RASIKA MURARI PATNAIK, also known as Rasikananda Prabhu, appeared in 1590 on the first day of the bright fortnight of the month of Karttika, fifty-six years after Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had ended His earthly pastimes. Rasikananda was born into a powerful zamindar (landowner) family in Royni, on the Suvarnarekha River in what is now the Medinipur district of southwest Bengal. His father was Sri Acyuta Thakur, the king of Rohini. His mother’s name was Bhavani. As he grew up, shining qualities appeared by degrees in his person causing the further exaltation of his family, just as the waxing moon gradually expands its influence in the night sky and causes the sea to rise. At a very young age he became quite proficient in all of the scriptures.
One day, Murari was sitting in a lonely place, wondering when and where he might become so fortunate as to get shelter at the lotus feet of a guru. Just then a voice from the sky addressed him, “Don’t be in anxiety. You will become the disciple of Sri Syamananda.” Having heard this proclamation, Rasika Murari became very jubilant, and began to repeatedly murmur the name Syamananda, as though chanting japa. From moment to moment his eagerness increased without diminution, as tears flowed from his eyes by his chanting of the name of Syamananda. He was in such a state that he spent most of the night sleeplessly, calling to his master Syamananda. Finally, towards the early morning, he drifted off to the land of dreams, where he saw his spiritual master, the very figure of charm and grace. Smilingly, Syamananda informed him, “When tomorrow the eastern sky becomes tinged with pink, you will obtain me.” Then he disappeared.
The meeting of Syamananda and the youthful Rasika is retold in Gopijanavallabha’s Rasika Mangala, a standard 17th century text about the life of Rasikananda. Basically, Syamananda and Rasikananda saw each other and recognized a connection that transcended time itself. Rasika ran up to his future guru and fell flat at his feet, saying, “You are my eternal savior, and Krishna has finally sent you to redeem me.” Syamananda Prabhu smiled with great pleasure. “I have found the future of Vaisnavism!”
Rasikananda, like his guru, was a married man, and so his wife, Iccha Devi, also took initiation from Syamananda Prabhu, receiving the name Syama Dasi.* Syamananda told them to always chant the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Soon after Syama Dasi’s initiation, the couple left Royni for nearby Kashipur, a popular city with a large influx of wealthy people. Sometime later, Syamananda visited his two disciples in Kashipur and brought a beautiful Deity of Krishna for them: Gopijanavallabha. Seeing how much his disciples loved their newly installed Deity, Syamananda renamed the city Gopiballabhpur (“Gopivallabha’s town”) and blessed all of the townspeople to develop the same love for the Deity that Rasikananda and his wife had. He asked Rasikananda to spread Krishna consciousness vigorously and made Syama Dasi the head priest of the temple.
According to historian Ramakanta Chakravarti, “Rasikmurari was perhaps more successful in converting people into Vaisnavism than any other Vaisnava leader of his time.” His enthusiasm was so pronounced that by the time of his passing away, the region of Medinipur had developed a distinct sect of Vaisnavas in the mood of Syamananda, his guru. These “Syamanandi vaisnavas,” as they came to be called, developed their own style of dress, cooking, tilaka markings, and temple construction. Rasikananda popularized Vaisnavism to the point of creating an entire subculture based on its principles.
Sri Bhakti-ratnakara 15.82-86 describes: “By the tremendous influence of Rasikananda’s preaching, many rogues, robbers and atheists received his mercy and were delivered from their sinful activities. He distributed the jewel of devotion to even the infidel Mohammedans, as he travelled from village to village, in the company of his disciples. He even converted a wild elephant, which was sent for his destruction, into his disciple and engaged him in the service of Krishna and the vaisnavas. The wicked Mohammedan miscreant who sent the elephant bowed at his feet when he realized his mistake. It is not possible to count the number of living entities that were extricated from the ocean of material existence by Rasikananda Thakur’s association. He was always intoxicated with the chanting of the holy name. Who cannot but be overwhelmed by hearing about his uncommon qualities?”
The vicious wild elephant that was tamed by Rasikananda’s transcendental influence was thereafter known as Gopala Das. Later, two jungle tigers similarly gave up their ferocious nature and became. The classic histories of the period, such as Syamananda Prakasha and Rasika Mangala, tell how he and his wife, with the help of influential disciples, put an end to animal sacrifice in non-Vaisnava areas and convinced people throughout Orissa and its bordering villages of the validity of Mahaprabhu’s message. With his knowledge, purity, and charisma, he engaged Muslims, Buddhists, and various sects of Hindus in the service of Krishna.
Then, on the first day of the bright fortnight in the month of Phalguna, Sakabda 1574 (Christian year1652), Rasikananda quietly slipped out of the village without anyone’s notice and walked to Remuna. It is said that he would spend day and night just gazing at the beautiful Deity of Kheer-chor Gopinath. He would utter the maha-mantra and sit transfixed, stuttering, shedding tears of love. He would point to the Deity as if to say to others, “Don’t you see?” But no one could see what he saw. After having spent his life spreading the teachings of Lord Caitanya and establishing a firm basis for the future of Vaisnavism, he was content to spend his time in the company of the Lord of his life. He discussed krishna-katha with the devotees for a while and instructed everyone to serve Sri Krishna with devotion. Then, after requesting them to begin sankirtana, he entered the temple of Sri Gopinatha. After touching Kheer-chora Gopinatha’s lotus feet, which bestow complete fearlessness, he entered into their ultimate shelter.
Sri Rasikananda had three sons: Sri Radhananda, Sri Krishna-Govinda and Sri Radha-Krishna. The present servants of Sri Sri Radha-GovindaThakura at Gopivallabhapura are their descendants. Late in his life Rasikananda wrote a Sanskrit epic about the life of the person who had taught him all he knew. It was called Sri Syamananda-Satakam, and it remains the most authoritative work on Syamananda’s life. He also composed Srimad Bhgavatastaka, as well as other hymns and songs.