According to Sri Gaura Gannodesha Deepika, Kolavecha Sridhara is none other than the incarnation of Kusumasavah, one of the twelve famous cowherd boys (Dvadasha Gopala) of Vrindavana. Sridhara was his name and he was nicknamed ‘Kolavecha’, as he traded banana and banana products for a living (‘kola’ translates to banana’ in Bengali). In Mahaprabhu’s nectarean pastimes, Kolavecha was a very poor man, who wore shredded clothes and lived in a broken hut with leaks in the roof. Kolavecha was so impoverished that he slept on the floor and drank from a broken water pot. Lord Chaitanya was very fond of Kolavecha and devised new means of teasing him daily. In this way, Nimai engaged in mischievous pastimes with His beloved servant.
In Sri Chaitanya Bhagavata, it is mentioned how Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu found excuses to visit the residence of Kolavecha Sridhara, who pleased Him greatly. Kolavecha, however, was ignorant of Nimai’s identity as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. On one such occasion, Mahaprabhu visited Sridhara and enquired, ‘Sridhara, you chant the holy name of Lord Hari incessantly. Yet ,why are you so poor? You serve the husband (Vishnu) of Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune. Yet you are always in need of food and clothing”.
Kolavecha Sridhara was a great devotee, who was totally surrendered unto the service of the Supreme Lord. Sridhara hence replied to Mahaprabhu as follows: ‘I do not starve. And I am able to cover my body with clothes. They are not the best pieces to wear but they cover my body regardless’.Mahaprabhu taunted him again saying, ‘Yes, I see that your clothes are ripped at several places. I am also aware that there is no rice in your house. Look around you. All the worshipers of Goddess Chandi are prosperous. None of them are in dearth of food or clothing’. Sridhara replied, ‘You have spoken well O brahmana. But please note that everyone’s life is more or less alike. The king may stay in his palace, surrounded by great opulence and he may eat sumptuously. On the other hand, the birds survive in their trees. But everyone’s approach towards their life is similar. We are all engaged in our respective duties by the will of the Lord’.
Mahaprabhu responded by saying, ‘I am certain that you have a lot of wealth hidden somewhere and you relish palatable food in secret. I shall soon expose your secrets. Let me see how long you can fool everyone.’
Sridhara humbly invited Mahaprabhu to his residence so that He gets to take a peek for Himself whether Sridhara owned any hidden wealth. Lord Chaitanya then exclaimed, ‘I am not going to let you off so easily. What can you offer Me ?” Sridhara calmly replied, ‘I live by selling bananas. What do I have to offer You ?” Mahaprabhu responded by saying, “Whatever wealth you have kept hidden, let it be there for now! I shall get it later. For now, if you give me some banana roots and banana stalks without charging any money, I shall not quarrel with you any longer”.
Sridhara thought,’ This brahmana is very aggressive. He may even beat me up someday. Even if he does what can I do? He is a brahmana after all. It is also not possible for me to present Him whatever He wants every day, without charging any money in return. Yet it is my good fortune if a brahmana takes anything from me even if it is by applying tricks or by force’. Thinking thus Sridhara replied, ‘Dear brahmana, You do not need to pay me anything. I shall supply my banana products to you with a cheerful heart. But please do not quarrel with me anymore’.
The Lord replied, ‘Yes, this is very good. There are no more disputes then. But please make sure that I get excellent quality bananas, banana stalks, and radish’. Every day the Lord ate on Sridhara’s leaf-cups. Nimai Pandita used to relish the dishes cooked from the bananas and banana products acquired from Sridhara. When a pumpkin grew on Sridhara’s roof, the Lord had it cooked with milk and hot spices.
Sridharer khholay nitya karen bhojan
Sridharer thor-kala-mula Sribyanjan
Sridharer gachhe yei lau dhore chale
Taha khaye prabhu dagdha-maricher-jhale
(Sri Chaitanya Bhagavata, Adi-205)
One day Nimai Pandita asked, ‘Sridhara, What do you think of Me? I shall return home as soon as you respond to My question’. Sridhara replied, ‘You are a brahmana, part, and parcel of Vishnu’. The Lord intervened saying, ‘You do not know. I belong to the family of cowherds. You see me as a son of a brahmana but I consider Myself as a herder of cows’. Hearing this Sridhara smiled. He could not recognize His eternal master being deceived by the illusory energy of the Lord’. The Lord continued,’ Sridhara, I am going to reveal to you My truth. The glories of your Ganga is all due to Me’.
Prabhu bole – ‘Sridhara , tomare kahi tattva
Ama haite tor saba Gangara mahatva
(Sri Chaitanya Bhagavata, Adi, 210)
Sridhara exclaimed, ‘O Nimai Pandita! Don’t You fear disrespecting even mother Ganges? One usually grows calm and composed with age. But Your naughtiness seems to have multiplied since childhood’. In this way, Lord Gaurahari enjoyed His playful pastimes with Kolavecha Sridhara.
Sridhara and Mahaprakash Lila (the ecstasy of 21 hours) :
Years later Nimai Pandita bestowed the rarest of benedictions upon His beloved Kolavecha Sridhara.One day, Lord Gaurahari arose to dance at Srivasa Pandita’s house, but instead of doing so He went and sat upon Lord Vishnu’s throne. On the previous occasions, whenever the Lord had mounted upon the altar, he had done so in devotional ecstasy. But this time, He did this on purpose. In fact, the Lord remained seated upon the throne for the next 21 hours, enacting one of His most awe-inspiring pastimes. This pastime is sometimes also referred to as Sath-prahariya- bhava (sath – seven, Prahar – 1 prahar is equivalent to 3 hours). Understanding His mood, the devotees arranged for pots of water from the holy Ganges and performed His abhishek (bathing ceremony). After mixing the Ganges water with saffron, camphor, musk, sandalwood paste, the devotees bathed the Lord, one by one. Usually, 108 pots of water are employed for doing abhishek but in this case, the number far surpassed. After the abhishek ceremony, the Lord wanted His devotees to offer Him various foodstuffs to eat. Here it must be noted that the Lord wants His devotees to serve Him to shower His mercy upon them and further purify them. He accepts even if His dear devotee offers Him a small Tulasi leaf and water with love. But the Lord would accept nothing from one who is not devoted unto Him. Hundreds of pots of Dahi (curd), milk, bunches of bananas, coconuts, sweets, etc were offered unto the Lord who immediately ate them to the pleasure of all present.
During the Mahaprakash Lila, as this pastime is commonly referred to, Mahaprabhu showered His causeless mercy upon Kolaveca Sridhara, who made a living out of selling banana products. Hardly any of the Lord’s associates present that day at Srivasa Angan knew of the heartfelt relationship between Lord Chaitanya and Kolaveca Sridhar. So when Mahaprabhu called out for Sridhara, the devotees had to actually seek for his residence before they could find and bring him to Mahaprabhu. Sridhara’s residence was situated within the dense forests that presently surround the temple of Lord Jagannatha at Rajapur, today.
Sridhara was materially impoverished but was profoundly devoted unto the Supreme Lord. He would donate fifty percent of whatever little profit he made trading banana leaves and banana products, in the worship of mother Ganges. Little Nimai Pandita (as Mahaprabhu was called in His younger days), would go to Sridhara every single day and bargain with him on the price of these cheap banana leaves. In the end, Nimai would take away the banana leaves paying just a few conch shells or sometimes paying nothing at all. Though Sridhara showed dissatisfaction outwardly, internally he became very happy and actually waited for Mahaprabhu to come again the next day. Sridhara could not understand why, but he felt very blissful whenever he came in association with Nimai Pandita.
Lord Chaitanya displayed to Sridhara His divine opulence at Srivasa Angan. He mercifully gave him darsana of His six-armed form (combined form as Lord Krishna, Ramachandra, and Mahaprabhu) and then His two-armed form as Sri Krishna. Sridhara could also see his worshipable mother Ganga, along with the other demigods such as Brahma and Shiva eternally serving Mahaprabhu. The hood of Ananta Sesha acted as Mahaprabhu’s umbrella and the sages like Narada and Sukadeva Goswami offered their prayers with folded hands. Mahaprabhu then wanted to bestow some benediction unto Sridhar. He wanted to give him the eight mystic siddhis – anima , mahima, laghima, prapthi, ishita, vashita,Prakamya, Kamavasayita. But Sridhara replied that he didn’t want them. Then Lord Chaitanya wanted to impart him with liberation, the freedom from birth and death. Sridhara rejected this as well. With a deeply emotional heart, Sridhara then exclaimed that if the Lord really wanted to bestow upon him any benediction, then let him be granted this boon that he be a servant of little Nimai Pandita life after life. He wished that wherever Nimai goes, he accompany Him as His humble servant and be able to serve Him by providing Him, all His requirements of vegetables and bananas.
Sridhara boloye – Prabhu deho ei var
Ye brahmana kari nila mor kholapath
Se brahmana hauk mor janma janma natha
Ye brahmana mor sange karila kondol
Mor prabhu hauk tanr charana-yugala
(Sri Chaitanya Bhagavata, Madhya, 223-225)
Sridhara said, O Lord please grant me the following benediction. Let that brahmana who took away my banana leaves (by force), be my eternal master. Let the feet of that brahmana, who fought with me daily, be my worshipable master (and the object of my meditation).
Sri Chaitanya was very happy and granted Sridhara his desired benediction. Mahaprabhu then revealed to all that He had granted Sridhara the greatest boon, something that was elusive to even demigods like Brahma and Indra. He had granted him the boon of pure devotional service; the treasure of Krishna Prema. This is the greatness of a devotee. He has no interest in anything which is not related to the pure devotional service of the Supreme Lord, which he treasures above all else. As soon as the Lord granted Sridhara this benediction, the Vaishnavas present shouted ‘Haribol! Haribol !’.The demigods began dancing and showering flowers being amazed at the magnanimity of Mahaprabhu.