Sri Nandanandana dasa: The Meaning of the Name
by Stephen Knapp
As many of you know, when I was initiated by His Divine Grace, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, I was given the name of Sri Nandanandana dasa.
When I was to be accepted for initiation, I was told to write a paper on the significance of being initiated. I did the research from whatever books we had back then, and found that I really liked going through my books and gathering the information for the paper. The paper was then given to Srila Prabhupada, who would then authorize a name to be given to the disciple. My initiation was back in the spring of 1976 during the Gaura Purnima festival in Vrindavana, India. I think it was Pusta Krishna Swami who had helped arrange for the names which were then authorized by Srila Prabhupada.
However, before I got initiated, I remember that I was praying to Srimati Radharani to please arrange that I be given a name that would represent what my relationship is with Lord Krishna. We understood that there were many devotees of Krishna, all of whom may have individual and different relations with Krishna. So, I wanted a name that would give an indication of what was my relationship with Krishna. And this is certainly a sign of a Vrindavana relationship. Even though many people seem to have a little difficulty in saying the name, I was quite happy with receiving Sri Nandanandana dasa as my initiated name.
The basic meaning of the name Sri Nandanandana dasa is simply Sri (beautiful) Nanda (Maharaja Nanda, or Krishna’s father) nandana (the son of) and dasa (the servant of). So it means "the servant of the beautiful son of Maharaja Nanda."
However, as I have grown and developed more deeply in my bhakti, more insights and meanings of the name have been uncovered. Such as in Jiva Goswami’s Krishna Sandarbha, it explains how the essential form of the Lord is His form in the kishora age (10 to 15 years old) when He is called Krishna, or Govinda, or even Sri Nandanandana. This is His most attractive form and the epitome of His beauty, especially for the gopis of Vrindavana.
Also, as Srila Rupa Goswami says:
sri nandanandanam vande, radhika charana dvayam
gopijana samaa yuktam, vrindavavana manoharam
"I offer homage to the divine lotus feet of Sri Nandanandana and Sri Radhika, who are surrounded by the gopis, and who steal the hearts of all the Vrajavasis."
For more insight into this, it is further described that there are three places of Krishna’s pastimes, in which He appears in three different forms or tattvas, which include Dwarka, Mathura and Vrajabhumi or Goloka Vrindavana. Krishna in Dwarka is complete, but Krishna in Mathura is more complete, while Krishna in Vrajabhumi is most complete.
Krishna in Mathura is also known as Vasudeva-nandana Krishna, or the son of Vasudeva. But it is Yashoda-nandana or Nanda-nandana–the son of Mother Yashoda and Nanda Maharaja–who is eternally kishora. Kishora refers to His age which is mostly around eleven to twelve years old, but to the gopis He looks older than that.
This kishora is a cowherd boy and very beautiful. He is svayam-bhagavan, the original Personality of Godhead. It is this Nanda-nandana-Krishna, the son of Nanda Maharaja and Yashoda who is the essence of the Supreme Godhead. All other aspects of Godhead are His portions, His plenary portions, or portions of His plenary portions–amsha or kala. The lila, yuga, purusha, and guna-avataras are all Krishna’s amsha and kala forms, or His portions of the Supreme form. But it is this Nanda-nandana-Krishna that is the krishnas tu bhagavan svayam– nanda-nandana-Krishna, the origin of all avataras.
In his book, "Mathura Meets Vrindavana," Gour Govinda Swami explains this further (pages 41-42): "Nanda-nandana Krishna, or Yashoda-nandana Krishna is Madhurya-maya, or Madhuryaka-nilaya. Madhuryaka-nilaya means the reservoir of all madhuryas, or all types of sweetness. Krishna possesses four types of madhuryas: rupa-madhurya, or sweetness of His supremely beautiful form; venu-madhurya, the sweetness of His flute playing; rati-madhurya, the sweetness of His loving dealings; and lila-madhurya, the sweetness of His wonderful pastimes. These four kinds of madhurya are only available with kishora-krishna. They are not available in any of His plenary portions or portions of His portions, amsha or kala. Therefore, kishora-krishna is Bhagavatta-sara, the essence of the Supreme Godhead. For that reason, in the Caitanya-caritamrita, Krishna dasa Kaviraja Goswami has said, madhurya bhagavatta-sara–the quintessence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. (Cc.Madhya, 21.110) Do you understand this word madhurya? In English you say sweetness, but that is not sufficient. There is no corresponding word in English. Madhurya is the word. It is so sweet.
"What is the rupa, or the form of madhurya-rasa? That form is Nanda-nandana-Krishna, Yashoda-nandana-Krishna in Vrajabhumi. He is svayam-bhagavan, the Original Personality of Godhead. Who can understand that madhurya? Only a premi-bhakta, otherwise one cannot understand. Krishna’s dealings with the vrajavasis, the residents of Vrajabhumi, especially the gopis, are very intimate and are based on pure love. In other svarupas, other forms of the Lord, such dealings are not there."
So, after understanding this, it gives much for me to contemplate in realizing the significance of my name. It is the motivation to understand more about what is my relationship with Krishna, and the means to reach prema-bhakti in order to understand it more completely. And in my pursuit of attaining deeper levels of bhakti, I have found that I am no longer interested in other aspects of Vedic culture.
As many of you know, I have written books about the evidence for recognizing the significance of Vedic culture around the world, which certainly gives it more credibility and indicates how influential it is and has always been. I’m glad I wrote such books, but I am no longer interested in the topic. I have also written many books to explain the philosophy of Vedic culture and to introduce this to the masses in a simplified way. This has been very beneficial to many people, but again I’m not interested in writing or even in giving lectures on such topics any more, or even in traveling to go to conferences to speak if it interrupts my meditating and reading about the pastimes of Lord Krishna. The real nectar is in diving deep into the pastimes of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna and His relations with the residents of Goloka Vrindavana. That is where the real nectar is. At least for me. But as I read the writings of Srila Prabhupada and the other Gosvamis, I find that they also agree. But sometimes these intimate pastimes are not for everyone. You have to become qualified to understand them and dive deep into this bhakti-rasa, or the sweetness of the nectar in love and devotion to Lord Krishna. Otherwise, as Jiva Goswami also explains, you may defile the pastimes of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna with your own mind. This means that you may interpret the pastimes by your own material conditioning and experience that is stored in your mind. Then you will misunderstand them, or even make offenses. So, a person must be cautious and enter into what he or she is qualified to understand. But before that, there is still much to comprehend simply by meditating on the meaning of the name Sri Nandanandana.
As Gour Govinda Swami continues, "In what form does He appear in Vrajabhumi? Gopa-vesha, venu-kara, nava-kishora, nata-vara. (Cc.Madhya, 21.101) That is the beautiful form of kishora-krishna. He is a youthful cowherd boy, bent in three places, with a flute in His hand. Nava-kishora means nitya-kishora, eternally ten or twelve years old. He never grows beyond that. At every moment He appears newer, newer, and newer–nityam nava-navaya-manam. He is never the same and He never becomes old. That nava-kishora form is in Vrajabhumi. And venu-kara, He has a flute in hand. This flute is not in Mathura and not in Dwarka. It is only in Vrajabhumi. Prabhupada has written in his purport, "The special significance of Krishna bearing a flute in His hands is in Vrindavana, Vrajabhumi." (Bhag. 10.3.31) Therefore only Krishna in Vrajabhumi is madhuryaka-nilaya, the reservoir of all madhuryas. You will never find these madhuryas in any other form of Krishna."
In this way, "Krishna’s nitya-kishora form and His dealings with the residents of Vrajabhumi are very intimate and loving. You cannot find such dealings in Mathura or Dwarka. That form is not there and these dealings are also not there.
"Vraja-prema [the love found in Vraja or Goloka Vrindavana] is the last limit of prema, prema-parakastha, and the form of Krishna appearing there is purna-rupa, the most complete form. That form is svayam-rupa, the original form of Krishna. These loving dealings between the premi-bhakta and Bhagavan are the mellow of love, rasa."
Rupa Goswami has also described in Lalita-madhava (6.54), that even a learned scholar cannot understand the gopis ecstatic feelings, which are firmly fixed upon the original form of Lord Krishna as the son of Nanda Maharaja, Nanda-nandana Krishna. The wonderful feelings of the gopis in ecstatic parama-rasa with Krishna constitute the greatest mystery in spiritual life.
In this way, the gopis only want to see the all-beautiful kishora-krishna form of Krishna in Vrajabhumi. That is the Nanda-nandana Krishna form. This is the all-beautiful madhuryaka-nilaya form, reservoir of all pleasure and loving pastimes. The aikantika-krishna-bhaktas, or one pointed devotees, are not even interested in Krishna in Dwarka, or even Krishna in Mathura. The reason is that the Mathura or Dwarka Krishna’s sweetness is slightly covered by knowledge and opulence. In Vrajabhumi or Goloka Vrindavana the aishvarya or opulence of Krishna is covered with madhurya, the sweetest love. That is what they want. Therefore, the gopis are not attracted to the four-handed form of Krishna because the attraction and love for that form becomes shrunken compared to what they find in Krishna, the god of love.
In the brahman you will not find any such mellow of love, nor with Paramatma. So, there cannot be such intimate loving dealings on such levels of realization. It is said that Krishna loves Goloka Vrindavana because He goes there to forget that He is God, and all of the dealings with His devotees there are based simply on deep and divine love. The residents don’t even know Krishna is God, and if they did, it would ruin the intimacy of their relations with Him. Everywhere else, whether Mathura, Dwarka, or even Vaikuntha, everyone worships Krishna or Narayana as the Supreme Lord. But in His form as Sri Nandanandana, all they know is their love for Krishna. In Goloka Vrindavana, that is the basis of everything in the residents, who are all premi-bhaktas, and in their relations with Krishna.
This is some of the meaning of the name Sri Nandanandana, and to whom I am a servant or dasa, and for which there are endless levels of meditation and realization in understanding my relationship with Sri Sri Radha-Krishna as kindled by my spiritual name. For that I am eternally grateful for having received such a name, which is a constant reminder of who I am, and what I really need to realize, and the level of bhakti I need to reach. It is indeed my life’s goal, upon which I am becoming increasingly focused. However, this is merely an example of how the name a disciple gets upon initiation is an impetus for deeper levels of meditation and understanding for anyone.