render service to Lord Jagannatha, and he maintained his humble attitude in spite of his wealth and power. Even to this day, Maharaja Prataparudra’s descendants remember his example. At the Ratha-yatra festival each year, the present king of Orissa takes a gold-handled broom and sweeps the road in front of Lord Jagannatha’s car.