Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism

Ravi M. Gupta

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism

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The Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition, also known as Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism, began in Bengal with Kṛṣṇa Caitanya in the late 15th century. Within a span of forty-eight years, Caitanya, called Mahāprabhu (Great Master) by his followers, spread a wave of devotion to Kṛṣṇa through India, particularly in the regions of Bengal, Odisha, and Vrindavan. While all Vaiṣṇavas agree that the Supreme Lord is Viṣṇu—in any one of his many forms—Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas repose their devotion particularly in Kṛṣṇa and his consort Rādhā. Indeed, Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas came to regard Caitanya as Kṛṣṇa himself appearing with the emotions and golden complexion of Rādhā in order to experience firsthand the intensity of her love. For Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, God’s preeminence does not lie in his opulence or power, nor do his majestic attributes provide enough reason to love him. The Supreme Deity is above all the lord of sweetness, and the exemplars of devotion are the residents of Vrindavan, who love him as a member of their family and community. Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas aim to cultivate the intensified emotions (rasa) of these devotees and participate in their service to Kṛṣṇa through meditative visualization (rāgānuga-bhakti). This goal is reached primarily through the daily practice of chanting Kṛṣṇa’s names, both in public song (saṁkīrtana) and private repetition (japa). Caitanya spent half of his life outside Bengal, much of it at the temple of Jagannātha in Puri, Odisha. His followers, especially Nityānanda, continued missionary work in Bengal and Odisha, many of them visiting Caitanya annually in Puri for the Ratha-yātrā festival. In the generation immediately following Caitanya, the movement in Bengal was led by Nityānanda’s wife, Jāhnavā Devī, and, under her guidance, by Śrīnivāsa, Narottama, and Śyāmānanda. Although only a handful of poetry is attributed to Caitanya, his theology of Kṛṣṇa-bhakti was expounded and systematized by his followers in a vast array of poetical, philosophical, and ritual literature. Kavi Karṇapūra, working in Bengal, wrote theological treatises, drama, and poetry about Caitanya in Sanskrit. Much of the school’s early literature, however, was composed in Sanskrit by the six Gosvāmīs of Vrindavan, who also played a significant role in establishing the school’s main temples and pilgrimage sites in Vrindavan. The 18th century saw a shift of temple images and ecclesiastical authority from Vrindavan to Rajasthan, where the Kacchwaha kings provided political security and financial patronage. Through these centuries, the tradition continued to flourish in Bengal and Odisha, effecting religious and social transformation through a variety of methods: public singing of Kṛṣṇa’s names, dramatic performances of Kṛṣṇa activities, dissemination of the Gosvamīs’ writings, and the disciplic lineages that descended from Caitanya’s first followers. The arrival of British colonial power and subsequent struggle for independence brought significant changes, with Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism travelling across the globe and accepting Western followers through the missionary work of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda. Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism’s global reach can also be seen in the numerous translations of its literature and comparative academic studies that have become commonplace today.

Article.  8704 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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