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Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s Caitanya-caritamrta: Its value as a witness to historical events

Shivdasani Lecture
OCHS Library
Professor Joseph T. O’Connell
Friday, 3 June 2011 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm

The sacred biographies of Krishna-Caitanya appear to convey a great deal of historical information about the words and actions of their main subject and of hundreds of his followers and other contemporaries. They also include along the way a number of vignettes, some with political implications, that, if accurate, would extend our knowledge of early sixteenth century Bengal some degrees beyond the intramural affairs of the nascent community of devotees. But how reliable are these texts as records of actual historical persons, words and events? Devotees tend to say very reliable. Scholars tend to divide on the issue with some claiming that theological, devotional, and polemic concerns thoroughly negate the ostensible historicity of the texts. Others take a more favourable view arguing that much historical fact is recoverable from the sacred biographies despite the presence of theological and ‘mythical’ constraints. It may even be argued that the authors’ conviction that Krishna-Caitanya’s apparently human actions are ontologically lilas (divine sport) intended to instruct humans in authentic devotion (bhakti) itself provides a religious motive for seeking accuracy in reporting those actions, even in Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s Caitanya-caritamrta (Nectar-like Acts of Caitanya).