This is the story of how the first deity forms of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Nityananda came to be.
In the 15th century, by the solar calendar, a great devotee of Lord Nityananda named Gauridasa Pandit lived in a town on the banks of the Ganges river known as Ambika-Kalna. Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, by Srila Krishnadas Kaviraja, describes Gauridasa Pandit as “the emblem of the most elevated devotional service in love of Godhead; who had the greatest potency to receive and deliver such love. Making Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda the Lords of his life, Gauridasa Pandit sacrificed everything for the service of Lord Nityananda.”
Once when Lord Caitanya was preparing to take sannyasa (the renounced order of life), he visited Gauridasa. Accompanied by Lord Nityananda, Mahaprabhu informed Gauridasa of his intentions. Hearing this, Gauridasa became overwhelmed with grief considering that those in the renounced order were traditionally required to leave their locality in order to educate people in godly life. The thought of not being able to have his dear friends as guests in his home literally brought him to tears. Thus, in the most piteous way, he begged them to stay longer in his home.
Sri Caitanya and Sri Nityananda told Gauridasa that it wasn’t possible honor his request and as a consolation, they allowed two life-like deity forms to be carved from neem wood in their likeness. These were the first deities of Gaura-Nitai ever made and Gauridasa marveled at their resplendent features. The life sized forms of Gaura-Nitai stood beside each other with their long arms raised in the air as if captured in an ecstatic dancing pose. Gauridasa was filled with joy.
“Gauridasa, My deity form is as good as I am,” said Lord Caitanya, “We will forever remain in your home to accept your service.”
Gauridasa intimately replied, “If these deities are as good as you then why don’t you just stay here with me and let them go out and preach?”
Considering this request, Sri Caitanya and Sri Nityananda stepped onto the altar, raised their hands and became wooden deities. To prove that they were identical, the original deities stepped off of the altar and walked out the door of the temple.
Gauridasa became overwhelmed by this transformation and begged the deities to return to the altar. When the deities stepped back onto the altar, Sri Caitanya and Sri Nityananda then stepped off again and began to leave. Seeing this sight, Gauridasa caught them and escorted them back onto the altar. Then the other forms of Gaura-Nitai began to walk away.
This mysterious exchange repeated several times until it was no longer clear to Gauridasa who were the original forms of his dear Lords and who were the wooden deities.
Gauridasa immediately began to cook. He fed all four of them sumptuously and then offered various forms of worship. By doing this, he gradually regained composure and decided which two he would keep in his house. Due to his pure love, Gaura-Nitai remained with Gauridasa and asked him to feed them when they were hungry. The other two forms left for Jagannatha Puri.
Gauridasa Pandit worshiped Gaura-Nitai in many intimate ways—talking sweetly to them, cooking varieties of tasty food, discussing scriptures with them and attending to their every need throughout the day. Even when he became old and feeble, Gauridasa ceaselessly served his dear Lords Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai.
Although he was very poor he desired to decorate Gaura-Nitai with costly beautiful decorations. Knowing his mind, one day Gaura-Nitai mystically manifested such ornaments fitted with rare jewels and adorned themselves lavishly. When Gauridasa entered the temple and beheld their exquisite beauty he became astonished.
Struck with wonder he thought, “Where did they get these splendid ornaments?”
As he regained composure he saw Gaura-Nitai standing there dressed as usual.
“I have never seen those types of ornaments before”, he contemplated. “I wanted to decorate their bodies with jeweled ornaments but I did not know exactly what types of ornaments to use. Now I can understand the preference of my Lords.”
Just then the Lord spoke to him, “Ornaments made of flowers please me the most.”
So Gauridasa Pandit decorated Gaura-Nitai with flower ornaments. Long garlands draped from their necks to their feet creating an unparalleled sight. For fun, Gauridasa placed a mirror in front of Gaura-Nitai so that they could see how marvelously they were attired.
These deities are still worshiped today by the family descendents of Gauridasa Pandit at what is locally called the ‘Mahaprabhu Bari’ in Ambika-Kalna. The town may be visited by catching a train to Nabadwip Dham at Howrah station in Kolkata and getting off at the Ambika-Kalna station. Conversely, one could catch the train in Navadwip Dham towards Kolkata and the station is about a half-hour journey. From there it is easy to catch a rickshaw to ‘Mahaprabhu Bari’.
Srila Prabhupada writes in Sri Caitanya Caritamrita: "In Ambika-Kalna there is a temple constructed by the Zamindar of Burdwan. In front of the temple there is a big tamarind tree. It is said that Gauridasa Pandita and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu met under this tree and that a copy of Bhagavad-gita written by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu still exists in this temple."
This account was adapted from relevant excerpts of Sri Bhakti-ratnakara by Srila Narahari Chakravati Thakur, Chaitanya-Bhagavata by Vrindavana Dasa Thakura and Vaisnava Digdarsani by Murarilala Adhikari.