Sri Caitanya in the Bhagavata Purana?

Gauḍīya’s cite a verse we claim identifies Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as the avatāra for Kali-yuga. Those who do not like this criticise us as giving a “sectarian interpretation” of that verse. Whether or not it is “sectarian” is not a concern, but let us see whether or not our interpretation is reasonable.

The Context

The verse comes in the fifth chapter of the Eleventh Canto of Bhāgavata Purāṇa.

In the 19th text King Nimi asks Śrī Karabhājana, “Please tell me about Bhagavān’s appearances among us at certain times. What are their colors, distinguishing characteristics, and names, and how do we worship them?”

In the 20th text Karabhājana replies about the times of the avatāra: “Keśava appears in the times called Kṛta, Treta, Dvāpara, and Kali.” And he says that each one has different colors, names, characteristics and methods of worship.

In texts 21-23, he describes the Kṛta-yuga (aka. “Satya Yuga”) avatāra: He is a white, four-armed ascetic worshipped by yogic meditation and known by names like Haṁsa.

In texts 24-26, he describes the Treta-yuga avatāra: a red, blonde, four-armed priest; worshipped by Vedic ceremonies, known by names like Yajña.

In texts 27-30, he describes the Dvāpara-yuga avatāra: dark blue, with yellow clothes and the Śrīvatsa mark; worshipped like a king (aka. by arcana), known by names like Vāsudeva.

Text 31 introduces the Kali-yuga avatāra, saying, “There are also ways to worship him in Kali-yuga. Now I will explain those.”

The Text

Text 32 is the key verse – which Gauḍīyas claim indicates Śrī Caitanya. Here is the verse:

कृष्णवर्णं त्विषाकृष्णं साऩ्गपाऩ्गास्त्रपार्षदम्
यज्ञैः सऩ्कीर्तनप्रायैर्यजन्तिहि सुमेधसः ।।

kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇaṁ saṅgopāṅgāstra-pārṣadam
yajñaiḥ saṅkīrtana prāyair yajanti hi su-medhasaḥ

The first word, kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ, appears to be a description of the avatāra‘s color, “Black colored.” Karabhājana used same phrasing for the Treta-yuga avatārarakta-varṇa (“Red colored). But for the Kṛta-yuga avatāra he simply said, “śukla” (white), and for the Dvāpara-yuga avatāra he simply said, “śyāma.” So Karabhājana does not always use the word varṇa to describe the avatāra’s color.

If we take kṛṣṇa-varṇam to mean “black color” we run into a problem immediately, because the very next phrase is “tviṣākṛṣṇa.” The first word in this phrase, tviṣā, means color much more literally than varṇa. Tviṣā literally means “light” and color is a primary quality of light. So Karabhājana seems to say, “He is black” (kṛṣṇa-varṇam) and “He is black” (tviṣākṛṣṇam). Why would he say this twice in a row? Redundancy is a defect, and we don’t expect defect in śāstra.

Perhaps tviṣākṛṣṇa doesn’t mean “black”? The rules of Sanskrit sandhi allow tviṣākṛṣṇa to be broken down in a few possible ways: tviṣā-kṛṣṇa (black colored), tviṣā-akṛṣṇa (not black at all), and tviṣā-ākṛṣṇa (sort of black). So, perhaps Karabhājana is saying: “He is black, really black.” Or, “He is black, but not black.” Or, “He is black… sort of.”

Previous to the advent of Śrī Caitanya, commentators like Śrī Śrīdhāra Svāmī explained kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇam to mean, “He is black, but not a dull black – a radiant (tviṣā) black, like a sapphire.” This, however, leads us to wonder why Karabhājana did not say the same thing for the Dvapara-yuga avatar, who is very famous in fact, as being ujjvala-nīla-maṇī (brilliant sapphire black).

The Gauḍīya Explanation

After the advent of Śrī Caitanya, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explained that the verse refers to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who reveals Krishna (kṛṣṇa-varṇa); who is bright colored (tviṣā-akṛṣṇa);  who accomplishes much of his mission through his very dear associates (sa-aṅga-upāṅga-astra-pārṣada); and who is worshipped mainly by Sankīrtan (yajñaiḥ saṅkīrtana-prāyaiḥ) enthusiastically, by those citizens of Kali-yuga who are particularly intelligent (yajanti hi su-medhasa).

Objections to this interpretation of the word varṇa are unfounded. According to Monier’s dictionary, वर्ण (varṇa) is probably from the root वृ (vṛ) which means “delimit.” So, the first two definitions Monier gives are 1) “a cover” and (2) “outward appearance.” Then, as examples of outward appearances that “cover” / “delimit” something, he first gives visual things (like color, size, and shape) and then gives sonic things (like musical notes, sounds, letters, and words). Thus varṇa is the percievable quality of an entity and therefore means many things: color, size, shape, sound, description, definition, quality, class, and so on.

Thus, although कृष्णवर्णम् (kṛṣṇa-varṇam) can mean “perceivably black” (i.e. black-colored) it just as literally means, “describing Krishna” (i.e. revealing Krishna’s sound, shape, etc.).

Now there is no need to explain the flaw of repetition in the verse, for there is none. Only त्विषाकृष्णम् (tviṣākṛṣṇam) describes the color. What color is it? As explained above, there are three options, but “black” is, in my opinion, not likely because in text 20 Karabhājana said that each avatāra has a different color, and black is already taken by the dvāpara-yuga avatār. So if there was a duplication of color I would expect a word to acknowledge it. Thus, I think it is unobjectionable that tviṣākṛṣṇa must mean “bright colored.”

Thus, the first pāda of the text must read that the Kali-yuga avatāra, “reveals Krishna, as is bright-colored.” 

We must also note that the second line of the text has uncontested meaning: “he is worshipped by saṅkīrtan.” And this is clearly a very exact fit for Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Thus, by no means can Śrī Jīva’s explanation be called “a stretch.”

Why Such a Riddle?

At this point we might ask, “Why is text 32, which is about the Kali-yuga avatāra, so much more cryptic then Karabhāja’s statements about the other yuga-avatāra?”

I can suggest two reasons:

1) Śrī Caitanya is not usually the avatāra for kali-yuga. That happens only once in a kalpa (roughly a thousand yuga cycles). So, the Purāṇa’s verse is designed to work for other Kali-yugas as well – in which (as Śrīdhara Svāmī and others suggest) there is no new avatāra. Kali-yuga usually has only the persisting forms of the black nīla-maṇi dvapara-yuga avatāra: the name of that avatāra – worshipped via saṅkīrtan, and the narrative of that avatāra, Bhāgavata Purana – worshipped via sumedhasa.

2) Even in that one-in-a-thousand kaliyuga where he does come, Śrī Caitanya’s motive is to experience and exemplify the life of an ideal devotee. To make his position as an avatāra known too widely previous to his manifestation would interfere with his goal, so Vyāsa and Krabhājana encrypted it.


Śrīmad Bhagavatam 11.5.32 reveals that there are three avatāra of Bhagavān in Kali-yuga: Krishna’s name  (see CC Adi 17.22), Krishna’s narration – the Bhāgavata (see SB 1.3.43), and, very rarely, Sri Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

Perhaps this is a “sectarian interpretation,” since only the Gauḍīyas seem to accept it, but nonetheless it honestly seems to be the best explanation.

Vraja Kishor das

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  1. Brilliant explanation of Srimad Bhagavatam’s verse 11.5.32, Prabhu ji. Sectarian or not, it definately is the best explanation of the verse. Could another reason for Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, not being revealed so emphatically as Avatara be Bhagavad Gita 7.3, which says out of millions, hardly one knows Krishna (Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) in truth.


  2. It is said that Krishna terminated his avatar after seeing people becoming evil and after getting frustrated. Extending the criterion to present times, what with huge and incorrigible, excessive, widespread adharma in ways of life of all classes, that we practice thesedays, HE / SHE even if takes an avatar will run away immediately after the first experience.


  3. Could the reason for departure of Krishna and Mahaprabhu from this world be frustration on seeing the state of populace. I don’t quite seem to agree upon this. Mahaprabhu is mercy and compassion personified. Had it not been for him, his teachings and exemplification of those teachings, a person like me (whose only qualification is disqualification leading to frustration) would have been doomed eternally!


    1. They come for sometime to show themselves to those in prakriti, but they do not have permanent relationship to prakriti. They leave behind the “breadcrumbs” to follow them to their own existence.


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