Did Advaita Ācārya have a beard? Was he bald? In this article by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, from Sajjana Toṣaṇī Vol.7. issues 9-11 from 1896, the Ṭhākura gives evidence from various śāstra and explains the true meaning of the word 'nāḍā.
(translated by Swami B.V. Giri)
Many believe that the Advaita Prabhu did not have hair on his head, which is why Mahāprabhu sometimes called him nāḍā. Let us see how far this belief is correct. The picture of Advaita Prabhu given in the illustrated Caritāmṛta coming out of Kalna seems to be based on the idea that he is bald. Hair is the main adornment of the head, and it is a sign of beauty in a mahā-puruṣa. Some persons feel that since Advaita Prabhu is a mahā-puruṣa, his head cannot be without any natural adornment.
1) It is written in the Caitanya-Bhāgavata that the first day that Mahāprabhu called the Lord of Śāntipura (Advaita Prabhu) by the word, “Nāḍā! Nāḍā!”, Śrīvāsa and others could not understand who was being called. The Lord later helped them understand by explaining to them that nāḍā referred to Advaita Prabhu. Now the point is that if the word nāḍā is a transformation of the word neḍā (bald) – then if the head of Advaita Prabhu did not have proper hair, then Śrīvāsa would not have had any difficulty in understanding.
2) The second objection is the dhyāna (meditational mantra) of Advaita Prabhu. This is:
tila-taṇḍula-keśa-śobhaṁ sūkṣma-śvetambaraṁ vibhuṁ
premānanda-mayaṁ śāntaṁ candanākta-kalevaraṁ
(“His beautiful hair is the colour of sesame seeds mixed with rice, and he wears fine white garments. He is full of the bliss of prema, he is peaceful, and his body is anointed with sandalwood paste.” – Gaurāṅga-Gopījana-Vallabhārcana Candrikā)
Advaita Prabhu had hair, and it is clear from this dhyāna. Advaita Prabhu was old, thus tila-taṇḍula-keśa-śobhaṁ (‘his beautiful hair is the colour of sesame seeds mixed with rice’) has been used. The phrase, tila-taṇḍula-keśa-śobhaṁ is similar to what Śrī Jīva has written – tila-miśrita-taṇḍulavad ācaradbhiḥ śyāma-miśra-śvetair (‘This means that his hair was a combination of black and white, like rice and sesame’).*
*Translators Note: This refers to Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī’s commentary to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 3.4.15 in regards to the description of Nanda Mahārāja.
3) Mahāprabhu considered Advaita Prabhu to be like His guru. This made Ācārya Prabhu very despondent in his mind and he once thought, “I will make the Lord angry in some way.” Thus it is said:
a) prabhu mora śāsti karibena cule dhari
(“I will make the Lord punish me so that He will pull my hair!” – Caitanya-bhāgavata, Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.17)
b) yāte mora śāsti prabhu kare cule dhari
(“Since the Lord will punish me, He will pull my hair.” – Bhakti-ratnākara)
Making this decision in his mind, he went to Śāntipura and began to explaining the Yoga-vāśiṣṭha (which is opposed to bhakti).
antarayāmī gaura-candra janena sakala
(Being the Paramātmā, Gauracandra knows everything)
Being aware of Advaita Prabhu’s mentality, He went to Śāntipura with the intention of fulfilling his decision. Advaita was overjoyed to hear that the Lord was coming, and began to speak as if he was intoxicated. In this way we may see that Advaita is the best of devotees.
prabhu krodhe advaita ācārye jijñāsaya
jñāna bhakti haite kebā śreṣṭha haya?
sarva-śreṣṭha jñāna haya advaita kahilā
śuni mahā-krodha prabhu bāhya pāsarilā
mahā balavān prabhu śrī-gaura-sundara
lapha diyā uṭhe śighra pīḍāra upara
advaitera cule dhari’ pāḍe uṭhānete
advaite kilāya su-komala dui hāte
(“Fuming, the Lord asked Advaita Ācārya, ‘Which is superior? Jñāna or bhakti?” Advaita replied, “Jñāna is the best of all!” Upon hearing this, the Lord forgot his external surroundings and displayed great anger. Feeling great pain, Śrī Gaurasundara, who is the most strong, suddenly leapt up quickly, grabbed Advaita’s hair, dragged him into the courtyard and punched Advaita with both His lotus hands.” – Bhakti-ratnākara)
The desire of Advaita Prabhu was completely fulfilled – is vāñcā-kalpa-taru (desire tree) a meaningless name? His desire was fulfilled with a large amount of bliss.
hāte tāle diyā nāche śrī-advaita-rāya
prabhura caraṇa-dhūli lailā māthāya
(“Śrī Advaita Rāya danced with his hands raised, and took the dust of the Lord’s feet upon his head.”)
That day, Mahāprabhu could not forbid that person He was beating to take the dust of His feet. Where was the opposition to take that dust? This is why Advaita performed this playful pastime of explaining jñāna.
4) Whatever the case, the topic of his hair is found in these two authentic texts, Caitanya-bhāgavata and Bhakti-ratnākara. In order to fulfill Advaita Prabhu’s resolve, Mahāprabhu grabbed his hair. Then is there anything else?
An eyewitness to the hair of Advaita Prabhu was Govinda Dāsa who came to the home of Mahāprabhu in 1430 śakābda (1509 CE). As soon as he entered Navadvīpa, he saw Śrī Mahāprabhu, Nityānanda Prabhu, Advaita Prabhu, Śrīvāsa, Gadādhara and Dāmodara bathing in the Gaṅgā. He has described how he met Advaita Prabhu in his own kaḍacā (diary) wherein he has written about Advaita Prabhu’s full head of hair (pakka keśa), thus –
avaśeṣe āilā tathi advaita gosāi
emana tejambī mui kabhu dekhi nāī
pakka keśa pakka dāḍī baḍa mohaniyā
dāḍī paḍiyāche tāra hṛdaya chāḍiyā
(“Finally Advaita Gosāi came. I had never seen such an effulgence. With his full head of hair and his full beard, he was extremely enchanting. His beard came all the way down to his chest.”)
There is no further necessity to talk to those who would speculate on the character of this eyewitness.
Now we have discovered that Advaita Prabhu had hair, but what is the meaning of the word nāḍā? It is not possible that the word nāḍā has been used instead of the word neḍā. If, in spite of the aforesaid evidence, someone says that Advaita Prabhu did not have hair, then the word neḍā would have been used instead of nāḍā. But our question is this – did Mahāprabhu make fun of Advaita Prabhu? It is impossible to sarcastically call Advaita, whom Mahāprabhu revered like a guru, as nāḍā (bald). So what does the word nāḍā mean?
In this regard we should remember that Mahāprabhu called Advaita Prabhu nāḍā in a state of divine ecstasy. Readers of the Caitanya-bhāgavata are aware that during ordinary times, He never referred to him as nāḍā. Just as when Mahāprabhu revealed His mystical effulgence or expressed his divine bhāva, this was seen in a state of ecstasy. At that time, He said:
śutiyā āchiluṅ kṣīra-sāgara-bhitare
nidrā-bhaṅga haila mora tomāra huṅkāre
(“I was resting in the milk-ocean, but Your loud cries broke My sleep.” – Caitanya-bhāgavata, Madhya-khaṇḍa 6.96)
In other words, He descended due to the worship of Advaita Prabhu. The understanding is that He was resting, and Advaita Prabhu (performing strict worship) moved Him (nāḍiyā) and disturbed His sleep. Thus the meaning is, ‘One who moves (nāḍiyā), is nāḍā.’ Advaita Prabhu summoned Him, and He has mentioned this again and again in Caitanya-bhāgavata – of course, this is during His ecstasy and not during ordinary times.
This is one application of the word nāḍā. From this we understand (1) he bestows fearlessness to the jīvas, (2) he is supreme (3) how great Advaita Prabhu is, and (4) how far the potency of a devotee can reach.* In addition to this, we would like to express one more point, which is (5) Advaita Prabhu’s manifestation of divine love. I have explained in the article entitled, prabhura guṭi dui prīti-sambhāṣaṇa (‘Addressing the Lord’s Associates with Love’) in Viṣṇupriya Patrikā dated 16th Jyeṣṭha 406 Gaurabda, how the application of the word nāḍā refers to his love for the Lord.
Śrīla Advaita Prabhu has been referred to by Mahāprabhu with the word nāḍā, and I have heard many meanings of this word. Some Vaiṣṇava paṇḍitas have said that the word nāra denotes the aggregate jīvas, and because they are located within Mahā-Viṣṇu, He is known as nārā. The word nāḍā is a corruption of nārā, and in many places, the people of Rāḍha-deśa use ḍa for ra. That is why the word nārā is written as nāḍā. This explanation seems to be correct in many ways.