Devananda Pandita lived in Nabadwipa-dhama, in the section known as Kuliya, or Koladwipa (near where the present-day Sri Caitanya Saraswata Math of Srila Sridhara Maharaja is now located). Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu used him to manifest the glories of Srimad-Bhagavatam to the world. Devananda Pandita was highly renowned for his expertise in considering the sayings of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Many people used to go and study the Srimad-Bhagavatam under him.
Living in Kuliya during Sri Chaitanya’s pastimes, Sri Devananda Pandit gave professional readings of Srimad Bhagavatam tainted with Mayavada philosophy. One day Shrivasa Pandit heard his Bhagavata-katha, began crying, and fell to the ground. Becoming disturbed by this display, the foolish disciples of Devananda threw Shrivasa out of the assembly. By silently observing this misbehavior of his disciples Devananda committed the hati-mata aparadha, the mad elephant offense of blaspheming a pure Devotee of Lord Chaitanya.
One day Srivasa Pandita went to hear the Srimad-Bhagavatam class given by Devananda Pandita. After some time, Devananda began giving his lecture. He was surrouned on all four sides by his students, who listened carefully to his reading. Srivasa Pandita was a highly exalted rasika bhakta, a devotee experienced in tasting the mellows of devotion. Hearing the sweetness of the verses of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srivasa Thakura fell to the ground with tears of ecstasy in his eyes. Weeping and wailing with tears of ecstasy in his eyes, he began rolling on the ground with his voice choked up with emotion. Seeing all this, the students of Devananda said, “This man is mad. He is not properly giving his attention to the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Throw him out! Eject him!” In this way, the foolish followers of Devananda, who were devoid of knowledge. Devananda Pandita saw all this, but did nothing to prevent his disciples from ejecting Srivasa Pandita from the class. If a disciple commits a sin as a result of the guru’s ignorance, the guru partakes of the sinful reaction. Therefore Devananda Pandita also partook of the sinful reaction of offending Srivasa Pandita. Without saying a word of this to anyone, and without telling anyone of his suffering at the hands of Devananda Pandita, Srivasa Thakura returned home. All these events took place before the advent of Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu.
At length, the advent of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu took place, as the Supreme Lord made his appearance within this material world. Gradually he manifest his childhood pastimes, his studies, his pastimes of learning, and his pastimes as a young professor, as well as the revelation of his divinity in the house of Srivasa Thakura. At the time of that divine manifestation, when the Lord revealed his Mahaprakasa in the temple of Srivasa Thakura amidst all the devotees, he told Srivasa, “Srivasa! Don’t you remember the time when you went to hear Srimad-Bhagavatam at the house of Devananda Pandita? When you fell to the ground in ecstasy upon hearing the nectarine verses of the Bhagavatam, then the disciples of Devananda—as a result of his ignorance of your exalted devotion—threw you out of the class. At that time you went home, feeling distressed, but you told no one of the incident. Do you remember this?” Hearing the words of the Lord, Srivasa was astonished and fell at his lotus feet, catching hold of them.
One day, as Mahaprabhu was wandering through the towns of Nabadwipa, he came upon the road near where Sarvabhauma’s father, Mahesvara Visarada Pandit used to live. There was the house of Devananda Pandita. And at that time, within the house of Devananda Pandita a class on Srimad-Bhagavatam was being held. From a long way off, Caitanya Mahaprabhu could hear this. Upon hearing Devananda’s Bhagavatam class, Mahaprabhu became enraged. Caitanya Bhagavata records: “With sharp words, the Lord said, ‘What does this fellow know about the meaning described by the Bhagavatam? He will never know the Bhagavatam even in many lifetimes. The Srimad-Bhagavatam is the literary avatara of Krsna Himself. The Bhagavatam promotes bhakti as the ultimate goal of life. The Srimad-Bhagavatam is the essence of the four Vedas; it is the literary form of divine love. The four Vedas are like milk; the Srimad-Bhagavatam is like butter. Sukadeva Goswami is the churner of the butter, which was eaten by Pariksita Maharaja. That Sukadeva Goswami, who is dear to me, knows the meaning of Srimad-Bhagavatam. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sukadeva expressed the truths about Myself; he expressed my own opinions. Me and My servants are glorified in the Srimad-Bhagavatam; one who finds a difference between Myself and My servants will find all his good intelligence destroyed. An irreligious person who rejects bhakti and finds some other meaning in the Srimad-Bhagavatam will never understand the Bhagavatam.”
After saying all these things in an angry mood, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, began to flee away from the house of Devananda Pandita, which he considered condemned. The devotees caught hold of him and begged him not to go. The Lord again said, “All the scriptures sing of the Srimad-Bhagavatam as being highly mysterious, inconceivable. It cannot be understood by vast learning or powerful austerity. One who attempts to know the Srimad-Bhagavatam through scholarship will never understand it. One who recognizes that the Bhagavatam is nondifferent from the inconceivable Supreme Controller knows that the essence of the Bhagavatam can be known only through devotion and not through scholarship.”
“One who understands that Srimad-Bhagavatam is Krsna Himself can understand Srimad-Bhagavatam. One can only understand the Bhagavatam’s meaning through divine love. If one wants to understand this he must served both the book Bhagavata and the devotee Bhagavata.”
In this way, Mahaprabhu spoke many different truths to his followers and then returned to his own home, accompanied by the devotees. From far away, Devananda Pandita could hear all these different instructions. But at the time, he did not pay any mind to all this.
After some time, Caitanya Mahaprabhu took sannyasa and went to Jagannatha Puri. At that time, Devananda remembered the instructions the Lord had given. He began to think, “Such a great person as this came near my residence, and I did not get to meet him? I could not understand the glories of such a great and exalted Personality as Caitanya Mahaprabhu who was filled with krsna-prema?
One day in Kuliya, or Koladwipa as it is now known, Sri Vakresvara Pandita went to visit the house of a devotee. That evening Vakresvara Pandita was absorbed in kirtana and dancing. Hearing the news of this, people gathered from all around to take part in the kirtana. As the night went on, more and more devotees began arriving there. Hearing this news, Devananda Pandita could not maintain his steadiness. He also hurried to the place where the kirtana was going on. Seeing the empowered figure of Vakresvara Pandita and hearing his sweet kirtana Devananda Pandita was astonished. He stood transfixed for what seemed like hours. As the night wore on, the crowd grew and, in attempts to push forward and see the dancing of Vakresvara Pandita, it became boisterous and rowdy. At that time, Devananda Pandita, with a cane in his hand, held the crowd back and quieted the mob. When Vakresvara Pandita, after dancing and dancing, fell to the ground overwhelmed by ecstasy, Devananda Pandita carefully picked him up and held him on his lap. With his own scarf, Devananda wiped the dust from the holy body of Vakresvara Pandita. In this way, it was on that day that Devananda Pandita began his bhakta-seva, his service to devotees.
One day, five years after he took sannyasa, Sri Caitanya Mahpaabhu returned to Nabadwipa-dhama from Jagannatha Puri. Upon his return the devotees felt that their lives had returned. Their joy knew no bounds. In order to see the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu thousands of people gathered there. Whoever had previously committed offenses to the lotus feet of the Lord when he had manifested his lila in Nabadwipa was eager to be forgiven. They all came there to beseech the Lord’s forgiveness for whatever offenses they might have committed. At that time, in the place known today as the aparadha-bhanjanam, or the place of amnesty (where Srila Sridhara Maharaja now has his temple), Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu granted forgiveness to all who gathered there and instructed them in the science of devotion.
At that time, Devananda Pandita took darsana of the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Offering his obeisances unto the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya at a distance, Devananda cowered and shrank away from the Lord, standing off to one side. At that time the Lord saw him and said, “You are the servant of my dear devotee Vakresvara Pandita. By your service to him you have greatly pleased Me. As a result of your service to him you have come close to Me. Vakresvara is empowered by krsna-sakti. By serving my dear devotee Vakresvara Pandita you have attained the mercy of Krsna.”
Hearing these words of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Devananda was overwhelmed with the sentiments of bhakti. His voice was choked with divine emotion, and he said, “O My Lord; O Supreme Master—You have appeared in Nabadwipa just to deliver all the fallen souls. I am a sinner. I have commited great sins against divinity. I have failed to worship your lotus feet. As a result of this, I have cheated myself out of your causeless mercy. O Lord of all creation; Supersoul of all that lives! You are supremely merciful. By your causeless mercy I have been able to take darsan of your holy feet on this day. O Supremely merciful one—please be kind upon me and instruct me in the goal of life. Please explain the meaning of Srimad-Bhagavatam to me as well. Hearing this humble request of Devananda Pandita, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu spoke as follows:
“Listen carefully, O brahmana. Always praise Srimad-Bhagavatam. Never let any explanation of Srimad-Bhagavatam other than bhakti issue forth from your lips. From beginning, middle to end, this is its meaning: constant devotion to Krsna is eternally perfect flawless, and infallible. It is the highest goal of life. The Supreme Lord appears in innumerable avataras beginning with Kurma. His appearance and disappearance is transcendental. In the same way, Srimad-Bhagavatam is not a material creation: its appearance and disappearance is completely divine. In a trance of bhakti-yoga Vyasa compiled the Srimad-Bhagavatam. It passed through him and appeared on his tongue as a result of the mercy of Krsna. If one doesn’t understand that the Srimad-Bhagavatam is divine truth on the level of God Himself he will never realize its meaning. This is the verdict of all authorized scriptures. One who understands the Srimad-Bhagavatam in that way has real knowledge. If one approaches the Srimad-Bhagavatam with material knowledge he will never understand it. If, however, one is unlearned but takes shelter of the Srimad-Bhagavatam he will be enlightened with its meaning. The Srimad-Bhagavatam is filled with divine love, prema. It is an extension of Krsna Himself and it reveals his confidential pastimes of divine love.
“O brahmana! Previously you committed an offense to the lotus feet of Srivasa Pandita. You must go to him and beg forgiveness at his lotus feet. There is no difference between the book Bhagavata and the bhakta bhagavata. If you get the mercy of the bhakta bhagavata then you will easily attain the mercy of the book Bhagavata.”
Having thus heard the words of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Devananda Pandita immediately went to Srivasa Thakura and begged forgiveness for his offenses. At that time, Srivasa Thakura embraced Devananda and forgave his offenses. The four directions were filled with the sound of the holy name of Hari as the devotees were all jubilant upon Mahaprabhu’s return to Nabadwipa-dhama. From that day on, Devananda Pandita was accepted in the midst of the followers of Mahaprabhu as a great devotee. Devananda Pandita’s disappearance day falls on the dark moon ekadasi of the month of Pausa, which corresponds to the month of December.