What is the Flow of Pure Devotion?

The Supreme Lord Himself, during His Pastimes as Lord Kapiladev, has personally explained the nature of pure devotion as follows in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:
mad-guṇa-śruti-mātreṇa mayi sarva-guhāśaye
mano-gatir avichchhinnā yathā gaṅgāmbhaso ‘mbudhau
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: 3.29.11)
“The primary characteristic of pure devotion is that the heart of one who is enriched with pure devotion uninterruptedly flows towards Me, the Lord who resides within the hearts of all souls, simply by hearing about My glories, just as the waters of the Ganges naturally flow towards the ocean.”

Through this verse the ‘flow of pure devotion’ is understood as the flow of the heart in service towards the Lord. This understanding describes the flow of pure devotion from the devotee to the Lord. In addition to this, the ‘flow of pure devotion’ can be understood as the flow of mercy, beauty, and love descending down from the Lord through His divine potency to devotees and fortunate souls which draws forth a flow of pure devotion from their hearts.

Krishna is celebrated throughout the scriptures as the self-sufficient, omnipotent, omniscient Supreme Personality of Godhead (Īśvaraḥ Paramaḥ Kṛṣṇaḥ, and so on.) Yet this is only a superficial understanding of Krishna’s nature. Krishna is more specifically described in the scriptures as yaṁ Śyāmasundaram achintya-guṇa-svarūpaṁ (Śrī Brahma-saṁhitā: 5.38), the beautiful dark Lord who is the personification of all inconceivable qualities. Amid the inconceivable qualities of Krishna, one is particularly prominent and has been described by Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj as follows:

prema-vaśya-kṛṣṇa-bhāva-bhakta-hṛch-chamatkaram
(Śrī Prema-dhāma-deva Stotram: 43)

“Krishna’s nature of being subjugated by divine love (prema) perpetually strikes the hearts of His devotees with wonder.”

Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is known as Mahābhāva-svarūpiṇī, the personification of the most elevated form of prema (Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 4.68-69), and Krishna’s inconceivable nature of being subjugated by prema is found in the extreme within His relationship with Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī.

ei mata jagatera sukhe āmi hetu
rādhikāra rūpa-guṇa āmāra jīvātu
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 4.248)

[Krishna muses:] “Although I am the source of happiness for the entire universe, the beautiful form and qualities of Śrī Rādhikā are My life and soul.”

The extreme to which Krishna is subjugated by Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s prema and the extent to which Krishna appreciates Her prema is revealed through His Pastimes as Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu. Śrīla Svarūp Dāmodar, the most intimate devotee of Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu who understood His heart in full, has described the causes which inspired Krishna to assume the form of  Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu as follows:

śrī-rādhāyāḥ praṇaya-mahimā kīdṛśo vānayaivā-
svādyo yenādbhuta-madhurimā kīdṛśo vā madīyaḥ
saukhyaṁ chāsyā mad-anubhavataḥ kīdṛśaṁ veti lobhāt
tad-bhāvāḍhyaḥ samajani śachī-garbha-sindhau harīnduḥ
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 1.6)

“‘What are the glories of Śrī Rādhā’s love? What sort of astonishing sweetness of Mine does She relish? What sort of happiness arises in Her alone through experiencing My sweetness?’ Ardently desiring to fully appreciate these three mysteries, Śrī Krishna, enriched with Śrī Rādhā’s devotional mood (bhāva), appeared like the moon from the ocean of Śachī Devī’s womb.”

Śrīla Svarūp Dāmodar has also clearly explained the divine identity of both Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and Śrīman Mahāprabhu.

rādhā kṛṣṇa-praṇaya-vikṛtir hlādinī-śaktir-asmād
ekātmānāv api bhuvi purā deha-bhedaṁ gatau tau
chaitanyākhyaṁ prakaṭam adhunā tad-dvayaṁ chaikyam āptaṁ
rādhā-bhāva-dyuti-suvalitaṁ naumi kṛṣṇa-svarūpam
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 1.5)

“Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is the preeminent manifestation of love for Krishna and the personification Krishna’s divine ecstasy potency (hlādinī-śakti). Although, by nature, They are One, for Their eternal Pastimes Rādhā and Krishna exist as two separate forms (as Lover and Beloved). Now those two separate forms have manifest in one combined form who is known as Śrī Chaitanya. Thus I worship this supreme form of Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu, who is Krishna Himself adorned with the heart and halo of Śrī Rādhā.”

When Krishna takes the form of Śrīman Mahāprabhu, He does not relish Rādhārāṇī’s devotion for Himself alone, He distributes the opportunity to serve and appreciate Her prema to all the fortunate souls of this world:

anarpita-charīṁ chirāt karuṇayāvatīrṇaḥ kalau
samarpayitum unnatojjvala-rasāṁ sva-bhakti-śriyam
hariḥ puraṭa-sundara-dyuti-kadamba-sandīpitaḥ
sadā hṛdaya-kandare sphuratu vaḥ śachī-nandanaḥ
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 1.4)

“May the brilliantly golden, beautifully radiant Lord Śrī Śachī-nandan Gaurahari always be resplendently manifest in the core of your heart. He has descended in the age of Kali to grandly distribute the treasure of His own prema—the supremely exalted madhura-rasa of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and the Vraja-gopīs—which has never before been distributed in this material world.”

Krishna, as Śrīman Mahāprabhu, engages in relishing Rādhārāṇī’s devotion and distributing entrance into Her service through the practice of Prema-nām-saṅkīrtan. When He decides to appear as Śrīman Mahāprabhu, Krishna thinks:

yuga-dharma pravartāimu nāma-saṅkīrtana
chāri bhāva-bhakti diyā nāchāmu bhuvana
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 3.19)

“I shall personally inaugurate the religion of the age—Nām-saṅkīrtan, the congregational chanting of My Holy Names, and by granting the jīva-souls entrance into the service of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī (and all other forms of divine relationship with Me) through Nām-saṅkīrtan, I shall make the entire world dance in ecstasy.”

When Krishna appeared for His Pastimes as His own devotee engaged in the practice of Prema-nām-saṅkīrtan in order to relish Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s devotion for Himself He did not do so alone:

śrī-rādhāra bhāve yini suvarṇa varaṇa
saṅgopaṅge nabadwīpe yā̐ra saṅkīrtana
kalite upāsya sei kṛṣṇa gaurahari
(Śrīla Bhaktivinod Ṭhākur)

“Taking the heart and golden halo of Rādhārāṇī, Krishna appeared as the worshippable Lord of the age of Kali Śrī Gaurahari (Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu) with His eternal associates in His eternal abode of Śrī Nabadwīp Dhām to engage in the practice of saṅkīrtan.”

Indeed, Krishna descends with His own divine abode and with all His various types of associates for these Pastimes.

sei pañcha-tattva mili’ pṛthivī āsiyā
pūrva-premabhāṇḍārera mudrā ughāḍiyā
pā̐che mili’ luṭe prema, kare āsvādana
yata yata piye, tṛṣṇā bāḍhe anukṣaṇa
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 7.20-21)

“Descending to the earth, Śrīman Mahāprabhu, joined by His expansions, sub-expansions, divine potencies, and pure devotees, broke open the seal on the storehouse of prema (the divine characteristics of Krishna specially relished by Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī), and plundered its contents. He and His associates relished this prema through saṅkīrtan, and the more  prema they drank, the more their thirst and desire for such prema increased.”

punaḥ punaḥ piyāiyā haya mahāmatta
nāche, kānde, hāse, gāya, yaichhe mada-matta
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 7.22)

“As they would drink this prema again and again due to their ever increasing desire for it, they would become extremely intoxicated and would dance, cry, laugh, and sing as though they were drunk.”

pātrāpātra-vichāra nāhi, nāhi sthānāsthāna
yei yā̐hā pāya, tā̐hā kare prema-dāna
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 7.23)

“Being intoxicated in this way, they distributed this prema anywhere and everywhere to anyone and everyone with no consideration of whether any particular person or place was fit or unfit to receive it.”

luṭiyā, khāiyā, diyā, bhāṇḍāra ujāḍe
āścharya bhāṇḍāra, prema śata-guṇa bāḍe
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 7.24)

“Plundering, drinking, and distributing prema in this way they exhausted the supply of the storehouse. However, the astonishing nature of this storehouse of prema (of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s prema for Krishna), is that by distributing its wealth, its supply of  prema is not depleted but increases one hundredfold.”

uchhalila prema-vanyā chaudike veḍāya
strī, vṛddha, bālaka, yuvā, sabāre ḍubāya
saj-jana, durjana, paṅgu, jaḍa, andha-gaṇa
prema-vanyāya ḍubāila jagatera jana
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 7.25-6)

“Thus, Śrīman Mahāprabhu and His associates sent forth an overflowing flood of prema which engulfed all directions and submerged everyone—good people, bad people, the lame, the invalid, the blind, women, the elderly, children, youth—all the people of the universe, within its inundation.”

jagat ḍubila, jīvera haila bīja nāśa
tāhā dekhi’ pā̐cha janera parama ullāsa
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 7.25-7)

“Drowning the universe in this way, all the seeds of bondage within the ignorance of aversion towards the service of Krishna which were present in the hearts of the conditioned souls were destroyed. Seeing this, Śrīman Mahāprabhu and all His associates ecstatically rejoiced.”

sei dvāre ācaṇḍāle kīrtana sañcāre
nāma-prema-mālā gāṅthi’ parāila saṁsāre
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Ādi-līlā, 4.40)

“Thus Śrīman Mahāprabhu spread the flood of prema through saṅkīrtan everywhere, even to the most undeserving recipients. In this way He strung a garland made of prema and His Holy Names and adorned the entire material world with it.”

When His Pastimes within this world were coming to their end, Śrīman Mahāprabhu gave charge to Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu, His empowered successor Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī Prabhu and others to continue this saṅkīrtan movement through which the flood of prema (perfected pure devotion) flows. He entrusted them to fulfill His prophesy,

pṛthivīte āchhe yata nagarādi grāma
sarvatra prachāra ha-ibe mora nāma
(Śrī Chaitanya Bhāgavat: Antya-khaṇḍa 4.126)

“My saṅkīrtan movement will spread everywhere to every town and village found upon this Earth.”

Since that time, exalted devotees and exemplars (Āchāryas) of pure devotion, following the line of succession beginning from Śrīman Mahāprabhu to Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī Prabhu, have continued this movement of spreading the flow of pure devotion through the practice of Hari-nām-saṅkīrtan. This has been described in a poem about Śrīla Bhatki Siddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākur,

śuddha-bhakti-mandākinī, vimala pravāha āni
śitala karilā tapta-prāṇa
deśe deśe niṣkiñchana, prerilā vaiṣṇava gaṇa,
vistārite hari-guṇa gāna
(Āchārya-vandana:8)
“Drawing down and distributing the pure current of the Ganges river of pure devotion by sending surrendered devotees from place to place to spread the practice of Nām-saṅkīrtan, you (and all Āchāryas of pure devotion) cool the hearts of the jīva-souls burning in the fire of material existence.”

The lineage of Āchāryas which have continued the saṅkīrtan movement entrusted to Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī Prabhu by Śrīman Mahāprabhu is known as the Rūpānuga Guru-varga (lit. the lineage of Gurus who follow Śrī Rūpa). The current of pure devotion which descends through this lineage is thus known as the Rūpānuga-dhārā (lit. dhārā means current). Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj has described the Rūpānuga-dhārā as “the current of pure love that is coming through Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī Prabhu.”

Śrīla Bhakti Siddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākur has written a song (Kṛṣṇa ha-ite chatur-mukha…) describing this Guru-paramparā (lineage of spiritual masters) wherein he outlines the sequential flow of the Rūpānuga-dhārā from the Supreme Lord Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu, the combined form of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, to Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī Prabhu. He first mentions,

mahāprabhu śrī-chaitanya, rādhā-kṛṣṇa nahe anya,
rūpānuga janera jīvana
(Śrī Guru-paramparā: 6)

“Mahāprabhu Śrī Chaitanya is nondifferent from Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Krishna and is the very life of those who follow the line of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhu.”

Following this, Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur describes how the current of pure devotion (the Rūpānuga-dhārā) is traced from Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī Prabhu to Śrīla Raghunāth Dās Goswāmī and Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī and onwards through Śrīla Kṛṣṇa Dās Kavirāj Goswāmī, Śrīla Narottam Ṭhākur, Śrīla Viśvanāth Chakravartī Ṭhākur, and Śrīla Baladev Vidyābhūṣaṇ up to Śrīla Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur and Śrīla Gaura Kiśor Dās Bābājī Mahārāj. Finally he humbly presents himself as the servitor of all of these Gurus and the current they have carried forward with the following verse.

śrī-vārṣabhānavī-varā, sadā sevya-sevā-parā,
tā̐hāra ‘dayita-dāsa’ nāma
(Śrī Guru-paramparā: 9)

Most significantly, in this verse he identifies the fundamental, distinctive characteristic of the Rūpānuga-dhārā by saying, as Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj explained it, “I, Dayita Dās, have received from them the eternal aspiration to serve the holy feet of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī.”

In this way we can understand the distinguishing ideal by which carriers of the Rūpānuga-dhārā can be identified. More specifically Rūpānuga-bhakti entails serving Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī under the guidance of Śrī Rūpa and Śrī Rūpa’s associates. There are many far more esoteric details in this regard but through this simple analysis we can appreciate the fundamental principle.

Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj has concisely described the various ways by which the successive Gurus within our lineage have engaged in the service of this current:

śrī-gaurānumataṁ svarūpa-viditaṁ rūpāgrajenādṛtaṁ
rūpādyaiḥ pariveśitaṁ raghu-gaṇair āsvāditaṁ sevitam
jīvādyair abhirakṣitaṁ śuka-śiva-brahmādi-sammānitaṁ
śrī-rādhā-pada-sevanāmṛtam aho tad dātum īśo bhavān
(Śrī Bhaktivinod Viraha Daśakam: 9)

“That which is authorised by Śrī Gaurāṅga Mahāprabhu; that which is known intimately by Śrīla Svarūp Dāmodar; that which is adored by Śrī Sanātan Goswāmī, that which is distributed by the Āchāryas realised in truths of divine relationships (rasa) headed by Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī; that which is tasted and enhanced by Śrī Raghunāth Dās Goswāmī, that which is protected by Śrī Jīva Prabhu and others; that which (from a respectful distance) is revered as the ultimate goal of life by great personalities such as Śrī Śukadev Goswāmī, Lord Śiva the chief of the demigods, Lord Brahmā the grandfather of all beings, and Uddhava—Oh wonder of wonders! the nectarean ecstasy (rasāmṛta) of servitude unto the lotus feet of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī—that you, oh Śrīla Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur, bestow upon us.”

When Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj presented this poem to Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur, Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur remarked, “Śrīla Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur has written this poem through you.” In this way Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur authorised the conception that the service of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is the very essence of the aspiration of those within the line of Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī Prabhu and is the supreme gift of Śrīla Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur and the Rūpānuga Guru-varga to this world.

When Śrīla Bhakti Siddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākur was departing from this world he specifically requested Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj to sing the song Śrī-Rūpa-mañjarī-pada, indicating that Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj would be the preeminent carrier and guardian of the current of pure devotion (the Rūpānuga-dhārā) after him. Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj has described this divine power transmission in his poetry as he humbly prays for the mercy of Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī Prabhu.

līlā-saṁgopa-kāle nirupadhi-karuṇā-kāriṇā svāmināhaṁ
yat pādābje ’rpito yat pada-bhajanamayaṁ gāyayitvā tu gītam
yogyāyogyatva-bhāvaṁ mama khalu sakalaṁ  duṣṭa-buddher agṛhṇan
sa śrī-rūpaḥ kadā māṁ nija-pada-rajasā bhūṣitaṁ saṁvidhatte
(Śrīmad Rūpa-pada-rajaḥ Prārthanā Daśakam: 10)

“Just prior to the withdrawal of his manifest Pastimes, my causelessly merciful Divine Master, Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur, handed me over to the holy feet of that Divine Personality (Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī Prabhu) by having me sing the glorious prayer unto his lotus feet (Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī-pada). Despite my lowliness, when will—disregarding all my various qualifications and disqualifications—Śrīmad Rūpa Prabhu grace me with the dust of his holy lotus feet?”

Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj similarly passed on the responsibility of continuing the line of Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī Prabhu to Śrīla Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj. In turn, Śrīla Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj has passed on the responsibility of continuing this movement to Śrīla Bhakti Nirmal Āchārya Mahārāj (and His other stalwart disciples whom he has named as Āchāryas). In the praṇām mantra he wrote for Śrīla Āchārya Mahārāj, Śrīla Govinda Mahārāj describes a current of pure devotion (a bhakti-nirmala-nirjhara, lit. a pure waterfall of devotion) whose magnificent divine form flows down successively through our lineage of spiritual masters (Guru-paramparā) from Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, the personification of Mahābhāva (supreme ecstatic devotion for Kṛṣṇa), exclusively under whose guidance our worshippable Gurus serve Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Govinda Mahārāj then identifies Śrīla Āchārya Mahārāj as the best of ‘Āchāryas’ (Āchārya-varya) who is the stalwart (nibhṛtam, faithful), vigilant (sādaram, respectful, ‘love-saturated’), guardian (saṁrakṣak) of that current of pure devotion.

Śrīla Govinda Mahārāj’s description of a current of pure devotion (bhakti nirmala-nirjhara) which descends from Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is clearly a stylised way of describing the Rūpānuga-dhārā. Just as Śrīla Govinda Mahārāj named him ‘Āchārya Mahārāj’ to prophetically and plainly indicate him to be the future Āchārya of Śrī Chaitanya Sāraswat Maṭh, in his praṇām mantra Śrīla Govinda Mahārāj describes the line of pure devotion that he, Śrī Bhakti Nirmal Āchārya, will practise and preach, as the current of nirmal-bhakti (bhakter nirmala-nirjharasya).

In this way we can appreciate Śrīla Bhakti Nirmal Āchārya Mahārāj as the living guardian of the Rūpānuga-dhārā (the flow of pure devotion—nirmal-bhakti-nirjhara) through the divine expressions of the preceding Āchāryas.

Śrīla Govinda Mahārāj also described Śrīla Āchārya Mahārāj in his praṇām mantra as the energetic, forcefully inspiring leader (lit. preraka, “impeller”) of his Eastern and Western disciples on the path of pure devotion.

Our prayer as we present this candid analysis of the line of pure devotion, profess our faith in the perfect conclusions of the Āchāryas of pure devotion, maintain this site as a service offering under their guidance, has been expressed as follows:

kara kṛpā vitaraṇa, premasudhā anukṣaṇa,
mātiyā uṭhuka jīva gaṇa
harināma-saṅkīrtane, nāchuka jagata-jane,
vaiṣṇava-dāsera nivedana
(Āchāryavandana: 21)

“Oh Āchāryas of pure devotion, please mercifully continue distributing at every moment the flow of the nectar of perfected pure devotion (prema). May all souls within this universe arise, becoming mad with such prema, and dance within the Hari-nām-saṅkīrtan of Śrīman Mahāprabhu! Such is the prayer of this servant of the Vaiṣṇavas.”