Nityananda Prabhu appeared in the village of Ekachakra, in West Bengal, India, around 1474. In the Caitanya Caritamrita and other scriptures He is declared to be the avatar of Lord Balarama, the direct expansion of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna.
As a child He was called Nitai and had a close circle of friends. Together they used to imitate the pastimes of Krishna and His associates. The adults of Ekachakra were fascinated by this unique little boy and loved Him as their own. Seeing His total absorption in avatars of Krishna, they suspected that He might be some sort of incarnation Himself. Day after day he would enact a different pastime, and did it so skillfully that His neighbors wondered, “How is it that He is so talented? How does He know the stories so well? No one has explained all these details to Him.” On one occasion, one of the boys dressed as Akrura and took Krishna and Balarama away from Vrindavana on the order of Kamsa. Nitai cried in grief, feeling the separation of the cowherd girls from Krishna. Tears of love flowed from His eyes. His acting was so authentic that it made all who watched question whether He was merely acting or in some way experiencing the part He played. This was true whether He was playing Krishna, Balarama, or even Vamana and other Incarnations of the Lord. When questioned, Nitai would respond: “These are My own divine pastimes, and I am allowing you to see them.”
Among His most convincing roles was that of Lakshmana, brother of Rama, which intimated His divine identity as Balarama. For His first twelve years, Nityananda Prabhu stayed in Ekachakra and shared loving pastimes with His neighbors.
Traveling on Pilgrimage
Just before His thirteenth birthday, however, a traveling mendicant came to His home and was welcomed as a guest by Hadai Pandita, Nityananda’s affectionate father. With deep respect and hospitality, Hadai Pandita offered his eminent guest all that he had. “Please feel free to take whatever you like,” he said. “My home is your home.” The visiting ascetic explained that his was a simple life, and that his needs were minimal. However, he said, he needed a traveling companion, and young Nitai would be an appropriate person for such a service. Nitai was eager, and reluctantly, Hadai Pandita agreed to let his son go.
Nitai traveled from holy place to holy place for the next twenty years, until He was thirty-two, receiving instruction and friendship from His elderly sannyasi companion. He journeyed the length and breadth of India and sanctified the subcontinent by His presence. As Nitai continued to travel, feeling the ecstasy of these sacred places, He more and more took on the character of an avadhuta, a spiritually elevated person who is aloof to material surroundings and appears crazy to the uninformed. His mode of activity and general behavior became increasingly unexplainable; no one could understand what motivated Him or why He behaved in certain ways. For example, He sometimes danced ecstatically with the cloth meant to cover His loins wrapped instead around His head.
In Pandarapura (present-day Maharashtra), Nityananda Prabhu met the saintly guru Lakshmipati Tirtha. It is said that Lakshmipati Tirtha was given to intense dreams about Lord Balarama, and when he met Nityananda, he was convinced that this beautiful young personality was none other than Balarama Himself. They soon developed a deep, devotional relationship. According to some authorities, Lakshmipati initiated Nityananda Prabhu at this time, giving Him the student name “Svarupa.” Lakshmipati’s most famous disciple was Madhavendra Puri, who received direct instructions and gifts from the deity of Gopinatha. Because Madhavendra Puri was His senior, Nityananda Prabhu always treated him as though he were His spiritual master.
Soon Nityananda Prabhu reached Vraja, or Vrindavan, the Land of Krishna. His ecstasy increased one million times. Visiting the many places associated with Krishna’s pastimes, He shouted, danced, rolled around, laughed, and howled like a madman. With overwhelming intensity He cried out, “Where is Krishna? Where is My very life and soul?” As these words emanated from His anxious lips, He shivered uncontrollably and tears of love poured from His eyes like torrents of rain. At that moment, He had a startling inner vision of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who had completed His childhood pastimes and was now overtly engaged in His mission. This realization made Nityananda chortle with affection for His spiritual brother, and so from Sringara-vata He proceeded to Navadvipa to join Mahaprabhu in His pastimes.
Uniting With Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
The year was 1506, and after arduous travel through dense forests in a trance-like state of devotion, Nityananda Prabhu reached the land of Nadiya, where Chaitanya Mahaprabhu resided. When the two Lords finally saw each other for the first time, they were immediately overtaken by waves of ecstasy. Nitai was roughly thirty-two years old, and Mahaprabhu was twenty. They each felt that their lives were now perfectly complete. Embracing, they cried what seemed like rivers of ecstasy.
Nityananda Prabhu, who is identical with Lord Balarama, the first expansion of Krishna, is considered to be the original guru for all of mankind. Thus, soon after their initial meeting, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu tried to honor Nityananda Prabhu with a Vyasa-puja worship ceremony befitting a great spiritual master. However, Nityananda Prabhu protested and grabbed all of the worship articles from Mahaprabhu and worshiped Him instead. Nityananda Prabhu kept repeating, “Nimai Pandita [Mahaprabhu] is my Lord and master! Nimai Pandita is my Lord and master!” There was constant competition as to who would serve whom. Their transcendental love for one another is indescribable.
From this point until Mahaprabhu left Navadvipa for Jagannatha Puri, Nityananda Prabhu was always at His side. The two biographers Vrindavana dasa Thakura and Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami clearly assert that Nityananda Prabhu holds the key to Mahaprabhu’s heart. The teaching of the Chaitanya tradition is emphatic: One who thinks that he can attain love of God without first attaining the mercy of Lord Nityananda Rama is living in a hallucination.