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Forthcoming lectures

Caitanya and the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana

Early Modern Hindu Theologies Seminars
Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
Thursday, 25 May 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

The writings of the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana have, since the early seventeenth century, been the foundation for all Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology, and it is hard to find in the tradition any figure that is invested with greater authority than these authors. Some of the best scholars of the Gauḍīya tradition, such as Sushil Kumar De, Ramakanta Chakravarti, and Hitesranjan Sanyal, have argued that unlike the Vaiṣṇavas of Bengal, who composed several hagiographies of Caitanya, the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana cared little for Caitanya, at least theologically. Though the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana offer homage to Caitanya in most of their writings, their theology centres on Kṛṣṇa not Caitanya, and it is not until the early seventeenth century, when their student Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja composed the Caitanya-caritāmṛta and used their ideas to develop a comprehensive theology of Caitanya's life, that the Bengali tradition of Caitanya devotion was synthesised with the Kṛṣṇa theology of Vṛndāvana.

This lecture aims to challenge this view. First I will attempt to demonstrate that these authors did indeed have a theology of Caitanya, and will examine how Caitanya figures into their theology of devotion to Kṛṣṇa. In the light of this, I will then explore the reasons why the Gosvāmīs sometimes chose not to emphasise Caitanya's divinity in their writings. Drawing on their own works as well as other early historical sources, I will argue that they envisioned a non-sectarian Vaiṣṇava culture in Vṛndāvana, that included the various other Vaiṣṇava groups active in the region at the time.

Rembert Lutjeharms (DPhil, Oxford 2010) is the Librarian at the OCHS and a Tutor in Hinduism at the Faculty of Theology and Religion.

What does it mean to be a playful agent? The Kashmiri Śaiva reformulation of Naṭarāja

Dr Aleksandra Wenta
Monday, 5 June 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

This lecture focuses on the Kashmiri Śaiva reformulation of Naṭarāja—Śiva as the Dancer—found in the work of Maheśvarānanda (12‐13th century) who lived in Chidambaram during the rule of the Cōḻa kings. Maheśvarānanda’s concept of the Dancer has a structural complexity that leads him to an alternative formulation of the problem of the agency of consciousness. Moreover, this implicit complexity is additionally complicated by the existence of the all-encompassing metaphysical axiom of play that is presupposed in the Dancer’s ontology. Play offers a site to performative reality that constantly watches the character of the Dancer’s own transformation. This is the play of bondage and liberation understood as the self‐given laws of the actor’s dance. For Maheśvarānanda, play suggests the theatricalization of reality in which the identity of the Dancer is ascertained by his capability of assuming all the roles. Thus, the Dancer is the Actor displaying the cosmic drama that presupposes the capacity to enact or perform diversity. Maheśvarānanda begins his exposition of the play of bondage and liberation with a depiction of the Dancer who constitutes the essential nature of both Śiva and the individual self (puruṣa). Maheśvarānanda advocates the view that Śiva/puruṣa is a Dancer, a free agent because of his agency to constantly perform the Five Acts. This lecture will concentrates on five thematic sections: 1) What does it means to be a playful agent? 2) The play of bondage and liberation. 3) The dance of Śiva, the dance of puruṣa: Discovering the autonomous agency of the Five Acts. 4) Maheśvarānanda’s critique of Sāṃkhya’s unmoved mover. 5) Śiva the magician and the deception of his Māyā.

Aleksandra Wenta is currently pursuing her second DPhil in Oriental Studies at The Queen's College, University of Oxford. She is also assistant professor in the School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religions at Nālandā University, India. She has co-edited [with Purushottama Bilimoria] Emotions in Indian Thought-Systems, Routledge (New Delhi, London, New York) and published several peer-reviewed articles. Aleksandra is also a researcher at FIND (India-Europe Foundation for New Dialogues), Italy.

Haribhaktivilāsa as the meeting of Vedic, Tantric and Puranic ritualism

Lectures of the J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellow
Dr. Måns Broo
Thursday, 8 June 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

The Haribhaktivilāsa (HBV) is an extensive Sanskrit ritual compendium written around 1534 by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmin, a grand-disciple of the celebrated Bengali mystic and reformer Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya (1486–1533), the founder of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava saṃpradāya. Though being one of the oldest of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava texts, the HBV has received little academic study so far. No doubt this has been partly because scholars of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism have largely focused on the saṃpradāya's theology, especially in relation to the concept of rasa, but also because so little of this text is original. More than 90% of its verses are cited from other texts.

In this talk, based on my present text-critical work with this book, I will try to shed light on some of its vexing questions, such as its authorship, primary and secondary sources, purpose, Tantric influences and neglect or downplaying of practices thought typical for Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. Further, by looking at its manuscript history, I will offer some tentative thoughts on the spread of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava texts in the early 17th century.   

Dr. Måns Broo is a university researcher in comparative religion at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. His main research interests include yoga – both its history and contemporary forms – and the intersections between Vaiṣṇavism and Tantrism in pre-modern Bengal. He is at present engaged in compiling a critical edition and translation of the mediaeval Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ritual compilation Haribhaktivilāsa