The Gosvāmī Era: The Founding of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism in Early Modern South Asia
The early modern period in North India was one of the most socially turbulent and yet culturally vibrant times in its history. While the Mughal rulers were establishing the Pax Mughalana, their rule was far from uncontested. To achieve and maintain their hegemony, they fought against Afghan invaders from the west, rebellious Rajputs in Rajasthan, Śivajī in the south, and the Muslim rivals in the east. Culturally, the policy of religious tolerance adopted by some of the prominent Mughal rulers helped to strengthen the Hindu-Muslim cooperation, while more law-oriented Orthodox Muslims condemned such policy. This was also the period when the Indo-Persian style of art was developed in architecture, paintings and music.
This was precisely the period when what we now call Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism was founded and became a major player in religiously competitive early modern North India. While Kṛṣṇa Caitanya inspired radical devotion to Kṛṣṇa, it was his immediate followers, some of them called the Gosvāmīs, who provided profound theological underpinning to the tradition through their Sanskrit writings. With this theology in foundation, later Gauḍīyas were able to establish their distinct identity in relation to other emotional Bhakti theologies articulated by Nimbārka, Vallabha, or Madhusūdhana Sarasvatī. How did Gauḍīya theologians articulate the uniqueness of Caitanya’s teaching? What was the social and political influence of the Gauḍīyas on the Mughal regime and vice versa? How did those theologians
negotiate with their Muslim rulers? In what ways was Gauḍīya theology expressed in ritual, architecture, poetry, drama, dance, paintings, and culinary culture?
While some of these questions have been addressed by research focusing on vernacular languages (Bengali, Brajabhāṣa, Hindī, Urdū, Persian etc.), Sanskritists have only recently turned their attention towards the early modern period. However, Sanskrit devotional theologies remain largely unexplored. This project therefore aims to examine the formative period of Gauḍīya tradition through the Sanskrit writings left by the early Gauḍīya authors.
Kiyokazu Okita (Kyoto University)
- Rembert Lutjeharms (Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies)
- Manuscripts collection and digitization.
- Production of critical editions, translations, and studies.
- Monographs and articles on the Gosvami era
- Organizing group-reading sessions.
- Biannual conference / workshop.
- Publication of conference / workshop proceedings.
Structure: Root and Branches
Root: Understanding Foundational Texts
The core of the research project will consist of studies, translations and critical editions of the following most prominent early Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava works:
Theology: [Rūpa]: Bhaktirasāmṛtasindhu, Ujjvalanīlamaṇi, Laghubhāgavatāmṛta [Sanātana]: Vaiṣṇavatoṣaṇī, Bṛhadbhāgavatāmṛta [Jīva] Bhāgavatasandarbhas, [Śrīnātha]: Caitanyamatamañjuṣā, [Kavikarṇapūra] Gauragaṇoddeśadīpikā
Drama, Poetry: [Rūpa]: Lalitamādhava, Vidagdhamādhava, Stavamālā [Jīva]: Gopālacampū [Raghunātha Dāsa]: Muktacaritra, Stavāvalī, Dānakelicintāmaṇi [Kavikarṇapura]: Caitanyacandrodayanāṭaka
Grammar, Poetics: [Rūpa]: Nāṭakacandrikā [Jīva]: Harinamāmṛtavyākaraṇa [Kavikarṇapura] Alaṅkārakaustubha
Ritual: [Gopāla Bhaṭṭa]: Haribhaktivilāsa
Sacred geography: [Rūpa]: Mathuramahātmya [Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭa]: Vrajabhaktivilāsa
While the study of these texts will form the core of the research project, the project also aims to branch out, in due course, into the following areas:
Branch A: Gosvāmīs in relation to other traditions
The Braja area in the sixteenth century saw the birth and growth of several religious groups, and the Gosvāmīs were hardly the only Vaiṣṇavas active there. How did the Gosvāmīs view the other Vaiṣṇava theologians and groups, such as Vallabha and the Puṣṭi-mārga lineage, the disciples of Nimbārka, and the devotees of the Haridāsi sampradāya, and how did those traditions view the Gosvāmīs and their works? What were Caitanya’s disciple’s attitudes towards other traditions farther afield, like the Vaiṣṇavas of the South and the Advaita Vedāntins of the period? What were their relations with Muslim teachers?
Branch B: Gosvāmīs and earlier works
In order to articulate the theology of the Caitanya school, the Gosvāmīs built extensively on the works of earlier authors, like Vopadeva, Hemādri, and Śrīdhara Svāmī, who have yet to be studied in depth. What was the theology of these pre-Caitanya authors, and how did they shape the new theology of the Gosvāmīs?
Branch C: Gosvāmīs in later Gauḍīya works
The first two generations of Caitanya’s devotees formed the foundation of Gauḍīya theology, which was further articulated by later theologians of the tradition. How did persons like Viśvanātha Cakravartī, Kṛṣṇadeva Sārvabhauma, Rūpa Kavirāja, Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa, and Kedarnātha Datta Bhaktivinoda develop the teachings of the Gosvāmīs?
Branch D: Gosvāmīs in vernacular (Bengali, Oriya, Brajbhāṣa)
The Gosvāmīs wrote in Sanskrit, but their teachings were translated into Bengali, Brajbhāṣā and Oriya, by other Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava poets, like Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, Narottama Dāsa, and Narahari Cakravartī. This branch of the project aims to explore the way such authors drew from the Gosvāmīs and articulated their theology in vernacular poetry and song.
Branch E: Gosvāmīs in material and performative cultures
Apart from writing texts, the Gosvāmīs were also actively involved in the constructions of temples, the development of devotional music, drama, and other cultural forms. This branch of the project would explore the material culture of the Gauḍīya tradition and study its performative arts in architecture, archaeology, culinary culture, fashion, dance, drama, music, and paintings.