Devotional Traditions and National Culture: Recovering Gaudiya Vaishnavism in Colonial Bengal

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BiblioBazaar, 2011 - 412 pages
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This dissertation examines the historical processes and conceptual concerns behind a systematic effort made by a class of educated Bengalis in the late nineteenth-century to salvage, preserve, and institutionalize Gaudiya Vaishnavism---a devotional tradition that developed around the figure of fifteenth/sixteenth century Krishna-devotee from Bengal, Chaitanya. I approach this project undertaken by a section of Bengali Bhadralok through the conceptual optic of recovery. Recovery allows me to revisit the relationship between religion and modernity in South Asian contexts whereby the simultaneous constitution of both can be kept in mind while analyzing multiple registers of religious modernities. The elaboration of the processes of Vaishnava recovery is organized in my study around the careers of two pivotal figures, each a prominent Bengali and Vaishnava intellectual of the late nineteenth century: Kedarnath Dutta (1838--1914) and Sishir Kumar Ghosh (1840--1911). Through the endeavors of these two remarkable men in reinterpreting and protecting Vaishnava texts, sites, figures, festivals, and practices, I critically interrogate the process of Vaishnava recovery to find that much of it was posited against articulations of loss that imbricated colonial modernity, reformed religiosity, and western mode of education as its primary causes. I argue that their common concern regarding Vaishnavism must not make us overlook the substantial divergences in their approaches to Bengali Vaishnava traditions, nor the very different kinds of Vaishnavism that each wished to recover. In the process, Gaudiya Vaishnavism was recast its specifically modern form---as a devotional, monotheistic, and Sanskritic religious tradition based upon a dense theological system; and as an integral and formative constituent of Bengali culture---its history, literature, music, folk traditions, and social movements.

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