Who is Who in Caitanya Lila?
Lord Balarāma appeared as Lord Kṛṣṇa’s elder brother. Balarāma also appeared as Nityānanda Prabhu—Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s elder brother. Although Nityānanda was not directly the brother of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, they considered themselves to be brothers. The reason Balarāma preferred to be the older brother is as follows: In a previous incarnation Balarāma, in the form of Lakṣmaṇa, was Rāmacandra’s younger brother. As the younger brother, Lakṣmaṇa was forced to execute many unpleasant and painful tasks. For example, he had to agree when Rāmacandra went into exile in the forest. Then, while in the forest, Rāmacandra ordered Lakṣmaṇa to stay with Sītā when Rāma chased after the demon Mārīca (who was in the form of a deer). After that, Lakṣmaṇa tolerated Sītā’s many insults when he insisted on staying and protecting her, even after they heard what sounded like Rāma’s cries for help. Later, after Sītā was kidnapped and then retrieved from Laṅkā, Rāmacandra expressed his wish that she be tested by fire—it was Lakṣmaṇa who had to arrange the fire and see her go through that ordeal.
Each time Lakṣmaṇa had to hold his peace, even while thinking it was too much to bear. It is said that he decided, at that time, that in his next incarnation he was not going to be a younger brother—he was going to be an elder brother. Thus, Balarāma is the elder brother of Kṛṣṇa, and Nityānanda is the elder brother of Caitanya Mahāprabhu—although they are elder, their mood is one of service to Kṛṣṇa and Caitanya. The following quotes describe how the Lord enjoys taking on the position of a devotee:
The Viṣṇu who lies on the Causal Ocean is an incarnation of Lord Saṅkarṣaṇa, and, accordingly, the emotion of being a devotee is always present in His heart. Advaita Ācārya is a separate expansion of Him. He always engages in devotional service with His thoughts, words and actions. By His words He declares, “I am a servant of Lord Caitanya.” Thus with His mind He always thinks, “I am His devotee.” With His body He worshiped the Lord by offering Ganges water and tulasī leaves, and by preaching devotional service He delivered the entire universe. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi-līlā 6.91–94)
The position of being a devotee is higher than that of equality with Lord Kṛṣṇa, for the devotees are dearer to Lord Kṛṣṇa than His own self. Lord Kṛṣṇa considers His devotees greater than Himself. In this connection the scriptures provide an abundance of evidence. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi-līlā 6.100–101)
Baladeva, Lakṣmaṇa, Advaita Ācārya, Lord Nityānan-da, Lord Śeṣa and Lord Saṅkarṣaṇa taste the nectarean mellows of the transcendental bliss of Lord Kṛṣṇa by recognizing themselves as being His devotees and servants. They are all mad with that happiness, and they know nothing else. What to speak of others, even Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself becomes thirsty to taste His own sweetness. He tries to taste His own sweetness, but He cannot do so without accepting the emotions of a devotee. Therefore Lord Kṛṣṇa accepted the position of a devotee and descended in the form of Lord Caitanya, who is complete in every respect. He tastes His own sweetness through the various emotions of a devotee. I have formerly explained this conclusion. All the incarnations are entitled to the emotions of devotees. There is no higher bliss than this. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi-līlā 6.105–111)
The pastimes of Caitanya Mahāprabhu display the various wonderful moods of devotees as they worship the Lord. In the Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā, Kavi-karṇapūra lists the names of the devotees of Caitanya Mahāprabhu and what their identities were when they appeared in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.
For example, Gadādhara Paṇḍita, who was very dear to Caitanya Mahāprabhu and who was filled with love for him, was not just one person, but was actually three personalities in one. Two of these personalities were Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī (the personification of pure love for Kṛṣṇa and the queen of Vṛndāvana) and Lalitā-gopī (who always follows Rādhārāṇī and is therefore known as Anurādhā, or Rādhā’s follower). When Rādhārāṇī appeared as Gadādhara Paṇḍita, Lalitā followed her, entering Gadādhara’s body. This is described in the following statement from Caitanya-candrodaya-nāṭaka:
Gadādhara, the best of the brāhmaṇas, is the incarnation of both Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and Lalitā-gopī. These two are the transcendental potencies of the Lord, and since the Lord is in one sense not different from His potencies, it may be said that He is present wherever His potencies go. For this reason it may be said that Lord Hari is also present in the body of Gadādhara Paṇḍita. Gadādhara is therefore the incarnation of three persons: Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, Lalitā-gopī, and Lord Hari.
Other examples of personalities from Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes incarnating in Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s pastimes are as follows: Dhruvānanda Brahmacārī is described in Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā as an incarnation of Lalitā-gopī. Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s expansion, Candrakānti-devī, appeared as Gadādhara Dāsa (not Gadādhara Paṇḍita)—a close associate of Śrī Caitanya Mahā-prabhu. Pūrṇānanda-gopī, the dearest girlfriend of Balarāma, also entered the body of Gadādhara Dāsa. Therefore, Gadādhara Dāsa was an incarnation of both Candrakānti-devī and Pūrṇānanda-gopī. Rohiṇī and Vasudeva, parents of Lord Balarāma, appeared during Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s advent as the exalted brāhmaṇa couple Padmāvatī and Hāḍāi Paṇḍita. Sumitrā and Daśaratha (Lakṣmaṇa’s parents in His earlier incarnation) were also present in the bodies of Padmāvatī and Hāḍāi Paṇḍita.
It is said that Caitanya Mahāprabhu also manifested in different devotees. It is mentioned that the particle of moonlight of Caitanya Mahāprabhu appeared in the three personalities: Nakula Brahmācarī, Pradyumna Miśra and Bhagavān Ācārya.
Sītā Ṭhākurāṇī, the wife of Advaita Ācārya, was an incarnation of Yoga-māyā. Yoga-māyā is a very special personality—in Vṛndāvana she is represented by Paurṇamāsī, but it is also said that Subhadrā was Yoga-māyā. Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita was an incarnation of Nārada Muni, Murāri Gupta was an incarnation of Hanumān, and Rāmacandra Purī was an incarnation of Vibhīṣaṇa (Rāvaṇa’s brother).
However, Kavi-Karṇapūra, the compiler of the Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā, knew that Caitanya Mahāprabhu himself did not accept that Rāmacandra Purī was an incarnation of Vibhīṣaṇa—Caitanya Mahāprabhu said that Rāmacandra Purī was the incarnation of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s mother-in-law, Jaṭilā.
Haridāsa Ṭhākura is sometimes said to be an incarnation of Prahlāda Mahārāja, and sometimes an incarnation of Lord Brahmā. Murāri Gupta explains in his Caitanya-carita-mahā-kāvya that he is either an expansion of Lord Brahmā or, that he was, in his previous life, an ascetic sage named Rāma who lived in a holy place in Draviḍa-deśa (South India), worshiping Lord Viṣṇu. One morning his son gave him an unwashed tulasī leaf for the offering of foodstuffs to the Lord, and because of this fault in his worship he later took birth in a yavana family, as the great devotee Haridāsa Ṭhākura.
Another interesting personality is Rāmānanda Rāya, who was the combined form of three personalities. There are two Arjunas—one is a cowherd boy and friend of Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana, and the other is the Arjuna who is one of the five Pāṇḍavas. These Arjunas, along with Visakha-gopī, are considered to be present in Rāmānanda Rāya.
—From “Paravidya-mala, Higher Knowledge Series: Volume One” by H.H. Krishna Kshetra Swami, 2021