JAHNAVA MATA: GURU & SANKIRTAN ORGANIZER
Wife of Nityananada Prabhu
In my last blog I wrote about Sarojini Naidu who balanced family and career as a politician and writer. Jahnava Mata is another woman with great Shakti who became a homemaker and cook per excellence but eventually became a spiritual teacher and Sankirtan organizer. You might say she was heavily involved in the community and changed every city, village and town she visited. She was what some people call a radical housewife.
My own mother was heavily involved in using her homemaking abiltiies in the city of Bemidji, my home city in rural northern Minnesota. She cooked pies, fruit cakes and pastries for church fundraisers and public school bake sales. She also sewed costumes for school and church plays. She tried to make the world a better place with her homemaking abiltiies, but she was also an intelligent, articulate woman who went around collecting money for Camp Courage, a camp for children with disabilities, and for other similar worthy causes. No matter if we are single or married we can contribute our abilities toward the greater good of society, like my Jahnava Devi and my mother did. Kirtan is about chanting and then serving society and the whole community, not just the Hindu community.
Five hundred years ago Jahnava Mata was born in Shaligrama, near Nabadwip. Her sister's name was Vasudha. It is believed by many that they were incarnations of Varuni and Revati, the wives of Balaram, who was the brother of Lord Krishna. Both married Nityananda Prabhu who is believed to be an incarnation of Balaram. His associate in the Sankirtan Movement was Chaitanya Prabhu who is thought to be an incarnation of both Radha and Krishna together. In my apartment I have this art print of a devotee of Chaitanya seeing him as both Radha and Krishna. It's a very powerful picture of all of them out in nature, near a pond full of lotuses.
Her father, Surya Das Sarakhela, was treasurer for the king of Gauda in was West Bengal at the time (now Bangladesh). According to the Gaudiya Vaishnava Abidhana, her mother was called Bhadravati. In a previous life her father was thought to be Kakudman, the father of Revati, one of the wives of Balaram.
So many individuals incarnated for this particular time for the beginning of the Sankirtan Movement. In Sankirtan the names of God are chanted and spiritual teaching happens, along with a vegetarian feast afterwards. The modern Sankirtan Movement has its roots in the actions of those associates in West Bengal who promoted the movement, such as Chaitanya, Nityananda and Jahnava Devi, who is the Shakti of Nityananda. She is his energy and power through which all his actions happened in West Bengal and beyond.
Her father had a dream of Nityananada as Balaram with both of his daughters in very radiant clothing and jewelry. It impressed him so much he contacted Nityananada via a messenger telling him of the dream and asking him to accept both daughters as wives. Nityananada accepted the visionary dream of her father and agreed to marry both daughters. They were married in Shaligrama with many priests in attendance. They eventually established their household in Khardaha, near the Ganges. Jahnava Devi had no children, but her sister, Vasudha Devi, had a son and a daughter. Virabhadra Goswami (son) and Ganga Devi (daughter) are thought to be incarnations of Kshirodakashayi Vishnu and Ganga Ma, the Ganges River.
After Nityananda and Chaitanya experienced their lila (play) on Earth, with the promotion of the Sankirtan Movement, Jahnava Devi became the foremost spiritual teacher and Sankirtan Movement organizer. Virabhadra Goswami became her first disciple when he saw her as a four-armed form. From that moment on she became his diksha guru. As Bhaktivinoda Thakur writes of her, "You are Nityananda's energy, you are devotion of Krishna and my guru. Please give this servant the desire tree to your lotus feet."
She travelled, like Nityananda, from village, city to town spreading the Sankirtan Movement. She cooked and organized prasad, the offerings to God, which devotees consumed afterwards. She was main spiritual teacher of the movement. From time to time Nityananda and Chaitanya would appear before devotees at many of these kirtans she organized. She permanently changed communities where she conducted kirtans. Unbelievers and negative people converted to chanting God's name and doing good deeds in the community.
She eventually visited Radha Kund and other areas of Vrindavan. For three days she conducted bhajans in Radha Kund, where she heard the sound of Krishna's flute and saw a vision of Lord Krishna. The ghat where she bathed near the vision is called Sri Jahnava Ghat.
It reminds me of an experience I had one winter afternoon while walking in the Lake Harriet Bird Sanctuary. I heard the unearthly sound of a flute in the middle of the winter. I looked around to see who was playing, but I saw no one. How could this be? I think it was Krishna himself because no one plays the flute there in winter time. When I came home I had a message on my voicemail about the showing of an apartment on the third floor which was in a quieter part of the building. Every day I had a guy above me who would walk back and forth for two hours straight with very heavy steps, so moving to the third floor was big improvement for me. One other time I heard the flute playing near a church (not a mandir). I looked around and saw no one playing it. The very next day devotees at the mandir gave me enough money so I could pay my electric bill, thus avoiding my electricity being shut off. I was Krishna again; I am sure.
Jahnava's great blessing in her life was the marriage of Virabhadra's two daughters, Shrimata and Narayani. After this great event Jahnava Devi disappeared from the Earth plane. Virabhadra and his two daughters, three of her disciples, continued the movement. It's a movement very much alive and well today. You will see kirtans in most major cities of the world. It was out of Jahnava Devi's efforts the movement spread after Nityananda's disappearance from the Earth. Avatars don't die like humans do; they disappear. Jahnava Devi disappeared to join Nityananda and his other associates in their abode in other planes and worlds. Now chant and serve in your community!
JAI SHRI JAHNAVA DEVI! JAI SHRI NITYANANDA!