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Who is Gopal Bhatta Goswami?

The six Goswamis of Vrindavan were entrusted by Caitanya Mahaprabhu to provide extensive guidance to people on the path of spirituality. Each of the six Goswamis, Sri Rupa Goswami, Sri Sanatana Goswami, Sri Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami, Sri Raghunatha Das Goswami, Sri Jiva Goswami and Sri Gopal Bhatta Goswami, were instructed and inspired by Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself at various times and places. While Caitanya Mahaprabhu left only eight verse (Siksastakam) that were recorded by
Damodara Svarupa and presented by Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami in the biography Caitanya Charitamrita, He inspired His disciples, chief amongst then the six Goswamis, to write extensively, with scientific precision the process of bhakti.

Gopal Bhatta (1503-1578) was born in an orthodox Brahman family in South India. His father Vyenkata Bhatta was a priest of the famous Narayana temple of Sri Rangam. Vyenkata Bhatta and his brothers, Prabhodhananda Saraswati and Tirumalla Bhatta were famous for their vast learning and piety. When Caitanya Mahaprabhu had undertaken His walking trip to South India in 1511, He spent the four rainy months of Caturmasa with them and engaged in deep discussion about philosophy and bhakti.

Even though the brothers belonged to the Sri (Laxmi) Sampradaya which follows the aishwarya (awe and reverence) mode of worship, Mahaprabhu convinced the brothers about the superiority of the ragunaga (spontaneous love) form of worship. Young Gopal was a keen audience to these discussions and was greatly inspired by Caitanya Mahaprabhu. When the departure of Mahaprabhu became imminent, the pain of separation became unbearable for Gopal Bhatta, till he was pacified by Caitanya Mahaprabhu in a spiritual dream where Mahaprabhu revealed His original identity as Krishna and instructed Gopal Bhatta to serve under Rupa and Sanatana Goswami in Vrindavan.

Before leaving how ever, Caitanya Mahaprabhu personally instructed Gopal Bhatta to serve his parents while they were alive. Gopal Bhatta followed these instructions were assiduously. In time he accepted his uncle Prabhodhanada Saraswati to be his spiritual master and acquired a deep understanding of the Sanskrit, grammar, poetry and Vedic scriptures from him. With the combined assets of Prabhodhanada Saraswati’s vast knowledge and divine inspiration of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Gopal Bhatta’s reputation as a scholar and a devotee reached unprecedented proportions. In time he decided that he was now ready to carry out the mission of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and proceeded to Vrindavan to meet Rupa and Sanatana

When Gopal Bhatta arrived to Vrindavan, he was met with great joy by the pure devotees residing there. Caitanya Mahaprabhu, now in Puri, was also pleased and send him many personal articles and paraphernalia for worship. Following these instructions, Gopal Bhatta immersed himself in writing about the science of bhakti. His book Sat-Kriya-Sar-Dipika is a classic on the tenets of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. This delineates with great care the ten rituals or samsakaras giving common people valuable guidance on the gradual elevation to spiritual life while pursuing materialistic activities.

His next book Samskara Dipika, elucidates the rules of behavior and conduct of the sannyasis or renunciants. His greatest work is the Hari-Bhakti-Vilas, which he corroborated with Rupa Goswami, comprises of twenty vilas (chapters) that provided a scientific, step-by-step analysis of Vaishnava etiquette, and takes one through the pitfalls and dangers in the path of spiritual advancement. Living his life as an embodiment of the scriptures, Gopal Bhatta’s fame as a scholar and a pure devotee spread all over India.

In a trip to the Gandaki river in Nepal, Gopal Bhatta carried back with him twelve shilas (special stones that are considered as incarnations of Krishna). However on reaching Vrindavan, he felt himself unqualified to worship them and made the long, arduous journey back to place the shilas back in the river. The shilas however refused to be left in the water and repeatedly jumped back into his hand. Taking this as a sign from Krishna, Gopal Bhatta took them back with him and began worshipping them very nicely in Vrindavan.

Once on a festival, Gopal Bhatta felt constrained by his inability to dress and decorate the shilas. Responding to his intense desire, one of the shilas, called the Damodar shila, overnight acquired the form of a deity, much to the pleasure of Gopal Bhatta. This deity, named as Radha Ramandev, is still worshipped in the same place in Vrindavan and is one of the most famous temples in the Vraja dhama. Gopal Bhatta initiated such luminaries as Shrinivas Acarya and Gopinatha Pujari who continued as the priest for Radha Ramandev. On the instructions of Gopal Bhatta (who himself was a lifelong celibate), Gopinatha Pujari married and his descendants worship the Radha-Ramandev deity to this day.

Gopal Bhatta is famous for his erudition, humility and devotion. His intense study and elaborate knowledge of scriptures acquired him a reputation as one of the most important religious scholar ever produced, while his love and devotion for Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Krishna catapulted him to the status of a saint. He is always revered as one of the six Goswamis of Vrindavan and to this day followers commemorate his exemplary life by visiting his samadhi (tomb) at the Radha-Ramandev temple in Vrindavan.