for ISKCON News on Feb. 12, 2011
Audiences—especially ISKCON audiences, it seems—love to laugh. And often, the story of Lord Nityananda delivering the two brothers Jagai and Madhai is presented as comedic in ISKCON plays, with their drunken antics mined for humor.
But if we could have been witnesses to this real, historical event, which happened just over 500 years ago—around the time Christopher Columbus discovered America—we would have been moved to tears, albeit happy ones; not laughter.
There is no other story that so showcases the boundless mercy of Nityananda Prabhu, whose Appearance Day devotees will be celebrating all over the globe this February 16th.
Nityananda Prabhu was the closest associate of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and an avatar of none other than Krishna Himself, who spread the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra as the most effective way to reach God during the 14- and 1500s in West Bengal.
The Chaitanya-Bhagavata by Vrindavana Dasa Thakura tells us that one day, Sri Chaitanya requested Nityananda Prabhu and Haridasa Thakura, another great devotee dedicated to chanting the Holy Name: “Please go door to door, to every house, and beg everyone, ‘Chant the holy name of Krishna, worship Krishna and cultivate his devotional service.’”
The two devotees did so, coming across some who happily received them and agreed to their request, and some who thought they were crazy and shut the door on them.
Eventually, they happened upon Jagai and Madhai, two brothers who had been born in a respectable brahmana family, but who were now drunkards and despicable criminals. It seemed as if there was not a sin they had not committed—the two hulking brutes drank liquor, killed cows, robbed, burned people’s homes, and even murdered brahmanas. Somehow, they had managed to avoid the law, and spent the entire day engaged in their nefarious activities.
When Nityananda Prabhu and Haridasa Thakura came upon them, the two drunks were staggering about the streets, embracing each other affectionately one minute, then punching each other and abusing each other with filthy language the next. They had completely forgotten their original good selves, and were quickly drowning in the depths of ignorance, making complete fools of themselves.
The scene held the kind of sad fascination for passers-by as a car crash, and many people gathered to watch, although they stood at a distance because they were afraid of being attacked by the menacing brothers.
Nityananda Prabhu, however, made his way to the front of the crowd, and asked someone, “Who are these two men? Why are they acting like this?”
The man’s reply gives us a window into the very real and tragic lives of Jagai and Madhai, going some way towards erasing the cartoon caricatures they are sometimes depicted as, and showing their sad predicament.
“Gosai, they are brahmanas from a very good and aristocratic family, and their parents are very noble-minded,” the man said to Lord Nityananda. “These two are the black sheep of the family however, and from the very beginning, they have been engaged in sinful activities. As a result, they have been rejected by their family and society, so that now they live in the association of other drunkards. Everyone is afraid of these two, thinking that they might become their next victim. Everyone knows they are capable of doing anything.”
Hearing this, Nityananda Prabhu felt no disgust or fear—rather, great compassion welled up in his heart. How could he help these men? How could he rescue them from their abominable lives?
As he stepped forward, concerned citizens tried to stop him, crying, “Don’t go near them! We live in fear of these two—how do you have the courage to approach them?”
Despite their pleas, Nityananda and Haridasa approached the two drunks, saying, “Chant Krishna’s name and worship Him, for He is the supreme father of all living beings. He has appeared now as Sri Chaitanya for your sake—so please give up your sinful activities and surrender unto Him.”
The two drunkards lifted their heads and looked at the speakers with bloodshot eyes. Shouting angrily, they suddenly jumped to their feet and ran at the devotees with violent intent. Nityananda Prabhu and Haridasa Thakur turned and ran, managing to loose their pursuers as they sought shelter at Shrivas Prabhu’s house, were Lord Chaitanya was discussing Krishna consciousness with his devotees.
When Nityananda told him the story, and implored him to deliver Jagai and Madhai, the Lord replied, “They are already delivered! You are so concerned for their welfare—Krishna will take care of them very soon.”
The next night, as Nityananda Prabhu was returning alone to Lord Chaitanya’s house after another day of spreading Krishna’s name, he was intercepted by Jagai and Madhai. Advancing upon him, drunk as usual, they slurred, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going to Nimai Pandita’s house,” he replied, using Sri Chaitanya’s boyhood name.
They continued to block his path. “What’s your name?” they demanded.
“My name is Avadhuta,” Nityananda said, giving them the title he was was often known by, meaning a saint above common worldly concerns.
His use of the name irritated Madhai, who picked up a jagged piece of clay from a broken wine jug, and threw it at Nityananda Prabhu in a seething rage. It hit him hard on the forehead, and he sank to the ground, holding the wound, blood dripping through his fingers.
Madhai raised his arm to strike again, but something clicked in Jagai. Grabbing his brother’s hands, he said, “Why did you do that? This Avadhuta is a renunciant, a saintly man—and he did nothing to hurt us.”
By this time, several people had arrived on the scene, and some rushed to get Lord Chaitanya. Rushing to the spot, the Lord found Nityananda covered in blood, yet smiling.
Enraged at seeing his beloved Nityananda like this, Sri Chaitanya called for the Sudarshana Chakra, Lord Krishna’s eternal weapon, and the blazing, impossibly sharp discus immediately appeared, stunning everyone with its brilliance and striking fear in their hearts.
Nityananda Prabhu, however, hurried to Chaitanya’s side and begged him, “When Madhai was about to hit me, Jagai stopped him. And although I’m bleeding I don’t feel any any pain. Please spare them.”
Pleased with Jagai, Lord Chaitanya immediately went to him and embraced him, saying, “May Lord Krishna bless you. You have won me over by protecting Nityananda. Please ask from me whatever you desire. From today, may you be firmly fixed in a life of pure devotion, in a mood of love for Krishna.”
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu then displayed to Jagai his four-armed Vishnu form, holding a conch shell, disc, club and lotus flower. Touching the Lord’s feet, Jagai felt himself freed from all his sins, and as he thought of Nityananda Prabhu’s love for even someone such as himself, he couldn’t hold back the tears and wept profusely.
Meanwhile, an internal transformation was slowly starting to take place in Madhai, too. Falling down in obeisance before Lord Chaitanya, he begged, “We were both sinners—sinning at the same time and in the same place. My Lord, why were you merciful to one and not the other? Please be merciful to me also, for there is no one else who can deliver a wretch like me.”
But he had overlooked Nityananda’s presence. “I cannot deliver you, for you have hurt Nityananda Prabhu, my most beloved associate,” said Lord Chaitanya. “You shed his blood, and only he can forgive you.”
Madhai immediately threw himself at the feet of Lord Nityananda, who humbly said, “If I have acquired any piety from my devotional service, then let my pious results be given to you, Madhai.”
He then raised Madhai to his feet and firmly embraced him, instantly freeing him from all sins and empowering him with spiritual strength. This to the person who had just moments ago seriously injured him.
“From now on, do not commit any more sinful activities,” Lord Chaitanya told them.
“Never again, my Lord,” they replied.
From then on, the two brothers became pure devotees and spent their lives absorbed in service to Krishna. Today, their descendents still exist, and are respectable brahmanas, while their tombs are considered sacred and can be visited in Ghosahata, one mile south of Katwa, West Bengal.
While Jagai and Madhai may seem extreme examples who have little in common with most of us, having committed murder, we can all, to a certain extent, see ourselves in them. We’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve sunk to the bottom; when we have been in a very dark place; when we haven’t been our true selves.
Before becoming devotees, many members of ISKCON where engaged in some of Jagai and Madhai’s vices—“The activities of such persons have now become common practices,” writes Srila Prabhupada in the Caitanya Caritamrita. “It is no longer considered abominable to be a drunkard, woman-hunter, meat-eater, thief or rogue, for these elements have been assimilated by human society.”
Even as devotees, we may struggle in different ways, even if only with our minds, and with the material energy this modern world is permeated with, as it folds in on us and tries to crush us. We may feel as if we will never achieve the pure love of God, the selflessness, the servitude of a pure devotee, as if there’s no hope for us. But we should know that Lord Nityananda is there for us, and will always be there for us. He does not judge us, and he sees everyone as being essentially pure lovers of God, simply covered over.
This recalls the story of the great 10th century king Yamunacharya, who upon hearing the Bhagavad-gita from his guru Rama-Misra and being moved by its deep spiritual message, was filled with remorse and cried out, “Alas! All these years I have wasted my life, with my mind and intelligence absorbed only in thoughts of lust and wealth. When will that day come when I will be able to remove such useless things from my heart and fix my mind completely on the lotus feet of Sri Krishna?”
His guru, however, consoled him, saying, “Your majesty, your pure mind rests always on the lotus feet of the Lord. Just for a short time it has been captivated by worldly desires, as a small cloud obscures the sun’s rays for a short time. Now that cloud has almost gone, and the sun will shine again and dispel the darkness from your heart.”
Lord Nityananda is that sun. As the saint Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura writes, “Sri Nityananda Prabhu is the sum total of all gurus. Without his mercy, no one can attain Sri Sri Radha and Krishna.” Further, Srila Prabhupada’s guru Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura writes in his magazine the Harmonist: “Individual souls are under the direction of Nityananda. They receive their service of Sri Gaurasundara, i.e., of Krishna, at His hands.”
So on February 16th, if we are at a dark time in our lives; if we need a friend who will love and help us no matter what; or if we are simply struggling against our minds and need a push towards Krishna; let us pray to Nityananda Prabhu, the embodiment of compassion.