In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Hagiographies of Caitanya
  • Early History
  • Middle Period
  • Hagiography
  • Pilgrimage and Sacred Geography
  • Sacred Image and Temple Community
  • Song and Music
  • Drama
  • Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism and Society
  • Comparative Studies
  • Controversies and Contested Spaces

Hinduism Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism
Ravi M. Gupta
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0140


The Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition, also known as Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism, began in Bengal with Kṛṣṇa Caitanya in the late 15th century. Within a span of forty-eight years, Caitanya, called Mahāprabhu (Great Master) by his followers, spread a wave of devotion to Kṛṣṇa through India, particularly in the regions of Bengal, Odisha, and Vrindavan. While all Vaiṣṇavas agree that the Supreme Lord is Viṣṇu—in any one of his many forms—Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas repose their devotion particularly in Kṛṣṇa and his consort Rādhā. Indeed, Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas came to regard Caitanya as Kṛṣṇa himself appearing with the emotions and golden complexion of Rādhā in order to experience firsthand the intensity of her love. For Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, God’s preeminence does not lie in his opulence or power, nor do his majestic attributes provide enough reason to love him. The Supreme Deity is above all the lord of sweetness, and the exemplars of devotion are the residents of Vrindavan, who love him as a member of their family and community. Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas aim to cultivate the intensified emotions (rasa) of these devotees and participate in their service to Kṛṣṇa through meditative visualization (rāgānuga-bhakti). This goal is reached primarily through the daily practice of chanting Kṛṣṇa’s names, both in public song (saṁkīrtana) and private repetition (japa). Caitanya spent half of his life outside Bengal, much of it at the temple of Jagannātha in Puri, Odisha. His followers, especially Nityānanda, continued missionary work in Bengal and Odisha, many of them visiting Caitanya annually in Puri for the Ratha-yātrā festival. In the generation immediately following Caitanya, the movement in Bengal was led by Nityānanda’s wife, Jāhnavā Devī, and, under her guidance, by Śrīnivāsa, Narottama, and Śyāmānanda. Although only a handful of poetry is attributed to Caitanya, his theology of Kṛṣṇa-bhakti was expounded and systematized by his followers in a vast array of poetical, philosophical, and ritual literature. Kavi Karṇapūra, working in Bengal, wrote theological treatises, drama, and poetry about Caitanya in Sanskrit. Much of the school’s early literature, however, was composed in Sanskrit by the six Gosvāmīs of Vrindavan, who also played a significant role in establishing the school’s main temples and pilgrimage sites in Vrindavan. The 18th century saw a shift of temple images and ecclesiastical authority from Vrindavan to Rajasthan, where the Kacchwaha kings provided political security and financial patronage. Through these centuries, the tradition continued to flourish in Bengal and Odisha, effecting religious and social transformation through a variety of methods: public singing of Kṛṣṇa’s names, dramatic performances of Kṛṣṇa activities, dissemination of the Gosvamīs’ writings, and the disciplic lineages that descended from Caitanya’s first followers. The arrival of British colonial power and subsequent struggle for independence brought significant changes, with Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism travelling across the globe and accepting Western followers through the missionary work of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda. Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism’s global reach can also be seen in the numerous translations of its literature and comparative academic studies that have become commonplace today.

General Overviews

Summary studies of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism vary considerably in length and content. Valpey 2011 and Kennedy 1993, although written nearly 100 years apart, both attempt to provide balanced treatments of history, theology, literary contributions, and social dimensions. De 1942 examines textual sources written by Caitanya’s contemporaries, while Chakrabarty 1985 focuses on social and political developments from Caitanya’s life to the end of the 19th century. Das 1976 provides a comprehensive encyclopedia of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism, and Sen 1963 offers a survey of Caitanya literature written in Bengali. A short, easy-to-read biography of Caitanya that also provides the basics of his theology is offered by Majumdar 1969.

  • Chakrabarty, Ramakanta. Vaiṣṇavism in Bengal, 1486–1900. Calcutta: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 1985.

    An exhaustive study of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava history, organized by major figures (such as Advaita Acārya, Jāhnavā Devī, and Srīnivāsa Acārya), important geographical centers (such as Śrīkhaṇḍa and Bānkurā), and noteworthy groups (such as the Mahāntas).

  • Das, Haridas. Śrī Śrī Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Abhidhāna. 4 vols. Navadvipa, India: Haribol Kuṭīr, 1976.

    The definitive encyclopedia of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, over 2,000 pages in length, in Bengali. Includes definitions of technical terms in Sanskrit, Bengali, Brajbhāṣa, Oriya, and other languages; content summaries of nearly all published and unpublished primary literature; biographies of authors, gurus, and other historical figures; and descriptions of pilgrimage places and festivals.

  • De, Sushil Kumar. Early History of the Vaiṣṇava Faith and Movement in Bengal. 2d ed. Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1942.

    A detailed survey of the Caitanya Movement up to the six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndavana, using textual sources. Includes a study of Caitanya’s biographies and summaries of most writings of Caitanya’s early followers. While De’s conclusions regarding the texts’ philosophical implications and poetic merit are debatable, the book serves as an immensely useful trove of information on the tradition’s primary literature.

  • Kennedy, Melville T. The Chaitanya Movement: A Study of Vaishnavism in Bengal. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1993.

    One of the earliest Western studies of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, beginning with a biography of Caitanya and concluding with an interesting comparison of the Caitanya movement with Christianity. Organizes the modern tradition into four “orders”—the Gosvāmīs, householders, renunciates, and caste renunciates. Originally published in 1925.

  • Majumdar, Asoke Kumar. Caitanya, His Life and Doctrine: A Study in Vaiṣṇavism. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1969.

    A well-written biography of Caitanya drawn from a wide range of primary sources. Appendices offer critical-historical analysis of key events, such as the encounter with the Kazi, conversion of Vāsudeva Sārvabhauma, and meeting with Vallabha.

  • Sen, Sukumar. Bāṅglā Sāhityer Itihās. 3 vols. Calcutta: Eastern, 1963.

    Classic survey (in Bengali) of Bengali literature by the doyen of the subject. Three volumes (the first in two parts) cover from beginnings to 1941, with Volume 1 providing a thorough overview of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava literature. Includes indices and black-and-white illustrations. Published in multiple revised editions from 1940 on.

  • Valpey, Kenneth R. “Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 3. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 312–328. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011.

    An overview of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism’s historical development, literary contributions, theological articulations, and social practices, including recent developments.

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