Gurus & Saints of India

Haridasa Thakur

Haridasa Thakur (born 1451 or 1450) was a prominent Vaishnava saint, instrumental in the early appearance and spread of the Hare Krishna movement. He is considered to be the most famous convert of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, apart from Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami themselves, and the story of his heroism in the face of torture is told in Chaitanya Charitamrta, Antya lila. Besides being an ex-Muslim, he is famous because of his dedication to the religious practice of constantly chanting the names of God. Haridasa Thakura and Advaita Acharya are two senior and well-respected religious personalities of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the local area of Mayapur, prayed for the descent of the yugavatara, (avatara of the era) believed to be Chaitanya.As an associate of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, he is named the acharya of the holy name and he embodied concern for others. Its believed that Chaitanya himself installed Haridasa as His nāmācarya, meaning the 'teacher of the Name', disregarding the fact that he was Muslim-born. Haridasa Thakura, was a devotee of Lord Krishna and had practiced chanting the names of the Lord, Hare Krishna, 300,000 times daily. The Muslim name of Haridasa is not known.

Born in the village of Buron (Budana) in the present district of Sat-kira, which was previously a sub-division of Khulna, now in Bangladesh. Haridasa was 35 years older than Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his prayers along with prayers of Advaita Acharya were the reason for Chaitanya Mahaprabhu descent. Ishana Nagara in his book Advaita Prakasha, explains in great length that Haridasa Thakur was a follower of Advaita Acharya and also his close friend, he was raised in a Muslim family and then converted to Vaishnavism as a young man. Advaita Acharya repeatedly proclaims that becoming a Vaishnava, regardless of one's background, removes all past conditioning.

When Haridasa Thakura was a young devotee of the Lord, he was allured by the incarnation of Maya-devi, but Haridasa easily passed the test because of his unalloyed devotion to Lord Krsna. He also believed to have stayed and chanted in a cave with a notorious snake, however, seemed unaffected by all of this. He did not even seem to be aware of the snake's presence.
Haridasa first became associated with Advaita Acarya. Haricarana Dasa, the biographer of Advaita Acharya says that all the demigods in heaven heard prayers of Advaita and reveal themselves to him, therefore when Advaita saw Haridasa, he could immediately recognizes that he was Brahma incarnate and named him Hari-dasa (literary meaning servant of God). He instructs Haridasa to recite Krishna's names and assures him that Krishna will always show mercy to Haridasa. The close relationship between the two and the fact that Advaita was feeding a Muslim, became a subject of malicious gossip. This apparent anomaly create a stir in a brahmana community, where others could not understand how a powerful ascetic was disregarding a convention of keeping a distance from Muslims. The fact that community was disturbed is reflected in both Chaitanya Charitamrita and in Chaitanya Bhagavata. Haricarana Dasa in his historical records, confirms that while Advaita was from the higher ranks of Bengali brahmana community, he completely ignored the facts about Haridasa's background, being impressed with the young man's heartfelt devotion. While others became upset with Advaitas attention to Haridasa, and threatened to excommunicate Advaita, Advaita tells Haridasa to pay no attention to 'those petty people' and Advaita schedules a fire ceremony, agnihotra for the morning, and when preparations for this ritual to begin, there is no fire to be found in the whole town, and because of this whole life of the village is at a standstill. Advaita points out to all local brahmana priests that if priests are true to their religious teachings, there must be fire, and tells them to approach Haridasa with dried grass in their hands. When Haridasa relights all the fires with his potency, he also according to this record, manifests his four-faced Brahma-like form. While Agni, deity of Vedas responsible for fire is under control of the brahmanas, its Muslim born Haridasa, who lights the fires lost by all brahmanas in the village by the power of his devotion, 'the purity those born brahmana have lost.

According to the philosophy of the holy name given by Haridasa Thakura, if you are on the platform of namabhasa (early or reflective stage of the pure chanting), it gives the chanter liberation, moksa. hereas pure chanting gives prema, or 'Love of God'.
An episode from Chaitanya Charitamrita illustrates different side of the life of Haridasa Thakura, and does not alludes to the trial of the Haridasa by the Muslim ruler, but gives details of a sakta brahmana, who would hire a harlot to try (unsuccessfully) to seduce the celibate saint. In this story the avenging instruments of diving justice are none other then the agents of the Muslim king, who eventually punishes Ramachandra Khan.(CC Antya. 3.98-163)