Saturday, April 17, 2010

Neda-nedi: vaishnava-buddhist syncretists

The word neda indicates a man with a shaven head. Nedi means a shaven-head woman. The neda-nedi cult is said to be still visible around the Navadvipa area, where they are indistinguishable from other shaven vaishnavas wearing tilak and white cloth. The neda-nedi apasampradaya began at the time of Shri Virabhadra Gosvami, the son of Lord Nityananda and Jahnava Mata. It is said that Shri Viracandra converted over a thousand nedas and an equal number of nedis to vaishnavism from tantric Buddhism. Under his direction, these neda-nedis took to the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Most of them got properly married, thus ending the illicit connections that had been going on between them in the name of tantric meditation. But after some time, a number of them again revived their old practices while passing themselves off as vaishnavas. Nowadays, the neda-nedi is taken to be a type of baul.

From Dr. Ramkantha Cakravarti, we get a historical account of a Buddhist monk of Orissa who became a vaishnava in Puri during the time of Shrila Sanatana Gosvami's stay there. He was initiated and received the name Acutyananda das. But after mixing with the vaishnavas for some time, he became dissatisfied by their adherence to varnashrama-dharma. Buddhists are naturally antagonistic to varnashrama, so when Acutyananda consulted a Buddhist guru named Mahananda, he was advised to leave the company of the devotees. Acutyananda established his own group, preaching, bolanti prabhu bhagavan buddharupa mo shri chaitanya tanka carana seva kara: "I serve the lotus feet of Lord Buddha in the form of Shri Chaitanya."
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