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Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati (Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī; Bengali:
ʃɔrɔʃbɔti] ( listen); 6 February 1874 – 1 January
1937), born Bimala Prasad Datta (Bimalā Prasād Datta,
Bengali: [bimɔla prɔʃad d̪ɔt̪t̪o]), also referred to as
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, was a prominent guru and spiritual
Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the early 20th century in India.
Bimala Prasad was born in 1874 in
Puri (Orissa) a son of Kedarnath
Datta Bhaktivinoda Thakur, a recognised Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava
philosopher and teacher. Bimala Prasad received both Western and
traditional Indian education and gradually established himself as a
leading intellectual among the bhadralok (Western-educated and often
Hindu Bengali residents of colonial Calcutta), earning the title
Siddhanta Sarasvati ("the pinnacle of wisdom"). Under the direction of
his father and spiritual preceptor, Bimala Prasad took initiation
Gaudiya Vaishnavism from the
Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji, receiving the name Shri
Varshabhanavi-devi-dayita Dasa (Śrī Vārṣabhānavī-devī-dayita
Dāsa, "servant of Krishna, the beloved of Radha"), and dedicated
himself to arduous ascetic discipline, recitation of the Hare Krishna
mantra on beads (japa), and study of classical
After the deaths of his father and his guru, in 1918 Bimala Prasad
accepted the Hindu formal order of asceticism (sannyasa), becoming
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami. In the same year
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati inaugurated in Calcutta the first center of
his institution, later known as the Gaudiya Math. It soon developed
into a dynamic missionary and educational institution with sixty-four
branches across India and three centres abroad (in Burma, Germany, and
England). The Math propagated the teachings of
Gaudiya Vaishnavism by
means of daily, weekly, and monthly periodicals, books of the
Vaishnava canon, and public programs as well as through such
innovations as "theistic exhibitions" with dioramas. Known for his
intense and outspoken oratory and writing style as the
"acharya-keshari" ("lion guru"). Bhaktisiddhanta opposed the monistic
interpretation of Hinduism, or advaita, that had emerged as the
prevalent strand of Hindu thought in India, seeking to establish
traditional personalist krishna-bhakti as its fulfilment and higher
synthesis. At the same time, through lecturing and writing,
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati targeted both the ritualistic casteism of
smarta brahmanas and sensualised practices of numerous Gaudiya
Vaishavism spin-offs, branding them as apasampradayas – deviations
from the original
Gaudiya Vaishnavism taught in the 16th century by
Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his close successors.
The mission initiated by Bhaktivinoda and developed by Bhaktisiddhanta
emerged as "the most powerful reformist movement" of
Bengal of the 19th and early 20th century. However, after the demise
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in 1937, the
Gaudiya Math became tangled
by internal dissent, and the united mission in India was effectively
fragmented. Over decades, the movement regained its momentum. In 1966
its offshoot, the International Society for
(ISKCON), was founded by Bhaktisiddhanta's disciple Bhaktivedanta
Swami in New York City and spearheaded the spread of Gaudiya Vaisnava
teachings and practice globally. The Bhaktisiddhanta's branch of
Gaudiya Vaishnavism presently counts over 500,000 adherents worldwide,
with its public profile far exceeding the size of its constituency.
1 Early period (1874–1900): Student
1.1 Birth and childhood
2 Middle period (1901–1918): Ascetic
2.1 Religious practice
2.2 Brahmanas vs. Vaishnavas
3 Later period (1918–1937): Missionary
Sannyasa and Gaudiya Math
3.2 Caste and untouchability
3.3 Love vs. renunciation
Gaudiya Math in Europe
4 Literary works
5 Crises of succession
9 External links
Early period (1874–1900): Student
See also: Kedarnath Datta
Birth and childhood
Kedarnath Datta (1838–1914), the father of Bhaktisiddhanta
(right) Bhagavati Devi (−1920), the mother of Bhaktisiddhanta
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was born Bimala Prasad at 3:30 pm on 6
February 1874 in
Puri – a town in the Indian state of Orissa famous
for its ancient temple of Jagannath. The place of his birth was a
house his parents rented from a Calcutta businessman Ramacandra Arhya,
situated a few hundred meters away from the
Jagannath temple on Puri's
Grand Road, the traditional venue for the renowned Hindu Ratha-yatra
Bimala Prasad was the seventh of fourteen children of his father
Kedarnath Datta and mother Bhagavati Devi, devout Vaishnavas of the
Bengali kayastha community.[a] At that time Kedarnath Datta
worked as a deputy magistrate and deputy collector, and spent most
of his off-hours studying
Sanskrit and the theistic Bhagavata Purana
text (also known as the Shrimad Bhagavatam) under the guidance of
local pandits. He researched, translated, and published Gaudiya
Vaishnava literature as well as wrote his own works on Vaishnava
theology and practice in Bengali, Sanskrit, and English.
The birth of Bimala Prasad concurred with the rising influence of the
bhadralok community, literally "gentle or respectable people", a
privileged class of Bengalis, largely Hindus, who served the British
administration in occupations requiring Western education, and
proficiency in English and other languages. Exposed to and
influenced by the Western values of the British, including their
condescending attitude towards cultural and religious traditions of
India, the bhadralok themselves started questioning and reassessing
the tenets of their own religion and customs. Their attempts to
rationalise and modernise
Hinduism to reconcile it with the Western
outlook eventually gave rise to a historical period called the Bengali
renaissance, championed by such prominent reformists as Rammohan Roy
Swami Vivekananda. This trend gradually led to a
widespread perception, both in India and in the West, of modern
Hinduism as being equivalent to Advaita Vedanta, a conception of the
divine as devoid of form and individuality that was hailed by its
proponents as the "perennial philosophy" and "the mother of
religions". As a result, the other schools of Hinduism, including
bhakti, were gradually relegated in the minds of the Bengali Hindu
middle-class to obscurity, and were often seen as a "reactionary and
fossilized jumble of empty rituals and idolatrous practices."
Kedarnath Datta's family ca.1900
From left to right:
Back row: Bimala Prasad, Barada Prasad, Kedarnath Datta, Krishna
Vinodini, Kadambini, and Bhagavati Devi (seated).
Second row: Kamala Prasad, Shailaja Prasad, unknown grandchild, and
Front row: two unknown grandchildren.
At the same time, nationalistic ferments in Calcutta, the then capital
British Empire in South Asia, social instability in Bengal,
coupled with British influence through Christian and Victorian
sensibilities contributed to a portrayal of the hitherto popular
worship of Radha-
Caitanya Mahaprabhu as irrelevant and
deeply immoral. The growing public disapproval of Gaudiya
Vaishnavism was aggravated by the prevalently lower social status of
local Gaudiya Vaishnavas, as well as by erotic practices of tantrics
such as the sahajiyas, who claimed close affiliation with the
mainstream Gaudiya school. These negative perceptions led to the
slow decline of
Vaishnava culture and pilgrimage sites in
as Nabadwip, the birthplace of Caitanya.
To avert the decay of
Bengal and the spread of
nondualism among the bhadralok,
Vaishnava intellectuals of the time
formed a new religious current led by
Sisir Kumar Ghosh (1840–1911)
and his brothers. In 1868 the Ghosh brothers launched the
Amrita Bazar Patrika
Amrita Bazar Patrika that pioneered as one of the most
popular patriotic English-medium newspapers in India and "kept
Vaishnavism alive among the middle class".
The father of Bimala Prasad, Kedarnath Datta, was also a prominent
member of this circle among Gaudiya
Vaishnava intelligentsia and
played a significant role in their attempts to revive
Vaishnavism. (His literary and spiritual achievements later
earned him the honorific title Bhaktivinoda).
After being posted in 1869 to
Puri as a deputy magistrate,
Kedarnatha Datta felt he needed assistance in his attempts to promote
the cause Gaudiya Vaisnavism in India and abroad. A hagiographic
account has it that one night the Deity of
Jagannath personally spoke
to Kedarnath in a dream: "I didn't bring you to
Puri to execute legal
matters, but to establish
Vaishnava siddhanta." Kedarnath replied,
"Your teachings have been significantly [sic] depreciated, and I lack
the power to restore them. Much of my life has passed and I am
otherwise engaged, so please send somebody from Your personal staff so
that I can start this movement".
Jagannath then requested Kedarnath to
pray for an assistant to the image of the Goddess Bimala Devi
worshiped in the
Jagannath temple. When his wife gave birth to a
new child, Kedarnath linked the event to the divinatory dream and
named his son Bimala Prasad ('"the mercy of Bimala Devi"). The
same account mentions that at his birth, the child's umbilical cord
was looped around his body like a sacred brahmana thread (upavita)
that left a permanent mark on the skin, as if foretelling his future
role as religious leader.
Young Bimala Prasad, often affectionately called Bimala, Bimu or
Binu, started his formal education at an English school at
Ranaghat. In 1881 he was transferred to the
Oriental Seminary of
Calcutta and in 1883, after Kedarnath was posted as senior deputy
Serampore of Hooghly, Bimala Prasad was enrolled in the
local school there. At the age of nine he memorised the seven
hundred verses of the
Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit. From his early
childhood Bimala Prasad demonstrated a sense of strict moral
behaviour, a sharp intelligence, and an eidetic memory. He
gained a reputation for remembering passages from a book on a single
reading, and soon learned enough to compose his own poetry in
Sanskrit. His biographers stated that even up to his last days
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati could verbatim recall passages from books
that he had read in his childhood, earning the epithet "living
Bimala Prasad (1881)
In the early 1880s, Kedarnath Datta, out of desire to foster the
child's budding interest in spirituality, initiated him into
harinama-japa, a traditional Gaudiya
Vaishnava practice of meditation
based on the soft recitation of the Hare
Krishna mantra on tulasi
Kedarnath Datta established the Vishva
Vaishnava Raj Sabha
(Royal World Vaiṣṇava Association); the association composed of
leading Bengali Vaishnavas stimulated Bimala's intellectual and
spiritual growth and inspired him to undertake an in-depth study of
Vaishnava texts, both classical and contemporary. Bimala's interest
Vaishnava philosophy was further fuelled by the Vaishnava
Depository, a library and a printing press established by Kedarnath
Datta (by that time respectfully addressed as Bhaktivinoda Thakur) at
his own house for systematically presenting Gaudiya Vaishnavism. In
1886 Bhaktivinoda began publishing a monthly magazine in Bengali,
Sajjana-toshani ("The source of pleasure for devotees"), where he
published his own writings of the history and philosophy of Gaudiya
Vaishnavism, along with book reviews, poetry, and novels.
Twelve-year-old Bimala Prasad assisted his father as a proofreader,
thus closely acquainting himself with the art of printing and
publishing as well as with the intellectual discourses of the
In 1887 Bimala Prasad joined the Calcutta Metropolitan Institution
(from 1917 – Vidyasagar College), which provided substantial modern
education to the bhadralok youth; there, while studying the compulsory
subjects, he pursued extracurricular studies of Sanskrit, mathematics,
and jyotisha (traditional Indian astronomy). His proficiency in
the latter was soon recognised by his tutors with an honorary title
"Siddhanta Sarasvati", which he adopted as his pen name from then
on. Sarasvati then entered
Sanskrit College, one of Calcutta's
finest schools for classical Hindu learning, where he added Indian
philosophy and ancient history to his study list.
Bimala Prasad as a student, early 1890s
In 1895 Siddhanta Sarasvati decided to discontinue his studies at
Sanskrit College due to a dispute about the astronomical calculations
of the principal, Mahesh Chandra Nyayratna. A good friend of his
father, the King of
Tripura Bir Chandra Manikya, offered Sarasvati a
position as secretary and historian at the royal court, which
afforded him enough financial independence for pursuing his studies
independently. Taking advantage of his access to the royal library,
he pored over both Indian and Western works of history, philosophy,
and religion, and started his own astronomy school in Calcutta.
After the king died in 1896, his heir
Radha Kishore Manikya requested
Sarasvati to tutor the princes at the palace and offered him full
pension, which Siddhanta Sarsvati accepted till 1908.
Although equipped with an excellent modern and traditional education,
and with an enviable social status among the intellectual and
political elite of Calcutta and
Tripura along with the resources that
it had brought, Siddhanta Sarasvati nonetheless began to question his
choices at a stage that many would regard as the epitome of
success. His soul-searching led him to quit the comforts of his
bhadralok lifestyle and search for an ascetic spiritual teacher.
On Bhaktivinoda's direction, he approached Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji, a
Vaishnava who regularly visited Bhaktivinoda's house and was
renowned for his asceticism and bhakti. In January 1901, according
to his own testimony, Siddhanta Sarasvati accepted the Babaji as his
guru.[b] According to the
Vaishnava tradition, along with his
initiation (diksha) he received a new name, Shri
Varshabhanavi-devi-dayita Dasa (Śrī Vārṣabhānavī-devī-dayita
Dāsa, "servant of Krishna, the beloved of Radha"), which he adopted
until new titles were conferred upon him.
Middle period (1901–1918): Ascetic
Gaurakisora Dasa Babaji, the guru of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati,
The encounter with and initiation from Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji, an
illiterate yet highly respected personality, had a transformational
effect on Siddhanta Sarasvati. Later, reflecting on his first
meeting with the guru,
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati recalled:
It was by providential dispensation that I was able fully to
understand the language and practical side of devotion after I had met
the practicing master [Gaura Kishora Das Babaji]....No education could
have prepared me for the good fortune of understanding my master's
attitude....Before I met him my impression was that the writings of
the devotional school could not be fully realised in a practical life
in this world. My study of my master, and then the study of the books,
along with the explanations by Thakura Bhaktivinoda [Bhaktisiddhanta's
father Kedarnatha Datta], gave me ample facility to advance toward
true spiritual life. Before I met my master, I had not written
anything about real religion. Up to that time, my idea of religion was
confined to books and to a strict ethical life, but that sort of life
was found imperfect unless I came in touch with the practical side of
After receiving initiation, Siddhanta Sarasvati went on a pilgrimage
of India's holy places. He first stayed for a year in
and in 1904 travelled to South India, where he explored various
branches of Hinduism, in particular the ancient and vibrant Vaishnava
Shri and Madhva sampradayas, collecting materials for a new Vaishnava
encyclopaedia. He finally settled in
Mayapur 130 km north
of Calcutta, where Bhaktivinoda had acquired a plot of land at the
place at which, according to his research,
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was
born in 1486. At that time, Bhaktivinoda added the prefix "bhakti"
(meaning "devotion") to Siddhanta Sarasvati, acknowledging his
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati during his vow to chant one billion names of
Krishna. Mayapur, ca.1905
Starting from 1905,
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati began to deliver public
discourses on the philosophy and practice of Chaitanya Vaishnavism,
gathering a following of educated young Bengalis, some of whom became
his students. While assisting Bhaktivinoda in his developing
project in Mayapur, Bhaktisiddhanta vowed to recite one billion names
Radha (Hara) and
Krishna – which took nearly ten years to
complete – thus committing himself to the lifelong practice of
meditation on the Hare
Krishna mantra taught to him first by his
father and then by his guru. The aural meditation on Krishna's
names done either individually (japa) or collectively (kirtana) became
a pivotal theme in Bhaktisiddhanta's teachings and personal
Brahmanas vs. Vaishnavas
While not feeling in any way "inferior" due to his birth in a
comparatively lower kayastha family, Bhaktisiddhanta soon faced
opposition from the orthodox brahmanas of Nabadwip, who maintained
that birth in a brahminical family was a necessary criterion for
worshiping the images and deities of Vishnu. Refusing to submit to
caste hierarchies and hereditary rights, instead Bhaktisiddhanta tried
to align religious competence with personal character and religious
A defining moment of this brewing confrontation came on 8 September
1911, when Bhaktisiddhanta was invited to a conference in Balighai,
Midnapore, that gathered Vaishnavas from
Bengal and beyond to debate
the eligibility of the brahmanas and that of the Vaishnavas. The
debate was centred on two issues: whether those born as non-brahmanas
but initiated into
Vaishnavism were eligible to worship a shalagram
shila (a sacred stone representing Vishnu,
Krishna or other deities),
and whether they could give initiation in the sacred mantras of the
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati accepted the invitation and presented a
paper, Brāhmaṇa o Vaiṣṇava (
Brahmana and Vaishnava), later
published in an extended form. This became to be the first detailed
exposition of Bhaktisiddhanta's thought in this matter that would lay
the foundation of his forthcoming
Gaudiya Math mission. After
praising the important position that brahmanas hold as repositories of
spiritual and ritual knowledge, Bhaktisiddhanta used textual
references to assert that Vaishnavas should be respected even more due
to their devotional practice, thus contradicting the claims of the
hereditary brahmanas present at the conference. He described the
varnashrama and its concomitant rituals of purity (samskara) as
beneficial for the individual, but also as currently plagued by
Although the debate at Balighai apparently turned into
Bhaktisiddhanta's triumph, it sowed the seed of a bitter rivalry
between the brahmana community of
Nabadwip and the
Gaudiya Math that
lasted throughout Bhaktisiddhanta's life and even threatened it on a
One of the last photographs of
Bhaktivinoda Thakur (ca.1910)
Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji on several occasions dissuaded
Bhaktisiddhanta from visiting Calcutta, referring to the large
imperial city as "the universe of Kali" (kalira brahmanda) – a
standard understanding among
Vaishnava ascetics. However, in 1913
Bhaktisiddhanta established a printing press in Calcutta, and called
it bhagavat-yantra ("God's machine") and began to publish medieval
Vaishnava texts in Bengali, such as the
Chaitanya Charitamrita by
Krishnadasa Kaviraja, supplemented with his own commentary. This
marked Bhaktisiddhanta's commitment to leave no modern facilities
unused in the propagation of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, and his new focus on
printing and distributing religious literature. Bhaktisiddhanta's
new determination stemmed from an instruction that he received in 1910
from Bhaktivinoda in a personal letter:
Sarasvati! ...Because pure devotional conclusions are not being
preached, all kinds of superstitions and bad concepts are being called
devotion by such pseudo-sampradayas as sahajiya and atibari. Please
always crush these anti-devotional concepts by preaching pure
devotional conclusions and by setting an example through your personal
conduct. ...Please try very hard to make sure that the service to Sri
Mayapur will become a permanent thing and will become brighter and
brighter every day. The real service to Sri
Mayapur can be done by
acquiring printing presses, distributing devotional books, and
sankirtan – preaching. Please do not neglect to serve Sri
to preach for the sake of your own reclusive bhajan. ...I had a
special desire to preach the significance of such books as Srimad
Bhagavatam, Sat Sandarbha, and
Vedanta Darshan. You have to accept
that responsibility. Sri
Mayapur will prosper if you establish an
educational institution there. Never make any effort to collect
knowledge or money for your own enjoyment. Only to serve the Lord will
you collect these things. Never engage in bad association, either for
money or for some self-interest.[d]
After the demise of his father Bhaktivinoda on 23 June 1914,
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati relocated his Calcutta press to
then to nearby Krishnanagar in the Nadia district. From there he
continued publishing Bhaktivinoda's Sajjana-toshani, and completed the
publication of Chaitanya Charitamrita. Soon after, his guru
Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji also died. Without these two key sources of
inspiration, and with the majority of Bhaktivinoda's followers being
married and thus unable to pursue a strong missionary commitment,
Bhaktisiddhanta found himself nearly alone with a mission that seemed
far beyond his means. When a disciple suggested that
Bhaktisiddhanta relocate to Calcutta to establish a center there, he
was inspired by the suggestion and began preparing for its
Later period (1918–1937): Missionary
Main article: Gaudiya Math
The death of Bhaktivinoda and Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji left
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati with the burden of responsibility for their
mission of reviving and safeguarding the Chaitanya tradition as they
envisioned it. An uncompromising and even belligerent advocate of
his spiritual predecessors' teachings, Bhaktisiddhanta saw battles to
be fought on many fronts: the smarta-brahmanas with their claims of
exclusive hereditary eligibility as priests and gurus; the advaitins
dismissing the form and personhood of
God as material and external to
the essence of the divine; professional Bhagavatam reciters exploiting
the text sacred to Gaudiya Vaishnavas as a family business; the
Vaishnava sahajiyas and other Gaudiya spin-offs with their
sensualised, profaned imitations of bhakti; and babajis professing to
be ascetic renunciates but secretly indulging in erotic pleasures.
Relentless and uncompromising oratory and written critique of what, in
Bhaktisiddhanta's words, was a contemporary religious "society of
cheaters and the cheated" became the underlying tone of his
missionary efforts, not only earning him the title "acharya-keshari"
("lion guru"), but also awakening suspicion, fear, and at times
hate among his opponents.
Sannyasa and Gaudiya Math
Goswami two days after taking sannyasa.
29 March 1918
Deliberating on how to best conduct the mission in the future, he felt
that the example of the South Indian orders of sannyasa (monasticism),
the most prestigious spiritual order in Hinduism, would be needed in
the Chaitanya tradition as well to increase its respectability and to
openly institutionalise asceticism as compatible with bhakti. On
27 March 1918, before leaving for Calcutta, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati
resolved to become the first sannyasi of his mission, inaugurating a
Vaishnava monastic order. Since there was no other Gaudiya
Vaishnava sannyasi to initiate him into the renounced order, he
controversially sat down before a picture of his guru Gaurakishora
Dasa Babaji and conferred the order upon himself. From that day
on, he adopted both the dress and the life of a
with the name
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami.
In December 1918 Bhaktisiddhanta inaugurated his first center called
"Calcutta Bhaktivinoda Asana" at 1, Ultadinghee Junction Road in North
Calcutta, renamed in 1920 as "Shri Gaudiya Math". Amrita Bazar
Patrika's coverage of the opening states that "[h]ere ardent seekers
after truth are received and listened to and solutions to their
questions are advanced from a most reasonable and liberal standpoint
of view." Bhaktivinoda Asana provided its students with
accommodation, training in self-discipling and intense spiritual
practice, as well as systematic long-term education in various
Vaishnava texts such as the
Shrimad Bhagavatam and Vaishnava
Vedanta. It would become a template for sixty-four Gaudiya Math
centres in India and three abroad, in London (England), Berlin
Rangoon (Burma), which Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati
established during his lifetime.
Registered on 5 February 1919, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's missionary
movement was initially called Vishva
Vaishnava Raj Sabha, in the name
of the society founded by Bhaktivinoda. However, it soon became
eponymously known as the
Gaudiya Math after the Calcutta branch and
his weekly Bengali magazine Gaudiya. The
Gaudiya Math rapidly
gained a reputation as an outspoken voice on religious, philosophical
and social issues via its wide range of periodical publications,
targeting educated audiences in English, Bengali, Assamese, Odia, and
Hindi. These publications included a daily Bengali newspaper Nadiya
Prakash, a weekly magazine Gaudiya, and a monthly magazine in English
Sanskrit The Harmonist (Shri Sajjana-toshani). The
intellectual and philosophical appeal of the
Gaudiya Math outreach
programs garnered particularly eager response in urban areas, where
wealthy supporters started contributing generously towards the
construction of new temples and large "theistic exhibitions" –
public expositions on the Gaudiya
Vaishnava philosophy by means of
displays and dioramas.
Caste and untouchability
Bhaktisiddhanta with his disciples performing public kirtana outside
Shri Bhaktivinoda Asana, Calcutta, ca. 1930
Gaudiya Math core leadership consisted mainly of educated Bengalis
and eighteen sannyasis who were sent off to pioneer the movement
in new places in India, and later, in Europe. Its growing ashrama
residents hub, however, represented a wide cross-section of the Indian
society, with disciples from both educated urban and simple rural
milieus. Householder disciples and sympathizers supported the
temples with funds, food, and volunteer labour. The Gaudiya Math
centres paid serious attention to the individual discipline of their
residents, including mandatory ascetic vows and daily practice of
devotion (bhakti) centred on individual recitation (japa) and public
singing (kirtan) of Krishna's names, regular study of philosophical
and devotional texts (svadhyaya), traditional worship of temple images
Krishna and Chaitanya (archana) as well as attendance at lectures
and seminars (shravanam).
A deliberate disregard of social background as a criterion for
religious eligibility marked a sharp departure in Bhaktisiddhanta's
movement from customary Hindu caste restrictions. Bhaktisiddhanta
spelled out his views, which appeared to be modern yet were firmly
rooted in the early bhakti literature of the Chaitanya school, in an
essay called "Gandhiji's Ten Questions" published in The Harmonist in
January 1933. In the essay he replied to questions posed by
Mahatma Gandhi, who in December 1932 challenged India's leading
orthodox Hindu organisations on the practice of untouchability. In
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati defined untouchables as those
inimical to the concept of serving God, rather than those hailing from
the lowest social or hereditary background. He argued that Vishnu
temples should be open to everyone, but particularly to those who
possessed a favourable attitude toward the divine and were willing to
undergo a process of spiritual training. He further stated that
untouchability had a cultural and historical underpinning rather than
a religious one, and as such, Gandhi's questions referred to a secular
issue, not a religious one. As an alternative to the secular concept
of "Hindu" and its social implications, Bhaktisiddhanta suggested an
ethic of "unconditional reverence for all entities by the realization
and exclusive practice of the whole-time service of the Absolute".
By this he stressed that the practice of bhakti, or divine love, and
God as the supreme person demanded moral responsibility
towards all other beings who, according to Chaitanya school, are
eternal metaphysical entities – minute in relation to
qualitatively equal to one another.
Love vs. renunciation
Bhaktisiddhanta in a car, ca.1930
While emphasising the innate spirituality of all beings,
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati strongly objected to representations of the
sacred love between
Radha and Krishna, described in the Bhagavatam and
Vaishnava texts, as erotic, which permeated the popular culture
Bengal in art, theatre, and folk songs. He stated that the
sacred concept of love cherished by Gaudiya Vaishnavas was being
profaned due to a lacking in philosophical understanding and proper
guidance. He repeatedly critiqued such popular communities in Bengal
as the sahajiyas, who presented their sexual practices as a path of
Krishna bhakti, denouncing them as pseudo-Vaishanas.
Bhaktisiddhanta argued instead that the path to spiritual growth was
not through what he described as sensual gratification, but through
the practice of chastity, humility, and service.
At the same time, Bhaktisiddhanta's approach to the material world was
far from being escapist. Rather than shunning all connections with it,
he adopted the principle of yukta-vairagya – a term coined by
Rupa Gosvami meaning "renunciation by
engagement". This implied using any required object in the service of
the divine by renouncing the propensity to enjoy it.  On the
basis of this principle, Bhaktisiddhanta used the latest advancements
in technology, institutional building, communication, printing, and
transportation, while striving to carefully keep intact the
theological core of his personalist tradition. This hermeneutical
dynamism and spirit of adaptation employed by Bhaktisiddhanta became
an important element in the growth of the
Gaudiya Math and facilitated
its future global growth.
Gaudiya Math in Europe
Back in 1882, Bhaktivinoda stated in his Sajjana-toshani magazine a
coveted vision of universalism and brotherhood across borders and
When in England, France, Russia, Prussia, and America all fortunate
persons by taking up kholas [drums] and karatalas [cymbals] will take
the name of Shri
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu again and again in their own
countries, and raise the waves of sankirtana [congregational singing
of Krishna's names], when will that day come! Oh! When will the day
come when the white-skinned British people will speak the glory of
Shri Shachinandana [another name of Chaitanya] on one side and on the
other and with this call spread their arms to embrace devotees from
other countries in brotherhood, when will that day come! The day when
they will say "Oh, Aryan Brothers! We have taken refuge at the feet of
Chaitanya Deva in an ocean of love, now kindly embrace us," when will
that day come!
Bengal John Anderson with Bhaktisiddhanta at the Gaudiya
Math headquarters in Mayapur. 15 January 1935
Swami Bon and two German converts. Seated far right is
Abhay Charanaravinda. Calcutta, 18 September 1935
Bhaktivinoda did not stop short of making practical efforts to
implement his vision. In 1896 he published and sent to several
addressees in the West a book entitled Srimad-Gaurangalila-
Smaranamangala, or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, His life and Precepts[e] that
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as a champion of "universal brotherhood
and intellectual freedom":
Caitanya preaches equality of men ...universal fraternity amongst men
and special brotherhood amongst Vaishnavas, who are according to him,
the best pioneers of spiritual improvement. He preaches that human
thought should never be allowed to be shackled with sectarian
views....The religion preached by Mahaprabhu is universal and not
exclusive. The most learned and the most ignorant are both entitled to
embrace it. . . . The principle of kirtana invites, as the future
church of the world, all classes of men without distinction of caste
or clan to the highest cultivation of the spirit.
Bhaktivinoda adapted his message to the Western mind by borrowing
popular Christian expressions such as "universal fraternity",
"cultivation of the spirit", "preach", and "church" and deliberately
using them in a Hindu context. Copies of Shri Chaitanya, His Life
and Precepts were sent to Western scholars across the British Empire,
and landed, among others, in academic libraries at McGill University
in Montreal, at the
University of Sydney
University of Sydney in Australia and at the Royal
Asiatic Society of London. The book also made its way to prominent
scholars such as Oxford Sanskritist
Monier Monier-Williams and earned
a favourable review in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic
Bhaktisiddhanta inherited the vision of spreading the message of
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the West from his father Bhaktivinoda. The
same inspiration was also bequeathed to Bhaktisiddhanta as the last
will of his mother Bhagavati Devi prior to her deathin 1920. Thus,
from the early 1920s Bhaktisiddhanta began to plan is mission to
In 1927 he launched a periodical in English and requested British
officers to patronise his movement, which they gradually did,
culminating in an official visit by the Governor of
Anderson to Bhaktisiddhanta's headquarters in
Mayapur on 15 January
1935. Bhaktisiddhanta is reported to have kept a map of London,
pondering on ways of expanding his mission to new frontiers in the
West. After a long and careful preparation, on 20 July 1933 three
of Bhaktisiddhanta's senior disciples including
Bon arrived in London. As a result of their mission abroad, on
24 April 1934, Lord Zetland, the British secretary of state for India,
inaugurated the Gaudiya Mission Society in London and became its
president. This was followed a few months later by a center
Swami Bon in Berlin, Germany, from where he journeyed
to lecture and meet the German academic and political elite.
On 18 September 1935, the
Gaudiya Math and Calcutta dignitaries
offered a reception to two German converts, Ernst Georg Schulze and
Baron H.E. von Queth, who arrived along with
Bhaktisiddhanta's last will, 1936
Bhaktisiddhanta maintained that, if explained properly, the philosophy
and practice of
Vaishnavism would speak for itself, gradually
attracting intelligent and sensible people. However, despite
considerable financial investments and efforts, the success of the
Gaudiya Mission in the West remained limited to just a few people
interested to seriously practice Vaishnavism. The importance of
the Western venture prompted Bhaktisiddhanta to make the Western
mission the main theme of his final address at a gathering of
thousands of his disciples and followers at Champahati, Bengal, in
1936. In his address Bhaktisiddhanta restated the urgency and
importance of presenting Chaitanya's teachings in the Western
countries, despite all social, cultural, and financial challenges, and
told, "I have a prediction. However long in the future it may be, one
of my disciples will cross the ocean and bring back the entire
The deep international tensions globally building up in the late 1930s
made Bhaktisiddhanta more certain that solutions to the incumbent
problems of humanity were to be found primarily in the realm of
religion and spirituality, and not solely in the fields of science,
economy, and politics. On 3 December 1936, Bhaktisiddhanta
answered a letter from his disciple Abhay Caranaravinda De, who had
asked how he could best serve his guru's mission:
I am fully confident that you can explain in English our thoughts and
arguments to the people who are not conversant with the languages of
other members. This will do much good to yourself as well as your
audience. I have every hope that you can turn yourself [into] a very
good English preacher if you serve the mission to inculcate the novel
impression to the people in general and philosophers of [sic] modern
age and religiosity.
Shortly thereafter, on 1 January 1937,
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati died
at the age of 63.
For a complete list of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's literary works, see
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati bibliography
Crises of succession
Main articles: International Society for
Krishna Consciousness and
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Gaudiya Math mission, inspired by Bhaktivinoda and developed by
Bhaktisiddhanta, emerged as one of "the most powerful reformist
movements" of colonial
Bengal in the 19th and early 20th century.
In mission and scope it parallelled the efforts of
Ramakrishna Mission, and challenged modern advaita Vedanta
spirituality that had come to dominate the religious sensibilities of
the Hindu middle class in India and the way
Hinduism was understood in
the West. Rather than appointing a successor, Bhaktisiddhanta
Sarasvati instead instructed his leading disciples to jointly run the
mission in his absence, and expected that qualified leaders would
emerge naturally "on the strength of their personal merit".
However, weeks after his departure a crisis of succession broke out,
resulting in factions and legal infighting. The united mission was
first split into two separate institutions and later on was fragmented
into several smaller groups that began functioning and furthering the
Gaudiya Math movement, however, slowly regained its strength. In
1966 Abhay Caranararavinda De, now A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, founded
in New York City the International Society for
(ISKCON). Modeled after the original
Gaudiya Math and emulating
its emphasis on dynamic mission and spiritual practice,
Vaishnavism on a global scale, becoming a
world's leading proponent of Hindu bhakti personalism.
Today Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's
Gaudiya Math movement includes more
than forty independent institutions, hundreds of centres and more than
500,000 practitioners globally, with scholars acknowledging its public
profile as far exceeding the size of its constituency.
^ According to upper-class Hindu customs, in 1850 Kedarnath Datta, 11,
was married with Sayamani, 5. In 1860 Sayamani gave birth to
Kedarnath's first son, Annada Prasad, and died of illness shortly
thereafter. Kedarnath soon married Bhagavati Devi and had thirteen
children with her: (1) Saudamani, daughter (1864); (2) Kadambani,
daughter (1867); (3) son died early, name unknown (1868); (4) Radhika
Prasad, son (1870); (5) Kamala Prasad (1872); (6) Bimala Prasad, son
(1874); (7) Barada Prasad (1877); (8) Biraja, daughter, (1878); (9)
Lalita Prasad, son (1880); (10)
Krishna Vinodini, daughter (1884);
(11) Shyam Sarojini, daughter (1886); (12)
Hari Pramodini, daughter
(1888); (13) Shailaja Prasad, son (1891). This makes Bimala
Prasad the seventh child of Kedarnath and the sixth of Bhagavati.
^ While it is still being debated what kind of diksha – pancaratrika
(into a mantra) or bhagavata (into the name of Krishna) – did
Bhaktisiddhanta receive from Gaurakishora Dasa Bababji, there are
indications in his own writings that he received the Hare Krishna
mantra along with an instruction to chant it a certain number of times
^ There have been a few documented attempts on Bhaktisiddhanta
Sarasvati's life. On one such incident in 1925, when the attackers
ambushed Bhaktisiddhanta's party, his disciple Vinoda Vihari
volunteered to exchange clothes with him, allowing Bhaktisiddhanta a
safe escape. 
^ The original letter was never recovered; however, Bhaktisiddhanta
quoted these instructions by Bhaktivinoda, apparently considering them
as seminal for his mission, in a 1926 letter thus:
Persons who claim worldly prestige and futile glory fail to attain the
true position of nobleness, because they argue that Vaishnavas are
born in a low position as a result of [previous] sinful actions, which
means that they commit offences (aparadha). You should know that, as a
remedy, the practice of varnashrama, which you have recently taken up,
is a genuine
Vaishnava service (seva).
It is because of lack of promulgation of the pure conclusions of
bhakti (shuddha bhaktisiddhanta) that . . . among men and women of the
sahajiya groups, ativadis, and other lines (sampradaya) devious
practices are welcomed as bhakti. You should always critique those
views, which are opposed to the conclusions of the sacred texts, by
missionary work and sincere practice of the conclusions of bhakti.
Arrange to begin a pilgrimage (parikrama) in and around
soon as possible. Through this activity alone, anyone in the world may
Krishna bhakti. Take adequate care so that service in Mayapur
continues, and grows brighter day by day. Real seva in
Mayapur will be
possible by setting up a printing press, distributing bhakti
literature (bhakti-grantha), and nama-hatta (devotional centres for
the recitation of the sacred names of God), not by solitary practice
(bhajana). You should not hamper seva in
Mayapur and the mission
(pracara) by indulging in solitary bhajana.
When I shall not be here any more...[remember that] seva in
a highly revered service. Take special care of it; this is my special
instruction to you.
I had a sincere desire to draw attention to the significance of pure
(shuddha) bhakti through books such as Shrimad Bhagavatam,
Sat-sandarbha, Vedanta-darshana, etc. You should go on and take charge
of that task.
Mayapur will develop if a center of devotional learning
(vidyapitha) is created there.
Never bother to acquire knowledge or funds for your personal
consumption; collect them only for the purpose of serving the divine;
avoid bad company for the sake of money or self-interest.
^ The book was also published under slightly varied titles, such as
Shri Chaitanya, His Life and Precepts.
^ a b c Sardella 2013b, p. 55.
^ a b
Swami 2009, p. 1.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Sardella 2013a, p. 416.
^ Dasa 1999, p. 300.
Swami 2009, p. 6.
^ Dasa 1999, pp. 77, 298.
^ Dasa 1999, p. 78.
^ Sardella2013b, p. 17.
^ Sardella2013b, pp. 17–18.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 19.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 6.
^ a b c d Sardella 2013a, p. 415.
^ Ward 1998, pp. 35–36.
^ a b Ward 1998, p. 10.
^ Dasa 1999, p. 84.
^ Sardella 2013a, pp. 415–416.
^ a b Dasa 1999, p. 97.
^ Dasa 1999, p. 95.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 56.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 62.
Swami 2009, p. 5.
^ Bryant & Ekstrand 2004, p. 81.
Swami 2009, p. 9.
^ a b Sardella 2013b, pp. 64–65.
^ a b Sardella 2013b, p. 64.
Swami 2009, p. 10.
^ a b Sardella 2013b, p. 65.
Swami 2009, pp. 9–10.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 66.
^ Sardella 2013b, pp. 66–67.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 67.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 68-69.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 71.
^ a b c d e f g Sardella 2013a, p. 417.
^ a b Bryant & Ekstrand 2004, p. 85.
^ a b Sardella 2013b, p. 75.
^ a b Sardella 2013b, p. 79.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 80.
^ a b Sardella 2013b, p. 81.
^ a b Sardella 2013b, p. 82.
^ a b Bryant & Ekstrand 2004, p. 83.
^ a b c Sardella 2013b, pp. 82–86.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 82-86.
Goswami & Schweig 2012, pp. 109–110.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 99.
^ Murphy & Goff 1997, p. 32.
^ Bryant & Ekstrand 2004, p. 88.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 86.
^ a b c d e f g Sardella 2013a, p. 418.
^ Murphy & Goff 1997, p. 18.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 87.
^ a b c d Sardella 2013b, pp. 90–91.
^ a b c
Goswami & Schweig 2012, p. 109.
Swami 2009, pp. 76–77.
Swami 2009, pp. 62–63.
^ Sardella 2013b, pp. 92–93.
^ a b Sardella 2013b, pp. 92.
^ Sardella 2013b, pp. 92, 98.
^ Sardella 2013b, pp. 92–93, 98.
Goswami & Schweig 2012, p. 111.
^ a b c d Sardella 2013a, pp. 418–419.
^ a b c d e f Sardella 2013b, pp. 121–123.
^ a b c Sardella 2013a, p. 419.
^ Sardella 2013b, pp. 203–208.
^ a b c d e f Sardella 2013a, p. 420.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 105.
^ a b c Sardella 2013b, pp. 94–96.
^ Sardella 2013b, pp. 94–95
^ Dasa 1999, p. 91-92.
^ a b c
Swami 2009b, pp. 392–393.
^ Sardella 2013b, pp. 156–157.
^ a b c d Dwyer & Cole 2007, p. 27.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 136.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 142-143.
Goswami & Schweig 2012, p. 112.
^ Sardella & Sain 2013, p. 214.
^ Sardella 2013b, p. 239-242.
^ a b c Sardella 2013b, pp. 129–132.
^ a b Sardella 2013b, pp. 246–249.
^ Ward 1998, p. 36.
^ Sardella 2013b, pp. 246–249, 259–260.
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