Much of the present work was written as early as 1930, and its publication was announced in the introduction to the author’s edition of the Padyavali in 1934; but the pressure of other urgent engagements diverted the author from its revision and completion till 1940. In the meantime, parts of it were published, in the form of preliminary essays, in Festschrift Moriz Winternitz, Kuppusvami Sastri Commemoration Volume, Indian Historical Quarterly and Indian Culture during 1934-1937. In its final form, the work is much enlarged and revised in the light of more recent studies.
Although the term Bengal Vaisnavism is not co-extensive with the religious system associated with the name of Caitanya and his adherents, the present work limits itself to a study of Caitanyaism, which is Vaisnavism par excellence in Bengal. It is further limited to the early history of Caitanyaism, which comprises the earlier .and perhaps more interesting phases covered by the activities and teachings of Caitanya and his immediate followers, and excludes its later developments and departures in the 17th and 18th centuries. But the concern in this work is more with the faith than with the movement, more with ideas and ideals than with incidents and practices. Most modern works on the subject enlarge not so much upon the materiel as upon the personnel, not so much upon the tenet and teaching as upon the life and legend of the protagonists of the faith. They derive their material chiefly from the Bengali source, which consists of Bengali biographical and devotional works and represents what may be conveniently called the Navadvipa tradition; but in course of time it seems to have eclipsed the more doctrinal and less inviting Sanskrit source, which embodies what may be distinguished as the Vrndavana tradition. While fully recognising the importance of the more attractive and accessible Bengali source and of the vivid tradition and background it supplies, one should admit that this source alone is not sufficient for a comprehensive account of the dogmas and doctrines of Caitanyaism, even if it presents a lively picture of the atmosphere and appeal of the faith. The almost contemporaneous Sanskrit source, represented by the elaborate works of the Vrndavana Gosvamins, the Church Fathers of the faith, is perhaps more remote and recondite, and lacks the intimate personal element ; but it cannot be denied that it is an equally, if not more, important source which has not yet been properly utilised. It is true that Krsnadasa Kaviraja’s standard Bengali biography of Caitanya gives a good account of the religious ideology of Caitanyaism; but written in Bengali as it is, it should be affiliated to the Sanskrit source, inasmuch as it derives its material, as well as inspiration (at least in doctrinal, if not in biographical matters), quite freely from the learned Sanskrit works of the Vrndavana Gosvsmins, whose disciple the Kaviraja was and whose views he wanted to popularise. It is clear, therefore, that both the Bengali and Sanskrit sources, representing, as they do, two distinct traditions, should find their proper place in any adequate account of Caitanyaism. The present work makes a modest attempt to give, for the first time, a direct account of the content of the much neglected Sanskrit source, although the divergence between the mutually independent Navadvipa and Vrndavana traditions is not thereby overlooked. As the presentation of religious ideas involves the necessity of interpretation, strict objectivity is almost unattainable; but the author attempts an exposition of Caitanyaism by giving a direct summary and survey of all its earlier important works in the spheres of Rasa-sastra, theology and philosophy, ritualism, and literature. It is more important to know what the promulgators of the faith themselves have recorded than draw upon one’s own devotional fancy, or read alien, as well as anachronistic, ideas into their standard works.
The author fully realises the difficulty of writing upon a religious movement which is not yet five hundred years old, and about a religious faith which, within the limits of locality, is still living. The peculiar system of erotico-mystic devotion of Caitanyaism, set forth as it is in a vital background of myth, miracle, sentiment and speculation, and demanding a highly refined and almost superhuman capacity of emotional abandon and ecstasy, is not yet a superseded curiosity capable of exact academic appraisement. The writing of Religions- geschichte in such a case has its- own peculiar difficulties which should not be underrated. The author, therefore, makes no attempt at any critique or comparative valuation of the faith, but he merely summarises its fully recorded original dogmas and doctrines, and leaves them to speak for themselves. It should be clearly understood, however, that the subject is approached, not from the standpoint of a devotee, apologist or partisan of the faith, but in the spirit of historical and critical research, which aims at truth-finding but does not sacrifice sympathy and understanding. The author’s opinions are his own, to which he is entitled as the considered result of his independent study, but there is no motive to offend, nor any fur wilful distortion. He is willing to confess to an imperfect capacity, but his sincere desire to appreciate, in the light of modern standards of scholarship, should not be misjudged.
Chapter I. The Beginnings of Bengal Vaisnavism
The Historical Setting and Vaisaava Heritage
Pre-Caitanya Vaisuavism in Bengal
Other Social and Religious Conditions
Chapter II. The Advent of Caitanya
Materials for a Study of Caitanya’s Life
Life and Personality of Caitanya
Caitanya’s Relation to the Sect and the Cult
Chapter III. The six Gosvamins of Vrndavana
Sanatana, Rupa and Jiva
Chapter IV. The devotional sentiments (rasa-sastra)
The Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu of Rupa
The Ujjvala-nilamani of Rupa
Chapter V. Theology and philosophy
The Brhad-Bhagavatamrta of Sanataria
The Samksepa-Bhagavatarnrta of Rupa ...
The Six Samdarbhas of Jiva
Caitanya-worship as a Cult
Chapter VI. Ritualism And Devotional Practices
The Hari-bhakti-vilgsa of Gopala Bhatta
Ethics of Bengal Vaisnavism
Chapter VII. The literary works
Their Extent and Importance
Kavyas and Campus
Stotras, Gitas and Birudas
Additions And Corrections
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