In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Primary Sources
  • Bhaktisiddhānta’s Father, Bhaktivinoda
  • Colonial Bengal and Modernity
  • Hagiographies and Biographies
  • Bhaktisiddhānta’s Teachings
  • Bhaktisiddhānta’s Journals
  • Society and Caste
  • Gaudiya Math and Mission
  • Venture West: England and Germany
  • Bhaktisiddhānta’s Disciple, Bhaktivedānta Swami
  • ISKCON (the Hare Krishna Movement)
  • Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism: Criticisms and Controversies
  • Caitanya’s Life, Teachings, and Movement
  • Devotional Songs within the Vaiṣṇava Tradition

Hinduism Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī
Ferdinando Sardella
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0259


Swami Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Prabhupāda (b. 1874–d. 1937) was a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava guru and preceptor of the Bengali school of Kṛṣṇa Caitanya (1486–1534). He was born as Bimalā Prasāda Dutta in the city of Jagannath Puri (located in present day Odisha). Over the course of his life he managed to build an influential religious institution, the Gaudiya Math (1920) and the Gaudiya Mission (1919), which strove to respond to the social, political, and religious challenges of India’s late colonial period. Bhaktisiddhānta’s institution gradually reached an international platform, with centers in Rangoon, London, and Berlin. Later, through offshoots such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement, Bhaktisiddhānta’s mission spread to most parts of the world, giving new momentum to Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism in Bengal, and it is now a well-established feature of the unfolding layers of modern global Hinduism. Following the work of his father, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, a colonial judge and Vaiṣṇava writer, Bhaktisiddhānta published a large number of philosophical texts and journals, all of which were highly complex and detailed. Scholars have researched his contribution to the fields of sociology and religion, particularly with respect to colonial Bengal’s social and intellectual elite. Most of Bhaktisiddhānta’s published works and journals were written in the Bengali language, although some were written in English as well; several of these texts will be mentioned in this article. The global spread of Bhaktisiddhānta’s teachings in English, largely through disciples like Swami Bhaktivedānta, gradually enabled Western academics to gain access to his thought. The Journal of Vaishnava Studies is an example of one such English-language publication. Between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Vivekānanda (b. 1863–d. 1902), a contemporary of Bhaktisiddhānta, was responsible for popularizing the philosophies of Vedānta and Yoga in the West. Bhaktisiddhānta’s institution followed a similar pattern, the difference being that it was based on the philosophy, traditions, and practices of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), founded in New York in 1966 by his disciple, Swami A. C. Bhaktivedānta, enabled Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism to be spread throughout the world. Today a number of independent institutions have followed ISKCON’s example in contributing to the global spread of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition.

General Overview

Serious scholarship on Bhaktisiddhānta began in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Various publications have addressed both his life history and the contribution of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism to the study of religion, theology, philosophy, and sociology. Sardella 2013, the first academic biography on Bhaktisiddhānta, focuses not only on his life, but also on his teachings as well as the historical and sociological context in which he lived and thrived. Chakrabarty 1985 discusses the development of Vaiṣṇavism in Bengal from the fifteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century, while Ray 1965, Rosen 1992, and Journal of Vaishnava Studies discuss sociohistorical and philosophical topics related to the Gauḍīya tradition as well as contemporary religious movements in Bengal. Dāsa 1976, a multivolume work, provides a lexicography of Vaiṣṇava terms, biographies of prominent historical figures, and geographical information about important locations, among other material. Because the amount of English-language scholarship on Bhaktisiddhānta is still somewhat limited, this article provides a number of primary Bengali sources as well; most of this material currently can be found on the Internet Archive.

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

    This voluminous work discusses the history of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism in Bengal from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, with the final chapter dealing with the tradition’s revival during the latter half of the nineteenth century. It provides a survey of the period before Caitanya, a detailed account of Caitanya and his followers, and includes chapters on 19th-century Bengali dramas, on the Bengali Renaissance, and on Bhaktivinoda, Bhaktisiddhānta’s father.

  • Dāsa, Haridāsa. Śrī Śrī Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Abhidhāna. 4 vols. Navadvipa, India: Haribol Kuṭīr, 1976.

    A definitive, highly comprehensive 2,000-page encyclopedia of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism that includes definitions of technical terms in Sanskrit, Bengali, Brajabhāṣa, Odia, and other languages. The encyclopedia also provides summaries of nearly all published and unpublished texts, biographies of prominent Vaiṣṇava authors, gurus and other historical figures, and descriptions of pilgrimage places and festivals. The encyclopedia is written in Bengali.

  • Journal of Vaishnava Studies. 1992–.

    The Journal of Vaishnava Studies (JVS) is the only English-language quarterly outside India that is devoted to Vaiṣṇava traditions. It began in 1992 as a small scholarly enterprise and has since blossomed into one of Hinduism’s most known academic journals. While the journal covers India’s various Vaiṣṇava lineages, it particularly includes articles on numerous aspects of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition.

  • O’Connell, Joseph T., and Rembert Lutjeharms. Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism in Bengal: Social Impact and Historical Implications. London: Routledge, 2019.

    Focusing largely on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, during Mughal rule, this book provides a detailed study of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism in precolonial and colonial Bengal. Divided into two parts, the book analyzes the articulation of this Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa devotional tradition within Bengal’s Hindu sector as well as its contribution to the softening of Bengal’s potentially alienating sociocultural divisions of class, caste, and sect.

  • Ray, Benoy Gopal. Religious Movements in Modern Bengal. Santiniketan: Visva Bharati Research Publications, 1965.

    This book offers an account of modern Bengal’s various religious movements and organizations since the time of Ram Mohan Roy, meaning from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries. Large religious movements like the Brahmo Samaj and the Ramakrishna Mission are discussed as well as less influential religious organizations, such as the Arunchala Mission, the Saraswat Samaj and the Yogada Sat Sahga; the Caitanya Vaiṣṇava movement is discussed as well.

  • Rosen, Steven J., ed. Vaiṣṇavism: Contemporary Scholars Discuss the Gauḍīya Tradition. New York: Folk Books, 1992.

    This book consists of a series of animated interviews with twenty-five distinguished academics that provide unique insight into the literature, theology, practices, and historical development of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. The interviews cover subjects such as the nature of the Absolute, devotional poetry, sacred space, mystical states, and sonic theology, thus bringing to light the philosophical depth and transcendent beauty of this East Indian tradition.

  • Sardella, Ferdinando. Modern Hindu Personalism: The History, Life and Thought of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    This book represents the first academic exploration of Bhaktisiddhānta’s life, teachings, and accomplishments. It examines Bhaktisiddhānta’s background, motivation, and thought, particularly as it relates to his establishment of a modern traditionalist institution for the successful revival of Caitanya Vaiṣṇava bhakti during the first half of the twentieth century. The book places Bhaktisiddhānta within the historical framework of modern Hinduism, comparing his contribution to that of important figures like Swami Vivekānanda.

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