Srimad Bhagavatam says “Kalau Kalau bhavishyanti Narayana paraayanaah’ – the devotees of the Lord descend on the earth every so often, especially in the Kali Yuga, to show the path of Dharma – Bhagavata Dharma. The Lord who is in His ‘Dhama’ – Vaikunta / Goloka, a place of ‘Nithya Leela Vibhuti’, the Lord loses the companion that He sends to Earth and hence cannot remain there. So He descends down too! If Our Guru Maharaj is incarnated in this Earth, then Premika Varadan also descends, primarily to enjoy the company of our Guru Maharaj, does he not? Once such Avatara Purusha is Sri Vallabhacharya, who has expounded Bhagavatam as an essence of Krishna Leela. The Lord in Goloka asked Sri Vallabha to descend on the Earth to show the Dharma of ‘Pushti’ (grace) and consequently, Krishna also descended down, and the place he chose to do this was Sri Brindavana on the beautiful Govardhana Giri that is extolled by Sage Sukha in Bhagavatam ‘hantAyam adrirabalA haridAsavaryo…’ and remained hidden until Sri Vallabhacharya discovered him in His entirety during a Bharata Pradakshina when the Lord Himself summoned him. He was called ‘Dev Daman’ or ‘Indra Daman’ (who trounced the ego of Indra). Today, he is called as Srinathji. His form is that of a young boy standing, lifting up his left hand (as if lifting the Govardhana mountain) and with his right hand on his hips (as if signifying that he is completely at ease lifting the hill as mentiond by Sage Shuka – ‘dadhAra lIlayA krishNa chatrAkam iva bAlaka’). Poojas in any temple are offered based on a set of rules from our scriptures – like the Sri Pancharatra in Sri Rangam and Sri Vaikhanasa in Tirupati. Likewise, Sri Vallabhacharya laid out the ways of Puja for Srinathji – as the way of love – He is worshiped like a crown prince – as our Guru Maharaj sings – ‘devAdi devah rAjAdi rAjah..’ and ‘sujana vinutah vallabha sulabah’. Due to various invasions, Srinathji moved to a place in Rajasthan called Nathadwara after 100+ years in Govardhan Giri. Our Guru Maharaj, having visited Srinathji, fell in love with Him and has sung a beautiful kirtan “Srinathah, Mama Nathah…”.
Followed by quick introductions, Narayananji continued with his talk on Sri Vallabhacharya and Srinathji.
Once a person went to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and told him that he felt pity for the Sadhu because Sri Ramakrishna was missing out on so many beautiful things on earth, having embraced such an austere life. Ramakrishna then wept bitterly and said, he indeed felt pity for the man. When questioned, Sri Ramakrishna said that how on earth could anyone embrace worldliness, leaving the enchanting form of Radhakanta, and forgetting the beautiful form and leelas of the divine mother. ‘How stupid of you all!’, he said! That is how Mahatmas look at worldly life, because what they see and revel in is indeed the sweetest – ‘Krishna’. If there is a Mahatma who sees not only Krishna to be sweet, but everything connected to Krishna to be ‘madhuram’ – it is Sri Vallabhacharya – ‘adharam madhuram, vadanam madhuram nayanam madhuram hasitam madhuram, hrudayam madhuram gamanam madhuram, madhurAdipate akhilam madhuram!’ – Krishna’s lips, face, eyes, gait, smile, heart – and everything connected with him are sweet! Truly, Madhurachalam is Madhuram, Madhurapuri is Madhuram, Madhuri is Madhuram, Premika Varadan is Madhuram, His Smaranam is Madhuram, His Utsav is Madhuram, is it not!
Sri Vallabhacharya came from an Andhra family of scholars, his father being Sri Lakshmana Bhattar and mother being Illamma. It is said that a family that does a 100 ‘Soma Yagas’ will be blessed with a divine child. A ‘Vaideeka’, scholarly family that his was, they used to do Soma Yagas regularly. Varanasi was the seat of knowledge, and hence the family relocated to Kashi. They had a son Ramakrishna and two daughters Savithri and Saraswathi and now, Sri Lakshamana Bhattar’s wife was pregnant again. The Mughal invasions was rampant those days (16th-17th Century) and Hindus ran for their lives. So Lakshmana Bhattar and his wife ran for their life from Kashi and came south. When they reached Champakaranyam forest (in Madhya Pradesh), she went into labor in the dead of the night and delivered the baby there. But the baby did not show any signs of being alive, and hence they concluded that the baby was born dead and left it there. Only in their dreams they were told that this was indeed the blessed divine child that would be born after 100 Soma Yagas. So the parents immediately rushed to the same site and saw the entire place surrounded by fire and a snake protecting the baby which was alive. The mother rushed through the fire which gave way to her (like Yamuna gave way for Vasudeva) and rescued the little one. They named the child ‘Vaishvanara’ (‘Agni Mukham’ – connoting the Prasadam of the fire worship) and also Sri Vallabha.
The child grew up to be a very intelligent boy and learnt all the scriptures very quickly. In his youth, he travelled to various places and defeated the learned men in each place. He also earned the epithet ‘Bala Saraswathi’ because of his mastery of the scriptures. He ventured to the Vijayanagara Empire in the South which was ruled by Krishnadeva Raya and earned the title ‘Jagadguru’ for his knowledge. The King bathed him with gold coins which he humbly rejected. He was forced to accept gold, and he eventually took 7 coins, for the Srinathji whom he would discover soon.
Sri Vallabhacharya established his philosophy of Shuddhadvaita and led a very simple life. As ordained by Sri Panduranga of Pandaripuram, he was married to Akkamma Devi (Sri Mahalakshmi) and bore two sons – Gopinatha and Vittalanatha. He went around the country twice on foot and wherever he went, he performed Bhagavata Saptaham – 84 different Baitaks across the country are considered holy even today. When once he was in Jharkand, he had a divine call from Lord Krishna inviting him to Vraja Bhoomi. When he rushed to Brindavana, the villagers told him of a Murthi of Krishna on the Govardhan Giriraj, who had manifested his hand and face alone. Sri Vallabhacharya discovered the beautiful Murthi in its entirety and instantly fell in love with Him, embracing Him tight. He was Devdaman / Srinathji who was installed in a small temple there and regular services were offered to Him.
Sri Vallabhacharya had primarily 4 disciples – Surdas the famous poet, Krishnadas, Kumbhandas and Paramanandadas, each one of them being a great Bhagavata. As Madhurakavi Azhwar says ‘seyal nandraaga tiruthi pani kolvaan’ – a Guru transforms the disciple and puts him in God’s service. Likewise, having discovered these gems of disciples, Sri Vallabha puts them in Srinathji’s seva. Kumbhandas is the first disciple he met.
Khumbandas was born in the outskirts of Sri Brindavan to a farmer, Bhagavandas. He led a frugal and simple life, yet with sublime and elevated thoughts. He was married but with no issues. Having heard the story of Sri Vallabhachary a and the newly discovered Srinathji, his mind longed to go and have darshan. So the couple set out and met Sri Vallabhacharya. At that meeting, Kumbhandas was asked to sing a kirtan. He sang a beautiful kirtan describing a special Bhava of Radha Devi in the ‘Maana Lila’ of the divine couple:
Saanjh ke saanche bole tihaare
Rajani anat jaage nadnandana aaye nipat savaare
aatur bhaye neel pat ode piyare basana bisaare
kumbhandas prabhu govardhan dhar baleji bachan pratipaare
Sri Vallabhacharya’s happiness knew no bounds, and immediately entrusted Kumbhandasji in Thakurji’s seva.
Thakurji’s seva was very grand – with a Mangala seva in the morning to wake Him up. Then “Shringara Seva” when he would be dressed up, following which would be the Gwal Seva where He would get ready to herd the cows. Then food would be offered for him – Rajbhog following which Krishna would take a short afternoon siesta at around Noon. Waking him up after 3 hours would be the Uthapana Seva, following which is the Bhog Seva. Returning from the forest, he would be given an Aarti Seva, following which would happen the Shayan – sleep. – totaling to 8 sevas everyday. Even today, Kumbhandasji’s kirtans are sung during the Rajbhog Seva.
Kumbhandas was a farmer all through and owned a small piece of land. Once, the ruler of Gwalior – Madhukar Shah, hearing about his glory, came to visit him. When the king was waiting with his minister outside, he heard Kumbhandasji beckon his granddaughter to bring the seat (‘aasana’) and mirror to apply Gopi Chandan on the forehead. The granddaughter replied that the seat was eaten up by a goat and the goat also drank the mirror! The king was surprised on hearing this and turned to the minister. The minister clarified that the seat was not a wooden plank but a bunch of dried grass and hence the goat devoured it; and the mirror was nothing but some water in an empty coconut shell. Hearing this, Madhukar Shah was moved by his penury and wanted to offer him a gold laced wooden seat and a gem-studded mirror. Kumbhandasji politely refused it. When the king expressed his desire name the town after Kumbhandasji, the Bhagavata remarked that neither he nor the king had any power to create even a speck of sand, and hence had no right of ownership and names! ‘Every piece of land here bears the stamp of our Thakur –Srinathji’ said Kumbhandasji. Such was his simplicity.
The fame of Kumbhandasji spread far and wide and Akbar came to know about his sweet devotional music and summoned him to his court. At court, whilst everyone else would render songs in praise of the emperor, Kumbhandasji rendered his kirtans on Thakurji which pleasantly surprised the emperor. However he wouldn’t take anything in return in spite of the king compelling him. On one such visits, the king compelled him to ask for some gift and Kumbhandasji said, ‘Ok! Shahenshah! Let me ask for the gift but you should promise me to grant it no matter what!’. When he got an affirmative answer from the king, he said, ‘My request is that please do not invite me anymore to the palace. It is disturbing my service to Thakurji!’
After a few years, when he realized that he was at the last stages of his life, Sri Vittalanatha was informed and he came to where Kumbhandasji lay, at the banks of the pond. Vittalanatha kept his hands on the heart of Kumbhandas and said, ‘Oh dear Kumbhandas! What do you see now!’ and Kumbhandasji sang his last kirtan – which describes his darshan of the Lord with Swaminiji (Radha Devi) on a beautiful platform and the Lord teaching His consort to write something!
Rasika niras me rahat gadi
kanak beli vrushabaanu nandini shyaam tamaal chadi
viharat sri giridhar lal sangh keeje paat padi
Kumbhandas prabhu govardhan dhar rati rasa keli badi
After singing this Kirtan, Kumbandhas returned to Goloka.
He was the first of Srinathji’s Sevaks. The four disciples of Sri Vallabhacharya, and the other four disciples of Vittalanatha – Govindadas, Nandadas, Cheedhaswami, Chaturbhujadas – these 8 Bhagavatas form the 8 ‘sakhas’ or friends of Srinathji.
Sri Vallabhacharya during his lifetime gave a beautiful commentary of Srimad Bhagavata – Subhodini. It was not a commentary of all the 18000 slokas – it was rather the essence of the 10th Canto – like great mahatmas like Sri Madhusudhana Saraswati and Leela Suka, Sri Vallabha too enjoyed Krishna’s leelas – and His grace. He has also expounded the first, second and a part of the 11th canto.
When Sri Vallabhacharya knew that his end was at sight, he took Apat Sanyasa and performed a Mauna Saptaha – where he would sit in the banks of the Ganges in silence and revel in the Leelas of Krishna heart of hearts. On the seventh day, he wrote a few shlokas showing the way of worship of Srinathji and then entered the Ganges, and disappeared. Everyone witnessed a streak of light from the Ganges going skyward. Sri Vallabha returned to Goloka.