priya-narma-sakha kashcid arjunah pandavo ‘rjunah
militva samabhud ramananda-rayah prabhoh priyah
ato radha-krishna-bhakti-prema-tattvadikam kriti
ramanando gauracandram pratyavarnayad anvaham
lalitety ahur eke yat tad eke nanumanyante
bhavanandam prati praha gauro yat tvam prithapatih
gopyarjuniyaya sardham ekibhuyapi pandavah
arjuno yad raya-ramananda ity ahur uttamah
arjuniyabhavat turnam arjuno ‘pi ca pandavah
iti padmottara-khande vyaktam eva virajate
tasmad etat trayam ramananda-raya-mahashayah
There are two Arjunas in Krishna lila: one is a priya-narma-sakha in Vraja, the other is one of the Pandavas. These two combined to become Ramananda Raya, the dear companion of Mahaprabhu. He was very knowledgeable in the teachings of loving devotion to Radha and Krishna, which he described to Gauracandra on a daily basis. Some people say that Ramananda Raya was Lalita Sakhi, while others do not. Mahaprabhu himself told Bhavananda Raya that he was Pandu, the husband of Kunti and father of the Pandavas. The Pandava Arjuna also united with the gopi named Arjuniya. Thus the most aware say that Ramananda Raya combined all these three personalities. Proof of this is found in the Padmapurana, where it is stated that the Pandava Arjuna became the gopi Arjuniya. (Gaura-ganoddesha-dipika 120-124)
As stated in these verses from Gaura-ganoddesha-dipika, some people hold that Ramananda Raya was an incarnation of Lalita. Some others are of the opinion that he was Vishakha. In his commentary on Chaitanya Charitamrita (2.8.23), Bhaktivinoda Thakur writes, “The same love which Vishakha had for Radha and Krishna in Vraja, and that love which Radha and Krishna had for Vishakha, awakened in them when they met.” Thus it is clear that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur saw Ramananda Raya as Vishakha.
Ramananda Raya was one of the Lord’s three and a half most intimate associates.
The Lord accepted Shikhi Mahiti’s sister as one of Radha’s friends. In the entire world, there were only three and a half devotees who were so worthy. They were Svarupa Damodar Goswami, Ramananda Raya and Shikhi Mahiti. His sister was the half person. (Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.2.105-6)
Ramananda in the Lord’s Last Days
When the Lord was in his condition of divine ecstatic madness, he would sometimes disappear from his chambers, even though there were three barred doors through which he had to pass in order to go outside. Once he was found near the Lion’s Gate, his joints loosened and taking on a giant, distended form. He was revived and returned to normal by loud singing of the Holy Names. On another occasion, he was found in the sand dunes which he had taken in his state of trance to be Govardhana. Once again, he was be pacified by sankirtan and returned to his home. On these occasions, Ramananda Raya was present with Svarupa Damodar. Throughout the ten transformations of the Lord’s ecstatic madness (divyonmada) , Ramananda Raya would recite verses which were fit the Lord’s emotional state. In this way, he brought pleasure to the Lord.
Mahaprabhu remained in Nilachala in this way, passing the days and nights absorbed in the anxiety of separation from Krishna. Svarupa and Ramananda were always with him, bringing him ecstasy with their recitation of songs and verses appropriate to his mood. (Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.20.3-4)
… the Lord took Svarupa Damodar and Ramananda Raya by the shoulders and said, “Listen, Svarupa and Rama Raya! Tell me what I should do, where should I go in order to find Krishna. You can tell me the best thing to do.” In this way, Gauranga would tell his tale of woe to Svarupa and Ramananda and they would console him in his grief. Svarupa would sing and Ramananda would recite Sanskrit verses, giving joy to the Lord with verses from Krishna Karnamrita, the songs of Vidyapati and Gita-Govinda. (Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.15.24-7)
Remaining in the company of Svarupa and Ramananda both day and night, Mahaprabhu ecstatically relished the songs of Chandi Das, Vidyapati and Ramananda Raya’s plays, as well as Krishna-Karnamrita and Gita-Govinda. (Chaitanya Charitamrita 2.2.77)
Ramananda Raya performed his bhajana in the Jagannath-vallabha gardens, a place which was very dear to Mahaprabhu also. As soon as the Lord entered within this garden, he would be overwhelmed by feelings of divine love. One day, while the Lord was there, he had a vision of Krishna under an ashoka tree. Then, the vision was suddenly lost to him, and Mahaprabhu fell to the ground in a faint.
The main park in Puri is the Jagannath-vallabha garden. The Lord entered there with his devotees. The trees and flower bushes were in bloom, and it seemed as though it was Vrindavan. The parrots, mynah birds, and cuckoos were singing their songs and the bees were all buzzing. (Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.19.79-80)
Wandering through the garden, he went from tree to tree. When he came to an ashoka tree, he suddenly saw Krishna standing there. The Lord started to run towards him, but Krishna laughed at him and disappeared. The Lord was stunned: he had found Krishna and then had lost him again. He lost consciousness and feel to the ground. (Chaitanya Charitamrita Antya 19.85-87)
Through Ramananda Raya and Sri Svarupa Damodar Goswami, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu joyfully announced to the world that Harinama-sankirtan is the best means to attain love of God in this age of quarrel.
The Lord, in a wave of jubilation say, “Listen Svarupa Damodar and Ramananda Raya! In the age of Kali, Harinama sankirtan is the supreme means of deliverance. In the age of Kali, Krishna is to be worshiped by the congregational chanting of his Holy Names. This is the way that an intelligent person attains the lotus feet of Krishna. Through the chanting of the Holy Name, all of one’s sinful reactions are extinguished and all auspiciousness arises until finally one experiences the joys of love for Krishna.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.20.8-11)
There are two opinions about Ramananda Raya’s disappearance day: some people say Jyestha Krishna-pancami, others Vaishakhi Krishna-pancami.
—-Excerpted from “Sri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates” by Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj