Caitanya and the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana (TT17)

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
Date: May 25, 2017
Time: 2.00-3.00

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 Caitanyacaritāmṛta 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.