There is no direct evidence in the scriptures that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is Bhagavān Himself. What direct evidence exists is from sources like the dubious Caitanya Upaniṣad. This book is likely a modern invention because none of the six Goswamis cited it anywhere. Later writers like Śrī Viśvanātha and Śrī Baladeva also do not cite it anywhere in their writings.
How do the Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas justify their acceptance of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as Bhagavān? Here I examine Śrī Viśvanātha’s fascinating approach in this context to the Bhāgavata purāṇa.
Is Bhagavān pīta or śyāma?
The discussion starts with Śrī Garga’s naming of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. He speaks the following verse to Śrī Nanda in the Bhāgavata purāṇa:
āsan varṇās trayo hy asya gṛhṇato’nuyugaṁ tanūḥ |śuklo raktas tathā pīta idānīṁ kṛṣṇatāṁ gataḥ ||
This boy certainly manifests different forms in every yuga. Previously He had assumed three distinct colors- white, red and yellow. At present, He has manifested a blackish complexion. (SB 10.8.13)
Śrī Garga explains to Śrī Nanda in this verse that his child Śrī Kṛṣṇa has four colors in different yugas –
śukla or white
rakta or red
pīta or yellow
kṛṣṇa or black.
Śrī Viśvanātha notes in his commentary on this verse that this description seems to contradict later verses in the fifth chapter of the eleventh canto in the Bhāgavata purāṇa. He writes:
kṛte śuklaś caturvāhuḥ iti tretāyāṁ rakta-varṇo’sau iti dvāpare bhagavān śyāma iti kalau kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣā kṛṣṇam ity ekādaśokteḥ
According to the eleventh canto, Bhagavān is
śukla or white in Satya-yuga
rakta or red in Tretā-yuga
śyāma or black in Dvapara-yuga
kṛṣṇa or black in Kali-yuga
Comparing the two lists, we can see that the first list does not mention the yugas for the corresponding colors of the yuga-avatāras. Also, the color śyāma is not present in the first list, and the color pīta is not present in the second list. What is an appropriate reconciliation?
Śrī Viśvanātha examines and rejects potential reconciliations
Below, I will present Śrī Viśvanātha’s explanation by going through his commentary line-by-line. First, the context of the verse is as follows:
tava putras tvaṁ ko’pi mahā-puruṣa eveti śrī-nandaṁ bodhayann āha—āsann iti
Śrī Garga speaks this verse to explain to Śrī Nanda that his son is a great person.
prati-yugaṁ tanūr gṛhnato’sya śuklādayas trayo varṇā āsan gṛhnata iti svātantryoktyā yoga-prabhāvo darśitaḥ | idānīṁ dvāparānte kṛṣṇatāṁ gata iti satyādy avatārāṇāṁ caturṇāṁ śuklādīnām upāsanā-siddhatvena tat tat sārūpya-prāptyeti bhāvo nandaṁ bodhayitum īkṣitaḥ
This boy accepts a form in each yuga (anuyuga). He accepted three colors [in the past] beginning with śukla. His yogic power is shown through the independence implied in the word ‘āsan = gṛhnata i.e. accepted’. Now, at the end of dvāpara-yuga, he has become blackish. [Śrī Garga wishes Śrī Nanda to think that] by becoming successful at worship of the four yuga-avatāras who have colors of śukla and so on, he achieved sārūpya, that is the same form as the different yuga-avatāras.
Thus, Śrī Nanda considers his son as some great yogi, who, by power of his sadhanā, was able to attain sārūpya or the same form as the deity he worshipped. This way, Śrī Nanda does not think that his son is Bhagavān Himself.
Now, Śrī Viśvanātha poses the following question:
pīto’yaṁ kiṁ yugeyo’vatāraḥ – in which yuga does the pīta avatāra manifest?
na ca āsann iti bhūta-kāla-nirdeśena krama-prāptyā pītopi dvāpara-yugāvatāra iti vācyam yugāvatāra-prakaraṇa-paṭhitatvāt – one should not consider that because past tense was used (in the word āsan) and by following the sequence, the pīta avatāra must have manifested in dvāpara-yugāvatāra, by comparison with the sequence in the section on yugāvatāras [in the eleventh canto mentioned above].
The two sequences above agree on śukla and rakta, so these can be safely attributed to Satya and Tretā respectively without any problem. Kṛṣṇa can be attributed to Kali-yuga so that both agree on this also. This leaves only pīta and Dvāpara, so we can then safely attribute pīta to Dvāpara. But Śrī Viśvanātha rejects this idea, because this would make two avatāras in Dvāpara – pīta and the current kṛṣṇa as mentioned in the verse, which in turn would contradict the word anuyuga in the verse = pratiyuga i.e. one avatāra per yuga.
na ca tatrastha-śyāma-padasya pītārthatvam atrasthapīta-padasya vā śyāmārthatvaṁ kalpyam iti – nor should one imagine that the word śyāma in the section in the eleventh canto is to be taken to mean pīta or pīta in the present verse is to be taken to mean śyāma [because this would make no sense, yellow is not the same as black]
One could alternatively propose that the words śyāma and pīta mean the same thing. But that violates common sense.
tathā pīta ity akāra-praśleṣeṇāpītaḥ śyāmaḥ iti vā vācyaṁ sarvathāpi vyākhyāne anuyugam iti vīpsā-prayogāt tanūr iti-bahū-vacanāc ca vīpsayā caikaikasminn api yuge varṇa-trayasya prāpter nābhimatārthalābhaḥ – nor should one interpret “tathā pīta” as “tathā apīta” meaning “and not yellow (i.e. black)”, so that it carries the same meaning as śyāma, because of the use of anuyuga in the distributed sense of “in every yuga”. The interpretation from the distributed sense and the plural form of the word ‘tanu’ that all three colors manifested in each of the yugas do not lead to an acceptable meaning.
If apīta is to be admitted, the sequence is śukla, rakta, apīta, kṛṣṇa, and kṛṣṇa. This makes two avatāras named kṛṣṇa which contradicts the sense of anuyuga which distributes each avatāra singly to one yuga. This of course is required for consistency with the verses in the eleventh canto. Putting three colors in each yuga also will not make sense.
na cedānim iti padena kali-yugasyādimoṁ’śa eva vācanīya iti vācyaṁ kṛṣṇāvatārasya dvāparāntar bhavatvena prasiddheḥ – yasminn ahani yarhy eva bhagavān utsasarja gām |tadaivaidānuvṛtto’sāvadharma-prabhavaḥ kaliḥ || iti || — nor should it be proposed that the word ‘idanīm’ indicates the beginning of kali-yuga [and not dvāpara] because it is well known that Kṛṣṇāvatāra occurs in dvāpara, and from the following verse in the first canto of the Bhāgavata: “Kali, the originator of adharma, took over on the same day that Bhagavān gave up this earth.
We are then left with no option but to explain pīta as yellow, and as a special avatāra who manifests in a particular yuga. In the next part, we will examine Śrī Viśvanātha’s resolution to the above conundrum.