Dwadash Gopal, or the twelve cowherd boys of Vrindavana, had appeared in Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s pastimes and assisted Him to manifest His Harinama sankirtana movement. They were also intimate associates of Lord Nityananda and helped Doyal Nitai widely preach the glories of Lord Chaitanya and the holy name of Krishna. Kavi Karnapura, the author of Gaura Ganoddesa Dipika, identifies these twelve cowherd boys of Vrindavana as follows –
- Abhirama Gopala Thakura – incarnation of Sridama
- Sundarananda Thakura – incarnation of Sudama
- Dhananjaya pandita – incarnation of Vasudama
- Gaudidasa Pandita – incarnation of Subala
- Kamalakara Pippalai – incarnation of Mahabala
- Uddharana Datta Thakura – incarnation of Subahu
- Mahesh Pandita – incarnation of Mahabahu
- Purusottama das Thakura – incarnation of Stoka Krishna
- Nagara Purusottama – incarnation of Dama
- Paramesvari das Thakura – incarnation of Arjuna (not to be confused with Arjuna of the Pandavas)
- Kala Krishnadasa – incarnation of Lavanga
- Kolavecha Sridhara – incarnation of Kusumasava
#1 Abhirama Gopala Thakura
Sri Abhirama Gopala Thakura was the incarnation of the cowherd boy Sridama, one of the most intimate eternal associates of Sri Krishna and Balarama in Vrindavana. The word Abhirama translates to ‘no difference with Rama’ in Bengali. Lord Nitai had revealed that in the future, people who were sober in nature would come to realize that there was no difference between Him and Abhirama Thakura. Sri Abhirama was the most prominent of the twelve cowherd boys who had assisted Lord Nitai manifest His magnanimous pastimes. In Sri Chaitanya Caritamrta (Adi, 11.14-15) , it is stated that when Lord Nityananda was ordered by Sri Chaitanya to go and preach in Bengal, Sri Abhirama Thakura was sent along with Him. Thus Sri Abhirama Gopala is counted among the associates of both Sri Chaitanya as well as Sri Nityananda.
Sri Abhirama was a very powerful personality and atheists used to flee at his sight. It is said that if Abhirama Thakura bowed down to any person who was not the Supreme Lord, or empowered by the Lord, then that person would die immediately. Similarly if he bowed down before any stone that was not a saligrama sila, then that stone would immediately crack. Sri Abhirama Gopala’s sripat is located at Khanakul Krishnanagar in Bengal, where he had manifested amazing pastimes.
#2 Sundarananda Thakura
Sri Sundarananda Thakura was the incarnation of the cowherd boy Sudama and had appeared in this age of Kali to assist Lord Gauranga and Nityananda manifest their magnanimous pastimes. He was born in the village of Maheshpur, presently situated in the Jessore district of Bangladesh. This place is approximately 14 miles east of the Majdia station (on East bengal Railway). Sri Vrindavana das Thakura writes in Chaitanya Bhagavata –
Premarasa samudra Sundarananda nama
Nityananda svarupera Parsada pradhana
Sri Sundarananda was an ocean of divine love. He was one of the principal associates of Lord Nityananda.
Sri Sundarananda Thakura was a lifelong celibate. His tirobhava (disappearance pastime) is celebrated on the auspicious occasion of Kartika purnima every year.
#3 Dhananjaya pandita
Dhananjaya pandita mahanta vilakshana
Yahanra hridoye Nityananda sarvakshana
Sri Dhananjaya Pandita is an exalted devotee of the Lord. Lord Nityananda eternally resides within his heart.
Sri Vrindavana das Thakura glorifies Dhananjaya Pandita in the above verse. Dhananjaya pandita’s sripat is situated at ‘Sitala Grama’, in the Bardhaman district of West Bengal. He was the incarnation of the cowherd boy Vasudama. Some people are of the opinion that Dhananjaya pandita was born in Chittagong (in bangladesh) and had later shifted to the village of ‘Sitala Grama’. Dhananjaya Pandita assisted Lord Gauranga and Nityananda Prabhu manifest their sankirtana pastimes. Sri Dhananjaya Pandita wrapped up his earthly pastimes on the auspicious occasion of Sukla-ashtami in the month of Kartika. His samadhi rests in the village of Sitala Grama.
#4 Gaudidasa Pandita
Kavi Karnapura mentions in Sri Gaura Gannoddesha dipika, that Sri Gaudidasa Pandita was the incarnation of the cowherd boy Subala, an intimate friend of Sri Krishna and Balarama in Vrindavana. Sri Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami greatly glorifies Sri Gaudidasa in his Chaitanya Caritamrta stating that Sri Gaudidasa was an emblem of devotional service and had the potency to receive and deliver ecstatic love of God to one and all (..Krishna prema dite nite dhare maha-shakti..). It is exclaimed that Sri Gaudidasa had sacrificed everything for the service of Lord Nityananda ,even the fellowship of his own family. He was one of the primary associates to have assisted Lord Nitai manifest His magnanimous pastimes.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura gives us some details of Gaudidasa Pandita’s family in his anubhashya. It is mentioned that initially he used to reside in the village of Saligrama (a place not very far from Navadvipa) , and later he had shifted to the town of Ambika Kalna. Sri Gaudidasa was very close to and enjoyed the patronage of King Krishna das, the son of Harihoda. Sri Gaudidasa Pandita’s father was Sri Kamsari Mishra and his mother’s name was Srimati Kamala devi. He had five brothers – Damodara, Jagannatha, Suryadasa, Krishnadasa, and Nrsimha Chaitanya. The elder brother of Gaudidasa pandita, Sri Suryadasa, held an important post for the king of Bengal and was hence awarded with the title ‘Sarkhel’ (commander). Later the two daughters of Suryadasa Sarkel, Srimati Vasudha and Jahnava, got married to Lord Nityananda.
Sri Gaudidasa’s Sripat at Kalna, houses his worshipable mesmerizing Gaura-Nitai deities. At this place, is also worshipped a copy of Bhagavad Gita, that was supposedly handwritten by Lord Chaitanya and later gifted to Sri Gaudidasa. One visiting the temple can also take darsana of an oar that Mahaprabhu had used to cross over the Ganges while travelling to meet Gaudidasa at Kalna. According to the hearsay, Sriman Mahaprabhu had handed it over to Gaudidasa, and asked him to similarly use it to help the fallen souls cross over the ocean of material existence.
#5 Kamalakara Pippalai
Sri Kamalakara Pippalai was an intimate associate of Sri Nityananda Prabhu. According to Sri Gaura Gannodesha Dipika , Sri Kamalakara was the incarnation of the cowherd boy Mahabala. Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja mentions in Chaitanya Charitamrita that Sri Kamalakara had exhibited very uncommon pastimes and possessed a very uncommon love for the Lord (Kamalakara pippalai – aloukika rita , aloukika prema tanra bhuwane vidita). Sri Kamalakara was born in the Khalijhuli province of the Sundarbans (in southern Bengal) and his father, Sri Srikara, happened to be a devout Vaishnava king at his native place. His mother’s name was Dakshayani and His wife was Srimati Haripriya.
Sri Kamalakara had initially come to Navadvipa in order to study logic and other relevant scriptures. In the due course of time he had the great fortune of meeting with Sri Gauranga and Nityananda, the Lords of His life. Soon by the mercy of the two Lords and their devotees the seeds of devotion sprouted in His heart.The symptoms of spontaneous ecstatic love of God manifested in His body.
He gradually grew more and more renounced. Every night Lord Jagannath’s bright effulgent form used to appear in his dreams and he soon realized that Lord Jagannatha is none other than Vrajendra Nandana Krishna.At the same time the veil of yogamaya was lifted from His eyes and he could perceive himself as Krishna’s eternal dear friend Mahabala.
Here we see how Sri Kamalakara’s consciousness was transformed and his dormant love for Krishna aroused, on obtaining the association of the Lord and His pure devotees. Once someone gets a taste of this divine ecstatic love, everything else takes a backseat.
Once while travelling to Nilacala (Puri) , Sri Chaitanya, became a guest at Sri Kamalakara’s residence at Khalijhuli. There,the Lord instructed Kamalakara, to go to a place called Mahesh, located about 50 kms north of Sutanuti (present kolkata), and engage in service of the patita-pavana Jagannatha Baladeva and Subhadra deities residing over there. Being instructed thus,Sri Kamalakara immediately set off for Mahesh and took over the service of the deities from the then priest,Sri Dhruvananda, who was also eager to hand over the responsibilities to someone else ,due to his advanced age. This is how, by the Lord’s desire and arrangement, Sri Kamalakar Pippalai shifted to Mahesh and spent the rest of his life serving these deities.
In other prominent Vaishnava scriptures it has been mentioned that Sri Kamalakara was present during the Danda Mahotsav at Panihati (Where Sri Raghunatha Das Goswami received the punishment from Lord Nitai to feed chipped rice and curd to all the devotees) and also at the great festival at Kheturi (organized by Sri Narottama Das thakura). He was also present at the festival honoring the disappearance of Gadadhara das at Katwa.
#6 Uddharana Datta Thakura
Sri Uddharana Datta Thakura is an eternal associate of Lord Nityananda. He is one of the most prominent of the twelve cowherd boys (Dwadasha Gopal) who had assisted Lord Nitai manifest His magnanimous pastimes.Sri Gaura Ganoddesha Dipika reveals that Sri Uddharana Datta was the incarnation of Subahu, the intimate friend of Krishna and Balarama in Vrindavana. Nityananda Prabhu, was his very life and soul and he had served his master in all possible ways. Prema Vilasa reveals that Lord Nitai used to relish the prasada cooked by Uddharana Datta. Not only He but even Sri Gaurahari enjoyed his cooking a lot. Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja reveals that Sri Uddharana datta Thakura was the foremost of the Maha Bhagavata devotees who completely engaged his mind,body and words in serving Nityananda Prabhu, his eternal Gurudeva.
Maha bhagavata sreshtha datta Uddharana
Sarba bhave seve Nityanandera carana
(Chaitanya caritamrta, Adi, 11.41)
At Saptagram, that Lord Nitai had performed the most magnanimous pastimes of delivering the members of the Gold mercantile community, who were looked down upon in those days.There was another reason for Lord Nityananda’s advent to Saptagram, and it was to reunite with his eternal servant, Sri Uddharana Datta Thakura. Srila A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada mentions in his purport, that Sri Uddharana Datta was born with the right to worship Sri Nityananda Prabhu. Sri Uddharana belonged to the caste of suvarna baniks (gold merchants) who were looked down upon in the society, in those days. Lord Nitai however stayed in Saptagram,at the house of Sri Uddharana Datta, for many months, and by His grace and association ,all the suvarna baniks (gold mercantile community) regained their stature. Sri Chaitanya Bhagavata also glorifies the ecstatic pastimes that patita pavana Lord Nitai had manifested at Saptagram in order to deliver the members of these so-called outcastes.
yateka banik kula Uddharana haite
pavitra haila dvidha nahika ihate
Surrendering his life unto the lotus feet of his spiritual master, Sri Uddharana , who had hailed from a very opulent gold mercantile family,subsequently renounced his wealth, fame ,prestige and accepted the robes of a mendicant to further the cause of Krishna consciousness. Being Nityananda Prabhu’s personal cook, Sri Uddharana received the rare fortune of accompanying the Lord wherever He travelled.
#7 Mahesh Pandita
Mahesh Pandita, is one of the twelve cowherd boys (Dwadash gopal) of Vrindavana, who had appeared in order to assist Nityananda Prabhu manifest His magnanimous pastimes. He was the incarnation of the cowherd boy Mahabahu. Sri Krishnadasa Kaviraja has described him as a very liberal person ,who remained forever immersed in relishing the ecstatic love of God.
mahesa pandita — vrajera udaara gopala
dhakka-vadye nritya kare preme matoyala
(Chaitanya Caritamrta, Adi, 11.32)
From the above verse it is also clear that Mahesh pandita enchanted the hearts of one and all with his ecstatic dance to the tune of kettledrums. He was formerly the cowherd boy Mahabahu, an intimate associate of Sri Krishna and Balarama in Vrindavana.
Here at Palpara, situated within the district of Nadiya, are preserved his worshipable deities – Sri Gaura Nitai, Radha Govinda, Madana Mohana, Gopinatha and Saligrama Sila.We consider ourselves exceedingly fortunate to have been able to visit this holy place and obtain their enchanting darsana. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati mentions in his anubhashya commentary that Mahesh Pandita used to originally reside on the eastern side of Jirat in a village known as Masipura or Yasipura. After the village was destroyed due to shift in the course of the Ganges, his worshipable deities were brought here to Palpara.
#8 Purusottama das Thakura
Sri Purusottama das Thakura was the incarnation of Stoka Krishna, a dear friend of Krishna and Balarama in Vrindavana. He appeared in the town of Navadvipa to assist Lord Gauranga and Nityananda in their sankirtana pastimes. Stoka Krishna was one of Lord Krishna’s confidential friends (Priya sakha). He was completely surrendered unto the lotus feet of Nityananda Prabhu.
navadvipe purusottama pandita mahasaya
nityananda-name yanra mahonmada haya
Purussotama Pandita, who was a resident of Navadvipa, would become mad with divine ecstasy, as soon as he would hear the name of Lord Nityananda.
#9 Nagara Purusottama
Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja describes Sri Purusottama Das Thakura as one who always engaged himself in serving the lotus feet of Lord Nityananda. He worshipped Lord Krishna as his friend and always engaged in childish play with Him.
ajanma nimagna Nityanandera charane
nirantara balya-lila kare Krishna-sane
(Chaitanya Caritamrta, Adi, 11.39)
Sri Purusottama or Nagara Purusottama ,as he was sometimes referred to, was the twenty-fifth expansion of Lord Nityananda’s trunk of devotional service. He was formerly the cowherd boy Dama, and had appeared in order to assist Nityananda prabhu manifest His magnanimous pastimes. His father, Sadashiva Kaviraja, was the incarnation of the Vraja gopi , Chandravali. He was a vaidya (physician) by profession. Both father and son have been referred to as greatly fortunate (Maha-Vagyavan) in the Chaitanya Bhagavata. Kamsari Sen, the father of Sadashiva kaviraja, was the incarnation of the vraja gopi Ratnavali, who eternally serves the divine couple in vrindavana.
All the family members were great devotees of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Sri Purusottama Das’ son, Sri Kanu Thakura, was also a great devotee of the Lord. Seeing Kanu Thakura’s devotional symptoms, Nityananda Prabhu named him as Sishu Krishna das (sishu means ‘little boy’ in bengali). When he was just five years old, he accompanied Jahnava Mata, on her trip to Vrindavana and the Goswamis, noting his spiritual acumen, gave him the name Kanai Thakura. Sri Kanai Thakura’s worshipable Pranavallava deities are presently being worshipped at a place near Baranagar Pathbari. One of the family members of Sri Purusottama, named Madhvacharya, got married to Gangamuni devi, Nityananda Prabhu’s daughter. Thus the two families were very close to each other. From Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura’s anubhashya, we come to know that the deities of Purusottama Das Thakura were formerly situated at Beledanga village. When this particular temple got wrecked, the deities were shifted to a place called Sukhsagar. When this place was also destroyed due to shift in the course of the Ganges, these deities ,along with Jahnava Mata’s deities, were brought to a place called Saheb Danga Bedigram.When this place was also taken by the Ganges, the deities were finally installed where they are at present, in Chandure Gram, Simurali (Nadiya, West Bengal).
#10 Paramesvari das Thakura
Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja mentions in the Adi Lila of his Chaitanya Caritamrta, that Sri Paramesvari das Thakura ( sometimes also referred to as Paramesvara Das) had appeared in order to assist Sri Gaura Nitai manifest their magnanimous pastimes. He was completely surrendered unto the lotus feet of Nityananda Prabhu. It is further revealed that anyone who remembers his name or contemplates upon his pastimes, achieves the love of Krishna very easily.
paramesvara das – Nityanandaika sharana
Krishna-bhakti paya, tanre ye kare smarana
(Chaitanya Caritamrta, Adi, 11.29)
From Sri Gaura Ganoddesha Dipika, we come to know that Sri Paramesvari Das Thakura was the incarnation of the cowherd boy ‘Arjuna’ (not to be confused with Arjuna – the Pandava), an intimate friend (Priya Narma sakha) of Krishna and Balarama in Vrindavana.
His Sripat is situated at a place called Antpur, in the Hooghly district of West bengal. The temple priest informed us that the deity of Gopinatha, installed in this temple, has originally been the worshipable deity of Sri Nityananda prabhu. After Nityananda Prabhu had wrapped up His earthly pastimes, Srimati Jahnava devi handed over this deity unto Sri Paramesvari das and instructed him to setup his preaching center here at Antpur.The deity of Radha Gopinatha is being worshipped here at Antpur ever since. A beautiful enchanting deity of Lord Balarama, who is overwhelmed with the mood of Nityananda prabhu, has been later installed here and is also currently being worshipped in this temple. Antpur, during those days (500 years back), used to be covered with dense forests and Rattan trees.The land was renowned to be a haven for miscreants.Thus Antpur qualified as the perfect place to set up a preaching center and propagate Mahaprabhu’s movement to deliver the sinful and the fallen.
When Mahaprabhu ordered Nityananda Prabhu to return to bengal in order to preach Krishna consciousness, Sri Paramesvari das accompanied Him. Paramesvari Thakura was present when Nityananda Prabhu had performed His ecstatic pastimes at Raghava Bhavan (refer – ‘Raghava Bhavan ,Panihati’). He was also present during the Dahi Chida festival of Panihati, when Raghunatha Das Goswami was mercifully punished by Lord Nityananda. Sri Paramesvari das Thakura was an intimate associate of Lord Nityananda. Vrindavana das Thakura writes in Chaitanya Bhagavata –
‘Nityananda-er jivan Paramesvara das,
jahar vigrahe Nityananda vilasa’
Sri Paramesvari das Thakura was the life and soul of Nityananda prabhu
#11 Kala Krishna das
Sri Kaliya Krishna Das is an intimate associate of Lord Nityananda. He is the ninth of the twelve Gopalas (Dwadash Gopal) who have assisted Lord Nitai in manifesting His magnanimous pastimes. Within the desire tree of devotional service, Sri Kaliya Krishna is the 22nd branch to have arisen out of the trunk of Nityananda prabhu. Sri Gaura Ganoddesha Dipika reveals the identity of Sri Kaliya Krishna Das as the cowherd boy Lavanga ,in Krishna’s Vrindavana pastimes. Sri Chaitanya Bhagavata exclaims that one who simply remembers Kaliya Krishna das is sure to attain the lotus feet of Sri Gauranga and Nityananda.Sri Kaliya Krishna das or Kala Krishna Das , as he is often referred to, had his headquarters here at Akaihata, near Katwa. It is worthwhile mentioning, that Sri Kala Krishna das should not be herein confused with another devotee with the same name, who had accompanied Lord Chaitanya in His south India tour.The other devotee, who had to be personally rescued by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from the clutches of the Bhattaharis, was a different person.
When we visited Sri Kaliya Krishna Das’ Sripat, here at Akaihata, we found the atmosphere to be highly spiritually surcharged. An old lady, serving here ,took us around the place. Just adjacent to the temple hall is located the Nupur Pukur (‘Nupur’ means anklet,and ‘Pukur’ translates to pond in bengali) .This pond had been created on impact when Sri Raghunandana’s anklet hit the ground here, five hundred years ago. Sri Raghunandana’s anklet flew from His feet while He was ecstatically dancing with Sri Abhirama Gopala ,several kilometers away at Baradanga. Kala Krishna das used to perform his bhajan ,sitting by the side of this sacred pond. There is also a very ancient sacred madhavi tree that graces the temple compounds.The samadhi tomb of Sri Kala Krishna das is situated just beside the temple altar, here at Akaihata dham. However, Sri Kala Krishna das’ installed deities and the anklet of Sri Raghunandana Thakura, are presently being worshipped at Karui, a place not very far from Akaihata. Bhakti Ratnakar records that Sri Kala Krishna das was one of the devotees who attended the disappearance festival of Sri Gadadhara Das prabhu, at katwa. Sri Gadadhara Das used to serve, at Sri Gauranga Bari , the sacred place where Sriman Mahaprabhu accepted His Sannyasa initiation.Sri Gauranga Bari and Akaihata are hardly 15 kilometers apart from each other.
#12 Kolavecha Sridhara
According to Sri Gaura Gannodesha Deepika, Kolavecha Sridhara is none other than the incarnation of Kusumasava, one of the twelve famous cowherd boys (Dwadash Gopal) 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.
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 the 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 vara
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.