Jahnava-devi's Appearance day

Gaurangi-priya Devi - April 25, 2007 5:10 pm

Today is the appearance day of Jahnava-devi, as well as Sita-devi and Madhupandit. I was thinking how we hear a lot about Sita-devi, but how for our sampradaya Jahnava Ma is even more important. It's a nice day to remember her and pray for her mercry. It is also mine and Nama-shrestam, Jiva-daya, Caitanya-daya and Madan Gopal's initiation anniversary. So please everyone give me your blessings to always remain in service to Guru and Gauranga.


A friend sent me a little something about Jahnava-devi and so I thought I'd share it here. Jai Jahnava Ma!


nikhila baisnaba-jana doya prakasiya


sri-jahnava-pade more rakhaha taniya


I pray to all you assembled Vaisnavas throughout the entire universe to please show your compassion by attracting me to the shade of the lotus feet of Sri Jahnava Devi, my eternal shelter and the very pleasure potency of Sri Nityananda Prabhu.


- from Kalyana Kalpataru, by Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur



sri-jahnava-pada-padma koriya smaran

dina krishna-da kohe nama-sankirtana.

" Remembering the lotus feet of Nityananda Prabhu's consort, Sri Jahnava Devi, this very fallen lowly servant of Krishna sings the Sankirtan of the holy names "


- from Sri Vraja-Dhama Mahimamrta



Here is an extract from 'Sri Panca-tattva: The Five Features of God',

by Satyaraja Dasa (Steven J. Rosen)


When Nitai returned to Bengal at Mahaprabhu's request, He decided to abandon His avadhuta status and take to the householder asrama. A statesman named Suryadasa Sarakhel had two daughters who were great devotees; their names were Jahnava and Vasudha. As qualified girls who felt great affection for Nityananda Prabhu, they were chosen to marry Him, and He, in turn, loved them dearly. According to Kavi Karnapura, the two girls were incarnations of Revati Devi and Varuni Devi respectively, who were the wives of Lord Balarama.


After some time Vasudha gave birth to two children - a boy named Virabhadra and a girl named Ganga-devi. Virabhadra, especially, became a great leader in the Vaisnava community and continued to spread the Gaudiya teachings in the mood of His distinguished father. Soon after the birth of her two divine children, Vasudha passed away, and Jahnava vowed to raise them as her own.


As the years went by, Jahnava Ma developed a reputation as a superlative Vaisnavi, embodying the ideals of devotion in the Gaudiya sampradaya. She initiated her son Virabhadra as well as many other male and female members of the Vaisnava community. Major figures in Mahaprabhu's lineage took shelter at her lotus feet, and personalities like Narottama Dasa Thakura, Srinivasa Acarya, and Syamananda Prabhu accepted her as the most prominent Vaisnava in Bengal.


In Ekacakra-grama, not far from Nityananda Prabhu's birthplace, there is a Krishna Deity known as Bankima Raya - a Deity that was established by Nityananda Himself. On the right side of this Deity is a Deity of Jahnava Ma and on the left is one of Sri Radha. The priests of this temple say that Nityananda Prabhu merged into the form of Bankima Raya when He was ready to leave the planet for his eternal pastimes in the spiritual sky. There are no other stories of Nitai's departure and so this one is generally accepted by the orthodox Vaisnava community. Be that as it may, His presence, as well as that of His personal sakti, Jahnava Thakurani, is always felt in the presence of one's own guru, for the guru is considered a living manifestation of Nityananda Prabhu's love, and His sakti is what gives a true disciple the ability to perform devotional service and to experience the bliss of devotional life.




Once, when Srimati Jahnava devi was travelling with a large group of Vaisnavas on a pilgrimage to Braj, the party passed through a village en route. The residents of the village were Candi (Durga Devi) worshippers who mocked the group of Vaisnavas when they saw them bowing to and touching Jahnava Devi's feet. Considering that by offering respect to Jahnava Devi, rather than their local deity of Candi, the Vaisnavas had committed a great offense, they vowed to slaughter the whole group of travellers. Candi, however, found this proposal unacceptable and appeared in an angry form to her worshippers in a dream, and revealed to them the glories of Jahnava Devi, saying :


'You fools! You do not know the truth about her who you look down upon and whom you have called a brahmana woman. She is the wife of Nityananda-Balarama, an object of respect even to me and worshipable by all. Her name, Jahnava Isvari, is exceedingly sweet. Simply by uttering this name, one can be freed from life's worries. She is beloved of Nityananda, the incarnation of compassion; she voluntarily distributes loving devotion to Krsna to the living beings. Whoever worships her lotus feet and sings her glories will be delivered from the threefold sufferings.'


Candi continued by telling the villagers to beg Jahnava Devi for forgiveness; which they did. Jahnava Devi stayed in the village for several days and converted the villagers to Vaisnavism before moving on.


- from Sri Sri Bhakti-ratnakara by Narahari Cakravarti Thakura.

Nanda-tanuja Dasa - April 25, 2007 6:32 pm

From Women Saints in Gaudiya Vaishnavism by Jagadananda Das:


Sri Jahnava Ishwari (16th century).


Karen Sinclair has observed that though women have attained great prominence in

Hindu sects, it is generally as "Holy Mothers" or the consorts of male religous

adepts, and she gives Sarada Devi, the consort of Ramakrishna, and Aurobindo's

"The Mother" as modern examples. In her view, in such circumstances women are

normally venerated, but their role is circumscribed, as is the case with the Virgin

Mary in Christianity.(26)


In many places in Asia, widows, daughters and sisters of martyred political leaders

have risen to political prominence. Nowhere is this truer than in South Asia, where

such women have risen to the highest political posts in four countries. Mary

Katzenstein, in her analysis of the factors leading to the political prominence of

women in India, has concluded that in societies where kinship plays an important

role, in the absence of a regularized, stable system whereby succession of political

leaders is assured, daughters, widows, or sisters are often called upon to lead.(27)

Nevertheless, for any woman to succeed in a role of leadership in such

circumstances, it would be necessary that she show qualifications of a more

practical sort; simple relationship could only play a temporary role. Indira Gandhi in

India and Sirimavo Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka, are particularly salient examples.


Most of the early generations of Gaudiya Vaishnava women leaders were similarly

related to earlier charismatic male leaders of the movement. Of all these women,

who are yet few in number, Jahnava, the wife of Chaitanya's chief associate

Nityananda, stands out. A number of reasons might be conjectured for her rise to

prominence. She was widowed, it would seem, when still fairly young. She had no

children herself, but her nephew and stepson, Nityananda's son Virabhadra (born of

Jahnava's younger sister and co-wife Vasudha), was not yet of an age where he

could exercise leadership in the dynastic system that had apparently been

envisioned as appropriate for the continuation of the movement In the absence of

another appropriate leader; Jahnava stepped into fill the leadership void.


It is quite clear that Jahnava won respect throughout the Vaishnava community as

well as constituting a strong influence on her two principle disciples, Virabhadra

and Ramachandra. She was known as Ishwari (IzvarI), the feminine form of the

commonly used word for God, Izvara. At the very least, the term implies a great

mastery over others. Narahari recounts in his Bhakti-ratnakara that Yadunandan Das

and the other devotees gathered in Katwa as Jahnava made her way to Kheturi out

of respect ate only after she had finished her repast.


Jahnava and Vasudha were sisters, daughters of a Brahmin scholar, Suryadas

Sarkhel, and nieces of Gauridas Pandit, both of which brothers were significant

devotees of Nityananda and Chaitanya in their own right. The two girls were given

in marriage to Nityananda, but Jahnava remained without issue while Vasudha gave

birth to two children: a girl, Gahga, and a boy, Virabhadra. Though Jahnava was

Virabhadra's stepmother, she played a more significant role in his spiritual

development than did his natural mother. One legend is recounted in the

Nityananda-vamsa-vistara in which it is said that Virabhadra was seeking a spiritual

master (having been orphaned before receiving initiation from his own father). In

the course of his search, he approached Sita Thakurani, the wife of Advaita, the

third member of the Gaudiya Vaishnava divine triumvirate. She told him that he

should seek closer to home, but Virabhadra was not convinced that Jahnava was

sufficiently qualified to be his guru. On his return home, however, he saw his

stepmother as she was completing her bath. While drying her hair, her wet sari

slipped and in order to conceal her nakedness, she sprouted two extra arms to hold

up the failing cloth. Virabhadra was impressed by this show of divinity and asked

Jahnava to initiate him.(29)


Though some comparable epiphanies are related in legends about Nityananda, there

is a proliferation of such simplistic attempts at legitimizing the divine character of

personalities in the later hagiographical histories of Chaitanya Vaishnavism. The

Nityananda-vamsa-vistara also recounts that Virabhadra (who is also identified as

Izvara by Krishnadas [CC 1.11.8) and as Kshirodakashayi Vishnu in the Gauraganoddesha-

dipika manifested divine forms of this nature on various occasions

during his preaching career.


Jahnava is not the only woman to have manifested such a four-armed form. Stories

similar to the one recounted above are also told about two other women in Gaudiya

Vaishnava history. Nityananda's powerful disciple Abhiram Thakur married a

Muslim girl, Rami, an act that met with considerable criticism. Though some

devotees were prepared to accept her presence in the Vaishnava community, they

were certainly not ready to take food, not even prasad, from her hand. They were

quieted when Rami sprouted extra arms to hold up the cloth covering her head

when it slipped as she was serving. Again, a similar story is told by Haridas Das

(Gaudiya-Vaishnava Abhidhana, 1422) about Hemalata Thakurani, the daughter of the

important third generation Gaudiya Vaishnava leader Srinivasa Acharya. The legend

about Hemalata is particularly significant, not so much in its details, but rather in

that, as with Jahnava, it confirms her personal authority as guru.


Virabhadra was not Jahnava's only important disciple. Other disciples of distinction

begin with Ramachandra Goswami. Grandson of Vamsivadanananda Thakur

(mentioned above in connection with Vishnupriya Devi), Ramachandra was adopted

by Jahnava after she gave the benediction to his father that he would have two sons.

When the second son was born, when Ramachandra was 11 or 12 years old (ca.

1545), Jahnava took him to live with her.


Ramachandra was given special treatment by his stepmother and guru, and to some

extent became a rival to Virabhadra for her favors, accompanying her on her last

trip to Braj. He later founded the Baghnapada branch of Goswamis through his

nephew Rajavallabh's family; he himself never married.


It would appear that Jahnava had imbibed some of the scholarship of her father and

uncle, and it stood her in good stead when she began to take on the role of

Nityananda's successor. In Murali-vilasa, Jahnava is described as giving instructions

to Ramachandra Goswami in the details of the path of worship (manjarI-bhAvasAdhana)

outlined by Rupa Goswami. Nevertheless, despite her personal scholarship,

she does not seem to have given public discourses on scripture and was even selfeffacing

when in the association of male devotees. For instance, in Kheturi, she did

not ascend to the podium with the associates of Chaitanya and Nityananda who

were present there.(31)


Nor did she do anything more than act as an audience for kirtan. On the other hand,

she appears to have liked to cook for large numbers of devotees, herself serving

them, and participated directly in deity worship, at least by offering foodstuffs. At

Kheturi, she orchestrated many of the activities, such as the greeting (satkAra) of the

guests (BRK 10.511), the playing of phAgu-khelA, etc.(32)


Perhaps Jahnava's most significant contribution was to the organization and

character of Bengali Vaishnavism as it endeavored to deal with the theological

sophistication of the Vrindavan Goswamis. The event at which this took place was

the famous Kheturi festival already mentioned above, the date of which is still a

matter of conjecture, but likely took place in the 1570s. Her role there was to lend

approval to the innovations in the practice of kirtan as well as the theological

formulations on the nature of Chaitanya and his incarnation that Narottam and

Srinivas Acharya had brought with them from Vrindavan.(33)


Jahnava, doubtless impressed by the culture of the new leaders of the movement

and the learning they had received at the hands of Jiva Goswami, decided to go

herself to Braj and witness firsthand the developments that had taken place there.

Traveling with a large group of Vaishnavas and being carried in a palanquin that

protected her modesty, she led the undoubtedly rather impressive group that made

the lengthy pilgrimage, taking between five and six months to make the trip.


Narahari describes an incident that took place in a village en route. The residents of

the village were Chandi worshippers who mocked the group of Vaishnavas when

they saw them bowing to Jahnava and touching her feet. Considering that by

offering respect to Jahnava rather than to their local deity of Chandi, the

Vaishnavas had committed a great offense, they vowed to slaughter the whole

group of travelers. Chandi, however, found this proposal unacceptable and appeared

in an angry form to her worshippers in a dream and revealed to them the glories of

Jahnava, saying,

You rascals! You do not know the truth about her whom you look down upon and

whom you have called a mere Brahmin woman. She is the wife of Nityananda-

Balaram, object of respect even to me and worshipable by all. Her name, Jahnava

Ishwari, is exceedingly sweet. Simply by uttering this name, one can be freed from

life's worries. She is the beloved of Nityananda, the incarnation of compassion; she

voluntarily distributes loving devotion to Krishna to the living beings. Whoever

worships her lotus feet and sings her glories will be delivered from the threefold

sufferings. (34)

Chandi concludes by telling the villagers to beg Jahnava for forgiveness, which they

did. Jahnava converted them all to Vaishnavism and stayed for several days in the

village before moving on. Another similar miraculous event took place at another

village where robbers thought to attack the group. They were unable to find

Jahnava and her party of travelers despite knowing clearly their location. They too

converted to Vaishnavism when they realized that Jahnava was divinely protected.


On her way back home from Braj, Jahnava stopped with her entourage at the

birthplace of Nityananda in Birbhum. She made a second and perhaps even a third

trip to Braj before the end of her life, ultimately dying there. It is said that while still

alive, she had an image of Radha made and placed on the right-hand side of

Gopinath in Vrindavan, where an image of Radha already stood on the left. When

she died, she is said to have entered into that deity, thenceforth known as Ananga



Jahnava's apotheosis as Ananga Manjart, the sister of Radha, is perhaps what sets

her apart from most other woman saints in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. The Gauraganoddesha-

dipika of Kavi Karnapur identifies her first with Revati (the wife of

Balaram in Krishna lila) by virtue of her being the wife of Nityananda (who is

identified with Balaram), but also recognizes the Ananga Manjari identification as

well. By way of contrast, though Vishnupriya is identified with Satyabhama, the

wife of Krishna in Dvaraka, (35) this identification is far less prestigious in the

heavily Vrindavan-influenced Gaudiya Vaishnavism of later days than that of

Jahnava with Ananga Manjari.


It was Jahnava's adopted son and disciple Ramachandra Goswami who developed

the theology of Ananga Manjari in his short work Ananga-manjari-samputka.(36)

Ananga Manjari has an ontologically special status in that she is both a manjari, or

maidservant to Radha, and sakhi, who enjoys dalliances with Krishna in her own

right. Furthermore, she is the consort of Balaram on the one hand, and identical

with him in that metaphysical slight of hand known to Vaishnava theologians,

which states that a power and its possessor are not distinguishable. Thus, Balarama

(= Nityananda), who enjoys his own rasa-lila with gopis attached erotically to him,

also enjoys access to the superior rasa-lila enjoyed by Krishna through his presence

there in the form of Ananga Manjari. This bit of theological contortionism arises

directly out of Jahnava's "conversion" to the higher standards of devotion

established by the Vrindavan goswamis. In order to give legitimacy to his line, it

was now necessary to show that Nityananda, who had always been understood to

possess the friendly mood (sakhya-bhava), was also privy to the erotic mood as well

(madhura-bhava). If Chaitanya had come to distribute this type of love to all humans

who had never before had access to it, then how could his most intimate associate

and primary distributory agent be deprived of it?


Virabhadra's wife, Subhadra Devi, wrote a Sanskrit hymn called Ananga-kadambavali,

which consisted of one hundred verses in glorification of Jahnava. This work has

been lost, but a single verse of it has been preserved in the Murali-vilasa (and is cited

in Haridas Das, Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana 5). It is not unlikely that Jahnava

encouraged female learning, for literacy amongst Vaishnava women was

maintained at a higher level than amongst other women of Bengal society. Donna

Wulff points out that Vaishnava women ascetics in the 19th and 20th centuries were

leaders of female literacy, much more so than those who belonged to other Hindu

sects. (37)


Jahnava's exceptional status no doubt led to the common occurrence of maternal

initiation in many Nityananda-dynasty families. In some cases, such as the family of

Pran Gopal Gosvami of Nabadwip, the tradition is that the sons are always initiated

by their mother. Pran Gopal would say that when the power of the mercy of the

guru was coupled with maternal love, an extremely powerful spiritual force was

created.(38) The Gaudiya Math movement directed by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati

fought strongly against the principle of inherited disciplic succession and was even

more vehement in such criticism where female members were involved. Even so,

they too accepted Jahnava's legitimacy as a spiritual master in the line. (39)


Whatever the attitude of neo-orthodoxy to Jahnava, there is little to support Edward

Dimock's contention that she was a sahajiya, or in any way influenced by sahajiyas,

nor that her adopted son was one. Nor is it necessarily true that the increased

influence of women in Gaudiya Vaishnavism is a result of increased sahajiya

influence. It shows rather the potential power of women that was given the

opportunity to develop when Chaitanya instructed his chief lieutenant Nityananda

to return to Bengal and get married, thus giving increased legitimacy to the

householder life. The Gaudiya movement has always held that the renunciates and

householders operate in separate spheres with different rules.

Syamasundara - April 25, 2007 11:33 pm

Gee, how dry... am I the only one who is disturbed by the tone? I mean, thanks for the info, but brrrrrr.... :Nail Biting: