Gobindadaser Karcha and the Public Life of a Contested Vaishnava text in Colonial Bengal

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Dr. Santanu Dey
Date: February 15, 2018
Time: 2:00pm to 3:00pm

In the age of transition from a manuscript to a print culture colonial Bengal witnessed curious interactions between the twin processes of publishing ‘newly discovered’ Vaishnava sacred biographies and the archiving of Bengali literary history. The nature and content of some of these texts were regarded controversial enough to be branded as ‘spurious’. Dwelling upon late 19th and early 20th century Bengali vernacular sources, in this talk I will try to examine the public debates over the acceptability of one such ‘spurious’ text titled Gobindadaser Kadcha purportedly written by Chaitanya’s servant/companion Govinda Das in the 16th century that was discovered and published in 1895. By pondering over the religio-literary and historical authenticity of the text and the nature of responses it elicited among contemporary literary historians and lay Vaishnava believers in colonial Bengal I intend to show how this search for texts profoundly affected the historicisation of Bengali Vaishnava traditions within the ambit of Bengali literature. Tangentially, Bengali Vaishnavas too, were forced to contend with the issue of ‘spurious’ literature and to historicise their own traditions accordingly.

Dr. Santanu Dey is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira (A residential autonomous College affiliated to the Calcutta University) located at Belur Math near Kolkata, India. He did his PhD on the topic ‘Resuscitating or Restructuring Tradition? Issues and trends among Gaudiya Vaishnavas in late Nineteenth and early Twentieth century Bengal’ from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. His areas of research interest include Vaishnava Studies, Religion and Colonial Modernity and literary history of Bengal.