The Six Goswamis of Vrindavan were a group of devotional teachers (gurus) from the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition of Vedic Religion who lived in India during the 15th and 16th centuries. They are closely associated with the land of Vrindavan where they spent much time in service of the Bengali saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is considered as Krishna’s yuga-avatar by the Gaudiya Vaishnava lineage, who highly regard them for their extreme renunciation of physical comforts and pleasures in the practice of Bhakti Yoga, and for their philosophical presentations of the teachings of their guru, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
As well as producing a prolific amount of writings regarding Vaishnava philosophy and practices, the Six Goswamis also dedicated a significant amount of their time to uncovering many purportedly ancient and sacred areas of land in Vrindavan associated with Radha, Krishna and the Gopis. These sections of land are believed to be the sites wherein Radha and Krishna performed specific lilas during the previous yuga in accordance to the events recorded in the Bhagavata Purana. Although having little in the way of financial possessions themselves, the Goswamis managed to inspire the building of a number of large and ornate temples on or around these sites (dedicated to the worship of Radha and Krishna) which play a role in Vrindavan society to this day.
Srila Rupa Goswami
Srila Rupa Goswami appeared in 1489 in Karnataka, South India. He was the younger brother of Srila Sanatana Goswami. Forced by various circumstances, Srila Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami had to work for the Muslim government of Bengal under Nawab Hussein Shah. Rupa Goswami was then known by the Muslim name Dabir Khas (‘private secretary’). Although he enjoyed great wealth and prestige, he never forgot Lord Sri Krishna. Even before meeting Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Rupa Goswami had already written several books on Vedic philosophy and was renowned for his learning and devotion.
In 1514, Rupa and Sanatana met Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu for the first time and were initiated by Him. Rupa left government service and spent ten days hearing from Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. Sri Chaitanya then ordered Rupa Goswami to go Vrindavana with a fourfold mission: (1) to uncover the lost sites of Lord Krishna’s pastimes, (2) to install Deities of the Lord and arrange for Their worship, (3) to write books on Krishna consciousness, and (4) to teach the rules of devotional life.
Rupa Goswami founded the Deity Govinda which was unearthed. Rupa Goswami then had a magnificent temple constructed under the patronage of Emperor Akbar and Maharaja Man Singh of Amber, Rajasthan. Sri Govinda Deva is presently being worshipped at Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Srila Sanatana Goswami
Srila Sanatana Goswami was born in 1488 in West Bengal . He was the elder brother of Sri Rupa Goswami. They were educated in Sakurma, a village near the capital of Gauda (Bengal ). The brothers were forced to work as government ministers for Nawab Hussein Shah (the ruler of Bengal) in Ramekeli. Sanatana was known as Sakara Mallik and appointed private secretary.
In 1514, Sanatana Goswami met Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Ramekeli and was initiated by him. He eventually managed to shake off his government duties and escape from imprisonment by the Nawab, to make his way to Benares where he met Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also enlightened Sanatana just like he did for Rupa Goswami
Srila Gopala Bhatta Goswami
In the year 1510, while Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was on tour of South India , the family of Venkata Bhatta had the great fortune of hosting the Lord during the four months of the rainy season. Gopala, Venkata Bhatta’s seven-year-old son, served Lord Chaitanya continuously and developed an intense love for Him. When Lord Chaitanya was about to leave, Venkata Bhatta fainted and Gopala Bhatta’s eyes filled with tears of love. For Gopala Bhatta’s sake, Lord Chaitanya agreed to stay for a few more days.
During this time, Srila Gopala Bhatta Goswami had a spiritual vision in which Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu revealed Himself as Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and said that Gopala would someday meet in Vrindavana two jewel-like devotees — Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami, leaders in Lord Chaitanya’s movement. When Srila Gopala Bhatta Goswamia woke from this trance, he wanted to leave for Vrindavana at once. Lord Chaitanya told him to stay back and serve his parents.
Srila Gopala Bhatta Goswami went on to study rhetoric, poetry, Vedanta, and Sanskrit grammar from his uncle Prabodhananda Sarasvati, a great devotee of Lord Chaitanya. After the passing away of his parents, Srila Gopala Bhatta Goswamitravelled to Vrindavana, where he was lovingly met by Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami.
Once, on a trip to the Gandaki River, in Nepal, Srila Gopala Bhatta Goswami obtained twelve salagrama-silas. (A sila is a special Deity of the Lord in the form of a stone.) The silas entered his water pot as he filled it with water from the river. When he tried to return them to the river and refill his pot, they again entered the pot. Accepting this as the Lord’s mercy, Srila Gopala Bhatta Goswami decided to bring the silas back to Vrindavana.
One day, Srila Gopala Bhatta Goswamifelt the need to worship a Deity of Krishna. The next morning he saw that his silas had transformed into a beautiful Deity of Lord Krishna. Srila Gopala Bhatta Goswaminamed the Deity Radha-Ramana, ‘Krishna, who brings pleasure to Radharani.’ He established the worship of Radha-Ramana, and the Radha-Ramana temple is still one of the main places of pilgrimage in Vrindavana.
Srila Raghunatha Dasa Goswami
Although the son of a very rich landlord, Raghunatha Dasa had no interest in the things of this world. His sole desire was to gain the association of Lord Chaitanya and dedicate himself to the Lord’s service. Seeing Raghunatha’s spirit of renunciation even as a young man, his family tried to keep him at home by all means, including guards. Somehow Raghunatha was able to escape their vigilance, and he made his way to Jagannatha Puri to serve Lord Chaitanya.
His strict regulative principles were exactly like the lines on a stone. He ate and slept for less than an hour and a half, and on some days that also was impossible.’
Topics concerning his renunciation are wonderful. Throughout his life he never allowed his tongue sense gratification. He never touched anything to wear except a small torn cloth and a patchwork wrapper. Whatever he ate was only to keep his body and soul together
After the Lord departed this world, Raghunatha went to Vrindavana, where he lived for many years at the sacred lake Radha Kunda. His bhajana kutir, or place of worship, still exists there.
Srila Jiva Goswami
Srila Jiva Goswami was the son of Sri Vallabha and nephew of Sri Sanatana, Sri Rupa, all of whom were employed in the service of the Badsha Hussein Shah. Having been rewarded richly by the Badsha for their devices, their household life was very opulent While studying under the local pandits he became proficient in grammar, poetry and rhetoric. His teachers noted his great intellect.
Sri Jiva spent some days with Nityananda Prabhu, touring the nine islands of Navadvipa, in order to visit the holy places of the Lord’s pastimes there. Then, as ordered by Nityananda Prabhu, he set out for Kashi
Afterwards Sri Jiva set out for Vrindavana where he received shelter at the lotus feet of his two uncles, Sri Rupa and Sanatana. Jiva stayed with Sri Rupa, who began to teach him Srimad-Bhagavatam. After initiating him with the divine mantra, Rupa engaged him in the service of Sri Sri Radha-Damodara.
Once Sri Jiva travelled to Agra to debate with the Rajputs concerning the glories of Yamuna and Ganga rivers. He established that the Yamuna is more glorious than the Ganga as the Ganga emanates from Krishna ‘s lotus feet whereas the Yamuna is His own consort. At this the Mogul emperor was very much satisfied and wanted to present him something. Sri Jiva replied that he would accept some blank papers. So the emperor presented Jiva some stained paper. (At that time paper was very rare and most manuscripts were usually composed on leaves.)
Srila Ragunath Bhatt Goswami
By the order of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami remained a lifelong brahmachari. His service was constant chanting of Hare Krishna and reading Shrimad Bhagavatam. In Jagannatha Puri, Raghunatha satisifed Lord Gauranga by his exceptional cooking and kirtana performances, which won him the title, kirtana acharya.
When he came to Vrindavana, the Vaishnavas (including Shri Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis) would regularly listen to his singing of Bhagavata shlokas in four tunes as sweet as a cuckoo. His recitation was unparalleled; even Vyasadeva enjoyed it. He fulfilled Lord Chaitanya’s order to preach the glories and peerless significance of the grantha-raja Shrimad Bhagavatam.