In This Article Nimbārka Sampradāya

  • Introduction
  • General Academic Overviews
  • General Overviews by Learned Nimbārkīs
  • Beginnings in Braj
  • The Debate on the Chronology of Nimbārka’s Successors
  • The Lineage of Svabhurāma

Hinduism Nimbārka Sampradāya
by
Catherine Clémentin-Ojha
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0209

Introduction

The Nimbārka sampradāya, also called Sanakādi sampradāya and Haṃsa sampradāya from the names of its alleged divine founders, is both a school of thought and an organized religious community that subscribes to the teachings of Nimbārka (also Nimbabhāskara or Nimbāditya, dated as early as the 7th century and as late as the 13th). While the two aspects are intertwined, it is important to be aware of the distinction. As a religious group, the Nimbārka sampradāya is a loose federation of autonomous, though interrelated, teacher-disciple lineages (dvāra, paraṃparā) each named after a disciple of Harivyāsa, the 32nd ācārya. The most important lineages are those of Paraśurāma and Svabhurāma. The Nimbārka sampradāya comprises two classes of disciples, ascetics (vairāgī, lit. “bereft of emotion”) and householders (gṛhastha), some of whom are hereditary custodians of temples. Nimbārkīs (also called Nimāvats) are mostly found in Braj (in Uttar Pradesh), where their sect was supposedly born, and in nearby eastern Rajasthan, where the monastery of Salemabad (in Ajmer District), founded by Paraśurāma, has been claimed as their central seat since the 15th–16th centuries. Nimbārkīs are also seen in Panjab, Bengal, and Nepal. Their number is unknown. As a Vaiṣṇava school of thought, the Nimbārka sampradāya is one of the four conventionally grouped sects of theistic Vedānta or catuḥ sampradāya. It forms one of the oldest extant groups of Rādhā-Krishna worshippers in North India today. The historiography of the Nimbārka sampradāya, produced in part by academic scholars, and in part by learned members of the sect, bears on specific organizational, philosophical, or devotional aspects. A comprehensive history taking into account its institutional and doctrinal developments has not yet been attempted. Its relationship with other Vaiṣṇava traditions is also understudied. Some Sanskrit works attributed to Nimbārka and to his main disciples have been published, some with a Hindi or an English translation, but the entire body of their writings in Sanskrit and vernacular languages (Brajabhāṣā, Hindi, Bengali) is not available in print. In this bibliography, primary sources will only be mentioned if they contain information on the institutional and doctrinal developments of the sect.

General Academic Overviews

The Nimbārka sampradāya was hardly noticed by the first scholars who wrote about Hindu sects in the 19th century, with the notable exceptions of Wilson 1958, Growse 1978 (first published in 1883), and Grierson 1889. Neither J. H. Garcin de Tassy (Histoire de la littérature hindouie et hindoustanie, 3 vols., Paris, 1870–1871) nor W. J. Wilkins (Modern Hinduism: Being an Account of the Religion and Life of the Hindus in Northern India, London, 1887) mention it. Judging from the relevant articles of the voluminous Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (1908–1926), edited by James Hastings, the sect was still somewhat obscure in the first decades of the 20th century. Later studies focused on the philosophical doctrine of the Nimbārkīs (see Teaching and Religious Practices). The most thorough nonsectarian exposition of the history of the Nimbārka sampradāya is found in the relevant sections of two general studies of the religious traditions of Braj, one in Hindi (Mīṭala 1968), the other in English (Entwistle 1987); these will be often referred to in this bibliography. All these works focus on the monastic lineages of the sect and pay little attention to its lay members. It is therefore difficult to have an integrated view of the Nimbārka sampradāya.

  • Entwistle, Alan. Braj: Centre of Krishna Pilgrimage. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 1987.

    E-mail Citation »

    The handbook on Braj studies that has established the pattern of understanding the constitution of Braj as the sacred territory of Krishna (Kṛṣṇa) worshippers. Its pages on the specific contribution of the Nimbārka sampradāya highlight that Nimbārka and his disciples did not articulate their principles in isolation, but rather nurtured their ideas in interaction as well as in sectarian rivalry with other religious personalities who addressed their devotion to the same deity and sought the patronage of the same regional powers.

  • Grierson, George Abraham. The Modern Vernacular Literature of Hindustan. Calcutta: Asiatic Society, 1889.

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    The section on “the Kṛiṣṇa-cult of Braj” briefly mentions Sri Bhatt (b. 1544), Parasu Ram (b. 1603), and Kesab Das (fl. 1541). They are not identified as Nimbārkīs.

  • Growse, Frederick Salmon. Mathura: A District Memoir. Ahmedabad, India: New Order, 1978.

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    The classic work on Braj history and cultural heritage, originally published in 1883 by the British Collector of the District of Mathura. It contains some interesting references to ascetic and lay members of the sect of Nimbārka, whom the author personally encountered at different locations.

  • Hastings, James, ed. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1908–1925.

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    The huge encyclopaedia in 12 volumes (11 plus an index volume) reflects the state of knowledge of the history of the religions of the world in the first decades of the 20th century. It mentions the sect of Nimbārka in the following articles: “Bairāgī,” by W. Crooke (Vol. 2, p. 337); “Bhakti-mārga,” by G. A. Grierson (Vol. 2, pp. 539–551); “Hinduism,” by W. Crooke (Vol. 6, pp. 686–715); “Nimāvat,” by A.S. Geden, who equates Nimbārka with Bhāskara (Vol. 9, pp. 373–374); “Sects (Hindu),” by W. Crooke (Vol. 11, pp. 329–333).

  • Mīṭala, Prabhudayāla. Braja ke dharmasampradāyoṃ kā itihāsa. Delhi: National Publisihing House, 1968.

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    The first comprehensive survey in Hindi on the history, culture, and organization of the Vaiṣṇava sectarian traditions of Braj. Its interest lies in the fact that it includes much information on the Nimbārka sampradāya that is otherwise difficult to find, such as references to devotional poetry and hagiographies as yet unpublished. Its drawback is that it is not always historically reliable.

  • Wilson, Horace Hayman. Religious Sects of the Hindus. Edited by Ernst R. Rost. Calcutta: Susil Gupta Private Limited, 1958.

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    One of the earliest descriptions and classifications in a Western language of the “religious sects” of Hinduism. The Nimbārkīs (Sanakādi sampradāyīs and Nimāvats) presented are those of Mathura, while those of North India and Bengal are merely mentioned. They are said to be divided into two classes, “coenobitical and secular,” and to have lost all their books due to destruction in the time of Aurangzeb. Originally published in 1861.

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