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Nimbarkacharya: Catalyst of Radha Krishna religious movement

Anoop Verma

$img_titleNimbarkacharya was born to a pious Brahman couple of the Tailanga order in Andhra Pradesh, in Southern India. While he was still very young, he mastered all the Vedas and people started to arrive from all over India to have a glimpse of the wonderful boy. When he became a teacher of Vedanta, his immediate disciple was a man called Srinivasa, who wrote a commentary on Brahma Sutras, entitled Vedanta-Kaustubha. Srinivasa’s work is considered to be of utmost importance in explaining the philosophical ideas of Nimbarkacharya. Beyond this, not much is known about Nimbarkacharya’s personal life. However, we do have the traditional stories about many supernatural feats that he is said to have performed. One of these stories alludes to the way Nimbarkacharya received his name.

Bhagwan Vishnu, the eternal creator, arrived to the ashram where Nimbarkacharya lived with his parents, in the disguise of a sannyasin. At that time the sun was about to set, and Nimbarkacharya’s father was away. When the sannyasin asked Nimbarkacharya’s mother for something to eat, she could hardly utter a world, as all the food in the house had already been exhausted. Seeing that the sannyasin was about to go away, Nimbarkacharya said, “Dear mother, the sannyasin must be offered food to eat, otherwise we will be violating atithi dharma.” In response, the mother said that there was nothing to eat in the house, and as the time for sunset was drawing near, there wasn’t even time for her to cook fresh food. Sannyasins do not eat food after sunset.

But Nimbarkacharya was determined to perform his atithi dharma. He said to the sannyasin, “Please start preparing for your meal. I will go to the forest and return quickly with roots and fruits. I promise that the sun will not set before you have finished your meal.” The young boy materialised his ‘Sudarshan Chakra’ and placed it on a neem tree located at the ashram. As the Chakra could shine like a sun, it created the feeling of a bright day in the area around the ashram. Even Vishnu, who was in the disguise of the sannyasin, was struck with amazement. Within minutes Nimbarkacharya returned from the forest with roots and fruits that he gave to his mother, who served them to the sannyasin. As soon as the sannyasin finished eating, Nimbarkacharya removed his Sudarshan Chakra from the neem tree, and instantly it became dark night.

Bhagwan Vishnu emerged out of his disguise and he conferred on the boy the name Nimbarka, which is derived through a combination of two different ideas – nim, which stands for the neem tree, and arka, which means the sun. Since then he is known by the name of Nimbarkacharya. Like other ancient teachers of Vedanta, Nimbarkacharya considers Bhagwan Vishnu to be the highest reality. Bhagwan Vishnu is eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.  He alone is responsible for the creation, the maintenance, and the eventual destruction of the entire world. According to the Nimbarkacharya, the Universal Self, which is Bhagwan Vishnu, wishing to be many, transforms Himself into the form of the world.

To Nimbarkacharya, Bhagwan Vishnu is more of a personal God, and not the impersonal absolute. Nimbarkacharya conceives of his Vishnu as Sri Krishna or Hari, accompanied by the celestial consort, Radha. This makes his philosophy slightly different from that of Madhavacharya and Ramanujacharya to whom Bhagwan Vishnu is Narayana. In Hindu mythology Sri Krishna is considered to be an avatar of  Bhagwan Vishnu so on this regard there might not be much difference between the philosophy of Nimbarkacharya and that of Madhavacharya and Ramanujacharya. Nimbarkacharya emphasises on a sweet personal relationship between an individual and the eternal God, Sri Krishna.

Nimbarkacharya is considered to be a prominent teacher of the Radha-Krishna sect, one of the most popular and influential religious movements in India. Essentially the Nimbarkacharya doctrine promotes the concept of a loving relationship and friendship between the supreme God and individual beings. According to Nimbarkacharya, a spiritual journey may begin with the feeling of awe and reverence, but it ends in eternal love and friendship. He is regarded as a principal commentator on the Brahma Sutra of Badarayana. He must have lived in the 12th or 13th century as there is lot of similarity between his philosophical and devotional attitudes and those of Ramanujacharya. However there are other accounts, which state that Nimbarkacharya might have appeared 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, or even earlier.

According to some mythological accounts, Nimbarkacharya was a reincarnation of Sri Krishna’s weapon Sudarshan Chakra or the discus. His teachings have played a seminal role in the rise of the Radha-Krishna religious movement, which today has millions of adherents around the world. 

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